The History of Oberlin Village
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About The History of Oberlin Village
Overview of Issue Impacts
Oberlin Village is a neighborhood near Downtown Raleigh that was historically established as one of the first communities for freedmen in the city. The neighborhood is centered on Oberlin Road and was constructed by a group of freed people, many of whom were formerly enslaved at the nearby Cameron Plantation. After emancipation, portions of land throughout the South were divided up and sold to freed slaves; Oberlin Village was originally established from a collection of these land parcels (1). The village was given its name by James E. Harris, who was a freed slave and prominent community leader; he named it after his alma mater, Oberlin College, an abolitionist college in Ohio that accepted black students (2). Many of the buildings in Oberlin Village are noted for their unique architectural style, emulating a wide variety of styles. Many of the features, like the inclusion of a second story in some homes, truly reflect the relatively high wealth and social status that many of the community’s residents achieved (3).
With the annexation of Oberlin Village by the city of Raleigh around 1960, the village began to face issues, particularly with the erosion of its identity as an independent African American community. Subsequent changes to zoning laws soon meant that commercial development began in the community, leading to the construction of projects like Cameron Village, a shopping district within the borders of Oberlin Village (1). Even though such developments have helped the community’s economy, they have also led to a new push for historic preservation.
Populations Affected by Issue
Currently, the main issues facing Oberlin Village are urban growth and commercial development. Both of these trends threaten various aspects of the village, from its historic character to its original architecture. Given the important role that the establishment and growth of this community has played in the history of the Raleigh and the Triangle, historical preservation efforts have become increasingly active in recent years. The goal of such efforts is to preserve and protect the history of the Village through education, outreach, and other methods. Ultimately, the hope is that these efforts will allow Oberlin Village to live on as a monument to the African-American community of Raleigh.
Fifteen Minutes of Fame
Famous residents of Oberlin Village have included James Shepard, the founder of NC Central, and Wilson Morgan, one of the first African-Americans to serve in the North Carolina House of Representatives (2)
By 1880, 177 families resided in Oberlin Village, of which 161 families were identified as African-American; this shows that the early growth of the community occurred very rapidly (4)
Connected Community Issues
- Oberlin Village, North Carolina History Project (2016)
- Oberlin Village: A Community Built by People Freed from Slavery in Raleigh, WRAL News (2020)
- Oberlin Village, Raleigh Historic Development Commission
- History of Oberlin Village, Friends of Oberlin Village (2012)
Interested in learning more about this issue? Check out some of these books, articles, documentaries, podcasts, and more.
- The History of Raleigh’s Oberlin Village, RAL Today (2019)
- Oberlin Village: A Forgotten Part of Raleigh’s Black History, CBS17 (2020)
- Historic Oberlin Village monument is prominent near Cameron Village, Water Magazine (2019)
- Discover Oberlin Cemetery, a Buried History of Black Prosperity Hidden in Cameron Village, INDY Week (2016)
Thank you to the following contributors:
- Summer 2020:
- Andy Q.
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Last updated April 2021
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