A little more than a century ago, a group of seagoing people from the “Down East” part of Carteret County, N.C., settled on the shores of Lake Erie and began commercial fishing.
In the autumn of 1938, the photographer Charles Farrell visited a gang of mullet fishermen from Varnamtown while they hauled their nets on Bald Head Island, down in the far southeast corner of the North Carolina coast.
Through the eyes of Sneads Ferry's oldest residents, I came to see Charles Farrell's photographs as a window into a time when most of the village's people still made their livings from the sea.
When I was in Southport several years ago, I carried Charles Farrell's photographs to an old menhaden fisherman named Charles “Pete” Joyner. At the time, Mr. Joyner was 93 years old.
At the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, I found a remarkable collection of oral history interviews from the North Carolina coast during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The thing that moved me most about Roy G. Taylor’s book Sharecroppers: The Way We Really Were is the way that that he remembered so many of the small things about a sharecropper’s life in eastern North Carolina.
To celebrate Pride Month, I’d like to share an excerpt from a work-in-progress, tentatively titled The Light Beneath the Waves. This scene features Betty Somers, one of the first women to serve in Marine Corps Women's Reserve. She was a pioneer in more ways than one.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Red Shirts were what we today would call a white nationalist militia group. Bedecked in red trousers and shirts, they barricaded polling sites, shot into homes and generally terrorized those who supported black voting rights.
At the Boston Athenaeum, I discovered that the young Abraham Galloway was bound for Haiti in 1861 and was determined to drive the United States into a civil war to free his people.
On a summer day in 1900, an old Confederate general stood before a white supremacy rally of thousands in a hamlet on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp.
On the 30th of Sept. 1898, North Carolina newspaper publisher Richard Benbury Creecy wrote, “We are standing on the edge of a race conflict that will shock humanity.” He was not talking about Wilmington, N.C., though, as we might expect, but about another coastal town, Elizabeth City.
A friend in New Bern, N.C., recently sent me an issue of the Raleigh News & Observer that he found in his family's old papers. The newspaper's date was November 5, 1898. A front-page article was about a large white supremacy meeting at the Craven County Courthouse in New Bern.
When Dr. Linwood Watson and I visited last winter, he also told me about an extraordinary project that the Coharie Tribe in eastern North Carolina has undertaken to deepen their ancestral ties to the river and the land that has been their home for centuries.
Eighteen months after the Wilmington massacre of 1898, the leading white citizens of Edenton, N.C., gathered at the Chowan County Courthouse to organize a "white supremacy club." Their goal was take away black voting rights forever.
One of the great pleasures I had last winter was a visit from Dr. Linwood Watson, a Haliwa-Saponi family physician who has a passion both for growing native plants and for understanding more deeply how they were traditionally used for sustenance and healing in eastern North Carolina’s Indian communities.
I recently re-visited Dr. Frenise A. Logan's groundbreaking article on the Exodusters because I wanted to understand better why black insurgents had burned down the Hackney carriage factory in Rocky Mount, N.C., in February of 1890.
One look at an old photograph and suddenly I was three years old again and standing on the side of Hwy. 101, near the turn to Mrs. Kay Wright's farm, and I was stepping up into a Wonder Bread delivery truck.
A retired state trooper named Bobbie “Bob” Edwards sent me a message a few weeks ago. He told me that he had read my recent story about the bombing of an African American church in eastern North Carolina in 1966. He said my article had brought back memories. He had seen the church explode, he told me. He had been the only eyewitness.
Today I want to look at the story of Puerto Rican construction workers that helped to build Fort Bragg at the end of WW1. Theirs is a little-known tale of war, colonialism and migration, and it is one set against the background of the country's last deadly pandemic, the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19.
A few years ago, I carried a box of Charles Farrell's old photographs of the state's great herring fisheries back to one of the communities on the Chowan River where he took them. They are poignant and beautiful, and the herring workers in them are unforgettable, but I also find them a little haunting because they remind me of all that can be lost.
I love this photograph of fishermen at the Barney Slough Fish Camp back in the winter of 1905. They were shad fishermen and you can see them standing with their pound net stakes, just off Hatteras Island.
Now preserved at the National Archives, a slave manifest indicates that 66 of Augustin Pugh's slaves from Bertie County, N.C., sailed on the brig Calypso out of Norfolk, Va., on April 3, 1819. They were bound for New Orleans, and more than half of them were ten years old or younger.
Today I want to talk about slavery, convict labor and the construction of the old Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C. I was first led to do this historical research many years ago, when I was documenting a hunger strike at the prison in its last days. It is not something one forgets easily.
Yet another memory. I am at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of the Boston Public Library in Boston, Mass. Founded in 1854, the library houses more than a million rare books and historical manuscripts. I am looking for Abraham Galloway.
Many Americans are searching for historical context in order to make sense of what happened at the U.S. Capitol. Again and again, they look to the racial massacre and coup d'etat in Wilmington in 1898, when white supremacists overthrew a duly elected government and took power.