Neighborhood history around Johnson C. Smith University

jcsu_125by Tom Hanchett, Levine Museum of the New South

Originally published in Ron Stodghill, editor, Let There Be Light: Exploring How Charlotte’s Historic West End is Shaping a New South (Charlotte, N.C.: Johnson C. Smith University, 2014).

This on-line version, slightly updated, was posted January 25, 2015.

 

Johnson C. Smith University interacts with a surrounding neighborhood that is alive with possibility. The recently opened Mosaic Village and the JCSU Arts Center catch attention even before visitors arrive at campus. Residential areas that were economically challenged and entirely African American a generation ago are now attracting residents of ethnic and income diversity. Today’s Charlotte leaders talk of a new streetcar line to connect JCSU firmly with Johnson & Wales University, the bustling Center City and Government Center, Central Piedmont Community College and Presbyterian Hospital, all strung like beads along Trade Street.

As the area rushes toward the future, it is valuable to look at the resources that the past provides. History is strong here, from the cozy streets of Biddleville that date back into the 1870s, to the handsome 1920s bungalows of Wesley Heights, to the “mid-century modern” dwellings of McCrorey Heights and University Park. There is adversity – including a Civil Rights era house bombing – and also a long legacy of African American achievement. Stories of important residents offer role models: education pioneers George and Marie G. Davis, businessmen Jimmy McKee and John McDonald, political leaders Fred Alexander and Sarah Stevenson, civil rights stalwarts Kelly Alexander and Reginald Hawkins, national sit-in activist Charles Jones and more. Economic energy, racial diversity – and even that streetcar line – all have roots deep in neighborhood history.

This chapter looks first at the Johnson C. Smith campus, then at the residential areas it helped bring to life. Much like growth rings in a tree trunk, neighborhoods become newer as you move outward. Starting at Interstate 77, we’ll follow West Trade Street up to campus, then bear right onto Beatties Ford Road and continue outward to Interstate 85. That two mile stretch of West Trade/Beatties Ford Road and the neighborhoods that touch it might just be the most historic corridor in Charlotte.

* * *

In the beginning: The campus, Biddleville and Seversville

The tap-root of this part of Charlotte is, not surprisingly, Johnson C. Smith University itself. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Presbyterian elders in Charlotte formed a plan to build a school to educate leaders among the formerly enslaved African Americans. It was a large population, forty percent of Mecklenburg County. Railroads were just reaching into the rolling hills of the North Carolina/South Carolina piedmont, bringing an era of prosperity and growth to the fledgling New South city of Charlotte. The school trustees took custody of wooden buildings that had been part of the Confederate Naval Yard close to the site of today’s Epicenter complex in the heart of the city. Col. William R. Myers offered a prominent hilltop site just west of Charlotte’s border and the buildings were moved there. The widow of a Union soldier, Henry J. Biddle of Pennsylvania who had died fighting for freedom of African Americans, gave a substantial gift and the fledgling school became Biddle Institute in his honor.1

The institution hit its stride in the 1920s under the leadership of Henry L. McCrorey. The Duke Endowment came aboard as a major underwriter. Established by cigarette and electricity magnate James B. Duke, it continues to aid Duke University, Davidson College, Furman University and JCSU. President McCrorey also secured funding from the estate of Johnson Crayne Smith, a white Pittsburgh industrialist. In 1923 the college took the name Johnson C. Smith University.2

Important campus buildings mark that early history and also point to the University’s continuing vitality.

  • Biddle Hall, dedicated on April 30, 1884, boasts a proud brick clocktower and elaborate Victorian roofline, the most impressive building of its era in Charlotte.3 This one structure originally held nearly all of the school’s classrooms. “Sit Lux” – let there be light – proclaims the cornerstone. Look for the crosses worked into the brick of the rear auditorium which served as the chapel of this Presbyterian institution.
  • Behind Biddle Hall, find the 1895 Carter Hall dormitory, named for donor Mary Carter of Geneva, New York. Students themselves constructed its brick walls and four massive corner turrets.
  • The Carnegie Building in front of Biddle Hall was the college’s first purpose-built library, a 1912 design distinguished by NeoClassical style columns and terra cotta trim inspired by ancient Greek temples.4 Famous steel king Andrew Carnegie of Pittsburgh put up the cash, part of his matching grant program that planted libraries all over the U.S.
  • Mrs. Johnson C. Smith’s large gift in the 1920s enabled construction of the stone entrance arch at the south edge of campus and the columned Chapel behind it.5 Also around this time came the George E. Davis Science Building (1922), honoring the University’s first African American professor.
  • Also in the 1920s the Duke Endowment made JCSU an ongoing beneficiary. Duke Library (1967) by architect A.G. Odell with later renovations by Harvey Gantt (1999) honors that gift.
  • Gantt, important as Charlotte’s first black architect as well as the city’s first African American mayor, contributed the design of the Robert L. Albright Honors College, 1990, an early example of post-modern architecture in the city.6
  • In 2003 the Irwin Belk Complex opened, its huge Golden Bull statue looking out across the stadium field toward Charlotte’s glistening skyline.
Biddle Hall, left, and Carnegie Library, right. (Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)
Biddle Hall, left, and Carnegie Library, right.
(Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)

 

As Biddle Institute got underway, its first president Rev. Stephen Mattoon bought land in 1871 across Beatties Ford Road so that his teachers could build homes convenient to their work.7 Beatties Ford Road was old, a route from Charlotte to a shallow spot (a ford) in the Catawba River where wagons could roll across.8 The new blocks of Biddleville paralleled it: Campus Street and Solomon Street plus cross-avenues of Dixon, Mill, Cemetery, French and Mattoon streets. A landmark here is the brick sanctuary built by Mount Carmel Baptist Church in 1918, designed by Charlotte’s leading white architect Louis Asbury to replace an 1870s frame structure. Around it, old wooden dwellings provide character, most dating back to the early twentieth century, their front porches set close enough to the street for easy conversation with passersby.

Three brick houses, each two stories tall, catch the eye across Beatties Ford Road from the main campus. The two closest to Beatties Ford were erected in the 1920s for rental to college teachers, a recruitment incentive in an era when cash salaries were skimpy at small colleges. Behind them at Campus and Dixon streets is the large Late Victorian style dwelling (circa 1891) owned by Dr. George E. and Marie G. Davis, an officially designated Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.9

Mt. Carmel Baptist Church photographed in the 1980s. (Photo by Tom Hanchett)
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church photographed in the 1980s.
(Photo by Tom Hanchett)
Dr. George & Marie G. Davis House, photographed in the 1980s. (Photo by Tom Hanchett)
Dr. George & Marie G. Davis House, photographed in the 1980s.
(Photo by Tom Hanchett)

George Davis, born in Wilmington, NC, and educated at Biddle Institute and Howard University, came back to Smith in 1885 as its first black professor. He taught natural science and sociology, served as Dean of Faculty for many years, and also organized the track team. His wife Marie G. Davis was an elementary school teacher and a principal at the time when few women held such positions. Marie G. Davis Elementary School off South Tryon Street honors her memory and the George Davis Building on JSCU’s campus honors his. After retiring from Smith, Dr. Davis took on fundraising for the Rosenwald School program statewide. Davis helped local black communities come up with dollars to match a philanthropic gift by Sears, Roebuck and Company co-founder Julius Rosenwald. More than 5000 Rosenwald school buildings went up across the rural South from the 1910s into the early 1930s, with the largest number – 813 – in North Carolina, a testament to Dr. Davis’s energy.

Biddleville was an African American area but whites lived nearby as well. A rural settlement known as Seversville clustered along the south side of West Trade Street, on the left just before visitors from town reached the campus. Henry G. Severs (1842 – 1915) ran a country store. He is buried in Charlotte’s Elmwood Cemetery with an elaborate stone grave marker in the shape of a log cabin. Today’s Bruns Elementary School and nearby Bruns Avenue, Duckworth Avenue, Auten Street and Katonah Avenue are in the old Seversville vicinity.

Black and white together: Western Heights, Wesley Heights and Smallwood

The pattern of whites as well as blacks settling near Johnson C. Smith University continued for many years.10 As suburbs reached out to engulf the Seversville and Biddleville settlements, they initially welcomed both races. It would not be until well after World War II that this area would become the “black side of town.”

In 1891, the same year that Dr. Davis built his house, a technological innovation debuted in Charlotte which would transform Biddleville from an isolated settlement into a suburb. On May 20, 1891, citizens cheered as Charlotte’s first electric streetcars began running along Tryon Street, the city’s main business avenue.11 At Morehead Street the cars turned left and headed out to Dilworth, a new residential district rising in former farm fields. Edward Dilworth Latta developed both the streetcar system and Dilworth, not surprisingly. His investment kicked off a rush to build “streetcar suburbs” all around Charlotte’s rim, a trend seen in every American city during the 1890s.

Western Heights marked the start of suburbanization in the JCSU vicinity, a neighborhood open to both whites and African Americans.12 W. L. Alexander, a white real estate developer who also created the Elizabeth streetcar suburb east of town, bought the triangular plot of land just below the Biddle campus in 1893 and laid out what are now Martin, Frazier, Summit, Flint and Wake streets. In the first year one black person and half a dozen whites bought lots. In the second year, Charlotte’s leading African American entrepreneur D.J. Sanders purchased several lots for resale and whites kept buying. By the time the City Directory began covering the streets in the 1910s, black families tended to live close to campus, whites closer to town, but still sometimes sharing the same block.

album_coverTrolley tracks reached Western Heights along West Trade Street in 1903 and climbed the hill to the University and Biddleville in 1906. Prosperous African Americans chose to reside here and commute into town so that their children could benefit from the university environment. City directories of the 1910s listed skilled artisans and several public school teachers – some of the highest, most stable jobs open to African Americans – including the principals of Second Ward High and Alexander Street School, both located across town. Napoleon Brown, a Baptist deacon’s son who would go on to fame as a gospel and blues recording artist, later recalled, “When you said you lived in Biddleville, that was it!”

Mamie Garvin Fields, an African American schoolteacher who moved into 214 Flint Street with her skilled brick mason husband in 1914, recalled life in the up-and-coming suburb of Western Heights. Houses were small by today’s standards but decidedly middle-class by the measure of the 1910s:

The people we knew were progressive. They believed in education, and they believed in buying property. Especially they wanted to own their own houses. Some built other houses, too, for investment, which is how we got the first house we lived in together. I kept hearing about a fine, new development where Negroes were building, and about one little cottage in particular. A certain Professor Douglass, who taught at Biddle University, was building a cottage to rent out…
That little cottage was the perfect “honeymoon house.” Looking in through the windows, we saw a parlor, dining room, kitchen and two bedrooms, all on one floor – just enough room for a young couple and any guest we wanted to have…. Very romantic, like a picture out of a magazine.13

Fields remembered white neighbors “very near,” not always an entirely comfortable coexistence. “They might say ‘Howdy-do’ at your door, but they would notice what you had, and some were begrudgeful.” By the 1920s whites gradually left Western Heights and it became entirely African American.

Other parts of the suburbanizing area remained white long past the 1920s, notably Wesley Heights. E.C. Griffith, who later created the posh Eastover district of southeast Charlotte, began platting streets on the former dairy farm of George Pierce Wadsworth sometime around the end of the 1910s. During the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, Summit Avenue, Grandin Road, Walnut Avenue, Heathcliff and Woodruff running between West Trade Street and Morehead Street filled with fashionable bungalows.14 The streetscapes closely resembled those of Dilworth across town and indeed both neighborhoods attracted white middle-class buyers. The Piedmont and Northern interurban, an electric railroad owned by Duke Power, ran through the neighborhood where today’s greenway is, providing residents with a quick commute to uptown, a convenient supplement to the trolley on West Trade Street. Hillside views of the Charlotte skyline also made the neighborhood desirable. Wesley Heights continued all-white into the 1960s when demolition of in-town neighborhoods such as Brooklyn pushed black people outward.

Smallwood Homes/Roslyn Heights also experienced that 1960s transition. The neighborhood along Rozelles Ferry Road, Roslyn Avenue and Seldon Drive was built later than Wesley Heights and for less prosperous buyers. Some houses date from the 1900s – 1920s but many of the small wooden homes went up in the late 1940s, one of the first subdivisions constructed by prolific developer Charles Ervin.15 The neighborhood’s most notable resident lives at West Trade Street and Solomon Street. J. Charles Jones learned civil rights activism from his parents, both teachers at Johnson C. Smith University, and in 1960 he became spokesperson for Charlotte’s Sit-In Movement. Jones went on to help start the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and worked with local black activists in Rock Hill, South Carolina, McComb, Mississippi, and Albany, Georgia, before returning to Charlotte for a career as an attorney.16

To the end of the streetcar line: The Grand, the Excelsior and Washington Heights

By the 1910s the Trade Street/Beatties Ford Road streetcar track ran beyond JCSU as far as the corner of Oaklawn Avenue where the line terminated. Stores and other businesses began clustering at “The End,” as folks called it even after the trolleys gave way to buses in 1938. Club Bali drew revelers seven nights week in the 1950s, a jazz spot run by “Flat Tire” Mason, a drummer who stood less than five feet tall. There’d be fried chicken, pork chop sandwiches and ‘set-ups’ for bring-your-own alcohol, plus dancing to the jukebox or Flat Tire’s band. Former barmaid and manager Edith Shearin later recalled to writer Meg Whalen, “On Sundays there’d be people outside standing in line to make sure they’d get a seat.”17 When the Brookshire Freeway sliced thru in the 1960s, it wiped out nearly all the businesses and also took Biddleville Elementary School.18

Two landmark buildings remain to give a hint of what “The End” must have been like in its heyday. The two-story brick Grand Theater went up in 1937, one of several neighborhood movie houses situated along Charlotte’s suburban streetcar lines in that decade.19 Today its lighted marquee is gone and it has become an apartment house. The Excelsior Club still boasts exuberant Art Moderne architecture with a flat roof and an elegant metal canopy extending out to the street. Jimmy McKee and his wife started it in the 1940s. Black veterans were returning from Europe where they had helped defeat Adolf Hitler and his absurd notion of an “Aryan master race”– but back in Charlotte they were still barred from the city’s elite clubs. So they created their own.

The Excelsior Club. At lower right, meeting of Elites Social Club at the Excelsior. (Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)
The Excelsior Club. At lower right, meeting of Elites Social Club at the Excelsior.
(Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)

The Excelsior became a mecca for music with national headliners such as Nat King Cole.20 Local player Wilbert Harrison went from the Excelsior Club to national fame with his hit “Kansas City.” Community leader “Genial Gene” Potts, beloved WGIV radio host, made the club his informal base of operations. After Jimmy McKee’s death, local television personality Ken Koontz made sure the institution would continue and in the 2000s and 2010s noted Civil Rights attorney James Ferguson and his family extended the legacy.

Behind the Excelsior Club lies the neighborhood of Washington Heights, one of the few – if not the only – African American “streetcar suburbs” in America.21 A group of white investors led by Walter S. Alexander, who was just completing the Elizabeth neighborhood across town, teamed up with black businessman C.H. Watson to plat the suburb in 1913. Names of the avenues celebrated black leaders: Booker for Booker T. Washington, Sanders for Charlotte’s “colored financier” J. T. Sanders or perhaps for JCSU’s first black president D.J. Sanders, Davis (now Dundeen) for pioneering black professor George E. Davis. Watson helped put together a booklet Colored Charlotte in 1915 to mark the progress of black people in Charlotte in the fifty years since the end of slavery and he made sure to include photographs of Washington Heights:

“This suburb, is about two miles from the heart of the city, with streetcar lines running through it. It is high and dry, being the highest point around Charlotte. It has beautiful streets convenient to churches and schools. In this suburb is to be found some of the best people and some of the handsomest homes to be found in any part of Charlotte.”22

Some 160 families lived in Washington Heights by the time that city directories began covering this distant edge of the city in 1931.23  Nearly all were “middle-class” by standards of African American life in that era. Few black Southerners were able to find professional jobs in the face of segregation; being middle-class meant holding any stable, long term position. Half a dozen ministers of major downtown churches lived in Washington Heights, clearly in the “professional” category. One was Reverend W.H. Davenport, Editor of the Star of Zion, the Charlotte-based national newspaper of the A.M.E. Zion religion, who occupied the large two-story brick residence that stands at 1223 Beatties Ford Road. Neighbors included Luther Howard at 2415 Booker Avenue, bell captain at the elegant new Hotel Charlotte downtown, and Samuel Peterson at 2305 Dundeen Street, headwaiter at the posh Stonewall Cafe in downtown’s Stonewall Hotel. At least half a dozen others worked for the Southern Railway, likely riding the trolley down to the railroad yards near West Trade and Graham streets: machinist helper M.L. Dunham who owned 2316 Booker Avenue, porter L.C. Boger listed at 2214 Celia Street, H.V. Allen at 2301 Celia Street, Lewis Hefner at 2216 Dundeen Street, John Lyles at 2320 Booker Avenue, and cashier J.C. Nelson who owned 2215 Sanders Avenue.

Fashionable and secluded: McCrorey Heights

Pres. H.L. McCrorey (Johnson C. Smith University)
Pres. H.L. McCrorey
(Johnson C. Smith University)

President H. L. McCrorey not only transformed Biddle University into Johnson C. Smith University through his vision and fund-raising, he also created the prestigious neighborhood of McCrorey Heights along the north side of Beatties Ford Road beyond the campus. As early as 1912 he had a grid of streets laid out. A handful of dwellings on Oaklawn Avenue date from that first stab at development, notably the Dr. Henry Greene House erected in 1936 in a Colonial Revival mode by a leading physician.23 But it would not be until forty years later, at the very end of President McCrorey’s life, that the dream of a stylish black residential district would become reality.

In 1949 as the United States struggled out of a two-decade housing slump caused by the Depression and World War II, McCrorey Heights at last took shape. A new plat map filed at the Courthouse showed patriotically themed avenues: Washington, Madison and Van Buren named for presidents and Patton in honor of the general who had just helped win World War II.24 By early 1951 workers were hammering up 2 x 4s and laying brick for the first houses, all in the one-story “ranch” style that was sweeping America. McCrorey lived to see the work underway and soon after his 88th birthday in March he received the well-wishes of the community as a spacious new McCrorey YMCA for African Americans opened on Caldwell Street downtown.25 In July he passed away.26

McCrorey Heights’ flowering was partly a matter of timing. The post-war era brought a rising economic tide nationwide that lifted all boats. Never before nor since have so many Americans moved swiftly into the middle class. And African Americans had been working hard to make that climb, particularly the professionals educated at black colleges such as JCSU, Howard University (known for law and medicine) in Washington, A & T University (renowned in engineering) in Greensboro or Meharry Medical College in Nashville.

Even as it marked African American success, McCrorey Heights also reflected limitations. In the years before the Civil Rights Movement blossomed, black families knew that appearing too successful could trigger angry retribution from whites. The city’s Vest Water Treatment Plant, a complex of clean white concrete buildings under a high water tower, went up along Beatties Ford Road in 1924 and was expanded in 1937.27 It neatly shielded Dr. McCrorey’s land from the prying eyes of whites.

Sam Fulwood III, a minister’s son who went on to be a journalist in Atlanta and Cleveland, wrote fondly of growing up amid the sheltering streets of McCrorey Heights in the 1960s:

“God in Heaven was perfection, and I had the closest thing on Earth, in Charlotte, North Carolina. I lived with my father, mother and brother on a quarter-acre lot in five-room, one-story redbrick house in a subdivision called McCrorey Heights. A community of 130 homes, McCrorey Heights was a place where preachers, schoolteachers, principals, college professors, doctors, dentists, lawyers, police officers and homemakers lived comfortably ….

In spring my neighborhood could have been the suburban setting for a Hollywood movie. Dogwood trees opened their buds, unfurling a blazing display of pink and white, while…. we played oblivious to the powerful forces of race and class from which our parents shielded us.”28

Jeanne Brayboy, who moved with her husband Jack into a new architect-designed house at 1608 Patton Avenue in 1962, still remembers many of her early neighbors.29 Jack had a freshly minted doctorate in education from University of Pennsylvania and made his career at JCSU as Athletic Director and college administrator. Jeanne, with a masters degree from Boston University, taught music for many years in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. Fellow CMS educators who lived nearby included teachers Eddie and Lois Byers (1608 Madison) and principals Raymond Rorie (1644 Van Buren), Gwendolyn Cunningham (1627 Oaklawn), Elizabeth Randolph (1616 Patton), and E.E. Waddell (1632 Patton).30 Jack’s colleagues at Smith also often chose McCrorey Heights addresses including theology professor Dr. Herman Counts and sociologist Dr. Coleman Rippy.31 In 1966 the University built a residence for its president at 1723 Washington Avenue, a two-story red brick house in the stately Colonial Revival style.

Dr. Roy S. Wynn (Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)
Dr. Roy S. Wynn
(Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)

Other neighbors included medical leaders, ministers and some of the earliest African Americans to hold important positions in local government. Dr. Roy S. Wynn, Charlotte’s first black ophthalmologist, resided at 1721 Oaklawn.32 Dentist Spurgeon Webber, Sr., raised his family at 2005 Washington. Dr. Emery Rann, not only a doctor but also a cultural leader who wrote poetry in the style of Langston Hughes, lived at 2008 Patton.33 Trained at Meharry, Dr. Rann in 1954 became the first black physician accepted into the Mecklenburg County Medical Society and in 1973 he served as president of the historically black National Medical Association. At 1716 Washington lived Rev. Elo L. Henderson, organizing pastor of Grier Heights Presbyterian Church in Charlotte and for many years the regional field executive for the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Isaac Heard lived at 1623 Madison in 1962, an engineer at Douglas Aircraft’s Nike missile plant who would become one of the first African American members of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission; son Ike, Jr., went on to earn national distinction as an urban planner.34 Rowe “Jack” Motley at 1726 Madison headed his own real estate firm, then won election as Mecklenburg County’s first black County Commissioner in 1974.35

Two houses stand out for their residents’ impact on the course of history in the South and the nation.

 Dr. Reginald Hawkins (www.northcarolinahistory.org)
Dr. Reginald Hawkins
(www.northcarolinahistory.org)

Reginald Hawkins built on a corner lot at 1703 Madison in 1954. A dentist trained at Howard University in DC, he was not dependent on white people for income, so he delighted in pushing for Civil Rights progress.36 As a student in Washington, DC, in the 1940s he had participated in some of the first sit-ins aimed at ending whites-only rules in restaurants, and he employed that technique successfully at Charlotte’s newly opened Douglas Airport terminal in 1954. He organized many marches over the next decade and a half, notably winning African Americans the right to use Charlotte Memorial Hospital (which their tax dollars had helped build). When he led protests he loved to wear his CIAA letter sweater, earned as a wrestler during his undergraduate days at JCSU – now on display at Levine Museum of the New South. Hawkins worked with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., on several occasions and in 1968 King promised to come to Charlotte to aid Hawkins’ path-breaking run for election as North Carolina governor, the first such campaign by an African American in the state.37 Levine Museum of the New South displays the last-minute telegram that postponed that visit. King stayed in Memphis to work with striking sanitation workers, only to lose his life to an assassin’s bullet.

Rev. J.A. De Laine (Levine Museum of the New South)
Rev. J.A. De Laine
(Levine Museum of the New South)

• Rev. J.A. De Laine, who constructed the decidedly modern-looking house at 1706 Washington Avenue in 1971, played a pivotal part in one of America’s most historic Civil Rights actions – and family members followed in his impressive footsteps. The De Laines lived in rural Clarendon County, South Carolina, in the 1940s when they helped neighbors file the nation’s first lawsuit demanding the end of segregated schools.38 Renowned attorney Thurgood Marshall brought it to the U.S. Supreme Court along with four later suits, resulting in the landmark Brown v Board of Education decision outlawing “separate but equal” education – a story told in the permanent exhibition COURAGE: The Carolina Story That Changed America at JCSU’s Duke Library. Gun-wielding nightriders ran the De Laines out of South Carolina, and after a stint preaching in New York, Rev. De Laine and wife Mattie retired to McCrorey Heights near Mattie’s brother Moses Belton, a JCSU administrator. Their sons Brumit B. “BB” De Laine helped plan JCSU’s big sit-in movement in 1960 and became the first black teacher at Garinger High in Charlotte, while Joe De Laine co-chaired the Northwest Corridor Community Development Corporation that built senior housing on LaSalle Street. Daughter Ophelia De Laine Gona, first black member of the Peace Corps to work in Africa, went on to a distinguished career as professor at the Medical College of New Jersey.

The original West Charlotte High, the “gospel streets” and Lincoln Heights

As McCrorey Heights moved from dream to reality, other developments were springing up further out Beatties Ford Road all the way to what is now Interstate 85. Thad Tate, the barber who ranked as Charlotte’s most respected African American civic leader in the decades around 1900, gradually opened streets into farmland he owned along the left side of Beatties Ford. Estelle Street is named for his daughter and Celia for relative Celia Henderson.

Charlotte school officials approached Tate to see if he would donate land for a new black high school. The request offended his business instincts and he refused. But when officials offered cash he gladly accepted. West Charlotte High opened in 1938.39 The brick facility with its modern Art Deco touches became a beacon drawing education-minded black families into the suburbs. Eventually West Charlotte High would move further out to its current campus and the Beatties Ford Road building became Northwest Junior High. In 1996 it became Northwest School of the Arts, a CMS magnet school that is one of the most culturally vibrant and ethnically diverse places in the city.40

Across from Northwest School, the right hand side of Beatties Ford Road is now generally known as Lincoln Heights thanks to an elementary school erected in 1956 (closed in 2011). The area developed as a patchwork of subdivisions over the years, one of the earliest created in 1929 by an outfit called Biddle Heights Realty about which little is known.41 That is a shame, because the streets they platted carry an intriguing series of Biblical references: St. Paul Street, St. John Street, St. Mark Street, St. Luke Street. Who named the “gospel streets” and what exactly inspired them? We do know that Biddle Heights Realty got caught when the nationwide 1920s real estate bubble burst. Its project would not be fully built out until the 1960s.

At least two people important in education made their homes in the gospel streets, J.E. Grigsby and Sarah Stevenson. Grigsby served as principal of Second Ward High, the city’s first African American high school. His children built dwellings nearby and in the 2010s two still lived on St. Paul Street.42 Sarah Stevenson became the first African American woman elected to the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board in 1980. Television news anchor Sonya Gantt visited Stevenson in 2009 and wrote:

Stevenson (Courtesy of Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum)
Stevenson (Courtesy of Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum)

She was a wife, mother of four boys and a seamstress when she took on the project of doing something about her son’s ill-fitting band uniform. The band at his high school had just received hand-me-down uniforms from the white high school. They were too big for many of the students. Mrs. Stevenson led the school’s PTA to raise $6,000 for new uniforms. That project was the beginning. She went on to become president of what was the district’s colored PTA council. Eventually after several years she was elected president of what had been a “whites only” Charlotte Mecklenburg PTA council. Under her leadership the two councils became one…no longer separated by race.43

For more than thirty years Stevenson has convened the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, a discussion gathering open to all who are interested in community issues affecting Charlotte’s west side.

The ‘50s-‘60s American Dream: University Park, West Charlotte High School, Dalebrook

Most long-time Charlotte residents know the Alexander Funeral Home and its executive Kelly Alexander Jr. who represents Charlotte’s west side in the North Carolina State Legislature. Kelly’s father Kelly Alexander, Sr., served as statewide chair of the NAACP from 1948 to 1984, a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement.44 Kelly Sr.’s brother, Frederick Douglas Alexander, is similarly noted in history books for having won election as Charlotte’s first black City Council member in the twentieth century.45 What is less well known is the role that Fred Alexander played in creating the neighborhood of University Park, an extensive district of 1950s-modern ranch-style houses around West Charlotte High School.

In addition to helping with the family’s funeral home, Fred Alexander managed Double Oaks, a sprawling cluster of apartments for low-income black families, many of whom were veterans returning from World War II. Leading white Charlotte developer C.D. Spangler, Sr. constructed the 680 units along Statesville Avenue in the mid 1940s with help from the FHA 608 program of the recently created Federal Housing Administration. They did so well that Alexander began to dream bigger, according to biographer Mary Snead Boger: “Charlotte Negroes now needed homes, not just apartments.”

“He went to Spangler with the idea of building middle-level homes for the Negro on the borderline between affluence and poverty. They were to call the place University Park, and Fred Alexander sold the first twenty-five houses from blueprints — and then the money dried up. Other realtors resented this renegade white man [Spangler]…. Bankers backed off and the deal was slithering down the drain. Alexander walked into the Spangler office one day asking ‘What’s holding us up? Why can’t we get started?’

When informed that the loans were frozen he reminded Mr. Spangler about prejudice cutting with a two-edged sword, but added ‘We ain’t dead yet. Just tell me if you have any objection to what color money we use…”

Now, Fred Alexander was a member of the Board of Directors of Southern Fidelity Mutual Insurance Company, a subsidiary of the prestigious black Durham Life Insurance Company. ‘I picked up the telephone, called Durham and said I needed to talk with the board. It met the next morning at eight. So I said I’d be there, save me a seat.’

When he came home from Durham the next afternoon, he had borrowed a quarter of a million dollars.”46

Today’s LaSalle Street and the winding avenues that spring off of it — English Drive, Botany Street, Senior Drive and others — show the fruit of Fred Alexander’s persistence.47 Block after block of ranch-style homes look a bit like the sit-com world of TV’s Dick Van Dyke Show, a testament to the size and energy of Charlotte’s African American middle class in the third quarter of the twentieth century. The Alexander brothers built solid brick ranch-style houses for their own families on Senior Drive in 1962: Fred at 2140 and Kelly next door at 2128.

As Charlotte’s first black City Council member in the 20th century, one of Fred Alexander’s important symbolic accomplishments was to dismantle the fence that separated Charlotte’s white Elmwood Cemetery from black Pinewood Cemetery. (Charlotte Mecklenburg History Landmarks Commission photo)
As Charlotte’s first black City Council member in the 20th century, one of Fred Alexander’s important symbolic accomplishments was to dismantle the fence that separated Charlotte’s white Elmwood Cemetery from black Pinewood Cemetery.
(Charlotte Mecklenburg History Landmarks Commission photo)

C.D. Spangler, thanks to his track record with the Federal Housing Administration at Double Oaks, arranged FHA-backed long-term mortgages for University Park homebuyers.48  Today this seems unsurprising, but in the mid 1950s it was a significant innovation in two ways. First, the long-term home-loan was still new. Until FHA began backing such mortgages in the late 1930s, homebuyers had to be wealthy enough to pay fifty percent down and the other fifty percent over five years. Second, the Federal Housing Administration was notorious for refusing to consider African Americans; barely two percent of all FHA mortgages from the mid 1940s through the mid 1950s went to black citizens.49 So Spangler’s FHA financing meant that homeownership suddenly became possible for numbers of black Charlotteans.

As Spangler planned University Park, he included not just dwellings but also a school and a business district – a mix of land uses that the FHA strongly recommended. West Charlotte High School opened on a spacious campus in 1954 and instantly became the city’s flagship African American educational facility.50 In the 1970s it played a high-profile part of the national effort to use busing to create integrated schools. Charlotte attorney Julius Chambers filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971 and became the national test case for court-ordered busing. C.D. Spangler, Jr., son of the University Park developer, led white Charlotteans in complying with the Supreme Court, sending his daughters across town from the family’s home in Myers Park to attend West Charlotte High.51

The business district along Beatties Ford Road near the high school looks unremarkable — fast-food shops and other small businesses around a Food Lion supermarket. But that slice of “ordinary America” is in fact a rarity in historically African American sectors of many U.S. cities, which are sometimes identified as “food deserts” for their lack of grocery stores. Three of the smaller surrounding business buildings have interesting histories, as well. 2312 LaSalle Street opened in 1977, one of two original restaurants in the Bojangles fast food chain. At 2249 Beatties Ford Road is the sleek triangular Bank of America branch erected for then-NCNB by Charlotte architect Harry Wolf.52 It won a 1971 National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects. A block away at Beatties Ford and LaSalle stands the original home of a beloved community institution: McDonald’s Cafeteria.

“Sundays, all our families would go to McDonald’s Cafeteria,” recalls Spurgeon Webber, Jr., who grew up in McCrorey Heights in the 1970s.53 Charlotte-born John W. McDonald tasted his first success running a café in Brooklyn, New York. When God called him in a dream to go home, “I did what he told me to do,” he later said. Returning to Charlotte in 1969 he observed the great popularity of cafeterias in the Carolinas, including Charlotte-based chain S &W and competitor K &W. In 1970 he opened his own cafeteria, a new building with clean, simple International Style architecture at the LaSalle Street entrance to University Park. He successfully staved off legal threats from the McDonald’s fast food chain, and in 1982 constructed a large cafeteria and motel complex further out Beatties Ford Road at the Interstate 85 exit.54

Houses of worship also helped anchor University Park. Opposite West Charlotte High on Senior Drive stands the original University Park Baptist sanctuary, now housing other congregations as its own has moved to a more suburban campus. On Beatties Ford Road, the Memorial United Presbyterian Church occupies a modernistic 1968 building but traces its start to JSCU’s founding president Rev. Stephen Mattoon.55 Across the street is the North Carolina “Mother House” of the United House of Prayer for All People, a Pentecostal denomination with Charlotte roots dating back to evangelist Charles M. “Daddy” Grace in the 1920s. The congregation moved here in 1975 when their center city tabernacle was destroyed by “urban renewal.” Dramatically expanded and rebuilt in 1999, the building boasts exuberant architecture that reminds some observers of the exuberant trombone “shout bands” that drive its religious services.56 A soaring golden steeple, smartly situated at a curve of the avenue, is visible for nearly a mile along Beatties Ford Road.

University Park’s success attracted other major developers. Charlotte’s prolific Charles Ervin, to note one example, launched Dalebrook on the opposite side of Beatties Ford Road beginning in 1961, a neighborhood of ranch houses and split-levels on curving streets.57 Dalebrook Professional Building opened in the early 1960s with offices for doctors, dentists and others, including several displaced by the “urban renewal” demolition of Charlotte’s center city African American neighborhoods.58

Two episodes in the University Park – Dalebrook area, just a few years apart, symbolize the great strides that Charlotte made in the second half of the twentieth century. The first, in 1965, recalls the courage that African American leaders evinced as they worked toward the goal of equal rights for all. The second shows the fruits of that long struggle.

In the pre-dawn darkness on November 22, 1965, two bombs went off at the homes of Fred Alexander and Kelly Alexander in University Park as their young children slept.59 Two more exploded at Reginald Hawkins’ residence in McCrorey Heights and attorney Julius Chambers’ house further out Beatties Ford Road. No assailants were ever caught, but it was clear that they aimed to silence Charlotte’s Civil Rights movement. City leaders, however, spoke loudly against the crimes. “We are ashamed and horrified by the acts of violence,” said Mayor Brookshire and City Council in an official statement: “They have done much damage to the four homes involved. They have done far greater damage to our community.” Declared the Charlotte Observer, “The despicable acts of these nightriding terrorists do not represent the spirit of Charlotte.”60

Less than a decade later, in the 1970s, Anthony Foxx grew up in his grandparents’ home in Dalebrook. James R. Foxx, Sr., was an educator and a political opinion leader “who was so prominent in the community that for decades before his death in 2001, it was considered essential for any local Democratic candidate to seek out his advice and his endorsement,” wrote Charlotte Magazine.61 Young Anthony attended integrated West Charlotte High, then graduated from prestigious Davidson College where he was the first African American to serve as president of the student body. After law school at New York University, he returned to Charlotte and quickly emerged as a political leader. In 2009, Foxx won election as Charlotte’s second African American mayor. He caught the eye of national leaders including President Barack Obama. Those connections played a pivotal role in Charlotte’s selection to be the host city for the 2012 Democratic National Convention. In 2013 Foxx moved to Washington, DC, to become U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

The West Trade Street /Beatties Ford Road corridor in the 2000s

As interest in center-city living re-ignited nationally in the years around 2000, the desirability of close-in neighborhoods along Beatties Ford Road began to grow. Wesley Heights had already begun to change, thanks to the work of African American advocate Shirley Fulton.62  North Carolina’s first black female Superior Court Judge, Fulton discovered Wesley Heights in 1990 when she was looking for a place to live close to Uptown courts and the airport. She formed a Community Development Corporation which worked closely with the neighborhood organization to buy and rehabilitate key properties. A careful research effort put the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and also protected it with Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic District designation.63  In 2000 Fulton personally purchased and renovated the 1911 Wadsworth Estate, the two-story wood-shingled Arts & Crafts centerpiece of the neighborhood. It became an event center, hosting neighborhood gatherings and attracting rental galas, including some events of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. As Wesley Heights’ solid brick cottages became more desirable, Fulton strove to make sure that the prosperous new homebuyers and long-time residents knew and respected each other. Wesley Heights became one of Charlotte’s most diverse neighborhoods, old and young, white and black, gay and straight: 50% white and 44% black by 2010.64

In adjacent Western Heights and Smallwood, where architecture was humbler, change began during the nationwide “real estate bubble” of the 2000s. Speculators bought up some of the old wooden dwellings, now often run-down rental properties, and demolished them to erect larger houses. Neighborhood residents with assistance from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission convinced City Council to downzone the Western Heights blocks from Multi-Family to Single-Family, which helped some of the long-time homeowners stay. Stylish new variations on traditional design, with porches lining the streets, are now interspersed. A smattering of similar homes also popped up in Smallwood along Rozelles Ferry Road and in Biddleville across Beatties Ford Road from JCSU. Most surprisingly, for the first time since the 1920s some of the new neighbors were white. 2010 Census data showed the Western Heights/Biddleville/Smallwood area as 7.5% white.65

The Northwest Corridor CDC (Community Development Corporation) helped stimulate new development in the Beatties Ford Road area. Founded in 1991 by Johnson C. Smith University, it was one of a wave of citizen-controlled non-profits nationwide. Accomplishments included the 1995 rebuilding of C.D. Spangler’s old shopping center at LaSalle and Beatties Ford Road anchored by a new Food Lion supermarket, the opening of a new residential complex for senior citizens on LaSalle about 2000, and construction of townhouses nearby in 2008 – together giving the area a range of living and shopping choices. The CDC ran into problems in the late 2000s, including the national economic downturn of 2008, and ended its work.66

West Charlotte High School also grappled with a variety of challenges, including the end of court-ordered busing in 1999. Alumni and community leaders came together in 2010 to launch Project L.I.F.T: (Leadership and Investment for Transformation).67 It promised to raise $55 million in private funds to bolster educational opportunities at West Charlotte and its feeder schools. Co-chairs of the effort were Richard “Stick” Williams, an African American executive at Duke Energy, and white philanthropist Anna Spangler Nelson. One of the daughters of C.D. Spangler, Jr., she had graduated from West Charlotte in the early days of integration.

Dr. Ron Carter took the helm at Johnson C. Smith University in 2008, bringing a fresh vision of community engagement. Could JCSU reach out beyond its campus, sparking development along West Trade Street to link the University firmly to the now-bustling Center City? Carter’s special projects coordinator, State Senator Malcolm Graham, met with property owners to convince them to make substantial new investments – a process that Graham playfully likened to “playing poker with no cash.” The Griffin Family collaborated with the University to turn its first Griffin Tire retail store into JCSU Arts Factory with art and dance studios and a black box theater. That success spurred the Griffins to undertake the ambitious Mosaic Village project, a residence hall intended for both Johnson C. Smith University and Johnson & Wales University students, which opened in 2012.68

Looking to the future

By the middle of the 2010s the West Trade Street/Beatties Ford Road corridor held a fascinating mix of challenges and opportunities. Many of the challenges were those faced by older inner-ring suburbs everywhere in the U.S. Would young homebuyers and entrepreneurs choose to invest here when there are so many opportunities in newer areas? Would younger neighborhood activists arise as local stalwarts retire: people like Mattie Marshall in Washington Heights, Louise Sellers in Biddleville, Charles Jones in Smallwood, Leroy “Pop” Miller in Dalebook, Nasif Majeed in the University Park business district?

Matching those general challenges were opportunities specific to this special place. The energy and vision of Johnson C. Smith University provided an electric charge, a fresh jolt of possibility. At the same time, the history of the corridor offered both bedrock and inspiration. In neighborhood after neighborhood across urban America, history has become an attraction for a new generation. Could the proud stories of the Trade Street/Beatties Ford Road neighborhoods encourage young people to put down roots of their own?

 

Thanks to:
Neighborhood and Business Services, Charlotte & Mecklenburg County – John Howard
Register of Deeds – William Wilson
Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library – Shelia Bumgarner, Tom Cole, Jane Johnson, Joyce Reimann
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission – Dr. Dan Morrill
Community Building Initiative – Annetta Foard, Christie Lee, Dianne English

And to all who have read and commented on earlier drafts: Kamille Bostick, Jeanne Brayboy, Shelia Bumgarner, Tom Cole, Harvey Gantt, Isaac Heard family, Jane Johnson, Joyce Reimann.

 

Notes

1. Inez Moore Parker, The Biddle-Johnson C. Smith University Story (Charlotte, NC: Charlotte Publishing, 1975). To explore Charlotte’s physical development, read Thomas W. Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875 – 1975 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). For more on Charlotte’s African American history, read Janette Thomas Greenwood, Bittersweet Legacy: The Black and White ‘Better Classes’ in Charlotte, 1850 – 1910 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994). Vermelle Diamond Ely, Grace Hoey Drain and Amy Rogers, Black America Series: Charlotte, North Carolina (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001).

2. H.L. McCrorey collection, Inez Moore Parker Archives, Johnson C. Smith University: http://cdm15170.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15170coll5, accessed January 2, 2013. “A Tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson Crayne Smith,” in G.T. Fleming, History of Pittsburgh and Environs: Biographical (American Historical Society, 1920), on-line at

http://johnsoncsmith.tribalpages.com/, accessed January 2, 2013.

 

3. Dan Morrill, “Biddle Memorial Hall, Survey and Research Report,” undated, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, available online at http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/surveys&rbiddlehall.htm. The date of Biddle Hall’s dedication is from Frye Gaillard, Charlotte Observer, June 8, 1990, reproduced in African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/.

 

4. William Huffman and Lisa Stamper, “Carnegie Library Building at Johnson C. Smith University,” 1984, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/surveys&rcarnegie.html, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

5. William Huffman and Lisa Stamper, “The Stone Entry Gates of Johnson C. Smith University,” 1984, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at: http://cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/surveys&rJCSU-gates.html, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

6. Author’s telephone interview with Harvey Gantt, January 9, 2013.

 

7. Thomas W. Hanchett, “Biddleville-Five Points,” c. 1982, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/kids/neighborhoods/Biddleville.html, accessed January 2, 2013.

 

8. “Beatties Ford Road, River of Life,” a Charlotte Observer article by reporter Frye Gaillard, June 8, 1990, exploring the corridor’s past and present, is reproduced in the African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/, accessed January 2, 2013.

 

9. William Huffman and Thomas Hanchett, “The George E. Davis House: Survey and Research Report,”1984, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/surveys&rgeorgedavis.html, accessed January 3, 2013.  Several books and other research are available on the Rosenwald school building program, for instance see: https://www.historysouth.org/rosenwaldhome/, accessed January 4, 2015.

10. For a detailed history of Charlotte’s shift from a “salt-and-pepper” residential pattern in the late nineteenth century to the sharp segregation of the late twentieth century, see Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City.

11. On Western Heights’ surprising multiracial beginnings, read Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City, pp. 137- 138.

12. On Charlotte’s streetcar history, see Dan L. Morrill, “Streetcars of Charlotte” (Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission): www.cmhpf.org/essays/streetcars.html, accessed January 14, 2015.

13. Mamie Garvin Fields, Lemon Swamp and Other Tales: A Carolina Memoir (New York: Free Press, 1983), Charlotte material on pages 156 – 173.

14. “Wesley Heights History: Founded 1911,” Wesley Heights Historic District website: http://wesleyheightshistoric.com/?page_id=2, accessed January 2, 2013.  Wesley Heights National Register nomination 1994: http://ww.charmeck.org/Planning/HDC/WesleyHeightsNationalRegisterInventory.pdf, accessed January 4, 2015.

 

15. Thomas W. Hanchett, “Biddleville-Five Points,” c. 1982, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/kids/neighborhoods/Biddleville.html, accessed January 2, 2013.

16. Charles Jones’ story is told in the permanent exhibition Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers at Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte.  See also David Aaron Moore, “Stumbling Across a Hero,” Charlotte Magazine, February 2011.

17. Meg Freeman Whalen, “Before Elvis was King,” Charlotte Magazine, September 2005, on-line at: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=12194&url=%2FCharlotte-Magazine%2FSeptember-2005%2FBefore-Elvis-Was-King%2F&mode=print, accessed January 9, 2013. Vermelle Diamond Ely, Grace Hoey Drain and Amy Rogers, Black America Series: Charlotte, North Carolina (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001), page 107.

 

18. “Charlotte-Mecklenburg All Black Schools, 1852 – 1968,” in African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/2_all_black_schools/003.htm, accessed January 3, 2013.

19. Emily Ramsey and Lara Ramsey, “Grand Theater: Survey and Research Report,” 2002, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs Alphabetical Order/surveys&rGrandTheater.htm, accessed January 4, 2015.

20. William Huffman and Thomas Hanchett, “Excelsior Club: Survey and Research Report,” 1985, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/surveys&rexcelsior.htm, accessed January 9, 2013. Vermelle Diamond Ely, Grace Hoey Drain and Amy Rogers, Black America Series: Charlotte, North Carolina (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001), page 94.

 

21. Thomas Hanchett, “Washington Heights,” c. 1984, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at: http://cmhpf.org/educationneighhistwash.htm, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

22. C.H. Watson, ed., Colored Charlotte : Published in Connection with the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Freedom of the Negro in the County of Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte, North Carolina (Charlotte: AME Zion Job Print, 1915).

 

23. William Jeffers and Stewart Gray, “Dr. Robert H. Greene House: Survey and Research Report,” 2009, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/Surveys&rGreene.htm, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

24. The 1949 plat is at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, map book 6: maps 230. Earlier plats are in map book 230: maps 174, 175 (1912) and in map book 4: map 137 (1940).

 

25. “Official opening and dedication of the Henry Lawrence McCrorey Branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Charlotte, N.C., April 15, 1951,” H.L. McCrorey collection, Inez Moore Parker Archives, Johnson C. Smith University:

http://cdm15170.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15170coll5/id/561/rec/1 , accessed January 3, 2013.

 

26. “President H. L. McCrorey, Funeral service bulletin, July 16, 1951,” H.L. McCrorey collection, Inez Moore Parker Archives, Johnson C. Smith University: http://cdm15170.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15170coll5/id/564/rec/3, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

27. Lorraine Loken and Nora Black, “Charlotte Water Works: Vest Station,” 1990, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, on-line at:   http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/surveys&rcharwater.htm, accessed January 25, 2013.

 

28. Sam Fulwood III, Waking from the Dream: My Life in the Black Middle Class (New York: Anchor Books, 1996), quoted in Andrew Weise, Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the 20th Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 164.

 

29. Information in this paragraph and the next are from author’s telephone interview with Jeanne Brayboy on November 13, 2012, supplemented by research in the 1962 and 1972 city directories at the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. An on-line bio of Brayboy: http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/jeanne-brayboy-41, accessed January 4, 2015.  Brayboy recalls that her modern-style house was designed by Hubert Whitlock, a young Harvard-trained architect. http://www.whitlockbuilders.com/ http://www.greatercharlottebiz.com/article.asp?id=720

 

30. Lois Harris Byers, obituary in Charlotte Observer, February 12, 2012, on-line at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/charlotte/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=155832412#fbLoggedOut, accessed January 3, 2013.  E.E. Waddell served as the last principal at Second Ward High, 1963 – 1969. A Charlotte high school was subsequently named for him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._E._Waddell_High_School accessed January 3, 2013.

 

31. Prof. Counts’ daughter Dorothy Counts made national headlines in September of 1957, when the family lived at 119 Beatties Ford Road (now demolished). The poised, smart fifteen year-old was selected by the Charlotte NAACP as one of four students to desegregate Charlotte’s white schools. Angry youths surrounded Dorothy as she walked toward Harding High School (the building is now Irwin Elementary). There was no violence but a picture by photographer Don Sturkey of her courage in the face of jeers and taunts appeared in newspapers across the U.S and around the globe. Tommy Tomlinson, “Portrait of Pride, Prejudice: Students See Themselves Through History’s Lens, “ Charlotte Observer, September 2, 2007, on-line at: http://www.tommytomlinson.com/dcounts.html, accessed January 3, 2013. “Dorothy Counts (1942 –   ),” North Carolina History Project: http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/301/entry/, accessed January 3, 2013.   Famed African American writer James Baldwin, living in Paris, saw the photo and said its power drew him back to the U.S. to join the Civil Rights movement: “When Dorothy Counts was spat on by the mob as she was trying to go to school, that was the day I decided I was coming home.”   Quoted in Amy Goodman, “James Baldwin 20th Anniversary Commemoration: Remembering the Life and Work of the Legendary Writer and Civil Rights Activist,” December 7, 2007, Democracy Now television series, transcript at: http://www.democracynow.org/2007/12/7/james_baldwin_20th_anniversary_commemoration_remembering

 

32. A photo of Dr. Wynn appeared in Elizabeth Randolph and Pat Ryckman, eds, An African American Album: The Black Experience in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (Charlotte: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1992), on-line at http://www.cmstory.org/african/album/volume1/work20.htm, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

33. Trained at Meharry, Dr. Rann in 1954 became the first black physician accepted into the Mecklenburg County Medical Society. Pamela Brice, “Black Medical Society Fill Need Despite Social Gains, “ Charlotte Business Journal, March 20, 2000: http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/stories/2000/03/20/focus5.html?page=all “Rann, Dr. Emery Louvelle,” Who’s Who Among African Americans (2009): http://www.encyclopedia.com/article-1G2-2509914875/rann-dr-emery-louvelle.html. He went on to serve as president of the black National Medical Association in the 1970s and wrote the book The Black Physician in Charlotte, North Carolina (A Historical Review) (self-published, 1990).

 

34. “Isaac Heard, Jr. , AICP (Chair),” website of the Planning Accreditation Board, http://www.planningaccreditationboard.org/index.php?id=72, accessed January 3, 2013.   Ike, Jr, recalls, “I was a member of the Planning Commission staff from 1973 through 1985 and then was appointed to serve on the Commission itself starting in 1991 or 92 to replace Nasif Majeed, who was elected to the City Council.  I continued to serve until 1998 being elected to be Chair of that body for the last 4 years of that time.  Overlapping that period and running until 2003 (1989-2003) I also served on the Board of Elections, being elected chair for the last 8 or 9 years of that period (however long there was a Democratic as the governor during that span).  I have served on the Planning Accreditation Board since 2007, and as chair of that body from 2010 to 2012).” E-mail to author January 25, 2013.

 

35. April Bethea, “Motley Led His Way into History,” Charlotte Observer, February 12, 2012: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/02/12/3005336/motley-led-his-way-into-history.html, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

36. “Reginald Hawkins (1923 – 2007),” North Carolina History Project: http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/300/entry/, accessed January 3, 2013. “Dr. Reginald Hawkins,” obituary by Elizabeth Leland, Charlotte Observer, September 11, 2007, on-line at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/charlotte/obituary.aspx?pid=94263646#fbLoggedOut, accessed January 3, 2013. Michael B. Richardson, “’Not Gradually…But Now’: Reginald Hawkins, Black Leadership, and Desegregation in Charlotte, North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 82, No. 4, July 2005.

 

37. T. Evan Faulkenbury, ‘”Telenegro’: Reginald Hawkins, Black Power, and the 1968 Gubernatorial Race in North Carolina” (UNCC MA History thesis, 2012). Hawkins papers are at UNC Charlotte, Atkins Library, Special Collections. Additional material is at UNC Chapel Hill, Southern Historical Collection.

 

38. Among the many books that tell the De Laines’ story, see especially Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality, rev. ed (Vintage, 2004). Ophelia De Laine Gona, Dawn of Desegregation: J. A. De Laine and Briggs v. Elliot (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2011).

 

39. Pamela Grundy, Lion Pride, the Legacy Continues: West Charlotte High School 1938 – 2013 (Charlotte: West Charlotte High School Alumni Association, 2013).  “Charlotte-Mecklenburg All Black Schools, 1852 – 1968,” in the African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/2_all_black_schools/013.htm, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

40. Northwest was Charlotte’s only black junior high from 1954 til desegregation. “Charlotte-Mecklenburg All Black Schools, 1852 – 1968,” in African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/2_all_black_schools/011.htm, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

41.To see that 1929 plat map, consult the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, map book 3: map 508.

 

42. Information courtesy of Mrs. Ike Heard, Sr. Papers of the Grigsby Family are at UNC Chapel Hill, collection 05141. http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/g/Grigsby_Family.html

 

43. Sonja Gantt, “A Mother Who Broke Barriers,” February 16, 2009, http://vnet210.nandomedia.com/?a=profile&u=3112&t=blog&blog_id=443#storylink=cpy

 

44. Kelly Alexander, Sr.’s papers are preserved at Special Collections, Atkins Library, UNC-Charlotte. http://library.uncc.edu/manuscript/ms0055-0. For more on the Alexander family, see Vermelle Diamond Ely, Grace Hoey Drain and Amy Rogers, Black America Series: Charlotte, North Carolina (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001), pages 9, 95, 102, 116,128. Frye Gaillard, The Dream Long Deferred : The Landmark Struggle for Desegregation in Charlotte, North Carolina, 3rd ed. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006). Davison Douglas, Reading, Writing and Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

 

45. Dan. L. Morrill, Historic Charlotte: An Illustrated History of CharlotteMecklenburg (Historic Charlotte / Historical Publication Network, 2004), chapter 12, on-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/Morrill%20Book/CH12.htm. Randy Penninger, “The Emergence of Black Political Power in Charlotte, North Carolina: The City Council Tenure of Frederick Douglas Alexander, 1965-1974” (Masters thesis, History Department, UNC-Charlotte, 1989). Frederick Douglas Alexander’s papers are preserved at Special Collections, Atkins Library, UNC-Charlotte. https://specialcollections.uncc.edu/manuscript/ms0091

 

 

46. Mary Snead Boger, Charlotte 23 (Bassett, Virginia: Bassett Printing Company, 1972), p. 6.

 

47. To see the plat maps filed by Spangler to officially lay out those streets, consult the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, map book 7: maps 293, 294, 295, 751.

 

48. “All houses have been approved for both FHA and VA financing,” ad in “Charlotte, A Good Place to Live, a Good Place to Do Business,” supplement to the Charlotte News, 1954. For more on University Park see the Charlotte Observer, February 7, 1960. Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City, pp. 232 – 236.

 

49. Gregory D. Squires, “Community Reinvestment: An Emerging Social Movement,” in Squires, ed., From Redlining to Reinvestment: Community Responses to Urban Disinvestment (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992), p. 6.

 

50. Pamela Grundy, Lion Pride, the Legacy Continues: West Charlotte High School 1938 – 2013 (Charlotte: West Charlotte High School Alumni Association, 2013).  “Charlotte-Mecklenburg All Black Schools, 1852 – 1968,” in the African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/2_all_black_schools/013.htm, accessed January 3, 2013. Frye Gaillard, “Beatties Ford Road, River of Life,” Charlotte Observer, June 8, 1990, reproduced in the African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/, accessed January 2, 2013.

 

Nationally syndicated conservative columnist George Will on West Charlotte: “Forced Busing Fades into History,” November 29, 1999, Baltimore Sun, on-line at: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1999-11-29/news/9911270327_1_west-charlotte-school-busing-school-integration, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

51. Frye Gaillard, The Dream Long Deferred : The Landmark Struggle for Desegregation in Charlotte, North Carolina, 3rd ed. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006). Davison Douglas, Reading, Writing and Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Stephen Smith, Boom for Whom? Education, Desegregation and Development in Charlotte (Albany: SUNY Press, 2004).  Roslyn Arlen Michelson, Stephen Samuel Smith and Amy Hawn Nelson, editors, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: School Desegregation and Resegregation in Charlotte (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

 

52. Wolf Architecture, company’s portfolio website: http://www.wolfarc.com/artist.asp?ArtistID=10391&AKey=wxnqy2j6, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

53. Frye Gaillard, “Beatties Ford Road, River of Life,” Charlotte Observer, June 8, 1990, reproduced in the African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

54. Pat R., “McDonald’s Cafeteria: Hall of Fame Eatery,” posted July 30, 2008, revised August 9, 2008, Charlotte Eats blog, http://charlotteeats.blogspot.com/2008/07/mcdonalds-cafeteria-hall-of-fame-eatery.html, accessed January 3, 2013. After the death of John W. McDonald, the United House of Prayer purchased the complex in 2003. They reopened the cafeteria and converted the motel to a senior living facility. “Church Buys Landmark Cafeteria, Hotel for $4.2 Million,” Church Central Leadership Community website: http://www.churchcentral.com/article/1014/Church-buys-landmark-cafeteria-hotel-for-4-2-million, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

55. “Church History,” Memorial Presbyterian Church website: http://www.memorialpresbyteriancharlotte.org/mpc/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=56, accessed January 3, 2013.

56. Tom Hanchett, “God’s Trombones: The Shout Band Tradition in the United House of Prayer for All People,” in Ann Wicker, editor, Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas (Charlotte: Novello Press, 2008), pp. 7 – 11.

57. Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, map book 9: maps 307, 411, 413.

 

58. Frye Gaillard, “Beatties Ford Road, River of Life,” Charlotte Observer, June 8, 1990, reproduced in the African American Album, vol. 2 website of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: http://www.cmstory.org/aaa2/heritage/1_beatties_ford_road/021.htm, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

59. Dan. L. Morrill, Historic Charlotte: An Illustrated History of CharlotteMecklenburg (Historic Charlotte / Historical Publication Network, 2004), chapter 12, on-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/Morrill%20Book/CH12.htm, accessed January 3, 2013. Frye Gaillard, The Dream Long Deferred : The Landmark Struggle for Desegregation in Charlotte, North Carolina, 3rd ed. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006).

 

60. Dan. L. Morrill, Historic Charlotte: An Illustrated History of CharlotteMecklenburg (Historic Charlotte / Historical Publication Network, 2004), chapter 12, on-line at http://www.cmhpf.org/Morrill%20Book/CH12.htm, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

61. Jen Pilla Taylor, “Man of the Past,” Charlotte Magazine, October 2009, on-line at: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/October-2009/Man-of-the-Past/, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

62. “Meet Judge Shirley Fulton,” Wadsworth Estate website: http://www.wadsworthestate.com/aboutshirleyfulton.html, accessed January 3, 2013.

63. Mary Beth Gatza, “Wesley Heights Historic District: National Register of Historic Places Registration Form,” 1995.

64. “Neighborhood Profile: Area 51,” Quality of Life Dashboard website, Mecklenburg County: http://maps.co.mecklenburg.nc.us/qoldashboard/#/p9/51, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

65. “Neighborhood Profile: Area 382,” Quality of Life Dashboard website, Mecklenburg County: http://maps.co.mecklenburg.nc.us/qoldashboard/#/p8/382, accessed January 3, 2013.

 

66. Fred Clausen-Kelley , “Non-profit Defaults; Homes for Poor People are Going Unbuilt,” Charlotte Observer, January 25, 2009.

 

67. “About Project Lift,” Project L.I.F.T: Leadership and Investment for Transformation website: http://www.projectliftcharlotte.org/index.php?page=about-project-l-i-f-t, accessed January 3, 2013. Jacklyn Zubrzycki, “Project Blurs Line Between Public and Private,” Education Week, January 9, 2013, on-line at:http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/01/09/17projectlift.h32.html?tkn=LLUF8GqipAUVRrde6REACI8ffuanE5MfLX1i&cmp=clp-edweek, accessed January 9, 2013.

 

68. Herbert L. White, “JCSU Goes Beyond Gates for West End Development,” Charlotte Post, December 11, 2009, on-line at: http://www.thecharlottepost.com/index.php?src=news&refno=2226&category=News, accessed January 3, 2013.