Each week, American Routes brings you Shortcuts, a sneak peek at our upcoming show. This week, we travel to Sea Breeze Beach in North Carolina. In the late 19th century African American beach communities emerged along the East Coast as havens for black vacationers excluded from white beaches. Sea Breeze provided summertime leisure to African Americans throughout the Jim Crow era and became one of the few integrated places where blacks and whites could hang out, hear music, and dance together. Nick Spitzer talks to Elder Alfred Mitchell and Brenda Freeman about their summer memories of Sea Breeze before white developers claimed ownership of the beach.
Nick Spitzer: Sea Breeze was a relatively small place, one main street barbecue joint, a 2-story hotel, cabins, and a long pier. But it was bustling, and at the heart of all this activity was Bruce Freeman’s restaurant and tavern. Brenda Freeman, Bruce’s daughter, grew up there. She remembers the name Sea Breeze was known up and down the coast as a place where blacks could vacation, without having to come face to face with the racial troubles of the time.
Brenda Freeman: People as far off all over the world, people from New York would come down every summer and that was a place that you could always count on going to was Sea Breeze.
NS: Once people arrived at Sea Breeze, life was easy. Brenda Freeman and Elder Alfred Mitchell who lived nearby recalled days spent at the resort.
BF: We would go crabbing, we’d go fishing, and go shrimping, sometimes there’s be so many people fishing and crabbing, you wouldn’t have any room on the pier.
NS: Elder Mitchell.
Elder Mitchell: We learned how to make merriment out of almost anything. And when we got to the place where things might be looking a little sad, somebody would get out on the floor and start doing a crazy dance. And things perked up and everybody started laughing.
NS: Elder Mitchell visited the resort even before he shipped out overseas for WWII. He has a soft spot for the music of the time.
EM: Our music, during my period there was somewhat sentimental. All the men were going to war and the ladies were home crying and being sad, and so quite a few sentimental records came out that were good for slow drag dancing. The Ink Spots doing “Do I Worry.”
NS: According to Brenda Freeman, whites flocked to her father’s place to eat and to dance.
BF: Yeah my dad had a lot of white friends because my dad was considered as the mayor of Sea Breeze. A lot of people from over in Carolina Beach-
EM: They would come and while they were eating a clam fritter or a crab cake they’d sit and watch what the blacks were doing.
BF: You know they would come over and try to learn our steps, yeah.
EM: And they would go out and try to imitate it. Well naturally some of them were more successful at it than others.
EM: This was before integration even started. They paid no attention to what color they were.
BF: When I get to talking about Sea Breeze, I get a little sentimental. It was basically a black beach and I think now as integration has come in, you won’t ever see that again. I’ll live and die with Sea Breeze in my mind, it’ll be embedded there.
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.