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Lunch and Learn: Kelly Navies on the Carter Family

Tuesday, March 16   |   Noon – 1 PM

on Zoom


The Carnegie Center for Art and History is looking forward to March’s Lunch and Learn talk by Ms. Kelly Navies, Oral Historian Museum Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Prior to her current position, Kelly worked as a Special Collections Librarian and Oral Historian for the Washington DC Public Library. Navies specialized in this field because, “The oral histories of African Americans reveal deep truths about America and about the human condition, overall.” Those truths become personal when history writ large intersects with one’s own family history.

Those familiar with the Carnegie Center’s permanent exhibition, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men and Women of the Underground Railroad have heard the name of George Washington Carter. Carter was a respected Indiana businessman and free person of color who lived in New Albany before, during, and after the Civil War. It is strongly believed that Carter was an active participant in the local expression of the Underground Railroad, a highly illegal activity involving great personal risk.

Ms. Navies, while doing research on her own family’s history, discovered that she is a direct descendant of George Washington Carter and reached out to the Carnegie Center and Ms. Pam Peters, who did the original research for the exhibit. The resulting talk will add new knowledge about this important family and the contemporary methods and tools available for public researchers.

Carter was a free man, but he didn’t start out that way. His back story is a fascinating one and worth tuning in to hear. Carter had two sons, Hannibal and Edward, whom he managed to have educated in Canada. The Carters, father and sons, found themselves in Vicksburg, Mississippi as the Civil War began in 1861. Later, both sons were early African American soldiers and served first with the Native Guards of Louisiana before joining the Union Army. After the war, Hannibal Caesar Carter would become a prominent politician serving two nonconsecutive terms in the Mississippi House of Representatives and would also become Secretary of State of Mississippi in 1873.

The Carters are not the only family members that Kelly Navies has researched and underscores how important oral histories are to people who were not allowed to learn to read and write before emancipation. It’s difficult following a paper trail that might not even exist. It was a story told on her maternal line about a formerly enslaved individual who lived to be over 100 years old that piqued and inspired Navies’ life work. 

For presenter Kelly Navies, an oral interview is more than putting a camera or microphone in front of a person: “Conducting an oral history requires the practice of deep listening, an art we are losing, and the essential skill needed for a good interview.” One could argue that the skill of deep listening is something that should become essential as communities prepare for the future by reexamining their past. 

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