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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Museum of the New South historian held mirror to an evolving hometown
Brenda Tindal leaving Charlotte for Detroit
Published Wednesday, December 6, 2017 10:55 am
by Ashley Mahoney

Levine Museum of the New South historian Brenda Tindal is leaving her position Dec. 8 to join the Detroit Historical Society.

Brenda Tindal helped Charlotte understand itself.

Her journey with the Levine Museum of the New South began long before she succeeded Tom Hanchett as staff historian. Dec. 8 marks Tindal’s last day at the museum, before she heads to Detroit to spearhead an initiative chronicling that city’s 1967 uprising as director of education for the Detroit Historical Society.  

“My journey here at the Levine Museum of the New South is a deep and long one,” Tindal said. “I started my relationship with this important and wonderful institution in 2003 as an intern, working on the exhibit that highlighted the history of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and looking at the South Carolina case that was involved in that. That was called the ‘COURAGE’ exhibit. At that time, I knew that this museum was making an impact on the ways in which the story of Charlotte, and the Carolinas was being told, and I was just fascinated.”

Said Hanchett: “I was very glad that someone with Brenda’s academic background was joining the museum. Even if I didn’t know anything else about her, what she had done in terms of her study at Emory, her work with the Maya Angelou papers, working in the archives at Princeton University—bang!”

Tindal left to pursue graduate school at Emory University in 2005. She returned as a lecturer at UNC Charlotte in 2012, and succeeded Hanchett in 2015.

“Brenda was an outstanding intern,” Hanchett said. “She had a lot going for her. I think it was working on the ‘COURAGE’ exhibit—Brenda became my right hand person, tracking down photographs and talking about how to tell this story in a way that would connect with people and would be visual. I think she got the bug. She figured out that this fit well with who she was, and what she wanted to do.  She’s wired as a public historian. She can spend time in the archives. She’s good in the classroom, but she’s really hungry to connect with people outside of the university as well.”

Tindal provided the guidance necessary to tell the story of Charlotte’s unrest following the death of Keith Lamont Scott, who was shot and killed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Brentley Vinson in 2016.

While Tindal brought an academic perspective to the position, she had the advantage of being a native Charlottean. Her work extends beyond the walls of the museum, but inside, “K(NO)W Justice K(NO)W Peace” remains a defining exhibit. Initially intended to open in 2018, the museum fast-tracked it to last February. Record-breaking attendance (56,000 visitors in fiscal year 2017) extended its run date beyond Oct. 22, and the museum does not have a scheduled end date.

“I had an opportunity to serve Charlotte at a time when I think our community needed the exhibitions that we were able to accomplish in the last two years,” Tindal said. “Particularly the ‘K(NO)W Justice K(NO)W Peace’ exhibit. Being on staff, and being able to help steward those conversations, and steward those exhibits that would highlight those critical moments in Charlotte’s history, is a noble task, and a noble opportunity.”

Said Hanchett: “It turned out she was really the person that Charlotte needed as the protests occurred in the fall of 2016, because she’s a native Charlottean, because her work is on civil rights and the continuing struggles over inequality. She was someone who could speak to the events of the last year in a way that I could try, but she was the right person for the right time. She has really helped Charlotte see and understand itself, both through that exhibit, and what she has done in the community. Detroit is a place that is perpetually dealing with very difficult history in terms economic and racial inequalities and tension. What a place for someone with her skillset to dig in and serve the public.”

Tindal’s work with the museum also includes the current exhibit “Splendid Service: Camp Greene & the Making of a New South City,” as well as the creation of enrichment seminars, both corporate and civic. The museum’s search for her replacement is underway, but they intend to rely on community collaborations until naming a successor.  

“History is such an important part of understanding the contemporary moment,” Tindal said. “One of the things that I always argue is in terms of the importance of history, and in terms of the importance of institutions like the Levine Museum, is that nothing happens in a vacuum. In order to really understand the nuances of what is happening today, we have to understand what happened in the past.”



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