This ticket to the Cleveland County Negro Fair, July’s Artifact of the Month, highlights a little known part of North Carolina history, African American agricultural fairs.
Agricultural fairs held by and for African Americans took place in North Carolina starting in Wilmington in 1875. The largest and best-known African American fair in the state was the Negro State Fair. Organized by the North Carolina Industrial Association, the Negro State Fair was held annually in Raleigh beginning in 1879. Charles Norfleet Hunter, a former slave, educator, and well-known activist, led the formation of the North Carolina Industrial Association. He believed that in order to gain equal rights, African Americans must prove their worth to whites and highlight the value that black citizens contributed to the state and its economy.
The Negro State Fair was modeled on the North Carolina State Fair but was smaller in scale. In 1890, the North Carolina Agricultural Society, which hosted the North Carolina State Fair, allowed use of its fairgrounds and facilities to the Negro State Fair and the state eventually allotted $500 in annual funding. The North Carolina Industrial Association successfully ran the fair until 1930, three years after the state pulled its funding.
As legal segregation grew in the South in the 1890s and African Americans were excluded from attending many North Carolina fairs, African American fairs became increasingly important for their communities and provided a venue for African Americans to show their accomplishments and instill community pride. Even after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made segregation illegal, some African American fairs continued. The Cleveland County Negro Fair provides an example of this. Founded in 1927, the Fair ran through at least 1966, the date of this ticket.
To learn more about the history of agricultural fairs in North Carolina, visit the North Carolina Collection Gallery’s current exhibition “Meet Me on the Midway: Three Centuries of Fairs in North Carolina” on display now through October 31, 2017.