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When Arthur Miller came to Wilmington

Friday from the Archives: Historian David Cecelski on a young Arthur Miller’s visit to Wilmington in 1941. Cecelski, renowned author on works about the Carolina coastline, listens to the Library of Congress recordings Miller made in 1941 with shipyard workers and their spouses, cabbies, and local African American men and women.

The stories Miller records, shared by Cecelski, are easily placed into the later Pulitzer Prize winning playwright’s oeuvre: hard-working families, changing worlds, looking for a hand up, struggling to choose between the easy thing and the right thing. Wilmington proves to be an early every-man for Miller’s subsequent work.

A current Broadway revival of Miller’s seminal play Death of a Salesman features a Black Loman family, far removed from the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898. Cecelski highlights the impact it had, along with how Jim Crow laws continued to hold sway in 1941, during Miller’s visit.

Wilmington today is most notably a beach town and the home of UNC-Wilmington. Cecelski’s story reminds North Carolinians how the city grew through the war effort before anything else.

To read the entire story, request NCLR Issue 23 (2014) featuring War in North Carolina Literature from your local library Proquest service or order from the NCLR online store.