What do these people have in common? Hull Anderson, shipbuilder and shipyard owner. “Big Bob,” a slave who died as a martyr defending Washington and was highly praised for his actions by a well-known Civil War senior medical field officer and surgeon. The Rev. Peter Bragg, an honoree at the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. George C Cooper, one of the first African-Americans commissioned naval officers in the United States. Stewart Ellison, who helped build Dorothea Dix Hospital and was one of the first African American men elected to the Raleigh Board of Commissioners. Jarvis Williams, the baker from Washington who met with President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.
They were from Washington, N.C., or had spent time in Washington before securing themselves, and us, places in local, state, national and international history.
Black History Month is one of the times we examine closer the great deeds of so many African-Americans who have forever changed the landscape of America. Washington can boast of hundreds of African-Americans who have had their names etched in history from the 1700s until now.
Many such as Sarah Keys, William Artis, Willie Johnson and Joan Little are known worldwide. Others like Abraham Wilder, Melviny Small, William Mayo, Peter Simon Jones and Sylvestor Dibble may be known regionally, but their contributions have made a tremendous historical impact on Washington and North Carolina.
There are countless names we’ll never know, such as the names of the men and women who lived in Washington or came to Washington to join with the Union Army’s “contraband camp” and stayed to help the Union war effort in Washington. These men are the same ones who helped build the five forts in Washington that were used as garrisons to help make Washington a stronghold in the Civil War. These same men and women were crucial to the war effort and helped build a strong economy in Washington. Many of them received from the Union Army an education that made them and their families go on to become teachers, preachers, business owners, community leaders, civil-rights advocates and so much more.
Washington has an amazing history for everyone, and African-American history is an amazing part of it.
The tour is approximately 1 mile, and takes about an hour at a strolling pace.
For more African-American history about Washington, go to “I’m From Washington NC and nobody told me this” on Facebook.
Leesa Jones, a teacher, is creator of “I’m From Washington NC and nobody told me this!” and The African-American History Walking Tour in Washington.
- Washington Daily News, February 6, 2013
Leesa Jones narrates this audio tour.