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AP explores a historic Black town vulnerable to climate change

A boat ramp sign is submerged in the Tar River as the water level rises following a heavy rain in Princeville, N.C., March 17, 2022. The river, and the effects of climate change, continue to be a threat to the small, historic Black community in eastern North Carolina. The town, nestled in the river’s flood plain, bears the scars of previous storms. (AP Photo / Gerry Broome)

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The North Carolina-based team of Skip Foreman, Allen Breed and Gerry Broome tells the story of a historic Black town threatened by climate change, and its residents determined to endure and prosper.

Princeville, North Carolina, home of just over a thousand people, has flooded many times, including two disasters 17 years apart: Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Matthew in 2016. Both floods were horrific, destroying homes and damaging roads. Caskets lifted out of the ground and floated down the street.

Charlotte reporter Skip Foreman had long wanted to revisit the town,the oldest in the U.S. founded by Black Americans. He grew up in Greenville,just an hour away,and as a child had no knowledge of Princeville’s existence or historical significance.

Along with Raleigh photographer Broome and national enterprise video journalist Breed,Foreman set out to capture the story of the town many have never heard of. Princeville has endured racism,bigotry and attempts by white neighbors to erase it from the map. And it will flood again — that much is clear. With a changing climate,hurricanes are likely to be more intense. Melting glaciers are causing sea levels to rise,making more flooding inevitable.

Yet the townspeople are determined to preserve their land and legacy. On this land, they see connections to both a shared history and a continued fight for survival.

“These are sacred African-American grounds,” says Bobbie Jones,Princeville’s two-term mayor. “How dare we be asked to move our town?”

The story took all three journalists to Princeville multiple times, talking to the people who live there and reporting in all formats on the town’s historical significance as well as its efforts to rebuild and protect. Breed used drone video to show the town and its unfit levee from above.

The package played prominently in the South and beyond, and Breed’s video caught on with some 1.3 million views on Facebook alone.

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