Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 023/Needham Hickman

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Needham Hickman
BornNeedham Hickman
Carteret County, North Carolina
NationalityAfrican American
SpouseLouisa Hickman


James S. Beaman interviewed Needham Hickman as part of the Federal Writers Project in 1938.[1] Hickman was born into slavery but earned his own land and lived with his family.


Early Life[edit]

Needham Hickman was born in 1857 in Carteret County, North Carolina. Captain Elijah Dudley owned Needham’s mother, Sarah Hickman. Hickman and Sarah were given to Dudley’s eldest son, Kit Dudley as wedding gifts. Hickman and Sarah moved to Kit Dudley’s home in Slocumb’s Creek, North Carolina.

James Rowe owned Hickman’s father, David Hickman. David proved to be a faithful slave and earned Rowe’s trust. In 1834, Rowe promised David possession of his land after completing payment for the whole lot. Rowe also implied that Hickman would gain his freedom at the same time. The agreement was delayed when Rowe died around the year 1854. Rowe’s son, David Rowe inherited the land. David Hickman acquired the promised plantation in 1873 after paying a small price to David Rowe.

Personal Life[edit]

Hickman married Louisa Green. The date of the marriage is unknown. Louisa had seven children with Hickman. The oldest child was Katie Hickman. At the time of the interview, Katie was sixty-one years old and mother of four girls and three boys. Susan John was fifty-eight years old and mother of one girl and one boy. Hickman’s third child, Carrie Battle, had died at forty-two years old and left behind four girls and four boys. Elijah Hickman was a forty-seven years old widow with no children. Rosa Grady was forty-five years old and mother of one girl and three boys. Needham Hickman Jr. was forty-three years old and father of two girls. Mary F. Taylor was forty years old and mother of two girls and two boys.

Needham lived on his plantation with his children, their partners, his twenty-seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Needham told Beaman “hardly a year goes by without the addition of two or more babies to the clan.” [2] The Hickman plantation had one home with six rooms. The home had a tin roof, chimney, basement, fireplace, attic, and porch. Hickman’s most treasured decoration was the antlers of a five-snag buck, a souvenir from one of Hickman’s hunting trips. Hickman enjoyed hunting deer and telling stories of his trips.


Hickman was eighty-one years old when Beaman interviewed him. Despite his age, Hickman was described to “carry himself with a springy stride.” [3] As the head of the family, Hickman was the first to rise every day. He started the fire, ate breakfast, read the Bible and waited on the porch to assign duties to his family members. Typically, the men cut, plowed, and hauled wood while women cooked, washed, and sewed. Hickman made certain that the children of school-age attended school. Hickman learned his letters from his owner Kit Dudley and believed in the importance of education. At the time of the interview, eight of his grandchildren and four of his great-grandchildren attended Croatan public schools.

Louisa Green Hickman died in May 1937. She was disabled for twenty-eight years prior to her death. After she died, Hickman became more reserved and enjoyed sitting on his porch alone or with his two hound dogs.

Social Issue: Education[edit]


Due to segregation of schools, there were insufficient funds to support African American education. African American teachers were not as well trained as white teachers. Due to underfunding, African American children were required to travel long distances to attend schools that accepted black children. On average, black children walked three to four miles a day to attend school. [4] In 1932, there were schools for whites in every southern county but not a single school for black students in 230 southern counties. [5] African American schools were unsanitary and overcrowded. Many African American schools had no bathroom. [6]

In addition, black students were denied access to resources. African American schools were prohibited from teaching the Declaration of Independence or the U. S. Constitution. [7] Whites did not want blacks to know that the government should get its power from the governed. Black students received a significantly lower quality education than their white peers and consequently suffered unequal employment opportunities.

  1. The Family Hickman, Southern Oral History Program Collection. Coll. 4007. Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. lbid
  3. lbid
  4. Southern Oral History Program Collection. Coll. 4007. Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  5. lbid
  6. Brooker, Russell. “The Education of Black Children in the Jim Crow South”. Last modified September 11, 2012. http://abhmuseum.org/2012/09/education-for-blacks-in-the-jim-crow-south/.
  7. "The 1930s: Education: Overview." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale, 2001. U.S. History in Context. Web. 2 Mar. 2016.