Written by Emily Mullins
Franklinton Center at Bricks is located on 250 acres of a former slave plantation in Whitakers, N.C. To reach the main buildings of the UCC-related conference, retreat, and educational facility, visitors must drive fairly deep into the expansive property. But sitting near the main entrance is a simple two-story cottage that once served as a home for the teachers who worked at the original Bricks School. Built in 1895, it is the first thing visitors see when arriving on the property, and the FCAB staff think it would be the perfect place to welcome visitors and showcase the center's storied past.
"The welcome center will be a place to make the community and those who come and pass by aware that something is going on here, and you are welcome to come and be a part of it," said Vivian Lucas, FCAB executive director. "The museum will be a place to preserve and showcase the history of the community and this part of the UCC. It will be an inviting entry point and an excitement to the community."
The welcome center and museum is the first project of a three-year vision plan that aims to expand FCAB's breadth of services in eastern North Carolina, as well as its role within the broader national community. FCAB will work with the UCC's Church Building and Loan Fund and Aim Development Group, a New York-based economic development organization, to help make the vision a reality. While preliminary plans for the welcome center and museum are already in the works, the project will be officially unveiled Aug. 3, 2013, during Franklinton Center Day, an annual event that celebrates the institution's legacy of racial and economic justice.
"We saw rehabilitating the teacher's cottage as a way to showcase the history," said Yael Flusberg, associate consultant for Aim Development Group. "It's the first thing people see, and it being so close to the road is very symbolic."
The museum will house photographs, documents and artifacts from the train station, post office, credit union and schools that were once located on the property, as well as interactive exhibits to engage visitors. The group hopes to tap into the expertise of the staff of the Amistad Research Center, the nation's oldest and most comprehensive archive specializing in the history of African Americans and other ethnic minorities, for which Lucas is a board member.
"This may very well mean that people in the area who have additional artifacts will now be willing to share what they have because they feel we are now able to care about their memories," Lucas said.
For now, the cottage is sitting empty, and extensive renovations are necessary to get the building up and running. It needs foundation repairs, an electrical system, plumbing, a new roof, and improvements to interior and exterior walls. The group may also extend the partial wrap-around porch and plans to add a parking lot, signage and landscaping. Fundraising ideas and other details are still being fleshed out, but Flusberg said the rehabilitated building will be a long-term investment that will serve as a site to raise funds for future FCAB initiatives.
"Franklinton Center is such an interesting place with so much history," Flusberg said. "What this project will definitely bring in is visibility."
Since 1895, the FCAB has been a leader in providing programming and services to African Americans throughout the southern United States. For decades in the rural South, the center helped break the cycle of poverty for many, providing educational opportunities, leadership development, and transformative farming and economic development programming. Today, FCAB serves as a conference, retreat, and educational facility, and continues its legacy of justice, advocacy and leadership development.