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Arts and Humanities

$2 million from William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust will endow curatorship, fund fellowships at University Libraries

Part of the gift is a $1.5 million endowment that will create the position of Sarah Graham Kenan Curator of the Southern Historical Collection. The Southern Historical Collection is today considered one of the nation’s leading repositories for materials about the American South.

Wilson Library
Wilson Library. (Photo by Craig Marimpietri/UNC-Chapel Hill)

When the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill’s library opened in 1930, philanthropist Sarah Graham Kenan provided the first major gift to establish its endowment. Nearly a century later, a gift of $2 million from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to the University Libraries will honor Sarah Graham Kenan’s pioneering vision and continue the philanthropic tradition she established.

Part of the gift is a $1.5 million endowment that will create the position of Sarah Graham Kenan Curator of the Southern Historical Collection. The Southern Historical Collection is today considered one of the nation’s leading repositories for materials about the American South. In November, 2021, Chaitra Powell was appointed curator of the Southern Historical Collection and will be the first curator to hold the endowed title.

The endowment will enable Powell and her successors to continue developing the collection and its programming. It will also support archivists’ efforts to build digital pathways that enable researchers, students and community members to explore and use the extensive collection.

The remaining $500,000 is a three-year challenge match to endow research and teaching fellowships at the Wilson Special Collections Library. Wilson Library currently operates a competitive program of research and creative awards. Participants engage with historic collections, the expertise of librarians and archivists, and colleagues across campus. The endowment will provide permanent funding for these awards and for programs that encourage creative engagement with the collections through visual and performing arts. The University Libraries has already raised $225,000 toward the match.

“Sarah Graham Kenan enthusiastically supported the Southern Historical Collection when it was still a bold but untested idea,” said Elaine L. Westbrooks, vice provost for University Libraries and University librarian. “Just as she looked forward, this endowment from the Kenan Charitable Trust looks ahead to the collection’s next century and beyond. Sarah Graham Kenan’s legacy will continue to live on in the collection she helped make possible.”

The Southern Historical Collection is one of five collections that make up the Wilson Special Collections Library. With 10 million items in more than 5,000 archival collections, it documents all periods of Southern history since the late eighteenth century, particularly from the period following the Civil War through the civil rights movement of the twentieth century. It is a nationally recognized leader in community-driven archives. This movement seeks to work with communities — particularly historically Black communities and others underrepresented in research archives — to empower them to document their own histories.

“At Wilson Library, we are more than keepers of papers and books,” said María R. Estorino, associate University librarian for special collections and director of the Wilson Special Collections Library. “We are incubators for academic and creative innovation. Carolina’s special collections serve as a research lab for the humanities and arts by providing a unique experiential environment for discovery, creation and collaborations. The generosity of the Kenan Charitable Trust ensures that will be the case long into the future.”

The endowment from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust counts toward the University Libraries’ goal to raise $50 million by December 31, 2022, as part of the Campaign for Carolina. The curatorial endowment also counts toward the University’s Southern Futures initiative, which seeks to reimagine the American South through scholarship, creative endeavor and leadership development. Contributions made this year to the challenge match will count toward the campaign.