Late one night in 1862, a slave waterman named Dempsey Hill slipped into the customs house in Beaufort, N.C., removed copies of the latest nautical charts and buried them in the local cemetery-- the one people now call the Old Burying Ground.
In today's post, I want to reflect a little bit on our history and how we got here-- how we came to be such a divided people, why our racial divisions seem to run so deep and why our country remains the land that the great writer James Baldwin once called "these yet-to-be-United States."
What touched me most deeply in Maury York’s remarkable new article on the history of school desegregation in Franklin County, N.C. are the stories of the African American parents who first sought to send their children to previously all-white schools.
The New York Times reported today that the great African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry was working on a play about the massacre of black citizens in Wilmington, N.C., in 1898 when she died, far too young, of pancreatic cancer in 1965. The news took my breath away.
A project called Last Seen—Finding Family after Slavery has been documenting the efforts of African Americans to find their families and other loved ones after the American Civil War. Most of the documents that the project has collected and put on-line are newspaper notices like this one about a family in Perquimans County, in northeastern … Continue reading “I Desire to find my Children”
In the 1870s and ‘80s, a group of ex-slaves called the Wilmington Jubilee Singers traveled throughout Great Britain, giving concerts in which they sang hymns and spirituals in a close harmony style, either a cappella or accompanied only by a pianist.
Today I am remembering a very special day just a couple months ago, before the quarantines and before the shuttered stores and empty streets, when Marion Evans and I explored a corner of the North Carolina coast that was completely new to me and seemed like an almost magical place.
At the corner of Pollock and Cedar Street in this lovely historic town on the North Carolina coast, the Godette Hotel is a forgotten African American historical landmark that could have come straight out of the Academy Award-winning movie Green Book. Now the Town of Beaufort is making plans to demolish the hotel. “Why,” town councilman Charles McDonald asks, “are they trying to destroy all the black history in the community?”
I only met Rosa Parks once, back in 1996 when I accompanied my friend Tim Tyson to Robert Williams' funeral in Monroe, N.C. At the request of the Williams family, Tim and Ms. Parks both gave moving eulogies to the great civil rights leader who had a poet's soul and stood up to the Ku Klux Klan with guns.
Finally, I want to look at a silk lace and linen shawl. By itself I don't suppose it's anything rare or valuable. But in this case it's special because of who owned it: one of greatest freedom fighters in American history, Harriet Tubman.
John H. Scott was a free African American saddle and harness maker in Fayetteville, N.C. until 1856, when he left the town and settled in Oberlin, Ohio. Two years later, he became famous for taking up arms and liberating a fugitive slave that federal marshals had captured in Oberlin and were planning on returning to slavery.
A painting called "The Hunted Slaves" is another of the treasures at the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC, that speaks to North Carolina's coastal history. Done in Liverpool, England, in 1862, Richard Ansdell's oil painting depicts a pair of fugitive slaves defending themselves against a slave catcher's dogs in the Great Dismal Swamp....
Today I'm looking at another artifact from the National Museum of African American History and Culture that has a connection to the North Carolina coast: a first edition of a book called The Conjure Woman, a collection of short stories by African American writer, lawyer and activist Charles W. Chesnutt.
Some of the National Museum of African American History & Culture's artifacts are very small but hold a lot of meaning. This little pinback button is a good example. The button highlights another important moment in the civil rights movement on the North Carolina coast-- the campaign to free the Wilmington 10.
The sit-ins in New Bern began on March 17, 1960. Led by the Rev. Willie Hickman and the Rev. Leon "Buckshot" Nixon, a group of 29 African Americans, mainly high school students, came in the front doors of two downtown businesses, the Kress Department Store and Bob Clark's Drug Store, and sat down at the lunch counters.
As I continue my look at the treasures at the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the second item I want to discuss is another photograph: a photograph of the backyard and tennis court at 1406 Orange Street in Wilmington, N.C. where Dr. Hubert Eaton oversaw the training of Althea Gibson, one of the greatest women's tennis players of all time.
As my way of celebrating Black History Month this year, I'm going to feature stories about nine artifacts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture that speak to North Carolina's coastal history, beginning with this photograph of Golden Frinks and an amazing young woman from Williamston at the March on Washington.
Allen Parker’s Recollections of Slavery Times is one of the most important historical accounts of slavery and antebellum life on the North Carolina coast. Today, as we approach its 125th anniversary, I want to talk about Parker, Recollections and a special group of students that I taught when I was a visiting professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.
Tonight I watched a powerful documentary on an important but little known chapter in North Carolina’s history: the 1978 sanitation workers strike in Rocky Mount. In a generous-hearted, thoughtful and sincere way, the sanitation workers tell their own story in this public access TV documentary that deserves a much wider showing.
Yesterday The New Yorker magazine published an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism on Melvin Davis and his brother Licurtis Reels and their struggle to hold onto their family’s land in Merrimon, a historically African American fishing community in Carteret County N.C., not far from where I grew up.
Last winter I visited the New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington, N.C., to see a rare and extraordinary group of historical manuscripts: a collection of four inscriptions written by Omar ibn Said, an enslaved Muslim scholar, teacher and trader from West Africa. He wrote them while he was being held captive on the North Carolina coast two centuries ago.
Today my Black History Month tour of eastern North Carolina’s civil rights history concludes with a look at Pamlico County and a historic civil rights lawsuit that was filed in 1951. Few people today remember this part of our history, but African American citizens in the little coastal village of Oriental filed one of the first lawsuits in the U.S. calling for black and white children to go to school together.
Tonight’s Black History Month post is about another forgotten moment in eastern North Carolina's civil rights history: a historic voting rights movement in Halifax County, N.C., in 1964. It was called the Halifax County Voters Movement. I stumbled on it when I was going through some of my old notes from The Carolina Times, the African American newspaper that has been published in Durham, N.C., since 1921.
Today my Black History Month tour of eastern North Carolina's civil rights history continues with a look at Washington, N.C. in the 1960s and '70s and the words of Joan Little, a young African American woman at the center of one of the most controversial human rights trials in 20th-century America.
When it comes to the history of the civil rights movement in eastern North Carolina, my deepest sympathies and respect have always been with the local men and women that stayed in their hometowns, come hell or high water, and worked to make this a better world. One of those people is the topic of my “Black History Month” feature today. His name was William Claudius Chance, Sr., and he was born in Parmele, in rural Martin County, N.C., on the 23rd of November 1880.