Tales of Raleigh's notable neighborhoods retold in lecture series
Posted January 31, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Way back in Raleigh's rear view mirror, busy Oberlin Road was a dirt path that went by a different name: Freedom Road.
“And now, it’s being paved over by progress,” Mable Patterson said.
A native daughter of Oberlin Village, Patterson spoke at the Chavis Community Center on Saturday during the first of several forums planned by the Raleigh Human Relations Commission. The series is designed to give longtime residents and newcomers a better sense of the city’s history.
Speaking to the crowd, Patterson described how Oberlin Village began as a community for newly freed slaves.
“Black families purchased land along a dirt path north of Hillsborough Street - $50 an acre,” she said. “And by 1870, there were two churches, a school, a cemetery.”
Today, the road is study in contrasts. There’s a hot yoga studio and boutique cupcake shop across from aging bungalows. Stylish condos loom over weathered headstones at the Oberlin Village Cemetery, where slaves were buried.
The cemetery is mostly overgrown now that development has sprung up around it, but it is no longer overlooked.
"This hidden treasure has been revived by the Friends of the Oberlin Cemetery,” Patterson said.
Raleigh is a city rooted in storied neighborhoods. That’s part of the reason why the city's Human Relations Commission invited Patterson to tell the stories.
“We believe we need to highlight and to celebrate those particular areas,” said Michael Leach, chairman of the commission.
Oberlin Road isn’t entirely paved over by progress. There's the Community Deli, which opened as a store more than century ago.
Owner Crystal Bish said she still sees the descendents of those early black families.
"We have some people that are 80 years old that still come in here, and they say, ‘Hey’ I’ve been coming here since I was knee-high,’” she said. “It’s a landmark. This whole road is a landmark.”
Patterson hopes to inspire others to read the signposts of history.
“Oh, by the way, we’re still Oberlin Village. And don’t get us mixed up, because we ain’t Cameron Village,” she said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
More forums are scheduled. Visit the commission's website for details.