My thanks to Holly Hoag and the good folks at Eastern Carolina Village and Farm Museum for inviting me to present as part of their lecture series, “History Speaks.” I talked to a full house about where we can find documentation of the lives of enslaved ancestors, sharing Wilson County examples that I’ve found in the course of researching for Black Wide-Awake. The audience was engaged and attentive, asked lots of questions, and shared bits of their own research experiences over the course of two hours. As a bonus, I connected with one of the principal descendant collaborators working to reclaim Ayden, North Carolina’s African-American cemetery! (More about that project soon.)
Eastern Carolina Village and Farm Museum comprises 22 historic buildings representing the architecture and rural life heritage of this region from 1840-1940.
The museum is on the former site of the Pitt County Home for the Aged and Infirm, whose residents residents farmed the land. The County Home’s original barn is still standing, and the museum relocated other buildings, including a one-room school house, a general store, etc. to the site, and two 1890s-era farm buildings donated by a local African American family. The museum has recently partnered with East Carolina University’s Joyner Library on an oral history project to conduct interviews with under-represented eastern North Carolina farm families. ECVFM is only 45 minutes down the road from Wilson, and I strongly recommend a visit.
Shout out to Regina Carter-Garcia, a local professor/poet/genealogist, who hyped the event beforehand and showed up to share insightful experience, and to my mama; Meike Darville of Scarborough House (which has become an amazing partner to Lane Street Project); and Castonoble Hooks, who traveled from Wilson County to support their homegirl!
Miles Lassiter did not live in Wilson County, but I recommend Margo Lee Williams’ book as a detailed chronicle of an African-American family history research journey and because Miles Lassiter may have been linked to Wilson County’s Hardy Lassiter through common roots in Gates County, North Carolina.
I often get queries here at Black Wide-Awake from people seeking help with finding their roots or connecting with family descended from a common ancestor. I have extensive genealogical research history, but I don’t have the bandwidth to take on projects for others. Also, I don’t live in North Carolina, where the best non-digital primary source material is located. So, I’ve created a Facebook group as a space in which to make connections with long-lost family, to post inquiries, and to share research about African-American families from Wilson County.
Among the most rewarding aspects of researching for Black Wide-Awake are discovering, uncovering, and recovering lost family connections, both my own and others’. I was particularly excited to piece together the Taylor family puzzle, which linked three of my childhood friends. Wilson County is small enough that it’s not surprising that many of us share distant common ancestry, but just who those long-lost cousins are can be surprising indeed.
I find myself with an unexpected day off, so what better way to kick off the real holiday than chopping it up with Zella Palmer about family, Black history, and Wide-Awake Wilson?
Zella is chair and director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture and renowned for her innovative work to preserve African-American food culture. Find out what she and I have in common — besides everything Black — this afternoon at 3:00 PM Eastern in our Instagram Live conversation @maisonzella!
Say Their Names: Preserving Wilson N.C.’s Slave Pasts reveals the array of documentary evidence available to African-American families searching for their ancestors and all interested in broadening their understanding of Wilson County history.
Say Their Names is on display through the end of the year at Imagination Station — which is reopening September 8!
Imagination Station, which is also (and chiefly) an awesome children’s science museum, is located at 224 Nash Street E, Wilson. Its telephone number is (252) 291-5113. Please support local museums and local history!
Photographs by Janelle Booth Clevinger, Special to Wilson Daily Times, 1 March 2020.
The Community Histories Workshop at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (my alma mater!) will present “Investigating African American Family History” Tuesday, 11 June 2019, 6:00-8:00 PM at The Power House, Rocky Mount Mills, 1151 Falls Road, Rocky Mount, North Carolina, which is 20 miles north of Wilson.
I can’t be there, but wish I could. Y’all let me know what you learn.