A reading for her Foundations of Education class – Along Freedom Road by David Cecelski – sparked an interest in Amanda Hilliard Smith, ’06, that lasted well beyond graduation. The history major with secondary licensure was surprised to find in the book a reference to a civil rights movement in her hometown, Williamston, N.C.
Smith’s curiosity was piqued. She began her quest for more information about her hometown’s history, which started as her Honors thesis and continued with the recent publication of her book, The Williamston Freedom Movement: A North Carolina Town’s Struggle for Civil Rights, 1957-1970.
The book chronicles the little known history of the civil rights movement in the small northeastern North Carolina town. As the movement in Williamston was beginning to gain attention from Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – as well as in the national media – John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the nation’s focus shifted.
The decrease in attention relegated the events in Williamston to little more than a footnote in history. Smith was determined to change that. After she graduated from Meredith, she continued her research while teaching high school in Martin County – the county in which Williamston is located. She saw an opportunity to share the historical findings with her students.
“I invited people I had interviewed for my Honors thesis to talk to my classes about their experiences in the civil rights movement,” she said. “I wanted my students to know that people just like themselves had brought about change to our community.”
She delved deeper into her research while she was earning a master’s degree in public history. “It wasn’t until after I finished graduate school that I finally turned all of my research into a book,” she said.
Over the course of eight years, she amassed a wealth of information. She had conducted 30 oral interviews and organized a series of community discussions on civil rights. Distilling the information wasn’t the most challenging part of the project. “It turns out that writing the book was the easy part,” Smith said. “It took two years to edit and get permissions for all the photographs.”
Smith said that sharing the history of her hometown is rewarding. “So much of the local civil rights movement is not discussed in Williamston,” she said. “I feel that it is important to preserve this history for future generations.”