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Archive for July, 2014

On Libraries

In 1814, when the British army burned the Congressional Library in Washington, Jefferson offered to sell his substantial collection of 6,700 volumes. The books were hauled in wagons from Monticello to Washington, where they became the foundation for the Library of Congress. Perhaps there were too many volumes to keep the simple small-medium-large arrangement at home, because Jefferson proposed a classification scheme he adapted from Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning, in which books were organized within the broad categories of Memory, Reason, and Imagination, poetic divisions I’d like to see bookstores adopt today. It might take longer to find what you’re looking for, but in browsing, who knows what you’d find.

Allison Hoover Bartlett
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

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RIP Raleigh History

Photo by BBQ Geek

This week the city of Raleigh allowed the historic Clyde Cooper’s BBQ building to be demolished. While the BBQ business is still alive and well at a new location, the city lost a real treasure in this unassuming brick building. It was one of the last places in town that retained the old pre-Civil Rights era segregated entrances and dining rooms. Modern diners could enter either door and sit wherever they chose, all the while remembering a time when that freedom wasn’t afforded to everyone and the great pains it took to do so.

Now the building is gone, and with it a tiny bit of what made this city special, unique, and slotted into the history of our nation and our humanity. In its place will rise some new, whitewashed, shiny structure that promises something about the future, but will one day eventually also be old, ragged, and past its prime.

Buildings are a lot like us. They are born into this world with promise, and over time they take on meaning. It is no coincidence that the history of a place is so tied up in its historic sites. Raleigh has some of those, but not nearly as many as it could have. Over the decades it seems to have had a systematic agenda against preserving bits of its past by moving or knocking down buildings. These places could have been preserved, their stories told to future generations, but instead they had to make way for the next new thing.

I was at the RDU airport today, and at the end of the shiny new Terminal 1 (an improvement over the old terminal, to be sure) sits the old RDU airport and its old air traffic control tower. It is empty, abandoned, and waiting to be torn down. Couldn’t this space be preserved? Couldn’t we start here? Maybe it could be made into a North Carolina Aviation Museum, conveniently centered in the capital of our state to share the uniqueness of the area with business travelers and new arrivals. Docents could give tours of the old control tower. Someone could talk about progress and point out how far we’ve come.

Then maybe, just maybe, someone would get an itch to tell more of our stories in the locations where they are written on the landscape. Our legacy, and those of the people who came before us, could be preserved.

Raleigh-Durham-Airport-ca1956_2_web

 

Photo courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina

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