Good to know: Dunwoody Preservation Trust offers free history training for adults
History is the glue that holds us all together. Yet when presented as lists of simple 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 a way that textbooks cannot.
Although DPT has begun to restore and preserve 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 early settlers are buried, it has become increasingly focused on education.
Many people are now familiar with Camp Flashback, the only historic children’s summer camp in our immediate area. For five week-long sessions, campers leave their cell phones at home and live like the farm kids of the 1870s: they make cheese, milk goats, feed chickens and run free in old pastures to horses. Registration for Camp Flashback 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 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Donaldson-Bannister Farm, History Alive began in 2013 when DPT Co-Chair Monica McGurk formed a committee to determine how to make historic preservation more relevant to the community. .
“We asked ourselves, ‘How do we bring history to life to make DPT’s mission more accessible and relevant,'” McGurk said recently from his Chicago home.
The result was History Alive. Although it started out small, with a few events and conferences scheduled sporadically at various locations in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, it was never dull. I attended a particularly memorable performance of sacred songs at the small 1829-1880 Ebenezer Early Baptist Church at the intersection of Roberts, Spalding and Dunwoody Club Drive.
Once popular throughout early rural America, shape-note singing, in which printed notes are drawn in various shapes to indicate their sound, eventually became primarily associated with the rural South. In the mid-19th century, it became more widely known as Sacred Harp singing, based on “The Sacred Harp” songbook of 1844. In the 1960s, Sacred Harp singing experienced a revival. If you’ve seen the movie “Cold Mountain,” you’ve heard Sacred Harp sing.
This experience illustrates the concept of Living History. If you just try to read on the Sacred Harp chant, you’ll never get it. Of course, there are plenty of sample YouTube videos now. But there’s no substitute for being there – and there we were in this historic little church listening to joyous A cappella sound from the past, with harmonies so bright and eerie that I’ll never forget them. Without History Alive, I would never have heard of shape-notes or Sacred Harp singing and would have kept walking past the historic Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church and Cemetery, now listed by the DPT as a “Landmark major of Dunwoody”, without ever entering it.
But that’s what History Alive is all about. Now highly organized under the direction of DPT’s Director of Educational Programming, Dr. Jim Walker, Ed.D., a longtime educator, History Alive includes both events and presentations, some of which are performed by people who lived the history they are discussing.
Although most events and presentations involve Georgia, not all do. One such presentation that I particularly enjoyed was “Fighting Fascism with Film,” by John Thomas, professor of American history at Mercer University. Using clips from 1940s films and documentaries, he demonstrated how a then-patriotic Hollywood changed the minds of the American public to support the American effort in World War II.
Other recent History Alive topics have included “A Tribute to the Memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.” featuring artifacts from MLK’s life, “The Ancient Ways of the Cherokee and How We Can Use Them Today”, “Vietnam Special Forces Veteran Helicopter Pilot” and “Georgia Marriage: Love or Money?”
The next presentation will be on September 17, “History and the Holocaust,” with history teacher and Marist scholar Brendan Murphy. Having taken his full adult course, I highly recommend attending. At the very least, it’ll get you out of bed at a decent hour and get 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, although donations are welcome. Donaldson-Bannister Farm is located at 4831 Chamblee Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody.