Origins and Future


The Apprend Foundation originated as a project of Apprend Associates, a media consulting business founded in 1980 by Laurel and Charles Sneed in the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina. The Thomas Day Education Project (TDEP) established in 1995 was a project of Apprend Associates that evolved into the stand-alone not for profit organization of the same name ( Apprend Foundation.) The foundation is now in the process of changing its name to "The Crafting Freedom Institute." The time-line below describes the evolution of TDEP/Apprend's work over the past 20 years.

1995 - 2005

The Thomas Day Education Project (TDEP) was formed in response to the need for more educational media and materials on NC-based African-American historical subjects in the NC K-12 public schools. Laurel and Charles Sneed, principals in Apprend Associates (established in 1980), a media research and design company in the Research Triangle Park, had become fascinated by the free black NC cabinetmaker, Thomas Day (1801-ca.1861) on a visit to Milton, NC in the late 1980s. While there, they stayed at the Woodside Inn, the former Richmond Plantation (1838) where Thomas Day crafted the interior architecture and also provided furnishings in the house. Lib and Tom McPherson were the inn owners at that time and they introduced the Sneeds to Thomas Day and his work. McPherson served as chair of the TDEP board and spearheaded the organization's development and strategic planning in its formative years.

Laurel and Christine Westfall, a history researcher, conducted an intensive research project to uncover Thomas Day's origins that at that time were unknown. Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915- 2009), pre-eminent historian of the African-American experience and at that time a professor at Duke University was the lead scholar advisor on this groundbreaking research effort. Franklin's first book was about free blacks in NC before the Civil War and he was especially interested in Thomas Day who Franklin's research brought out of the shadows and into the annals of American history. (See: Franklin, John Hope, The Free Negro in North Carolina 1790-1860 Chapel Hill and London: UNC Press, 1943 and 1995.) Sneed and Westfall's research resulted in the discovery of who Thomas Day's parents were and identified his brother, John Jr. (1797-1847) , a major historical figure in the early years of the colony of Liberia and a signer of that nation's declaration of independence. (See: Sneed, Laurel C. and Christine Westfall, "Uncovering the Hidden History of Thomas Day: Findings and Methodology, a Report to the North Carolina Humanities Council", Durham, NC: Thomas Day Education Project, 1995).

This study prompted much in-state news coverage and launched at least two masters’ degree theses: Janie Leigh Carter’s on Rev. John Day Jr., (See: Carter Janie Leigh, "John Day: A Founder of the Republic of Liberia and the Southern Baptist Liberian Missionary Movement in the 19th Century, Master's Thesis, Wake Forest University 1998.) and Michael Paquette’s article on the organization of Day’s workshop. (See: Paquette, Michael A., "Thomas Day: An Inquiry into Business and Labor Practices in an Antebellum Cabinet shop," Journal of North Carolina Association of Historians (Fall: 1998-1999.) This research coincided with an exhibit of Thomas Day furniture at the NC Museum of History, the introduction of numerous reproductions of Thomas Day’s furniture at the High Point, NC International Furniture Market. A pivotal publication during this period was a major story in The Washington Post written by staff writer, Patricia Dane Rogers in February 1997. (See: "Carved in History, Thomas Day: A Success in an Unlikely Time and Place," Washington Post, February 13, 1997.) This was the first major article in a national newspaper and was the beginning of Rogers' intensive research of Thomas Day's which has been on-going ever since. Another important article published during this period was by Jonathan Prown, an eminent furniture historian who subsequently would lead the Chipstone Foundation, a renowned decorative arts foundation based in Milwaukee Wisconsin. (See: Prown, Jonathan,"The Furniture of Thomas Day: A Reevaluation," Winterthur Portfolio, 33, no. 4 (Winter 1998.)

TDEP affiliated with the not-for-profit, North Carolina Central University Foundation (NCCUF) during this period which made it possible to receive major grants. In 1997 TDEP received its first NEH grant to conduct a series of teacher workshops on African-American history with 100 teachers from three NC school systems. In addition, TDEP developed two major instructional resources with NC Humanities Council, NEH and other sources of funding: The Thomas Day Kit, a hands-on kit of resources about furniture as history, furniture as culture, and furniture as art featuring Thomas Day's life and work. The "kit" was initiated by a group of Durham teachers who participated in the 1997 teacher workshops. Once completed it received additional funding from the NC Arts Council and was distributed through grants or purchased directly by school systems in NC as well as in South Carolina (SC). During this period "Exploring the World of Thomas Day, "an interactive multimedia "smart game" was also developed with major NEH funding. It was based on the detective–like experience Laurel had while researching the origins and early years of Thomas Day. It was described by reviewers as "an interactive documentary," a "fresh approach to Black history," and simply as a "really cool game." "Exploring the World of Thomas Day" won numerous national and international awards including being named "software of the year" by Technology and Learning magazine in 2003.

Also in 2003 NEH funded "Let It Shine," a dissemination project that enabled a group of teams of two teachers from fifteen school districts around the country to come to North Carolina to learn historical background knowledge on Thomas Day and how to use the Thomas Day furniture kit and "Exploring the World of Thomas Day" in their teaching. This experience revealed the need for more high quality educational materials on the era of slavery and on African American historical subjects generally.

In 2003 NEH's Education Division the Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for K-12 Educators. TDEP, with NCCUF as a sponsor, was awarded funding for "Crafting Freedom: African American Entrepreneurs of the Antebellum South" for four summer sessions accommodating 200 teachers in the summer of 2004. During this period TDEP became affiliated with the NC Museum of History Associates, the not for profit arm of the NC Museum of History (NCMH). From 2004 - 2007 six hundred K-12 educators from around the country participated in the Crafting Freedom summer workshops.

The TDEP board voted in 2005 to establish a stand alone 501–c3 organization and the "Apprend Foundation" was born. "Apprend" is derived from the Latin verb "Apprender" defined as "apprehend, embrace, or grasp and the French word "apprendre" which means "to learn."

2006 - 2010

During this period the Apprend Foundation focused on the design and production of the Crafting Freedom Materials Project (see: that received a major NEH materials development grant in 2007. Completed in 2010, this web-based digitized collection of original classroom-tested and scholar-vetted lesson plans also includes teacher guidance, and instructional media and materials about several 19th century African American figures - artists, entrepreneurs, and abolitionists. The featured African Americans "crafted freedom" and created greater opportunities for themselves, their loved ones, and others of their race during the era of slavery.

Apprend collaborated on a variety of other projects during this time period dedicated to researching and disseminating knowledge of slavery and African American history and culture more generally.

2011 - 2018

The Crafting Freedom Materials Project continues to be widely used by teachers nationwide and is continually being added to and enhanced. In 2011-2018 the Crafting Freedom workshops resumed and 360 educators from around the nation participated during this period. In 2013 Crafting Freedom was cited in an NEH blog to Congress for being an outstanding NEH-supported project. "Crafting Freedom In-School," was started as a means of reaching students directly with some subject matter taught in the workshops. Numerous collaborations occurred during this period with universities, schools, and historic sites.

2018 Onward

A major focus during 2018 and the foreseeable future is making the transition to becoming "The Crafting Freedom Institute." In 2018 Chrystal Regan was elected board chair and began to lead the board in a strategic planning process that will enable the emerging Crafting Freedom Institute to become a more sustainable not-for-profit organization.