Museum of the Cape Fear to host exhibit on NC Black architects and builders

The history and life stories of Black builders and architects in North Carolina are subjects of a traveling exhibit coming to the Museum of the Cape Fear beginning Sept. 6.

The museum, at 801 Arsenal Ave., will host Preservation North Carolina’s traveling exhibit “We Built This: Profiles of Black Architects and Builders in North Carolina.”

On display until the end of the year, the exhibit is part of a multifaceted education program that acknowledges and celebrates the Black builders and craftspeople who constructed or designed many of the state’s most treasured historic sites, according to a museum news release.

Spanning more than three centuries, “We Built This” provides more than two dozen personal profiles and historical context on key topics including slavery and Reconstruction; the founding of historically black universities and churches; the Jim Crow era and segregation; and the rise of Black civic leaders and professionals.

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The exhibit includes the story of Cicero Richardson, who was a brick mason in Fayetteville. At the age of 13 or 14 years, Cicero was determined to learn brick masonry. In 1832, with his Certificate of Freedom, he traveled alone 100 miles from New Bern to Fayetteville to begin an apprenticeship with Fayetteville brick mason Jacob Harris (1799-1847).

The Harrises were a prominent free Black family in Fayetteville. Cicero later married Jacob’s oldest child, Sarah Ann. The Harris family, including Cicero, migrated to Ohio in the 1850s to escape restrictive laws and increasing hostilities toward free Black people in North Carolina.

After the Civil War, Jacob Harris’s sons, Robert and Cicero (named after Cicero Richardson), returned to Fayetteville to teach with the American Missionary Association. Robert Harris would become the founding principal at the Howard School (1867) and the State Colored Normal School (1877), the predecessors of Fayetteville State University.

For more information about the exhibit, contact David Reid at or 910-500-4242 at the Museum of the Cape Fear or Demetrius Haddock at with the River Jordan Council on African American Heritage.

The Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday -Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum operates under the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, within the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Visit the museum website at

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