A healthy portion of Clarksdale’s past was preserved for the future last week as part of an effort to safe keep and share those memories with the rest of the world.
Items ranging from faded, color postcards depicting street scenes and buildings of Clarksdale’s past to letters from a local soldier stationed in Belgium during World War II were a small sample of the family keepsakes brought to the Carnegie Public Library.
Clay Motley, who was one of the main organizers of the Common Heritage project, said over 200 individual items – some of them being documents that numbered 70-plus pages – were brought in to be digitized and preserved for safekeeping.
Motley and others spent Thursday through Saturday scanning in the documents and naming and adding them to a database that will eventually become part of a local Common Heritage website that will allow users from across the world to experience a bit of the Delta.
As an example, Motley said one resident brought in a number of items related to the local graduate chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha sorority, including the chapter’s meeting minutes, financial statements and membership rolls.
“That’s pretty cool because there’s not that much of that kind of information available in public libraries,” Motley said. “There’s a really strong archive of these kinds of Delta organizations.”
Motley, who is an English professor and director of the Honors College at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla., acquired a love for this area during his first visit here in 2010. It’s only grown in subsequent visits.
The idea for applying for the Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities first started about five years ago. It’s only been the last two years where that effort picked up steam and he teamed with Sarah Ruskey, who was the Carnegie library director at the time, to put together the grant.
They were informed in December 2017 that their application had been selected and they were given 18 months to complete the project.
The grant, which totals $8,000 to $9,000, will be used for supplies and building a website and also fund a Common Heritage celebration, which they hope to have coincide with the website’s completion date in late spring or early summer 2019.
Motley has been doing research on a book as part of a “Journal of Southern Cultures” which he believes will “connect the dots in regards to Clarksdale” and its place in music history.
He believes there will be great interest in the Common Heritage website made up of items showcasing this area’s residents.
“It’s going to be a great aid for anyone interested in Clarksdale’s history,” he said.