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Oral history project aims to hear the stories of the civil rights struggle in northeastern NC

A new oral history project is seeking to speak with people who were active in the civil rights movement decades ago in northeastern North Carolina.

The project titled “Untold Stories of the Struggle for Civil Rights in the Places of Northeastern North Carolina: A Research Study” wants residents who took part in the struggle in that region between the years 1941 and 1976.

This area includes Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan, Bertie, Northampton, Halifax, Edgecombe, Martin, Washington, Tyrrell, and Dare counties.

The State Historic Preservation Office, an agency focused on architectural history, aims to use these interviews to help list and map historic structures in the region where civil rights actions took place that may be in peril from demolition or development, according to Sarah Woodard, a branch manager at the division.

"The oral history will feed into the architectural history," Woodard said.

But the project does feed another purpose, Woodard added, and that is as a historical record due to the fact that at the time local newspapers in that region did not cover civil rights events, or did so in an abbreviated manner.

“There is a lot of oral history in North Carolina. People are very forthcoming and they want to tell their stories.”
Velma Fann, oral historian

Two factors led to the decision to choose the northeast region of the state.

“We were trying to find a region in the past that had a minority-majority population,” Woodard said. “We also wanted a region that has an HBCU.”

Elizabeth City State University is a historically Black university in Pasquotank County.

The interviews will be conducted by Velma Fann, an oral historian with New South Associates, which is a women-owned small business that provides cultural resource management services including archaeology, history, architectural history, and historic preservation planning among other fields.

Fann has done some preliminary interviews but the pandemic has kept her at arms length from the region. She said she hopes to make it to the region sometime in late March or early April. She said there is a richness of stories from the civil rights era in North Carolina.

“There is a lot of oral history in North Carolina,” she said. “People are very forthcoming and they want to tell their stories.”

She wants to speak with individuals with first-hand knowledge of places of protest during the movement. These stories will become part of the collected oral histories at the North Carolina State Archives.

The project is expected to run through Fall 2023.

The State Historic Preservation Office works in conjunction with the Division of State Historic Sites and the N.C. African American Heritage Commission in commemorating Civil Rights history in northeastern N.C., including projects such as the Golden Frinks House in Edenton and the N.C. Civil Rights Trail.

The project has received guidance from the N.C. African American Heritage Commission and is in alignment with the N.C. Civil Rights Trail, a program of the NCAAHC.

Updates on the project will be shared on the “Mapping the Civil Rights Movement in Northeastern North Carolina” Facebook page.

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