Photograph by j. Alan Lewis
Wilmington councilman Darius Brown and state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry with the new historical marker.
Darius Brown grew up on Wilmington’s Eastside, so he naturally has an interest in the area’s history. But the city councilman would also like to share that history with others, so he started a program to recognize some of the people and places that have helped shape the neighborhood through the years.Brown is working with the city planning department to identify and commemorate 50 people and sites so folks won’t forget those who came before them.
“About 20 years ago, the Eastside was designated by council as an African-American historical zone to preserve history and celebrate life on Wilmington’s Eastside,” Brown says.“Many of the middle class professional African-Americans lived on the Eastside in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. That was the genesis of this initiative.”
A pilot project has identified 12 such people and institutions that will be unveiled during a ceremony in February as part of African-American History Month. Those include pioneering lawyer Louis L. Redding, state Sen. Herman Holloway Sr., Mayor James H. Sills Jr. and the Knotty Pine Restaurant, which in 1959 became a refuge for African-Americans in a city where access to public facilities was limited.
Brown kicked off his campaign in September with a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Walnut Street YMCA. He was joined by such dignitaries as state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, Mayor Dennis Williams and former mayors Sills and James Baker. A state historic marker was unveiled during the event. Brown noted that the Walnut Street YMCA is where the city’s African-American community has traditionally gathered for activities and conversations, as well as to debate and decide important issues.
“The Walnut Y has been a safe haven at difficult times for African-Americans,” says Brown, 34. “It is one of the places in Wilmington where the fight for equality took hold and where individuals and families felt respected and appreciated. There is much good that occurred and still occurs in this building, and today we can officially honor the people associated with the YMCA and the Y facility’s significant role in Wilmington’s rich history.”
Brown also found it important to incorporate technology into his initiative, so an app (www.morethanamapp.com) is available to help people learn more about life on the Eastside. For now, the free app covers the 12 locations and people from the pilot program, but more information will be added in the future.
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“I do know a little bit of the history of the Eastside because I grew up there,” Brown says. “But I want to learn more about some of the institutions and individuals and also educate, not just the Eastside community, but all others who are interested.”