East’s Hidden History: Celebrating Craven County’s hidden gems

NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) – Bear Town is what they call it — a somewhat small North Carolina city with a historic waterfront that used to be a hub for some big dreams and even bigger opportunities.

During the Civil War era, freed blacks flocked to New Bern by the thousands.

“What we miss more than anything is that Craven County had the highest population of free African-Americans in the state,” said George.

In the mid-1800s, New Bern was the place to be.

“It’s been left out the school books,” said Bernard George, a local historian. “These are things that I never read about.”

While it may not be in the history books, the history is on display at a familiar New Bern landmark: Tryon Palace.

Sharon Bryant heads African-American outreach at the mansion.

There are “so many stories to be told, untold stories, that the young people do not know,” said Bryant.

James City is a place full of those stories.

“Some of the people that lived over in James City, they can play these particular stories,” Bryant said.

James City was where a lot of freed blacks built homes and raised their families. It was a place they could call their own.

With so many freed blacks in the area, they needed a place to worship. So it’s no surprise that the first American Methodist Episcopal Zion congregation in the South was started in New Bern at St. Peter’s AME Zion church.

“This was a prime opportunity to pull some congregation together,” said Rev. Robert Kelly, the church’s pastor.

The sturdy downtown church building has history all to itself.

The church was first built more than 100 years ago. It burned down in the 1920s and was later rebuilt.

Longtime member Carthenia Mann knows the church all too well.

“It brought people together,” said Mann. “They could come and worship.”

She’s been a member for decades

“If you don’t know your history then you are really doomed to failure,” said Mann.

Whether it’s the museum or a church, black history, white history or Asian history, it’s just history.

“It’s history and that’s history that we need to know about it,” said Bryant.

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