Black History Month: February 2023

black history month 2023

The Local History & Genealogy Department is proud to participate in the celebrations of Black History Month every February with displays highlighting the achievements and rich history of African Americans in Iredell County. This year's display can be viewed on the main level of the library as you first walk in the front doors. Our glass cabinets are full of a wide variety of documents and photos depicting African American heritage in Statesville and Iredell County. Stop by or view the virtual display here and learn about the vibrant history and important past of our diverse community.


Unity High School opened in Iredell County as the county’s Black high school in 1941 with O.M Pharr as principal. It was located on Salisbury Road in the Belmont Community in east Iredell. The school opened with 13 teachers including Principal Pharr. It had no gym, auditorium, cafeteria, or even an adequate library when it opened.  A fleet of buses traveled all over the county taking some kids both to and from school in the dark. It would soon have the largest enrollment of any school in the county. Unity closed in 1970 with LeRoy Campbell serving as its last principal.

Unity Yearbook 1959 French ClubThe French Club at Unity High School, 1959

Unity Yearbook Service page names 1944Unity Yearbook Service page 1944

In 1944, the Unity High School yearbook, The Informer, featured a special page in honor of alumni who had entered 
military service during World War II.

The Colored Free School, which was located on Green Street, opened in 1891. The school was incredibly important to the African American residents, many of whom had been born into slavery. The younger generation being educated within these walls were able to take advantage of an opportunity which had been denied to their parents and grandparents. The building caught fire and was destroyed in 1916, making way for what would become Morningside. Because of the financial strain of World War I, a building was not able to be constructed right away, forcing teachers and students to continue school in churches and homes. A new building was finally built on the site of the old school in 1921. Under the leadership of Charles Webster Foushee (1872-1935), the school expanded over the years to include up through high school grades, making Morningside the only Black high school in Iredell County for several years. Foushee is remembered as an outstanding education leader for the African American community in Statesville. For over 30 years he served as principal of Statesville Black schools and played a large role in the formation and development of Morningside.

All of Iredell County’s African American schools closed when the school system became integrated in 1969. Morningside held its last graduating class on May 30, 1968. It continued as an integrated K-6 elementary school with an integrated staff. In March of 1971, the school was renamed the Alan D. Rutherford School in honor of the former principal and school administrator who succeeded Dr. Frank A. Toliver. 

Although the school building no longer stands, an additional annex is still on the original property. The Peterson and Mangum Funeral Home eventually moved into the building where it became the Davis and Mangum Mortuary. This annex building, now empty, still sits behind a beautiful historical marker dedicated on September 2, 2006, where the original 1921 building stood. 

Charles Foushee

Morningside Football Team 1943, Stimson Collection

(Left) Charles Webster Foushee (1872-1935)
(Right) The football team of the Morningside School, 1943. Photograph from the Stimson Collection.

Chestnut Grove SchoolThe Chestnut Grove School began as a one-room schoolhouse as the result of consolidation of six surrounding schools. 
It was one of the eleven Rosenwald schools implemented in the county. The school was shut down in 1966 to make 
way for integration, and in 1970 it was converted to a community center, which is still in operation today.

People of Iredell County

Gaither FamilyThis photo of four generations of the Gaither family from Harmony was featured in the February 20, 1986 issue of the 
Iredell County News.

Black railway workerBlack farmer, Tharpe Collection(Left) A railway worker takes a break on a Southern Railway cart from Charlotte, 1940s. Photograph from Max Tharpe Collection.
(Right) A farmer from northern Iredell, 1940s. Photograph from the Max Tharpe Collection.
BlackburnAlfred “Teen” Blackburn was born into slavery on a plantation in Hamptonville near the Iredell/Yadkin County line. 
He died in 1951 and was supposedly over 100 years old at the time of his death. He is pictured here with 
two of his great-grandchildren, Judy and Victor Carson, 1949.  Photograph from Max Tharpe Collection.

Caesar Allison, Stimpson CollectionRev. Caesar Allison (1853-1933) helped start Emmaus Baptist Church in 1874 which would later become First Baptist. 
As the new name would  suggest, it was the first African American Baptist church in Statesville. 
It was originally located very close to Green Street Cemetery, where Rev.  Allison is presumably buried. 
Photograph from the Stimson Collection.
Marshall HugginsLibrary(Left) Featured in the February 1990 issue of the Iredell County News, Mrs. Geneva Miller of Mooresville 
was interviewed about her family history and was referred to as a “Black History  repository.” The photo is of one 
of her ancestors, Marshall  Huggins, who was an ice truck driver in the 1930s.
(Right) The county library, which was never segregated prior to the Civil Rights movement, has always promoted 
Black History Month and resources for education on African American heritage. This picture was featured in a 1991 
issue of the Iredell County News, the only Black newspaper to serve Iredell County.

Green Street Cemetery

The oldest public African American cemetery in Statesville, Green Street Cemetery is located at the end of Green Street on the corners of Green, Chambers, and Elm Streets. The Iredell County Public Library was awarded a $20,000 grant in order to conduct a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey of the Green Street Cemetery to verify the number of burials. This grant will help establish Green Street Cemetery as a designated historic site. The cemetery is thought to be the oldest cemetery in Statesville and the largest in the county for formerly enslaved peoples. The area is in the process of being cleared of brush, and we expect the ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey to be scheduled for March 28th, contingent on weather. The library is collaborating with the City of Statesville, the Statesville NAACP, and Downtown Statesville for this project.

green street

Green Street Deed 2

The first land deed was filed in 1885 and completed in February 1886. Although an exact acreage is not listed, it can be assumed it was for about one acre. The cemetery now sits on 3.38 acres and a second deed from 1888 is for 2.75 acres. The money for this first tract came from the Colored Graveyard Association, the trustees of which are listed by name, William M. Pearson, S.J. Allison, and W.A. Russell. The second land deed (pictured above), filed in 1888 and completed in 1890, was specifically for 2.75 acres. The same trustees are listed as buyers. The money for this piece of property came from the City of Statesville, yet it would not be until the 1960s that the city officially took over maintenance responsibilities.

Cemetery Form 1886

This is a copy of the oldest document still in existence connected to the cemetery. The original is in the 
collection of the Genealogical Society of Iredell County. This is a purchase form from H.J.C. Chambers 
to R.D. Bailey for two plots in the Union Grove Cemetery dated April 17, 1886. This was only a few months after the 
Colored Graveyard Association purchased the property from Mary C. Bell.

Aerial View of PropertyRamseur, Julia(Left) This Google Maps image shows the area which will be surveyed by ground-penetrating radar. The red is the 
3.38 acres which encompasses the cemetery and the green is an additional half-acre on private property 
where there are some burials. The GPR project is being funded by a $20,000 grant awarded by NC Humanities.
(Right) This is an image of one of the forgotten burials in the property behind what was once a funeral home and an 
annex building of the Morningside School. Julia Ramseur died in 1936 and her stone is still in remarkable condition. 
The stone was discovered in the heat of the summer with the brush overgrown. Following clean-up by city staff, 
this portion of land will also be surveyed by GPR.