The Crafting Freedom Institute (CFI) was previously the Apprend Foundation, an outgrowth of Apprend Associates, a media consulting firm founded in 1980 by Laurel and Charles Sneed in the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina. In 1995 the Sneeds formed “The Thomas Day Education Project” (TDEP) to address the lack of materials on NC African American subjects available to the NC public schools. By 2006, TDEP was conducting workshops for up to 200 teachers annually from around the country, as well as producing materials. The Sneeds decided to form a stand alone not-for-profit called the Apprend Foundation. In 2018 the Apprend board voted to change the organization’s name to the “Crafting Freedom Institute.” The time-line below describes highlights of CFI’s work over the past 20 years, as both TDEP and the Apprend Foundation.

1995 – 2005


The Thomas Day Education Project (TDEP) was established by Laurel and Charles Sneed to address the lack of educational media and materials on African-American historical subjects in the public schools in NC.

Research conducted by Laurel Sneed and Christine Westfall discovered Thomas Day’s origins in southern Virginia and identified his parents and brother. The lead scholar/advisor of this research was Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), eminent historian of the African-American experience and at the time a professor of history at Duke University. Dr. Franklin mentored Laurel Sneed while advising the Thomas Day origins research project and made her aware that TDEP was urgently needed to address the widespread lack of knowledge among Americans of the experience of slavery and the role race has played in our nation’s history. (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).


Patricia Dane Roger’s article on Thomas Day was published in the Washington Post. This was the first time an article on Thomas Day appeared in a major national newspaper and marked the beginning of Rogers’ two decades-long research of Thomas Day’s social and political history.


The TDEP received its first National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to conduct a series of teacher workshops on African–American history with 100 teachers from three NC school systems.


Janie Leigh Carter’s research on Rev. John Day Jr., Thomas Day’s brother and a founder of the nation of Liberia in West Africa, was completed for her MA’ thesis at Wake Forest University. (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.)

Jonathan Prown, an eminent furniture historian and expert on Southern furniture, wrote a pivotal article that reassessed previously held assumptions about Thomas Day’s furniture. (See: Prown, Jonathan,”The Furniture of Thomas Day: A Reevaluation,” Winterthur Portfolio, 33, no. 4


Michael Paquette’s study of the organization of Day’s workshop was published. (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.


“Exploring the World of Thomas Day,” an interactive multimedia ‘smart game,’ the first funded by the NEH, was designed and produced over three years. It was based on the detective–like experience Laurel Sneed and Christine Westfall had while researching the origins and early years of Thomas Day’s life and simulated the process of conducting history research. As the first “smart game” the NEH funded, it was described by reviewers as “an interactive documentary,” and a “fresh approach to Black history,” and by several youth as “a really cool game.” It also garnered numerous national and international awards. See: Awards & Recognition.


A group of Durham Public School teachers who participated in the 1997 – 1998 teacher workshops created “the Thomas Day Furniture Kit,” a hands–on kit of instructional resources about furniture as history, furniture as culture, and furniture as art, featuring Thomas Day’s life and work. The innovative kit focused on artifacts as primary sources of knowledge. It was disseminated through additional small grants and purchased directly by school systems throughout the country.


An on-line course for teachers on African-American history was designed and made available electronically.

“Let It Shine,” a dissemination project, was funded by NEH that enabled teams of teachers from fifteen school districts around the country to come to North Carolina to learn historical background knowledge about Thomas Day and how to use the Thomas Day furniture kit and “Exploring the World of Thomas Day” in their teaching.


“Crafting Freedom: African–American Entrepreneurs of the Antebellum South” a professional development opportunity for teachers funded by NEH’s Landmarks of American History and Culture program, was offered in eight sessions to 400 participants from around the country.



A national press conference to “kick-off” the NEH’s Landmarks of American History and Culture workshops was held at the NC Museum of History. The NEH chairperson and several NEH division directors were in attendance at the press conference. The “Crafting Freedom” workshop was featured as a model NEH Landmarks workshop.

The Apprend Foundation, Inc. was approved by the IRS as a 501-c3 tax exempt organization and thereby formally established to be a stand-alone organization to continue to pursue grants and the work that had been initiated by TDEP.


The Crafting Freedom Materials Project (see: www.craftingfreedom.org), an intensive, multi-year instructional development and media production project, was funded by the NEH. It is a web-based digitized collection of original classroom-tested and scholar-vetted lesson plans featuring teacher guidance and extensive instructional media and materials about twelve 19th century African American artists, entrepreneurs, and abolitionists.


“The Hidden History of Thomas Day,” a research publication featuring findings from new research by Patricia Dane Rogers and Laurel Sneed about Thomas Day’s abolitionist ties in the North, was published with the support of the NC Humanities Council. Its release was “kicked off” by a major symposium at the Caswell County Courthouse in June 2009 funded by the NC Humanities Council.



The Crafting Freedom Materials Project was uploaded to the worldwide web and made freely available to teachers and their students.


Crafting Freedom workshops were cited in an NEH blog targeting Congress for being an exemplary NEH-supported project. See: Crafting Freedom: Black Artisans, Entrepreneurs, and Abolitionists of the Antebellum Upper South


Selected Crafting Freedom Materials’ lesson plans are funded to be modified for the EdSitement website.


Apprend received funding to develop educational material for NEH’s EdSitement Website to support the Academy Award winning film “Twelve Years a Slave” based on the slave narrative of the same name by Solomon Northup. EdSitement is an NEH–supported repository of outstanding educational media and materials.


The Crafting Freedom workshops resumed in 2011 and 300 educators from around the nation participated in this professional development during this period.


“Crafting Freedom In-School,” was created as a one–day workshop to reach elementary and middle school students directly with subject matter taught in the Crafting Freedom workshops.

Numerous collaborations occurred during this period with universities, schools, and historic sites such as City University of New York’s Media Lab, the Burwell School Historic Site, the Union Tavern Historic Site, and the Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education in Wilson NC. Examples include: the development of a mobile tour for use at the museum in the Union Tavern; writing and co-producing a children’s play on black entrepreneurs who were born into slavery; tours of black historical sites with various student and adult groups; a study of how mobile technology enhances the teaching of Thomas Day and other NC historical figures “along NC Highway 86.”

“David Walker and His Appeal,” a short video Apprend produced that is part of the Crafting Freedom lesson plan on David Walker, is cited by NEH’s EdSitement staff for receiving more “hits” on YouTube than any other film or film clip uploaded to YouTube by the NEH. (As of May 2018, it has received 19,000 views.)