James City, North Carolina Celebrates 150 Years of Freedom; Ira Credle to Speak at Mt. Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday

4798 150 years of history and freedom for many who could not claim it on the nation's first Fourth of July will be celebrated beginning 6 p.m. Friday in James City and continuing all weekend.

James City residents gather in front of the community center in July 2010 during the James City Community Homecoming celebration.
"It is important to keep our heritage and let our younger generation know where we came from and where we are today," said Williams Stevens, president of James City Community Organization, as he stopped briefly Wednesday from helping put up tents for assorted booths and events.

Like many of those involved in the organization with its James City Community Center at 410 West Plum Street, Stevens is a native "and lived here my whole life in the place that began as the Trent Settlement, where most of the slaves in this area came together at the Trent River" after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

The opening ceremony at what Stevens said is the second celebration of 1863 James City, a Black Community, will be at Reform Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, followed by a meet and Greet at the Community Center.

The first was in 2010 and invigorated interest in the history of the Trent River Settlement outside New Bern that historian Joe A. Mobley labeled a "Mecca for Freedom."

The fourth printing of Mobley's book, first published in 1981 by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Division of Archives and History through a grant from May Gordon Latham Kellenberger Historical Foundation, will be for sale at the event which celebrates the Union encampment thought to be the largest refuge in North Carolina for free slaves.

According to historians Mobley and William Powell, the settlement on land once owned by Richard Dobbs Spaight was managed by Rev. Horace James, who served as the Union Army chaplain and later an agent for the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees and Abandoned Lands.

The settlement was named James City in his honor and evolved into an independent community during Reconstruction full of free people who started churches and schools, built business and houses and began farms.

Struggles reduced the population and the prosperity of those who remained by the 1880's but historians said the James City residents refused to submit to white authority.

An 11 a.m. Saturday at the restored slave quarters in James City features Craig Allen, whose family has live in James City "as far back as I can remember," participating in and directing a reenactment of key events in the transition of slaves to truly free men and women.

"Some people ask why I am doing this, tracking 150 years which includes some of the worst things that took place in slavery," said Allen, who has done less graphic reenactments connected to the Craven County 300th Celebration and Tryon Palace events.

"It will be pretty graphic and real," he said, with a number of costumed reenactments by a group of participants which show lynchings, hangings and auctions along with music that describes a tragic time in African American history.

"But it will chart our breaking out of bondage and our history through the civil rights era in drama and music that brings the James City Community's culture to the present time," he said.

A 9 a.m. Saturday parade will have Stevens as grand marshal and Ms. James City Mabel Perez leading, said Deona Collins, event chair, begins on the corner of James and Vail streets and winds its way to Old Cherry Point Road and left past Tidewater Appliance to the service road and on to Elder Street, again to Old Cherry Point Road, then Williams Street and ending up back on James Street.

The parade will include ball players and majorettes and cheer leaders, past and present, Collins said, as well as churches, business leaders with roots in the community and music past and present.

Collins' family dates back to that time with Charles Henry Russell as one of the original settlers.

"Over the years my family has told me about the rich history here and we are trying to keep our young children and grandchildren informed and aware of our history in their hearts and minds," she said.

Source: New Bern Sun Journal | Sue Book
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