On the eve of the Civil War, federal census takers counted more than
3600 African Americans living in Wilson County, North Carolina — more
than a third of the county’s population. Almost all enslaved, black people
labored as field hands, laundresses, cooks, carpenters, nursemaids, and
blacksmiths, building wealth for others. Thousands of the descendants
of these men and women continue to live in Wilson County, many in
communities and amidst institutions their forebears created.
Where do we look to find evidence of Wilson County’s enslaved? What
can we learn about the years before freedom? Contrary to common
belief, details of these lives are not completely lost to history. Though no
plantation records survive for this area, many types of documents and
artifacts provide glimpses of African Americans in the antebellum era.
We can say their names again and ensure they are not forgotten.
Curated by Lisa Henderson, Say Their Name: Reclaiming Wilson NC’s Slave Past explores the myriad sources holding the stories of enslaved people and offering access to their lives.
Lisa Y. Henderson was born in Mercy Hospital and reared in East
Wilson. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
Harvard Law School and Columbia University, she has channeled her
life-long passion for African-American history and culture into Black
Wide-Awake, a blog dedicated to the documentation and preservation of
the history of Wilson’s black community.
The exhibit opens February 28th and will be on display until January 2021.