Thursday, July 08, 2010

Save Freeman Beach

Freeman Beach is a historically black-owned 180 acres of undeveloped beachfront property located at the north end of Carolina Beach. It has been owned for over 150 years by the descendents of Alexander Freeman, a notable free black man from North Carolina. During the Jim Crow years in the South, Freeman Beach was the only beach accessible to African Americans and developed rich cultural traditions and history.

In its glory days, Freeman Beach was often called “Bop City.” People came from miles around for clam fritters, wooden dance floors, jukeboxes, and good times. Located on the southeastern coast of North Carolina, Freeman Beach was the only beach available to African-Americans in North Carolina for more than 50 years. Blacks were not permitted to swim at nearby Carolina Beach or at other beaches in the Wilmington area. Thus, Freeman Beach became the place the black community congregated to vacation, relax, and play.

Freeman Beach is the namesake of the Freeman family, African-Americans who lived across the intercoastal waterway in a town called Seabreeze. The original 99 acres near Myrtle Beach Sound were bought by Alexander Freeman, a freed slave, in 1855 and grew to 180 acres by the time of his death.

As the property passes to each new generation, the interests become increasingly fractionalized, resulting in a large number of people having an ownership interest in the same piece of land. Fractionalized interests in land are particularly prominent amongst African-Americans living in rural areas; approximately 80% do not have estate plans. Because of the number of heirs owning fractionalized interests in the property and the fact that tenants in common may transfer their interest at any time, families owning heirs’ property are vulnerable to losing it to developers or more affluent owners. The loss of heirs’ property commonly occurs through bankruptcy proceedings, creditors’ judgments, tax sales, foreclosure, adverse possession, and partition sales. Partition sales are a court ordered sale of land that can be forced by the action of just one party with an interest in the land. These sales result in the highest bidder becoming the property owner; it is not uncommon for the land to be sold to someone outside of the family. Furthermore, land is generally sold at a fraction of its actual value and the amount re-cooped by family members is reduced by costs associated with the sale and attorney’s fees.

In October of 2008, a development company called Freeman Beach LLC filed a petition for partition, claiming they had a majority interest in the land. is a project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

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