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A Letter from Emily


Emily Zimmern at Levine Museum Front DeskIn 1995 when I was named executive director, I never imagined I would still be leading Levine Museum twenty years later. At the time I was uncertain whether or not the position was a good fit for me! Now with my retirement days away, I’m finding it difficult to encapsulate the job that I’ve loved for the past two decades.

There have been so many peak experiences; I look back at a veritable mountain range of extraordinary times. I think of the quiet moments observing visitors in the galleries being moved by images and artifacts and families engaging in intergenerational conversation. I recall all the children watching performances at community days, clapping enthusiastically, and the busloads of CMS 8th grade students who took in Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers and saw their city in new ways. I reflect on the robust discussion among panelists on a range of provocative topics and the profound listening and connection of dialogue participants.

Emily Zimmern and David McCullough

I’ve enjoyed opportunities I never imagined: meeting and learning from preeminent scholars John Hope Franklin and Diana Eck, public intellectuals David McCullough and Tom Wolfe, authors Lee Smith and Ron Rash, activists Marian Wright Edelman, Janet Murguia and Congressman John Lewis, trailblazers Liz Hair, Sarah Stevenson and Bob Barrett, journalists Judy Woodruff and Juan Williams, and so many others. I recall travels on behalf of the Museum from South Africa in 2004 to Seattle last week. I think of the recognition the Museum’s work has received from the White House to multiple national and regional conferences. I go through my mental roster of the scores of community partners whose collaboration has made for stronger programming for our community.


What am I most proud of? Levine Museum has provided a space where everyone’s history is told, where everyone has an opportunity to share their story. We hear from the famous and powerful as well as those whose stories are little known or have never been told. I think about the first Southern Roots, Global Vision forum with local icons Hugh McColl, Ed Crutchfield, Dick Spangler, Ruth Shaw, Crandall Bowles and newcomer John Guffy, moderated by Charlie Rose. I think about the remarkable De Laine family and the COURAGE exhibit, which touched hearts and minds across the country. I think about refugee Hmong women describing their traditional textiles and how they feel at home in the North Carolina foothills as well as the Jewish, Christian and Muslim families who came together to share their lives in the Families of Abraham exhibit. The memories are almost endless. If you check out the list of this fall’s exhibits and programs, you’ll discover an equally wide range of offerings—from a conversation with former Governor Jim Martin to the stories of forgotten musicians in the We Are The Music Makers exhibit to the multilayered narratives featured in ¡NUEVOlution!

What have I learned? History matters. History is important for individuals, communities and nations. It shapes our sense of self and our relationship to one another. It locates us in time and place and helps to give meaning to our lives. It enriches our civic discourse and provides resilient threads that strengthen the fabric of our democratic society. When I started in 1995, that statement of belief was my standard speech. After twenty years, I believe in the accuracy and truth of that message, now more than ever.

Emily and Staff at Taste of the New South Global Dish 2015As I prepare for retirement, I extend my deepest gratitude to the many Museum members, donors, partners, supporters and friends. It has been a privilege beyond measure to work with you to build Levine Museum of the New South into a vital resource for our community and region. I’m confident the new Team Levine will carry on the tradition of excellence and relevance and lead the Museum to ever higher heights. I see new peaks on the horizon.

With appreciation and warm regards,




           Emily Zimmern Halloween Party  Emily Zimmern Board Reunion Prep