Wanda Hunt McLean

Wanda Hunt McLean is an award-winning public historian who brought national recognition to northeastern North Carolina’s role in the Underground Railroad. A labor of love, McLean has dedicated years of volunteer service to the preservation of North Carolina’s African American history.

McLean first became interested in the region’s ties to the Underground Railroad after moving from Hampton, Virginia to Elizabeth City in 1978. Her interest in the history of the Great Dismal Swamp propelled her to learn as much as she could through reading and research. In 2003, she met with the National Park Service, bringing northeastern North Carolina’s role in the Underground Railroad to national prominence. Her research and documentation of Underground Railroad routes led to the inclusion of six sites in the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom: the Pasquotank River, the Great Dismal Swamp, Old Town of Halifax, the Washington (NC) Waterfront, the Roanoke River, and the Neuse River.

In 2015, McLean founded the Northeast North Carolina Underground Railroad Foundation, a non-profit organization that encourages the study and preservation of the region’s African American communities. Most recently, the organization has voiced support for the preservation of a Rosenwald school located on Elizabeth City State University’s Campus.

McLean studied at Bennett College and Tuskegee University and holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Wayne State University. She is a retired Elizabeth City State University administrator (1977 – 2007) and currently serves as President of the Northeast North Carolina Underground Railroad Foundation.

[Sources: Jeff Hampton, “North Carolina researcher gets award as interest in Underground Railroad, slave history surges,” The Virginian-Pilot, January 26, 2016; Christian Rehklau, “History of Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program,” Visit Elizabeth City, NC, February 24, 2016; Reggie Ponder, “Rosenwald site eyed for heritage center: 'Practice school' needs restoration,” Daily Advance (Elizabeth City, NC), February 18, 2018.]