Project Brief

From the Rock Wall brings together neighbors and friends in dialogue and debate about Black life—past, present, and future--in southern Orange County, North Carolina. Following Mrs. Marian Cheek Jackson’s motto, “without the past, you have no future,” From the Rock Wall is all about finding guideposts in the past for achieving community justice now for the future.

Oral history is at the center of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center’s organizing model. It teaches values, visions, struggles, and victories of everyday history-makers. MCJC’s primary aim is to listen well: to hear and to carry forward histories shaped by abiding values and visions for vibrant community. They want to make sure that the histories of everyday, courageous and faithful leadership that they are privileged to hear—and to hold in their community archives—make a difference in their communities now and for generations to come.

In April 2018, the MCJC launched a new version of their digital Oral History Trust, an Omeka-based, responsive website highlighting the stories of neighbors, as well as containing digital versions of some of the physical exhibits the Center has launched over the years. While the current site functioned adequately as a repository and an archive for scholarly research, it did not live up to its potential as a platform to connect new and existing residents, to vibrantly reflect the history and character of the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods, and to facilitate the education and youth engagement work of the MCJC.

With the help of major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation, Research Action Design worked with the Jackson Center staff and Community Review Board in 2019-2021 to facilitate the design and development of a new iteration of the Oral History Trust.

The new web platform, From the Rock Wall, is named after a low rock wall that local masons built in the 1930s in the neighborhood from leftover materials, and has been a gathering spot in the neighborhood since it was built. RAD worked with MCJC to create a digital space honoring the rock wall which highlights people and stories, invites visitors to join the conversation, and provides a rich resource to both current neighborhood residents and their family members, and young people in local public schools. A video piece by Wildcat William Paul Thomas greets visitors on the homepage in the way folks might be greeted in the neighborhood, and audio on each subpage of the site, recorded by MCJC staff, gives a welcome how to use the site for visitors who might be less familiar.