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.
Before I went to Hyde County and wrote Along Freedom Road, I think I thought the civil rights movement happened some place besides eastern North Carolina.
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.
While the Klan’s public rallies and cross burnings brought to mind a county fair or a church revival, the soul of the Ku Klux Klan revealed itself most plainly later in the night, after the children’s games had finished and the burning cross extinguished.
At the reception after my lecture, several people told me what the gentleman in the back row had been referring to: in 1925 a mob of white men broke into the Martin County jail and removed a young Jewish man named Joseph Needleman, who had been accused of raping a local woman named Effie Griffin. They had carried him to the cemetery at the Skewarkey Primitive Baptist Church, where they castrated him and left him for dead.
When I finished school at Harvard and set out to write history, I never considered writing about any place other than where I grew up: the eastern part of North Carolina. I discovered that the rural and small town landscape of my childhood was more than enough window for me into the larger realm of American history. Here I found the world in a grain of sand and more than enough history for a lifetime of writing and storytelling. Without leaving home, I have been writing about topics as far ranging as slavery and the American Revolution, maritime life during the Civil War, women’s work on the World War II home front and the black freedom struggle of the 1960s.
I first met Bland Simpson at an oyster roast at the old hunting lodge at Lake Matttamuskeet. That was in the winter of 1997, and we were in the middle of a remote, swampy and unforgettably beautiful landscape. From the top of the lodge’s wildlife observation tower, the view took my breath away. In every direction, cane brakes, freshwater marshes, and juniper swamps stretched to the horizon, while thousands of Canada geese, snow geese, and tundra swans rested on the lake.