Local author preserves mother’s documentation of Dare and Hyde history in new book

Published 9:25 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Outer Banks native Yolanda Collins Wilson has preserved the history of African Americans in Dare and Hyde counties through documentation and literature kept by her mother, Dellerva Collins, in her recently-released book What Did We Do? The Survival of Human Life. This historical novel shines light on the fight for freedom, the will to drive change and the ceaseless persistence for a world without slavery and injustice for the African American people from the 1800s until present day.

Dellerva Collins passed away in 2005, while Wilson was running home daycare services. As the author was cleaning her mother’s house and sorting through her belongings, she stumbled upon different articles of literature, speeches Collins had made at churches, Black History Month programs and a plethora of information about both Dare and Hyde county communities.

Wilson recalled, “I read through it along with my youngest son and he said to me: ‘This sounds like a book.’” Taking her son’s suggestion, Dellerva’s daughter sat down in 2006 to piece together the parts of history preserved so well by her mother. “I felt like it was important for our children to know where they come from and where they’re going. The past is very important to their future.”

Get the latest headlines sent to you

Wilson worked on the book for a while before getting frustrated and deciding to put the project away for several years. Eventually, with her the groundwork laid out by her mother and a small voice that willed her to finish the pages she had already begun to write, a published book flowed forth.

“I was thrilled when it got accepted for publication,” Wilson shared. “I am proud to have been able to put this book together for her [Collins]. It was very emotional putting this book together. I cried, I laughed, but at the end it was so rewarding.”

What Did We Do? The Survival of Human Life depicts 10 short stories from the archives of Dare and Hyde county history. The documentation by Collins, combined with Wilson’s own research, convey a story of struggle by a group of people who looked for humanity. The pages paint a picture of what slavery was like first-hand, the fears of World War II and what life was life for African Americans on Roanoke Island. “This was written with the hope that the book will be passed down to generations to come, to keep African American history alive.”

Readers will take a look into the story of a young couple who ran to escape the slave trade, learn about Wilson’s great-great-great-grandparents who found their way onto Roanoke Island, grieve with the loss of two young girls who were killed at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and figuratively witness Collins’ fight for fair housing in her own community and neighboring counties.

Wilson shared that her hope is for this book to eventually turn into a documentary. But above all, she emphasizes the need for love in a community that has suffered a lot of loss: “I challenge everyone to love again and bring back the love that our ancestors carried.”

 What Did We Do? The Survival of Human Life is available for purchase online on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AuthorHouse websites and will soon be available at Downtown Books in Manteo as well.