Tag Archives: African American

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #19: Ghosts of the Triangle: Historic Haunts of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill (2009)


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Jackson, Richard and William Jackson. Ghosts of the Triangle: Historic Haunts of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Haunted America. The History Press, 2009 (Ebook 2013).


Ghosts of the Triangle covers the “Triangle” area: the three cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. In addition to Raleigh being the state capital, the Triangle is the second-largest metropolitan area in North Carolina (after Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia). It is also a major center for medical and STEM research, and is one of the most diverse and liberal parts of the state. People come from all over the world to attend school and conduct research here. Hence its full name, the “Research Triangle.”

I have to admit that even though I read it just a few weeks ago, I didn’t remember much about this one at all. It could have just been that North Carolina Haunts covered the same ground more memorably. Or it could have been that this one was so short. There are only 32 tales in it.

The book has some of the usual standards of the Piedmont – notably, the early 19th century Peter Dromgoole legend, Civil War era Bentonville Battlefield, Millcreek Bridge (in which a meek old slave accidentally kills his brutal master and buries the body in secret under a bridge), and, of course, the Devil’s Tramping Ground. Personally, I have never understood the romantic appeal of the Peter Dromgoole legend, in which a young University of North Carolina student got himself killed in a duel over a girl and later on, some frat boys built a castle on the spot. From Peter Dromgoole to Jim Wilcox, North Carolina folklore seems to have a soft spot for young men doing irrevocably stupid things.

Ghosts of the Triangle also has its fair share of Moldy Old Piles architectural history, with an emphasis on the institutional. You’ll find sections on the North Carolina State Capitol building, Stagville Plantation, North Carolina State University, Dorothea Dix Hospital, and the White-Holman House. The authors are quite fond of haunted hospitals and the Triangle area doesn’t lack in old medical centers. Since many of these buildings are large and not residences, these sections tend to be collections of stories about different sections of the building and involve more witnesses than a private house generally does.

I’ve been rather harsh on this one so far and that’s not entirely fair. The Jacksons are also good at turning off familiar roads into some pretty strange and new territory, such as with the Haunted Wood section in Durham County or CryBaby Lane in Raleigh (which turned out to be only an urban legend when the authors researched it). Just as CryBaby Lane turned out not to be a gravity hill (as they usually are), I thought the story about the Phantom Hitchhiker would be about Lydia’s Bridge, but nope. It was a lesser-known male version from what appears to have been the 19th century. And it was quite creepy. Lydia is known for being wistful and just wanting to go home. This spirit appeared to have more darker designs, like a less-humorous version of the mule-abusing monster in Haunted Uwharries.

The authors tend to waver between lots of historical detail that doesn’t necessarily add to the atmosphere and going really vague with the iffier legends that may be created out of whole cloth, or go too far back to have lots of surviving corroborative evidence. The Jacksons provide less autobiographical detail than some other authors, so it’s a bit hard to tell what angle they’re coming from. But they do provide an introduction that briefly talks about folklore. It wouldn’t have hurt to make this one a bit longer, but the Haunted America series tended to have some pretty short entries. Ghosts of the Triangle is definitely that.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Uwharries (2009)


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Morgan, Fred T. Haunted Uwharries: Ghost Stories, Witch Tales and Other Happenings from North America’s Oldest Mountains. Bandit Books, 2009.


Fred T. Morgan classifies himself as a storyteller. He’s still with us and lives in Albemarle, NC, running a B&B where you can stay the night and interview him or listen to him tell his stories. Yes, I am saving my pennies.

Morgan’s big focus is the region of the Uwharries. This one is part of a series about the area. The Uwharrie Mountains are a low and ancient mountain range, half a billion years old, in the Piedmont (central) area of North Carolina. Once higher than the Rockies, this heavily wooded range is now a series of rolling hills barely topping a thousand feet. For comparison, the Appalachians are about twenty million years younger, with the Rockies being 55-80 million years old and the Himalayas a mere 55 million years old. The area boasts its own National Forest.

As with many such ancient places, the Uwharries are a region that seems to brood and brim with secrets. A lot of the stories in here follow well-known folkloric tropes of NC and the South: a headless man chasing a hapless tramp out of an abandoned witch house, a particularly chilling and brutal Bluebeard of the Uwharries who dispatched his seven terrified wives with their own knitting needles, the siren of Rocky River who lures unstable musicians to their doom, a ghost child who asks for a ride and then turns into an enormous monster that breaks down mules, the crying ghost of a baby buried beneath a hearth, more than one shapeshifting witch, a hermit, a girl frightened to death by accidentally staking her dress to a grave, and so on. An entire section, in fact, is dedicated to witch tales. All of these are garnished by clear and evocative black-and-white illustrations by Tim Rickard.

Morgan tells these stories as if they are actual stories (much like Nancy Roberts) rather than recountings of local history or legends (as Morgan claims they are in his introduction). There is at least one that is historical, retelling the local stories surrounding the area’s experience of the massive 1886 earthquake of Charleston, SC. Some of the entries in the final section, though (such as the tale of an enchanted pipe whose smoke can show strange new worlds or the morality tale about Lucifer the crow), seem entirely fictional.

Some are also just plain funny, like the tale of the drunken turkeys (from still mash) who are accidentally plucked by a housewife who thought they were dead. They then give everyone a scare when they show up on the doorstep, naked and hungover, but very much alive.

Morgan spins a good yarn (particularly memorable are the monster baby and the skilled horsewoman who takes revenge on the creepy suitor/stalker who murdered her) and some of these are new. There’s a Phantom Hitchhiker tale of an old woman who walks along a lonely stretch of dirt track with her laundry on her head until a traveling preacher takes pity on her and picks her up. In another traveling preacher tale, the minister takes home a grieving mother whom he finds lying on her dead baby’s grave, only to find when he gets there that she, too, has died. He was giving a ride to a ghost. In another traveler tale, visiting midwives are felt up over the bedclothes by a ghost in a haunted porch room (an exterior room of the porch made up for visitors in old country houses).

There are also several tales about African Americans back in the day, such as Celia Easely and her husband Old Free Harry, who once worked their way up to owning 400 acres in the Uwharries during the 19th century. Then there’s the odd story of Old John, an old man with a magic ball who may have originally come from Ancient Egypt.

One of the creepiest is the very strange tale about the squeaky pines of Rocky Hill Road in Rocky River. Those passing by a certain spot in their carts would see the ghost of a hanged man before being accosted by three witches and five goblins, intent on murder. A country doctor on an emergency call finally busted through with his assistant. This apparently broke the spell, but for years afterward, people saw three crows harassing five field mice in the area. One theory advanced in the story is that the goblins were the ghosts of five slaves who once lynched a cruel slave master and the witches were the ghosts of the slave master’s sisters, who sought revenge on the slaves, but never got it in life. But in truth, the mystery is never fully explained. It’s just straight-up creepy.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: The “Wettest & Wickedest Town” (Salisbury, NC) (2011)


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Lilly-Bowyer, Karen C. The “Wettest & Wickedest” Town: An Illustrated Guide to the Legends & Ghosts of Salisbury, North Carolina. Frank Chodl, photos. 2011.


I was pleased to find this book while attending a conference in Salisbury a couple of years ago. It’s the kind of local, indie book that is very hard to find outside of its own location. You’d probably have to call the South Main Book Company in Salisbury (where I bought the book) to get a copy. It’s self-published (with the ring-binder, that shows), and it’s short (73 pages), but the sepia photographs look really nice on glossy paper and there are ghost stories here you won’t find anywhere else.

You know a town has a pretty dark history when one of the ugliest “legends” (an extremely notorious group lynching that put Salisbury on the map for a time in the worst possible way) is just cold, hard fact. There’s a lot more to Salisbury than that, but the chilling unsolved ax murder of a family and the three unfortunate men whose lynching for the crime made international news in 1906 is probably its most famous tale. As with most lynchings during this time period, race was a major factor and the real murderers of the family (possibly the oldest two children, who survived) got away with it, as did the mob. At least, in a court of law. In the court of international opinion, Salisbury was thoroughly condemned.

The crime still resonates today. Just this year, the town council has been considering two resolutions that themselves thoroughly condemn the lynching and they’ve generated a lot of controversy, even in 2018.

The tree is still there.

But there are other tales, too. There are 14 in all from the author’s ghost tours in Salisbury. Though some of them follow folkloric tropes (such as the ghost of a little girl spotted in an upstairs window in the Wrenn House), you’re not likely to see very many in other collections. For example, there’s the quote used in the title. Salisbury began as a county courthouse and a tavern (known as an “ordinary”) in 1755. A century later, it had so many whiskey distilleries, saloons and whorehouses that it was considered “the ‘Wettest and Wickedest’ town in the state.” Prohibition had little effect on the town other than to drive its activities underground.

The Sessions House, on land once owned by the rich slave trader Maxwell Chambers, is built over the family graveyard and belongs to a nearby church. It’s speculated Chambers felt guilt late in life about his profession and wanted a connection to the church, but why are the graves under the house and covered by stone slabs? The author floats a more sinister theory – that Chambers feared the family’s bodies would be stolen by medical students looking for cadavers.

Unsurprisingly, the local cemeteries get an entry (some going back to the 18th century). In addition to being the cemetery for a former Confederate prison, one also has possible Masonic graves. Lutheran Cemetery has an odd ring around one tree of permanently trampled earth, reminiscent of the Devil’s Tramping Ground in Chatham County. The author also mentions legends of pirates and of tunnels under the town (some of which may actually have existed as escape tunnels from the prison).

All in all, Salisbury has a fascinating history and folklore. Even Lilly-Bowyer admits that this book just scratches the surface of the folklore, but it’s a good effort that adds some unique material to the North Carolina collection of ghost stories.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #12: Tales from Guilford County (1917)


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Parsons, Elsie Clews. “Tales from Guilford County.” The Journal of American Folklore, 30:116 (Apr.-Jun. 1917): 168-200.


This is the oldest of the books that I’m reviewing this month and as you can see, it’s technically an article. That said, it’s a densely packed, 32-page article that has almost as much information as some of the books I’ve reviewed. Some of those books are also heavily indebted to this article, so in it goes.

The article itself collects various tales (62 in all, not including variations within a tale) from a specific county in North Carolina in the early 20th century. Parsons (1875-1941) was a pretty major folklorist of the day, collecting Caribbean tales, as well as an anthropologist concentrating on Native American cultures, so you’ll see her pop up elsewhere, such as with her article on animal tales. She was not a Southerner, let alone a North Carolinian.

What Parsons gathers here is a grab-bag of different types of tales. There are animal tales that may go back to Africa (notably of the Brer Rabbit type). Others are based on well-known European tales like Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.” There are also some ghost stories.

There are several stories about the Devil, several about witches, and one about Bluebeard. That last one is especially interesting, since Parsons’ theory is that these stories originally derive from the Bahamas prior to the Revolutionary War, even though most of the storytellers were native North Carolinians. Canadian horror writer Nalo Hopkinson, whose story, “The Glass Bottle Trick,” is based on the Bluebeard legend, is originally from Jamaica, so Parsons may have been on to something. The Bluebeard legend is also popular in NC and appears in several of the North Carolina collections I’ve read.

I’m not a huge fan of Parsons’ style. The way she transcribes African American dialect (the title aside, all of the storytellers recorded in this article are African American Southerners, whereas Parsons is white and a Yankee) has not dated well. It reads a lot more like Amos and Andy than it does like how real people speak and it’s pretty distracting.

I’m also not wowed by her relative lack of notes. She has an introduction in which she explains her Bahamas origin theory. She also gives (very brief) bios of her unnamed storytellers. These mostly include their ages, where they were born, and where they lived, and that’s about it. The most detailed bio is for the eldest, a woman who was born before the Civil War. That woman also tends to recount the most coherent and detailed stories.

Parsons also doesn’t do a very good job of gleaning info out of the storytellers beyond the surface level. While some of these are classics that have been told and retold many times since the article came out, like “Dividing the Souls,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Woman-Cat,” others are confusing and lack critical parts to them (like “Woman on Housetop” and “The Talking Bones”). Some would be quite chilling with a little more story flesh to them (notably, the vicious, disemboweling ghost in “The Spitting Haint”). But Parsons never seems to ask any questions or give more than the most basic footnotes to put any of them into context.

Overall, though there’s some material here still left to mine if you’re a horror writer, this one is mainly for the folklorist or the completist.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #6: Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and the Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era (2014)


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Miles, Tiya. Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and the Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era. The University of North Carolina Press, 2015.


I was looking forward to this academic analysis of how ghost tours create and distort African American Antebellum history as soon as I found it on Amazon. For the most part, it delivered. Tiya Miles (1970- ) is an African American historian and professor at the University of Michigan. In Tales from the Haunted South, she explores the industry of “dark tourism” (tourism centered on death, disaster and other such tragedies) as it relates to ghost tours in the South. As you may have already noticed, Southern ghost tours (and ghost collections) usually like to go Gothic and indulge in Lost Cause romanticism, especially when it comes to the Civil War. Dr. Miles’ acerbic academic study is a bracing antidote to all that.

Dr. Miles comes into this field, not only as an African American historian focusing on the stories of the slaves who have become mere props in the tales of Romantic and Stupid Dead White People of Times Gone By, but as a “Yankee” outsider who isn’t very sympathetic toward the gauzy view Southern historians and storytellers may still hold toward the Civil War and Antebellum South. She also uses a narrative frame for the more academic discussion, in which she develops and gradually explores an equal fascination and repulsion regarding the supernatural and the ghost tour industry.

Dr. Miles comes from a Baptist tradition that appears to regard all truck with the supernatural world as not only unsavory, but spiritually dangerous. This adds a heightened and personalizing sense of guilt as an undercurrent to her journey from Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA to New Orleans, LA to the infamous Myrtles Plantation upstream from NO. Sadly, she never steps foot in North Carolina. In her defense, it’s also outside her intended geographic scope. It’s a short book that requires a sharp focus. As we get to know the subject matter, we also get to know her as a person exploring a shadowy corner of her cultural heritage.

Sometimes, this personal subtext works very well. Sometimes, not so much.

This is an essential book in any bibliography of Southern folklore. Dr. Miles does an excellent job of showing how white people in the Southern ghost tourism industry are stuck in a Gone with the Wind narrative of mossy Greek Revival plantations, in which they use the real-life sufferings of African slaves as a spice and hors d’oeuvre. Shadowy slave ghosts are trotted out as an exotic feature on these tours for a largely white audience. This distorts popular teaching of African American history and re-victimizes historical slave victims, on whose bones America was built, all over again.

She also tells a rousing good ghost tale (has even authored a novel or two) and is quite able to insert some creep into all the standard academese. There’s the Savannah ghost tour of the Old Sorrel-Weed House she and her husband attend. Later, they do some research and find that the compelling tales of slave suffering they encountered on the tour have no known basis in fact. The stories and characters are fiction. Obviously, this disappoints them after the properly chilling tour.

But back home in Michigan, Dr. Miles finds that one of her photos (of an alleged slave cemetery buried under Calhoun Square) unexpectedly shows an orb. Orbs are soap-bubble-like distortions that appear on digital photos. They are usually tricks of light reflection or refraction, dust motes, water droplets, or insects, but sometimes, they have no discernible cause. As she and her husband, rather creeped out, are trying to explain this digital artefact away, Dr. Miles’ young son comes in and sees the photo. He then starts talking emphatically about a “thing” in the photo that is not the orb and that neither of his parents can see.

Doo-doo-doo-doo.

However, Dr. Miles has a tendency to acknowledge the corrupting influence of slavery as an institution (something even its proponents knew by the 1850s), while ignoring the fact that its corruption was so terrible in its effects because it was universal. For example, she talks about Native Americans in rather distant terms, as victims of European expansion and aggression (and even mentions the Vann Plantation, about which she has written elsewhere), without ever really digging into the aspect that Cherokee plantation slave owners like the Vanns and Stand Watie fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Their descendants were anything but sanguine about sharing tribal identity with the descendants of their freedmen in the late 20th century. Like white plantation wives, Native Americans were both victims and abusers in the Antebellum South.

There are some other odd blind spots. After clearly establishing that the teenage slave “mistresses” Molly (Sorrel-Weed House) and Chloe (Myrtles Plantation) probably never existed (though women like them certainly did), Dr. Miles spends a lot of time on their apocryphal suffering while ignoring real-life women like Marie Laveau in New Orleans who held leadership roles in African religion and the local African American community. These women negotiated a very delicate balance with the dominant white culture to avoid extermination as an early American type of heretic. I was disappointed that Dr. Miles discusses Laveau mainly in passing when she spends a great deal more time (and, frankly, more sympathy than I ever would) on the monstrous New Orleans society dame Madame Delphine LaLaurie, her Creole heritage, her abusive final husband, and her Frankenstein complex. In the process of trying to unearth real African American history, Dr. Miles sometimes contributes to burying it further.

Her point – that LaLaurie’s brutality likely wasn’t really all that remarkable in the Antebellum South among the angry white plantation wives who had to negotiate their own precarious and unfree status not so far above enslaved black women their husbands owned and sexually exploited – is well taken. However, she doesn’t appear to have made a connection that LaLaurie’s myth does not come from whole cloth. It is very close to the story of Elizabeth Bathory, a liminal European female serial killer of high status, and contains elements (the abusive younger husband) from Chaucer’s notorious Wife of Bath. These possible literary allusions suggested that Madame LaLaurie’s story has been greatly heightened, beginning immediately after her flight from New Orleans.

Dr. Miles also implies that quadroon balls (in which biracial women sought white male protectors) were likely an invention of Spanish rule, but appears unaware of a similar tradition of “temporary” wives involving Christian men and Muslim women in late medieval Castile.

It’s interesting that Molly and Chloe are two apparently fictional characters introduced into real life tragic mysteries surrounding the sudden deaths of two white wives of plantation masters and used to excuse the possibly culpable actions of those real-life men. It’s also interesting that Chloe was apparently invented by a white woman in the late 20th century who was paranoid that her husband was cheating on her. I would have liked to have heard more about some of the real-life Mollies and Chloes, but most of that part of the book is about Madame LaLaurie and her abusive white counterparts, instead. LaLaurie’s victims never get a proper voice.

Also a problem is that there are times when Dr. Miles makes some rather visible goofs and omissions. For example, she mentions Supernatural and Ghost Hunters early on as reality ghost shows when Supernatural is most decidedly horror fiction. She does discuss Toni Morrison’s Beloved and mentions Tananarive Due in her end notes. But she never mentions that important and well-known African diaspora writers like Octavia Butler (Kindred) and Nalo Hopkinson (The Salt Roads), and movements like Afrofuturism, Steamfunk, and Sword and Soul, already deal with the issues of slavery and ghost tales the way she says African Americans should. It doesn’t feel so much that she ignores them as that she simply isn’t aware of all the people of color writing horror out there because (as she admits at the beginning), she herself has a horror of horror.

Toward the end, in her rather incoherent final chapter, she claims that she encountered no African American tour guides on any of her tours. Just the chapter before, she spends considerable time describing a young, openly gay African American tour guide at Myrtles Plantation.

She begins the book with a white tour guide on a standard historic house tour speaking rather sarcastically about the popularity of ghost tours. This makes her rather uneasy (since the potted history of the historic Southern house tour often has precious little African American content). Yet, she ends the book settling comfortably back into her previous contempt for dark tourism, with an African American historical tour guide who so assiduously avoids commercializing influences like ghost tours that he doesn’t even explain the history behind the use of haint blue in Savannah. This color was used on houses (particularly porch ceilings) by the African American Gullah people, probably to confuse spirits (who could not cross water). It likely became used in Antebellum Southern plantation houses because the people building them were African American slaves and freedmen. Far from a silly stereotype about the South invented by white ghost tour operators, haint blue illuminates a pretty major part of African American contribution to Southern architecture that the author appears to have missed.


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African American Artisans: William W. Smith


By Paula R. Stiles


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William W. Smith (1862-1937) was one of the first African-American architects in the United States and the first in Charlotte, NC. His career demonstrates the difficulties faced by free African American contractors and architects following the Civil War and Recontruction, as well as the difficulties of survival of early African American architecture. Though Smith was born in 1862, all of his known career is encompassed by the Segregation period and is heavily influenced by the cultural impositions made on architecture by segregation laws that forced blacks and whites to live, worship and do business in separate spheres.

He is also a good example of a tradesman who crossed over to designing buildings in addition to building them. Part of what may have helped him further his career as a trade mason and contractor was that he was a local leader of the African American community and a member of Prince Hall Freemasonry as part of the Paul Drayton Lodge # 7. An early branch of Freemasonry founded in Boston by free black Prince Hall in the late 18th century, when white lodges refused to take in African Americans, Prince Hall Freemasonry was well-established in North Carolina by the middle of the 19th century. Smith was apparently a devoted lifelong member. The three major interests that come through in his architecture are church (the Grace African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which he built), education (Livingston College, for which he taught, and also built, repaired and designed several buildings), and the Masonic lodge.

Smith most likely began life as a slave, since he was born during the Civil War in Mecklenburg County. His father, Robert C. Smith, was born in 1831 and died when Smith was around fourteen years old. William married his wife Keziah E. Eggleston (1860-1925), who was from South Carolina, in 1877. He later married a woman named Mary, who eventually survived him. While he had no children of his own, he was survived by a stepson, Arthur Anderson. All evidence indicates he never left Mecklenburg County and most of his known work, particularly after 1910, was in Charlotte.

Little is known about his early life or career. He does not appear to have had the formal education of the first professionally trained African American architect in the U.S., younger contemporary and fellow North Carolinian Robert Robinson Taylor (1868-1942), who came from Wilmington. Instead, he apprenticed in the trades. Previous architects John Merrick and Henry Beard Delaney came from out of state or had some white ancestry, indicating that architecture had not been accessible as a career to most local African American tradesmen up to that point.

Smith does not appear in records until 1886, when he shows up as one of the founders of the Grace African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (a branch of Methodism that dated to around the beginning of the 19th century) in Charlotte that year, along with his wife Keziah. Though Smith did not design the church (it was designed by Hayden, Wheeler, and Schwend, who normally designed courthouses, along an auditorium plan), his later style is illuminated in the church’s final appearance. He incorporated both Gothic (the crenellated towers) and Classical (columns and pilasters) elements into the final design, working in brick, marble, ironwork, and even oak (for the interior). He was also instrumental in getting it built, agreeing to supply the materials and labor if the congregation raised money for it.

Smith’s support for his congregation extended even further to designing and building a sanctuary for the church in 1902 (the original architects of the church having disbanded a few years before). In the 1890s, he began to appear as a brick mason in the Charlotte City Directory. He did not start to be reported as an architect until the turn of the century. Though he had no formal education, he was not self-taught, nor did he invent the African American tradition of masonry in Charlotte wholesale. He apprenticed with William Houser, a noted local bricklayer in Charlotte’s uptown Second Ward, known as Brooklyn. Brooklyn was a relatively self-contained haven for African Americans in the city as Segregation took hold. It included many African American businesses and was a symbol of African American pride in Charlotte.

While Charlotte rapidly expanded following the Civil War, African Americans like Houser and his protege dominated the masonry field in the industry. Smith even taught bricklaying at African American-founded Livingston College in Salisbury in the early part of the 20th century. Livingston College, which began existence as Zion Wesley Institute in Concord in 1879 (moving to Salisbury in 1882), was the first A.M.E. Zion school in the state and an early example of a college founded and controlled by African Americans. Bishop James W. Hood, Joseph C. Price (who died in 1893), and William Henry Goler (who succeeded him in and retired in 1917) were all early leaders of the college.

A.M.E. Zion’s desire to bring in African American recruits and help support the leadership of the African American community led to a name change in 1885. It was in commemoration of the famous missionary explorer in Africa, Dr. David Livingston, who had died in what is now Zambia in 1873. Livingston was an early, notable example of a European who was sympathetic and respectful toward Africans: a good example of A.M.E. Zion’s goals.

After building the church, Smith became closely involved in A.M.E. Zion’s other great local endeavor, Livingston College. His first project as an architect was probably the restoration of Ballard Hall in 1905 on the Livingston College campus. The next year, he designed Hood Hall. He also designed Goler Hall. Both were named after the college’s early presidents.

Smith also designed several business buildings downtown in Charlotte. He was the architect for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Publishing House (1911), the Afro-American Mutual Insurance Company building (1911), and the now-famous Mecklenburg Investment Company Building (1922). All were in the same general vicinity around South Brevard and 3rd Street (close to the Grace African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church), though only the Mecklenburg Investment Company Building now survives. The other two, like many African American buildings in the U.S., fell victim to the urban planning movement in the 1950s and 1960s, which disproportionately targeted poorer neighborhoods for renovation and destruction of older buildings deemed obsolete. Smith also designed his own family mausoleum, which still stands in Pinewood Cemetery, as well as one for a local family, Jones. This is the only known personal structure of his surviving, though the Mecklenburg Investment Company Building is generally regarded as his master work.

Smith’s style was unique and he went to great lengths to demonstrate the versatility of brick as a building material. Though he used other materials with equal skill, brickwork was his signature. He also taught his style at Livingstone College, to the point that students created the bricks used in the projects he designed and restored there. He was especially fond of geometric (particularly diamond-shaped), multicolored designs that resembled Beaux Arts, or 15th century, yellow-monochrome, Mudejar brickwork in Spain, but his main influences were Gothic and a sort of vernacular-flavored Richardsonian Romanesque. His buildings had a square solidity and simplicity that contrasted with his ornate and colorful brickwork. His church (which was not entirely his own design) also had Gothic Revival and Classical elements, including a large bell tower.

Smith was so well-respected locally that even white-owned newspapers of the area acknowledged his death in 1937. A.M.E. Zion wrote a eulogy for him in its newsletter, as he was a great success for the denomination. Smith was a signal example of the self-reliant African American businessman ideal that both African American leaders and sympathetic white groups like A.M.E. Zion promoted after the Civil War and during the early years of Segregation (1900-1939). Like his contemporary Booker T. Washington, Smith promoted the ideals of African American education and community involvement. He created a variety of still-iconic structures and was one of the small group of African American architects in the United States in the early 20th century. By all surface standards, he was a great success, both in individual terms and for his community.

But Smith’s successes obscured his precarious and isolated situation as a prominent African American architect during the Segregation period. The works he did were all on African American-related projects. Except for the business buildings, they were all related to his church and denomination. The college was African American. The business buildings themselves were for African American businesses.

Though he is famous in Charlotte and also had a significant influence on the A.M.E. Zion denomination, Smith does not appear in most architectural biographies or those of famous North Carolinians. He does not even appear in most African American biographical dictionaries, perhaps because they tend to have a strong focus on entertainment and sports. Outside of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, he is almost unknown, while contemporary architects who contributed far less have more fame. It is difficult to perceive this as not related directly to Segregation.

Smith’s entire community operated in the same relative obscurity. The Mecklenburg Investment Company Building was commissioned by several African American businesses in the first place because no whites would let them rent their buildings. The African American business community desperately needed office space, so these businesses pooled their money and commissioned the only African American architect in the area to build one for them. A demonstration of how cramped for space was that community in Charlotte, despite their industry and rapid expansion, was that these buildings housed several businesses and different concerns at once.

One building also housed a Prince Hall lodge in addition to African American businesses. As Smith’s religious devotion came out in his work at his church and Livingston College, his devotion to Freemasonry came out in his work on these office buildings. Smith and his community’s world was constrained, a safe space that was nonetheless small, with the church and the office buildings built close to each other. Their proximity also reflects the deep devotion to religion that permeated even secular concerns in turn-of-the-century African American North Carolina.

This constraint was probably not all voluntary. Smith was limited to work in his own community and could not take commissions from white clients. The more visible and lucrative contracts of the white community were not open to him as an architect (though he might work on them as a bricklayer).

In light of how Smith’s surviving work, even that which he did not design, was so focused on the African American community, it is also possible that he chose to concentrate on building for his own community to the exclusion of personal financial advancement through doing construction jobs for the white community. Smith’s powerful and colorful buildings reflect a great deal of pride in his own considerable skill in masonry and ability to parlay that skill into designing entire buildings. His choice of projects also shows a great deal of pride in his community. But their light was largely kept under the bushel of Segregation.


Bibliography

Catherine W. Bishir. North Carolina Architecture. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill: 1990.

Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historical Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill: 2003.

Jeffrey B. Leak. “Memories of Brooklyn: A black man’s search for the ‘warmth of other suns’ leads him back to his Southern roots,” Charlotte Magazine (August 27, 2014).

North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary, Smith, William W.

What is the A.M.E. Zion Church?” Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church.

Pioneering Black Architects in North Carolina,” North Carolina Modernist Houses.

William W. Smith,” Lost Charlotte: The Queen City of the South’s Past Revisited.


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Unusual History: Annie Wealthy Holland


By Paula R. Stiles


[Check out more details about the above photo of Pee Dee Rosenwald School, c.1935, here.]


Though born in Virginia, plain, unassuming workhorse Annie Wealthy Holland (1871-1934) was one of the most influential African American educators, woman or man, in the early 20th century in North Carolina. Though greatly dedicated to the cause of African American education, she never earned a diploma. And though she wielded considerable power across the state as the demonstration agent for the Jeanes Fund and founder of the Negro Parent-Teacher Association (the first of its kind), equivalent to being a supervisor over all African American schools in North Carolina, she never had a formal administrative position. Annie Wealthy Holland’s career, first profiled a mere five years after her death in Five North Carolina Negro Educators, reflected the contradictions for women and for African Americans in Reconstruction and Segregation era North Carolina.

Holland was born in 1871 in Isle of Wight County in Virginia. Her parents, John Daughtry and Margaret Hill, had married in 1869, but divorced soon after she was born. This resulted in an early setback for Holland in her road to education. Even though her grandfather and grandmother had strong ties to the nearby plantation, her mother moved her young daughter to Southhampton County after remarrying. There, Annie spent her early years with few prospects, raising her six younger siblings while struggling to study.

Holland’s paternal family regarded the white owners of the nearby plantation so highly that they had named her after the mistress, Annie Wealthy. The Wealthys had also freed her grandfather, Friday Daughtry, in 1867 and given him some property of land and livestock to get started. He was able to increase this to the point where he invited his eldest granddaughter to return and pursue her studies while living with him. There, Holland learned about the ways and hardships of farming peanuts and sweet potatoes, a lifelong lesson. She also noticed that educational opportunities were increasing for African Americans, who were beginning to replace the previous white teachers in the field, and quickly took it to heart as her vocation.

After Holland graduated from the Isle of Wight County School at age 16, her grandfather sent her to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Hampton, Virginia. Founded in 1861 to educate African American refugees from the War as future leaders of their communities, the Institute focused on teaching practical skills like trades. Unfortunately, Holland’s education was interrupted when her grandfather died after her first year. After moving to New York and working as a nurse and nanny for a family there, she was able to earn enough money to enroll for a second year, but illness due to malaria prevented her from completing her diploma (a lifelong regret she expressed decades later in surviving letters). She was, however, later able to earn a teaching certificate from Virginia Normal Industrial Institute.

At the age of 18, around the time of her grandfather’s death, she married a Hampton graduate named Willis Holland. They moved to Franklin, Virginia where, eight years later, they were serving as principal and assistant principal of a nearby school. Holland quickly learned (perhaps aided by her own early experiences of balancing study with child care) that the ability of their students to study and even attend school could be greatly and adversely affected by lack of basic resources. For example, she took it upon herself to conduct clothing drives for students who were too poor to have adequate winter clothing. African American public schools at this time suffered from a lack of educational resources, such as textbooks, in comparison to white schools. This made keeping the school open a constant challenge. Aside from a brief stint working on her own with a rural school, Holland continued to run the Franklin area school with her husband until 1911.

In October of that year, Holland made the decision to join the Jeanes Fund. The million-dollar Anna T. Jeanes Fund had been created by, and named after, Quaker philanthropist Anna Jeanes in 1907 to help expand public education for African Americans. It was unique among such foundations for allowing African Americans on the board of trustees.

The job was a formidable undertaking. As of 1914, the Fund did not even have one teacher for every one of their 119-county coverage in Virginia and North Carolina. The position involved a great deal of extension work, not only teaching of students but also community outreach and interaction. Nevertheless, Holland was so good at this that in 1915, she was asked to become the State Home Demonstration Agent in North Carolina. This gave her de facto authority over all African American elementary schools in the state. She held the position for 13 years.

In her new role, Holland had a comprehensive variety of roles and duties. She had to train and organize teachers, create reading circles and homemakers’ clubs, run meetings, and give church speeches. Her purview included 19 county schools, 10 city schools, and 3 “normal” (teaching college) schools. She might visit as many as twenty counties in a given month and oversaw forty-five county supervisors. She was the epitome of leading through service.

At the end of this period, Holland founded the first Negro Parent-Teacher State Association, called the North Carolina Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, at Shaw University (an African American college founded as Raleigh Institute in 1865) in 1928. Shaw was a prestigious college, the first in the U.S. to have a four-year medical degree and the first African American college to accept women. This meeting of some fifteen thousand people and seven hundred and seventy organizations was the culmination of a long and hard, but fruitful career.

Holland died six years later in Louisburg, NC and was buried in Franklin. While her life and career had begun in Virginia, in the end, her heart belonged to North Carolina. In commemoration, a tree was planted in her honor at Shaw University in 1939, five years after her death at the age of 63.

Much of Holland’s success stemmed from her remarkable knack for diplomacy and her self-effacing approach. She was an excellent mediator, gifted at persuading teachers and parents, blacks and whites, to get along and work together. She believed that African Americans should stand up for themselves, albeit not in ways that would deliberately alienate whites.

She also had to deal with the reality that she was working in a period where women had to take a secondary role to men, regardless of their race. There was never a question, for example, when she ran a school with her husband, whether he would be the principal and she would be his assistant. The few women who were able to have a career outside of the home also had to work very hard to maintain their position — and as Holland herself discovered, that work often involved teaching other women how to be better homemakers.

Her low-key approach also allowed her to navigate potentially dangerous political shoals and expand education – especially rural, public education — in the state for African Americans considerably during the early Segregation period. Unlike some other African American leaders of the time, Holland lacked the option in her later career of working exclusively in that community. She had to deal with a white community that perceived itself as superior to her and did not necessarily approve of giving up resources for African American education, and she had to do so with both firmness and tact. Teaching impoverished children might have been the easiest part of her job. Possibly, her early experience with sympathetic whites such as her namesake was what led to her even-handed skill in dealing with both communities and establishing unusual legal ties across the great divide of Segregation.

Annie Wealthy Holland was not a glamorous woman by any stretch. Nor was she an obvious candidate for a forceful or transformational leader. But the drip of water over many years can erode stone better than a tsunami. Holland is an excellent example of one of many such leaders during the Segregation period who transformed North Carolina in numerous, pervasive and positive ways.

anniewealthyholland


Bibliography

The Educators,” The Women Who Ran the Schools: The Jeanes Teachers and Durham County’s Rural Black Schools.

Carter, Nathan. Five North Carolina Negro Educators. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1939.

Crow, Jeffrey J.; Escott, Paul D.; and Hatley, Flora J. A History of African Americans in North Carolina. 2nd ed. Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2011.

Gillespie, Michele and McMillen, Sally G., eds. North Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 1. The Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014.

Hoffschwelle, Mary. The Rosenwald Schools of the American South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

Kent, Scotti and Cohn, Scotti. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable North Carolina Women. Helena: Falcon Publishing, Inc., 2000.

Shaber, Sarah R. “Holland, Annie Wealthy,” NCPedia.org, 1988.

Williams, Shane. “Annie Wealthy Holland (1871-1934),” North Carolina History Project, 2016.