The Story: Emancipation

"And in those days since I was whipped simply because it was thought I had opened a book, I have seen the books of the world opened to my race. And with the help and sympathy of God's good people I have seen them make a beginning in education."


William Henry Singleton, New Bern, N.C.

As former slaves adjusted to their new lives, they began taking advantage of the freedoms that had previously been taken from them. Black schools quickly opened across the state. African-American children attended during the day, and the schools held night classes for adults who wished to learn to read and write. Black churches were also founded throughout North Carolina. Black Southerners no longer had to hold secret prayer services in the woods, but could openly worship when and where they chose.

The black community also began working to reunite families broken up by the slave trade. Many individuals conducted searches via mail to find long-lost family members, using the growing network of black churches across the South to try to make connections.

"The medium then used in finding any of our people was the church. Any one looking for a lost relative would send letters of inquiry to all the different churches in the United States and Canada, describing the person, and giving names of masters they had belonged to, so far as they knew. So I tried to find my mother, and at the expiration of a few years I heard of a woman in Huntsville, Alabama, answering the description. There was great difficulty in finding our people because they were sold so often, and had to take the name of each master…after spending a month of constant research and inquiry I had to give it up as futile."

"During this time I learned that I had a brother in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After the exchange of a few letters we were satisfied that we were brothers, and he came to see me. It proved to be my oldest brother, James, who had run away from Wilmington in 1860…through him I found another brother, who was a locomotive engineer over the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad. We three were soon together and again began a zealous search for mother, ultimately locating her in Lebanon, Tennessee. It was not long until we found her, though not in Lebanon, for when we reached there we learned that she had been gone from that place nearly a year. She had gone back to Knoxville, in which city I found her, and when she saw me, she exclaimed, like Simeon of old on seeing Jesus, "now Lord let me die in peace, for mine eyes have seen my son William".


William H. Robinson, Wilmington, N.C.