Black History Month Chronicles Wilmington’s Past

Black History Month is celebrated in February but, you can always learn more about these important and essential stories of Wilmington’s Black Community year-round.

Here are just a few of these stories.

The 1898 Memorial Park

One of Wilmington’s most prominent memorials is the 1898 Memorial Park, located at 1081 North Third Street. The memorial honors the countless number of African American citizens who were killed or exiled when a mob of white supremacists overthrew the duly elected, bi-racial city government on November 10, 1898. It is the only successful coup d’etat recorded in United States history. The park was dedicated on November 8, 2008. 

Learn more about the 1898 Massacre here.

William Benjamin Gould and Orange Street Landing

Since Wilmington’s incorporation, the Cape Fear River has played a key role in the City’s history. Perhaps, though, one of the most important functions it served is a gateway to freedom for enslaved people. The intense water-related activity led to an Underground Railroad on the river.

In 1862, in the cover of darkness, 22 people escaped slavery by way of the Cape Fear River after commandeering three small boats at the foot of Orange Street and rowing 28 nautical miles until they were picked up by Union blockading ships.

Their journey to freedom was recorded in the diary of William Benjamin Gould and is now commemorated in Downtown Wilmington at Orange Street Landing on Cape Fear as part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.

RELATED: A Self-Guided Tour of Wilmington’s African American Heritage.

Major General Joseph McNeil

Major General Joseph McNeil, a Wilmington native, was among the four courageous men from North Carolina A&T State University known as The Greensboro Four who helped inspire a civil rights movement in 1960 when they staged a sit-in at the “white only” counter at Woolworth restaurant in Greensboro.

In 2019, the City designated a section of North Third Street in his honor.

Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson, a 1949 graduate of Williston High School in Wilmington, was a tennis legend who smashed barriers to inclusion in the sports world on her way to becoming one of the most dominant tennis players in history.

Gibson, at just 23 years old, became the first African American to compete in what is now the U.S. Open in 1950. During a three-year stretch, she became the first African American to win the French Open (1956), the U.S. Open (1957, 1958) and Wimbledon (1957, 1958).

This impressive streak helped land her on the covers of Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated – the first time an African American woman had appeared on either covers.

Gibson’s trailblazing accomplishments weren’t just limited to the tennis court. At 37, she became the first African American woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour.

The Althea Gibson Tennis Complex at Empie Park in Wilmington is named in her honor and her historic contributions toward a more equitable society.

Meadowlark Lemon

Wilmington native Meadowlark Lemon was known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball” and entertained fans as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters for 24 years.

Lemon joined the Globetrotters in 1954 at the age of 22, appearing in more than 16,000 games in more than 100 countries during his career.

His flashy showmanship, slapstick comedy, and unique athleticism helped him become one of the most popular athletes in the world.

Lemon was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2003.

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