Participants spoke and sang at the Camp Hill Community Documentation Project Saturday. | A.J. Watson

Archived Story

Camp Hill celebrates year-long project

Published 1:49pm Tuesday, June 26, 2012

By A.J.Watson, Outlook Staff Writer

“It brings us together – it shows how much everyone cares about this place,” Antonio Woodyard said at the Camp Hill Community Documentation Project celebration Saturday, June 23, the culmination of a year’s worth of documentation of the Camp Hill community.

Pacers Inc. – a group that promotes education, entrepreneurship, technical skills, liberal arts and several other programs for the enhancement of rural areas – along with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Camp Hill Pacers local community group sponsored the project.

According to Jean Mosely of Camp Hill Pacers local community group, the project at Camp Hill was “first to find out where they came from. Second to find out where they are, and third to find out the possibilities of the future.”

The project allowed both the younger and older generations of Camp Hill to work together with professional photographers, graphic artists and videographers, as well as honing their musical talents by composing and singing songs to document their community history.

The 16-year-old Woodyard said he learned basic camera functions, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro – programs used regularly in college and the business world – to aid him and his counterparts.

One of the most visual representations was the 40 minute video featuring stories of the “hustling and bustling” town of Camp Hill, the Civil Rights Movement and the beginning of integration.

According to elders within the community, Camp Hill was the economic hub of the area.

“It was hustling and bustling with wagons, people and the occasional car,” one man said in the video. “Visitors would come from Dadeville, Lafayette, Opelika and some even from Alexander City – people came from everywhere to shop at Camp Hill.”

Camp Hill had a plethora of businesses, the man said.

From service stations, welders, nickel and dime stores, barbershops – Camp Hill had it all, the man said.

Perhaps some of the most powerful stories concerned the ignorance and hatred of the white minority.

All positions of power in the community (mayor, police officers, police chief) were held by whites, creating a situation in which black people were “treated more like a second class citizen and sometimes like less than a human being.”

“Police would part crowds on the street with their batons and beat residents if they didn’t get out of their way,” a woman said in the video.

“Black kids would have to wait in the street while the white kids passed on the street walk. Black people couldn’t try on hats or shoes, and you could only buy one type of stocking,” the same woman said.

The oppression was so bad, some said, residents began jumping on trains headed to Chicago in the middle of the night.

“You’re either gonna do something bad about it or leave – so I left,” one man said.

Residents said the transition was difficult due to a seemingly inescapable caste system.

“We were pretty much handicapped because the law wasn’t behind us … I was pretty much conditioned to stay in my place,” the first black mayor of Camp Hill, Frank Holley said.

That’s the exact reason Pacers chose Camp Hill.

“You get historical artifacts and then you create a historical record where few records are kept,” Shelton said. “There’s a really rich history in Camp Hill. It’s not all pleasant, but it’s very rich and very overlooked.”