By Jordan Beach
Dr. Pam Wilson teaches several courses that demonstrate to students how to connect their work in communications with history and culture. Her recent work with Cartersville proves how media continues to tell the story of people in new and innovative ways.
Wilson, program coordinator of communications & media studies, has been a resident of Cartersville since 2004 and a member of the Downtown Development Authority for four years. Three years ago, she volunteered to revise the organization’s walking tour for the city, which evolved into important historic documentation.
Wilson gathered a “group of historically minded people in the community,” with representatives from Bartow History Museum, Etowah Valley Historical Society and historical preservation specialists, forming a committee to bring Carterville’s history to life in a new, meaningful way.
“One question we discussed was to what degree the history of the city that was being conveyed through the walking tour was truly representative and reflective of the lives of all of the people who had lived in Cartersville since its founding after the Civil War ended, 150 years ago,” said Wilson. “We recognized that the African American community had been almost totally ignored in the earlier historical material, and we discussed ways to correct this.”
Correcting this proved to be challenging with no comprehensive written history for downtown Carterville’s black community, and only oral history projects of the black residential neighborhoods to reference. With the help of Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, who Wilson described as “a stalwart of the local black community,” the committee started to piece together the stories of the business district and communities that would develop into a driving tour that highlighted significant African American historic sites in Bartow County.
As the interest in African American history increased, so did the volunteers and projects.
“One group focused on documenting historic heirloom African American patchwork quilts and worked with the Bartow History Museum to do so,” Wilson said. “These efforts resulted in a piece of commissioned public art on the Courthouse groups called ‘Pathways to Freedom.’ Our DDA committee began extending our research beyond archival documents, which was my strong suit, and realized we needed to incorporate oral histories and family memories in the project.”
With a grant from Georgia Council for the Humanities, the group of dedicated local historians started to bring all the moving parts together to form the re-imagined walking tour. The first walking tour since the inception of the idea took place in January 2019 and now includes brochures that can be digitally accessed on cell phones and tablets. Wilson’s purpose for updating this aspect of Cartersville’s tourism was to use accessible media and technology “to bring the formerly marginalized history of Cartersville’s African American community to as many people as possible and to emphasize that this is not just black history, but Cartersville history.”
“This project has multiplied and expanded more than I ever imagined. We are continuing to weave together the strands of the city’s history that have never been fully told in with the more well-known historical events and sites so that what is represented as public history represents the full spectrum of social and cultural history in this distinctive Georgia community.”
The tour leads visitors to 19 significant sites in African American history of Cartersville, including cultural landmarks. Alexis Carter-Callahan with Etowah Bush School offers a walking tour of the sites.