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AAHC highlights New Bern's Civil Rights heroes: Local Black History to be highlighted with Civil Rights trail markers

New Bern to receive two Civil Rights Trail Markers

On Wednesday, November 15th, 2023, the African American Heritage and Culture Center (AAHCC) welcomed a community audience to New Bern Civic Theatre’s Studio for a moving and thoughtful conversation about New Bern’s role in the Civil Rights Era of the ‘60’s.

This enlightening interview was recorded in front of a live audience for the AAHCC oral history library and was led by historian Bernard George. The guest was Rev. Mrs. Ethel Sampson, a well-known, admired and respected community member who shared personal stories about her involvement in the fight for civil rights for African Americans in New Bern. She also shared how she met Dr. King at a SCLC convention in 1962 and spent time with Mrs. Rosa Parks as well. Most of us are familiar with national civil rights leaders, like King, Abernathy, Young, and Jackson. However, in small towns like New Bern, local leaders guided young people to participate in marches, sit-ins, and boycotts, including then teenager, Ethel Bell. AAHCC presented this interview in an effort to revitalize the sharing of important stories about New Bern’s historically significant involvement in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s and beyond.

(left to right) St. Peter's AME Zion Church and Oscar's Mortuary.

The Civil Rights Era was a pivotal time in our history, marked by significant social and political changes. Within our community, numerous activists dedicated their lives to fighting for equal rights. They organized peaceful protests, participated in sit-ins, planned and held meetings, even with the threat of racial terrorism from white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan.

On January 24, 1965, 59 years ago, St. Peter’s AME Zion Church and Oscar’s Mortuary felt that racial terrorism. During an NAACP meeting, at St. Peter’s, those in attendance were terrorized by KKK members who placed dynamite under the cars of Julius Chambers, a prominent North Carolina civil rights lawyer, and Carolina Chadwick, president of the Jones County NAACP. The group was meeting about desegregation of public schools inside the church when the dynamite bombs went off. About an hour after the St. Peter’s dynamite bombing, dynamite was also exploded at Oscar’s Mortuary ripping up the driveway, garage door, and breaking the windows in an ambulance shed/garage. Oscar’s Mortuary founder, Oscar R. Dove, was a local activist involved in the Civil Rights movement here in New Bern. His involvement in the Civil Rights movement resulted in the mortuary being targeted by the Ku Klux Klan; crosses were burned and windows were broken.

When members of AAHCC saw the call for applications from NC African American Heritage Commission, Raleigh, NC for Civil Rights Trail Markers, we saw this as a means of fulfilling our mission “to actively present the historic impact and progression of African American heritage and culture in our region”. Applications were prepared and submitted for the two sites, St. Peter’s AME Zion Church and Oscar Dove/ Oscar’s Mortuary.

AAHCC is pleased to announce that on January 19th, 2024 we received approval from NC African American Heritage Commission that both of our applications were approved for NC Civil Rights Trail Markers. We look forward to working with the Commission, the local community, local officials, St. Peter’s pastor, Rev. Garry M. Slade and congregation, and the Dove family as we plan ceremonies for installation of the markers sometime in October 2024.

The Commission will join communities across the state to physically mark sites critical to the Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina. They will place 50 markers in counties across the state, highlighting and acknowledging tireless civil rights efforts that are well known and, in some cases, unsung. This designation entails having a Trail Marker installed on designated properties.


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