Wilmington’s only museum for Black history works to ‘restore a community’s self-esteem’

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Located on North Seventh Street in downtown Wilmington’s Northside neighborhood, the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation is the first and only museum in town dedicated to local Black history. Its founding by director and founder Islah Speller goes back to 2006. But Speller said the foundation’s roots can be traced back to the late 1990s, when she and her husband, Damiyr Speller, moved downtown from the suburbs near College Park Elementary School. “It was a culture shock for us,” Islah Speller said, and she and her husband became focused on protecting her sons from the violence and drugs that had taken hold in the economically depressed Northside neighborhood in the 1990s. “Their susceptibility, as young Black men, was very great.” Unknown to her at the time, Speller said, the house they moved into was built in 1919 for Foster F. Burnett, a prominent Black Wilmington physician who was also the father-in-law of fellow doctor and civil rights activist Hubert Eaton Sr., who married Burnett’s daughter, Celeste. Eaton’s first home in Wilmington was the house at 410 N. 7th St. where the Burnett-Eaton Museum is located. Once she found out about the house’s former inhabitants, said Speller, a trained nurse and graduate of...