Oral Histories

Oaklands Plantation, despite available documentation, seems to have been thoroughly erased from the collective memory of the residents of Northwest Roanoke. This is evident in the oral histories provided below. Each oral history conducted was aimed at documenting the interviewee’s experiences in Northwest Roanoke. The questions asked were designed to give participants the opportunity to discuss both their experiences and their potential knowledge about Northwest Roanoke, including the existence of Oaklands Planation. All that were interviewed for this project were residents who lived in or had some connection to Northwest Roanoke at one point in their lives.


The first participant is a white woman named Ann. Ann is a white female who moved to Roanoke in 1976. When asked what the word ‘Oaklands’ meant to her, she responded:


The second participant is a man named English. English is an older white male who grew up in South Roanoke, but had connections to Northwest Roanoke through the family on his mother’s side who were Wattses—the same Watts family that had owned Oaklands Plantation. When asked what the word ‘Oaklands’ meant to him, he responded:



The third participant is a man named Stephen. Stephen is an African American male who has lived in Northwest Roanoke all of his life. When asked what the word ‘Oaklands’ meant to him, he responded:



The fourth and final participant is a woman named Mignon. Mignon is an African American woman who has also lived in Northwest Roanoke all of her life. When asked what the word ‘Oaklands’ meant to her, she responded:




After realizing that English was the only person who I had interviewed that had a working knowledge of Oaklands Plantation, I found it pertinent to ask whether or not people in his time in Roanoke knew what Oaklands was. I wanted to know whether the forgotten memory of Oaklands Plantation was a new concept, or an old one. With his response I learned that forgetting Oaklands was nothing new:




After asking participants what the word ‘Oaklands’ meant to them, I explained  that Oaklands was a slave owning Plantation that had encompassed much of Northwest Roanoke. After revealing this information, I asked each participant how they felt knowing that there was once a slave owning plantation that resided near where they live now and their responses were all very different.


Ann saw it as a function of the past, far removed from the present:



Stephen saw it as something that hit a little too close to home:



Mignon was not surprised at all, but intrigued to learn more about it:




Only English knew that Oaklands had been a slave owning Plantation. Below he discusses the scale of it:




Though most residents didn’t know the history of Oaklands Plantation, they did have an understanding of other pieces of history from their neighborhoods and could speak to the changing landscape.


Anne discussed plantations, old homes, and historical markers that she had seen and learned about over time:



English discussed what has become of the property that once encompassed Oaklands Plantation and how segregation contributed to white and black communities during the time that he had lived in Roanoke in the 1940s:



Stephen discussed the role of race in his neighborhood in the past and in the present:



Mignon discussed the role of race as well in her neighborhood as her was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.


Overall, these oral histories suggest that Oaklands Plantation is not, and has not, been a part of the collective memory of Northwest Roanoke. People’s understanding of the area is far removed from the narrative of slavery and more concentrated around their personal experiences of living in the area.