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Mapping Black History and Heritage in North Carolina

NC African American Heritage Commission and CTNC: A partnership built on cultural preservation and land conservation 

North Carolina’s Black history and culture is rich and diverse; broad and deep. We have a responsibility to know, celebrate, and protect sites of cultural significance — and the stories and memories that they carry — to gain a greater understanding of the realities of the African American Experience in North Carolina.

Conservation Trust has partnered with the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission to celebrate our state’s rich history by educating North Carolinians and conservation advocates of the significant places and spaces across our state. Explore this digital map to learn more about the diversity of the African American Experience in North Carolina.

The African American Heritage & Culture of North Carolina Digital Asset Map identifies locations of significant natural and cultural value to Black and African American people across North Carolina’s history.

*Click the double arrows in the top left-hand corner to view a legend and reveal more locations*

By better understanding their mutual interests, cultural preservation and land conservation organizations can work more diligently to build relationships and collaboration efforts that meet shared goals, and benefit diverse communities across the state. North Carolina lands hold a deeply-rooted history of African American and Black experiences dating back centuries. Throughout our 100 counties, our land holds the stories of significant African American heritage sites along the Underground Railroad to the Civil Rights Movement, once-segregated parks and beaches, Rosenwald School sites, and much more.

Our history is directly tied to land and people’s relationship to land.

A partnership between Conservation Trust and the African American Heritage Commission (AAHC) is a natural evolution of our organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion throughout the conservation sector.

CTNC and AAHC have collaborated on projects for several years to educate advocates and supporters to the importance of our shared goals for land preservation and conservation. In order to effectively conserve land for community benefits, we must understand how people’s relationship with these places have been formed over time.

This map can be used as a tool for people across the state to elevate our awareness of rich African American heritage and culture. The map will also serve to help cultural preservation and land conservation organizations better visualize the connections between African American cultural assets and natural resource values of land.

An Iterative and Collaborative Process

Through this map, we hope North Carolinians can explore their own understanding of land and culture and learn about new experiences they never knew.

We also acknowledge that this map is not complete. If you know of a significant African American cultural site that should be included, please contact us. We empower our network to help make this tool a robust resource to all North Carolinians so we can expand our collective knowledge of our past. By learning about the connection between people, place, and cultural histories, we can all do our part to make land conservation more equitable and inclusive in an effort to achieve a more resilient North Carolina.


Land connects us all and every person should share in the benefits of healthy lands regardless of race. Learn more about CTNC’s priority to advance equity throughout the conservation sector.

AmeriCorps Spotlight: Kelsi Dew

Edgecombe County native works to discover and preserve lost history of Princeville

Born and raised in Edgecombe County, Kelsi Dew enrolled in Appalachian State’s Anthropology program to seek a different experience from her Eastern North Carolina childhood. But now, Kelsi has returned to her roots and can’t imagine ever leaving her home.

Kelsi’s passion for Eastern North Carolina history from 1850-1900 and the Reconstruction Period called her back to Princeville where she now helps to shape the community’s resilient future as an AmeriCorps member through CTNC.  

“I want to understand where I came from and why things are the way they are. Princeville is too important to not care about, locally and nationally. It’s a historical gem. I hope more people can care and understand, visit and experience, and ultimately respect what Princeville is.”

Kelsi Dew, AmeriCorps Member
Princeville Town Manager, Dr. Knight (left), and Kelsi (right) at the Princeville Temporary Town Hall 

Under the supervision of Princeville town manager, Dr. Glenda Knight, Kelsi is now an integral member of the Princeville team. Kelsi is actively building a record of Princeville’s history and heritage to be put on display in the Town’s Mobile Museum and permanent museum that is currently being restored from damage inflicted by Hurricane Matthew.

Repetitive flooding makes it difficult to fully document Princeville’s history.

Princeville has a long and often tumultuous history with hurricanes, flooding, climate change, and other environmental impacts. As the first town in the U.S. incorporated by African Americans and established by freed slaves, Princeville is also rich in heritage and cultural significance. But the town, built on swampland in the basin of the Tar River, faces threat of erasure as the community is caught on a loop of flooding, recovery, and rebuilding.

Despite the flooding and the hardships faced by the people of Eastern North Carolina, Princeville embodies a story of resilience. Land conservation and cultural heritage directly weave into Kelsi’s work because this land has an inspiring story to tell.

Looking ahead to a bright future.

“Even though the town still floods, it rebuilds. The people are what make Princeville resilient. We may have lost physical structures after each storm, but the town and its people are still here.”

Kelsi is an integral part of Princeville’s community that works to build a resilient town

Kelsi is filled with hope about what is ahead for the citizens of Princeville. Her work on behalf of the Town is bridging the past, present and future. She is part of a collaborative effort among dozens of organizations, government agencies, and town residents, working toward a shared goal of revitalizing Princeville with a commitment to sustainability and resilience. This shared vision has brought together many projects and partners in the Town of Princeville, local businesses and residents, and outside organizations like CTNC, The Conservation Fund, and NC State’s Coastal Dynamics Design Lab.

Over the next year, the residents will have better resources to tell the story of the union liberation of African American people following the Civil War, the once thriving agriculture economy, and the foundation of resilience that built this community. A Farmer’s Market is in development at Heritage Park that will offer a central community hub for Princeville’s budding agriculture economy. The Floodprint by NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab will provide additional guidance on how Princeville can develop its historic core in ways that can withstand future flood events while continuing this transformation into a vibrant destination for Eastern North Carolina.

“There is so much positive energy here.”

Kelsi has made Princeville her home. She met her fiance here and intends to raise her own children here. She will continue to explore all that Princeville has to offer even as her AmeriCorps service concludes.

Kelsi says her next steps are not only to continue her research, but to figure out ways to share the stories she’s uncovered. She wants to find ways to present history in a way that celebrates the Town because Princeville deserves to be celebrated for its history, culture, tourism, and conservation efforts.

Kelsi on a visit to Shiloh Landing, located right outside of Princeville

CTNC is embarking on many collaborative partnerships to support the Town of Princeville and their quest to achieve resilience. Read about our partnership to develop a Floodprint that will guide the Town’s conservation and resilient recovery efforts.

CTNC partners to help shape Princeville’s resilient future

N.C. State’s Coastal Dynamics Design Lab Prepares a “Floodprint” in cooperation with the Town of Princeville. 

When CTNC shares resources, funding and expertise to help communities, we can create tangible change across the state. That’s exactly why we have partnered to co-create a vision for a resilient future for the citizens of Princeville, N.C.

Princeville, which is nestled just southeast of a bend in the Tar River, has been devastated by flooding for 100 years. A number of efforts over the years have outlined options for the town, but few have been community-driven and come through with committed resources.  That is where CTNC and our partners within the Common Ground collaborative come in. We found that researchers at North Carolina State University had earned the trust of the community through some community processes after Hurricane Matthew hit the town in 2016. They also had a model approach to planning that fit our vision and the town’s needs.

So CTNC and our partners garnered funding to support N.C. State’s Coastal Dynamics Design Lab in preparing a “Floodprint” in cooperation with the Town of Princeville. A Floodprint is a robust guide to strategic resilience planning – designed to achieve four goals: 1. to mitigate the impacts of flooding in Princeville, 2. to allow the public to access community assets, 3. to engage the local community, 4. and to create “excellent” design in the town. It is as much a process as a product.

This map details the flooding problem that devastates Princeville every year

Resilience planning is about being mindful of potential flood risk where areas have been historically impacted. When city and community planners develop strategies to assess and mitigate flood risk, they can develop a road-map to rebuild in a way that minimizes the damage to homes and other structures when flooding inevitably occurs again. 

A story of resilience for people, place, and culture. The challenges posed by the frequency and strength of hurricanes impacting communities across Eastern North Carolina are daunting for years after the water recedes. Due to its location in the crook of the Tar River, these flood events have left Princeville’s homes, schools, churches, and the Town Hall completely devastated. Princeville has been rebuilding for years, welcoming its people back home.  In January 2020, after a three-year hiatus, a newly renovated and flood-proofed Princeville Elementary School reopened to its approximately 200 students.

According to the N.C. State scientists leading the project, Andy Fox, Travis Klondike, and Madalyn Baldwin, the Floodprint project is “focused on design and programming strategies for celebrating and building community capacity around cultural and heritage-based tourism.” 

Cultural and heritage-based tourism is right. Princeville is filled with places that educate us all about its rich history and culture. From Freedom Hill, where formerly enslaved people first heard of their legal release from bondage, to a cemetery and numerous schools, those who’ve called Princeville home over the years treasure that material legacy.  Previous work by N.C. State students resulted in the construction of a mobile museum to share and protect the town’s historical legacy.

‘All great achievements require time.’

Maya Angelou

Princeville Town Manager Dr. Glenda Lawrence-Knight draws on this quote when referring to the budding relationship with CTNC. “Partnering with Chris Canfield and his team has been very uplifting. Despite it being challenging, it is understood that recovery is a process. A process that requires patience, time, energy and efforts toward great achievements.”

Dr. Knight added, “CTNC continues to mutually share with the Town in the recovery process of auspicious outcomes. Out of many, the most critical contribution is the immediate benefits of the floodprint plan that will grant the Town an opportunity to build a firm foundation with specific recovery guidance, address and tackle challenges during the research phase, promote collaboration, increase buy in into a shared vision for the future, ignite revitalization and most importantly, generate citizenship morale with recovery resilience. So, to this partnership derives greater hope, a clearer vision, resources, and results.

The Floodprint process is underway and expected to be finished in the fall of 2021. As it has already done, the project will continue to press forward with the approval, input and collaboration of community stakeholders and leaders.

“Princeville, for much of its history, has been so concerned about survival that historic preservation has been almost impossible,” said the Town of Princeville in an online statement. “Maybe the recent spotlight on Princeville will encourage the public (and potential funders) that the town is worth preserving.” 

Those words already seem to be ringing true. In January 2020, the town got word of $40 million in federal funding to improve levees around the town.  That work won’t solve all the threats faced by the town but it will likely encourage further investment to protect its history and future.

As an organization, CTNC’s board, staff, and partners are committed to standing alongside our Princeville friends as we work collaboratively to achieve lasting community resilience. Climate resilience is part of our lifeblood, as is community enhancement and the betterment of all people, especially those who have been traditionally excluded from the benefits conservation provides. We’re inspired and honored to continue this journey at the banks of the Tar River. 


The Floodprint effort is made possible with generous funding by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and Duke Energy Foundation in partnership with The Conservation Fund and CTNC. If you are inspired by our community resilience work and want to make an investment in this future, please consider making a gift.

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