BEAUFORT — Curtis Oden is a walking and talking encyclopedia of Beaufort’s Black history.
He’ll share that knowledge at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept 5, on the vintage double decker bus tour.
“I enjoy it,” Mr. Oden said. “It’s my third year doing it, and it’s gone well so far.”
The informative tour will cover over 25 sites and take off from the Beaufort Historic Site at 130 Turner Street. The bus will travel through downtown Beaufort while Oden points out historic sites such as churches, stores, and details residents who have been influential in shaping Black history in Beaufort.
“It’s such a great view of Beaufort, the whole history of Beaufort, not just the Front Street view, but the other history,” Beaufort Historic Site Executive Director Patricia Suggs said. “It’s a special tour. Curtis knows everything there is to know about the Black history of Beaufort. He points out so many areas, and he’s such a great speaker.”
Mr. Oden, 66, grew up on Marsh Street, or what was called “New Town.” There is a boundary marker on the northwest corner of Front and Pollock streets defining “Old Town” and “New Town.”
“We were the ‘Town Boys,’” he said. “And there used to be a saw mill on Craven Street, and around there we called them the ‘Hill Boys.’ We would play baseball and football in a field there, which is now the housing authority. We had it pretty good coming up in Beaufort.”
Mr. Oden talked of watching movies at the Beaufort theater on Front Street – Blacks sat in the balcony while whites sat on the main level – and attending social gatherings at the town’s Black beach where Lennoxville Point is now located.
His family has a long history in Beaufort, going back to the 1890s. His great-grandfather, Collins Oden, had one of the first Black-owned businesses, operating a shoe shop with Adam Wright that sat next to the Josiah Bell House on Turner Street.
His relatives weren’t the only ones who ran Black-owned businesses in the area. Just down the road on Front Street was a blacksmith shop that was owned by Jeremiah Fisher. On that same street was the Sam Lipman Convenience Store.
“There were not many Black business people back then,” Mr. Oden said. “Most were fishermen. Harvey Smith owned 55 shad boats. They would make fish meal and different products from the menhaden in the heyday of Beaufort. That produced a lot of jobs.”
Three generations of his family worked for Dr. Charles Duncan on the northeast corner of Front and Turner streets, including his great-great-grandmother, great-grandmother and mother.
His father was a menhaden fisherman in New York, and then later a deck engineer on the Duke University research vessel Eastward that discovered the long-sunken Civil War Union ironclad Monitor in 1973.
“My parents raised six children, we all went to college and got good jobs,” Mr. Oden said.
A member of the first integrated class at East Carteret High School, he graduated from N.C. A&T State University with a biology degree, and spent 39 years at the Carteret County Health Department as an environmental health program specialist.
Also an ordained minister with the AME Zion Church for the past 13 years, he grew up attending Purvis Chapel (then a Methodist church) under the large live oak trees at Craven and Broad streets.
“The Blacks sat up in the balcony,” Mr. Oden said. “The white people sat on the main level. There was a joke that one time somebody got religion and started shouting and fell off the balcony and was hanging by a chandelier.”
The church is in the National Heritage Registry and is recognized as the second church to join the AME Zion Church in the South in 1864. The church building, built in 1820, is also believed to be the oldest in the county that’s still in use.