Johnny Robinson Jr. did not complain, nor did he frown Sunday afternoon when the rains began to dampen the fifth annual Lincoln City Reunion.
The 60-year-old simply pulled up a chair next to his dear friend Karen Dixon, 51, and began to reminisce about their days growing up in the East Kinston community that was washed away in 1999 by Hurricane Floyd’s floodwaters.
Lincoln City residents have battled bad weather before.
Many had to abandon their homes for good after Floyd, but they continue to return to Kinston year after year — many from cities and towns all across the country — to reunite in memories forever instilled in their hearts.
“You’re more Lincoln City than I am,” Dixon said to Robinson with a smile.
“We have a real connection with the families that we grew up with back then,” Robinson said as Dixon chuckled.
Robinson’s and Dixon’s flashbacks to their adventures in Lincoln City at 6- and 7-year-olds, respectively, account for only a handful of the thousands of stories told during the two-day reunion at Holloway Park.
More than 3,000 people — some from as far as Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, and Texas — attended the reunion to chime in with their fondest memories. A good many people showed up to hear the tales, said Earth Mumford, a member of the Lincoln City Reunion Steering Committee.
“We can’t contain it,” Mumford said of the event, which has seen steady growth since 2008, when 50 people attended its inaugural reunion at the city’s Georgia K. Battle Community Center. “They’re people who do not even know about Lincoln City, including one family from Charlotte, that have come just to see what we’re doing.”
Robinson knows all about Lincoln City. As a second grader, he and a group of friends would embark on adventures, many of the them to the old railroad trestle in the woods behind the neighborhood, next to the Neuse River.
They would camp, play marbles and hide-and-go-seek and sometimes the girls would sneak back there to try “to scare us, to be funny,” he said.
“I never had that much fun,” Dixon interjected.
This was Dixon’s fourth reunion, an event she said truly captures what a typically weekend in Lincoln City was like — children playing touch football and grown-ups grilling food.
Dixon can visualize in it her head, life along University Street, where the homes of her extended family lined the 1300 block all the way down to Forest Street.
“We were family,” she said.
By 1914, Lincoln City became the nucleus of Kinston’s black community during a time of great segregation. The neighborhood birthed more than three dozen of Kinston’s historic black businesses, some of which remain open today.
Mumford said the steering committee and the community has erected a “Hall of History,” full of artifacts, photos and writings chronicling the times of the iconic neighborhood.
Someday, the hope is to build a museum in the community’s honor. On Saturday, Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy put that plan into motion, proclaiming, on behalf of the city council, Memorial Day weekend will forever coincide with the Lincoln City Reunion.
He also presented its steering committee with a plaque for its dedication to preserving Lincoln City’s history.
Mumford said the symbol of appreciation — as well as the reunion — helped ease the pain of a community that lost “its home.”
Wesley Brown can be reached at 252-559-1075 or firstname.lastname@example.org.