Carrying Cornmeal Home—Photographs from the New River in the 1930s #1

In this photograph, we see a trio of fishermen carrying bags of cornmeal to the landing at Marines, a village in Onslow County, N.C., circa 1937. Behind them we can see the New River and gill nets drying on spreads. To the left, we can see a dory and the old oak that marked the landing. At least two of the men are part of the Midgett family. They came across the river from Sneads Ferry, a village on the west side of the river, and they are headed home.

The Makah Museum

A memory. I am remembering a day at the Makah Museum in Neah Bay, on the Makah Indian Reservation in Washington State. The reservation occupies the remote far northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The museum is small and intimate, but it holds one of the most important collections of Native American artifacts in the world.

The Color of Water, part 10– Racial Covenants

This is the final post in my 10-part  special series that I am calling “The Color of Water.” In this series, I am exploring the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “sundown towns,” and racially exclusive resort communities.  Today-- racial covenants. You can find the … Continue reading The Color of Water, part 10– Racial Covenants

The Color of Water, part 9– Wade-Ins and Swim-Ins

This is my 9th (and second to last) post in a special series that I am calling “The Color of Water.” In this series, I am exploring the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “sundown towns,” and racially exclusive resort communities.  Today—civil rights activists take on Jim Crow swimming pools and the beaches.

The Color of Water, part 8– To Chicken Bone Beach and Back

When I talked with coastal old timers about Jim Crow, I also heard many stories about African Americans leaving North Carolina in the summertime and going north to get close to the water.  Again and again, black Carolinians told me stories about traveling especially to Atlantic City, Wildwood and other towns on the Jersey Shore to work at beach resorts and enjoy the seashore.

The Color of Water, part 7– From Ocean City to Rainbow Beach

This is part 7 of my special series called “The Color of Water.” In this series, I’m exploring the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “Sundown towns,” and racially exclusive resort communities. Today-- African American and Indian beaches.

The Color of Water, part 6– Juke Joints, Clam Fritters & Bop City

As I explored the history of Jim Crow on North Carolina’s coast, I discovered something else important: black and Indian people often found a way to the sea and our other coastal waters, despite “sundown towns,” despite signs that read “No N--- after dark” and despite oceanfront resorts that didn’t allow them to go swimming or walk on the beach.

The Color of Water, part 5– Jim Crow from Nags Head to Wrightsville Beach

The story of Jim Crow and the North Carolina coast also extends to the state’s most popular beaches and beachfront communities. During the Jim Crow era, those popular vacation destinations barred black families from swimming in their waters, staying in their motels, buying cottages or in many cases even walking on their beaches.

The Color of Water, part 4– The Sign by the Old Ferry Landing

This is the fourth post in my special series “The Color of Water.” In this series, I am exploring  the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “sundown towns” and racially exclusive resort communities. You can find the other stories in the series here. After … Continue reading The Color of Water, part 4– The Sign by the Old Ferry Landing

The Color of Water, part 3: Knotts Island– “No Place for Negroes”

This is the third post in my special series “The Color of Water.” In this series, I am exploring  the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “Sundown towns” and racially exclusive resort communities. You can find the other stories in the series here.

The Town Where Moby-Dick Began

On yet another trip to New Bedford, Mass., I crossed the Fish Island Bridge and explored Fairhaven. It’s a lovely town, with broad, shady avenues and a long row of shipyards and fishing wharves along the Acushnet River. In 1841 Herman Melville sailed from the old seaport on the whale ship Acushnet. He later drew on his experiences during that voyage to write his masterpiece Moby-Dick. 

Arthur Miller’s War, Part 7– “Looking for a better day”

Before young Arthur Miller left Wilmington in November 1941 and returned to the Library of Congress, he did one last group of’ recordings. At the town’s African American Odd Fellows Hall, he visited with a large group of African American women who were in the midst of a lengthy strike at the Southland Manufacturing Company, a textile plant that made men’s dress shirts.

Arthur Miller’s War, Part 4– “Worse than Hoover time”

This is the 4th post in a 7-part series on the great American playwright Arthur Miller's sojourn in Wilmington, N.C. during the Second World War. When they were in Wilmington in 1941, Arthur Miller and his audio specialist, Johnny Langenegger, also just drove around the city looking for scenes and moments and stories that captured the … Continue reading Arthur Miller’s War, Part 4– “Worse than Hoover time”

Arthur Miller’s War, Part 2– “A shipyard has risen like a bony giant”

“The scene is a row of trailers,” Arthur Miller intoned in the first words of the field recordings. When I first turned on the old reel-to-reel recorder at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, I found the young playwright standing in a vast trailer camp that had been built in a maddening rush only a few months earlier.

Arthur Miller’s War, Part 1- “Get Wilmington, North Carolina, into that Sound Truck!”

Today I am remembering a visit to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The center is located on a quiet hallway a floor below the great library’s main reading room and contains vast collections of oral histories, music and other audio recordings. You can hear Mississippi sharecroppers singing the blues there. You can hear Polish immigrants playing polkas. You can hear Navajo sacred songs. I was there to listen to audio recordings that the playwright Arthur Miller made on the North Carolina coast in the fall of 1941.