Com­plet­ing the puzzle

As Ox­ford pre­pares for 175 years, lo­cal his­to­rian brings its past 100 years to light

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - SAMANTHA REAR­DON news@cov­

Erik Black­burn Oliver, Ox­ford artist, his­to­rian and au­thor, saw a void in his town’s his­tory. Ox­ford, on the eve of its 175th birth­day, had no doc­u­men­ta­tion of its past 100 years.

In fact, Ox­ford’s doc­u­mented his­tory stunted at the year 1919, when Emory Col­lege moved from Ox­ford to At­lanta to be­come Emory Univer­sity. Many people know that the city of Ox­ford was es­tab­lished in tan­dem with the school, and that for many years Ox­ford pros­pered. But what hap­pened to the com­mu­nity af­ter Emory Col­lege moved?

That is ex­actly where Oliver’s “Ox­ford” be­gins its doc­u­men­ta­tion.

“If you look through the book, you can see that the his­tory of Emory has been told many times,” Oliver said. “Noth­ing had re­ally been writ­ten about the com­mu­nity of Ox­ford it­self, par­tic­u­larly about the twen­ti­eth century. So I wanted to fo­cus my at­ten­tion on the twen­ti­eth century, specif­i­cally af­ter Emory went to At­lanta, be­cause it’s a won­der­ful story of per­se­ver­ance and re­silience.”

Oliver be­gan by reach­ing out to the fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als with deep Ox­ford con­nec­tions, to see if they would be able to share from their pri­vate col­lec­tions. He knew that he would not be able to find as much from the Emory ar­chives or state ar­chives to write a com­mu­nity his­tory, so he be­gan his search with pri­vate homes.

“Un­like writ­ing a stan­dard his­tory, where it’s more about the nar­ra­tive and I would fol­low chronol­ogy, in this kind of for­mat you have to go out first and see what you can find,” Oliver said of the process he used to com­pose “Ox­ford.” “Once you have those his­toric pic­tures, you have to try to or­ga­nize them in some way that makes sense and tells a story. And that [way] kind of de­fies chrono­log­i­cal or­der.”

When he had gath­ered more than 200 pho­tos, he be­gan to look for themes to tell his story. Oliver used each of those themes to come up with each chap­ter in his book.

Oliver grew up in Ox­ford. He al­ready knows many of the fam­i­lies whose pho­tos and sto­ries he col­lected

for more than five months for his book pub­lished by Ar­ca­dia, which pub­lishes a se­ries of lo­cal pic­to­rial his­tory books for many towns across the na­tion.

Af­ter au­thor­ing “Cor­ner­stone and Grove: A Por­trait in Ar­chi­tec­ture and Land­scape of Emory’s Birth­place in Ox­ford, Ge­or­gia” in 2009, Oliver was ap­proached by friend and col­league Ken Thomas, who had pre­vi­ously worked with Ar­ca­dia.

“I al­ways said if I had an­other op­por­tu­nity to do an­other book, I would do a his­tory of Ox­ford,” Oliver said.

Oliver is pres­i­dent of the Ox­ford His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, who lov­ingly re­fer to them­selves as “Keep­ers of the Old Church.” Lo­cal res­i­dents joined to form the so­ci­ety in 1974 with the goal of restor­ing and up-keep­ing the old Methodist church on Ox­ford cam­pus’s grounds.

His par­ents were found­ing mem­bers of the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety, and fol­low­ing in his fa­ther’s foot­steps, Oliver be­came pres­i­dent. He gained both his un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate de­grees in his­tory from Emory. And from the be­gin­ning, doc­u­ment­ing the sto­ries of his com­mu­nity and school has been Oliver’s pas­sion.

“It’s sort of like when you’ve been work­ing on a jig-saw puzzle for a long time,” Oliver said of his book. “And you find those miss­ing pieces you re­ally needed to com­plete that part of the pic­ture. The more you find out, the more you want to find out. I don’t see this as the end of a project, but more like a first chap­ter of con­tin­ual re­search.”

Sub­mit­ted photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

“Ox­ford,” writ­ten by lo­cal his­to­rian Erik Black­burn Oliver, is a pic­to­rial his­tory of Ox­ford’s twen­ti­eth century and con­tains more than 200 pho­tos.

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