Honoring History

Fuquay-Varina’s documentary series earns national award

Sherrelldine Perkins and Arone Lee Brown reminisce about their father, James Brown, Fuquay-Varina's first black police officer.

The Town of Fuquay-Varina video series entitled Fuquay-Varina Firsts: Celebrating Black History won a national award from the City-County Communications & Marketing Association (3CMA) last year.

Yep, a national award — besting efforts from places like Austin County, TX; Glendale, AZ; and Overland Park, KS, by taking home first place in the Education/Training Video category and the prestigious Diamond Award, representing the best of the best of the 3CMA’s annual Savvy Awards.

“We are so proud of these accomplishments,” says Fuquay-Varina Mayor Blake Massengill. “To win the national award is humbling. We spoke from our hearts; it’s icing on the cake to win.”

Since his election in 2021, Mayor Massengill has been an advocate for honoring African American history, beginning with signing a proclamation to make February officially Black History Month in Fuquay-Varina shortly after taking office.

Forrest Newkirk recounts his experience as Fuquay’s first black fireman.

“I wanted to do something more,” he says. “You hear a lot of talk about Black History Month at the state and federal level, but it can be tough to recognize African American accomplishments locally. (The video series) is a chance for the public to really understand the impacts that were made locally.”

Massengill, working with the town’s Communications Director Susan Weis, amassed a team of community stakeholders, a variety of residents connected to the town’s history and accomplishments, and together developed the idea for the award-winning video series Fuquay-Varina Firsts: Celebrating Black History.

The stakeholder team researched and brainstormed six “firsts” to recognize, leaning on personal connections and oral history to pull together the stories of pioneering African American community leaders and organizations.

Fuquay-Varina Firsts: Celebrating Black History Series

Award-winning video series details the contributions of these pioneering African American leaders:

Forrest Newkirk, first Black volunteer fireman
James Brown, first Black police officer
Fuquay Consolidated High School, first Black school
William Freeman, first Black elected town official
New Providence Missionary Baptist Church, first Black church (circa 1860)
Trice Funeral Home, longest running Black-owned business

“It’s good to see our people, African Americans, be recognized in the town of Fuquay for what we have offered. I think a lot of that probably had been overlooked,” says Orlean Burt Newton, a longtime Fuquay-Varina resident who serves on the stakeholders group, as well as on the board for the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Association and as docent at the Fuquay-Varina History Museums.

“There are a lot of firsts among the Black community. I’m delighted to be a part of such a group. We’re focused on continuing to educate people,” Newton says.

Fuquay-Varina Firsts debuted during Black History Month 2023, as a seven-part series, including one introductory video and six mini-documentaries celebrating African American pioneers like James Brown, the first Black police officer; Trice Funeral Home, the longest-running Black-owned business; and New Providence Missionary Baptist Church, the first organized Black church in Fuquay-Varina, founded more than 163 years ago.

“This project was an incredible opportunity to document the history of pioneering African Americans in our town. Much of it until now passed only verbally within the community,” says Weis.

“Living in Fuquay-Varina all my life, I didn’t know the whole history,” says Massengill. “Through this project, I learned history by listening to individuals with a personal connection to the stories. I’m learning new information about the town even now.”

In early February, the project’s second installment, a story map detailing 25 historical landmarks within the Black community, goes live. Landmarks include Pine Acres Community Center, Burt Cafe, Rogers Soda Shop, Fuquay Consolidated School, and many others.

The team behind Fuquay-Varina Firsts showcases the 3CMA Diamond Award at a town council meeting. Fuquay-Varina Firsts earned a perfect score at the annual Savvy Awards.

“Most of them are in the Lincoln Heights community, but some fall outside,” says Weis. “These landmarks are explored through photos, historical factual accounts, and storytelling.

“We are fortunate to get to experience some of the landmarks through the video storytelling of a few folks who share their personal accounts, some as old as 94,” Weis says.

The story map and Fuquay-Varina Firsts: Celebrating Black History videos can be accessed via the town’s website. Each video is two minutes or less.

“With 43,000 people in town now, this lets people know how we got here — a great chance to highlight important contributions in the community,” says Massengill.


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