A Historically Black Beach Community Uses Jazz To Rally Support

Jul 30, 2019

Ocean City Beach sits along a one-mile stretch of land on Topsail Island. A coalition of interracial business owners founded the community in 1949 as a vacation spot for black North Carolinians. Its establishment created the first beachfront town where people of color could purchase or build property in North Carolina. 

Seventy years later, first and second-generation Ocean City locals feel the historical significance of the community may be lost to commercial property development and the effects of climate change. To preserve their community, Ocean City residents launched the annual Ocean City Jazz Festival in 2009. Jazz musicians from all over the country come to perform on the beach for residents and tourists. Proceeds from the festival benefit the upkeep of historical sites, like the Ocean City Community Center. 

As property in the town changes hands, longtime residents hope Ocean City will remain a family beach whose residents appreciate its significance to the black community in North Carolina. Guest host Anita Rao talks with Angela Thorpe and Carla Torrey about Ocean City’s history and future. Thorpe is the Director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. Torrey grew up going to Ocean City Beach every summer and inherited the family beach home. She also serves on the Ocean City Beach Citizens Council and on the host committee for the jazz festival.