By Rebecca Taylor
By the 1940’s Seabreeze had its own hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and dance halls. Drawing crowds from all over North Carolina it became known as the “National Negro Playground.” Among the local businesses – many of them run by Freemans or members of other families linked by marriage – were bathhouses where visitors could rent bathing suits for the day.
Daley’s Breezy Pier Restaurant was a two-story covered pavilion at the end of a pier where bands played and people fished and crabbed.
An amusement park opened in the summertime with a Ferris Wheel, a hobbyhorse (like a merry-go-round), chair planes, a carousel, the Octopus, and the Caterpillar. A fellow named Charlie ran the gambling tables. A Native American known as the Snake Man set up a sideshow tent, and one of the attractions he offered was “the Woman with No Body,” which was actually his extremely short wife in a darkened setting that only revealed her head. He also ran a candy store and a small circus and mounted an impressive snake display.
Summers were especially busy when church groups packed buses for a day’s amusement along the waterfront, then turned the beach over to the juke joint crowd at night. Farmers from inland counties would ride dozens of their field hands, on flatbed trucks, to Seabreeze for a day off. Seabreeze was so well known that it even attracted people from all over North Carolina and South Carolina. Some years people would even come on buses from Philadelphia and New Jersey.”
During segregation, Carolina Beach police refused to allow Seabreeze visitors to pass through the town to visit the ocean side of the Freeman property, known as Freeman’s Beach, so the family bought a boat to haul people there, letting them off in the marsh leading to the beach. You had to walk over the marsh lands – get mud in your feet and everywhere else.
Later Captain Rick Wilson – who later became the first black party-boat operator to get a slip at the Carolina Beach marina – ran a speedboat out of Seabreeze, offering rides for 50 cents a head. Others, including Margaret Green, ran ferries to take visitors across the sound to the ocean beach on the outlying barrier island. As the local economy recovered from the Great Depression, the Seabreeze community and its’ recreation area were fully developed.
Bruce’s Tavern was a two-story restaurant and dance hall with a fishing pier owned by Bruce Freeman. There was also Daley’s Pier with a restaurant and pier for fishing and crabbing. At Barbecue Sam’s, the proprietor raised pigs, butchered them, and smoked them on premises. Several bathhouses existed that allowed people to come out of the ocean, take a shower, get dressed, and go to the pavilions to dance.
There was a row of vine covered cottages which were used for overnight stays for people unable to drive and even an unofficial community jail. Photographers’ shops, where visitors could have their pictures taken as mementos of their summer visits to Seabreeze were scattered throughout the area.
William Freeman who was born in 1941 and grew up in Seabreeze says, “It was fun, it was fun, it was fun. For black people to be able to come to a place like this, they came and danced and kicked up and had fun the whole weekend. That had to be a great thing for us psychologically. All these places, blacks owned it all. It was far more valuable than we realized it was.”
In January of 1942 a meeting was called to inform “all negro citizens“ of the Sea Breeze area and to organize civilian defense units. The meeting was held at the Freeman church and Sheriff C. David Jones and the Mayor of Carolina Beach were the invited speakers.
In April 1942, the Federal Works Agency (FWA) allocated $12,800 for the construction of a bath house for the military. It included showers, locker rooms, and a lounge area.
In 1941, Camp Davis opened in Holly Ridge. It rapidly grew to include as many as 100,000 soldiers being trained in a variety of assault specialties. One section trained black soldiers in anti-aircraft artillery while an auxiliary base called Montford Point became the first training base for black Marines. As the war intensified the military presence became notable.
Black servicemen stationed nearby headed to Seabreeze on leave. There were even some training maneuvers that took place in the waterway. One long time resident reports that there were rumors among the residents that even the FBI trained along the undeveloped beach.
Black soldiers from the Fort Fisher training base would come up to Seabeeze. Some of the Freeman girls married some of the guys that used to be down at Fort. Fisher.
By the summer of 1943 a special “Jim Crow loading zone” was set up at the main bus terminal in Wilmington to handle the large crowds of black servicemen coming to Wilmington on leave. Another group was drawn to Carolina Beach, as well. Suddenly boys too young for the draft, but too old for parental supervision, flocked to Carolina Beach to work in the busy restaurants and hotels. White teenagers had learned to dance to ‘race music’ from blacks in the Hayti district of Durham.
While both Carolina Beach and Seabreeze owners were glad to cash in on the war boom, both beaches gained a reputation as somewhat “unruly.” As one white woman who was a teenager during the war remarked; “there was a general feeling that these boys were facing the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country and therefore deserved to cut loose before being shipped out.”