Historian and public memory specialist Danita Mason-Hogans was recognized as one of Chapel Hill Magazine‘s 2022 Women of Achievement
By Elizabeth Kane | Photo by John Michael Simpson
Danita Mason-Hogans loves Chapel Hill. Her roots run deep – her family has lived here for seven generations. She’s the daughter of Dave Mason of the Chapel Hill Nine, a group of teenagers who led the town’s first sit-in for civil rights in 1960. This history that lives within her family is what makes her so passionate about helping others understand the town’s history – the triumph, the pain and the struggles.
“I’ve always had a deep love for Chapel Hill,” says Danita, a historian and public memory specialist who grew up in the Northside and Rangewood areas. “And I’ve also always had a deep love for equitable education.”
Danita’s passion for education and community are themes that weave into her work and her activism. It’s one of the reasons she founded Bridging the Gap, a nonprofit centered in Chapel Hill, “[in] an effort to raise money to have an after-school program and summer enrichment program for the descendants of the enslaved.” Danita has read studies on the stark disproportion in Chapel Hill between Black children and white children’s readiness for college entrance, and it’s important to her to change this.
Danita says she “became interested in history at [Chapel Hill High School], after a white classmate had told [me], ‘Black people hadn’t done enough to justify a semester of Black history.’ … That’s when I knew I wanted to go to [a historically black college or university],” Danita says. At North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, she earned her bachelor’s in theater before graduating from Virginia Tech with her master’s in education.
In 2017, Danita was appointed by Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger to serve on the Historic Civil Rights Commemorations Task Force. Molly Luby, the community history coordinator at Chapel Hill Public Library, recalls her work on the task force with Danita. “[She] is truly an activist at heart … who doesn’t shy away from speaking truth to power,” Molly says. “Whenever Danita walks into a room, everyone gets a hug. [And] whenever [Danita] leads a meeting, she makes sure that everybody knows everybody else in the room. … She lifts up all the people in the room.”
Danita, who lives in Hillsborough, maintains a joyful attitude and a great sense of humor. “I am probably the silliest person you will ever meet. I love art and anime. I love action and science fiction shows. My husband, [Dr. Cory Hogans], and I watch “General Hospital” [together]. … We’ve watched it every night since college!” she says, with some laughter. Danita and Cory have two kids at their alma mater, N.C. A&T – daughter Ákánké is a junior while son Akin graduated in May.
“I really pattern the way that I move after my mother,” Danita says of Patricia Mason, whose involvement in the community was strong as well. “I [also] do a lot of reading and studying,” Danita says. “During the day, I do a lot of meeting and engaging with people. … I do a lot of community talks on campus and in the community. … My days are pretty full.”
But Danita isn’t just looking to the past, she’s looking toward the future. That means working with young people and listening to them as they pave their own path forward in history. “We all want peace. But, of course, before we get peace, we have to have justice,” Danita says. “And in order to get justice, we have to be willing to listen and heal and share our truth and collaborate together for a solution. And I believe young people are a huge part of that.”