History is the glue that holds us all together. Yet, when it’s presented as lists of mere names, facts and dates in a textbook, it can seem lifeless and meaningless, even to curious adults. The Dunwoody Preservation Trust (DPT) is committed to delivering history in ways textbooks can’t.
Though DPT got its start restoring and preserving historic properties, including the historic ca. 1870 Donaldson-Bannister Farm, the Dunwoody landmark 1906 Cheek-Spruill House and three historic cemeteries where some of Dunwoody’s earliest settlers are buried, it has become increasingly focused on education.
By now many people know about Camp Flashback, the only summer history camp for kids in our immediate area. For five one-week sessions, campers leave their cell phones at home and live like 1870s farm kids – making cheese, milking goats, feeding chickens and running free through former horse pastures. Camp Flashback registration normally opens in January. It’s so popular that all five sessions usually sell out by the end of February.
Less well known is DPT’s Saturday morning adult education series called History Alive. Held every other odd month from 9:30 to 11:00 am at the Donaldson-Bannister Farm, History Alive began in 2013 when DPT then Co-President Monica McGurk formed a committee to figure out how to make historic preservation more relevant to the community.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How do we bring history to life to make the DPT mission more accessible and relevant,’” said McGurk recently from her home in Chicago.
The result was History Alive. Though it started small, with a few sporadically scheduled events and lectures at various locations throughout Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, it was never boring. I attended a particularly memorable performance of sacred shape-note singing at the tiny 1829-1880 Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church at the intersection of Roberts, Spalding and Dunwoody Club drives.
Once popular throughout early rural America, shape-note singing, in which the printed notes are drawn in various shapes to indicate their sound, eventually became associated mainly with the rural South. By the mid-nineteenth century it became more widely known as Sacred Harp singing, based on “The Sacred Harp” songbook of 1844. In the 1960s, Sacred Harp singing had a revival. If you’ve seen the movie “Cold Mountain,” you’ve heard Sacred Harp singing.
That experience exemplifies the concept of History Alive. If you try merely to read about Sacred Harp singing, you’ll never get it. Of course, there are now plenty of YouTube video examples. But there’s no substitute for being there – and there we were in that tiny historic church listening to a joyous A cappella sound from the past, with harmonies so bright and strange I will never forget them. Without History Alive, I would have never heard of shape-notes or Sacred Harp singing and would have continued to pass by the historic Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church and Cemetery, now listed by DPT as a “Major Dunwoody Monument,” without ever entering.
But this is the point of History Alive. Now very organized under the leadership of DPT’s Director of Educational Programming Dr. Jim Walker, Ed.D., a lifelong educator, History Alive includes both events and presentations, some of which are by people who lived the history they’re discussing.
Though most of the events and presentations involve Georgia, not all do. One such presentation I particularly enjoyed was “Fighting Fascism with Film,” by John Thomas, an American history professor at Mercer University. Using clips from 1940s movies and documentaries, he demonstrated how a then-patriotic Hollywood changed the minds of the American public toward supporting the US effort during World War II.
Other recent History Alive topics have included “A Salute to the Memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” with artifacts from MLK’s life, “The Ancient Ways of the Cherokee and How We Can Use Them Today,” “Special Forces Vietnam Veteran Helicopter Pilot” and “Marriage in Georgia: Love or Money?”
The next presentation is Sept. 17, “History and the Holocaust,” with Marist history teacher and scholar Brendan Murphy. Having taken his full adult course, I highly recommend attending. At the very least, it will get you out of bed at a decent hour and give you a free breakfast of coffee and pastries courtesy of Georgetown Starbucks.
I could go on, but why don’t you see for yourself by visiting the History Alive page on the DPT website? Admission is free, though donations are welcome. The Donaldson-Bannister Farm is located at 4831 Chamblee Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody.