Johnston County Heritage Center Opens Exhibit, Shows Important Documentary

Johnston County Heritage Center, Smithfield, North Carolina. Photo: Kay Whatley
Johnston County Heritage Center, Smithfield, North Carolina. Photo: Kay Whatley

The Johnston County Heritage Center unveiled a new exhibit on February 9, 2019, with an introductory presentation and special movie screening.

The new exhibit, Building the Black Community, 1865-1900, covers the time of slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation through to the turn of the century. Said Heritage Center Director Todd Johnson:

“The story told in this exhibit goes from jubilation to utter tragedy in three short decades. We try not to overlook anything that’s important, good and bad, because there are important lessons in both.”

Johnson talked about Alex Manley, who is credited (though it’s unproven) with writing an editorial against lynching in his Wilmington newspaper, the offices of which were burned during the Wilmington, NC coup d’état in 1898. Manley was born in Raleigh and grew up in Selma, NC. One of his descendants is featured in the documentary screened as part of the exhibit opening.

The documentary film, Wilmington on Fire, was shown at the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield, which is across the street from the Heritage Center. This documentary tells the story of the Wilmington Race Riot in 1898. It includes coverage of events, politics and racism, white supremacy in North Carolina, and how propaganda was used to turn the public against black members of the community. The documentary is a lesson on history, one that needs to be learned as racism — and propaganda against people of color — continues today.

Johnson said that the Heritage Center was planning to donate a Wilmington on Fire DVD to the library.

Johnston County Heritage Center is located at 241 E Market Street, Smithfield, North Carolina. The exhibit will be on display through to summer months. The Heritage Center is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm, and closed on Sundays. Admission is free, and the public is invited. Stop by and check out this NC-history exhibit.

Visit for details. Follow the Johnston County Heritage Center Facebook page for updates.

Wilmington on Fire film information may be found here. Follow the official Facebook page for upcoming screenings.


coup d’état is an overthrow of the official government, usually through violence.


propaganda is promotion of biased, twisted ideas/images used to drive people toward (or against) a cause or group.


Ed. Note: At the exhibit opening, Johnson also mentioned that more information needs to be shared (researched) on race-related happenings from the Civil War era through the Civil Rights era. It is unknown at this time if that might be incorporated in a future exhibit.

In the meantime, go check out the current exhibit and find a screening of Wilmington on Fire.

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About Kay Whatley 2309 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.