A new $1 million gift will go toward oral history and human rights work at Duke.

The married couple William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin professor emeritus of history, and social activist Lorna Chafe have donated $700,000 to the Center of Documentary Studies and another $300,000 for human rights projects at Duke. William Chafe, who was a co-founder of CDS, said that the $700,000 donation is designed to strengthen the work CDS is already engaged in.

“We both were involved in trying to change Duke, make it a better place, make it a place that cared about social issues and grassroots activism,” he said. “Although we are confident in the direction of the Center of Documentary Studies, we want to make sure that there was in fact an ongoing source of funding for continuing to do the kind of work that we'd both been involved in—and certainly I was involved with—for the last 45 years at Duke.”

Lynn McKnight, associate director for programs and development at CDS, noted in an email that the Chafes’ gift reflects the “heart of the mission” of the Center.

“At CDS, we’ve seen how documentary work makes change in the world by amplifying voices, illuminating injustices and breaking down barriers to understanding,” McKnight wrote. “The Chafes’ gift, supporting oral history work on social justice and human rights, will shine more light on the lives of people who are quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, striving to make a better, more inclusive world. And their stories will inspire so many others to keep the fire alive.”

Chafe said that in the 25 years since CDS was founded, the Center has placed a greater emphasis on oral history work and audio documentary projects. Although CDS had historically focused on racial issues, the $700,000 gift will help fund a postdoctoral fellowship aimed at other, broader topics related to equality and justice, he added.

“What the wording [of the gift] does is to make possible the use of the postdoctoral fellowship endowment to bring to campus someone who is working on the major issues of the day in terms of social justice and most committed to working on finding out what the grassroots support is for those issues,” Chafe said.

After receiving an unexpected family inheritance earlier in his life, Chafe said that he and his wife had always been planning to make a monetary contribution to Duke. He added that CDS is working to match the gift by raising donations from other sources.

“Bill Chafe has given to Duke decade after decade through his exemplary and creative scholarship, his special gifts as a teacher and mentor and his multiple roles as an academic leader,” said former President Richard Brodhead in a Duke Today release.

The other $300,000 of the Chafes’ gift will be used to fund human rights work. Chafe, who has been co-director of the Center for Human Rights at the Franklin Humanities Institute for the past four years, said that the specific funding plan for the human rights portion of the gift will be announced by Oct. 1.

“What we're trying to do there is to make sure that part of the money can be used each year to fund specific projects that are related to human rights within the larger Durham community,” he said.