A town that has birthed dozens of black pioneers, its current black community is just as hidden as its past.

Wilmington sits less than 10 miles from the Atlantic coast, and has a population of 113,657, with 19.45 percent of that being African American. You may have heard about this small beach town because it is the birthplace of NBA legend Michael Jordan.

As a journalist who covers its culture, I get to research its history and hear the cultural issues it faces now. One thing I quickly realized was, though this town was home to a massacre in 1898 that burned away its black population, its foundation has always been soaked in black excellence. Every now and then, an individual will sprout from that black excellent soil and be the "greatest to ever do it," but living day to day in the city, you wouldn't know any of its black history.

As a transplant from Atlanta, I had to dig around and talk to several people to know half of what I know now. Let me just drop a few names for you:


Robert Robinson Taylor

Wilmington born in 1868, he was the first accredited African-American architect and in 1888, he became the first African-American student enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 


Phillip Clay

Born in Wilmington in 1946, he is the former chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Althea Gibson

Gibson was the first black athlete to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she was the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title. The next year, she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals. Though she wasn't born in Wilmington, she lived here for some time and trained under physician and tennis enthusiast, Hubert A. Eaton. She also went to Williston High School.


Dr. Hubert A. Eaton

A longtime Wilmington physician, Eaton was and the lead plaintiff in a 1964 federal lawsuit that led to the complete 1971 desegregation of New Hanover County schools.


Major General Joseph McNeil

Born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1942, McNeil, and three other black students at North Carolina A&T University, led the 1960 sit-ins at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, N.C., which galvanized youths to fight segregation nationwide.


Dr. Frant Avant 

First black physician to practice in North Carolina, and one of the founders of Community Hospital, Wilmington's hospital for blacks in 1920.


Wayne Moore

Moore was part of the "Wilmington 10," where nine young men and a woman served nearly a decade in jail after being convicted, in 1971, of arson and conspiracy. The civil rights activists were wrongfully convicted of the crimes and were released in 1979. In 1980, the convictions were voided on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct by the Assistant District Attorney, who had coached and bribed the witnesses. 


Reggie Shuford

Wilmington born, Shuford is currently the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.


I could keep going, but I'm going to stop there. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

Every city has its black pioneers, but having so many in Wilmington, they shouldn't be this hard to find out about. Many of their stories are scarcely documented and rely heavily on oral history, but in a town where its black history and black present is rarely recognized, can more be expected?