Why This Matters: ASC recognizes that creative individuals and teachers enrich the cultural lives of everyone in our region and beyond through their work.
By Michael Solender
When Tom Hanchett arrived in Charlotte in the early ‘80s to work for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission his job was to study neighborhoods many saw as old and run down.
“People said, ‘You’re a historian? Go to Charleston, go to Williamsburg. That’s where the real history is,’” recalled Hanchett. “Dilworth was largely unappreciated. I saw the sidewalks and beautiful bungalows and thought this is a great place. If we can see the love that went in to it, we can be in it and feel love.”
Hanchett’s career is built upon sharing the love he’s found in the history of our forbearers and showcasing the living traditions he’s found in all corners of our city.
During more than 16 years as staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, Hanchett curated nine exhibits and served as scholarly advisor on three others. His work on the museum’s showcase exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Reinventing Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South,” earned the Southeast Museums Conference award of Best New Exhibit in 2001.
The Hanchett-curated “COURAGE” exhibition, exploring the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision, won top national awards from the American Association for State and Local History and the American Alliance of Museums in 2006. The National Medal for Museum and Library Services recognized the museum’s team at the White House.
Hanchett’s “HistorySouth.org” website is a rich resource of essays and observations exploring food, music, architecture, history and culture in Charlotte.
“Food and music tell you a lot about who’s here and how people put together their world,” said Hanchett.
His regular “Food From Home” feature in the Charlotte Observer celebrates food traditions from the multi-ethnic and ever evolving cultural landscape of the New South. He teamed with Cedric Mangum of the United House of Prayer to launch the annual “Gospel Shout!” concerts, which connect new audiences to the storied music tradition of this exuberant African-American church. Hanchett helped create the 1985 Spirit Square reunion of bluegrass and mountain music legends in “The Charlotte Country Music Story.”
Working with planner John Howard and the staff of the Community Building Initiative, Hanchett developed the “Black, White, and More” bus tours providing context and history behind Charlotte’s racial landscape and shifting demographics.
Generous with his time and knowledge, Hanchett is quick to share credit with former Levine Museum president, Emily Zimmern, and one of his mentors, historian Dan Morrill, a past ASC Honoree, for shaping his collaborative approach and encouraging his work to be reflective of the community.
“History is really what the community creates together,” says Hanchett. “All the things that touch you are enriched by all of the people who make them.”