World War II: Memory and Community in Coastal North Carolina
When the military moved into coastal North Carolina in 1941, some residents were forced to leave communities that had been their homes for years. Interviewee Mary Carter Stone of New Bern remembered the last worship service at the Little Witness Baptist Church. All of the residents of the condemned settlements of Tar Neck, Toon Town, and Gum Neck attended services one last time before the bulldozers destroyed their church. "All the men and women were crying," Stone recalled. Another woman added that some of the older residents "never got over losing their cemetery and the church. It put them in their graves." The members of the Little Witness Baptist Church congregation were among thousands of coastal North Carolina residents displaced by the war.
While the war brought destruction and dislocation for some on the home front, it resulted in phenomenal economic opportunities for others and also altered race relations in coastal North Carolina. Revered Leon Nixon, whose family owned a "color-blind" juke joint and motel during the war, remembered, "After midnight there weren't no black and white." Challenges to segregation also took place in military camps, where black workers in skilled positions demanded to ride on desegregated buses. Women also benefited from new occupational opportunities during the war. Among the interviewees for the project were women who held jobs as aircraft painters, electrician supervisors, and other non-traditional positions, thereby shattering conventional notions of women's work.
Cecelski has published articles on the Memory and Community in Coastal North Carolina Project in Southern Exposure, the North Carolina Literary Review, and Coastwatch. UNC-CH graduate students who have conducted interviews for the project include Will Jones, Natalie Fousekis, Melynn Glusman, Karen Thomas, and Lu Ann Jones.
The Southern Oral History Program
Center for the Study of the American South
Love House and Hutchins Forum
410 East Franklin St., CB# 9127, UNC-CH
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9127