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Black community banded together for good

In the 1880s former slaves started buying land in the Slate Mountain and Chestnut Ridge section of Surry County. They were farmers who worked together to build cabins and barns, churches and schools. They helped their neighbors break the ground, plant and harvest crops and improve their farms one year to the next. If someone struggled, they all pitched in to help.

Willis and Ellen Moore, George Robert and Ida Frazier McArther, Zephiniah and Mary Penn, Sam and Minnie Hughes, Floyd France, Arthur Hatcher, and many other families established a thriving agricultural community in the Westfield area that continues today.

Descendants of those hard-working and close-knit families, some of whom still own the family land, created a memorial garden in 2003 so that history wouldn’t be lost. They erected markers recalling the joint effort of both white and black citizens to not only survive, but to thrive.

Gov. Mike Easley was unable to attend the dedication but sent a letter that acknowledged the unique accomplishments of the people there.

“Their perseverance and commitment to excellence served them well,” he wrote. “These same traits have passed down from generation to generation. It is fitting, therefore, to honor that legacy.”

That tradition of excellence and passing strength down from generation to generation continues. It is never so evident as during the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day program co-sponsored by the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History and the Mount Airy Surry County Branch of National Association of University Women each year, when the Black community celebrates those adults and youth who have embodied the best of Dr. King’s ideals and keep his dream alive.

Some of the people being lauded this year include those who have served in the military, such as Kathleen Lightfoot and Lottie Hairston, who both served in the US Navy, and Sonya Dodd, US Marine Corp.

The Chestnut Ridge farmers weren’t the only African-Americans of the county to pull together to reach for the dream. I’ve written about the wide-spread Tucker and Dobson families in Pine Ridge west of Mount Airy off 89. And there were many more.

Notable, in the town limits of Mount Airy, was Needmore Street, today known as Virginia Street.

Paula Larke interviewed Gilmer “Buster” Franklin and his wife Alice Lillian Crawford Franklin about their memories of the predominantly Black neighborhood. The article appeared in the “Collections and Recollections” book published in 1985 for the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of Mount Airy.

“If somebody in the neighborhood was sick, women in the community would go carry pails, cook, clean the house, comb the children’s hair, look after things,” recalled Mrs. Franklin. She also recalled Black-owned businesses that might not be recorded anywhere else. It was rare to find any mention of a Black citizen in the newspapers or business directories of Mount Airy which generally wrote only about white citizens.

A vast array of Black-owned and patronized businesses operated on Needmore including taxi services. Horse and carriage operations to carry people or goods were owned by Blanche Reynolds, Doc Gwyn, Jess Prather, and Dave Crawford, her father. Folks hired them to make runs to Hillsville, Virginia, or Winston-Salem. Sometimes as far as Greensboro or even Raleigh.

In more recent times Surry County has seen the rise of the African-American Historical and Genealogical Society of Surry County, dedicated to researching and collecting the fleeting history of that community. Dr. Evelyn Scales Thompson, author of several books, including “Around Surry County” for the Black America Series, has compiled a collection of oral histories detailing otherwise undocumented information.

Such projects can only create a richer, fuller history of the county and give the young people of color in the region a greater appreciation of the shoulders they stand on.

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Nora Dodd Ousley Glover, wife of James Glover, was a cook for years before she saved up enough to open her own café. Nora’s Cafe was on the corner of South Street and Virginia Street in the area called Needmore in the 1950s and early ‘60s.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_Nora.jpgNora Dodd Ousley Glover, wife of James Glover, was a cook for years before she saved up enough to open her own café. Nora’s Cafe was on the corner of South Street and Virginia Street in the area called Needmore in the 1950s and early ‘60s. Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

Heroes from the military aren’t the only ones being spotlighted this year at the M.L. King Jr. celebration to be held at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Smithy Reynolds, housekeeper and mother of seven from Sandy Level, was arrested May 15, 1949, when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Mount Airy. Shown here in a Mount Airy News photo from that day, she was bailed out by her employer, Fred Jarrell for $100 and fought the $25 she was fined. The News reporter blamed the violation of Jim Crow laws on “civil rights publicity.”
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_Smithy-Reynolds-and-bus-Newspaper.jpgHeroes from the military aren’t the only ones being spotlighted this year at the M.L. King Jr. celebration to be held at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Smithy Reynolds, housekeeper and mother of seven from Sandy Level, was arrested May 15, 1949, when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Mount Airy. Shown here in a Mount Airy News photo from that day, she was bailed out by her employer, Fred Jarrell for $100 and fought the $25 she was fined. The News reporter blamed the violation of Jim Crow laws on “civil rights publicity.” Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

It seems many members of the Jones family were involved in teaching, keeping the school running or supporting the youth of the Black community in some way. Eleanor Jones, wife of Principal Leonidas Jones, is shown with the Girl Scout Brownie Troop she led in the mid-1900s. Unfortunately, we don’t have IDs for the girls or the location.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_Brownies-.jpgIt seems many members of the Jones family were involved in teaching, keeping the school running or supporting the youth of the Black community in some way. Eleanor Jones, wife of Principal Leonidas Jones, is shown with the Girl Scout Brownie Troop she led in the mid-1900s. Unfortunately, we don’t have IDs for the girls or the location. Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

J.J. Jones High School served the Black students of the area from 1935-1965 when local schools desegregated. Jones graduates remember being encouraged to succeed by the school staff and many adults in their lives. Four of those graduates are shown here in the late 1950s are, from left, Frances Dodd, Henrietta Graham Pierce, Betty East Travis, and Evelyn Scales Thompson.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_Majorettes-.jpgJ.J. Jones High School served the Black students of the area from 1935-1965 when local schools desegregated. Jones graduates remember being encouraged to succeed by the school staff and many adults in their lives. Four of those graduates are shown here in the late 1950s are, from left, Frances Dodd, Henrietta Graham Pierce, Betty East Travis, and Evelyn Scales Thompson. Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

This hand-drawn map of Needmore Street, today known as Virginia Street, shows the vibrant and much-changed neighborhood that was mostly Black-owned businesses and homes.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_Needmore-Map.jpgThis hand-drawn map of Needmore Street, today known as Virginia Street, shows the vibrant and much-changed neighborhood that was mostly Black-owned businesses and homes. The map is courtesy of James Penn.

By Kate Rauhauser-Smith

All are invited to the Martin Luther King Jr. program on the third floor of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 7 p,m. The program is free. Call the museum at 336-786-4478 for information.

Kate Rauhauser-Smith is the visitor services manager for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History with 22 years in journalism before joining the museum staff. She and her family moved to Mount Airy in 2005 from Pennsylvania where she was also involved with museums and history tours. She can be reached at KRSmith@NorthCarolinaMuseum.org or by calling 336-786-4478 x228

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Source: https://www.mtairynews.com

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