Black town, floods, Princeville

Floods Threaten Future Of Princeville, N.C., Oldest Black Town In U.S. 

Princeville, North Carolina, was established in 1865.

The oldest Black-chartered town in America, Princeville, N.C., is seeking solutions to its ongoing flooding issues. Princeville has endured nine natural disasters, including hurricanes and floods, since its establishment in 1865.

Although originally established as Freedom Hill, the town was renamed Princeville upon its incorporation two decades later. According to the Washington Post, an unfortunate bout of natural disasters have pummeled their population, yet citizens are not giving up. Of the roughly 2,000 residents of Princeville, 35 met with the mayor, elected commissioners and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Jan. 4 to speak on the threat to its future. 

The floods have been so severe that the city hall, where the critical meeting took place, was built to be flood resistant in 2020. Continuous buildings across the main square of town have been renovated to combat the rising water levels, stemming from the Tar River, that impact the community. 

Due to the intense floods, especially destructive after 1999’s Hurricane Floyd tore into 1,000 buildings in Princeville, the U.S. government called for residents to move out. The decision to re-envision the town into a national park left commissioners split, with the mayor’s vote against its restructuring breaking the tie. 

“They say: ‘This is who we are. This is sacred ground. Our forefathers shed blood, sweat and tears here,’” said Princeville Mayor Bobbie Jones.

However, a viable future for Princeville seems out of reach, despite the federal government issuing nearly $40 million in funding to extend the town’s levee, originally built in 1967. The renovation would threaten the livelihoods of those living across the river, leaving it an unusable plan of action. 

The meeting left citizens feeling helpless, especially as the town’s history evoked pride for the Black community, initially drawing in citizens due to its freedoms as a Black-chartered town. Unfortunately, weather has left the town riddled with constant reconstruction, and an ongoing threat to resident’s homes and businesses. 

However, Princeville’s resilience has inspired its extended community, with workshops spearheaded by state educators and architects, as well as North Carolina State University Coastal Dynamics Design Lab to innovate the town’s ability to withstand extreme weather conditions. 

Despite the halt on the levee’s extension, the community has the support of groups to continue protecting its legacy while also possibly building beyond. Princeville’s last hope lies within the 88 acres of land granted to them outside the floodplain, all part of the mission to keep the town alive and its citizens safe. 

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