ICYMI: Extreme Weather Is Forcing the First Town Chartered by Enslaved People to Consider Selling Land

By Yessenia Funes Dec 13, 2016

In what is believed to be the first town chartered by enslaved men and women in the 1800s, residents today have a tough decision to make: Should they stay, or should they go?

Princeville, North Carolina, faced severe inundation in October when Hurricane Matthew hit the Southeast. Residents were unprepared—when Hurricane Floyd hit in 1999,they were told it was a once-in-a-lifetime storm. Barely twenty years later, many of the same people were now being forced to rebuild. Again. 

The New York Times stepped into the historically Black city with a population of 2,100 as its residents debate whether to accept a federal buyout to assist with post-Matthew recovery. FEMA will buy homes, but that purchase would prevent anyone from building on the land again. Thus, the town would lose a major portion of its tax base. The town commissioners rejected the option in 1999 in order to hold onto their historical community, but they’ll have to vote on it again soon, the Times reports. For some residents, however, this is now their second time rebuilding, an expensive and tedious process that involves significant paperwork, loans and stress.

“This is home, this is what I know,” said 69-year-old Betty Cobb. She toughed it out once, but feels overhelmed with doing it a second or third time. “I really don’t know,” she told the Times.

While the area has always been prone to flooding—part of why White landowners weren’t interested in it—the situation is only worsening in light of climate change-fueled extreme weather. 

“Their existence in this space was not a matter of chance or choice, but instead the discarded and unwanted space was what former slaveholders allowed them to occupy,” wrote Richard M. Mizelle, Jr., an associate professor of history at the University of Houston, in the second issue of Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi Journal.

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