Their book lists and explains some the people and places that make Lumberton what it is today. After years of interviews and scouring the Robesonian archives, Williams and Briley self-published about a 200 page book about the first 200 years of Lumberton’s black community starting with the first blacks to become police and firefighters and ending with the first black principal of Lumberton High School.
The project started when Williams and Briley, both retired educators, started getting requests for information and couldn’t find much in the Robeson County Library — at least all in one book.
“We’d had several requests from students asking about individuals living in Lumberton,” said Williams, who is a retired media specialist who worked several places in Robeson County. Briley is a retired teacher from the area also.
They had been selling calendars featuring prominent pieces of Lumberton’s black history, starting with churches and schools. After a trip to Georgetown, S.C., where they found a calendar that outlined local historical personalities, Briley and Williams decided to add personalities to their calendar collection. The information they had gathered started to look like a book. The research was drawn out over the course of about a decade on early mornings or on Sunday afternoons.
“Many of the people we wanted to contact are now deceased,” Williams said.
“But (people) were so eager to have something written about their relatives — the people were so cooperative,” Briley said.
The book discusses disparate aspects of black culture from biographies of notable members of the community, clubs and organizations, social events, sports and houses. There’s even a directory listing of addresses taken from the section where black people lived in 1938. It is written as a collection of small articles and biographies with photos and descriptions that span 200 years.
It isn’t written as a historical narrative, rather as a smattering of people, places and events that the older members of the community may remember and in whom the authors hope the younger members of the community take interest.
“It’s a sense of pride for them to know that this is what we’ve done and it’s something we have accomplished and now it’s in print,” Briley said.
The authors decided to stop telling their story at 1999, partly to encourage younger people to pick up the torch and begin where they left off. Their research into a poem — republished in their book — inspired them to keep all their notes for posterity. The Rev. W.C. Pope wrote a book of poetry called “Leisure Moments.” When Williams and Briley came calling to get access to it, Pope’s children had trouble locating the book, Williams said.
Their book is not just for older people who might remember the subject matter of the book, but to keep this information safeguarded for future generations.
“We wanted it listed in the Library of Congress so we went through the process to do that, which was a long process,” Briley said. “It took six months.”
Briley and Williams are in the process of working on another two projects that are just in the beginning stages.
Williams and Briley are selling books for $20. They are available by calling Helen Williams at (910) 739-2398 or Alice Briley at (910) 738-2675.