The Vertigo of Time

Phyllis Dooney

2017 - Ongoing

“The Vertigo of Time” [VofT] introduces us to the descendants from Historic Stagville’s enslaved population in the Durham, North Carolina area. In analog photographs, audio recordings, archival documents and 16mm moving image, Phyllis B. Dooney brings us into the homes and histories of these formative African American descendant families today.

In the antebellum period, Stagville Plantation amassed wealth with the combined labor of an estimated 3000 enslaved people that numbered 900 at the time of emancipation. VofT serves as an intervention into a deficient canonized national history that began with slavery in 1619. In black American homes, records were often hand written in the family bible and naming conventions ascribed lineage. Family stories were shared orally through generations. Yet institutionally, frequent gaps in black genealogy and accomplishment mirror the omission of African Americans within U.S. history writ large: insufficient data and records reveal a systemic carelessness and depersonalization of black Americans. The project also questions “exceptionalism,” elevating the everyday lives of these working class people and connecting them to the wellspring of our national culture.

In a mosaic of American lives today, VofT spotlights members of the Hart, Amey, Justice, Hargress, Peaks, Sowell, Mangum and Holman family lines who can trace their heritage back to their enslaved ancestors at Stagville Plantation. Sisters, Evelyn Clemons and Helen Hart, marched for civil rights in the 1960’s. Kai Banx is an LGBTQ Certified Nursing Assistant. Ed Brown and Perrist Hodges are local Vietnam veterans. William Amey owned a funeral home and flower shop for decades that serviced Black Wall Street. Amey’s mixed-race grandson, Brian, is getting certified in radiography and holds onto a bottle of his deceased grandmother’s perfume. Jerre Graham opened the new local music venue, Rhythms Live. Noland Daye uses and suspects that his ancestor was fathered by white Sheriff Eugene “Cat” Belvin’s brother. VofT acknowledges the turbidity of the past by reflecting the grey areas as well. Piedmont blues musician John Dee Holeman, whose genealogy points to Stagville Plantation, is featured although he unconfirmed as a descendant.

Funding will support Dooney’s objective to continue her work with the long term goal of creating a traveling exhibition, a transmedia photo essay and a book for print. The project has been evolving for over a year: locating subjects, capturing photographs, moving image and audio interviews. The fieldwork serves an archival function as well—audio interviews, genealogical information, and archival family photographs (scans) are gifted annually to Historic Stagville. In addition to online and print distribution, the project comes to life in collaborations. In October 2018, Dooney worked with local African American spoken word poets, including Dasan Ahanu, who responded to the recordings with original poems and delivered them in the Great Barn on Historic Stagville’s site amidst a backdrop of projected photographs and 16mm moving image. Dooney intends to move forward with similar partnerships, incorporating components of her project with the voices and artistry of various African American creatives across the country.

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  • Perest Hodges, 2017.

  • Kai Banx, 2018.

  • Rosemary's Mirror, 2019.

  • Melody Peaks and Brittany Allen, 2018.

  • The Peaks Cousins, 2018

  • Noland Daye at Northgate Mall, 2018.

  • Reganae Hart, 2019.

  • Horseshoes at Jamie Justice's House, 2018.

  • Vinegar and Collard Greens, 2018.

  • Bertha Mae's Hatboxes, 2019.

  • Joyce Justice Williams, 2018.

  • Carolyn “Tootiebug” Holloway, 2018.

  • Nakia, Keith and Squeeze, 2018.

  • Kai Banx, 2017.

  • Gerald Justice, Fishing on the Eno River #1, 2017.

  • Jaelyn Clemon Richardson and ZaRon Pherell Richardson, 2017.

  • Durham Street #1, 2018.

  • Durham Street #2, 2018.

  • Historic Stagville #1, 2017.

  • The Harts (Marie Green, Bertha Mae Hart, Dara Anyah Rose Hart, Shontia Davis, Terrell Lee Keith, Rosemary Hart Everett, Drew Tori Rainer, Noland Daye, and Linda Gale Hart Baber), 2017.