When former slave, Islay Walden returned to Southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina in 1879, after graduating from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, as an ordained minister and missionary of the American Missionary Association, he moved in with his sister and her family in a secluded area in the Uwharrie Mountains, not far from the Lassiter Mill community along the Uwharrie River. Walden was sent to start a church and school for the African American community. When the church and school were begun this was, not surprisingly, a largely illiterate community of primarily Hill family members. The Hill family in this mountain community was so large, it was known as “Hill Town.” The nearby Lassiter Mill community was larger and more diverse, but only marginally more literate. Walden and his wife accomplished much before his untimely death in 1884, including acquiring a US Postal Office for the community and a new name – Strieby. Despite Walden’s death, the church and school continued into the 20th century when it was finally absorbed by the public school system, but not before impacting strongly the literacy and educational achievements of this remote community.
From Hill Town to Strieby is Williams’ second book and picks up where her first book about her ancestor Miles Lassiter, an early African American Quaker [Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) an Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home], left off. In From Hill Town to Strieby, she provides extensive research documentation on the Reconstruction-era community of Hill Town, that would become known as Strieby, and the American Missionary Association affiliated church and school that would serve both Hill Town and Lassiter Mill. She analyzes both communities’ educational improvements by comparing census records, World War I Draft record signatures and reports of grade levels completed in the 1940 census. She provides well-documented four generation genealogical reports of the two principal founding families, the Hills and Lassiters, which include both the families they married into and the families that moved away to other communities around the country. She provides information on the family relationships of those buried in the cemetery and adds an important research contribution by listing the names gleaned from death certificates of those buried in the cemetery, but who have no cemetery markers. She concludes with information about the designation of the Strieby Church, School, and Cemetery property as a Randolph County Cultural Heritage Site.
Margo Lee Williams is an award winning, genealogy and history author. A former editor of the Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, she is particularly interested in community and family histories of free people of color in the southeast, especially those in North Carolina and Virginia, who often had mixed race origins.
Williams has researched and written extensively on her Lassiter family of Randolph County, North Carolina. Her first book, published in 2011, Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Backintyme Publishing) told the story of both her personal and research journeys that led to the discovery of her fourth great grandfather, Miles Lassiter.
Her second book, published in 2016, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Backintyme Publishing), picks up where her first book left off. From Hill Town to Strieby is a social history that follows the development of the school and church, founded in 1880 by a mixed race, former slave, and 19th century poet, the Rev. Islay Walden. The church and school served the Lassiter Mill and Hill Town/Strieby communities of color in southwestern Randolph County. Her research led to the Strieby Church, School and Cemetery property being named a Randolph County Cultural Heritage Site in 2014.
Both of Williams’ books have won genealogy and history book awards. Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) was the 2012 winner for Excellence in Publishing for a Family History from the North Carolina Genealogical Society. From Hill Town to Strieby has won four awards: a 2017 Gold Non-Fiction Book Award in both history and genealogy; the 2016 Marsha M. Greenlee History Award from the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society; a 2016 Historical Book Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians; and was a finalist in the African American category of the 2017 Next Generation INDIE Book Awards.
Williams is a graduate of Marquette University, and has her MA in Sociology from Hunter College and her MA in Religious Education from The Catholic University of America. She worked for over twenty years at various churches in the suburban Washington DC area, and another eight years as a National Service Officer with Vietnam Veterans of America. She has one daughter.
"This book is a superior achievement from cover to cover. It is the result of an unusually high degree of careful research, written in an eminently readable style, and should be deemed the consummate source of information regarding this rural African American community. It houses a colossal amount of copied primary sources, as well as some riveting vintage photographs of community members and their surroundings. Having only read this wonderful book online, it would benefit the reader to have a hard copy on hand. It is one to be read, savored and then added beside other cherished books on a bookshelf for future reference or to later 'experience' again." - North Carolina Society of Historians
"For the residents of Strieby and the rest of Randolph County, and for the descendants of those who once lived there, From Hill Town to Strieby by Margo Lee Williams is an invaluable resource. The historical information will indeed provide a direct connection to generations past." - David K. McDonnell, Reader Views
"From Hill Town to Strieby, is a book of scholarly tenacity,creative boldness, and near-acrobatic balance, as it promises to become an essential addition to the history of rural America." - Thomas D. Rush, author of Reality's Pen: Reflections on Family, History & Culture
"The reader is immediately drawn into this narrative, its people, and their legacy as Ms. Williams brilliantly captures the history of a community that sought, and achieved, the American dream." - Carol Kostakos Petranek, Co-Director, Washington D.C. Family History Center
"Margo Williams' outstanding research tells the history of my community and family while speaking of the power of self-determination and the impact of Strieby descendants past, present, and future." - Elbert Lassiter Jr., Lassiter family and Strieby Church descendant
"From Hill Town to Strieby is a must-read for those interested in the role of church and education in nineteenth and twentieth century rural African American life." - Roland Barksdale-Hall, author of Farrell and African Americans in Mercer County and former editor of the Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society