During February, Edenton celebrates Black History Month by highlighting and remembering the many unique contributions of African Americans who made a lasting impact on the town.
With a history stretching back to Colonial times, Edenton has a unique connection to African American history. Early African Americans in the Chowan area were involved in a variety of occupations as skilled tradesmen, farmers, artisans, and church leaders.
During the antebellum period, many African Americans served their communities as teachers, tailors, barbers, and nurses. While some African American families were able to buy their freedom, others still suffered under slavery, as it wasn’t fully abolished in North Carolina until 1868.
One Edentonian who fought for her personal freedom was the renowned writer and abolitionist Harriet Jacobs. Harriet was born in Edenton in February 1813 and suffered under a cruel enslaver, Dr. James Norcom. After hiding for seven years in her grandmother’s attic, she finally escaped to freedom in 1842.
When you visit Edenton, you can take the Harriet Jacob’s tour with the Historic Edenton State Historic Site which highlights her life and brave struggle to find freedom. You’ll also find copies of her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, at the Penelope Barker Welcome Center.
In the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction, African Americans in Edenton continued to make significant contributions in the community. They formed churches, schools, and businesses, and several played key roles in the political transformation of the state.
Today, you can learn about African American businesses and churches highlighted on the Museum Trail, Edenton’s self-guided walking tour, including the Josephine Leary Building and the Kadesh A.M.E. Zion Church.
Josephine Napoleon Leary was born into slavery in 1856, but by 1883 she had established her independence as a prominent business woman in Edenton, owning many properties throughout town.
The Kadesh A.M.E. Zion Church on East Gale Street is a Gothic Revival style church built in 1897 by a formerly enslaved African American architect and builder, Hannibal Badham, Sr. The Badham family contributed significantly to Edenton’s development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The church is currently in the process of being restored after suffering significant damage during Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
Another exciting development, honoring Edenton’s African American heritage, is the preservation of the Golden and Ruth Frinks Freedom House on Peterson Street. Golden and Ruth Frinks were prominent Civil Rights activists in Edenton, even welcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in their home. We invite you to join us for a special Community Day on March 11 at the Freedom House, sponsored by the Historic Edenton State Historic Site.
The contributions made by African Americans throughout the history of Edenton are part of what makes our town so unique and special, and it’s important to take the time to recognize and honor the rich heritage of this community. From the Colonial period to the present day, African Americans have made enduring additions to Edenton’s culture, and their legacy continues to inspire the citizens of our town.
But, the story of the African American contribution isn’t relegated to Edenton, either. Throughout the Albemarle Region, including places like Edenton, Manteo, Camden, Williamston, and more, you can find important sites dedicated to celebrating this heritage, coordinated by the African American Experience of Northeast North Carolina.
We invite you to join us here in Edenton during Black History Month. Come walk the self-guided Museum Trail tour, take a guided tour to learn more about the life of Harriet Jacobs, or stay in Edenton while you explore the history of the Albemarle region. We can’t wait to share our heritage and history with you!