Though it clocks in at a short 28 days, February might win the award for the most celebrations in one month. It is packed full of remembrances. Looking at the calendar, my mind ticks over constantly with thoughts and ideas about where to go and how to honor moments of shared culture. Part of the joy and beauty of living in Wilmington is the constant opportunities surrounding us to create palpable memories.
I could start by mentioning Groundhog Day or the Super Bowl, but since both have passed, we will assume by now everyone knew where to get wings, beer and a copy of Bill Murray’s magnum opus. Most importantly, February is Black History Month. There are a variety of places to visit in our area to honor and commemorate, such as trip to the 1898 Memorial on Third Street. In 1898, our city experienced the only successful government coup on American soil, since the Revolution. The horrors centered around a massacre of the African-American community looks like a dress rehearsal for Kristallnacht. As a pivotal moment in the history of this city, and an event to be mourned, it is paramount.
The National Cemetery on Market and 20th streets is the final resting site of the US Colored Troops who fell in the Civil War during the final engagements of taking Fort Fisher and occupying the city of Wilmington. Visited in conjunction with the Battle of Forks Road site at Cameron Art Museum (read last week’s Live Local), they are two locations providing palpable testimony to the sacrifices of African-American soldiers for the preservation of the Union, and the fight to end slavery on the shores of the United States.
A few years ago, I had a professor come into the book store who was doing research on slavery in the American South. She was visibly shaken because part of her trip was to visit plantation museums and see slave cabins in person for the first time. After a lifetime of reading about them, to touch the walls and see firsthand its reality was powerful.
And so that is a big part of why we need museums and experiential education—to make the palpable possible.
The Bellamy Mansion has slave quarters as part of their exhibit. According to Poplar Grove Plantation resources, by 1860, one-third of the population of North Carolina were slaves, or in New Hanover County 7,103 people were reported to be in bondage. A trip to the Bellamy or Poplar Grove provides an opportunity to remember a very real and painful part of history of our city and county.
Did you know February 4 is Rosa Parks’ birthday? Yes, the lady who immortalized the Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to move further back on the city bus was born on February 4, 1913.
Wilmington has a road named in honor of Rosa Parks off Carolina Beach Road. Though I can think of a variety of ways to honor the memory of Ms. Parks and her legacy, perhaps the one she would appreciate most would be a visit to or letter to a school board representative to discuss the redistricting plan and why neighborhood schools are not equally serving all students of New Hanover County.
February 15 is also Susan B. Anthony’s birthday. Her early work advocating for the abolition of slavery led to her cofounding the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, which sought equal recognition and protection under the law for all Americans, regardless of race or gender. She is remembered mostly for her work for women’s rights and suffrage. Perhaps the best way to honor her is to pick up the mantle and join the fight for equality. A visit to a congress person’s or senator’s office, or a letter regarding the ongoing struggles for equal representation under the law for all Americans, would be an effective and meaningful way to celebrate her memory.
February 18 also is Presidents Day. As an observance, it has been through a few variations. It began as an observance of George Washington’s Birthday (February 22, 1732); many states expanded it to include Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12, 1809). Wilmington has touchstones of both men.
At Oakdale Cemetery (located at the end of North 15th Street), folks can visit the grave of Henry Bacon, the designer of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. Also, did you know George Washington slept here? Well, he did. On April 25, 1791, he stayed for the night and was entertained here during his presidency on an extensive tour of the American South. From the NCPedia:
“In Wilmington President Washington was received by a welcome party and a 45-gun salute. He stayed at the home of Mrs. John Quince, which was located very near the location of the marker. The original residence planned for the President’s lodging became unavailable, and apparently Mrs. Quince graciously offered her home to the President at the last minute. During the evening, Washington was treated to a military parade throughout a town illuminated in his honor. And a ball was given in his honor at the Assembly Hall.”
A granite marker on the corner of Dock and Front streets commemorates the event. Perhaps eating a slice of cherry pie from a favorite local bakery might be a way to honor the nation’s first president?
But, of course, the big event in February is Valentine’s Day. It is a popular practice to gripe about Valentine’s as a hallmark holiday. I can say from experience the bump small businesses (restaurants, retailers, attractions and especially florists) receive in the middle of winter from Valentine’s is essential to survival. In the wake of Hurricane Florence, and the federal shutdowns, small businesses are feeling the impact. Please, when planning romantic celebrations, skip the chain restaurants and show some love to the little guys. It will be a far more memorable experience at a boutique restaurant. In addition, the money spent here will stay in the community rather than go up the chain to a CEO who has never heard of Wilmington, NC, and doesn’t care about us.