In 1891, the North Carolina General Assembly founded the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts for Colored Students in Greensboro. This was the first university in North Carolina that offered higher learning for students of color. This first step in inclusivity and diversity in North Carolina’s public education system was not one the state’s elected officials made easily or altruistically, and it took the support of one of the Bellamy children to make it a reality. In 1890, John D. Bellamy Jr., third son of John D. and Eliza Bellamy, was elected to represent New Hanover County in the North Carolina Senate. While he never ran on a campaign for higher education for Black North Carolinians, his lasting legislative legacy was his involvement in just that.
In 1879, James O’Hara-- a former state Representative of Halifax County who would go on to be elected second Black U.S. Congressman from North Carolina-- spearheaded the first attempt to establish a Black college in North Carolina. In a speech reported by The Journal of Industry, O’Hara called on the legislators of North Carolina to create and foster an environment for the education of Black students equal to the state university at Chapel Hill--known today as University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That same year, John A. White, another Black legislator from Halifax County, attempted to pass a bill for the creation of a Black university. The bill quickly died due to White supremacist ideals and lack of support for Black education in the state legislature, but state-wide support for a segregated university grew among Black and White North Carolinians alike, for differing reasons, as to avoid integration of Black and White students.
In 1886, a Black state teachers’ association demanded that people of color be admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This caused anti-Black sentiments to skyrocket in North Carolina. Former slave holders did not want their former enslaved workers and descendants to be in school with their own children and grandchildren. Despite the rise in White supremacist and anti-Black sentiments, Henry Eppes, another Black senator from Halifax County, proposed a bill for a college for Black citizens of North Carolina in 1887. He asked for $10,000 in funding the first year and $1,000 annually thereafter. It was rejected 37-1. In 1889, there were two additional attempts by Black legislators to pass a bill creating an agricultural and mechanical college for Black North Carolinians, yet they both failed as well.
It was not until the U.S. Congress passed the second Morrill Act in 1890 that White members of North Carolina’s General Assembly began to take seriously the notion of establishing a university for Black students. The first Morrill Act of 1862, set aside federal lands to create colleges to “benefit agricultural and mechanical arts.” It gave each state 30,000 acres of land to be distributed by state senators and representatives. This act was directly responsible for the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts-- known today as North Carolina State University. With the passing of the second Morrill Act, the U.S. Congress prevented federal dollars being distributed to states that did not have integrated institutions of higher education or at least a separate college for Black students. The 1890 Morrill Act allocated $15,000 to each state, which increased yearly by $1,000 for 10 years until it reached a maximum of $25,000 per annum. One stipulation was that the annual appropriations had to be divided equally between Black and White schools in states that maintained segregated universities.
In 1890, Secretary of the Interior John W. Noble sent letters to North Carolina Governor Daniel G. Fowle asking three questions pertaining to agricultural colleges in North Carolina: Are there agricultural and mechanical colleges in North Carolina? If so, are they segregated? And if they are segregated, are there colleges for both White and Black students? Governor Fowle responded saying there was a university-- North Carolina State University—but it was segregated, and there was no equitable university for Black students. Secretary Noble then notified Governor Fowle that since there was no college for Black students, North Carolina did not qualify for the funding established in the Morrill Acts. Governor Fowle then notified the state legislature that for this reason, and this reason only, North Carolina needed to establish a Black agricultural and mechanical college.
On January 9, 1891, Isaac Alston, a Black legislator representing the 19th District of Warren County, introduced SB12 which would establish a Black college in North Carolina, but it was promptly denied. On March 5, 1891, John D. Bellamy Jr. sponsored SB12, where it easily passed its first, second, and third readings and was ordered enrolled by the House of Representatives the following day, March 6th. So why did the General Assembly deny all previously sponsored or introduced bills? A likely contributing factor was that every representative who had-- O’Hara, White, Alston-- were Black. John D. Bellamy Jr. was White. The Morrill Act of 1890 also backed North Carolina into a corner: either establish a Black college or lose all federal funding for the colleges already established. The state Senate had not wanted to support higher education for Black students, evidenced by their refusal to pass previous bills for Black universities proposed by Black Senators, but the idea of losing all federal funding for UNC-CH and NC State caused a swift about-face.
On March 9, 1891, the North Carolina General Assembly founded the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race—now known as A&T University. Since its founding, A&T University has been recognized as a premier university in North Carolina. The university’s second president, James B. Dudley, was from Wilmington. John Jr. bragged Dudley’s appointment by the General Assembly was a “compliment” to himself. In 1928, the university opened its’ doors to female students. And in 1945, then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the campus. A&T University has won seven HBCU football national championships, and notable alumni include Rev. Jesse Jackson, astronaut Ronald McNair, and United States Army Nurse Corps Clara Leach Adams-Ender.
The university eventually played an important an role in the American Civil Rights Movement, and Greensboro became nationally known for both peaceful protests and violent clashes. On February 1, 1960, four A&T students: Ezell Blair, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond sat-in at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, an all-White restaurant, beginning the nationally known Greensboro sit-ins that lasted until July of 1960 and spread to many other segregated cities in the South. In 1969, the university was involved in the 1969 Greensboro Uprising, wherein the National Guard infiltrated the university after mass protests erupted over a student body election at the nearby all-Black James B. Dudley High School. The event has been described as “the most massive armed assault ever made against an American university” which left two A&T students dead and eighteen injured. Bellamy likely could never have imagined how prestigious the university would become nor the impact A&T would make on the Civil Rights Movement as a whole though he remained proud of his part in founding the university until his death.
In John Jr.’s 1942 autobiography, Memoirs of an Octogenarian, which he wrote during his last year of life, he boasted that, “many other bills...were passed” during his time in the General Assembly, but he only went into detail about his role in establishing A&T University explaining he “drafted the charter for the Negro Agricultural College at Greensboro.” John Jr. never explicitly stated why he suddenly supported SB12; if he was taking it on because he truly believed in a need for a Black college or if he was simply supporting it to secure federal funding for other colleges, but it is most likely at the intersection of myriad reasons he chose to support SB12. Regardless his motivations, the outcome is that A&T University is celebrating 130 years as North Carolina’s first institution for higher education for Black students, and we at the Bellamy Museum say, “Go Aggies!!”
This blog post is the product of current and ongoing research into John Jr.’s early political career.
Written by Taylor Klauk (UNCW Anthropology and History Intern)
Act of July 2, 1862 (Morrill Act), Public Law 37-108, which established land grant colleges, 07/02/1862; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789-1996; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives
“Journal of the Senate of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at its session of 1891.” North Carolina Senate Minutes, The Senate, 1891.
Lee, J.M. and Keys, S.W. (2013). Land-grant But Unequal: State One-to -One Match Funding for 1890 Land-grant Universities. (APLU Office of Access and Success publication no. 3000-PB1). Washington, DC: Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
Logan, Frenise. “Legislation Provided Key for A&T History.” News & Record (Greensboro, NC), Jan. 12, 1991.
“North Carolina A&T State University.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, September 4, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_A%26T_State_University#Civil_Rights_Movement.
pg. 103 of "Memoirs of an Octogenarian" https://digital.lib.ecu.edu/17041
If you have spent any time in the downtown Wilmington area, you have noticed wood plaques affixed to homes and buildings all around. The white, hand painted lettering reveals the building’s original owners and people of significance associated with it over time. Those plaques are part of a longstanding program of Historic Wilmington Foundation (HWF), a nonprofit organization which works to protect and preserve historic sites in New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick counties. This organization has long featured a plaque program where homeowners and business owners in historic buildings can apply and pay for a plaque detailing the brief history of that building. The plaque program in Wilmington is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the United States and helps fund the important preservation work done by HWF.
The plaque program committee--a group of volunteer historians, librarians, archivists, and lifelong Wilmingtonians--has recently expanded the program to include new plaque colors that will designate older buildings and homes. This year, the Bellamy Mansion Museum’s slave quarters and mansion will receive new golden yellow plaques, which designate them as at least 150 years old. The unveiling ceremony for the Museum’s new plaques will be on October 29th at 5 pm.
The Historic Wilmington Foundation was created in 1966 by a small group of local citizens who valued local built history and became determined to save it. The plaque program is just one of the ways that this organization helps to preserve local history. Currently, the HWF has given out over 670 plaques to commemorate the history of cottages, mansions, alleyways, beach bungalows, storefronts, and more throughout three Lower Cape Fear Region counties.
For decades, HWF has offered two different colored plaques to adorn historic buildings. A maroon plaque indicates that a building or structure is 75-99 years old, and a black plaque indicates that a structure is 100+ years old. The program also includes green plaques for historic alleyways and beige plaques for historic buildings at the local beaches. In the fall of 2019, the HWF added two more color designations: a golden yellow plaque to indicate a structure is 150-199 years old, and a blue plaque to indicate that a structure is 200+ years old. The Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens will unveil a blue plaque soon as it celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2020.
Plaques and the Bellamy Mansion Museum
The Bellamy mansion applied for its first plaque--a 100-year plaque--just a few months after officially opening as the Bellamy Mansion Museum in 1994. A draft of the original plaque, as well as the application submitted to the HWF’s plaque program committee can be found on the New Hanover County Public Library website in the Port City Architecture section. The Bellamy slave quarters received its first plaque in 2004. Both of these structures were originally adorned with black plaques, which indicated the buildings as over 100 years old. Since the Bellamy Mansion was built between 1859-1861, and its slave quarters built in 1859, the plaques have now been updated to a golden yellow color, which indicates them to be between 150-199 years old.
When asked about the significance of Historic Wilmington Foundation’s plaque program, Bellamy Mansion Museum’s Executive Director, Gareth Evans said, “It’s great value is the presentation of researched history, in context, right on the front of historic buildings. You can’t get much more direct in teaching history to the public than giving them the story right by the front door.”
Other Bellamy Plaques Around Wilmington
There are many other Bellamy related buildings around Wilmington that also have plaques such as the Grant-Thompson house right next door to the Bellamy Mansion Museum at 513 Market Street. Built in 1847 by James Thompson for local merchant James Grant. Robert R. Bellamy purchased, remodeled and enlarged the house in a Queen Anne style in 1890, and it remained in the family for fifty-six years. Today it houses the law firm of Kohut & Adams. At 121 S. 2nd Street stands the Ballard-Potter-Bellamy House built for Jethro Ballard in 1844 and acquired by Mary Bellamy, wife of William J.H. Bellamy, in 1884. This house remained in the Bellamy family for 80 years and remains a private residence.
A commercial building associated with the Bellamy family that boasts a plaque is the Robert R. Bellamy Building at 7 N. Front Street. Built as a rental property for Robert, it originally housed a boot and shoe store. The building remained in the Bellamy family until 1988 and today is the downtown location of Slainte Irish Pub. To find out more about the plaques around Wilmington, you can visit the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s interactive plaque map.
Interested in a Plaque for Your Home or Business?
To be eligible for a hand painted plaque from HWF, a property must first be 75 years of age or older. However, at Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Carolina Beach buildings more than 50 years old do qualify. If a building or property is of an age to qualify for a plaque, the application process can then begin. The plaque application on HWF’s website leads property owners through the process of researching the property and they have information on local researchers if the owner prefers to hire a professional to carry out their research. The cost for members of Historic Wilmington Foundation is $345 and non-members pay $395, but the plaque includes a family membership! Already have a plaque but need it repainted? HWF extends the member rate of $345 for anyone needing repainting or multiple copies of a plaque. If you have any questions, email Blair Middleton at HWF.
By Elizabeth Sutton, UNCW English intern
Historic Wilmington Foundation's website
Port City Architecture collection at New Hanover County Library
"Historic Wilmington Foundation to debut new markers for oldest structures," Star News, December 3, 2019.
COVID-19 has affected everyone in 2020. Most businesses shut down, and while some--such as restaurants--reopened within a few weeks, others--like salons, breweries, and libraries--had to wait for months. The Bellamy Mansion Museum closed down on March 17; the beginning of Phase 1 for North Carolina, and was not able to reopen for almost six months.
Due to the six-month closure, the Bellamy Mansion Museum lost between $25,000 and $40,000 a month, which is almost ⅔ earned income for the entire year. Other local museums and historic sites suffered from the closure too including the Cameron Art Museum, the Railroad Museum, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, Poplar Grove Plantation, the Latimer House, the Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens and even state sites like Fort Fisher and Brunswick-Town/Fort Anderson.
The spring and summer months are always the busiest season for local historic sites and museums, and those tourism dollars help sustain the non-profits through the fall and winter months. Rentals were cancelled. Planned events were postponed. And even now that the museums and historic sites are reopened, area tourism will likely not rebound fully for at least another year.
During the six-month closure, the four full time staff members at the Bellamy Mansion Museum worked from home, on maintenance at the museum, and on projects with their parent organization--Preservation North Carolina . The staff created a Distance Learning page at bellamymansion.org that includes a 3-dimensional virtual tour of the site along with relaunching the museum’s website with a brand new look. The staff also assisted Preservation North Carolina with its virtual “Shelter Series” of free webinars.
On September 11th the museum finally reopened to the public. While we are excited to be able to welcome visitors in person, there are some new COVID-19 procedures and protocols required for the museum to remain open. The new rules include:
The Bellamy Mansion Museum tour hours are Mondays-Saturdays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and Sundays from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. We are located at 503 Market Street, Wilmington, NC 28401.
Written by Carolyn Harris (UNCW student; Bellamy intern) and Leslie Randle-Morton.
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