Category Archives: North Carolina

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Stories from the American South (1985)

We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’ll be posting notes about my research all month long on Patreon.

McNeil, W.K., ed. Ghost Stories from the American South. August House, 1985.

As I read through these ghost story collections, not only do I collect the stories and critique how the authors treat them, but I also examine how the authors (or editors and compilers) in question put their books together. It’s tough to find a way to be thorough and rigorous at an academic level, while also staying entertaining and holding on to the reader’s interest.

Well, this nifty little classic collection by the late Ozark Carolina folklorist W.K. McNeil (1940-2005) does a great job of both. In the back, every story is amply documented, from everything McNeil could find about the source and the tale’s background, right down to the folklore type of story. He even includes lists by state for easy reference (Yayyy! My Hero!).

In the main section, McNeil records these stories verbatim as they came down from whatever source he used. And some creepy tales he does find. They are grouped roughly by subject and some are then also grouped with the chapters as variations of the same tale. Because these are oral histories of the campfire tale type, they are all pretty short. This makes it easy to stop and start with ease, putting the book down after finishing one short narrative and then picking it up to read another.

In addition, that shudder-inducing cover (even now, I leave that thing turned down and under a bunch of other books) is augmented by some seriously creepy interior illustrations. It actually took me longer to get through this because it creeped me out too much to read alone than because of all the information I had to take down from the references.

The book is by no means comprehensive, though it works as an introductory overview. McNeil chooses 100 stories from all over the South, from different sources and different periods of time. Though he does try to cover all the major folklore trope and trend bases, he is willing to admit that even that coverage is sketchy, at best (there are, for example, no sea or coastal stories whatsoever). The book is less than two hundred pages long, after all. It’s just too bad he never did another one.

Contrary to what some reviewers claim, many of these stories do not come from the WPA folklore collections. In fact, McNeil is fairly acerbic about the tendency of the WPA compilers to tart up the oral histories they heard and make them sound more “literary” (which generally makes them read like bad Victorian melodrama), rather than record what was actually told, the way it was told.

Also, one of the nice things about the book is that McNeil collected some of the newer (for the time) legends. There’s a fairly large collection of stories from the 1970s, which were only a few years before the book came out in 1985. These include some pretty interesting variants on the Mexican-American legends of “La Llorona” and “The Devil in the Dance Hall” that might otherwise have been lost to time.

The book has unfortunately dated a bit, through a few choices by McNeil that probably seemed logical at the time. McNeil emphatically puts down popular collections of published tales as useless for oral history. While I agree that there’s a fair amount of, shall we say, personal embellishment and bias in these collections (McNeill has no truck with any of that Lost Cause guff), they do influence oral history in their own right. In addition, McNeill effectively ignores the role of electronic media that has increasingly and heavily influenced the evolution and telling of American folklore over the past century, especially since the World Wide Web came out less than a decade after this book. Is that oral history or written? It acts an awful lot like oral history.

Sadly, McNeill never dealt with these issues before his death in 2005. Now I guess he never will. We’ll just have to make do with this book. Don’t read it in the dark, though, kids. Just because it’s academic, doesn’t mean it’s not creepy.

Did you enjoy this review? You can help keep the project going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee. And don’t forget to check out my ghostly folklore notes all month on Patreon!

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories (1949)

We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’ll be posting notes about my research all month long on Patreon.

Harden, John. The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories. 1949. Reprinted University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

John William Harden (1903-1985) was one of North Carolina’s well-known folklore storytellers of the 20th century. He originally hailed from Alamance County and was a journalist most of his life. He’s usually remembered for this collection and another book called Tar Heel Ghosts, which will probably be getting a look-in later this month. But back in the day, he was best known for the radio show on WPTF where he first told these stories, Tales of Tar Heelia, in the 1940s. Sadly, none of these broadcasts appears to have survived (or, at least, is yet accessible among his papers), but if you’ve ever watched Tar Heel Traveler on WRAL, it was a similar kind of show.

This was the first folklore book I began reading this summer. You could say it set the tone to a large extent for the others. Harden tells stories from the whole Old North State. He does a good job of showing the balance between telling tales for entertainment (“storyteller”) and preserving local history and culture (“folklorist”). Every author has their particular balance.
Harden’s wording may seem a bit odd to today’s reader looking for ghost stories. He calls these “mystery” stories. This means that every time, however strange and eerie the story, he always looks for a “rational” explanation, however convoluted. So, there aren’t any “real” ghost stories in the collection.

It’s largely a collection of odd disappearances (Peter Dromgoole, Major Robert Clark, Reverend Hawkins, Captain Blakeley) and unsolved murders (Nell Cropsey, Polly Williams), which may or may not make your blood run cold, paired up with the odd bit of cryptozoology or sea story (notably, the Carroll A. Deering). Every single time, he finds a way to Scooby-Doo it, even when he’s talking about well-known Carolina oddities like the Devil’s Tramping Ground (often confused with the somewhat lesser-known Devil’s Stomping Ground in South Carolina) or the Devil’s Hoofprints of Bath (there is also a Devil’s footprint in Largo, NC with one matching in SC), or the Brown Mountain Lights. This was a common attitude back in the first half of the 20th century.

Mind you, I’m not arguing for a knee-jerk supernatural explanation, either, but a Rube-Goldbergian chain of circular reasoning is not superior to a simple and honest “It’s a mystery; we just don’t know,” just because all the links in the chain of circular reasoning involve some sort of known natural phenomenon. I think it’s entirely possible that both the Devil’s Tramping Ground and the Hoofprints of Bath have natural causes (ditto the Brown Mountain Lights), but I also think we aren’t going to get anywhere by imposing ill-fitting theories on poorly understood phenomena and calling it a night.

That said, Harden’s hard-headedness can be refreshing. There is, for example, his entry toward the end of the book about a Wilkes County hound dog who tangled with a new and previously unknown mystery creature and, after a terrible fight, was never seen again. As far as I know, this story is unique to the collection. Harden astutely surmises that it was likely a Cougar that was displaced east by a recent forest fire in the mountains. Someone else might have claimed it was Bigfoot (though, after all the Homo floresiensis findings, I’m beginning to soften a tad on the idea of Bigfoot, but only a tad) or a forest demon. But Harden’s theory is both simple and logical. Most importantly, it fits all the facts without strain. This dovetails rather nicely with Hair’s book on Carolina monsters (coming up later this month).

Another thing that hasn’t aged too well is Harden’s love affair with Lost Cause mythology. Fortunately, this only really appears in a story or two (notably, the wreck of the Fanny and Jennie) related to the Civil War and it’s fairly benign. Some other ghost books bang away at it a lot harder.

Did you enjoy this review? You can help keep this project going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee. And don’t forget to check out my ghostly folklore notes all month on Patreon!

Halloween in North Carolina

Welcome to Halloween in North Carolina. All month long, I’ll be reviewing ghost story and folklore books about the state of North Carolina. The Old North State has a lot of eerie tales, some new, some old, some startling, and some downright frightening.

North Carolina is the only state to have its folklore thoroughly catalogued in a seven-volume series, The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. Brown collected stories from 1912 until his death in 1943, and the series was published in 1951. It’s available online. The state also had its own WPA guide (a research project from the 1930s). In addition, there is Tom Peete Cross’ lengthy article, “Witchcraft in North Carolina” (1919), and Elsie Clews Parsons’ “Tales from Guilford County” (1917), among others, that have preserved a lot of the stories that have since appeared in more popular collections.

But much new folklore has popped up since the 1950s. You’ve got Bigfoot and Goat Farm Road and Piney Grove Church and Stateline (Satan’s) Bridge, etc., etc., etc. We’ll talk about those stories, too.

I’ve been collecting books and articles and websites about North Carolina ghost stories for years, but this will be by no means a comprehensive list. The bibliography of published books alone would be at least three times as many as what I can review this month. But I can give you a pretty good idea of what’s out there. And perhaps, I can give you some creepy new material to read and retell.

My current two projects are a book on tales from the Tri-County (Edgecombe, Wilson and Nash) area in Eastern NC and one on tales about the Devil in North Carolina. But this stuff takes time and money to do. If you’re interested in helping me with this research (or you just want to check out my notes and other such perks), head on over to my Patreon page and join up. You can also help by making a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or sending me a coffee.

Happy Ghost Hunting!

The articles:

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories (1949)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Stories from the American South (1985)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #3: Ghosts from the Coast (2001)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #4: The Haunted South (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #5: Ghosts of the Carolinas (1967)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #6: Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and the Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #7: North Carolina Haunts (2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #8: Monsters of North Carolina (2013)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #9: Haunted Hills (2007)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #10: Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina (2018)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #11: Tar Heel Terrors (2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #12: Tales from Guilford County (1917)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Witchcraft in North Carolina (1919)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #14: Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina (2006; 2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: The “Wettest & Wickedest Town” (Salisbury, NC) (2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Uwharries (2009)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #17: Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #18: Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley (2009)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #19: Ghosts of the Triangle: Historic Haunts of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill (2009)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #20: Mountain Ghost Stories (1988)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #21: Looking for “Lydia”: The Thirty-Year Search for the Jamestown Hitchhiker (2018)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #22: Ghost Stories In North Carolina: Every Haunted Place In North Carolina (2012)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #23: Cursed in the Carolinas (2017)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #24: The Lost Colony in Literature (1985)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #25: Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater (1966)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #26: Ghost Stories and Legends of Murphy, NC (2015)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #27: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 1: Seaside Spectres (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #28: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 2: Piedmont Phantoms (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #29: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 3: Haints of the Hills (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #30: Ghost Tales of the Moratoc (1992)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #31: Pirates and Ghosts of the Carolinas’ Coast (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, All Saints’ Day: Bonus Round #1: The Little Book of the Hidden People (2015)

Halloween in North Carolina, All Souls’ Day: Bonus Round #2: Scottish Ghosts (1999)

Five Questions Everyone’s Asking Astronomers Like Me About the Great American Solar Eclipse

Check out my Facebook and Twitter all this month for tips and articles about eclipses. And feel free to join my Patreon or buy me a coffee if you enjoyed this article and would like to see more.

I work in a planetarium and am a lifelong amateur astronomer. We astronomy geeks have been eagerly anticipating the upcoming America-crossing solar eclipse on Monday for over a year, but most people (including the media) were blissfully unaware until very recently. Questions I’ve been fielding about it have skyrocketed since August 1 and super-novaed in the past week. And it turns out the media coverage still has a few holes.

So, here are my already-patented answers to the most common and important questions.

1. Will looking at the sun during the eclipse hurt me?

Yes, if you look too long, but no more or less than if you looked at the full sun. There is no special, mega-destructive radiation during an eclipse that will hurt your eyes more than other times. But your eyes may be fooled by the dimmer light into “thinking” that they’re safe. Your blink reflex may be reduced. You may not be consciously dazzled by a crescent as by a full disk of sun. But yes, that can still hurt your eyes. A lot.

It boils down to simple math. The sun is about 400,000 as bright as the full moon. Since the full moon is a bit dazzling but not harmful and the full sun obviously is, people understand that the full sun is dangerous to look at. Unfortunately, they then think that if the crescent moon is not dazzling or harmful, neither will be the sun. This is not so.

When even 1% of the sun is visible, that’s still 4,000 times as bright as the full moon. If it’s 6 or 7 times that, as it will be here in Eastern North Carolina, that’s about 25,000 times as bright. Obviously, thousands of times as bright as an object that’s dazzling, but not harmful, is pretty harmful. It won’t strike you stone-blind if it dazzles you as you’re putting down your sun visor while driving down the road toward it, but you still need to be careful.

Bottom line: The sun is only safe to view, for more than a quick glance, when it’s completely covered by the moon in the brief total eclipse phase.

Credit: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel
Credit: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel

2. I can’t get solar eclipse glasses. What do I do now?

Welp, you’re probably out of luck with the glasses, sorry. I got some a couple of weeks ago, but I hear they’re completely sold out in my area as of this week. You can, however, view the eclipse quite safely in other ways.

The best way is to find a local science museum or library in your area that is doing an eclipse party. These are generally free. Yes, there will be crowds, but we’re pretty good at crowd control (all that experience with school groups), and most should have eclipse glasses and extra equipment like telescopes with filters for safe viewing.


I’ll be working the Eclipse at the Imperial Centre on Church Street in Rocky Mount, NC. Not only will we have three regular scopes with filters, but we’re breaking out the H-Alpha scope (you can see solar flares in it) and the Sun Spotter (which safely projects an image of the sun onto a piece of white paper).

If you can’t make it to one of those, the absolute easiest and safest way is to make a pinhole camera. The absolute easiest way to make one is to punch a small hole in a paper plate, aim the plate at the sun, and let the image fall on another paper plate through the hole. Pinhole cameras of this type are very easy to make and there are designs all over the Web. They are also completely safe as long as you project the image onto a non-reflective surface (no mirrors or glass) and don’t magnify it through a magnifying glass or unfiltered telescope (you might burn the paper and/or damage your telescope).

3. Is it worth seeing only a partial solar eclipse?

I cannot stress this enough – YES, IT IS. If you have any visible eclipse action going on at all in your area, you should check it out. Even though a solar eclipse is actually pretty common (about one ever 18 months somewhere on Earth), the area covered by either the umbra (total eclipse shadow) or the penumbra (partial eclipse shadow) is so narrow, and so often over an unpopulated area like the high Arctic or the ocean, that most people have never seen even a partial eclipse. For it to cross a heavily populated area like the United States is quite rare (and it’s going to happen again on April 8, 2024, which is even rarer). That’s why it’s predicted to be the most-viewed solar eclipse in history.

So, just for the historical event value alone, you should be checking it out. But in addition to all that, it’s actually worth seeing this throughout the viewing area. Which is pretty much all over the U.S. and in British Columbia.

Unfortunately, the science educators kinda dropped the ball on this one and have totally undersold the value of seeing a partial eclipse, even though there’s no way most people in the U.S. and Canada can get anywhere near the umbra AKA path of totality. Most of us did not anticipate how crazy and how early the activity of chasing totality would get. There’s already traffic gridlock in some states, so it turns out even leaving very early in the morning on Monday (the plan I would have followed if I weren’t working the eclipse) may not be a good or safe option. And it’s just not worth getting stuck in traffic or even getting hurt to see the up-to-two-minutes of totality you’d get if you managed to get into the umbra. A total eclipse is very much worth seeing – but it ain’t that worth it.

This is also underselling 99% of the eclipse experience, which is a partial eclipse wherever you are. I’ve read reputable science writers in astronomy guides telling people it’s not worth watching an exclipse unless it’s total. That’s dumb. This isn’t like a partial lunar eclipse, where you may not even notice the shadow if it’s small and faint enough. If the moon does more than graze the sun in your area, you will notice. The sun is just that bright and the new moon is just that dark.

Credit: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel
Credit: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel

The thing is that the partial eclipse, whether it’s before and after the total, or partial is all you get in your area, is far more than just the experience of a few minutes of totality and lasts a lot longer. Three hours in my area, which gives you plenty of time to step outside and get a look, to check out what’s going on around you (it gets weird), and still have a look even if you’ve got heavy cloud cover much of the time.

Yes, you only get to see the moon-bright corona in the few minutes of totality. Yes, you only get to see phenomena like Bailey’s Beads then. Yes, it’s the only time you can look directly and safely at the sun (though, technically, you’re looking at the moon, which is blocking the sun).

But the real, and really weird, experience is watching the sun slowly disappear and reappear, and you will see this throughout the penumbral (partial eclipse) area. In the path of totality, it’s as straightforward as the moon’s phases from first to last quarter. Outside of that, you may see some odd shapes as the moon crosses part of the sun. And these will last longer than the total eclipse.

Also, while you won’t see a starry sky, you could still look for Venus to the west and Jupiter to the east of the sun. You can see these two planets in the sky even during daytime, if you know where to look. Depending on how total your partiality is, you can still find them.

In addition, you will get a lot of strange effects, such as a darkening (albeit still-blue) sky, weird shadows, and animals acting oddly (the birds may go to sleep). If you are near enough to the umbra, you may even be able to look in its direction and see the shadow.

I’ve seen two partial eclipses, including the New England Christmas Eclipse of 2000. It’s difficult to explain how unnerving it is having a big, black shadow cross the sun. It is not at all like overcast weather. I’m not at all surprised it creeped our ancestors out, even in cultures where they knew how to predict eclipses.

4. Speaking of weather, is it worth watching the eclipse if it’s partly cloudy?

Yes, absolutely! In fact, having a little weather may enhance your experience, especially in periods and areas of partial eclipse. The clouds will look different, for one. If it rains and you get a rainbow, it will also look different. An eclipse, total or partial, affects everything in the sky and how that light reaches the ground. And since a partial eclipse lasts much longer than the period of totality, you’ll have much longer to observe these conditions and it will be totally safe as long as you’re not looking directly at the sun.

If it’s totally socked in with rain, it will be a little more boring, but you should still notice that the sky will darken even more than usual at the height of the eclipse.

5. Are my solar eclipse glasses worth keeping?

Yes, absolutely! They make looking at the sun safe and other fun things happen with the sun besides eclipses, like planetary transits and sunspots. The next transit of Mercury across the sun won’t be until November 11, 2019, and the next transit of Venus won’t be until 2117, but sunspots are pretty common. And you can see any that are at least the size of Jupiter with solar eclipse glasses.

Do not, however, ever use solar eclipse glasses when looking through a telescope or binoculars. They will not protect your eyes from the magnified glare. To reiterate:


Here’s hoping everyone has a fun and safe eclipse. It won’t last very long, but at least you’ll know what a hundred-million-plus other people across the country will be doing at the same time!
Credit: Evan Zucker

Check out my Facebook and Twitter all this month for tips and articles about eclipses. And feel free to join my Patreon or buy me a coffee if you enjoyed this article and would like to see more.

You can find the photos I used in the article, and many more, right here. Credit for top photo of solar corona during totality: Jay Pasachoff / Allen Davis / Vojtech Rusin / Miloslav Druckmüller.

Telling Stories

By Jim Lee

I have recently published a book of 21 short stories entitled The Haze of Memory. These stories, mostly fiction but also a smattering of non-fiction, are based on events I have experienced and people I have encountered throughout my almost six decades of life on this earth. In the foreword, I wrote that although I put “teacher” as my occupation on my tax forms, I consider myself a writer. But in the final editing of the book, I almost changed that line. And now I am asking out loud (and if you write on a frequent basis, you may ask as well), am I a writer or a storyteller?

There is a difference between the two. Storytellers do not necessarily create the stories they tell. They often retell stories that are important to the culture or the history of a group they identify with. Every family has that one person who is the repository of family lore and you can find that individual surrounded at Christmas or reunions with a rapt audience. I serve that role for my daughter and she will often ask me to relate the events of her adoption or how her granny got stopped for running a red light to avoid dumping a lemon pie on the floor of her car.

Writers, on the other hand, are more concerned with universal themes, interesting characters, or the significance of a setting. Much modern literary fiction has even disposed of some traditional elements of storytelling completely or deconstructs them to such an extent that the writing becomes to literature what a cubist painting is to modern art: The elements are present, but they are disproportionate or displaced. Don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate what the writer is trying to do, but I don’t enjoy it. I only go to an art museum once every couple of years and I can appreciate the pieces I observe there; the art I have in my home, however, is what I enjoy. In the same way, since I read for pleasure (as I suspect most people do), I want my writing to be more accessible to people.

While I want my writing to be enjoyable, I also want it to be purposeful. I know my fiction does not rise to the level of “literary” writing, but I want someone who is educated to be able to appreciate a level of complexity that adds to their enjoyment. Therefore not everything I want my reader to get out of the story is explicit in what is written. Histories and relationships between characters, for example, are often only hinted at, but if you want to spend the time and energy thinking about what those relationships are, you certainly can. In my story, “Wandering in the Shadows,” the parents are headed for a divorce and the mother may be having an affair. That fact is never stated, but it colors the relationship that the father has with his daughter and the depression the daughter is exhibiting. The casual reader can still enjoy the story and find a level of understanding that he or she is comfortable with, but the more-literary reader can find something more.

I suppose I am hung up on labels because I, as most writers, I suppose, want to be taken seriously. Stephen King was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award in 2003 and a number of the members of the organization boycotted ceremonies or even canceled their memberships in protest. Their point was that King is not a “literary” writer; he’s just a glorified storyteller. But more people are reading, and in my case writing, because they were introduced to literature through King’s books than the esoteric writers the NBF honors annually.

In his book, On Writing, King famously stated that a writer writes not because he wants to, but because he has to. By that definition, I am a writer. I have to write. When Paula gave me the opportunity to write this entry, I had already been considering writing this essay, and I am grateful for the opportunity for it to reach an audience wider than my Facebook friends or writers’ group. I had to write it; it was going to burst into existence. But I’m a writer who uses traditional storytelling as the vehicle for my literary vision. My stories move emotions, whether to laughter or tears. My stories teach lessons that someone may not otherwise have an opportunity to experience. I don’t envision winning the National Book Award, but literary journals publish one of my stories every now and again, and my writers’ group seems to enjoy them. So, I’ll keep writing stories and publishing them on whatever platform for whomever wants to read them.

Because I’m a writer. Who tells stories.


Jim Lee’s book of short stories, The Haze of Memory: A Literary Autobiography (by James T. Lee), is available on or through the CreateSpace community.

Unusual History: Annie Wealthy Holland

By Paula R. Stiles

[Check out more details about the above photo of Pee Dee Rosenwald School, c.1935, here.]

Though born in Virginia, plain, unassuming workhorse Annie Wealthy Holland (1871-1934) was one of the most influential African American educators, woman or man, in the early 20th century in North Carolina. Though greatly dedicated to the cause of African American education, she never earned a diploma. And though she wielded considerable power across the state as the demonstration agent for the Jeanes Fund and founder of the Negro Parent-Teacher Association (the first of its kind), equivalent to being a supervisor over all African American schools in North Carolina, she never had a formal administrative position. Annie Wealthy Holland’s career, first profiled a mere five years after her death in Five North Carolina Negro Educators, reflected the contradictions for women and for African Americans in Reconstruction and Segregation era North Carolina.

Holland was born in 1871 in Isle of Wight County in Virginia. Her parents, John Daughtry and Margaret Hill, had married in 1869, but divorced soon after she was born. This resulted in an early setback for Holland in her road to education. Even though her grandfather and grandmother had strong ties to the nearby plantation, her mother moved her young daughter to Southhampton County after remarrying. There, Annie spent her early years with few prospects, raising her six younger siblings while struggling to study.

Holland’s paternal family regarded the white owners of the nearby plantation so highly that they had named her after the mistress, Annie Wealthy. The Wealthys had also freed her grandfather, Friday Daughtry, in 1867 and given him some property of land and livestock to get started. He was able to increase this to the point where he invited his eldest granddaughter to return and pursue her studies while living with him. There, Holland learned about the ways and hardships of farming peanuts and sweet potatoes, a lifelong lesson. She also noticed that educational opportunities were increasing for African Americans, who were beginning to replace the previous white teachers in the field, and quickly took it to heart as her vocation.

After Holland graduated from the Isle of Wight County School at age 16, her grandfather sent her to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Hampton, Virginia. Founded in 1861 to educate African American refugees from the War as future leaders of their communities, the Institute focused on teaching practical skills like trades. Unfortunately, Holland’s education was interrupted when her grandfather died after her first year. After moving to New York and working as a nurse and nanny for a family there, she was able to earn enough money to enroll for a second year, but illness due to malaria prevented her from completing her diploma (a lifelong regret she expressed decades later in surviving letters). She was, however, later able to earn a teaching certificate from Virginia Normal Industrial Institute.

At the age of 18, around the time of her grandfather’s death, she married a Hampton graduate named Willis Holland. They moved to Franklin, Virginia where, eight years later, they were serving as principal and assistant principal of a nearby school. Holland quickly learned (perhaps aided by her own early experiences of balancing study with child care) that the ability of their students to study and even attend school could be greatly and adversely affected by lack of basic resources. For example, she took it upon herself to conduct clothing drives for students who were too poor to have adequate winter clothing. African American public schools at this time suffered from a lack of educational resources, such as textbooks, in comparison to white schools. This made keeping the school open a constant challenge. Aside from a brief stint working on her own with a rural school, Holland continued to run the Franklin area school with her husband until 1911.

In October of that year, Holland made the decision to join the Jeanes Fund. The million-dollar Anna T. Jeanes Fund had been created by, and named after, Quaker philanthropist Anna Jeanes in 1907 to help expand public education for African Americans. It was unique among such foundations for allowing African Americans on the board of trustees.

The job was a formidable undertaking. As of 1914, the Fund did not even have one teacher for every one of their 119-county coverage in Virginia and North Carolina. The position involved a great deal of extension work, not only teaching of students but also community outreach and interaction. Nevertheless, Holland was so good at this that in 1915, she was asked to become the State Home Demonstration Agent in North Carolina. This gave her de facto authority over all African American elementary schools in the state. She held the position for 13 years.

In her new role, Holland had a comprehensive variety of roles and duties. She had to train and organize teachers, create reading circles and homemakers’ clubs, run meetings, and give church speeches. Her purview included 19 county schools, 10 city schools, and 3 “normal” (teaching college) schools. She might visit as many as twenty counties in a given month and oversaw forty-five county supervisors. She was the epitome of leading through service.

At the end of this period, Holland founded the first Negro Parent-Teacher State Association, called the North Carolina Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, at Shaw University (an African American college founded as Raleigh Institute in 1865) in 1928. Shaw was a prestigious college, the first in the U.S. to have a four-year medical degree and the first African American college to accept women. This meeting of some fifteen thousand people and seven hundred and seventy organizations was the culmination of a long and hard, but fruitful career.

Holland died six years later in Louisburg, NC and was buried in Franklin. While her life and career had begun in Virginia, in the end, her heart belonged to North Carolina. In commemoration, a tree was planted in her honor at Shaw University in 1939, five years after her death at the age of 63.

Much of Holland’s success stemmed from her remarkable knack for diplomacy and her self-effacing approach. She was an excellent mediator, gifted at persuading teachers and parents, blacks and whites, to get along and work together. She believed that African Americans should stand up for themselves, albeit not in ways that would deliberately alienate whites.

She also had to deal with the reality that she was working in a period where women had to take a secondary role to men, regardless of their race. There was never a question, for example, when she ran a school with her husband, whether he would be the principal and she would be his assistant. The few women who were able to have a career outside of the home also had to work very hard to maintain their position — and as Holland herself discovered, that work often involved teaching other women how to be better homemakers.

Her low-key approach also allowed her to navigate potentially dangerous political shoals and expand education – especially rural, public education — in the state for African Americans considerably during the early Segregation period. Unlike some other African American leaders of the time, Holland lacked the option in her later career of working exclusively in that community. She had to deal with a white community that perceived itself as superior to her and did not necessarily approve of giving up resources for African American education, and she had to do so with both firmness and tact. Teaching impoverished children might have been the easiest part of her job. Possibly, her early experience with sympathetic whites such as her namesake was what led to her even-handed skill in dealing with both communities and establishing unusual legal ties across the great divide of Segregation.

Annie Wealthy Holland was not a glamorous woman by any stretch. Nor was she an obvious candidate for a forceful or transformational leader. But the drip of water over many years can erode stone better than a tsunami. Holland is an excellent example of one of many such leaders during the Segregation period who transformed North Carolina in numerous, pervasive and positive ways.



The Educators,” The Women Who Ran the Schools: The Jeanes Teachers and Durham County’s Rural Black Schools.

Carter, Nathan. Five North Carolina Negro Educators. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1939.

Crow, Jeffrey J.; Escott, Paul D.; and Hatley, Flora J. A History of African Americans in North Carolina. 2nd ed. Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2011.

Gillespie, Michele and McMillen, Sally G., eds. North Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 1. The Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014.

Hoffschwelle, Mary. The Rosenwald Schools of the American South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

Kent, Scotti and Cohn, Scotti. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable North Carolina Women. Helena: Falcon Publishing, Inc., 2000.

Shaber, Sarah R. “Holland, Annie Wealthy,”, 1988.

Williams, Shane. “Annie Wealthy Holland (1871-1934),” North Carolina History Project, 2016.