Our Mission

The mission of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission is to identify, preserve, protect, and promote Raleigh’s historic resources.

Oberlin Village Historic District

Developed 1870s through 1970

Oberlin Village is the longest surviving and most intact Reconstruction-Era freedman’s colony in Wake County and North Carolina.

The Oberlin Village Historic Overlay District includes approximately seventeen and one-half acres in West Raleigh, North Carolina. The boundary encompasses the African American village center along both sides of the 800-1000 blocks of Oberlin Road, the spine of the district. It also includes a portion of three side streets on the west side of the road: two blocks of Bedford Avenue, a portion of one block of Roberts Street, and a portion of two blocks of Van Dyke Avenue. Two sites, Oberlin Cemetery, 1014 Oberlin Road and the Latta House and Latta University Site, 1001 Parker Street, are also included. The period of historic significance begins in 1873 with the establishment of Oberlin Cemetery and ends in 1970 when Oberlin Graded School, 1012 Oberlin Road, was demolished and the village began to lose its identity.


Oberlin Village evolved during the Reconstruction era of 1866-1872, one of the most turbulent periods of North Carolina history. Republicans swept into power in North Carolina after the constitutional convention in 1868, electing William W. Holden as governor and gaining a majority in the legislature, including twenty black men, among them James H. Harris (1832-1891), a prominent black leader in North Carolina from the end of the war to his death in 1891. Sheriff Timothy Lee, a white Union soldier and a Republican from Brooklyn who settled in Raleigh after the war, worked closely with Harris. Although Holden was impeached by the Democrats in 1870 and removed from office in 1871, his allies Harris, Lee, and others established the freedmen’s village of Oberlin that endured, in spite of Jim Crow segregation from ca. 1900-ca. 1965, as a community of dignity and self-respect for hundreds of African American families.

After Oberlin village’s remarkable growth from the late 1860s to the end of the century, the pace of growth slowed in the early 1900s; however the community matured into a stable, prosperous, largely African American suburb of Raleigh during the Jim Crow segregation era that ended in the 1960s. The most impressive buildings now standing along Oberlin Road date from ca. 1890 to 1911. Rev. Plummer T. Hall built his parsonage and brickmason Willis Graves built his house 1890. About 1900, Wilson Morgan built his son James, a bricklayer, and his wife Rosa, a washerwoman, a substantial two-story house. Around 1910 John and Mary Turner enlarged their small 1880s house into the most impressive two-story house in the village core. The early 1900s saw the replacement of the first frame church sanctuaries and frame school by permanent, stylish buildings. In 1896, the Oberlin High School department held its Thanksgiving exercises in First Baptist Church (Oberlin Baptist Church) in the “pleasant little village of Oberlin.” In 1910-11, the Wilson Temple AME Church congregation built a splendid new brick Gothic Revival-style church on the site of their original frame sanctuary.

After the end of World War II, the urbanization of Oberlin Road caused a gradual loss of neighborhood character and community disintegration, including outmigration, conversion of family homes into rental property, and demolition resulting in a number of vacant lots. When parents died, often without wills, their heirs no longer wanted to live in the neighborhood and sold their homeplaces. By the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights movement, the encroachment of Raleigh, and the rezoning of land along Oberlin Road for commercial usage began to erode the village’s identity as an independent African American community. The integration of Raleigh’s public schools during the 1960s profoundly altered Oberlin’s independence. Joe and Elwyna Holt, who lived at 1018 Oberlin Road in front of Oberlin Cemetery, made the first important step towards school integration from 1956 to 1960 to allow their son Joe Holt Jr. to attend nearby Broughton High School instead of Ligon High School, the African American school across town. Due to the dislocations of integration, attendance plummeted at the Oberlin Graded School: it closed in 1968 and was demolished in 1969.








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