Juneteenth Speakers Bureau

The NC AAHC is leading NC DNCR in the effort to create a Speakers Bureau centered on sharing NorthCarolina’s liberation history. The esteemed experts below are willing to present lectures surroundingJuneteenth, African American history, and topics related to freedom-seeking. Additional information will be available on the NC AAHC website as we continue to share rich stories from our state’s Juneteenth history in celebration of this national holiday.

Stephanie Sterling

Stephanie Sterling 

East Carolina University 

Stephanie Sterling (she/her/hers) was born and raised in Omaha, NE. She graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a B.A in Art History and a minor in Archaeology which led her to work for the National Park Service and private CRM firms. At present, she is a graduate student in the Maritime Studies Program at East Carolina University, is an AAUS scientific diver, and a PADI Divemaster. Her thesis, Manipulated by Hand and Moon: Defining Boundaries of Black Geographies in the Tidal Rice Fields of the Lower Cape Fear, attempts to fill a gap in the archaeological record by amplifying the Black maritime experience within colonial North Carolina. She intends to acknowledge the significant impact enslaved Africans had on the region by delineating geographic and cognitive boundaries of freedom and confinement amongst the northern Lowcountry rice plantations. Sterling’s emphasis on relationship-building has fostered friendships with lifelong locals including Gullah Geechee descendants, historians, educators, riverkeepers and activists. Through the simple act of listening, Sterling has come to understand the numerous and nuanced ways in which both the Lower Cape Fear’s historical and contemporary maritime landscape is under imminent threat of further erasure, erosion, sea level rise, looting, and development projects.




Earl Ijames 

North Carolina Museum of History

Mr. Ijames was born in Winston Salem, NC, where he was a graduate of the George Washington Carver High School. In 1991 he graduated from North Carolina State University.  Most of his professional career was spent at the North Carolina State Archives. In June 2008, he was made Curator of African American and Community History at the North Carolina History Museum in Raleigh.  He has an excellent reputation as a skilled researcher and contributor to numerous community outreach events, as well as participating in many varied community services such as Chairman, Economic Development, Wendell Chamber of Commerce,Wake County Historic Preservation Commission, Charter member of the East Wake  County Kiwanis Club, leadership roles in the East Wake Academy Board, coach or assistant coach for Youth football and basketball Leagues among other  activities.

He is married to Eugenia Parham, who has family roots that run deep in Granville County. They have three children.  In 1996, he and his wife moved a Victorian Ranch House from Zebulon, NC to Wendell, NC.  Currently they are living in the house and are restoring it.


Leesa Jones 

Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum

Leesa Jones is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum in Washington North Carolina which was established in 2016. It is the only Underground Railroad Museum dedicated to telling the story of the underground railroad history in North Carolina.

As a native of Washington NC, and after retirement as Preschool teacher of 32 years, teaching in schools in Philadelphia PA and Burlington NJ, she started the African American History Tours of Washington NC in 2009 to help locals and tourists discover 300 years of local African American history that had not been previously shared in local historical documents and books. In 2014, with the help of the Phoenix Historical Society of Tarboro NC, Leesa Jones was able to get a 3-mile portion of the Pamlico-Tar River designated as a National Park Service- Underground Railroad Network To Freedom Site. In 2016, she co-founded the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum, which was awarded a designation as a National Park Service-Underground Railroad-Network To Freedom Facility. In 2017, with the assistance from the Phoenix Historical Society, Leesa Jones helped secure Beaufort County's first North Carolina Highway Commission Historical Marker to honor an African American subject. In 2021, she helped Washington get its first Pomeroy History Marker that celebrates an African American man named Hull Anderson born enslaved in 1784 and becoming very wealthy in Washington by 1826.


Angela Thorpe 

North Carolina African American Heritage Commission 

Angela Thorpe has served as the Director of the N.C. African American Heritage Commission (AAHC) since May 2019, and previously was the associate director of the AAHC.

She was the first African American historic interpreter at the James K. Polk State Historic Site in Pineville, N.C. and worked to attract diverse audiences through inclusive programming and leading community engagement initiatives.

Thorpe’s family home is the small community of Pinetops, N.C., but she calls herself an Air Force brat and has lived in the U.S. and abroad. She returned to her roots after receiving a B.A. in history with a minor in African American Studies from the University of Florida and was awarded the M.A. in history from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. As a graduate student she worked to connect marginalized communities with museums and was involved with the award-winning exhibit, “Warnersville: Our Home; Our Neighborhood, Our Stories,” at the Greensboro Historical Museum.

Thorpe has written on museum professionals, public history and race for the National Council of Public History. She has also spoken on diversity and inclusion in museums and cultural institutions; community engagement; and African American heritage at conferences and symposia. She was awarded a Diversity & Inclusion Fellowship by the American Alliance of Museums in 2016.


Bernard George 

Historian & Reenactor, USCT 35th Regiment

A retired Land & Community Development Administrator at City of New Bern, Bernard George is an historian and active member of the 35th Regiment United States Colored Troop. He serves on the Tryon Palace Board of Directors and its African American Commission. Bernard is a founder and active member of the African American Heritage & Cultural Center of New Bern.

Bernard George is available to join conversations regarding history of the 35th US Colored Troops, the Civil War and the enlistment in the Union Army, and the Battle of New Bern on the local African American population. 




Beverly Fields Burnette

NC Association of Black Storytellers

Beverly Fields Burnette is a Storyteller (current President of the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers, Inc), a published poet, a retired School Social Worker/Elementary Guidance Counselor, and the mother of two adult daughters, who are both educators. Burnette is a great admirer/lover of poetry, short stories, history, genealogy and anthropology. Born in Rocky Mount, NC, Burnette, the older of two children, she relished hearing family stories and loved eaves dropping in on the talk of the grown folks around her. These family and community stories sealed Burnette's early storytelling interest, as well as her desire to pursue the genealogy of her family. She has been a consistent hunter of her ancestors...from the NC mountains to the NC Coast for over three decades.

Burnette has written and published historical memoirs and poems, and has employed poetry and storytelling as vehicles for teaching family connections, African American history, creating positive feelings, healing wounds, and bridging gaps.

Burnette is a founding member of both the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective,  and the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. ; a member (30+ years) of the Washington Street Writers, as well as The National Assoc. of Black Storytellers,  Inc. She enjoys performing stories in the guise of Harlem Renaissance folklorist/anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston,  and has been published in several national publications. Burnette has called Raleigh "home" since the early 1970s.


Chris Meekins 

NC DNCR Civil War Roster Project

Alex Christopher Meekins, Chris to those who know him, is a native North Carolinian. His interest in history began when his mom took the family to local historical sites in northeastern NC. The old Albemarle region was rich with the history of European settlement, Native American displacement, the religious freedoms of Quakers, and a deep history of the African American struggle for freedom and rights. His first outings into local history were the cemeteries through out the old Albemarle – his grandfather was a caretaker and would tell Chris about the people buried in them.

Chris earned an Associate of Arts degree from College of the Albemarle and then completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from North Carolina State University. It was there that he discovered an interest in history could be a vocation as well as an advocation. He then studied Public History and earned his Master of Arts degree from North Carolina State University in History with a minor in Archival studies. Chris followed his interest in Civil War history and African American history in North Carolina while working at the State Archives of North Carolina.

Chris has thirty years of service with the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as a Public Historian. He has enjoyed sharing North Carolina history by assisting researchers and giving presentations to many different groups of people who share a common interest in the history of North Carolina.

Chris has researched enslaved people in North Carolina. He can speak on emancipation, manumission, freedom seekers (who find their own freedom) as it relates to North Carolina overtime. He has studied those who found their freedom in the American Civil War and can talk about the ways they found that path. The men who joined the United States armed forces are also a topic of interest for him.


Adrienne Nirde

North Carolina African American Heritage Commission 

Adrienne Nirdé is the Associate Director of the NC African American Heritage Commission. She comes to the Commission having worked most recently at the President James K. Polk Historic Site in Pineville, NC, and prior to that at the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, NC. She holds a Master's degree in Museum Studies from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis as well as Bachelor's degrees in History and Anthropology from Indiana University.

She is a proud member of the Smithsonian's Interpreting African American History and Culture Workshop 2020 cohort. She has always had a primary interest in sharing diverse stories, particularly those that that are "difficult" or have not yet been told.