North End Super Reunion Digital Gallery and Oral Histories
Together Again!: North End Super Reunion
It’s a sunny June afternoon and about ten women from the 14th Street Community Center are working to secure long sections of bright orange paper to the south wall of the gymnasium. There are calls for different kinds of adhesives, questions about the height of placement, and the logistics of securing the paper to painted brick. Two women stand on benches while two more standing behind them with their hands raised, ensuring that no one loses her balance. The paper is secured with the utmost care, as wrinkles and dimples are properly smoothed out prior to taping. Conversations take place meanwhile—someone is having her dress tailored for the Fire & Ice ball, another is noting a name listed on the banners we’re hanging. The North End Super Reunion Memorial Wall is a huge undertaking, but it’s only a part (though quite a significant one!) of the four-day-long celebration coordinated by the North End Super Reunion Committee. The Memorial Wall features the names and photographs of North End community members who have passed on since the last Reunion. Attendees will spend the next several days studying it and reminiscing about their friends and loved ones.
During summer of 2017, the Ohio State University Center for Folklore Studies partnered with the 14th Street Community Center and Dr. Drew Feight of the Digital History Lab at Shawnee State University to document the history of Portsmouth’s North End Super Reunion (NESR), a quadrennial homecoming that brings together current and former residents of the North End, a historically African American neighborhood in Portsmouth, Scioto County, Ohio. The NESR is organized by an all-volunteer team of residents who log countless hours to make this event special for their friends and families.
From June 29th to July 2nd, 2017, the neighborhood was buzzing with energy. Old friends were reunited, and new friends became acquainted. People share stories and photos months prior to the gathering on the NESR Facebook page, commenting on Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday prompts. Among the event highlights were the Youth Promise Drill Team’s STEP performance and balloon launch, the Fire & Ice Ball (where the exquisitely themed room and dazzling outfits wowed us all), and the delicious Baked Bean Cook-off (featuring entries with names like “Beast Mode” and “Bean There, Done That”). The reunion concluded with the North End Community Church Service, which brought together eight pastors and congregations from across the neighborhood. Food and conversation were at the center of the NESR, as attendees stayed up until all hours of the night telling stories and reminiscing about the neighborhood. The event finale was a relaxing afternoon with live jazz in Bannon Park.
The history of segregation, desegregation, and Black life in Portsmouth has been discussed and explored by the North End community and local scholars, though Black life in Portsmouth and Appalachia more generally remains underrepresented in the public record.
North End residents regularly document their events and celebrations, maintaining informal archives within their homes. Several community members, many of them Black women, have been documenting performances and conversations that tackle difficult local social topics. Ms. Maxine—a pillar of the 14th Street Community Center—writes and produces plays about topics impacting local youth, such as bullying and biracial identity. Ms. Maureen Cadogan collects historical artifacts (especially Jim Crow-era memorabilia) and displays and discusses them at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. Drew Carter, former resident and local community organizer, of World Sound Entertainment and Watch Me Grow, has been interviewing influential leaders, organizers, non-profit directors, musicians, and artists in the city and surrounding area using Facebook Live. Along with his team of students, Dr. Andrew Feight of Shawnee State University has authored several articles for Scioto Historical about such varied topics as the all-Black Civilian Conservation Corps units that helped build Shawnee State Forest, and Black Friday, a day in 1830 when the enforcement of the “Black Laws” let to the forcible removal of African Americans in the city. Most recently, Dr. Feight published an article about segregation, desegregation and the creation of McKinley Memorial Pool in Portsmouth.
Throughout the four days, our collaborative archiving and documentation resulted in 17 archival scans, 155 photographs, 6 video interviews, and 6 event recordings. All of the materials produced through this collaboration will be housed with the NESR Committee at the 14th Street Community Center c/o Andrew Carter, and copies will be stored at the Digital History Lab at Shawnee State University and the Folklore Archives at Ohio State University. These materials will be available for free to the general public.