The town of Princeville is located in Edgecombe County in eastern North Carolina. Situated just south of the Tar River from Tarboro, the town was settled in 1865 by former enslaved Africans and was known as Freedom Hill. The town was incorporated in 1885 and 20 years later was renamed for one of its citizens, Turner Prince.
Princeville, is the only incorporated “all black” town in North Carolina. It is a suburb lying on the east side of the river and most of its inhabitants work in nearby Tarboro. Present day Princeville, a town of approximately 2000 residents, has a mayor, a volunteer fire department and two police officers.
The town is recovering from the great flood of 1999.
A former freedmen’s camp site, James City was settled in 1863. The community was located in central Craven County along the Neuse River at its junction with the Trent River. The settlement was named for Horace James, a Union chaplain.
The first documented use of name Hayti, North Carolina is found on a deed of 1877 in which a lot was sold “near the town of Durham in the settlement of colored people near the South East end of the Corporation of said town known as Hayti.”
Hayti lay outside the town limits of Durham, providing a natural buffer between Africans and Caucasians, which both races found advantageous. As early as 1867 Caucasian map makers referred to any predominantly African community as Hayti.
The exact origin of the term is not known, however, it is noted that Africans may have used the term to express their admiration for and hope of emulating the independent island nation.
The name Beech Bottom, North Carolina comes from the Beech trees that once grew along the river bank and the fact the area is known as a “lowland.” The community is located in the northwest corner of North Carolina in Avery County and defies the previously accepted stereotype that African Americans did not live in the Southern Appalachian region.
Arriving in about 1870, Hampton Jackson was one of first inhabitants of the area and was said to have raised two adopted sons. One of Native American and Polish ancestry and the other of Native American and German extraction.
During the period 1900 to 1940, the population ranged from 80 to 110 people and included African American, Caucasian and Native American residents. The population began to shrink in the early 1940’s due to the decline in feldspar mining, the primary industry of area. In search of employment, most families migrated to Virginia or Ohio with hopes of finding work in the factories or military shipyards.
Today Beech Bottoms, which may have a future as a summer vacation spot, has a permanent population of twenty-five people, twelve of whom are African American. The major business industry in Beech Bottoms, centers around two Christmas tree farms which employ three people.
Settled in 1863 by the Freedman’s Bureau, this California lies on the East Coast and has its own unique history. It is uncertain how this northern Roanoke Island community got its name. Oral tradition of the area claims that a group of children attached a hand-painted sign that read “California” to a tree, and the name was Percy Tillett, a native of Little California, is one of eight sons of Joe Tillett, an original settler in the area. According to Mr. Tillett, the realities of small island life brought African Americans and Caucasians together despite Jim Crow laws. He states that “The sheriff would stand up at the highway and try to keep whites from coming over.” used from that point forward.
The street on which Mr. Tillett grew up, Fernando Street, was once known as White Cross Way because Caucasians took that route to enter Little California. In early 1915 more than 100 African American children, who attended a school which also served as a church, were taught by one teacher and a principal. Mr. Tillett says that during recess he watched a brick mason construct the new African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church across the street. The church took three years to complete and was built by one man who made his own bricks.
By 1865 the community’s population had grown to more than 3000, as compared to the 1,200 citizens living there today. However, the overall island population has quadrupled to 25,000, bringing with it new faces and many new problems. Vivian Berry, a former resident of Little California, states “There are so many strangers there now, I used to know everybody. I don’t anymore.”
Mainland problems like drug dealing and increased violence have infiltrated this previously quiet and close-knit community. A combination of job scarcity and land speculation by investors is also contributing to the demise of the community. “Growth is good, but if we keep on going at this rate, my grandchildren will not be able to afford to live here,” says Mrs. Berry.
The history of this small community located about eight miles east of Greensboro, goes back to 1870 when the Bethany Church, still standing, and the Bethany Institute were erected. Thirty years later, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, a prominent African American educator, took charge of the institute which was a junior college and high school for “Negroes.” She renamed it the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute in honor of the first president of Wellesley College.
Under the fifty-year presidency of Dr. Brown, the Palmer Institute became recognized as one of the leading black preparatory schools in the state, sending more than ninety percent of its 1000 graduates on to college. The Institute, North Carolina’s first historical site honoring African Americans, discontinued its function as a school in 1961, but today offers educational exhibits, presentations and tours.