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Along Freedom Road

Along Freedom Road: Hyde County, North Carolina, and the Fate of Black Schools in the South

David S. Cecelski
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Along Freedom Road
    Book Description:

    David Cecelski chronicles one of the most sustained and successful protests of the civil rights movement--the 1968-69 school boycott in Hyde County, North Carolina. For an entire year, the county's black citizens refused to send their children to school in protest of a desegregation plan that required closing two historically black schools in their remote coastal community. Parents and students held nonviolent protests daily for five months, marched twice on the state capitol in Raleigh, and drove the Ku Klux Klan out of the county in a massive gunfight.The threatened closing of Hyde County's black schools collided with a rich and vibrant educational heritage that had helped to sustain the black community since Reconstruction. As other southern school boards routinely closed black schools and displaced their educational leaders, Hyde County blacks began to fear that school desegregation was undermining--rather than enhancing--this legacy. This book, then, is the story of one county's extraordinary struggle for civil rights, but at the same time it explores the fight for civil rights in all of eastern North Carolina and the dismantling of black education throughout the South.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1970-5
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-1)
  4. Maps
    (pp. 2-6)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 7-16)

    Like chimneys standing in the cold ashes of a tragic fire, the old school buildings endure in towns and rural communities across the southeastern United States. A few have been reincarnated as textbook warehouses, old-age homes, or cut-and-sew factories. More commonly, though, they sit vacant and deteriorating in older black neighborhoods. People called them the “Negro schools” in the era of racial segregation, when millions of black children enlivened their classrooms. As school desegregation swept through the region in the 1960s and 1970s, white southern school leaders routinely shut down these black institutions, no matter how new or well located,...

  6. Prologue, 1954–1964
    (pp. 17-30)

    Swamp and salt marsh had begun taking back Hyde County when the United States Supreme Court ruled onBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansason May 17, 1954. The population had never been large. Though for two centuries slaves and convict laborers had dug drainage canals, the East Dismal and Great Alligator swamps had not yielded more than a foothold to civilization. The county had experienced rapid growth and some prosperity during a timber boom from 1870 to 1920, but the northern timber companies abandoned the region as they cut the last old-growth cypress, juniper, and oak. A...

  7. CHAPTER 1 White Folks’ Ways
    (pp. 31-58)

    On a late summer day in 1965, Vanderbilt Johnson was at a filling station west of Engelhard when for the first time in his life he saw a school bus carrying black and white children. He could not speak for his astonishment. “I never thought I’d see the day in Hyde County” he told a friend later.¹ The black veteran of World War II recognized immediately that he had witnessed a locally historic moment and a first small step toward racial equality. He also understood at once that some of his white neighbors would lash out against the black community...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Tired of Having to Bear the Burdens
    (pp. 59-82)

    Abell Fulford, Jr., at first could not believe that the school desegregation plan accepted by HEW required closing the O. A. Peay and Davis schools. Though he was president of the O. A. Peay School’s alumni association, Fulford had not known that such a plan was under consideration. Neither the school board nor HEW had consulted him, and Hyde County did not have local media that might have alerted him earlier. On hearing the news in early July 1968, Fulford immediately discussed the school closings with other alumni leaders, most of whom had studied under O. A. Peay himself during...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Once in Our Lifetimes
    (pp. 83-104)

    Golden Frinks was the most important civil rights organizer in eastern North Carolina in the 1960s. He had been a nightclub owner and secretary of the Chowan County NAACP in 1959 when a dozen high school girls had approached the NAACP indignant that they could not eat ice cream in the drugstore where they bought it.¹ Two years later, Frinks and those teenagers led months of protests against racial segregation at the drugstore, movie house, bus station, and other public accommodations in the small coastal town of Edenton. Frinks quickly learned the costs of challenging Jim Crow: he was threatened...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Another Birmingham?
    (pp. 105-126)

    As great flocks of migrating tundra swan settled onto Lake Mattamuskeet for the winter, the school boycott seemed to take off. Hyde County blacks were pushing political leaders harder than ever, and racial tensions were growing rapidly. The two youngest school board members, Walter Lee Gibbs and Tommy Jones, had privately shown interest in negotiating with the Committee of 14, but board chairman Silverthorne, the two older board members, and Superintendent Bucklew adamantly refused to deal with the protest leaders. When a delegation of thirteen black parents expressed their frustration about the impasse in negotiations during a school board meeting...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Marches to Raleigh
    (pp. 127-144)

    Winter is always hard in Hyde County. The weather seems to magnify a hundredfold the poverty and rural solitude. Cold northeasterly winds and rains regularly come down from the North Atlantic, sweeping over the low barrier islands and salt marshes. A few long-haul fishing crews venture into the rough seas beyond the Outer Banks, and oystermen and shuckers scrounge out a meager living from local bays. Otherwise the county becomes economically dormant. Farms and many seafood packing houses shut down for the winter, and country families largely withdraw from society until spring. Many quietly stretch beans, fatback, and a bit...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Hour of Harvest
    (pp. 145-162)

    On July 4, 1969, a sniper fired two shots into a carload of blacks passing by a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Middletown, a rural crossroads three miles south of Engelhard.¹ Though a bullet shattered their windshield, the four young passengers escaped unharmed and drove directly into town to alert Sheriff Cahoon. The sheriff at first seemed unperturbed by their story. He lingered at the local cafe while news of the incident flashed through the eastern part of the county.² When Cahoon and state trooper L. J. Vance finally arrived in Middletown thirty minutes later, dozens of well-armed blacks had...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 163-174)

    I first attended the homecoming for the O. A. Peay—Hyde County Alumni Association in the spring of 1983, when I was still a labor and community organizer in my native coastal North Carolina. I had always liked Hyde County. When I was growing up on the far shore of Pamlico Sound, I often visited the county and had even lived in Lake Comfort one winter. During those trips, I had gradually been drawn into two grassroots protests led by local fishermen and seafood packing workers. It was then that I came to know many of the people who appear...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 175-206)
    (pp. 207-224)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-235)