Warm Molasses Bread… and Love On Freeman Beach
When I think of the beach, I think of standing in the sand as the water waves over my feet, and the tide threatens to pull me in like some invisible surfboard that tingles between my toes. Looking into the distance at the fading sails and bright rays of sun, I think of Freeman Beach.
Freeman Beach or Seabreeze, a coastal town in Wilmington North Carolina, was a popular beach resort for African Americans from the 1920s to 1960s, as they were forbidden to visit any other beaches in the state during the Jim Crow era. Founded by a free man of color named Alexander Freeman, its origins are a story in and of itself. There's an account of a great Seminole nation war chief, born of Native and African blood, who Alexander Freeman and his family supposedly descended from.
That I'm unsure of, however I do know of Doris and the love she found on Freeman Beach.
Due to it's popularity gained somewhat out of necessity, thousands flocked to Seabreeze. During the summers, church groups and school camps came on buses and took root on the shores of what was commonly knows as "Bop City". All in search of fun and vacation, a place to relax and escape the despotism of segregation. Doris was a young woman (some distant cousin of mine) spent time in Seabreeze with her family, which consisted of 4 sisters including her.
One summer somewhere on top of the wooden dance floor of a local piccolo (Juke Joint) she met Sam, a tall man who had all the right moves. His smile was infectious and his appeal was hypnotizing. They would spend the entire time Doris was there…together, riding Ferris wheels and hanging off boat piers, her sneaking away from family gatherings and him always being on time.
When it was ultimately time to leave, they made plans to meet again on the shores of Seabreeze, to which they did that next year after numerous exchanges via long love letters. Sam introduced her to Ms. Sally Wade’s hot clam fritters, while they sang along to Fat's Dominos "Aint that a shame", streaming from the Juke Joint a few steps away.
Alas, things must come to an end. They departed again with plans to reunite. Then like an angry mob, Hurricane Hazel blew through the beloved seaside town, leaving devastating demise in its wake. Buildings were destroyed and ultimately never replaced. Doris went on continuing to write to Sam, who’d since enlisted in the Army.
At first a reunion seemed hopeful. Then letters eventually went unanswered and Doris became the last of her sisters to be un-wed. A year would pass with no sign of Sam and much like what used to be the bustling shores of Seabreeze, their relationship became desolate, nothing but an old legend for folks to share. But there’s truth to this story, just like there’s truth to the account of Freeman Beach. All past down from person to person within my family, along with the recipe for cousin Doris’s warm molasses bread.
The town of Seabreeze is a small strip of land that runs alongside Carolina Beach in Wilmington, NC. Being from North Carolina, I heard numerous tales of Freeman Beach/Sebreeze, but to my astonishment, the history of this place seems to have washed away like the debris left behind after the hurricanes.
I never had the pleasure of meeting the lovely love-struck Doris, however her recipe for warm sweet bread with hints of molasses and the rich flavor of chocolate is one that I use often. Her recipe carries her story and that of the people who found freedom and love on the shores of Freeman Beach.
Warm Molasses Bread
Prep Time: 30 mins Cook Time: 1 Hr Yield: 6-8 servings
Adapted from my grandmothers hand written notes.
2 cups self-rising flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick of butter, melted
½ cup molasses
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 350
In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the butter, molasses, and sugar. Pour the boiling water over molasses mixture, stirring to combine all ingredients. Once the mixture has cooled, add in the flour mixture and the eggs, mixing to incorporate all the ingredients together. Pour the batter into a 1lb loaf pan and bake at 350 for about 1 hour. This bread is best served warm, but you can allow it to cool on a wire rack before slicing.