PEMBROKE — The American Indian Studies Department at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke recently received 53,000 ageless gifts — all in a single box.
They were from Bill Hunt, and the contents were negatives that the university would turn into a positive.
Bill’s father, Elmer W. Hunt, was a university and community photographer who graduated in 1953 from what was then Pembroke State College. He spent his time documenting life on and around the campus through a camera’s eyes.
When Bill was cleaning out his father’s home, he found the negatives to thousands of Elmer’s photos.
“He said if we didn’t take them, they would go into the trash,” said Carlene Cummings, university specialist for Archives and Special Collections.
So Linda Oxendine, chairwoman of the American Indian Studies Department, started preserving the collection by digitalizing the negatives. The result is what Cummings describes as “a chance to see history come to life.”
Select photos dating back to the 1940s have been compiled into the Elmer W. Hunt Photograph Collection, and are featured in a $12 calendar on sale at UNCP’s Mary Livermore Library and online. Proceeds from sales will allow the Friends of the Library of UNCP to provide student scholarships, cultural programs and resources. The calendar commemorates the 125 years that make up the university’s history.
One such photo featured in the calendar depicts members of the Pembroke Players, a play group at the university. Fresh stage make-up and big smiles color the people in the black-and-white photograph that was taken following a stage production.
“She is Annie Ruth Locklear Revel,” Cummings said while pointing to a wide-smiling woman on the right. “She taught English and drama to Pat McCrory and she’s featured in the commercials of the campaign.”
Pat McCrory is the Republican candidate for governor in North Carolina.
“I think they all went on to become English teachers,” Cumming said of the others in the photo.
Each photo in the calendar, which also features coaches, the university’s first marching band and women in formal wear, has been displayed to allow people to cut them out and frame them.
Some 15,000 photos from the Elmer W. Hunt collection are also available for viewing online at the university’s library’s website. People can browse the collection and tag people they know.
That’s one method the university is using to identify those depicted in the photos.
More than 20 thick notebooks on the ground floor at the Mary Livermore Library are available for people to leaf through and “tag” as well.
Recently, the university hosted a series of speakers relevant to the content in the images.
Ben Chavis, an educator whose great-uncle Anderson Locklear, for which Locklear Hall at UNCP is named, was a speaker at one of the events.
A native of Robeson County and member of the Lumbee tribe, Chavis served as a principal at the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, Calif. During his time there, the middle school went from being the lowest performing in the region, to one of the top-scoring in the United States.
That experience is documented in his book, “Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City.”
“We put in photos that pertained to education and had people try to identify them,”said Anne Coleman, assistant dean for Research Studies.
The series invited retired educators to listen and interact with Chavis, and to also look through the photos.
“It was always exciting to watch them (identify people),” Cummings said, “especially when they saw themselves.”
While the effort to identify people is continuing, the public has access to a photographic history of UNCP spanning from the 1940s to the 1980s.
As the conversation slows about the importance of preserving history, it turns to reminiscing about the past and a beehive hairdo depicted in photos.
“I think they’re making a comeback,” Cummings said with a laugh.