North Topsail Beach, NC – The Ocean City Community was started in 1949, in the Jim Crow South 15 years prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1965. A beach community on the Atlantic Ocean, where Blacks could have home ownership was just not supposed to happen.
But after World War II, Edgar Yow, a white Wilmington attorney and former mayor, purchased six miles of beach property on Topsail Island. The land was previously owned by the Navy and was used for Operation Bumblebee which was a secret test site for guided missiles. As mayor, Yow had become acquainted with many members of the Black community and realized that in the era of segregation there was a need for beach front recreational opportunities for Blacks.
Yow approached Dr. Samuel Gray with his idea; Gray was unable to devote a great deal of attention to the project but soon called upon a friend – Wade Chestnut, Sr. and his siblings, Bertram, Robert and Louise. Energized by the possibilities, Wade Chestnut, Sr. sold his interest in the family automobile repair business and devoted his full attention to the development opportunity.
Edgar Yow owned the one mile stretch of property three miles north of Surf City, which was to become Ocean City, from the ocean to the sound. Gray and the Chestnuts purchased several tracts of land from Yow which included one of the island’s Bumblebee observation towers. In 1949, stock was sold and an inter-racial corporation (Ocean City Developers, Inc.) was formed and headed by Robert Chestnut, Sr. for ownership of the land and to sell property to blacks.
Wade Chestnut, Sr. conceived the idea of naming this section of the island, Ocean City, as it is presently called. The corporation divided the beach into business and residential areas, with the first homes being built in 1949-50 by William Eaton, a black contractor from Fayetteville, NC.
Wade bought and remodeled the tower to be a restaurant and tackle shop. Wade and Eaton built what was then a 10 room motel in 1952. Eaton would go on to build 30 additional homes, the Chapel and rectory, camp dormitory and dining hall in Ocean City. The intent was to build up the area to further encourage development of a carefully planned town with residential and separate commercial areas and a family-type of beach.
Many blacks were skeptical of the opportunity to buy into the one-mile beach area. However, to gain interest, Wade devoted his time looking for prospective buyers by attending meetings where blacks were assembled and heavily advertising the project. The lots were $500 or $1000 for oceanfront lots.
The Chestnuts hosted Sunday church services in their home or on the beach. Services were led by the Reverend Edwin Kirton of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Wilmington. Following the destruction of summer camps in South Carolina due to Hurricane Hazel, Father Kirton spoke with Wade Chestnut, Sr., about camping at Ocean City.
Camp Oceanside, established in 1955, was the first Episcopal camp for blacks in the Diocese of East Carolina. On the invitation of Mr. Chestnut and associates, the motel and a cottage were rented for the summer camp from 1955-1957. St Mark’s Episcopal Chapel, as it was called before it was named the Wade H. Chestnut Memorial Chapel was built in June 1957, where Father Kirton served as Priest until his retirement in 1975. The vestry was a place in which every beach resident was
In 1954 the community faced major disaster in – Hurricane Hazel. The Category 4 hurricane severely damaged the community, but would not deter the homeowners, who had the “tenacity” to rebuild. The Ocean City Fishing Pier was built in 1958 and a second organization, the Ocean City Fishing Pier, Inc. was formed. Of the five fishing piers on the island, the Ocean City Fishing Pier was the only one that allowed blacks to fish.
The Ocean City Developers, Inc. was dissolved in 1976 and the Ocean City Beach Citizens Council was started. The homeowner’s council was formed to support community issues, and plan business and social activities. By 1986, there were approximately 100 homeowners in the community. The restaurant, tackle shop, fishing pier and motel were in business until their destruction by Hurricane Fran in 1996.
Current challenges of the community are lack of funding and lack of awareness of its historical value. To answer this challenge, the Ocean City Beach Citizens Council, a 501(c)(3) hosts the Ocean City Jazz Festival during the July 4th weekend.
The mission of the Ocean City Jazz Festival is to expose and entertain a diverse audience of Jazz aficionados, young Jazz enthusiasts and aspiring musicians to the rich heritage of Jazz as an authentic form of traditional music and celebrate the rich history of Ocean City while sustaining the community and its resources.
North Topsail Beach provides the perfect backdrop for the “ultimate” jazz beach weekend with the festival attracting attendees from all over the US. This event has become an annual celebration for jazz-minded adults where the charm of great beaches, shopping, world-class restaurants along with a plethora of activities like golf and fishing, all combine for a truly great vacation getaway!
In 2015, the Fayetteville Observer listed the festival, as 1 of 8 festivals worth the drive to Carolina beaches.
The festival is in its eighth year and features two days of world-class live jazz featuring local and nationally recognized performers. Revenue from the festival helps defray the cost of preserving the historical buildings in the community and promoting awareness of its history.
The festival is supported by the NC Arts Council, Onslow County Tourism, the Town of North Topsail Beach and dedicated business partners. The festival is currently seeking sponsors for the 2017 festival.
“The Town of North Topsail Beach is proud to support the Ocean City Jazz Festival. If you like world-class jazz and wonderful friendly people come and enjoy the Ocean City Beach Jazz Festival. Our beach and community are very special and we want to share them with you.” states Walter Yurek, North Topsail Beach Alderman.
Artists to perform in 2017 include Jackiem Joyner, Gerald Veasley, Wycliffe Gordon, Randy Brecker, Lao Tizer with special guest Karen Briggs, John Brown Quintet, John Dillard and Lynn Grissett Quartet with additional artists to be announced. Patrons can purchase one or two-day passes to the event.
For additional information please visit the festival’s website at www.oceantcityjazzfest.com or email the festival at firstname.lastname@example.org.