Tag Archives: North Carolina

Diverse Communities Bus Tour of Historic Durham: Black Wall Street

The next stop on the Diverse Communities bus tour Jessica and I went on was Parrish Street, where several African American businesses originated and prospered in the early 20th century. Known as “Black Wall Street”, several African American operated enterprises started on Parrish Street, such as the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (founded in 1898) and Mechanics & Farmers Bank. (founded in 1908).

This vibrant and thriving area was unfortunately decimated – along with other businesses and communities – with the creation of Highway 147 along with numerous other factors. While this did not completely eradicate black enterprise in Durham – NC Mutual and M&F are still thriving – it did physically destroy a significant part of the black neighborhood and in turn, an important part of history.

Historic Marker on Parrish Street

Historic Marker on Parrish Street

Mr. Reginald Jones, who works with the Parrish Street Project, talked with us about seeking to revitalize the Parrish Street area. The goal is to commemorate the important legacy of Black Wall street while attracting new businesses to the area to encourage economic revitalization.

Echoing Jessica’s sentiments in an earlier post, it was interesting for the two of us as archivists to be involved in this conversation. We are generally concerned with the preservation of history. It’s important to think about Parrish Street’s heritage in the context of urban planning and development. The urban planning students asked compelling questions about working with the community in order when planning any sort of redevelopment or conceiving any project in a neighborhood. The importance of preserving and celebrating the cultural heritage of a particular area was not lost in the conversation of burgeoning neighborhood development.

The SHC has a number of collections that relate to black owned businesses on Parrish Street and throughout the South. One example is the William Jesse Kennedy Papers, who was the fifth president of NC Mutual Life Insurance.

NC Mutual Executives, ca. 1919 (William Jesse Kennedy Papers, #4925)

NC Mutual Executives, ca. 1919 (William Jesse Kennedy Papers, #4925)

Several other collections contain materials relating to Mechanics & Farmers Bank, such as the Floyd B. McKissick Papers and the Southern Oral History Program interview with Howard Lee, which describes his interactions with former M&FB president John Wheeler.

Additionally, there are numerous SOHP interviews with former employees of NC Mutual such as former president Asa Spaulding. (Note: There are three interviews with Mr. Spaulding in all).

Diverse Communities Bus Tour of Historic Durham: the Hayti Heritage Center

Holly inside St. Joseph's

Holly inside St. Joseph's

Recently Holly, my colleague here at the Southern Historical Collection, and I got the chance to tag along on a bus tour of Durham, N.C., with the Department of City and Regional Planning here at UNC-Chapel Hill. The tour focused on planning and development activities in several areas of downtown Durham, and how history and community influences, informs, and becomes an integral part of those activities. Holly and I were amazed at how visible history was at some of the places we visited, and were surprised at how connected our work and our collections at the SHC are to the work of these community organizers and city planners. We’d like to share a little bit about our trip, and connect some of the things we saw to materials we have here in the collection

Our first stop was at the Hayti Heritage Center, an African American cultural and educational center located in what was formerly the African American community of Hayti. The center, established in 1975, is based in the structure that was St. Joseph’s A.M.E. Church, a National Historic Landmark built in 1891. The space is now used to preserve the heritage of the neighborhood and the church, and holds programs aimed at “advancing cultural understanding and examining the experiences of Americans of African descent — locally, nationally and globally.”

Jessica inside the Hayti Heritage Center

Jessica inside the Hayti Heritage Center

At the center, we heard from J. C. “Skeepie” Scarborough, a funeral services director whose family and business have been a part of Hayti for generations. He described how unique Durham was for its thriving African American community in the early to mid-20th century, which boasted African American-owned businesses, a hosptial, a college, and an active music and cultural scene. He also discussed growing up in Hayti, what it was like during the Civil Rights movement, the role of the church in community organizing, and how the neighborhood was lost during “urban renewal” efforts in the 1960s, especially due to the construction of the Durham Freeway.

St. Joseph's A.M.E. Church programs, 1960 and 1962, with voter registration enclosure (from the William Jesse Kennedy Papers)

St. Joseph's A.M.E. Church programs, 1960 and 1962, with voter registration enclosure (from the William Jesse Kennedy Papers)

We are fortunate to have a number of collections related to Hayti here in the Southern, including:

William Jesse Kennedy Papers (finding aid)
White Rock Baptist Church Records (finding aid)
William A. Clement Papers (finding aid)

You can also listen to digitized oral histories about Hayti. For instance, Margaret Kennedy Goodwin talks about the close-knit African American community in Durham during the 1930s and 1940s, and the role of religion her her family’s life (listen to Margaret Kennedy Goodwin’s Oral History interview). Be sure to look for Holly’s upcoming post about our tour of Durham’s Parrish Street, also known as Black Wall Street.

The First Freedom Rides (2 of 2)

[A continuation from part 1 of a post about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation]…

We include here a video that contains excerpts of audio from a 1974 oral history interview with Igal Roodenko, participant in the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, from the collection of the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) at UNC Chapel Hill. The SOHP’s oral histories are archived and preserved at the Southern Historical Collection. Several hundred of these oral histories have been digitized and are available online. To listen to the full interview with Igal Roodenko, please visit:

http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/B-0010/menu.html

This video also contains a montage of images, primarily taken from the holdings of the Southern Historical Collection. The SHC contains scattered documentation about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation and about the life and work of Reverend Charles M. Jones, including (but not limited to):

  • Southern Oral History Program (finding aid for collection #4007): Including these digitized interviews B-0010; A-0035; B-0041; and others not yet digitized.

We are very proud to be the repository for these important primary source materials documenting this often-forgotten episode of Southern history.  However, we can’t help but notice that there are many missing pieces in the archival record that might tell the rest of the story.  Could it be that there really is only one photograph of the 1947 freedom riders?  What about documentation of the cab drivers and others who opposed the riders?  We still have our work cut out for us.

Rev. James A. Felton: Montford Point Marine, Grassroots Organizer, Educator, and Family Man

[Today we feature the life and work of Reverend James A. Felton of Hertford County, North Carolina. The Southern Historical Collection is proud to be the repository that preserves a small collection of papers from the Felton family (the James A. and Annie V. Felton Papers, Collection #5161, finding aid). The following biographical note comes from the finding aid for the Felton Papers.]

James Andrew Felton was born on 6 July 1919 in Hertford, Perquimans County, N.C. After spending almost three years in the United States Marine Corps, he earned his B.S. from Elizabeth City State Teachers College (now Elizabeth City State University) and his M.A. from North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University). He taught in the Greene and Hertford County school systems for 20 years, and, in 1965 he published “Fruits of Enduring Faith,” a story that dramatizes the human issues behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the mid-1960s, Felton and Reverend John L. Scott of New Ahoskie Baptist Church formed the People’s Program on Poverty, an African American organization created to study and fight poverty on the grass-roots level. Through his work in this program, Felton founded the first Family Training Center in the United States. During this time, he was also actively involved in organizations such as the President’s Commission on Rural Poverty, the North Carolina Family Life Council, and a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1980, Felton established the C. S. Brown School Auditorium Restoration Association to restore Brown Hall, a building that had been part of the campus of Chowan Academy, an African American school founded in 1886 by Calvin Scott Brown. The C. S. Brown Regional Cultural Arts Center and Museum in Winton, N.C., opened in 1986.

James A. Felton married Annie Vaughan on 3 August 1947. They had six children: James Andrew, Jr., Keith, Maria, Sharon, Michele, and Camilla. James A. Felton died in Winton, N.C., on 6 October 1994.

[To learn more about the contents of the SHC's Felton Papers collection, please see the finding aid].

Creator of the Month… Guion Griffis Johnson

[Each month we feature a "creator" or one of the SHC's manuscript collections. In archival terms, a creator is defined as an individual, group, or organization that is responsible for a collection's production, accumulation, or formation.]

Guion Griffis Johnson of Chapel Hill, N.C., was a professor, author, scholar, journalist, women’s advocate, and general civic leader. Johnson held a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of North Carolina. She published three books: A Social History of the Sea Islands (1930), Antebellum North Carolina (1937), and Volunteers in Community Service (1967). Her husband was Guy Johnson, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the 1920s and 1930s, Johnson and her husband worked together at the Institute for Research in Social Science at University of North Carolina. Continue reading

Creator of the Month… Cone Mills Corporation

From Cone Mills Corporation Records (Collection #5247)

From Cone Mills Corporation Records (Collection #5247)

[Each month we feature a "creator" of one of the SHC's manuscript collections. In archival terms, a creator is defined as an individual, group, or organization that is responsible for a collection's production, accumulation, or formation.]

Cone Mills Corporation (and predecessor Proximity Manufacturing Company and its other subsidiary and affiliated companies) manufactured denim and other textiles chiefly in North Carolina and South Carolina. Moses Herman Cone (1857-1908), Ceasar Cone (1859-1917), and other Cone family members began investing in the textile industry in the late nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth century were world leaders in textile manufacturing. Continue reading

Regulations to Govern the Teachers’ Homes, 1921-1922

Regulations for Teachers' Homes, by Charles L. Coon

Regulations for Teachers, by Charles L. Coon

This document, “Regulations to Govern the Teachers’ Homes,” 1921-1922, was prepared by Charles L. Coon, an early 20th-century education reformer and superintendent of Wilson County schools, in order to protect the the “property of the public” (apparently referring to the home itself) and the “health and good name of the teachers.” Some highlights include:

8.(d) The principal will not grant any teacher permission to leave the home on Saturday or Sunday nights to take rides or to make visits with a person of the opposite sex unless the couple is accompanied by a suitable chaperone.

8.(e) Dancing and card playing will not be permitted in the home, and the principal must not give any teacher permission to attend a dance or card party outside the teachers’ home.

8.(f) The great majority of all the pictures showing in the moving picture theaters are morally degrading or wholly unprofitable and far from uplifting and wholesome. A teacher who has only a small sense of her moral obligations and the influence of her example will hardly need a rule to guide her attendance on such places of public amusement.

Item comes from the Charles L. Coon Papers (#177 finding aid), Folder 135.

Holdings on minorities in NC libraries

Readings on minorities

"Readings on minorities in the United States, with emphasis on the negro," 1948

The North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation Records (finding aid) contains a group of surveys done in 1948 to assess the holdings of NC public libraries related to minorities, especially African Americans. A list of titles was sent out to white and black libraries around the state, and librarians indicated which titles they had in their collection and sent them back.

Some libraries had none of these materials, though a few of them responded saying that they would turn the list over to their book committee. After thumbing through the surveys, the library with the most titles by far was the Stanford L. Warren Library of Durham (a page from their survey results is pictured at right). This should come as no great surprise, as Stanford L. Warren was North Carolina’s second black library, established in 1916 (the first was the Brevard Street Library for Negroes, which opened in Charlotte in 1905). The Stanford L. Warren Library is pictured at its former location in the postcard below (from North Carolina Postcards).

Durham Colored Library, ca. 1916-1930