UNC faculty, students and alumni have played a crucial role in a new cultural tourism project to revitalize downtown Shelby, N.C. This includes the new Earl Scruggs Center, which opened in January in the town's renovated 1907 courthouse.
The center showcases the life story of Earl Scruggs, a pioneer of banjo and bluegrass music. However, the exhibits go beyond celebrating the legendary musician to explore the rich past of Shelby and surrounding Cleveland County through local voices and oral histories.
In 2008 and 2010, two groups of UNC folklore graduate students were hired to do a "cultural inventory" of the area. The students conducted oral histories of Cleveland County residents centered on four themes: textiles, music, the untold African-American story and the 21st century narrative.
UNC's Southern Oral History Program also trained local volunteers so they could continue the work. This intensive research helped project organizers gather a more authentic sense of what was historically significant in the region.
One graduate student, Brendan Greaves '08, said the project was the most in-depth field work he had done up to that point and that his decision to co-launch a record label was a direct result of his work with the Earl Scruggs Center.