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.
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.
A 92-year-old gentleman in Chesapeake City, Maryland, recently sent me a wonderful message about his childhood memories of living on the North Carolina coast in the 1930s. His name is Mr. Harold Lee and when he was four years old he lived in a coastal village in Onslow County, N.C., that is no more.
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.
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.
In its thoughtful and deeply troubling new exhibit “Americans and the Holocaust,” the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum highlights Sen. Robert Reynolds of North Carolina because in 1939 he led a senate fight that prevented the U.S. from rescuing 20,000 Jewish children from the Nazis. At the time, Reynolds said that he did not want the Jewish children to come to America and take our jobs.
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....
As I look through the historical collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I also found another important artifact from eastern North Carolina: a postcard, dated ca. 1910, of a convict labor camp in Laurinburg, N.C.
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.
In this photograph (above), we see the blackfish boat Margaret at an unidentified port probably in southern New Jersey in 1934. Standing in the bow is Capt. Einar Neilsen, a Norwegian immigrant. Capt. Neilsen was part of a largely forgotten enclave of Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch blackfish fishermen and their families that left New Jersey and made their homes in Beaufort, N.C., beginning in the 1910s.
I must have heard that phrase a million times when I was younger: “we were working in the logwoods.” Old men would say it again and again when they remembered their younger days on the North Carolina coast. They talked plenty about farming and fishing and raising families, but they talked just as much about “working in the logwoods.”
The Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine, has recently made available more than 20,000 photographs of America's commercial fishing industry that originally appeared in the pages of National Fisherman. Last week I highlighted several of the magazine's photos from Beaufort, N.C., in the 1930s and '40s. Today I want to share photographs that take us to Hatteras, Buxton, Harkers Island, Wanchese, Belhaven, Rockyhock and several other parts of the North Carolina coast.
The Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine, has recently made available for the first time more than 20,000 historical photographs from America's fishing communities, including those here on the North Carolina coast. It is an extraordinary collection: the photographs from every issue of the National Fisherman, the leading trade journal of the commercial fishing industry.
This is a single story from the life of a woman named Chloe that was held in slavery at Indian Ridge in Currituck County, N.C., in the first half of the 1800s. It is only one brief moment in her life, but it is the only one that history has recorded. The passage, though brief, says a great deal about her and about the lives of other enslaved women on the North Carolina coast.
The most exciting historical source I found in coastal Maine this week was an old tintype portrait of an African American man named John H. Nichols who escaped from slavery on the North Carolina coast and settled in Lewiston, Maine, after the Civil War. In a 1921 issue of the Lewiston Journal Illustrated Magazine, I also found the life story of John H. Nichols....
While exploring coastal Maine's archives and museums this week, I’ve also found quite a few letters from Maine soldiers that served in the Union army or navy on the North Carolina coast during the Civil War. Those letters highlight a different kind of historic connection that ties coastal Maine and coastal North Carolina together.