Ocean City Beach
Following World War II, Topsail Island returned from military use to private ownership and civilian enjoyment. The 26-mile island was utilized by the Army as an anti-aircraft training base during the war - and was home to the testing of surface-to-air missiles until 1948.
While the island was open to new investors and tourists, it wasn't exactly open to everyone. Post-War North Carolina was still in the 'Jim Crow' South - and segregation ruled the day. Black North Carolinians or from any other state were unable to enjoy the beaches and coastal retreats along our coast. While some communities were very explicit about who was allowed to live or vacation there, others had unspoken rules of who was welcomed and who was not.
Ocean City Beach was different. It was a new beach community that encouraged African American visitors and more importantly, landowners. The community was created in 1949 as an inter-racial joint venture entitled Ocean City Developers, Inc. The idea for the community started with Edgar Yow, a white Wilmington attorney, his client Dr. Samuel Grey - a Black Wilmington physician, and Grey's friends - the Chestnut family.
Ocean City Developers would develop one mile of Topsail Island in Onslow County. They encouraged Black families to purchase lots and build vacation homes. By 1953, a motel and restaurant - the Ocean City Terrace - had been established. Soon after came a church, an Episcopal Church camp and supporting facilities, other businesses, and a fishing pier. The Ocean City Fishing Pier opened in 1958 as the first - and at the time only - fishing pier open to minorities.
|The Wade H. Chesnut Memorial Chapel (St. Mark's Episcopal Church) is named after one of the Ocean City Community's founders. The church offered Camp Oceanside as a summer camp for local Black youth within the Diocese of East Carolina.|
Ocean City Beach was significant that it was a thriving Black community within an hour's drive from Wilmington - the site of the infamous white insurrection and overthrowing of a biracial government in 1898.
By the early 1980s, Ocean City Beach had over 100 homes, a handful of businesses, and the highly popular fishing pier. In 1990, Ocean City Beach became part of North Topsail Beach.
Unfortunately, many homes, businesses, and the pier were destroyed by Hurricane Fran in 1996. The fishing pier was never rebuilt.
Recently, Ocean City Beach and its importance to the Black community was recognized as part of the North Carolina Civil Rights Trail. A historical marker now sits where the Ocean City Motor Court once stood. While the Ocean City Terrace and Fishing Pier are now gone, the solid concrete missile observation tower that was part of Ocean City Terrace still stands.
Ocean City hosts an annual Jazz Festival over three days every 4th of July weekend. The festival features numerous musicians from throughout the country.
All photos taken by post author - July 2023.
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