Blackberry Memories of Charlotte’s Old Brooklyn

Blackberries & bookBy Tom Hanchett

On a short dead-end street off Stonewall Street behind Actors Theater, a green thicket yields an edible memory. Blackberries. The sweet fruit, ripening every June, almost certainly dates back to Charlotte’s vanished Brooklyn district.

Once upon a time Brooklyn thrived as the Queen City’s premier African American neighborhood. Black-owned businesses lined what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard and turned the corner onto Brevard Street. More than a dozen leading churches, including Friendship Baptist and the United House of Prayer for All People, mingled with poor families’ cottages and gracious homes of the well to do.

“Blackberry bushes and plum thickets grew abundantly,” Rose Leary Love recalled in her fond memoir of the neighborhood. A watercolor of her childhood home with its neat white picket fence – located near where the blackberry brambles grow today – adorns Plum Thickets and Field Daisies (1996), available on-line or in hard-copy from the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Rose’s father John S. Leary ranked among the black elite at the turn of the 20th century, an attorney who served in the North Carolina legislature. Charlotte’s African American lawyers association today is named the Leary Bar in his honor.

In the 1960s the Leary house and nearly every other building in Brooklyn fell to federally funded “slum clearance.” To be sure, Brooklyn included poverty and substandard housing. But in that racially segregated era, the white officials who targeted black neighborhoods failed to see their strengths, failed to understand the love they held.

Today you can see a fragment of lost Brooklyn a few blocks away on Brevard Street: the proud brick 1902 Grace AME Zion Church and the 1922 Mecklenburg Investment Company office building for African American professionals.

Or wander along the blackberry thicket and taste the love that someone planted so long ago.

Blackberry thicket
One-block street has no sign, but plug “776 S. Alexander Street” into GPS. Bushes are on public land bordering I277. Berries are there for the picking until they are gone.

foodheader
Center City & nearby
Carolina apple cider
Indian street food
Greens from South Carolina
Upstate NY Italian sausage
Swiss-German bakery
Blackberry memories of Brooklyn
Puerto Rican kabobs
South Boulevard, South Tryon & southward
Mexico meets Greece – holiday treats
Cuban box pig
Snack foods from India
SC meets Vietnam @ Lyly’s
El Rinconcito — El Salvador
Arepas Grill — Venezuela
Indian sweets for Diwali
Colombian soup
Korean at China Wing
Indian food in south Charlotte
Mexican take-out
Laurita Tamaleria — Mexican tamales
Fort Mill — real Chinese
Independence Boulevard, Monroe Road & environs
Taste Nigeria in east Charlotte
Korean BBQ
Brazilian bakery
Secret Greek grocery
Colombian BBQ & snacks
Detroit hot dogs
New York bagels
Halal Latino
Russian-Turkish Grocery
Iran Kabobs in Matthews
Ramen in Matthews
Peruvian comfort food

Central Av, Albemarle Road & vicinity
Family-style Ethiopian
Dominican street food
Jamaican black cake
Somali stew and sides
Schawarma from Jerusalem
Oriental buns
Greek pastry at Central Coffee
Bosnian sausages
‘Tis the Season for Champurrado
Latino bakery feeds a region
Taste Monterrey, Mexico
Tamales in Plaza Midwood
One restaurant, three Latino traditions

North Tryon, UNCC area & northward
Asian Moon Cakes
Mexican carnitas
Beef on Weck from Buffalo
Indo-Chinese
Dominican fruit shakes, pressed subs
Mexican ice cream
Louisiana Viet crawfish
Salvadoran comfort food
NYC pastries – Lake Norman
Vegetarian eats from south India
Westward
The Patio at Our Lady of Guadalupe
NC fish camps
Fried baloney
Grits & cornmeal
El Tamarindo
Laos in Kings Mountain