A Juneteenth celebration at the Eastern Carolina Village and Farm Museum helped lay the foundation for an oral history project at East Carolina University.
In commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, the museum on June 19, 2022, hosted Willie Hawkins Day honoring the legacy of a successful Black farming family that operated Avon Farm near Grimesland in Pitt County.
Willie Hawkins, who died in 1993, donated two circa-1890 tobacco barns to the museum shortly after it opened at the Pitt County Fairgrounds in the late 1970s. In 2009, the museum was relocated to the former Pitt County home site on County Home Road in Greenville.
Dwight Hawkins, Willie’s oldest son, and Mamie Pritchard, Willie’s sister, told a group gathered at the village about life on the 130-acre Avon Farm, where the family grew cotton, tobacco, peanuts, corn and other garden vegetables. "Tobacco put me through college,” Dwight said. “From May 1 to Sept. 1, we worked 14- to 18-hour days.” They looped or tied tobacco to 500-600 sticks and then hung it in their barns, preparing it for market. At one time, Greenville was reputedly the largest tobacco market in the world.
Dwight, who lives in Wendell and is one of Willie’s seven children, said one of his responsibilities was feeding all the farm animals that included dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, cows and mules. “I was the last one to plow with a mule,” he said. “To this day, I don’t care too much for animals.
Hawkins’ descendants were honored and shared remembrances of growing up on the farm during the Juneteenth event.
Story courtesy of East Carolina University News Bureau