HOBSON CITY — Speaking to a group in Hobson City Friday, Eldrin Deas said he’d stood near a statue of a Confederate soldier in front of Durham, N.C.’s courthouse just before it was toppled Monday evening by protesters.
Deas wasn’t alone. Another man stood nearby, taking pictures, and he asked Deas what he thought about the crumpled monument’s fate.
“I work at a place where we try to preserve history,” Deas told the audience of nearly 30 gathered in a building behind Hobson City’s Town Hall on Friday. “It’s an interesting debate to have.”
Deas, community outreach coordinator for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Southern Historical Archives, was in the tiny, historic town — the first in Alabama to be founded by African Americans — because he’d been invited. He was called to Hobson City by Mayor Alberta McCrory and other town officials, who on Friday hosted a forum meant to highlight work done to preserve the town’s history, and improve life for those who live there.
The theme of the forum, McCrory said, was the importance to the town’s continuance of partnerships established — with nonprofits active within its limits and with two universities.
Speakers included Deas, from UNC, and Michelle Batchelor Robinson, an associate professor at the University of Alabama who has organized archival work inside the town.
The work has been aimed recently, McCrory said, at getting the town on the National Register of Historic Places, which could open up opportunities for grant funding for much-needed repairs to municipal buildings.
“We think that will help in terms of preserving Hobson City for future generations,” McCrory said.
The forum was to include speakers from two nonprofits active within the town, as well — the Dannon Project, which tries to help former prison inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes re-enter society after incarceration, and Cheaha Regional Head Start, which has a branch housed in Hobson City’s Town Hall.
“We’re ... talking about preserving the community, preserving the building — but you’ve got to preserve the people in the community first,” the mayor said. “It all ties together.”
Jeh Jeh Pruitt, a Birmingham-based TV news anchor who founded the Dannon Project, said speaking at the forum was important to him because he grew up in Hobson City.
“It lets everyone know what’s needed,” he said of the forum. “It’s going to take more than me, or the mayor ... a collective effort, that’s the only thing that will make it grow,” he said of the town.
The forum also included representatives of the Alabama Historical Commission, who spoke about state and federal tax credits available for work to rehabilitate historic buildings.
Deas, meanwhile, offered help archiving the histories of people who live within the town.
“There are folks who think that this kind of preservation is not worthwhile,” he told the audience.
Deas had related more of his conversation next to the monument with a man who questioned the need for historically black colleges and universities — which got their start because African Americans weren’t accepted at other institutions.
“This work must continue,” he said.