PRINCEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — As she exits her hometown’s only restaurant clutching an order of cabbage and hush puppies, Carolyn Suggs Bandy pauses to boast about a place that stakes its claim as the oldest town chartered by Black Americans nearly 140 years ago.
“It is sacred to me,” says Bandy, 65. “We got roots in this town.”
Yet Princeville, on the banks of the Tar River in eastern North Carolina, is one hurricane away from disaster.
The land has flooded many times. Two hurricanes 17 years apart created catastrophic flooding in the town, which was built on swampy, low-lying land in a bend in the river. And weather is hardly the only thing buffeting Princeville through the decades. It has endured racism, bigotry and attempts by white neighbors to erase it from the map, and from existence.
Now, with a changing climate, the future is more uncertain than ever. Hurricanes are likely to be more intense. Melting glaciers are causing sea levels to rise, making more flooding inevitable.
With each calamity comes a suggestion: Maybe the town should pick up and relocate to safer ground. Many residents, though, say Princeville should — must — stay put. On this land, they see connections — to both a shared history and a continuing fight for survival.
“These are sacred African-American grounds,” says Bobbie Jones, Princeville’s two-term mayor, using words that echo Bandy’s. “How dare we be asked to move our town?”