WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A rich history of black excellence and influence radiates not only around the entire South but around the country as well. The Cape Fear region is no exception. From a black-owned newspaper in Wilmington that flourished before it was burned down, to boasting some of the world’s most recognizable athletes, there is a lot to celebrate in and around the Port City for Black History Month.
Built as a school for freed slaves, Williston became the first accredited high school for black students in North Carolina by 1923.
Williston became the pride of the community, earning the title of “Southeastern Carolina’s leading Negro institution of learning," according to the African American Heritage Foundation of Wilmington.
Born in Wilmington on June 8, 1868, Robert Robinson Taylor became the first African-American to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He went on to become a friend with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee.
Taylor’s home is still standing on McRae Street today.
The Wilmington Daily Record served as the only black newspaper in the Port City and at the time was believed to be the only black-owned newspaper in the country.
In August 1898, the newspaper’s founder and editor Alex Manly published an editorial denouncing whites for claiming black men were raping white women. The article triggered the 1898 Race Riots and the on November 10, 1898 the building was burned down to the ground.
In 1927, The Cape Fear Journal was published at the same site as the Daily Record. Now known as the Wilmington Journal, the publication remains a leading journal among black newspapers in the South, according to the African American Heritage Foundation of Wilmington.
Dr. Hubert A. Eaton made history in New Hanover County by becoming the first African American to run for office since the 1890s when he made three unsuccessful runs for a seat on the New Hanover County Board of Education in the 1950s.
Eaton did find plenty of success on the tennis court, however, becoming a champion in the segregated sport. Eaton served as coach and mentor for Althea Gibson.
Althea Gibson attended Williston and later became a trailblazer in tennis. Gibson became the first African-American to win the U.S. Nationals, which later became the U.S. Open.
Gibson won it twice, along the 11 Grand Slam titles she won in her hall of fame career. She was born in Harlem in 1927.
Meadowlark Lemon was born in Wilmington in 1932 and became an international sports legend. Meadowlark became the most popular member of the world’s most recognizable sports team, the Harlem Globetrotters. He performed in more than 100 countries around the world.
In 1997, Meadowlark was honored with the Sports Legend Award. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2003.
Meadowlark is now an international brand name.
Another international sports legend with roots in Wilmington, Michael Jordan’s basketball career began on the court at Laney. Jordan is a six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, a 14-time NBA All-Star and retired with the NBA’s highest scoring average (30.1 points per game).
Jordan was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2009.
Today, Jordan’s net worth is $1.3 billion.