This is the first in a special series on Jim Crow and our coastal waters. In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting 7 or 8 stories about coastal North Carolina’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “Sundown towns,” and racially exclusive resort communities.
On yet another trip to New Bedford, Mass., I crossed the Fish Island Bridge and explored Fairhaven. It’s a lovely town, with broad, shady avenues and a long row of shipyards and fishing wharves along the Acushnet River. In 1841 Herman Melville sailed from the old seaport on the whale ship Acushnet. He later drew on his experiences during that voyage to write his masterpiece Moby-Dick.
A memory. I am remembering another trip to New Bedford, Massachusetts. This was the second or third time that I visited the old seaport in order to give lectures on the Underground Railroad and maritime history.
A memory. Today I am remembering a trip to New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It’s an extraordinary place: a spectacular collection of exhibits and artifacts dedicated to the history of whaling and New Bedford’s role as the largest whaling port in the U.S. in the 19thcentury.
A memory. As part of my research on the William F. Nye Co.’s bottlenose dolphin fishery at Hatteras Island, I visited Keith Rittmaster at the old mobile home trailer that he used as the headquarters for his research on stranded sea mammals.
Before young Arthur Miller left Wilmington in November 1941 and returned to the Library of Congress, he did one last group of’ recordings. At the town’s African American Odd Fellows Hall, he visited with a large group of African American women who were in the midst of a lengthy strike at the Southland Manufacturing Company, a textile plant that made men’s dress shirts.
While he was in Wilmington working for the Library of Congress, Arthur Miller also talked with several city officials. At first, I didn’t expect these interviews to be as interesting as his conversations with the shipyard workers or with the men and women he encountered in the street.
On another evening when they were in downtown Wilmington, N.C., Arthur Miller and his audio engineer, Johnny Langenegger, spied a cluster of cabdrivers standing on a street corner next to the city bus station.
This is the 4th post in a 7-part series on the great American playwright Arthur Miller's sojourn in Wilmington, N.C. during the Second World War. When they were in Wilmington in 1941, Arthur Miller and his audio specialist, Johnny Langenegger, also just drove around the city looking for scenes and moments and stories that captured the … Continue reading Arthur Miller’s War, Part 4– “Worse than Hoover time”
Arthur Miller did more than record the stories of the defense workers that flocked to Wilmington when they were in their mobile home camps. Other scenes unfolded at the shipyard itself. At one of those times, the young playwright stood near the shipyard’s main gate and simply described the shift change.
“The scene is a row of trailers,” Arthur Miller intoned in the first words of the field recordings. When I first turned on the old reel-to-reel recorder at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, I found the young playwright standing in a vast trailer camp that had been built in a maddening rush only a few months earlier.
Today I am remembering a visit to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The center is located on a quiet hallway a floor below the great library’s main reading room and contains vast collections of oral histories, music and other audio recordings. You can hear Mississippi sharecroppers singing the blues there. You can hear Polish immigrants playing polkas. You can hear Navajo sacred songs. I was there to listen to audio recordings that the playwright Arthur Miller made on the North Carolina coast in the fall of 1941.
Today I am remembering a visit to the Outer Banks History Center on Ice Plant Island, which is part of the little town of Manteo, North Carolina. The OBHC is a relatively small branch of the State Archives of North Carolina, but it is home to a unique collection of books, manuscripts, and photographs that focus on the history of the Outer Banks and the coastal counties along the eastern end of Albemarle Sound.
Now that I’m home, I’m thinking back on my time on the Belle of Washington and remembering some of the highlights of the voyage. I know I’ve already written a good deal about the “Tour of Old Albemarle” and the history of that part of the Albemarle Sound this week.
Tom and Bland and I and all the good people who are sharing this voyage on the Belle of Washington with us are now looking ahead to Edenton, our next port of call, and Edenton for me has always been and remains, far and away above all else, the town of Harriet Jacobs.
I want to conclude my look at runaway slave advertisements from Albemarle Sound with another love story. This one comes from Chowan County, where the Belle of Washington will dock tonight.
The second runaway slave advertisement that I want to talk about concerns an enslaved man from Bertie County, N.C., his love for his wife and a long and impossible journey.
As we begin the next leg of our voyage on the Belle of Washington, I thought that I’d conclude my look at runaway slave advertisements with three stories from the Albemarle that I found especially moving.
Now I’d like to share a few of the runaway slave advertisements from Nixonton with you. I thought about them as I prepared for our voyage on the Belle of Washington because I remembered that there were some especially interesting ones that refer to that old seaport on the Little River.
Welcome back to the Belle of Washington. We left Elizabeth City early this morning and came down the lovely waters of the Pasquotank River. Now we're passing the Little River and, up on its northern shore, the little hamlet of Nixonton. I’ll say more about Nixonton’s history in a second, but first I think this is a good time and place to talk about runaway slave advertisements because there are some especially interesting ones that refer to Nixonton.
Last night our voyage on the Belle of Washington began with a reception at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, N.C. It was a lovely night. A large crowd of local folks came to see us off, and Tom, Bland and I had the pleasure of meeting the people who will join us … Continue reading Elizabeth City, N.C.– 6 AM
Today I’m excited to be writing from Elizabeth City, N.C. I’m here to co-host a riverboat voyage that will explore the history, culture and environment of the Albemarle Sound region of coastal North Carolina.
The ram schooner Edwin and Maud in New Bern, ca. 1935. She is resting at Union Point, where the Neuse and Trent Rivers come together, probably at the wharf for the J.A. Meadows Company. In the background, we can see the Trent River Bridge.
A fish market crowded with fishermen, fish buyers and fishmongers at the bottom of Middle Street, on the Trent River waterfront, New Bern, N.C., circa 1905. A pair of fishermen in a sail skiff are culling their catch, while a boy, obscured by an older man, probably his father or an uncle, poles what is probably a log-built skiff around them.
A shad fisherman’s camp on the Lower Neuse River, possibly at or near James City, N.C., circa 1900. Fishermen constructed their huts out of cedar limbs or another supple hardwood and thatched them with saltmarsh cordgrass or black needlerush. Typically they bound them together with yucca fibers. These round huts with conical roofs were a spartan home away from home for shad fishermen and, occasionally, for their families.