Monica Davis Speaks at Welcome Reception for “We Built This” Exhibit
Salisbury, NC – Around 75 attendees visited Rowan Public Library Headquarters after hours on Thursday, November 30 to hear Monica T. Davis speak on the topics of architecture, restoration, and the cultural value of preserving Black-built homes. Davis, who is the founder and Executive Director of the Rebirthing Our Cultural Kingdom (R.O.C.K.) Foundation, headlined the welcome reception for North Carolina Preservation’s traveling exhibit We Built This: Profiles of Black Architects and Builders in North Carolina, which is currently on display at RPL Headquarters in Salisbury through January 27, 2024.
Davis’ knowledge of preservation and historic, Black-built homes runs deep. Not only does she hold a Master of Fine Arts degree in Interior Architecture and a Post Baccalaureate certificate in Historical Preservation, but she also has over 10 years of architecture experience and is the owner and principal designer of Rinascita Designs, LLC.
During her speech, Davis explained how devastating it was to see the historical, Black-built shotgun-style homes in her hometown of Wilson, NC falling into serious disrepair.
“The City of Wilson has not really invested in this area, and a lot of these homes have been renter-occupied for over 30 years. When I was doing my thesis survey, only one house had been owner-occupied. That shows that African Americans in this area weren’t able to create generational wealth because they had been renting the same homes for 30-plus years,” Davis explained. With a lack of attention to this important historical hub of Wilson, the homes – and their historical significance – teetered on the edge of total loss. Davis wanted to do more than preserve these structures. She also wanted to preserve the deep cultural and historical value they held for Wilson’s Black community.
By establishing the R.O.C.K. Foundation, Davis contributed much information and research to the We Built This exhibit. As she learned more about the deteriorating shotgun-style homes in Wilson, she dove deeper into the historical context in which they were built. Many Black tobacco field laborers lived in these homes, which were the chosen style of residence because of their slim designs. Davis explained that the shotgun-style house design originated in West Africa. Multiple shotgun-style homes could be squeezed into smaller plots of land, making them the most economical choice for workers’ housing. In turn, these neighborhoods became the setting for generations of Black families living in these homes, working on the local tobacco farms, and building a unique culture within their communities.
Davis explained how the R.O.C.K. Foundation does more than repairing and restoring the homes: it also serves to educate the community on the rich culture from which many Black Wilson residents come. Davis realized that many Wilson citizens, many of whom had ancestors living in these homes and working in the tobacco fields, didn’t fully understand the significance of the dilapidated homes. Not only were the homes Black-built, but they also served as the backdrop for the history of multiple generations of Wilson’s Black citizens.
However, the R.O.C.K. Foundation doesn’t stop with restoration and education. Davis takes her entire operation a major step further by making the restored shotgun-style homes available as affordable housing options for members of the Wilson community. “As you all know right now, inflation and the cost of living are skyrocketing, so an important part of my preservation work is creating affordable housing options from already-existing structures,” explained Davis.
After Davis’ presentation, attendees had a chance to tour through the entire We Built This exhibit, meet and speak with Davis, and enjoy refreshments together. Exhibit-goers also had the opportunity to complete scavenger hunt activities where the answers were tucked away within the exhibit’s informational panels and posters. Scavenger hunt activities are available for library visitors to complete throughout the exhibit’s stay at RPL Headquarters.
For those who missed the reception, there are multiple upcoming opportunities for you to enjoy programs and activities themed around We Built This. On Saturday, Dec. 9 at 12:30 pm, photographers of all skill levels are invited to join RPL staff at Livingstone College for a photowalk and take photos of historical buildings on campus, some of which are featured in the We Built This exhibit. To see a complete list of programming, visit bit.ly/WeBuiltThisRPL or call 980-432-8670 to connect with your most convenient RPL location.
The exhibit will remain at RPL Headquarters through January 27, 2024–interested visitors can view it during the branch’s regular business hours: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 9 am to 9 pm; and Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm. The exhibit will move to Livingstone College during the month of February 2024. We Built This is presented by Preservation North Carolina, sponsored by Joe L. & Hester M. Sims Family Foundation and Edward & Susan Norvell, and in collaboration with the Historic Salisbury Foundation, Rowan Public Library, Livingstone College, and Friends of Rowan Public Library.
Attached Photo: R.O.C.K. Foundation founder and Executive director Monica T. Davis (left) and RPL Director Melissa Oleen (right) smile for the camera after Davis’ speech at the Welcome Reception
Sydney Smith Hamrick