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A Historically Black Beach Community Uses Jazz To Rally Support

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. 

Josie Taris left her home in Fayetteville in 2014 to study journalism at Northwestern University. There, she took a class called Journalism of Empathy and found her passion in audio storytelling. She hopes every story she produces challenges the audience's preconceptions of the world. After spending the summer of 2018 working in communications for a Chicago nonprofit, she decided to come home to work for the station she grew up listening to. When she's not working, Josie is likely rooting for the Chicago Cubs or petting every dog she passes on the street.
Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.