Tonight my wife Laura went to bed early, after a long, stressful day at the hospital, and I sat up wondering about the fate of the world and feeling a little lonely and Covid-weary.
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.
The stern paddle wheel steamer Tarboro on the Tar River, probably during her maiden voyage in 1898. She is coming into the town of Tarboro, in Edgecombe County, N.C., and a crowd waits at the town’s public dock to celebrate her launching. After calling at Tarboro, she will proceed on to Old Sparta, Greenville and, finally, Washington, N.C., a seaport 45 miles downriver. She is heavy with freight, almost certainly cotton or cottonseed.
The second runaway slave advertisement that I want to talk about concerns an enslaved man from Bertie County, N.C., his love for his wife and a long and impossible journey.
ENFIELD, N.C., 1930. Another letter in the W. E. B. Du Bois Papers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst also got my attention for its look at eastern North Carolina life in the throes of the Great Depression.
Today I am in Boston and by coincidence I stumbled onto two different accounts, in two different archives, that describe the same event in the history of North Carolina’s coastal counties: the sacking and burning of the town of Hamilton during the Civil War.
I recently found an historical account that I think might be the best description of tar making in North Carolina that I have ever read. An English merchant named Holles Bull Way wrote it in his travel diary when he visited coastal North Carolina in 1792. He did not publish those excerpts from his diary until 1809, though, when the article that I found appeared in the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, Great Britain's first monthly scientific journal.
Friday night, February 23. I am writing these words at the old Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount, N.C. A very special event is happening here tonight. More than half a century ago, on November 27, 1962, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a historic speech in this school’s gymnasium, only a few feet from where I am sitting now.
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.