African American historian and retired Iredell County educator Phyllis Bailey will present two programs at the Iredell County Public Library this week. On Monday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. she will be lecturing on “African American Healthcare Systems: Iredell County” and on Saturday, Feb. 29, at 1 p.m. she will present a presentation on the “Iredell County Schools (Rural)” at 1 p.m. These programs are free and sponsored the Friends of the Iredell County Public Library.
African American business men and women have played a major role in the commercial development of Statesville. During segregation these men and women and the businesses they operated were patronized almost exclusively by African Americans. Statesville had what was referred to as black or colored businesses and white businesses. The exception was black barbershops that were owned and operated by black men whose customers were all white men. It was the black businesses that integrated first serving both white and black customers.
In the “Statesville and Iredell County Directory, 1909-1910” African Americans and African American owned businesses are identified by having an asterisk by their name. Listed are six barbers: W. Lewis Camp, 138 Center St., L.W. Colvert, 109 E. Board St., Sharpe Gray, Center corner of West Broad (basement), John P. Murphy, 522 Center St., and Joseph White, 507 Center St. Among white men John P. Murphy’s shop was the most popular and operated from 1880 till around 1930. Black men went to the shops of Sharpe Gray and William Simonton. The L.W. Covert shop was operated by Lon Covert and his son Walter from about 1890 to 1933. The Will Reid Barber Shop operated at 651 S. Center St. for over 50 years before closing in 1933.
Pleasant W. Steele ran a cleaning and pressing store at 127 ½ Broad St. There was one black eating house listed called the Houston & Howard at 148 Center St., and four grocers: C.J. Aery, N. End Tradd., Rufus D. Bailey, 202 Center St., J.S. Haynes, Rabbit Town, Houston & Houston, 148 Center St., and Thomas W. Stockton, Wallace Town. William Hunter is listed as a hackman or buggy driver at 2217 Tradd St., while Charles W. Foushee, is listed as an insurance agent for the N.C. Mutual & Provident Assn. of Durham, N.C. at 111 Center St.
Lee O. Martin is listed at 114 Garfield as a clothing manufacturer. Grant Bros (Alexander Augustus Grant)., at 134 Center St., and A., Nesbitt at Washington Ave. Corner South Ry, operate meat markets. Robert S. Holliday is the only black physician in Statesville listed. He practiced from 1904 until his death in 1966. His wife Mary Charlton Holliday is the Jeanes School Supervisor over the black county school system. Moses Gaston runs a pool room at 130 Center St., and Pleasant W. Steele runs a tailor shop at 127 ½ W. Broad St. There are two shoemakers in town: Washington Marsh at 307 Center St., and William P. McClelland at 111 Center St.
The 1909-1910 city directory for Statesville does not list black teachers and faculty, but the 1907-1908 directory listed in Statesville, D.S. Alexander, J.A. Allison, Minnie M. Davidson, Mamie A. Gillespie, Hattie Harris, Jessie L. Hoke, Rev. J.L. Hollowell, C.H. McField, Mamie Williamson, and Maggie E. Wood. Also listed are Alma Carter, 220 Garfield St., Exie A. Crawford, RFD No. 5, Charles W. Foushee, Principal, Green St. Public School, Rebecca Gaston, Front St. near Gaston, Rev. Henry C. Moyer, 117 Green St., Hattie Murdoch, 243 W. Sharpe, H.A. Phifer, RFD No. 1, Addie Pickens, Tradd St. near Stockton, and Rev. Samuel F. Wentz, 221 Davie Ave.
The 1907-1908 city directory also listed McClelland’s Band, at 150 Wagner, under Bands and Orchestras. There are 13 African American churches listed in the 1907-1908 directory and 11 in 1909-1910. John P. Murphy Jr., is listed in 1907-1908 as a bootblack at 522 Center St., with Marietta Gaither listed as a confectioner at 114 Garfield St. Alex. Morrison as a plasterer at 2nd St. Wallace Town, and Wiley Blackburn is listed as a newspaper agent at 520 Center St. Under halls (meeting buildings) is listed the Masonic Hall, 148 Center St., and the Odd Fellows Hall, at 120 Garfield. The Odd Fellows Hall housed several black businesses over the years including H.S. Byers Soda Shop which operated for about 40 years, the Rankin Barber Shop, and Franks Grill operated by Frank Femister. Gussie Adams operated a boarding house at 214 Center St.
African Americans quickly began seeking paying jobs after the Civil War ended and many African Americans relocated to the Statesville area from Salisbury, Reidsville, Winston-Salem, and Danville, Va., to work in the tobacco factories and warehouses that had become a major industry in the area. Tobacco factories around Statesville included the Iredell Tobacco Co., on North Center St., Dr. L. Harrill, Stockton St., J Stephany, East Broad St., H Clarke & Sons on the corner of South Meeting and Bell Streets, Miller & Clifford, South Meeting St. Irvin & Poston (J.C. Irvin & C.L. Poston) across from the railroad at the end of Meeting St., Key and Company on Water St., and the Rankin Brothers on Wise Street.
Some of the local African Americans who had education or special job skills went into business for themselves. The Jan. 31, 1896 issue of The Landmark announced that “The Colored People Organize a Literary Society—They Are to Have a Newspaper.” The newspaper would become the “Piedmont Sun” operated for about two years by editor and manager R.B. Murdock, a local teacher. Among those who helped support the paper was L.P. Berry the only black attorney in Statesville at that time. Local historians are still hoping to find a copy of the Piedmont Sun. Early African American blacksmiths in the area were James Murdock on West Sharpe St., Alfred Bailey on Davie Ave., and Eli Thomas on S. Meeting St. Livery stables were operated early on by Alexander Carson and Dick Woods.
Lee Martin operated Lee Martin Umbrella repair shop and order house for shoes from about 1902 to 1933. The first black undertaker in Statesville was Will McClelland at 118 Garfield St. Rutledge-Bigham Funeral Home opened in 1922 to serve the black community. The Grocery Store was operated at 301 Chambers St. for over 40 years by Carrie Chambers and then later Maggie Cowan and then Ivesta Delaney before closing in 1939. The First Colored Building & Loan Association of Statesville was incorporated in Nov. of 1891 by William Pearson, President, D.S. Alexander, Vice-President, and R.H. Alexander, Secretary-Treasurer. It is believed to have failed during the economic panic of 1893. Dr. B.J. Abernathy served as a dentist to the black community from 1926 until his health failed 40 years later.
By Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
Published in the Statesville Record and Landmark as
“A look back at 1900s minority-owned Iredell businesses” on Feb. 24, 2020, p. 4A