Southeastern North Carolina Black History Month facts: Week 4

Black History Month
Black History Month(WECT)
Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 4:01 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - WECT proudly celebrates Black History Month.

All month long we will highlight places, people, and moments that shaped Black history in southeastern North Carolina.

Feb. 21: Freeman Park

Freeman Park was one of the two beaches in North Carolina for African Americans during the Jim Crow Era.

During that time, Carolina Beach was for white visitors, and Seabreeze, now called Freeman Park, was for African Americans.

The property and the park itself are named after the Freeman family; most of the land was initially owned by Bruce Freeman.

Over the years, it was divided among Freeman family heirs but in the mid-2000s, other private parties began purchasing the land from the Freeman family members.

Feb. 22: Caterina Jarboro

Katherine Lee Yarborough was born in 1903 at a home on Church Street in Wilmington.

Adopting the stage name Caterina Jarboro, she was the first African American woman to sing with the Chicago Opera Company -- an all-white company.

She performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Jarboro spent time in Wilmington in the 1930s, where she gave several recitals at Thalian Hall.

She retired from singing in 1955.

Feb. 23: Major General Joseph McNeil

A man from Wilmington played a major role in North Carolina’s Civil Rights movement.

Major General Joseph McNeil and three others made history on Feb. 1, 1960, when they refused to give up their seats at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro.

Their peaceful protest led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Major General McNeil graduated from Williston Senior High School in 1959.

He attended A&T State University in Greensboro on a full scholarship and graduated with a degree in engineering physics.

Major General McNeil went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force.

A portion of Third Street in downtown Wilmington is dedicated as Major General Joseph McNeil Commemorative Way.

Feb. 24: Williston School

Williston School was originally a high school for freed slaves when it opened in 1866.

The original building was on Seventh street. In 1916, the school was moved to Tenth Street and Church Street and renamed Willison Industrial School.

Several years later, it became the first accredited high school for Black students in North Carolina.

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was originally scheduled to deliver an address at Williston on April 4, 1968, the night he was assassinated.

The school closed in 1969 when the New Hanover County Board of Education desegregated the school.

Williston is now a middle school.

Feb. 25: Orange St. Landing

On Sept. 22, 1862, over 20 slaves escaped from Confederate-controlled Wilmington.

The group met at the foot of Orange and South Water streets and rowed a boat down the Cape Fear River.

A Navy vessel picked up the group and all the men became members of the U.S. Navy.

One of those men was William B. Gould.

Gould was one of the workers, who built the Bellamy Mansion.

The corner of Orange and South Water streets is now part of the National Underground Railroad Network.

Feb. 28: St. Stephen AME Church

St. Stephen AME Church was founded in 1865.

Originally, St. Stephen was part of what was then Front St. Methodist Church.

After the end of the Civil War, African American members of the Front St. Methodist Church wanted to have the Black Chaplain of the Union Army preach a sermon, but they were denied by white members of the church.

As a result, they were withdrawn from that congregation, and they established St. Stephen.

The church itself was built by former slaves and free black artisans at the corner of N. 5th Avenue and Red Cross Street.

Today, the church continues its tradition of working with the community on civic, social, health, and economic issues.

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