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African-Americans in the North Carolina Sandhills

Sandhills Family Heritage Association researches, collects, preserves and shares the history of African-American communities and families in the N.C. Sandhills.


SFHA has a lot of help in this important work. Community members, colleges and universities, and local, state and international organizations contribute to our efforts to tell the story of African-American history and culture in the N.C. Sandhills. 

Visit our Heritage Programs page to learn about our community education presentations and workshops. Many of our Heritage activities expand on history and culture presented here. 

During the antebellum period, 53% of the state’s slave owners owned five or fewer slaves, and only 2.6% of the slaves in North Carolina lived on farms with over 50 slaves (UNC, n.d.).

Enslaved Africans in North Carolina and the Sandhills

  • The first Africans were brought forcibly to the Southern U.S. in the mid-1600s to work tobacco, rice and cotton plantations

  • The labor of enslaved people was critical to the economic development of the U.S., particularly in the South

  • Unlike Virginia and SC, the soil in the Sandhills region did not support tobacco and rice as well as Virginia and SC

  • Enslaved people in the Sandhills worked mostly in the naval store industry, performing the dangerous and dirty work producing tar pitch and turpentine for construction and maintenance of wooden ships.

  • In the mid-1800s, N.C. produced over 95% of the naval stores in the country

  • Enslaved people also worked on farms, constructed buildings, sailed ships and performed domestic chores

  • Enslaved people built the longest wood plank road in NC between 1849 and 1854, finishing 129 miles of road from Fayetteville to the village of Behania near Salem,

  • Generally, enslaved people in NC worked on smaller farms and lived in smaller groups of enslaved peoples who interacted with often with enslaved people from other farms.

In 1800, according to U.S. Census data, 133,296 enslaved people of African descent lived in North Carolina. In 1860, the number had increased to 361,522. 

NC Museum of Natural History


Work, Community and Self-Reliance

At the end of the Civil War, nearly 400,000 enslaved people of African descent were emancipated in North Carolina. Many enslaved people worked as tradesmen and craftsmen and were able to use those skills in employment after emancipation - boatsmen, blacksmiths, carpenters, butchers, coopers, tanners and wheelwrights, 

Freed African-Americans also worked as domestics and farmhands. Many families lived and worked in isolated turpentine camps, where they captured turpentine, pitch and tar and were victim to a labor system that meant deprivation and indebtedness.

Freed blacks worked as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, often saving enough money to buy land and own farms. Some worked in the timber and lumber industries. Large estates and country clubs, such as Overhill Estates, hired African-American horsemen and stable-hands and hound handlers. Look for information about the SFHA Overhill history presentation.

The combination of skilled tradesmen, land-ownership and an abundance of service=related jobs with large land-holding employers from the North helped to create a culture of entrepreneurship among African-Americans in the NC Sandhills.

Many families were able to use used their earnings to provide for education of their children, start businesses and increase their own land holdings. While some families flourished, others required assistance and struggled to earn sufficient income for necessities

"The "Bleeding Pines of Weymouth" are longleaf pine trees (Pinus palustris) marked with V-shaped cuts made by former slaves or their descendants, to let loose the flow of sap collected for turpentine, pitch and rosin. This viscous fluid bled down the trees into deep gashes, known as "boxes," that were carved into the base of the trunks. Hundreds of these trees remain in Weymouth Heights, composing an undocumented, yet significant Scottish-American/African-American cultural landscape dating from the second half of the 19th century.

Bleeding Pines of Turpentine


Land, Indpendence and Family Wealth

Early African-American Land-owners

  • Post-slavery, many African-Americans became tenant farmers and sharecroppers on the land of their former owners,

  • After years of hard work, many were able to buy land and start farms.

  • For many African-Americans, land ownership was more important than civil rights,

  • Land-ownership was the road to independence, self-sufficiency and family wealth

  • African American land-owners converted their land into farms where entire extended families lived and worked together.

  • This "communal" way of life shaped a culture of self-reliance and entrepreneurship and built strong communities around shared goals and experiences.

  • By the 1920s, one-third of African-Americans in Cumberland County owned farm land.

Map NC Ecoregion Boundaries.jpg

The Sandhills region in the southwest corner of North Carolina's Coastal Plain includes parts of Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, and Scotland Counties. The state's peach-growing industry is concentrated in the Sandhills, and cotton and tobacco are also important crops.

Geography- Part 2: The Cradle of North Carolina: Coastal Plain and ...

Land Loss: Fort Bragg, Racism, Predators and Legal Loopholes

1920 to 1987 declines in farm ownership in the U.S.

  • white farmers 66 percent

  • black farmers 98 percent

Black Land Ownership in the U.S.:

  • Between Emancipation and 1920: 15 million acres

  • 25 percent of blacks owned the farms they worked

  • majority of black landowners lived in the South

  • 1997 US Census of Agriculture: 2 million acres

  • 1920: 1 of every 7 U.S. farms black-owned

  • 2000: less than one percent of farms in U.S. black-owned

Sandhills Black Landowners

  • many former freed blacks owned 50 to 100 acres

  • some blacks owned larger farms or total acreage, such as SFHA Executive Director Ammie Jenkins' great grandfather McRae who owned 658 Acres and the members of the Williams family who purchased pieces of the former Murchison and McDiarmid plantations and still own some of that land today (2019)

One of the primary reasons for decreased black land-ownership in the Sandhills began in 1917 with the rist purchase of private land by the U.S. government to create the Camp Bragg military complex.  In 1922,


Camp Bragg became Ft. Bragg and the government continued to buy private land, often through coercion. Land-owners whose land was within or near the borders of Ft. Bragg were denied access to their land. Many African-American families have stories of land loss related to the Ft. Bragg military base. and seizure of private land. 

The SFHA Land-loss Prevention Project presentation explores the many causes for the decrease in black land and farm owners. While many farmers, black and white, simply could not make a living farming. for black land-owners, the potential for land loss was significantly higher. The SFHA project covers the Ft. Bragg land grab, use of an obscure law related to heirs that allowed local governments to seize black-owned land, scams perpetrated against blacks, racism and the threat of violence. 

Visit our Heritage Programs and Outreach pages to learn about our Land-Loss Project activities, including historicalpresentations about black land-loss in the Sandhills, land and forest stewardship and management seminars, legal and estate issues and information about government resources. 

Decades of Struggle, Perseverance and Success

  • The small African-American rural communities in the N.C. Sandhills have strong memories of their shared history, heritage and culture.

  • They have a strong connection to the land and to the belief, handed down through generations, that land is a dream realized and filled with potential for independence and self-reliance.

  • From land-ownership to a strong entrepreneurial spirit, self-sufficiency is the strong desire that drives their social activism and instinct to gather, share and collaborate.

  • The Historic Spring Lake Civic Center is a perfect example of the community's ability to work together to meet its needs and strengthen the potential for their families to succeed. The Civic Center began as an entertainment and youth recreation venue, However, the community soon saw its value as a hub for social change:

    • desegregation of public spaces

    • school desegregation

    • NAACP meetings

    • Voter registration drives

    • employment, home-ownership and land-owner rights

NC Sandhills in the 21st Century: Building on the Past


African-American communities in he N.C. Sandhills continue to build upon the work of their ancestors who were stolen from African, enslaved in this country, emancipated and, largely, set adrift to make new ways by building on their remembered heritage and culture and celebrating their shared history.


Like the Sankofa bird, our communities stubbornly insist on learning from the past, accepting the challenges of the present and preparing, always, for a better future.

Sandhills Family Heritage Association engages community by viewing the table around which we gather as our shared experiences. At that table, we come together to work toward share goals.

Sandhills Family Heritage Association proudly servers as the premier repository for information about the history, heritage and culture of African-Americans in the N.C. Sandhills. ​

Please visit our Heritage program page to learn about free events and activities that share the stories of our communities from living as enslaved people in this region to emancipation and the decades of struggle, progress and hope that ensured. 

Contact Us for information. 

Links to learn more about African-Americans in the Sandhills

"All of the state’s major plank roads converged on Fayetteville because of its importance as a marketplace, maintaining its economic viability....In part, these roads were built by slaves who had been hired out by local slave owners. The Fayetteville and Western Plank Road, completed in 1855, became the longest plank road in history (at that time)—129 miles long." 

Paths, Plank Roads and Planes

With appreciation and thanks to Yogesh Ghore, Coady Institute, for his research and creation of the 2013 document, "Reaching back to move forward toward a future of HOPE: The story of Sandhills Family Heritage Association," which provides background and excerpts for this page.

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