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Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers
Featuring more than 1000 artifacts, images, video clips, music, and oral histories, resulting in the nation's most comprehensive interpretation of post-Civil War Southern history.
Exhibit Dates:
Permanent Exhibit
Named one of the best exhibitions in the Southeast by the Southeastern Museums Conference Curators’ Committee 2002.
Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Reinventing Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South

The centerpiece of the Museum is the award-winning exhibition, Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South. Covering 8,000 square feet, the exhibit features Charlotte and its 13 surrounding counties as a case study to illustrate the profound changes in the South since the Civil War.

Visitors enjoy an interactive, hands-on experience as they tour 6 different "environments" within the exhibit.

  • Step inside a one-room tenant farmers house
  • Run a hand through a pile of seed cotton
  • Listen to the churning of the cotton mill
  • Play checkers on the front porch of a mill house
  • Sit in Good Samaritans Hospital Chapel, one of the first African-American hospitals in the South
  • Walk down main street and try on a hat in an early Belk department store
  • Sit at a lunch counter and hear personal accounts from local sit-in leaders

Planning for this exhibit began in the mid-1990s, and became a reality when the exhibit was unveiled with the Museum’s re-opening in 2001.

With funding provided by a National Endowment for the Humanities planning grant, the Museum brought together a panel of nationally known historians of the New South, with a focus on the Carolina Piedmont, including Dr. David Carlton of Vanderbilt University, Dr. David Goldfield of UNC-Charlotte, Dr. Lu Ann Jones of East Carolina University, and Dr. Tom Hanchett, then of Emory University. These advisors recommended the exhibit explore economic transformations that pushed the Piedmont from a region of small farms after the Civil War to America's main textile factory region by the 1920's, to the second largest banking center in the U.S. today. They urged the Museum to tell this story using "social history," history from the perspective of people who actually lived through it.

This approach won major support from the NEH, which awarded the Museum an implementation grant that allowed the Museum to hire renowned exhibit designers, Staples & Charles of Alexandria, Virginia. In 1999, Dr. Hanchett joined the Museum as historian, and together with exhibit director, Jean Johnson assembled a team to bring together more than 1000 artifacts, images, video clips and oral histories that make up the exhibit. The result is the most comprehensive interpretation of post-Civil War Southern history in the nation.

The exhibit development team was comprised of:
Dr. Tom Hanchett, Jean Johnson, John Hilarides, Ryan Sumner, Dr. C. Brenden Martin, Cathy Grybush, Boston Productions, Imaginary Voyage, Inc., Studio Displays, Staples & Charles, and Unworld Productions.
Supported By
Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975
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Families of Abraham: A remarkable story about the religious diversity of the South, created and published by Eleanor Brawley
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