America's Hallowed Ground
Conceived in the spirit of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, this project seeks to honor sites of past struggles, conflicts, and sacrifices that are significant to American history, particularly its history of racial inequality. Combining research and engagement with local communities, America’s Hallowed Ground will tell the stories of these sites through the arts, making these histories accessible to a broader public and elevating them to the local, regional, and national recognition they warrant.
Meet the Team
The first project site is Wilmington, N.C., where white supremacists staged a violent coup in 1898 to suppress the growing political power of African Americans. Co-directors Charlie Thompson and Mike Wiley and members of the America’s Hallowed Ground team traveled to Wilmington in the fall of 2021 to explore sites and speak to community stakeholders.
After convening a two-day listening session with Wilmington community members, including descendants of the victims of 1898, they organized a local performance of Wiley’s one-man show “The Fire of Freedom” in November 2021. Inspired by a book by historian David Cecelski and adapted by playwright Howard Craft, “The Fire of Freedom” focuses on Wilmington native Abraham Galloway, who escaped from slavery and organized hundreds of Black soldiers to fight against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Wiley performed the play in the historic Thalian Hall in downtown Wilmington, where Galloway himself once spoke. On April 11, 2022, they premiered the play in Durham, N.C..
Thompson and Wiley co-taught a Spring 2022 Cultural Anthropology course that approaches Wilmington 1898 through ethnography and showcases how artistic expression can make research both accessible and memorable to broader populations. Duke University undergraduate students travelled to Wilmington in April, visiting sites with Thompson and Wiley, doing anthropological fieldwork, and eventually completing public history-oriented projects of their own.
America’s Hallowed Ground will continue its work in Wilmington this year. The co-directors and their collaborators will work with community stakeholders to produce art on local sites through podcasts, visual art, choreography, and other modes of digital storytelling. Eventually, they hope to expand the project to other sites, both in North Carolina and nationally.