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The Heritage of Blacks In North Carolina
Foreword By Alex Haley
The Heritage of Blacks in North Carolina is the first known attempt by any group, organization or individual to collect the personal genealogical studies of a statewide group of Afro-Americans and present these materials in volume form. It is well known that the heritage of Afro-Americans, like that of their African cousins, has been passed down for countless years through an oral tradition. This is a very powerful and longstanding vehicle for passing on tradition and history among groups that have not adopted the printed medium. And even in the age of computers and videotapes, this practice remains a custom in many circles. While it is unlikely that any Afro-Americans have perfected the oral tradition to the degree that it is done in the Africa by professional griots, it is still a powerful medium to transfer history and culture from one generation to the next.
Although time that a generation or so ago was generally reserved for storytelling and passing on tradition now must compete with America's favorite pastime, the television, likely some vestiges of the oral tradition will be around for generations to come. Even so, whenever possible it is important to verify, supplement and enhance oral family history with primary documentation and artifacts. Obvious weaknesses attend relying strictly on an oral medium. One is that the family storyteller or historian can die unexpectedly without having trained and nourished an understudy on his / her rich diet of oral material. Another weakness is that the student can never know as much as the teacher about the periods of history prior to the student's birth without having the opportunity to analyze supplementary materials. Finally, the oral tradition requires that all information be filtered through the personal lens of an often untutored storyteller prone to eliminating details the storyteller considered unappealing or likely not pertinent to the listener. Too, as stories are passed down from on person to another, or one generation to he next, inherently there is a tendency for details to be distorted and take on the colorations, characteristics and importance, or lack of importance, given the material by the storyteller. So family heritage passed down from one generation to the next through storytelling takes on a sharper and more meaningful focus when the oral tradition is corroborated by primary resources, pictures and artifacts.
The publication of Roots coupled with its eventual television production fortunately served as an impetus for many Americans, especially Afro-Americans, to accent the oral tradition, which is so prominent, by anchoring family histories in primary documentation. The marriage of these rich family histories with genealogical research made available through private and public records offer a much clearer picture of the past.
It is a credit to this country, and to North Carolina, in particular, that the families in this volume have agreed to share their stories through this medium. For in these pages are part of the American story that would not be known except for these families' diligence, persistence and unselfishness. Each story and genealogical search is important, for each adds a piece to the giant human quilt representing aggregate humanity. Each story is singular in that it provides the author's perspective on his / her family, yet the stories together form a collage of fragments which entail lie movement of a people along the course of life in North Carolina. These fragments are sewn together by sets of values held uppermost in the collective Afro-American community. Collectively, authors speak about the sustaining forces in their personal and family lives such as love, the thirst for education, faith in God, hard work and respect for the elders and their teachings, And as in life, there are stories entailing trials, tribulations and triumphs. There are disappointments, heartaches, heartbreaks and the assorted emotions that give birth to faith, courage and perseverance. There are dreams that come true and nightmares that linger too long before fading in the dawn. Homage is paid to parents, grandparents and extended family members who labored tirelessly in the fields and factories to provide the bare physical essentials, yet, were not too overburdened to direct offspring down the delicate track to spiritual enlightenment and offer formulas for sustaining life.
It is hoped that this volume is but a beginning which will inspire future works of this nature. The culture of the Afro-American is unique and deserves microscopic exploration especially from an internal (family) perspective. Too often the dynamics of the Afro-American family have been viewed from the outside, resulting in misunderstandings and labelling of the institution as dysfunctional despite the overwhelming economic, social and political pressures and acts of discrimination. The driving forces and survival mechanisms which have sustained and inspired the Afro-American are evident in this volume of family stories.
It is encouraging to see this effort by Afro-Americans in North Carolina which will further the field of genealogy. Only through such individual and collective pursuits can the true history of any group be told, and this should serve as an inspiration to other statewide and community groups for generations to come. This volume's effort is to be applauded as one more patch in the quilt that represents the human race. ~ Alex Haley, April 18, 1990.
(The above foreword is presented under the Creative Commons License. © 1990 by The North Carolina African American Heritage Foundation. All Rights Reserved.)
The Heritage of Blacks In North Carolina • Reviews
"The Heritage of Blacks in North Carolina provides an excellent foundation for African-American & Black studies. Linda Simmons-Henry's style is excellently suited towards African-American & Black studies, and will teach students the material clearly without over complicating the subject." - BookRenter Review.
"This book is a true treasure for those researching their family history and wanting to know about the history of blacks in North Carolina from articles written by blacks. This work is a must read. It contains information detailing agricultural, religious and education history, among other subjects. It culminates with stories about hundreds of families from North Carolina as family members recount their history based on their memories and stories told and passed down from their ancestors. I've recommended it to many of my family members as well as friends of all races." - Akron, Ohio.
"This hardcover volume provides detailed accounts of African Americans living in the state, emphasizing individual family histories. This collection of African-American stories contains representations from 85% of North Carolina counties." - North Carolina African-American Heritage Foundation.
"An overview of Black history in North Carolina: The cradle of civilization; The African heritage: Customs and characteristics of the Afro-American community; The Colonial period; Life under the new government; Selected leaders who made a difference; Freedom rings with a muffled sound; Up by the bootstraps; Hope deflated; No more Jim Crow; New hope through education; The evolution of education for blacks in North Carolina; Black literature in North Carolina; Black music in North Carolina; Black religion in North Carolina; Selected historical milestones; North Carolina African-American historic sites on the Nation Register; North Carolina highway historical markers related to African-Americans; African-American legislators—Church histories—Family histories—Patron honor pages." - WorldCat Listing.