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 I’m looking at several historical photographs of fishermen, fishing boats and fishing gear on the Roanoke River. The photographs mostly date to the period from 1870 to 1910, though one that I'm especially fond of was taken in the late 1930s. That was an exciting period in the history of the river's fisheries. If you had launched a boat in Weldon, at the falls of the river, and drifted down those swift waters all the way to the river's mouth on the Albemarle Sound, you would have seen many fishermen and many different kinds of fishing gear, including weirs, bow nets, stake nets, drift nets, wheels, seines and slides.
This is part 6 of my series on the diary that Susan Edwards Johnson wrote on the North Carolina coast in 1800 and 1801. At this point in her story, she's spending time at her cousin Frances Pollock Devereux's home in New Bern while her husband is overseeing the construction of gristmills and lumber mills on Peter Mallet's lands on the Black River.
After her husband returned to the Black River on Nov. 27, 1800, Susan Johnson remained in the town of New Bern, N.C., for nearly a month without him. She was the guest of her first cousin, the wealthy heiress Frances Pollock Devereux, and her husband, John Devereux. Susan’s diary describes many of the ways that she spent her time in New Bern during that month. Above all, Susan read. She read constantly. She read on her own, aloud to others and practically at all hours.
After leaving her home in Stratford, Conn., Susan Johnson arrived in Suffolk, Va., on the 22ndof November, 1800. The next morning, she re-boarded the stagecoach and headed south into North Carolina for the first time.
As we begin the next leg of our voyage on the Belle of Washington, I thought that I’d conclude my look at runaway slave advertisements with three stories from the Albemarle that I found especially moving.
Welcome back to the Belle of Washington. We left Elizabeth City early this morning and came down the lovely waters of the Pasquotank River. Now we're passing the Little River and, up on its northern shore, the little hamlet of Nixonton. I’ll say more about Nixonton’s history in a second, but first I think this is a good time and place to talk about runaway slave advertisements because there are some especially interesting ones that refer to Nixonton.
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.
A final memory. I will never forget a day that I stood on a bluff over the Chowan River and talked with an old gentleman that used to be the head of the cannery room at the Perry-Wynns Fish Company in Colerain.
Rigging the seine, Greenfield fishery, Chowan County, N.C., circa 1905. Here on our third day of looking at historical photographs from the great herring and shad fisheries on Albemarle Sound, I'm still focusing on what it took to get ready for taking the great seines and boats onto the fishing grounds.
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.
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.