For our second Community Impact Challenge, we are celebrating Oberlin Village and support ing the efforts of Friends of Oberlin Village.
Back in 1928, our church, West Raleigh, would have been just a block or two away from the boundary of the village of Oberlin, a still thriving community of working and middle class residents, built by freed slaves after the Civil War in the early 1870’s. Many of the emancipated had been enslaved on nearby Cameron Plantation, the largest plantation in NC. Industrious and self sufficient early residents of Oberlin included carpenters, draymen, brick masons, shoemakers, machinists, blacksmiths, preachers, a harness maker, a cabinet maker, a tinner, a barber and a pressman. Women often worked as laundresses, seamstresses, cooks, nurses, midwives and farm laborers.
Oberlin Village at its height stretched all the way from Hillsborough Street, down to Glenwood Avenue. It also extended several blocks west of Oberlin. What was once named Josephus Daniels Middle School sits on land owned by a former enslaved person. Recently the school was re-named Oberlin Middle School to distance itself from the segregationist it was originally named after and to honor Oberlin Village.
As one Oberlin descendant explained, future generations built on the successes of their ancestors. They were a true community, looking after and nurturing each other and leading rich lives. They had their own school, university, churches and groceries and shops and cemetery. Despite Jim Crow and the Depression, Oberlin Village showed resilience and ambition. Children, grandchildren and great grandchildren became lawyers, teachers, politicians, doctors, pharmacists, college professors, dentists and community leaders. However, the widening of Wade Avenue, slicing through the middle of the community, and commercial development were the beginning of the end for this once vibrant community. House by house, buildings have been torn down. Although Oberlin Village has mostly been paved over, there are still buildings of historic significance we want to protect, and we want to learn about and honor those who lived there before.
In 2011 a group of descendants of Oberlin formed Friends of Oberlin Village to preserve the legacy of this mostly forgotten community. The organization is entirely run by volunteers; and nearby NCSU, neighbors and civic leaders have been working to educate the public about this treasure that has been all but lost. Research and geneological studies are constantly unearthing new information.
Four projects Friends of Oberlin are working on and where they need funds are:
- Narrative signs: These would be erected in front of structures of historic significance. In the future these signs will help form a cultural walking trail that will connect Oberlin cemetery with the Latta House and University site. The initial estimate is that each sign and installation would cost about $2,000.
- Banners: As part of the Oberlin Road streetscape plan the City of Raleigh is planning historic pictorial banners that will feature photos of the many professions held by the residents of Oberlin. The estimated cost for each banner is $1,500.
- Oberlin Middle School Installation: Friends of Oberlin has the opportunity to install a permanent educational narrative at Oberlin Magnet Middle School. NCSU’s Human Factors class will be researching and advising on the most effective display for the school. No cost estimates are available yet.
- Cemetery Clean Ups: Friends of Oberlin hosts cemetery clean-ups each quarter. The next one is scheduled for October 24, 2020 from 9am to noon. Church youth groups, school groups and individuals are invited to participate.
To quote a line from a poem by William Cullen Bryant, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” It is important to keep alive the memory of Oberlin Village, and to preserve the legacy of these remarkable people, our neighbors.