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UNC Pembroke student Blake Tyner published his first book for national release.
"Robeson County" is a pictorial history of the county published by Archadia Publishing House's "Images of America" series. Containing more than 200 photographs dating back to the early 19th century, the book's list price is $19.99.
Tyner, whose own collection of historic photos forms the core of the book, surprised even himself with the quality of the images he assembled.
"I am very satisfied with this project," he said. "In 'Robeson County,' the county is well represented by community, race, religion, education, government, social life and economy."
Robeson is the largest and arguably the most colorful county in North Carolina, further burdening Tyner's research.
"I have about 300 hours of labor and 600 miles of travel in this book," he said. "I was pleased with what I was able to find in private collections in local museums and at the State Archives."
Many of the photos have sparked further interest as research projects for Tyner.
"One group of pictures I was pleased to obtain from Historic Robeson was the Ferguson collection," he said. "Her name was actually Lillian Ferguson, and she was a professional photographer based in Lumberton from 1900-1920. She is very interesting, and I would like to know more about her life."
"I am also very indebted to Steven Edgerton of Raleigh for providing pictures of Presbyterian Junior College, a minstrel show at the Red Springs Opera House (now the B.C. Moore Department Store) and a photo of two Red Shirts."
The last photo helped solve a long-time debate about whether the Reconstruction-era political movement, known as the Red Shirts, existed in Robeson County.
"Another great collection was C.E. Morrison's, which is housed in the Rowland Museum," Tyner said. "Morrison was an agriculture teacher from the Rowland area, whose pictures depict the every day life of agriculture students."
"Robeson County" also contains three outstanding photos of Rosenwald schools in Maxton, St. Pauls and Lumber Bridge. These were schools for African American children built with funds from the Sears and Roebuck founder Julius Rosenwald.
There is also a 1934 reunion photo of students from Floral College in Maxton, which was the first college in North Carolina to grant degrees to women.
"There are lots of stories worth telling in more detail," Tyner said. "Everybody and every community played a role in Robeson County history.
The book is the product of a lifetime of collecting photographs, manuscripts and other items of historical interest.
"I have always been around history," the St. Pauls native said. "The main purpose of this book, other than the preservation and dissemination of these images, is to spark interest in the study of Robeson County history and to encourage others to seek out documents, photos, maps, and other ephemera relating to the county history while it still exists."
"Every 20 years represents a change in generation, and potentially a great loss of knowledge of history and its artifacts," he said. "If new generations of Robesonians are interested in their history and the study of their proud heritage, then the purpose of this book is fulfilled. Our future is truly rooted in our past, and preservation of this foundation is a sacred trust that we must uphold."
With this book just coming off the presses, Tyner is looking to the future.
"My advisor, (history Professor) Stephen Berry, was well pleased with this book, but this is just the beginning," he said.
Tyner plans a pictorial history of UNCP for his honors thesis at the university and a second volume on Robeson County.
"I will continue my quest to tell the entire story of Robeson County," he said. "Many people were reluctant to contribute photos because they did not believe their pictures were important enough. We lose too much history that way."
Tyner is an administrative assistant in UNC Pembroke's Art Department and working on his undergraduate degree in history at the university.
Currently, Tyner is the director of the Maxton Historical Society and curator of the Robeson County Museum in Lumberton. He is also the author of several other works, including "Goin' for a Soldier," which won the North Carolina Society of Historian's Willie Parker Peace award in 2000.
He lives with his wife Bess in the oldest home in Maxton, Sycamore Grove Hall, where they are raising their son McKay.
Tyner is working to establish a larger Robeson County Historical Commission. All proceeds from the sale of "Robeson County" will be contributed to the new Historical Commission.
Copies of the book may be purchased at online booksellers, the UNCP Bookstore or from Tyner at 910.844.2377 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the book can be found at: www.robesoncountyhistory.com.