- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) - Under the construction and gentrification of Wilmington’s historic district rests the city’s rich heritage of African-American history.

“We are the heartbeat of this city,” said Islah Speller, founder of the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation. “But it’s like we need to be resuscitated.”

Last month, community members and students gathered in front of a parking lot at 415 N. Seventh Street as part of a heritage tour started by Speller.

“This is the site where Community Hospital once stood,” she said.

In 1920, Wilmington physician Foster Burnett founded Community Hospital, the only hospital at the time where black physicians could administer to their own patients. Seven years later the School of Nursing was founded next door, a building that still stands.

As the group walked, Speller shared historical facts about each stop on the tour. Large homes were once owned by black doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs of the past. They included Alfred Hargrave, a slave in 1859 who opened his first blacksmith shop on Market Street, renowned African-American architect Robert Taylor, and James W. Telfair, who was born into slavery and became pastor of St. Stephen A.M.E. Church.

Mildred Bethea grew up in a home next door to Thomas C. Miller, New Hanover County’s first black deputy, and across from the original Davis Funeral Home on North Sixth Street. The homes once owned by these prominent black individuals have been sold, re-sold and rebuilt over the years.

“I am the only original owner on this block, I think,” she said. “It’s been interesting watching the whole thing transpire right before your eyes.”

Speller’s motive behind the tour is to promote history and bring community awareness to the historical value of these homes, buildings and churches.

“I want (people) to leave with a renewed conscience, knowing that they can prepare for change, make a change and be the change,” she said. “We can’t continue to step over this heritage trail as if it is not here.”

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Information from: The StarNews, https://starnewsonline.com

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