Welcome to Princeville, A Town Founded By Black Americans

The town's existence is threatened by the legacy of racism and the future of climate.

A scene from “Freedom Hill,” an upcoming documentary film by Resita Cox.

Which places will be protected from climate change? And which will vanish as part of a managed retreat? 

The town of Princeville in North Carolina is known as the first founded by Black Americans who were formerly enslaved. Residents say flood waters triggered by climate disasters cannot be allowed to wash away the town’s culture, community and meaning. 

In this episode of the podcast, we share excerpts from an upcoming documentary film titled “Freedom Hill,” hear from a Princeville activist who the film follows — Marquetta Dickens — and meet others trying to protect historically Black communities. 

Loyal Next City readers might’ve heard about Princeville during Spaces & Places, on which this episode of the podcast is based. Spaces & Places is an annual grassroots (un)conference hosted virtually in partnership with Next City. This year’s theme was “Visions of Black-led Communities.” 

“Our communities are not just where they are by chance,” said Resita Cox, director of “Freedom Hill.” “Black people did not just decide to settle on low-lying areas and now we just get flooded all the time. That's literally the only space that was available to us.”

“The less desirable land was relegated to Black people and other people who were purchased,” said Kofi Boone, a professor at N.C. State University.

“In many regards, Princeville is the consciousness of Black land-ownership,” said Savonola Horne, executive director for the Land Loss Prevention Network. “African Americans humanize the soil that white folk just didn't feel that they could do much with, and we showed love for this land and the freedom that it gave and built institutions. So when Princeville was inundated, it really was very shocking in North Carolina. No one would have thought that waters would be up to the rafters of their city hall.”

Listen to this episode below, or subscribe to Next City’s podcast on Apple and Spotify.

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