Oberlin Village

Written By Judith Guest

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, some have been restored and in some cases moved to the area along Oberlin Road, Wade, and Clark Avenues.

The community’s history is often overlooked, because development erased much of Oberlin Village’s physical and historical landscape. However, in recent years, the Friends of Oberlin Village, a nonprofit organization, has actively worked to restore original buildings and to maintain Oberlin Cemetery, located near Oberlin Avenue.

In 2018, the City of Raleigh created the Oberlin Historic Overlay District, which protects the area and its seven historic buildings. While welcoming economic opportunities and urban growth, many descendants of the original villagers are ensuring that Oberlin Village is preserved and its history told.