In conditions of fresh water
In Conditions of Fresh Water is an art and oral history project that will chronicle the histories, power struggles and victories of historic Black places. Starting with the communities on the outskirts of Mebane, in North Carolina's Alamance County, and the incorporated town of White Hall, in Alabama's Lowndes County, Danielle Purifoy and Torkwase Dyson will interview and document—and then make art inspired by these places, their people, and their histories. They will work—and travel—in Studio South Zero, a 6’x8’x12’ mobile solar powered artist workspace, built by Dyson with recycled materials.
In just a few short days, on June 3rd, In Conditions of Fresh Water will finish its first public exhibition in Durham, North Carolina. But I am hopeful for the future of Black places--which are indisputably tied to the future of all places--because of their necessary and persistent imaginings of pathways around the state, irrespective of its brand of violence.
When the town of White Hall, Alabama, wanted to grow and secure services for its residents, it ran into a problem: being predominantly Black made it much harder to win funding for basic infrastructure, like water and sewer lines. But Catherine Coleman Flowers and others fought hard to win infrastructure anyway.
The Black Panther Party was born as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which stood up for Black folks in Lowndes County when regular parties wouldn't. Black autonomy in the area got another victory when organizers incorporated the town of White Hall. But the struggle didn't end there.
Black folk of a certain age, with left-of political leanings, respond in specific ways to mention of Lowndes County, Alabama. Even if they never drove the green stretch of U.S. Highway 80 between Montgomery and Selma, or stood on thick Black Belt soil, their eyes warm with the idea of the place, of what was made possible there.
As family-members moved back into town and a Walmart distribution center moves nearby, what's next for the Black communities outside of Mebane, North Carolina?
It took constant work and tireless protest for Brenda and Omega Wilson, along with their community association, to win infrastructure improvements that had been given to White neighborhoods decades earlier. They shared their story with Scalawag—as well as their plans for the future.
The latest from a series of documentary interviews in Black communities: As Whites in what's now Mebane sought to exclude Black folk from municipal governments and services, Black communities asserted their own autonomy in creating a parallel network of Black-powered spaces and services.
Their addresses are in Mebane. Their local grocer, public library, and post office are in Mebane. Their community center is in Mebane.
But they don’t live in Mebane.