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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Historian’s homecoming shares Charlotte’s story
Willie Griffin hired by Levine Museum of New South
Published Wednesday, May 16, 2018 12:28 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Willie Griffin, an East Mecklenburg High School graduate, is the new historian at Levine Museum of the New South.

Willie Griffin is coming home.

Griffin, who replaces Brenda Tindal as the Levine Museum of the New South’s historian effective June 4, fell in love with local history as a student at East Mecklenburg High School. His journey led him to Morehouse College, and eventually UNC-Chapel Hill for his doctorate degree. His research focused on 20th century American history, particularly ties between Charlotte and the civil rights movement.

“It was a dream of mine, following in Martin Luther King’s footsteps so to speak,” Griffin said of his Morehouse days. “I gained an interest in African American history there while I was working for the Journal of Negro History. It’s now the Journal of African American History. I gained a greater appreciation for African American history, and eventually I developed a yearning to find out more about Charlotte’s local history.”

His grandfather, Frank Griffin’s role as the first of two black truckers to drive for a white-owned company in the Jim Crow South drew him to studying Charlotte’s role within the national narrative.

“That really led me to try to seek to learn as much as I could about Charlotte’s local civil rights movement, and how everyday local people contributed to this effort to open these thousands of doors,” Griffin said.

Griffin did not believe Charlotte had such a place in history, as a teenager.

“I was always led to believe that Charlotte didn’t really have a civil rights movement that was noteworthy, but through my studies, I’ve learned that just wasn’t the case,” he said. “Charlotte, in my assessment, had one of the most dynamic civil rights” communities.

Said Levine Museum President and CEO Kathryn Hill: “His mission in life is really to reframe in the national narrative Charlotte’s really important role in the civil rights movement.”

Griffin intends to utilize his position, much like he did as a history teacher at West Charlotte High School from 2004-06, to share that knowledge with Charlotteans and visitors alike.

“I think we can learn by using Charlotte and the Levine as a model for cities around the country, that you have to do a reexamination of local movements to really understand where we are, and why the struggle for total citizenship never really materialized, and why we continue to have these uprisings like we had with Keith Lamont Scott,” when he was shot and killed by police in 2016.

Griffin, who most recently taught at the Citadel in South Carolina, has seen significant change in his hometown.

“With the problems and social issues that keep arising, Charlotte can really feed into its history, rest on that history, and show it to larger new comers and natives alike,” he said. “In order to really make a city progress, you have to have a really rigorous understanding of local history. That’s when you begin to care about your community, and learn to contribute to its growth and progress in a really meaningful way.”


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