Just Beyond the River: The African American Heritage Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina and the Cedar Hill Heritage Park, A Black Public Humanities Initiative


Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowships


African American Studies


African American Heritage Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina


Long before it was the site of a race massacre in 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina was a slave society. Situated along the Cape Fear River, the town emerged in tension with local indigenous polities and on the backs of enslaved Africans. Their lives and labor gave the area a distinct social and economic character marked by the production of rice, indigo, lumber, and naval stores. Racial slavery in Brunswick county helped to sustain the colonial port as Wilmington grew in size and significance at the same time that Africans and their descendants created lives and cultures that challenged white settler colonial aspirations. Their resistance, flight, and built environments counter modern attempts to forget and erase their heritage. In collaboration with the African American Heritage Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina, this multi-tiered research project will archive and make visible histories of Black Brunswick county from the late eighteenth century to the present. This project engages local research on rice cultivation, area Gullah-Geechee heritage, Black schooling projects, and Reaves Chapel, a Civil War-era church built by the enslaved along the banks of the river. The project includes co-produced research with community members and public dialogues. It culminates in a digital archive that will form the basis for a scholarly monograph and a local Black history museum at the Cedar Hill African American Heritage Park, near the proposed site of the restored Reaves Chapel. This project’s use of community-driven research agendas from its inception offers new approaches to graduate training while providing new possibilities for redefining “public humanities”.