After the Civil War, parcels of southern land were subdivided and sold to former slaves. Historic Oberlin Village was comprised of such parcels and became one of Raleigh’s first freedmen communities. The land had belonged to a wealthy plantation owner, Duncan Cameron. He was a politician and banker, who reportedly owned more slaves (1,900) than anyone else in the state. One of his slaves, James E. Harris, established Oberlin Village in 1866 and named it for his alma mater, Oberlin College in Ohio (the institution’s leaders were abolitionists and opened enrollment to African Americans). The 149 acres primarily consisted of farmland, where its residents eventually built churches and schools and opened businesses. Some of the original homes were splendid examples of Victorian architecture. Today, a few remain and can be seen along Oberlin Road, Wade, and Clark Avenues.
The community’s history is often overlooked, and the village is often erroneously referred to as Cameron Village, a shopping center built in 1949 within Oberlin’s parameters. In recent years, development has erased much of Oberlin Village’s physical and historical landscape. While welcoming economic opportunities and urban growth, many descendants of the original villagers are ensuring that Oberlin Village is preserved and its history told.
Linda Simmons-Henry, Culture Town : Life in Raleigh’s African American Communities (Raleigh, 1993)