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For the Sake of Freedom: Landownership, Education, and Memory in Halifax County, North Carolina, 1900-1960

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Strickland, Shantara Nicole. “For the Sake of Freedom: Landownership, Education, and Memory in Halifax County, North Carolina, 1900-1960.” (Under the direction of Dr. Katherine Mellen Charron.)

This thesis explores the symbiotic relationship between landownership and education in eastern North Carolina from 1900 to 1960. Centering the experiences of African American farmers in a black majority county, it examines two central questions: How did the fight for adequate education transpire in Halifax County both before and after the 1954 Brown decision? And, what is the significance of narratives constructed by both black Halifaxians and outsiders to memorialize the county’s civil rights movement? Beginning in the early decades in twentieth century, black farmers utilized the American Missionary Association and the New Deal to build independent and economically self-sufficient black communities, which helped them navigate and, at times, prosper in the Jim Crow South. After the Supreme Court handed down the Brown decision, black Halifaxians came together, temporarily, to support desegregation. By 1956, the community had split over which strategy—equalization or desegregation—would provide the best education for their children. This division, rooted in geographical and class differences, had harmful consequences as the lack of a united front allowed white educational leaders to stymie substantive change. This study also considers how Halifax County’s freedom struggle has been depicted by local folks and outsiders. Comparing and contrasting narratives of the fight for education and land ownership deployed by native activists and attorneys at the University of North Carolina’s Center for Civil Rights reveals significantly different emphases. In the broadest sense, the focus on rural Halifax County complicates urban-based and progressive narratives of the state’s Civil Rights Movement.

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