Sarah E. Small of Williamston, N.C. was the first African American woman in North Carolina history to run for the U.S. Congress. When she ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1965, she may even have been the first black woman to do so in American history.
Author: David Cecelski
The Magic Lantern Man
In 1893 and 1894, a young African American showman named I. P. Hatch criss-crossed the North Carolina coast and beyond. Using a device called a stereopticon, he shared images of the world's wonders with overflowing crowds from New England to Florida.
The Wreck of the Edward Luckenbach
The ocean-going tug Edward Luckenbach wrecked just north of the North Carolina-Virginia Line on Good Friday 1915. Fifteen men drowned that day. One of the two survivors was the second mate, Cicero Goodwin, of Cedar Island, N.C.
The Griot of Topsail Sound
Curtis Hardison’s new book Griot: The Evolution of Edgecombe tells the story of a little African American community near Topsail Island called Edgecombe. Hardison grew up there, and his book chronicles his extraordinary journey in search of the community’s roots.
Memories of Plymouth: A Justice Crusader Goes Home
Civil rights attorney and activist James Williams began our tour of Plymouth, N.C., on the banks of the Roanoke River. He had come home, and he had invited me to accompany him on a tour of the small town in Eastern North Carolina where he was born and raised.
Minnie Evans: A Journey from Trinidad
I recently found a transcript of a 1971 interview with Minnie Evans, the African American visionary artist from Wilmington, in which she described her ancestors' journey from slavery in the British colony of Trinidad.
“All this Land is Called Pantego and Neus”
A 1730 map of the NC coast that I found in London reminded me that we can learn a lot from what is on maps but sometimes even more from what is not on them.
“I Never Ask for Anything”: Stories from Rose Hill
In the 1970s, the writer Reed Wolcott fit into life in Rose Hill, N.C., in some surprising ways. She went to prayer meetings. She loved to sit on a porch with a crowd of other women telling stories and shelling butterbeans. She was hard-nosed, and she had a taste for bourbon.
“One Book of Plants Very Lovingly Packt Up”: Searching for John Lawson in London’s Natural History Museum (Part 3)
At London's Natural History Museum, Dr. Mark Carine led my wife and me to the plant specimens that John Lawson collected on the North Carolina coast in 1710 and 1711.
“One Book of Plants Very Lovingly Packt Up”: Searching for John Lawson in London’s Natural History Museum (Part 2)
In the weeks after John Lawson's death, his “one book of plants very Lovingly packt up” found a new home in James Petiver’s herbarium in London.
“One Book of Plants Very Lovingly Packt Up”: Searching for John Lawson in London’s Natural History Museum (Part 1)
When my wife and I were in London last summer, we visited the Natural History Museum to see the collection of plants that the naturalist, explorer, surveyor and sometimes fur trader John Lawson sent to the English naturalist James Petiver in 1710 and 1711.
A Winter on Pine Island: Reading Lillie Baum’s Diary from 1904
Now preserved at the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, Lillie Baum's diaries give us a rare glimpse at the long arc of a woman’s life on the Outer Banks in the first half of the 20th century.
My Journey into the Past
Sairyusha, a publishing house in Tokyo, Japan, has just put out a collection of my historical essays called Amerika Higashi Kaigan: Umoreta Rekishi o Aruku, which translates into English as My Journey into the Past: Stories from North Carolina.
The Rose Hill Poultry Workers Strike of 1968
The Rose Hill poultry workers strike of 1968 was one of the unsung chapters in the story of the black struggle for justice and equality in Eastern North Carolina.
The Linnean Society’s Venus Flytrap
Here at the Linnean Society in London, I have found an extraordinary treasure from the North Carolina coast: the first written record of the Venus flytrap in history.
The Revolt of the Lint Dodgers: The Lumberton Cotton Mill Workers of 1937
Today I am exploring the story of a historic strike and union organizing campaign that occurred in Lumberton, N.C., in 1937. That story involves more than a thousand cotton mill workers and a legendary champion of social justice struggles named Myles Horton, the co-founder of the Highlander Folk School.
Where They Remember
My daughter and I recently visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. It is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the victims of racial terror and lynching.
The Jack Roach Indian Medicine Show
For decades, the Jack Roach Indian Medicine Show wandered the backroads of the North Carolina coast.
In the Small Town Where I Grew Up
A year before I was born, in the small town where I grew up, three African American children walked into my future elementary school while a line of U.S. Marines with rifles watched over them.
“We Returned Home to our Enemies”: Black Marines and the Struggle for Racial Equality at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station
On the 23rd of May, 1963, Corporal Bernard Shaw, a 23-year-old black Marine, sent an extraordinary letter to the commanding general of the Second Marine Air Wing and to other senior officers at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock, North Carolina.
13 Views of the Sea
When I was visiting my son in Washington, DC recently, I went to a breathtakingly beautiful exhibit of Katsushika Hokusai's paintings that is currently at the National Museum of Asian Art's Freer Gallery.
From Aguascogoc’s Ashes
An anthropologist named Frank Speck took this photograph of an American Indian woman and child on Roanoke Island, N.C., in 1915. He referred to them as "Machapunga Indians" (though I will not), a tribe whose homeland had historically been the area around the Pungo River and Lake Mattamuskeet.
The Lost Photographs: Remembering North Carolina’s Fishing Communities in the 1930s and ’40s
This is my tenth and last photo essay dedicated to Charles Farrell's photographs of fishing communities on the North Carolina coast in the 1930s and '40s. I think it's time to talk about what happened to him, and why he and his photographs were forgotten for so long.
“They have got hold of the Bible”– Beaufort, N.C. and the Civil War
The struggle of enslaved African Americans to get access to books, and most particularly the Bible, and the efforts of slaveholders to keep them from doing so, is one of the central themes in the history of American slavery.
Jim Grant, in Memory
For half a century, James Earll "Jim" Grant was there when people needed him, standing by the side of the persecuted and oppressed: migrant and seasonal farm workers, tenants facing eviction, victims of police brutality and anyone else who yearned for justice.