RALEIGH, N.C. – African Americans have made rich and varied contributions to North Carolina history. The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources (www.ncculture.com) provides opportunities to study and celebrate African American history all year, and offers outstanding ways to share that history in coming weeks.
Get a jump-start on February’s Black History Month celebrations at the Jan. 30 African American Cultural Festival at the N.C. Museum of History (www.ncmuseumofhistory.org) in Raleigh. More than 50 presenters from across the state will share their history and culture at the free program from 11 a.m.-
4 p.m. Legendary Bluesman Big Ron Hunter will perform, N.C. Association of Black Storytellers members will present, and historical dramas based on the life of colonial poet Phyllis Wheatley and the work of cabinet-maker Thomas Day will be shared. The N.C. State Historic Sites staff (www.nchistoricsites.org) will demonstrate African games and tips from Charlotte Hawkins Brown’s book “The Correct Thing to Say, Do, and Wear.” U.S. Colored Troops re-enactors will pitch tents. Many other activities are scheduled. A special presentation from architect Phil Freelon will review architectural planning for the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro and plans for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The Museum of History will offer other African American History programs throughout February and will open a major Thomas Day furniture exhibit on May 22.
A film about the often-forgotten history of the cultural and racial fusion of Native Americans and African Americans will be screened at Town Creek Indian Mound State Historic site in Mount Gilead on Feb. 7 at 4 p.m. “Black Indians: An American Story” is narrated by James Earl Jones. In Raleigh, authors and community leaders will celebrate their favorite authors in the “African American Read-In” at the State Capitol on Feb. 27 from noon to 4 p.m.
Throughout February, visitors to the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Memorial in Sedalia can see a free exhibit about African Americans on U.S postage stamps. The N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer has a permanent exhibit, “North Carolina Lining Bar Gangs,” in tribute to African American workers who laid the rails and were known as “gandy dancers” because their work was combined with rhythmic singing.
“Liberty and Justice for All: Black Voices from the Past” is a play to be presented at Tryon Palace State Historic Site and Gardens on Feb. 18. Dr. Reginald Watson, an associate professor at East Carolina University, will introduce the play, which depicts various scenes from African American history. Tryon Palace also offers a walking tour highlighting the African American history of New Bern and a lecture series. The Tryon Palace Jonkonnu Troupe recreates the songs/dance/music of 19th-century slaves who came from the Caribbean and Africa to eastern North Carolina; the troupe has performed for school groups and for gubernatorial inaugurations.
Among N.C. State Historic Sites that interpret African American history daily is Somerset Place in Creswell, once a plantation of more than 100,000 mainly-wooded acres. The site has representations of several slave community buildings and the Collins family home to tour. Historic Stagville in Durham also was among antebellum North Carolina’s largest plantations at 30,000 acres; it still features the Great Barn, a massive structure built by enslaved craftsmen. The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum began in 1902 as the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia and was a preparatory school for black youth that shaped many lives, thanks to founder Charlotte Hawkins Brown.
Many events and accomplishments in North Carolina history are noted with an N. C. Historical Highway Marker, often called “History on a Stick.” A marker in Dare County for Richard Etheridge notes that he was the first African American to serve as commanding officer of the all-black Pea Island Life Saving Station, 1880-1900. In Edenton a marker salutes Harriet Jacobs, who hid in her grandmother’s attic for seven years before escaping to the North and becoming an abolitionist. A marker is in Chatham County for George Moses Horton, a slave who became the first black to publish a collection of poetry in 1829; he also authored the first book published by an African American in the South. Visit www.ncmarkers.com and enter African American History in the search line to see the complete list.
The recently-published “A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot” is among the books about African American history available from the N.C. Historical Publications Branch of the Office of Archives and History. Through February the prices of all African American titles are reduced by 25 percent. Among other titles are “A History of African Americans in North Carolina,” “Recollections of My Slavery Days” and Black Experience in Revolutionary NC.” Visit http://nc-historical-publications.stores.yahoo.net/african-american-history.html.
Now is a good time to trace family history, before the family reunion. In addition to the State Archives, the Genealogy Branch of the State Library of North Carolina has finding aids to help with research of family history all year. Visit the State Archives at http://www.archives.ncdcr.gov/default.htm or the State Library Genealogy Branch at http://statelibrary.dcr.state.nc.us/patrons/genealogists.html.
For additional information call (919) 807-7389. The Department of Cultural Resources is the state agency with the mission to enrich lives and communities, and the vision to harness the state’s cultural resources to build North Carolina’s social, cultural and economic future. Information is available 24/7 at www.ncculture.com.
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