A Death of the Heart

"At this point in my research, I was wishing that I could write something about my beloved home state’s history—anything—and not have it come around to race and white supremacy....  So much for telling an innocent little story about a family of bird egg collectors and the popular passion for oology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

Pauli Murray’s World

Tomorrow night-- Thursday, Nov. 9-- the Pauli Murray Prjoject's exhibit “Finding Jane Crow in Pauli Murray’s Contacts” opens at Duke University! If you’re in the area, I sure hope you get the chance to see it! It's free and open to the public. Curated by my daughter Vera Cecelski, the exhibit explores the life and times of one of the most extraordinary human rights activists in 20th-century America....

Looking for James E. O’Hara at the University of Chicago

While I was in Chicago, I also made a quick trip to the University of Chicago’s Special Collections Research Center. I had never been to the city before, so just getting to the university was an adventure. As I rode the CTA rail line downtown, I marveled at the diversity of the neighborhoods through which I was passing and the exuberant beauty of the murals and graffiti that I could see from my seat on the train. I changed onto a bus downtown that carried me south along the shores of Lake Michigan. After a long ride, I got off at Hyde Park, the historic neighborhood on the South Side that has been home to so many great Americans, including Mahalia Jackson, Muhammad Ali and President Obama.

An Island Visit with Stan Riggs & Orrin Pilkey

My head spins when I am listening to Stan Riggs and Orrin Pilkey. They are legendary geologists. Both have been studying coastal N.C. for more than half a century. Last week I spent a couple days with the two of them on Ocracoke Island and Portsmouth Island. When I listen to them, my whole sense of time changes. History to them is a whole other thing. They look at the state's coastal plain and what they see is a quarry near the small town of Fountain, in Pitt County. The quarry’s rock is the same rock that you’d find in Dakar, Senegal, a relic of a time more than 200 million years ago when what’s now eastern N.C. and what’s now West Africa nuzzled together....

Wilmington in 1898: A Diary

At the Newberry Library in Chicago, I also found Edward Price Bell’s diaries from Wilmington in 1898. They are different than his reporter's notebooks that I wrote about a few days ago. Bell used his notebooks to record bits and pieces of interviews. Sometimes he also sketched passages of writing that he later used in dispatches to his newspaper, the Chicago Record. The diaries are of a more personal nature.

Wilmington in 1898: Edward Price Bell’s Notebooks

Tim Tyson and I edited an anthology on the Wilmington "race riot” of 1898 nearly 20 years ago, but I still got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach a few weeks ago when I looked at Edward Price Bell’s diary and notebooks at the Newberry Library in Chicago.... Bell covered the white racial violence in Wilmington, N.C., as a roving reporter for the Chicago Record. I wanted to see the notebook that he kept while he was in Wilmington....

Brown’s Island 15- Scavengers

Our trio of hogs cleaning up after a fishermen’s oyster or clam dinner on the sound side of Brown's Island. The fishermen left a pair of oyster knives stuck in the benches. The white belted animal on the right is a Hampshire, while the other two are mixed breeds. Hampshires are one of the oldest hog breeds in the U.S., popular for their easy temperaments, hardiness and foraging ability, all of which suited them well to life on Brown’s Island.

Brown’s Island 13 & 14- A Sunday Visitor

A Sunday visitor. The nearest villages to the Brown's Island mullet camp both lay 12 miles west at the mouth of the New River, a long haul anyway you made it in that day. “Yet most Sundays the girls arrive,” the photographer, Charles A. Farrell, noted. This young fan of Mickey Mouse was Elizabeth Turner (later Taylor). She lived on her aunt’s farm on the other side of Browns Sound and often visited the fishermen with her aunt and sisters. “Every fishermen on the island wanted his picture made with this charming lass,” Farrell wrote on the back of the original print.

Brown’s Island 11 & 12- Mullet Roe

Mullet roe drying in the sun, Brown's Island, 1938. The salted and sun-dried egg sacs of jumping mullet were a local delicacy and at least occasionally brought high prices in the New York market. The big roe mullet usually began to appear in local waters in late October or early November. After slitting open the fish’s belly and removing the roe, the fishermen washed and salted the roe and let it soak in the salt for two or three hours.

Brown’s Island 6- The Boys

Young fishermen in camp at Brown's Island. A pair of heavy ash push-poles or long oars rests against the tar paper-and-slat roof of one of the camp cabins. On the far left, behind the young man in bib overalls and a pith helmet, a line of cork floats dangles from a nail. A cooking pan hangs on the wall behind him, and a washbasin sits on a shelf next to the cabin door.

John N. Benners’ Journal: A Saltwater Farmer & His Slaves

I am at the State Archives in Raleigh, N.C., and the legendary archivist George Stevenson hands me an antebellum diary from the North Carolina coast. He had just acquired the diary for the archive’s collections. The diarist is John N. Benners. The location is Rosedale, a poor and lamentable Neuse River plantation where Benners and a handful of enslaved men and women scratch out a living as best they can.