jarvisburg school

The Historic Jarvisburg Colored School, shown in this 2014 file photo, is one of six sites included in the new African American Experience, a regional tourism initiative designed to connect people with Black heritage and historical sites that launches Saturday.

A regional tourism initiative designed to connect people with Black heritage and historical sites will kick off Saturday.

The African American Experience of Northeast North Carolina highlights the contributions of African Americans while encouraging a better understanding of the region’s cultural heritage.

The digital program is a collaborative effort by tourism officials in Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, Perquimans, Chowan and Dare counties.

Visit Elizabeth City Executive Director Corrina Ruffieux told City Council Monday night that each of the six counties has significant sites important to the African American community and to the history of the six counties.

Getting people to visit those sites will drive tourism and have an economic impact on the region, Ruffieux said.

“It is essentially a digital African American heritage and history trail,” she said. “Our mission is to inspire exploration and appreciation for the African American experience of Northeast North Carolina and ultimately drive cultural tourism and economic impact.”

Work on the project began almost a year ago and its launch is designed to coincide with “Juneteenth,” which is Saturday. Tourism officials in the six counties contributed resources to launch the digital effort.

Some of the African American Experience historical sites include the Pasquotank River, the Historic Jarvisburg Colored School in Currituck, the Colored Union Soldiers Monument in Perquimans, the Pea Island Cookhouse in Dare, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site in Chowan and Dismal Swamp State Park in Camden.

Ruffieux said there is no one single resource that currently links the many important African American historical sites in the six counties.

“We have an amazing amount of Black history and culture in all of Northeastern North Carolina,” Ruffieux said. “The AAE brings these sites together in an organized way to create a (digital) trail for those interested in experiencing this important regional heritage.”

Ruffieux noted that the Pasquotank River was the first in the country to receive the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom designation.

“That is pretty cool to be the first here in our little community,” Ruffieux said.

Tourism officials from the six counties formed an advisory committee of regional Black community members and historians that have significant knowledge of the African American experience to help design the digital platform, which includes a website, Facebook Page and Instagram account. Three Elizabeth City State University history professors — Melissa Stuckey, Charles Reed and Glen Bowman — have been the committee’s historical advisers.

“They’ve all been fabulous resources as local historic experts,” Ruffieux said.

She said the committee has been meeting every other week for four months to get the regional tourism initiative off the ground.

“We are very excited that this website is going live on Juneteenth,” Ruffieux said.

Juneteenth celebrates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. The Civil War ended in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news to Galveston, Texas.

Ruffieux said Saturday’s launch is just the beginning of the effort and that tourism officials will work to improve it moving forward.

That plan includes seeking grant funding or funding from other sources. Ruffieux asked City Council for a resolution of support to help seek that grant funding.

“This project is just in its infancy,” Ruffieux said. “This is a living and growing project.’’

Ruffieux told city officials that visiting the website, NCBlackHeritageTour.com., and social media sites will help boost the effort.

“Launching a new website is a heavy lift,” Ruffieux said. “It takes a while for Google to find it and we won’t come up initially unless everyone starts engaging and building the validity of the site.’’