Today, music is still at the heart of community life in the Kinston area. Although the days of dances in the tobacco warehouses have passed, visitors to the region have a growing array of opportunities to experience the African American musical heritage in Lenoir and Jones counties.
Interesting sites and fun events can be found in Kinston and in La Grange, about 10 miles west, and in the Jones County communities of Trenton, Pollocksville, and Maysville.
The Arts Center
Community Council for the Arts
400 N. Queen Street, Kinston, N.C.
Tuesday – Friday: 10 am – 6 pm; Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
The Kinston Community Council for the Arts programs a variety of arts and cultural-related programs and activities for the area and was the original champion of the African American Music project. Many of the performances it organizes or sponsors reflect the region’s musical heritage.
The Arts Center is located in a beautifully renovated early 20th-century commercial building, now on the National Register of Historic Places, near the heart of town on North Queen Street. The building features several galleries, a gallery store and the Music Studio Gallery, where you will find portraits of African American musicians from eastern North Carolina, unless the show is traveling. The portraits are by the documentary photographers Cedric N. Chatterley and Titus Brooks Heagins and the work is displayed alongside historic images of musicians from the musicians’ personal collections.
Neuse Regional Public Library
510 North Queen Street, Kinston, N.C.
In mid-June, Kinston joins in celebrating Juneteenth—a celebration held nationally in observance of the announcement of Emancipation in Texas on June 19, 1865. The celebration combines education and entertainment through musical, dance and spoken-word performances; community health information; and activities for children.
Spring Music Explosion
Kinston Community Council for the Arts
The Fonnie B. Murrill and Ruth M. Jones Scholarship Foundation and Kinston Community Council for the Arts support the continuity of Kinston’s music heritage by co-sponsoring the Spring Music Explosion. The annual event celebrates the music of eastern North Carolina by honoring elder musicians and presenting a concert by long-established and up-and-coming local bands and performers. Proceeds from the concert fund scholarships for young musicians in the area.
Places to Visit
South Queen Street District
Self-guided walking or driving tour
Set GPS for 242 South Queen Street, Kinston
In the early 20th century, South Queen Street became an African American commercial district and played an important role in Kinston’s black history. The district reflects an era when formerly enslaved people and their descendants became successful entrepreneurs and community leaders.
People’s Bank Building
242 South Queen Street
Built in the early 1920s, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Organized by the African American business concern Holloway, Borden, Hicks, and Company, the People’s Bank served the black community until 1931 when it closed during the Great Depression. It remained in the hands of the African American business community and housed a succession of enterprises, including a dry-cleaning shop, a barbershop, and a branch of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance, one of the most important companies in the history of African American enterprise in North Carolina.
Kinston Music Park Celebrating our African American Music Heritage
South Queen and Springhill Streets, Kinston
Three blocks south of the People’s Bank Building is a park built and dedicated to Kinston’s African American music legacy. The City of Kinston, the N.C. Arts Council, numerous local and regional groups and individuals have collaborated to create the four-acre park that occupies the former site of the New Dixie tobacco warehouse. Intersections, a public art installation that incorporates images of African American musicians in Kinston and the other trail counties is the focal center of the park.
Tower Hill District Architectural Highlights Driving Tour
Surrounding Tower Hill Road, bounded by Lenoir Avenue (north), Chestnut Street (south), Adkin Branch (east), and East Street (west)
Complementing the commercial architecture of the South Queen Street district are two historically African American neighborhoods containing significant residential and religious architecture.
The Tower Hill District was a socially diverse area where middle-class and prosperous African American professionals, as well as laborers and domestic workers, lived, worshiped, and attended school during the first half of the 20th century.
St. John Free Will Baptist Church
405 East Blount St. (circa 1914)
The church has long been one of Kinston’s prominent congregations. The brick Gothic Revival style, with flanking towers and old stained-glass windows, was constructed by the local African American builder and brick mason Will Lewis and is believed to be the last surviving example of his architecture. St. John’s has been the home church of many fine church musicians and singers over the generations.
The neighborhood was first called Yankee Row because it started with housing for northerners who had moved to Kinston to work in a shoe factory in the mid-19th century. After the 1900s, it grew into an African American residential area. Substantial two-story Queen Anne–style homes with wrap-around porches were built for well-to-do African Americans.
Among the surviving examples are former homes of:
William Moore (railroad porter, circa 1915; a private residence)
1214 Macon Street
Ezekiel Best (farmer, circa 1916; private residence)
1015 Hicks Avenue
Clyde Albritton (mortician, circa 1925; private residence)
500 Quinerly Street
Many residents of more modest means also lived in the district:
Tobacco factory workers lived in the 16 shotgun houses of the 600 block of Fields Street (circa 1925–35; private residences).
Along Cook’s Alley in the 400 block of East Washington Avenue (circa 1934; private residences) lived the families of people who worked as cooks in white households.
Another interesting row of shotgun houses can be seen on the 700 block of Oak Street, in the historically black Lincoln City neighborhood.
Mitchell Wooten Courts (circa 1941; private residences)
700 block of East Washington Street
This was built for working-class African American families in the early 1940s. The two-story brick complex, which still serves as private apartment homes, was built with shared recreational space for the residents, including a playground and community center. Many other talented musicians and singers grew up in this musically fertile community.
Adkin High School (1940s)
1216 Tower Hill Road, Kinston, N.C.
Although it is no longer used as a school, some of the building remains. Adkin was home to an outstanding band program, in which many of Kinston’s present-day musicians received their training. Former students often recall excellent teachers at Adkin who helped shape their lives. The students orchestrated a life-changing moment more than 60 years ago when they initiated a walkout at Adkin High School to protest unequal facilities.
The demonstration received wide press coverage in eastern North Carolina.
Within a year and a half, a new vocational building and new classrooms were built, a swimming pool installed, and the grounds expanded and landscaped to prevent flooding. The school also acquired a new gymnasium, the largest of any black high school in the state.
Members of the Class of 1952 are now scattered across the country, but in the fall of 2010 they celebrated the 59th anniversary of the demonstration by holding a reenactment of their march.
J’s Place Private Nightclub
110 West Blount Street, Kinston, N.C.
Located across Blount Street on the side of the Kinston Community Council for the Arts, this long-established club features live music, often jazz and R&B and DJs. The Arts Council sometimes cosponsors music events hosted at J’s Place. Give J’s a call to find out about upcoming music. Guests must be over the age of 25.
400 East Grainger Avenue, Kinston, N.C.
Kinston has also made its mark in the world of sports, hosting professional baseball for more than 100 years. Grainger Stadium, built in 1949, is one of the great old Minor League ballparks of the South. The site of the Whole Hog Blues Festival in 2006, Grainger Stadium continues to host music and other public events in addition to sports.
Kinston is home to such noted figures as the former NBA players Jerry Stackhouse and Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, and the Negro League outfielder Carl Long. Long, with his teammate Frank Washington, broke the color barrier in the Carolina League when he played for the Kinston Eagles. After his sports career, Long also became Kinston’s first black bus driver and then went on to be the town’s first black deputy sheriff and detective. ]
The Town of La Grange is about 12 miles west of Kinston on Highway 70. Originally called Moseley Hall, named for the former plantation on which it was built, La Grange grew-up around the railroad in the 1850s and became a bustling hamlet, with a buggy and cart factory, boot and shoe factory, and a harness and saddle factory, as well as an iron foundry and a brickyard. An agricultural hub, La Grange was once dotted with cotton gins and tobacco warehouses.
Though much quieter today, La Grange is a fun place to explore, especially if you like the styles of late Victorian and early 20th-century architecture. There are several large, ornate houses in the Queen Anne style downtown, and some later Craftsman-style bungalows. Of La Grange’s several historic churches, perhaps the most impressive is the large brick Gothic Revival Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, built in 1920 by an African American congregation.
La Grange is known for its Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades. The town’s sidewalks fill to capacity for these events where area marching bands, civic groups and fraternal orders and all manner of other community groups parade down Caswell Street in celebration.
The nearby community of Parkstown, on the Lenoir and Wayne county line, also has a popular Christmas parade. The Parkstown Christmas Parade has been called “the world’s biggest littlest parade.”
Trenton, Pollocksville, and Maysville
With only about 10,000 residents, Jones County is one of the least-populated counties in North Carolina. Miles of farmland and lush, dark swamps separate its three towns: Trenton, Pollocksville, and Maysville.
Coming into Jones County from Kinston (via NC Route 58), you first reach the county seat of Trenton. This is a tiny and picturesque town, with a compact downtown area, and significant historical architecture.
In downtown Trenton are several small cafes, including Gypsy’s, at 104 East Jones Street. Gypsy’s menu changes every day, but it is always a good spot for a sandwich and soup, and a glass of ice tea. In good weather, you might want to take your meal to go and visit Brock’s Mill Pond, around the corner on Highway 58 South. A gristmill has existed on this site since before the Revolutionary War. The present mill is not open to the public, but you can pull off of the road to admire the view of this large blackwater pond, surrounded by cypress trees and fringed with Spanish moss.
Visiting the quiet, rural place that Jones County is today, one might be surprised to learn that in 1860, it was reportedly one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. That wealth fell primarily into two categories of assets then regarded as legal “property”: cotton, and enslaved people. Very few interpretive markers or other commemorations exist to acknowledge the generations of African Americans who lived and worked as slaves in Jones County. Nevertheless, their work can still be seen today in the county’s antebellum Steven Jones and Terrial architecture, much of which must have been built by slave artisans, and perhaps free African Americans.
Places to Visit
Jones County Civic Center
832 NC Highway 58 S., Trenton, N.C.
Hi-Horn Productions, a Trenton-based organization founded by Beverly Hines to support the region’s heritage of quartet music, organizes several musical events each year in Jones County, drawing singing groups from as close as down the road to as far away as Mississippi. These include the Celebration of Local Quartet Legends, a summer concert pairing some of the Carolinas’ great quartets with guest artists from other states; and the annual Summer Jam, which in recent years has featured such leading artists as Lee Williams, the Canton Spirituals, and Doc McKenzie and the Hilites. The concerts are held at the Jones County Civic Center.