Community

Until 1990, the oak-lined historic district of Wilmington, North Carolina, was ensconced within hundreds of square miles of wetlands that fed the Cape Fear River.  Two-lane highways that were prone to flooding barely reached the quaint riverfront that the railroads had abandoned decades before.  The completion of Interstate 40, in 1990,  beckoned a stream of visitors and developers that brought change to the region that has outpaced the infrastructure, over two decades later.

Tourists from the interior cities of Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, and Charlotte, would more frequently traverse this isolated backwater, on their way to beach vacations.  Attitudes towards race, religion, economics, and social norms that had not been directly confronted by external realities since Reconstruction, would soon be challenged by the sheer volume of vehicles entering the city with their human cargo.  Eventually, a film studio emerged from the black earth of the Smith Creek watershed, as if it had been smuggled the full length of I-40, by the California transplants that came with it.

Near the sprawling State Ports of the Cape Fear, the Park View Grill overlooked the spillway of Greenfield Lake, as it had for decades, with a fresh look, and a different clientele.  The visibility of this small bar made it quite accessible to those who steered through the 90-degree bend, where 3rd Street became Carolina Beach Road, in search of a beer and a game of pool.  

 

In 1990, few resources for gay people existed in Southeastern North Carolina, though a local advocacy organization, GROW, had made early progress in collecting information on hate crimes, in an effort to inform and motivate the criminal justice system.  The bars were the only places where LGBT individuals, from the largely isolated rural areas surrounding Wilmington, could sociallize and share information, in relative safety.

 

In the 1980s, particularly, this community had witnessed a seemingly continual string of violent crimes that were motivated by intolerance towards sexual minorities.  Not coincidentally, the mood of the nation had become immersed in conservative rhetoric that gave credence to the homophobic rants of public figures like Anita Bryant.  The murder of Talana Kreeger shattered the tenuous sense of security that had existed at the Park View Grill, further alienating a group of people who were already isolated in their families and their community.
  

 

“We wanted to have a place where we could marry you, and bury you.”

Frank Harr
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