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Pulitzer Center Update April 3, 2024

Princeville Resident Returns To Her Rebuilt Home After Years of Bureaucratic Failure

Kendrick Ransome and Marquetta Dickens in 2019 in the Tar River at Shiloh Landing

Origins is a three-part photography and reporting project that explores how climate change is...

Ann Adams waves from the porch of her new home in Princeville, North Carolina, on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. Image by Justin Cook. United States.

Ann Adams just moved back into her house in Princeville, North Carolina, after it was flooded during Hurricane Matthew eight years ago. When asked how she’s doing, her answer is always the same: “It feels great to be in a house, but wonderful to be back on my land.” 

That land, she emphasized to journalist grantee Justin Cook for his project, Origins: Climate Change, Resistance, and Solutions in Princeville, North Carolina, America’s Oldest Black Town, represents generations of memories and community. 

“It was a gift from my great grandfather to his children, who passed it down to their children,” Adams explained. “It's very important for me to keep that in the family.” She tends to a cemetery behind her house where her parents are buried, forever connected to their land. 

Land stewardship is especially important here: Princeville is the oldest town in America founded by formerly enslaved people. Princeville is also especially vulnerable to climate change: While flooding has been common for over a century, it’s getting worse. 


The view of the cemetery through Ann's back window
Ann loves washing dishes. In her new home, the kitchen window looks out over the cemetery, so she can see her family from the sink. Image by Justin Cook. United States, 2023.

Cook met Adams as he was beginning reporting for Origins. He was in town for the 138th Founder's Day Celebration, commemorating Princeville’s birthday. It was a cold, rainy day and Adams was tired—she almost didn’t go, but decided at the last minute. 

At the celebration, a group of interpretive actors from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro performed skits based on community members’ stories. With a little encouragement from Mayor Bobbie Jones, Adams decided to share hers. 

“I'm very shy,” she said. “I had been keeping what was going on with me and the house to myself because I'm very proud. I didn't want everybody in my business. But something kept urging me. I shared my story, my truth.” 

Afterward, Cook approached Adams, wondering if she would be willing to talk for Origins. Adams thought, “Why not?” 


Portrait of Anne Carney at her home in Princeville. Carney opted to have her home torn down and elevated by REBUILD NC a few years after Hurricane Matthew. Instead of having her home bulldozed and its parts go to waste, she let locals come take parts away. Now the home is uninhabitable and the process has been delayed for two years and she is stick paying rent in Tarboro and her mortgage Princeville, North Carolina, Tuesday, March 14, 2023 (Justin Cook)
Portrait of Adams at her old home in Princeville on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. Adams opted to have her home torn down and elevated by ReBuild NC a few years after Hurricane Matthew. Instead of having her home bulldozed and its parts go to waste, she let locals come take parts away. The home became uninhabitable and the process was delayed for two years as she was stuck paying rent in Tarboro. Image by Justin Cook. United States.
Ann in her new home
Ann Adams in her new house in Princeville, North Carolina on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. Image by Justin Cook. United States.

Cook’s reporting explores the activist landscape of Princeville, highlighting solutions-oriented individuals fighting for climate justice and Black self-sufficiency. These activists tap into their ancestors’ agricultural methods, organize cemetery cleanups, and boost local businesses. 

There is such a strong activist tradition in Princeville because government systems often fail residents. Since 2018, Adams has struggled with the state-run ReBuild NC program, which is intended to assist homeowners in storm-affected communities. At first, they offered to tear down and replace her home within six months. But in reality, it took years. 

Adams went through multiple case managers, whom she said wanted to be helpful but were part of a broken system. 

“They just kept changing,” Adams said. “Each one had to be brought up to date. I wouldn't even let it get frustrating because it is what it is. But it got to be rather funny, because near the end, instead of them calling me saying, ‘Okay, this is what's going to happen.’ They would call me and say, ‘Okay, what's going on?’ I thought that was a little strange. We worked through it, and we did what we had to do. You would think that in this day of communication with texts and emails that the process would be more refined, but I guess they're still working on it.” 

Cook said that he met others with the same problem. 

“Unfortunately Ann is one of hundreds of people who have been caught in the same or even worse situation as a result of ReBuild essentially not doing their job correctly,” he said. 


Ann’s house under construction in Princeville, North Carolina on Sunday, August 20, 2023. Image by Justin Cook. United States.

Demolition on Adams’ home finally began on May 9, 2023, after Cook contacted ReBuild NC for his reporting. ReBuild then placed her case on a priority list. In the meantime, her community came together to help pay her bills and offer support. Now, she’s committed to paying it forward. 

“I'm grateful for the experience actually, because I have been able to share with other people in the community who are now going through the same thing I did,” Adams said. “... I had to feel my way. If I can help somebody else shorten their process, shorten their time of confusion and disillusion, then that's what I want to do.” 

Adams works part-time at the Edgecombe Public Library in Tarboro, where she says the last five out of six books she’s read have been about climate change—she wants to be a resource for her community. She’s also begun ordering more children’s books on climate change for the library so they, too, can get involved. 

As for working with a journalist during this difficult time, Adams said Cook has been wonderful and patient. 

“We've tried to be in touch, to keep each other updated about what's going on in our lives,” Cook said. “There's good things, there's bad things, there's delays and struggles.” Ultimately, the two feel they met that Founder’s Day for a reason. 

“When I have an event, something good going on—or even something bad—Justin is one of the first people I share it with,” Adams said. “He’s always compassionate, and when I’m excited, he’s excited for me. He’s a blessing in my life.”


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