Historical Society Announces 2023 Community Treasures


By Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

They called them Town Treasures back in 1966, but today, the Chapel Hill Historical Society has become a bit more formal with the same mission – to honor regular folks doing good works in Orange County.  The 2023 Community Treasures Awards are to be presented in a ceremony at the Seymour Center on October 28, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend.  Reservations are not required.

President Richard Ellington said, “We are looking to recognize people working, helping their neighbor, helping their neighborhoods, and helping the town.”

Ellington said nominations are as simple as writing a letter. “We don’t have a formal form to fill in and document. We just want people to speak from the heart and say why they think this person is worthy of some public recognition.”

Many of these nominees are people whose good works are known only to their neighbors and families. “We feel this is a way that the newcomers can realize just what a special place they now live in and get to know the special people that surround them,” said Ellington.

Ellington knows what he speaks of, as a man who grew up in Chapel Hill, leaving briefly only to return. “I remember when everything on Franklin St. and the 100 block east and west was the business center – before any shopping centers,” he said. At that time, all the stores but one (Roses Five and Dime) were locally owned and operated.

It was the kind of area where everyone knew the man behind the counter and the customers knew each other. “As a kid, I couldn’t get away with anything. Everyone had their eye out on you!” said Ellington.

He hopes honoring these citizens will help cosmopolitan newcomers of the area to see the community we’ve evolved from and the people who still make it a good place to live.

Awardees are selected from nominations submitted by local leaders, society members, and the general community. The awards were paused during the past three years due to COVID. This year’s awardees are

Paul and Belinda Caldwell – Married for over 40 years, Paul and Belinda Caldwell have worked tirelessly for civil rights, affordable housing, and protecting the heritage of the Northside community where they live. Paul Caldwell was the first Black sergeant, lieutenant, and captain of the UNC campus police. He has also served on the town’s Parks and Recreation Board and its Public Housing Board. Belinda Caldwell moved to Chapel Hill when she was 20 years old and worked as a telephone operator with the local telephone company. Mrs. Caldwell helped break the company’s color barrier by becoming its first full-time Black female employee. She later became a supervisor and helped to hire more Black employees.

Louise Felix – Louise Felix was born and raised in Chapel Hill and is the granddaughter of stonemason and builder John Wesley Campbell, who built stone houses and community buildings in Northside, the neighborhood where she continues to live and serve the community. Felix volunteers with the Linking Generations Across Northside and Northside Residential Fellowship program at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, where she mentors UNC student residents and volunteers on what it means to be a Northside neighbor.

Robert Humphreys – Robert Humphreys began working at his parents’ Chapel Hill Cleaners on West Franklin Street at the age of 12 and has been a tireless champion for the downtown area. He helped form the Chapel Hill Downtown Association in the mid-1970s, which later became the Downtown Commission, and served as the Commission’s Executive Director from 1990 until 2003. From 2004 to 2022, Humphreys was the Financial Director of the Children’s Cochlear Implant Center at UNC. 

Marjorie Land  Marjorie Land was one of the first Black nurses hired by North Carolina Memorial Hospital. Land’s nursing career spanned 41 years, both in the OB/GYN clinic at UNC Hospitals, and at Carrboro Clinical, an organization providing home healthcare services. She served on the Institutional Review Board at UNC Hospitals, helping to ensure that research projects undertaken at UNC would do no harm to patients. As a volunteer, Land has also served on the Orange County Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) Advisory Board, and has been an active member of St. Paul AME Church since 1960.  

Albert Williams – Albert Williams has been a leader in civil rights and community relations for much of his storied life and career. At the age of 16, Williams and eight other local Black high school students, later known as the Chapel Hill Nine, sat down for service at the Colonial Drug Store on West Franklin Street. Their sit-in and subsequent arrests were a turning point in the local civil rights movement. Williams was again in the forefront when, in 1968, he was hired as the Town of Chapel Hill’s first Black firefighter, paving the way for the integration of the town’s fire department.

You can read more about these individuals and their contributions at the Historical Society’s website: Community Treasures – Chapel Hill Historical Society.

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 

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