When Hurricane Matthew flooded his hometown in 2016, Mayor Bobbie Jones understood the magnitude of the decisions ahead. As the National Guard drained the floodwaters back into the Tar River, some of the 2,200 residents considered relocation.
Mayor Jones flat-out refused. For him and for many of his neighbors, neither Hurricane Matthew nor Floyd in 1999 could compare to their ancestors’ struggle to found the town. Settled in 1865 as Freedom Hill, the freedfolk arrived from all over Eastern North Carolina with few-to-no resources and had access to none of the federal or state infrastructure dollars available to their descendants today. It is the oldest town in the nation established by Black people, and it remains 97% African American.
Yet, with many residents only a generation away from sharecropping cotton — Jones included — the danger of economic subjugation remains a constant fear. Mayor Bobbie Jones tells host Frank Stasio about why an autonomous and thriving Princeville remains an important symbol for Black America.