Mr. Arthur Williams was born on August 5, 1931 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is the third of eight children. He lived in Brooklyn from 1936 to 1939 on the last block of Brown Street. Mr. Williams spent a considerable amount of time in Brooklyn, working in a shoe shine business until he was 14 years old and returning often to meet with friends. He opened his own shoe shine business and soon moved it to his uncle’s barber shop. N.G. Edwards Barber was the largest barber shop in Charlotte with nine chairs. Mr. Williams is a member of Grace A.M.E. Zion Church but he had many positive things to say about the House of Prayer for All People and its impact on the Brooklyn community and in the lives of Brooklyn residents. Mr. Williams spent thirty years in the Army as a Master Sergeant at Arms.
Arthur Williams shares his memories of growing up in the Brooklyn neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, also known as Second Ward. He discusses residents and small businesses in Brooklyn, including his uncle’s barbershop, N.G. Edwards Barber, and the shoe shine business that he owned and operated as a boy during the Second World War. He talks in detail about the United House of Prayer for All People, including the founder of the church, Bishop Charles Manuel “Daddy” Grace, differences between the House of Prayer and Grace A.M.E. Zion, the church’s impact on the Brooklyn community, and how other churches later copied the House of Prayer because of its success. He also briefly discusses urban renewal in Charlotte during the 1960s and 1970s and why the younger residents who had left Second Ward during that period did not want to return.
Tape Log: Oral History Interview with Arthur Williams
Interviewed by Dawn Funk
|Time Count (Minutes)||Description of Interview Contents|
|0:40||Mr. Williams talks about his birth in Charlotte and his early years living and working in Brooklyn|
|2:08||Mr. Williams talks about his shoe shine business during World War II|
|2:30||Mr. Williams talks about his uncle’s barbershop (N.G. Edwards, Barber) in the MIC Building on Brevard Street|
|3:20||Mr. Williams lived on the last block of Brown Street and talks about the boundaries of Brooklyn as he remembers them|
|5:35||Mr. Williams lists the businesses along Brevard Street and talks about the busiest black business block in Charlotte along 2nd Street|
|8:57||Mr. Williams talks about the orphanage beneath Brown Street. It was located down 4th Street but before King Street. People now get married at the chapel|
|11:00||Mr. Williams talks about Sugar Creek flooding when it rained and the swinging bridge between Brooklyn and Cherry|
|12:00||Mr. Williams remembers the death of nine boys when the swinging bridge collapsed in 1938 or 1939 and the effect the deaths had on the community|
|15:37||Mr. Williams shares his fondest memory of Brooklyn, the House of Prayer|
|16:25||“Daddy” Grace established a church among those others had cast aside and gave them a voice|
|17:09||Mr. Williams mentions the House of Prayer convocation parade and talks about how the House of Prayer has outdistanced everyone|
|20:50||Everyone went to the House of Prayer even if they were not members of the congregation. It was a place to be seen (and meet girls)|
|22:14||Mr. Williams discusses how other churches now copy the House of Prayer|
|22:55||The differences between the House of Prayer and Grace A.M.E. Zion, the church to which Mr. Williams belongs, and the background to the name “The House of Prayer for all People”|
|27:00||Mr. Williams talks about the inequalities between white and black schools, how blacks were educated to remain inferior, and race relations|
|31:50||Mr. Williams talks about the characters he remembers from Brooklyn|
|33:40||Mr. Williams discusses safety in Brooklyn and shares a frightening incident he had with a vagrant|
|36:26||More characters from Brooklyn|
|37:15||Mr. Williams talks about the Lincoln Theater and the big names headliners would play on Saturday night|
|38:50||Mr. Williams remembers that Charlotte was a dry town until 1948 but that bootleggers operated in South Carolina and you could get anything you wanted along Second Street|
|42:53||The reason for the closeness in the Brooklyn community was because they only had each other|
|45:14||Mr. Williams talks about the strength of his parents|
|47:55||Mr. Williams shares a story about a driver who, while drinking and speeding, ran over his father’s corn|
|50:00||Mr. Williams talks about how it didn’t hurt Charlotte when Brooklyn was torn down during urban renewal because the people in Brooklyn had changed and the young people who had left did not want to return|
|51:35||Even though he did not think that the Brooklyn of the 1960s was anything to brag on, the people who lived there loved it|
|53:38||The origins of the Cherry Neighborhood|
|55:45||Mr. Williams reiterates how the House of Prayer saved Brooklyn|
|57:20||Mr. Williams talks about how Uncle Sam saved him|
|59:13||Conclusion of the interview/ thanks|
Oral History Interview with Mr. Arthur Williams
Interviewer: Funk, Dawn
Document5 Transcription completed: 4/18/07
Transcriber: Dawn Funk
Editor: Karen Flint
Setting Description: Mr. Williams’ home
DF: Dawn Funk
AW: Arthur Williams
The home of Mr. Arthur Williams
March 30, 2007
DF: Dawn Funk (Interviewer)
AW: Arthur Williams (Interviewee)
DF: My name is Dawn Funk and today is March 30, 2007. This interview is being conducted in conjunction with the history department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte as part of the Voices of the New South series, under the direction of Dr. Karen Flint. I am using the edirol number two digital recorder. I am here today with Mr. Arthur Williams. Mr. Williams, thank you for speaking with us today.
AW: You’re quite welcome.
DF: Mr. Williams, will you please start by telling us when you were born and where you grew up.
AW: I was born, here in Charlotte, North Carolina on the fifth day of August 1931. Which makes me seventy-six this fifth, fifth of August coming up, I’m getting too old. (laughs) Okay. Now what else you want me to say?
DF: And where you grew up, I know you–
AW: Oh, well I grew up in different parts of Charlotte but I, I, I lived in Brooklyn in my early years and I worked in Brooklyn up, up until I was about fourteen years old so I, I, I was in Brooklyn, I had been in Brooklyn just about all my life. Even though I was–we had homes in different places in Charlotte, in Greenville and in Brooklyn. I spent most of my early life in Brooklyn and, and, and most of my adulthood was spent right here in Brooklyn. And I think I remember Brooklyn better than I remember any other place that I’ve lived. It, it was, it was a great experience, one that I’d never forget. It’s where I learned about life, in Brooklyn. I did a lot of things growing up. I started out shining shoes during the second World War. I got to be pretty good at it. Made a lot of money, off those soldiers that were coming through here to get a shine, I guess they just felt sorry for me. I had made my own shoe shine box and I got so good at it that my uncle wanted me to work for him and shine shoes, so I, I did that. Incidentally this was in Brooklyn too, his barber shop, which was a nine chair barber shop, was the largest barber shop in the city of Charlotte at that time, black or white. And he had me to shine shoes in his barber shop. I could keep all the money I made and I just had to sweep up the hair and, and I also had a shine stand in there to make my little money that way too. Now when I start talking I kind of get diarrhea of the lips so if you feel like (laughs) laughing you go ahead and laugh cause I’m going to tell this just, just like it is. I knew everything in Charlotte, and mostly everything in Brooklyn starting from my uncle’s barber shop. Oh, let me go back to where we use to live. We use to live the last block of Brown Street. That’s one of the streets of old Brooklyn, now, now, now there’s, there’s been some more added on to Brooklyn but I don’t know nothing about it, about how it came about. Because when I was little, Brooklyn consisted of the area kind of east of McDowell. McDowell running north and south, I would say the east part of McDowell on down to Sugar Creek, that’s what we use to call Brooklyn when I was coming up. Now, everything in Second Ward has claimed to be a part of Brooklyn. Now Charlotte is split, split up into four quadrants: First Ward, Second Ward, Third Ward, and Fourth Ward and I know every ward. Now there are subdivisions of, of Second Ward, whatever you call it, Second Ward, First Ward any, anywhere throughout the city of Charlotte. Like Fourth Ward they got Biddleville, the part of Fourth Ward, Greenville, Selwyn Park that nobody knows about now because it’s been swept up in redevelopment and wiped away and I don’t know what all is out there nowadays. Charlotte ain’t what it was when I was coming up. But, getting back to Brooklyn, the mecca of Brooklyn, as I see it, was McDowell Street. Now they changed it around and start calling the area from Brevard Street on back down to McDowell, they included that as part of Brooklyn too in the later years, but like I said when I was little that was not considered as, as Brooklyn. Now, everything is a part of Brooklyn that was a part of Second Ward. Maybe it was, I don’t know I’m just telling you like I, I, I saw it when I was coming up and I knew it.
AW: So, starting out from Brevard Street where I shined shoes at my uncle’s barber shop, that MIC Building on the corner of Third and Brevard Street, it had all kind of black businesses, business offices, in that overall building. They had doctors office, real estate office, anything that has something to do with, with the business or, or if you were a doctor that was, that’s what that building was about. The drug store was underneath the MIC Building, that was Dr. Yancey. Then they had my uncle was next door, and then Susie’s Grill was next door to him, and Bill Brown’s Smoke Shop where you could play your numbers and do anything else that was legal or illegal. But then, that was sixty-seventy years ago. (laughs) We had Second Street was the home of the Lincoln Theater. It was also the busiest black business block in the city of Charlotte, they had the YMCA and see, did I say the Lincoln Theater? Had the Lincoln Theater, Fred Kemp’s place, Isler’s Drug Store, several other cafes to include. Ames Ingram who later opened up El Chico down on Brevard, down on McDowell Street. But they also had the Green Willow Garden which was a, it was kind of a nightlife place. They had bands and had a dance floor platform. It wasn’t a floor, it was just a platform that was set up with a piccolo in the corner, and when they got some name group or band or something in there, then that piccolo was covered up and, and the band took the stage. It was called the old Green Willow Garden. There was so many people down through there it use to be like Times Square in New York. And also, on Friday evening when Kemps ( ), this was in the forties when the Second World War was going on, there was no men around. They would let those guys come down here in deuce and a half trucks and let them out on Second Street because that’s where they wanted to go. There’d be women lined up and down the street. And they just you know just people meeting each other, having a good time. And, everybody had, had some kind of little means of making some money, there were people out there barbequing pigs and sides of cows, or whatever, selling and eating and partying and doing it. Then we go back down to my place where I started out, I mean this are just some of the things that happened as, you know as I grew up as were pretty big then and I knew things and I learned a lot of people, old and young. But down where I came up, down on Brown Street, there was an orphan home down the street, we lived next to the last house on the street and down beneath us was a great big cow pasture, that cow pasture belonged to the orphan home as long as I’ve been in Charlotte, that’s all of my seventy six years, I never, never knew the name of that, that orphan home. And I’ve seen it, it just didn’t, it just didn’t you know register in my brain. I didn’t want to remember it no way I don’t remember things like that, I don’t care about it, you know. But I do remember the orphan home and it’s got a name out front now people go and get married in one of them little old buildings that use to sit as part of the orphan home property. The church I guess, or the chapel. But anyway people go over there now and pay big money to get married.
DF: Oh, wow.
AW: Do you know about that?
DF: Is it St. Mary’s? That’s–
AW: It’s probably, if you go down Fourth Street as soon as you cross underneath that that overdrive, overthing, before you get up to King Drive.
AW: It’s right there on the corner.
DF: Oh, okay.
AW: They even got the Vietnam–
DF: The memorial, yeah.
AW: The Vietnam Memorial. Well that little house there is the church of that orphan home–
AW: Yeah, so. But I never cared to know the name of it, or cared anything about it one way or the other.
DF: What about the people who, who lived there, the orphans who lived there, you interacted with them? While you were living there, the orphans at the orphan home?
AW: Well, the cow pasture ran down near my, my house, the orphan home was, was over in that King Drive corridor. It’s right, right in there, partially where the old Charlottetown Mall, or the Midtown Mall, where they building something new now–
AW: That’s where it was, right in there, and the creek it runs underground now, they’ve got it closed over old Sugar Creek.
DF: Oh, okay.
AW: Sugar Creek use to flood over everytime it rained because it wasn’t a wide creek, and that thing when it ran over, it went all the way up, all the way over to Pearl Street. Now Pearl Street is a part of old authentic Brooklyn. And it came up over to the back edge of Brown Street. And, as I told you before, they had a swinging bridge, they didn’t have streets to go over there then–
AW: They had a bridge that crossed over Sugar Creek and that’s how people went from Green–from Brooklyn to Cherry unless they went all the way around the long way, and come up Fourth Street. Then back in ’38 or ’39, I’m not sure now, but I was a little boy and I wasn’t allowed to go down there and get on that swinging bridge, but it rained and that water was all the way over to Pearl Street and it looked like it was a half a mile up to a, a three-quarters of a mile of water. It just looked like a great big lake. And them big boys used to get a boat and they’d go around there rowing boats and stuff in that stuff. And some of them had met down on the old swinging bridge. It looked like a jungle bridge in one of those Tarzan movies, made out of rope, vines and stuff. And it was a pretty steady bridge for awhile cause I walked it. I use to walk it with my mother going over to Cherry. And it was too many guys going over that thing, it had rained and they, the guys from Cherry and the guys from Brooklyn got on that bridge, and it was all, you know, it was just too much weight on it, the bridge broke and collapsed and about eight or nine guys got drowned, I think they listed as eight, but later on they found somebody else. So it was a total of nine guys got drowned in that thing.
DF: How did that affect the Brooklyn community?
AW: I, you know, anytime you have a tragedy like that, it’s going to affect everybody. It affected black people mostly because that’s all that was on the bridge was black people, and because the city hadn’t built a connection, or, or any kind of facility to you know to cross over that creek to get from Brooklyn to Cherry, or from Cherry to Brooklyn, whichever. They had to walk halfway around town to come back up on the other side, you know. Yeah, it, it affected us. It affected us real, real bad. There are people, there are people I imagine, that still grieve about things like that because it didn’t have to be, you know. And, there’s nobody to blame. You know when things happen, they just happen. Because you could easily say, well you should have been on the bridge or you couldn’t, you should have known that it couldn’t bear that much weight. There’s all kind of ways to look at this, so you don’t blame anybody, but you don’t forget about things that happened, that’s something that’s been with me all my life. Oh boy, you, you know you have friends and things, there was guys that was just a little bit older than I was maybe, some of them, one of them boys I know was only nine years old.
AW: Hate to relive stuff like that after all these years, you know wake up all that stuff, but. It’s, you know, it doesn’t, it doesn’t give you the best feeling to conjure up all those old memories and stuff. Classmates and you know. (pause) Let’s talk about something else, what else, what else you want to talk about?
DF: Well, what was your fondest memory of the Brooklyn community? What do you remember most about it?
AW: To be truthful, it’s the House of Prayer. Never been nothing in that House of Prayer but joy to me.
AW: It was, it was like a meeting place, it was a mecca. Anybody wanted to, to go to the House of Prayer, I don’t care what church you belonged to. And, I don’t care what kind of reports, what kind of press, the House of Prayer has gotten down through the years. This was a place where one man came to town and he made a difference. His name was Charles Manuel Grace, we called him, some of us called him Bishop Grace, some of us called him Daddy Grace. I think he preferred to be called Daddy Grace, but he was, a black man that kind of established his church in the midst of the people that everybody else cast aside and kind of looked down on, he was, he was a man that took the lowest of the black and made them into somebody. He gave them voice and he, he made them show themselves to be the best. We had, he use to have a parade every, every September, they called it Convocation. And, and, and they would dress up in all of their best and everything would be uninformed, it was like a regalia or something that they just got up there and said to the world “look at us, we are somebody.” You know, they stopped traffic in the city of Charlotte. The buses had to take a different route because Daddy Grace wanted to show his people. And, and he gave black people, really something to latch on to, and from there, things started going up, you know going up, up, up. But I mention that because that is my fondest memory. I, I, I think about people that, you know, wasn’t, wasn’t nothing supposedly, even by their own race of people, you know, there are different classes of people within a class of people.
AW: And people looked at the House of Prayer as a low breed of people, you know. Low education, low this, low that, but they have outdistanced everybody, black and white. There ain’t a church, even, well I’ll say maybe the Catholic Church because it’s worldwide, but I don’t where no church, black or white in the city of Charlotte has surpassed the House of Prayer. If you think, if you think I’m lying do some research, all your churches, you might have one big white church but the House of Prayer has one big one and about ten little ones–
DF: Right, right.
AW: Around Charlotte, you know. And they don’t beg. They took people off the street, people that wasn’t nothing but bums and stuff, they gave them a name, you know. They made them feel like they were somebody. They could look anybody in the face and say, “look at me, I’m somebody,” you know. And they, you know, they get educated now through scholarship funds and stuff like that, they, they don’t ask people for nothing, they don’t beg nobody for nothing. You know, it’s just amazing what one man can do, and he never got any credit for it. You know, to me he was, he was greater than, and I hate to say this cause it may be taken the wrong way, but he was greater than Martin Luther King, because he rallied black people where there was, you know, nothing but despair and, and you know, scorn. Being looked down on, being pushed to the rear everywhere. That don’t exist in the House of Prayer.
DF: Right, right.
AW: And they don’t, they don’t, they don’t get credit for nobody. When they get ready to build something, they build it, and write you a check, it’s over with. Ain’t no banks making no money off of the House of Prayer. Now, if you think this is not true, you know, check the record books, check the banks and see who holds a note on any House of Prayer property, they going to have nothing like that. So, I think that will be my fondest memory of Brooklyn with that House of Prayer. And that’s where we use to go, my wife, she might be listening, but she said, she said that’s where we’d go to meet girls (laughs) that was true. You stand around over there and, and show your little new pants, slacks and whatever, new shirt, and stand around there, somebody going to look at you.
DF: (laughs) So even if you were a member of another congregation everyone pretty much went to the House of Prayer to be seen?
AW: That was the place to go.
AW: That was the place to go, cause that’s where everyone congregated. You could feel comfortable there and you could feel like you were closer to what God intended for religion to be, you know, being with the masses, with the lowest of the low, and, and, and, and made to feel great. And, and you know, there was some pretty girls (laughs) I’ll tell you that.
DF: We’ve heard a lot about programs that the House of Prayer used to put on to educate children, to educate adults, did you ever participate in any of those, or know people who had?
AW: No, unfortunately, I didn’t, I didn’t join the House of Prayer, I was a member of Grace A.M.E. Zion, but I saw things in the House of Prayer that other churches use to scorn and now they all have copied the House of Prayer ways, and they doing the same thing, because they see the success that the House of Prayer has generated throughout its own kingdom. And, and, and now these other churches are trying to do the same thing. But, I just, I just appreciate what Bishop Grace did, for the people of Brooklyn. That’s where they started.
DF: Okay, and you said that you were a member of Grace A.M.E. Zion. What was different between the two churches?
AW: Oh, Grace A.M.E. Zion was, was a Methodist church and it followed the Methodist system, which was based on the teachings of Richard Allen. The House of Prayer was based on a, on a passage in the Bible, several passages in the Bible. The House of Prayer claimed to be, and I’m not sure they’re, they’re, they’re not what they claim to be, but it claimed to be the house that God made. And, and they, they invite you to look at the fifty second, fifty seventh chapter of Isaiah, fifty fourth chapter, seventh verse. And I memorized that. “Even though I, even though I bring him to the holy mountain and make you joyful in my house of prayer, your burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar, and my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” I haven’t heard of any other place being called a house of prayer for all people, this is in your Bible, Catholic Bible, Mormons’ Bible, and everybody’s Bible, the Holy Bible, it’s there. And also there was a segment in, in the New Testament, where the only time where they showed Christ as being angry. When he found merchants and people selling, and you know, using the Lord’s house for, for their purposes, for their personal gains, and, and he physically threw them out. He said, “It is said this house is a house of prayer and you have turned it into a den of thieves.” And he threw them out. And that’s in there too, but just a mention of a house of prayer. I’ve heard of all kind of churches, First Baptist, Second Baptist, Third, all kinds of names, you know, University, you name it, but I don’t see no names saying my house, is a house of prayer for all people. And the Bible states that the name will be called a house of prayer, not just mention any church as, you know, a part of that house of prayer system, I could say that this house is a house of prayer, I could say, that but it’s not called that.
AW: And it’s not, you know, honoring God, you know. I don’t have a sign out front that says the House of Prayer for all People. Not this is just my talking, you know.
DF: So the House of Prayer was welcoming to everyone.
AW: Everyone. And we always had a white person or two to join too, you know. Who I think was courageous people to do that. Some like, John Brown, I can see how isolated he must have felt when he decided to support the slaves and help them out of their ordeal. Take a brave white person to do that, that’s some good ones in this world, you know, all white people aren’t bad, like all black people aren’t bad.
AW: That’s the way white people think, but they tried to keep us, use to back in my day, they kept us down pretty, pretty good. Even in school. The books that we had to pay for they were two years behind whites. We all took English, not English, took English every year. Biology, we didn’t get our, we didn’t get biology till the tenth grade.
AW: Shit, them whites, excuse the expression, them whites over there in–I had a friend down over there in Harding High, back then they didn’t have but two schools, Harding High and Central High, white, those were the two white schools. The two black schools were West Charlotte and Second Ward, and we use to get their little old hand-me-downs, stuff all sweated and faded, wear that crap out they’d give it to us and we’d run around in all bleached out uniforms and stuff, you know. But, what got me was I use to work downtown at a, at a shoe store, I never got to sell no shoes, I was the stock boy, I, I bring the shoes out and I’d stock, somebody tell me to get them a size and I’d go get that, that was what I was doing–like a doggone runner. But I was working and I got paid, so. But anyway, there was a guy that, he was in high school too, he was, he went to Harding and, we was talking about, you know about our curriculum and you know, subject matter in certain grades. And I told him I like my biology because, you know biology, study of living things. And I enjoyed biology but then he said, “you, you still taking biology, you still taking–” “What do you mean still, I’m just getting there.” He said, “We had that in eighth grade, shoot.” And already, I was in the eleventh grade, no I was in the tenth grade cause that’s when we was taking it. So, you know, we got to talking and weighing this thing out. I found out that by design, they was educating whites a level above us and, you know. I can tell you things that you probably ain’t never heard and probably don’t, wouldn’t believe. But its, its, its true, they meant for us to stay behind forever. But ain’t going to be that way because people are just gonna go the way that God intended for them to go. We found a way, I might, you know, not be able to express myself like I want to, or like I can. But I don’t care if this thing is on or not cause what I tell you is, is the gospel, it’s what God like and that’s the truth. I wouldn’t, I thought you was coming, I really did. But I wouldn’t of been more, been here by myself with no white woman come in here. No Lord. That’s why I kept my wife from her exercise, I want somebody to be in this house cause the way I been trained and the way I learned to, to fear the evil people of this world. Shit, a white woman might come in here and she just might get mad at me and go somewhere and say, “You, he, he touched me,” you know. You don’t get that out of me, I tell you that. But this is what happened when you’re conditioned, you know, to hatred and bigotry, violence and stuff like that, you have to know how to walk in this world to stay alive. And, now we’re faced with a different set of challenges that, you know, we gotta face up to now. But it ain’t the same as it used to be. My kids, they’re as smart as anybody else because they came up in the system that let them put their, you know, their knowledge against anybody else. It’s a competitive world now, and if you can’t compete, you just can’t compete. But it wasn’t that way when I came up. I know this ain’t part of the interview (laughs) so, cause I just got off on of my tirades, now–
DF: Well, let’s get back to Brooklyn, you were a shoe shine, you had a shoeshine stand.
DF: Do you remember any specific characters?
AW: Yeah (laughs). My uncle, his name was N.G. Edwards, his name was Napoleon Gordon Edwards, but we just called him N.G. for a nickname, yeah he was, he was a head barber, and, and he got–we still have an Edwards barber shop, the family still owns a barber shop, he expected me to do it, to learn to cut hair, and I do. I cut my own kids hair, I got clippers hooked up in there now. (laughs) But I can’t be standing on my feet, you know I, I found a different way to make a dollar.
AW: And it’s an honest way. I just, I just think about growing up and doing those things. When I was shining shoes, I made a lot of money.
AW: Quite a bit of money. People would be surprised how much money you can make shining shoes. Some, some people they, they just give you money, just to feel big themselves, so they can say that, you know, that, you know, or so they can feel big. I’ve seen soldiers, during the second world war, you didn’t have to do nothing, just have your shoe shine box and ask, “Shoe shine, mister?” And, “No, my shoes look okay but here’s a dollar,” you know. And, “Give the kid something, give him something,” you know. They’d make the other person give you something and my pockets were getting stuffed full of money. I remember once I had so many quarters and stuff, I was walking home holding my pocket like that cause it wasn’t safe to walk down the railroad, but that’s the way I had to come. And there were hobos back then, I mean real hobos, I don’t mean, I don’t know if you know what a hobo is or was. There use to be people that, that they were like vagrants, they drifted from town to town and they’d catch a freight train and go.
AW: And wherever the train going and they’d be laying beside the railroad tracks, or against a fence, you know, or wherever there’s a bed of grass they can kind of smooth out something and lay down, they just, they was just vagrants, they travel by train.
AW: But anyway, I was walking down the railroad, and this guy, I had let my pocket go, I was just walking holding my shoe shine box and a guy, a hobo, was laying over by the side of the tracks, kind of laying, leaning, laying against a fence and he say, “Come here boy,” and I start moving fast. I was walking, I grabbed my pocket and moved, and he said, “Boy, I said come here.” And I, I started running. And he was, he was, he was too tired, or too drunk, or too something to even chase me. He tried to scare me to make me stop. He told me, “Boy, if you don’t stop.” I looked back at him, he was way back there, I was running. “Boy, if you don’t stop I’ll put a lighting bug up your butt.” And, I was gone (laughs) and, he never did catch me. And I wasn’t too far, I mean I ran to where I knew some people. It was a long way from my house, but I knew a kid who went to school with me, so. We were, you know, very close, we played together at school. And, I ran to their house because that was the closest place to me, cause I didn’t know if that guy would follow me, or what because I did have some money on me, some good money too. I used to have a lot of money, but I earned it.
AW: Oh, I’ll get back to Brooklyn. See, see, I’m not a good interview. (laughs) I’m going to tell you that now cause I reminisce too much and I relive things, you know. It’s hard to pass a place and not stop and say, and revisit it, you know.
DF: Um-hum. Any other characters that you remember?
AW: Oh, I remember all them guys, I remember every doctor in that building. Every, every business owner within that building. As I told you before, there was a Yancey’s drugstore underneath the building, my uncle’s barber shop. There was a beauty shop next door, Excelsior Beauty Shop. Then there was Susie’s Grill, everybody knows Susie’s Grill, and Big, Big Bill Brown. He had a newsstand and everything, he was just, just a hustler, knew how to make a dollar. But, that’s Second Street, I told you about Second Street. First Street, there wasn’t too much on First Street.
AW: But the Lincoln Theater. Let me tell you when I was coming up, all these guys that grew up to be big time entertainers, like Redd Foxx and Pigmeat Markham, Slappy White. All them guys use to be in Charlotte every Saturday night, at least one of them would be there, at the Lincoln Theater, after they had their regular movie, they would have what we call a minstrel.
AW: And the minstrel started at eleven o’clock, after the movies let out, and all kinds of stuff. They had dance girls and all that stuff up on the stage. And, I didn’t get to see all that, cause I was too young. You see this was for, for grown-ups. Now around the place that we’d call Green Willow Garden.
AW: I couldn’t go in there but it had a big wooden fence around it and all they had knotholes and you could peek and see stuff and see everything that goes on. (laughs) Hey, I had a colorful life. (laughs) I saw everything I wanted to see, and some things I wasn’t supposed to see. But I saw it all, and I saw Pigmeat and Red Foxx and all them guys, but I didn’t get inside the movie to see them. I see them going in. I’d stand out on the street cause everybody was doing something, barbequing, selling, everybody selling liquor and stuff on the side, cause Charlotte was a, a dry town. I don’t think we got liquor in the city of Charlotte until about 1948.
AW: Maybe later than that, because we use to didn’t have no, no liquor. You had to go down South Carolina, they’d sell all kinds of liquor down in South Carolina.
DF: Oh wow.
AW: The bootleggers didn’t want Charlotte to open a liquor store in North Carolina. They didn’t want that to happen cause it would mess their business up.
DF: So the bootleggers didn’t come up to Charlotte at all, you had to go down.
AW: Oh you, you use to have to go to South Carolina–
AW: –to buy, they had liquor called seal liquor and liquor they’d call white liquor, you know. Now that white liquor has never been legal, but that’s what everybody wants. (laughs) And that’s what old Junior Johnson, we had a guy in Charlotte named what, oh what was Buck’s name? Use to go over to the house, work on. He had a son named Buck too. Race car driver, they the ones that started NASCAR.
AW: I could go ask my wife, but anyway. When you find a guy named Buck something, that’s the one.
AW: He’s the only Buck in Charlotte. ( ) This is what happens when you get up in your 70s, you know, your memory starts collapsing. I think about it, and maybe another hour or so, or maybe sooner. And that’s the way it is now. Oh, (pause) and I can name every building down through there and every business on Second Street. Let’s see, there’s the Lincoln Theater on one side, then the YMCA, Fred, Green Willow Garden, Ames Ingram. Course his place wasn’t named El Chico then, then on the other side was Isler’s Drugstore. Oh starting from the corner, the AME Zion Publishing House, and that building is still there, not the same building, but it’s down on the corner of Second Street now.
DF: Oh wow.
AW: Oh yeah, we had a publishing house, AME Zion Publishing House right down there, but it’s a new building.
AW: And let’s see, the publishing house and then they had a little open field, that’s where the barbeque pits and stuff be out there, people be hustling sandwiches, barbeque sandwiches, and a shot of liquor (laughs) on the table, and whatever you wanted you could, you could get it on Second Street. Isler’s Drugstore, McKissick Shoe Shop, Fred Patton’s little old place, nobody hardly patronized Fred, the Elk’s. Mutt Cup, Mutt was there and a friend of mine I, I saw the other day, poor, poor thing, she’s a lady barber, she had a little barber shop there, she’d cut hair and she’s a young lady too.
AW: Martha McClinton. She’s one of the oldest barber shops. She use to work for my uncle, she left my uncle and put her own barber shop up on Second Street, and she did well. She owns a lot of property now, owns a lot of property. She still look young enough for somebody to try to pick up.
DF: We’ve heard a lot about the vibrancy and community of Brooklyn, how it was so close-knit. What, in your opinion, was the reason for the closeness, for the vibrancy?
AW: Now, that’s, that’s an easy one. We only had each other. That’s all we had. You know when you’re in an environment where, and this is the one I think fits Brooklyn the best, when you’re like an underdog or an also-ran, you’re the one across the track, the community across the track, everybody feel that they are a little better, they go to the churches where the businessmen go, the teachers go. Use to be teachers were like, like oh gods or something, people looked up to teachers cause they had to have so much smarts to get through college, you just couldn’t be a teacher without being educated. And they kind of put those people up on a pedestal. And I could get back at some of my teachers, now I could talk about them, but I ain’t going to talk about them, cause they were wrong in a lot of ways, but sometimes people just, just think they are too above you to even teach. So I’m going to leave them alone and God will take care of them, he already has. I’ve surpassed most of them that I see, some of them I’ve, I’ve seen them in such bad shape I’ve had to take them somewhere, wait on them, and kind of help them out like they are my people. I would do my own people that way, you know when you done rose so high and fell so low, you know, you got to ask the students and staff to help you to do this or that. One of, one of the best things I think that happened to me in life is to have the kind of parents that I had.
AW: And we had eight kids and my, my father never, never let us know we were poor. I didn’t know I was, I was poor till I grew up and, and looked at other people and looked where they came from, and you know after I reached a certain plateau, you know I looked back and see where I came from. But he never let us know that, he insulated us with a, with a kind of love. He worked so hard, that’s why he died young, I consider him dying young cause he wasn’t but sixty six when he died and he was broke down. But he use to work at a regular job, and then he would do people’s lawns and rake leaves, and he’d pick up money any kind of way he could, you know to give us the things that we needed. So we had every, everything.
AW: We never got to understand that we were poor until we were able to, to look around and see the circumstances that other people were in but they didn’t have a father like ours. My mother never worked. She never worked. She always provided, well she couldn’t work with eight children, it’s pretty hard to do any work.
DF: That was a lot of work.
AW: But he kept her off the job. Her job was in the house and he made sure. There was sometimes I didn’t get to see my Dad until the weekend, cause he had two jobs, he would work his regular job in the daytime and he’d go to a job to clean up buildings and stuff and he’d work till about one o’clock in the morning, you know cleaning up buildings.
AW: And, and, and he never had a car. He had a bicycle, he use to ride a bicycle and there wasn’t many cars, you could stand out, let’s see, right here down on Beatties Ford Road, you could stand out on your front porch, and, and watch the road and maybe every two hours or so you might see a car go by.
AW: There wasn’t no cars around here then.
AW: Back in the thirties, there wasn’t no cars. In the black section of town, there wasn’t many people that could, could afford a car.
AW: There was one man, two men, that I knew had cars. And one of them, my daddy threatened him cause he use to drink, and he drove too fast and he’d come around that corner. And sometimes he couldn’t straighten up, he took about three rows of my daddy’s corn one day (laughs). That’s right, my daddy use to have his shotgun hanging up over the door, on a rack, he got his, his stuff and went down there and Mr. Anthony paid him for his corn and he told him, my daddy told him, don’t come through there, cause his children could be playing in the streets, and if he hurt one of them children, he was going to take him out. And he meant that, he sure did. Lom kind of straightened up then, but he didn’t stop drinking, but he stopped, he stopped speeding, through there. I mean he’d get that cigar in his doggone mouth, and had that old pint of white liquor sitting on the seat beside him, and he’d take him a swig, I’d see him leaving home, he’d take a swig before he even cranked up, it’s crazy. He had too much, you know too much freedom. He needed some extra work to do. He was, he was a money maker. He made money as a plasterer, but they don’t have those now they got guys that do drywall, they don’t do no plastering now.
AW: You know about that plastering?
DF: I do, yeah, I’ve actually tried it before in a couple of classes.
DF: No plaster, (laughs) it’s not easy.
AW: Put that stuff on that platform and mix it up, and that old spatula.
DF: Yeah. You got to have good wrist action (laughs).
AW: Yeah, um-hum. Yeah well, Lom was a plaster contractor, well that’s what my daddy called him, Lom. His name was Columbus Anthony. He straightened out. Lom use to, he use to be a mess. good God almighty. What else you want to ask me?
DF: Well, part of, part of this process is learning about urban renewal and the destruction and displacement–
AW: I could tell you about Brooklyn.
DF: –of Brooklyn residents.
AW: They didn’t hurt Charlotte when they tore Brooklyn down.
AW: They didn’t hurt Charlotte at all, there wasn’t nothing but slums down there in Brooklyn.
DF: Do you know where the people went?
AW: Poor blacks and poor whites–huh?
DF: Do you know where the people relocated to?
AW: No, they wasn’t relocated, they didn’t do that kind of stuff then. You on your own.
AW: They didn’t raze Brooklyn until about oh, the early, the early fifties. By that time, everything had changed, people had changed. The whole, the whole culture in the city of Charlotte had, had changed. People were going in the army, there had a war going on in Korea, that’s how I got drafted. People were coming back and going to school. Soldiers were going to school on the G.I. Bill. It just sprouted up a new group of people that ain’t never, didn’t nobody want to go back to Brooklyn. Shoot, Brooklyn wasn’t nothing but a bunch of old shanties and splinter.Could have called it “splinter village” down in them old wooden houses on stilts and stuff hanging all over in the, into the creek. But people loved it. But when they got away from it, and got to, to look back at it, you know, you could say, “Thank you Jesus look where you brought me from.” Cause you know, now people have made Brooklyn bigger than what it actually was. Brooklyn, the way it looks now, was all of Second Ward, but that’s not the truth.
AW: It was not. It was not all of Second Ward, it was part of Second Ward, it was the lower part of Second Ward, but. And, and it wasn’t nothing to brag on. Nothing to brag on. Nothing. But the people that lived there loved it.
AW: When they tore it down, they tried to make it disappear forever. They didn’t retain any of the names when they raze an area around, here in Charlotte, I’ve seen where mostly they retain some of the names and things, like I noticed over in Greenville when they tore it down and rebuilt it, they, they kept a lot of the names. Not all, but Burden Street is still there, ( ) Avenue is still there, Spring Street is still, Fontana is still there, all of those streets, Hamilton Street is still there. But when they tore Brooklyn down, ain’t no more Pearl Street, no more Crockett Street, no more Long Street, no more Pearl Street, no more Brown Street, no, no more Boundary Street. It’s all gone.
AW: They made, they made Brooklyn disappear.
AW: Period. And, I think they had plans down the road, you know to, send the city that way. Cause I think now they want to take Cherry down and I don’t know where they’re going to go. Cherry was a place that the white folks established anyway. A lot of people don’t want to accept that. They, they think Cherry was a community that was developed by black people, but it wasn’t. It was, it was a place set up for those white folks, maids, and yard men, and all that stuff right on the edge of Myers Park and Dilworth so they didn’t have far to walk to work. That’s all, so the man could come and get to you, you know. The lady of the house who could drive the car, they’d go get their maids and stuff, you know, they didn’t want to have to drive far that’s all, that’s, that’s where Cherry came from.
DF: Wow, okay.
AW: They were they, those Cherry people, they all pretty much belonged to jobs nearby.
DF: Okay. Well, is there anything that maybe I haven’t asked that you wanted to talk about?
AW: I think I done talked too much. But everything I’ve told you, I’ve only told you bits of it, I could talk about things, you know I could tell you in detail but I’m not, because it wouldn’t mean anything to anyone. I don’t, I don’t think it would. There are too many people that know about Brooklyn that don’t want to talk about it. I told you all that, you know, I could tell you without this laboring you, you know, with personal feelings about this and that. Brooklyn was not a mecca, I tell you that.
AW: Not a mecca.
AW: It wasn’t bad and I tell you what, what saved Brooklyn as far as I’m concerned, I don’t know what other people think, but it was the House of Prayer. It gave those people a place to go to, it gave them a sense of belonging to something. Those people wouldn’t dare to go to the church that I was going to there on Brevard Street. Some of those people, they, they wouldn’t let them in the church.
AW: I mean, you know, there’s, there’s some people, I’ve seen people that didn’t have shoes. That didn’t have underwear. They’d wear pants till they had patches, not patches, but holes in the, in the butt. Some of them was able to get something to patch them.
AW: But you could look through the holes in the clothes and see people’s raw behind, you know. It hasn’t, hasn’t been an easy ride.
DF: But the House of Prayer gave them hope.
AW; Yeah, House of Prayer gave them hope. And I did it without being a member of the House of Prayer. I did it cause of good old Uncle Sugar. I ain’t got much, but what I got is mine, and I got three bedrooms upstairs and I got about everything I need. I got a Lincoln and I got a Cadillac out there in my yard. ( ) I owe that to Uncle Sugar for drafting me in the army. I learned a lot. I made, made, made a lot of money, stayed on in there thirty years. Hell, I’d probably be in there now if I could do anything. I retired, then I came out here to work out here in the post office, retired from the post office and got my social security. I don’t even call Uncle Sam uncle no more, I call him Daddy.
AW: Yeah, that’s right (laughs). That’s what saved me, was my ability to live through all them wars. And got hurt too.
DF: Did you?
AW: Oh yeah. I’m full of Agent Orange. I had, had that damn cancer twice.
DF: Oh wow.
AW: Yeah, two different places. I’d get rid of it in one place, it come out another place. It’s going to come out again cause my body’s full of Agent Orange. I was, I was in Vietnam in ’66 and we were spraying that stuff, they didn’t know what it was, they didn’t have a name for what, call it defoliant. And you could see the planes come over and drop that stuff it looked like smoke and it, you could see them leaves on the trees start crinkling and drawing up, and they just turned brown on you.
AW: See, cause they use to be a lot of snipers hiding up in them trees and, and they’d be popping you off and you don’t see where it’s coming from, so they brought that stuff in, but we didn’t realize that it was hurting us too.
AW; Down the road, you know. But I’m satisfied, I’ve, I’ve lived seventy-six years. That’s a pretty good number and I’m still here, still here.
DF: Well, we’re very glad you are. Thank you so much–
AW: You’re quite welcome.
DF: –for your interview and your time.
AW: And you’ll edit any bad stuff out of there. (laughs)
End of Interview.