A new heritage trail highlights important sites of African-American history in Pender County.
Pender County Tourism launched its African American Heritage Trail on an auspicious day in 2021: Juneteenth, the day of celebration that commemorates the end of slavery. The tourism department developed the trail to help educate the public and retain the history of Black residents dating back to the Revolutionary War.
The tourism department had the help of dozens of African American descendants, residents, and historians, who gathered documents and stories to help tell the history of their forebears whose lives enriched Pender County.
“This project could not have been accomplished without the help of 23 local historians and families who want to preserve the history and legacy of African Americans in Pender County,” says Tammy Proctor, Pender County Tourism director.
The African American Heritage Trail (AAHT) is a driving tour that opened with nine sites of interest: Missiles and More Museum, Sloop Point Elementary School, Manhollow Missionary Baptist Church, Poplar Grove Plantation, N.C. Mountains to Sea Trail, Macedonia AME Church, Pender County Courthouse, Old Stage Road, and Canetuck Rosenwald School.
At present, there are not any AAHT site markers, but those will come in the future. A virtual map of the AAHT can be seen online and with the phone app available at Pocket Sights.com.
Telling the history of African Americans in the county will be an ongoing project by Pender County Tourism and many citizens.
“This will be a forever-evolving project that will educate our community and visitors on the important but almost forgotten history of generations of Pender County African American residents and their ancestors,” states the Pender County Tourism website.
Due to the history of bringing African people to America in chains, some points of the trail are emotional reminders of captivity and loss, such as the market road at Moores Creek National Battlefield. But thankfully there are many stories of triumph, of clinging to family and faith, of raising money out of meager wages to buy land for a school. There is much to celebrate and remember in Pender County.
Some of the heritage trail sites are drive-bys; for example, Sloop Point Elementary School in Hampstead is not open to the public. However, reading excerpts from Curtis Hardison’s writings of his school days there in the 1950s, and his parents’ decades before, one can imagine education in a one-room schoolhouse with no electricity and Mrs. Mibisley keeping firm control of a multi-age classroom, with the help of a fan belt. Hardison is a descendent of a first-generation enslaved couple, Tuney and Janey.
Pender County Tourism Assistant Olivia Dawson says it is time to bring recognition to these locations in history, so they won’t get lost in time.
“The idea is to bring light to the African heritage that is there. It is rather important to our area,” Dawson says.
“I think one of the most interesting sights is going to be the Missiles and More museum,” she adds. “At the museum, you can go in and read more about history.”
Pender County African American Heritage Trail Sites
The following site descriptions are provided by Pender County Tourism and can be seen in greater detail on the PocketSites.com online map. A phone app is available.
1. Missiles and More Museum
720 Channel Boulevard, Topsail Beach
Learn the fascinating history of Ocean City, where Black people could first buy beachfront property in the late 1940s. A development team bought and remodeled one of the remaining observation towers from NASA Project Bumblebee to be a restaurant and tackle shop in 1959. The museum is free.
2. Sloop Point Elementary School
55 Manhollow Church Road, Hampstead
Boarded now, the one-room schoolhouse was an anchor to the past for the Edgecombe community. It first opened 100 years ago, in 1921, following fundraising efforts to match the Rosenwald School grant money needed. Between 1917 and 1932, nearly 5,000 modest rural schoolhouses were built, known as Rosenwald Schools. Black intellectual Booker T. Washington and wealthy German-Jewish immigrant Julius Rosenwald partnered with communities to increase educational opportunities for African-American children throughout the southeast.
3. Manhollow Missionary Baptist Church
55 Manhollow Church Road, Hampstead
White Missionary minister Alvin D. Love was allowed to preach to enslaved people in the Edgecombe area in 1861. In 1868, three years after the Civil War, construction of a permanent building began. Manhollow Missionary Baptist Church continues to anchor the community by providing a place for spiritual renewal and worship. The church and adjacent Sloop Point school are drive-by AAHT locations.
4. Poplar Grove Plantation
10200 U.S. Highway 17, Wilmington
Poplar Grove Plantation was once a 2,000-acre peanut farm owned by Joseph Mumford Foy and operated by slaves. Today the plantation is working to preserve its history and is the site of events, a farmers market and a museum. It is part of the National Park Service’s Gullah Geechee National Corridor, which commemorates the direct descendants of Africans brought to the United States.
5. N.C. Mountains to Sea Trail
A large segment of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) runs through Pender County. Howard Lee, a Black man who was born on a Georgia sharecropper’s farm, was a co-founder of the MST trail. He served in the Army during the Korean War, earned a master’s degree from UNC and was elected Mayor of Chapel Hill.
6. Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church
300 N. Walk Street, Burgaw
The church was organized in 1880 on land donated by Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Company. The 141-year-old church is a member of the 2nd Episcopal District of Connectional A.M.E.
7. Pender County Courthouse
100 S Wright Street, Burgaw
This is the site of the nationally spotlighted trial of The Wilmington Ten, nine young Black men and one white woman who were wrongfully convicted of arson and conspiracy in 1971. At a time of racial unrest, The Wilmington Ten protested the unfair treatment of Black students in the New Hanover schools during desegregation.
8. Old Stage Road
Moores Creek National Battlefield, 40 Patriots Hall Drive, Currie
N.C. maps show the use of the road as early as 1743 by colonists for transportation of goods and military use. The route was pivotal to the Revolutionary War. It was also used to march African Americans from Wilmington to the Historic Fayetteville Market, where they were being sold to inland plantation owners.
9. Canetuck Rosenwald School
6098 Canetuck Road, Currie
Funding for the two-room school came mostly from the African-American residents in the Canetuck community. They raised $1,226 for the school, which was completed in 1922. Additional funding was given from the Rosenwald Fund and Pender County. Often lacking funds for books, the school used recitation, music, and drama to foster education. One of the best-preserved Rosenwald schools, today it is used as a community center. It was added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation program in 2019.