Image: Keeper Richard Etheridge was born into slavery, fought for the Union during the Civil War and became the first African American to serve as an officer in charge of a U.S. Lifesaving Station. You can the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in Manteo to discover more along with dozens of other Black culture and heritage sites in the six county region of Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Pasquotank and Perquimans on the new African American Experience of Northeast North Carolina. NCBlackHeritageTour.com
MANTEO, N.C., June 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The African American Experience of Northeast North Carolina (AAENENC) will officially launch this Juneteenth (Saturday, June 19, 2021) encouraging a deeper understanding and recognition for the contributions of the Black community in one of America's most history-rich corridors. The new self-guided discovery starts online at NCBlackHeritageTour.com and connects dozens of visitable points of interest and African American influence across a six-county region that includes the islands of The Outer Banks, legendary Dismal Swamp and some of the state's earliest riverfront communities of Elizabeth City, Hertford and Edenton.
The AAENENC is a collaborative effort that has been developed, funded and facilitated by the tourism departments from the six participating counties of Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck and Dare and is driven with valuable insights from an advisory committee comprised of regional civic leaders, community members, educators and historians. Tameron Kugler, Director of Currituck Travel and Tourism, sees an opportunity to help build more inclusive communities through a greater public appreciation of these African American touchstones while creating economic benefit. "We are so excited to share this new adventure and expect to add more sites and more counties to our trail every year. We will also be working on collecting and preserving written and oral histories that we will be able to share on the AAENENC website."
Visitors to the tour can experience the lesser-known histories of popular tourism destinations that are now being given a new platform to enjoy both in-person and online. From the ornate craftsmanship of the historic Black neighborhood of East Gale Street in Edenton to the Colored Union Soldiers Monument in Hertford, one of the few such statues in the nation, to the Dismal Swamp Canal, hand dug by enslaved labor over 12 back breaking years in the late 1700s, the impact of the African American legacy in this part of the state is evidenced at every turn. The Pasquotank River flows through Elizabeth City and once was a gateway to freedom for enslaved peoples as part of what we now know as the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, as was nearby Roanoke Island in Dare County as home to one of the first Freedman's Colonies in the South during the American Civil War. The Benjamin Bowser Gravesite in Currituck County pays fitting tribute to one of the leaders of the all-Black Pea Island Lifesaving Station crew, the only such pre- U.S. Coast Guard base in the nation.
To help bring the NCBlackHeritageTour.com to life, the six-county partnership sought the assistance of North Carolina-based BRANDilly Creative Group, a Black-owned business with a portfolio of startups and grassroots branding clients. President and CEO Kemah E. P. Washington, Ed.D. and his team transformed all the histories and themes of the different time periods into a user-friendly planning tool to help travelers experience the trail both virtually and in-person. "Working with the NC Black Heritage Tour has been an absolute pleasure. It's been a best of both worlds scenario for us. Not only did we have a chance to flex our creative muscles, but as a Black-owned agency, we were a part of an initiative centered on telling our story. Innovation. Determination. Perseverance. The resiliency of our ancestors — as featured in the project — continue to play out in the lives of African-Americans in our state and beyond."
Juneteenth celebrations at some of the African American Experience of Northeast North Carolina tour sites include an 11 a.m. Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at the Camden County Heritage Museum and Historic Jail; a 12 p.m. special vocal performance program at the Historic Jarvisburg Colored School in Currituck County by Dr. Walter Swan, Associate Professor of Visual and Performing Arts at Elizabeth City State University; and a 5 p.m. Sounds of Freedom performance with Tshombe Selby at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in Manteo. To share your experiences along the trail and stay up to date with current events, the public is invited to join the discovery of the AAENENC on Instagram @NCBlackHeritageTour and Facebook.com/NCBlackHeritageTour