I can’t tell from Benjamin Labaree’s journal with total confidence, but the incident of the runaway slave and the miller in Trenton that I discussed in my last post may have been part of the white panic that spread across the North Carolina coast in the summer of 1821. Historian Guion Griffis Johnson discussed the panic in her classic book, Ante-bellum North Carolina: A Social History.
The more I looked, the more I got the impression that the period from 1947 to 1953 was one of considerable labor unrest throughout the fishing industry on the North Carolina coast.
My conversation with folk singer and social activist Guy Carawan had gone in surprising directions. When I called him, now almost a decade ago, I had really just wanted to know more about his pilgrimage to his father’s homeplace in Pamlico County, N.C. in the summer of 1953.
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....
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.
According to the KKK papers, things began to change in 1967. Attendance at Klan rallies plummeted. Many white people walked away from the fiery cross never to return. SHP agents began to report that state Klan leaders were finding it difficult to convince local people to lease them land for rallies.
I don’t know whether or not Eddie McCoy would agree with me, but I suspect that the African American oral history project that has become his life’s passion began on a beautiful spring day, the 11th of May, 1971, to be exact, when a black army veteran named Henry Marrow was shot dead for talking sweet to a white woman.
A decade ago, I interviewed an African American woman named Miss Dorcas Carter in New Bern, North Carolina. Born in 1913, Miss Carter grew up to teach in the city’s African American schools for more than 40 years. Renowned for her exceptionally high standards for intellectual achievement and personal character, she was 88 years old when I visited her to learn more about the great New Bern fire of 1922. That fire reduced some of the most prosperous black neighborhoods in the American South to ashes and left nearly 3,000 people homeless, including Miss Carter and her family. By the time that I visited her, she was one of the last living witnesses to the fire.
I want to thank the Phoenix Historical Society for inviting me back to Tarboro. As many of you know, I have been watching your historical society grow from its first days. I have had the privilege to be your guest as a lecturer, a writer and on two of your extraordinary walking tours of Tarboro’s African American past. I can scarcely believe how much you have accomplished in only a few short years. I think you should be so proud of what you have done.
Last week was Ella Baker Day in Littleton, North Carolina. This one-stoplight town in Halifax County, 70 miles from Raleigh, was the childhood home of that extraordinary African American woman who became one of the most important civil rights activists in U.S. history. I wish you all could have been there. Her hometown’s first annual celebration in her honor was the kind of event that made me proud to be from North Carolina.