Display Celebrates Thriving Black Community
The Uplift Club was one of the first service clubs for black women.
A picture is worth a thousand words. This month the display area of the Transylvania County Library celebrates Black History Month with an exhibit of photographs of life in Transylvania County’s African American community in the 1930s – the people, businesses, community life, churches, schools, societies and basketball teams.
The theme of the display is “Perseverance, Strength and Faith: The African American Experience in Transylvania County” and will be part of the featured exhibit at the Transylvania Heritage Museum’s opening on Feb. 18.
Designed by Edith Darity, it includes photographs from the 1930s documenting life in African American neighborhoods during a time when this community was a cohesive, vibrant and self-contained place to live, work and socialize.
These photos show black businesses serving a segregated community whose members could not shop and obtain services in other parts of town. There’s Goose Hollow, Mooney and Mat Pierce’s Billiard Parlor, Ms. Dot’s Store, Mountain Lilly Lodge, Betsill’s Barber Shop, Ed Killian’s Taxi stand, Henry’s Barber Shop and more.
For entertainment and dining, black residents enjoyed the Green Onion Dinner Club operated by Ernest Hutchinson. The club offered special dinners, music and dancing on Sundays and holidays. The Blue Diamond, a nightclub operated by “Joe” Samuel Mack Whiteside and his wife, Winona, was another popular gathering place. Folks dressed up and enjoyed a night out in the comfort of relaxing African American hospitality.
The Mary C. Jenkins Community Center, an important town and countywide gathering place, was the location of numerous community activities and, in later years, a swimming pool. Secret societies flourished in the social climate of this time.
The “Uplift Club of Brevard” shown in a group photo in 1936 was one of the first black service clubs for women. “The Secret Seven,” another such club of only seven women, also provided a social and cultural outlet.
Condrey Sharp’s Boarding house, one of 30 or so boarding houses in the flourishing business climate of the early 1900s, provided housing for the working people who came from neighboring states to find employment. Local Brevard residents were able to make much needed money by taking in boarders. Boarding houses charged on average $7 to $10 per week, and also provided laundry services for their guests and others in the community.
Victor and Lucinda Betsill, formerly share croppers in South Carolina, sought work here in one of the many new businesses that were starting up at the time – tanneries, a cotton mill and a hosiery mill. In addition to working at Transylvania Tanning Company, Victor opened a barbershop in 1924, pictured in the library display. Lucinda worked at home doing washing and ironing and in her “spare” time organized Girl Scout Brownie Troop 4, and was den leader for a Cub Scout pack.
Their son, Larue Curtis “L.C.” Betsill, grew up in Brevard and lives here still. His story is told in “Transylvania Memories,” a book by local author, Peggy Hansen, published in 2011. In her book, elders share stories about their lives growing up in Transylvania County in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.
L.C. credits his parents’ hard work and wise money management for his education. After Rosenwald, the black school, burned in 1941, L.C. attended school in church basements along with other black children. According to L.C ., going from one church to another to attend a class in the basement was not conducive to getting a good education. A lot of students just gave up. Fortunately, L.C.’s parents were able to find the seven or eight dollars a month for tuition in order to send him to a boarding school, Lincoln Academy in King’s Mountain, N.C.
L.C. recalls that the black population of Brevard has always been small, but the neighborhoods were safe and nurturing. He remembers lots of black establishments where he and his friends could go to eat, visit, and socialize together. He says life was good here, but he always remembered to respect the limits placed on him by segregation – like using the black water fountain, sitting in the balcony at the old Clemson Theatre, and getting food from the back door of restaurants.
In those days, L.C. recalls, black people accepted these things because they knew it had always been that way. This didn’t mean they were satisfied, but they didn’t “have the leadership or foresight to know how to go about getting it changed.”
When they heard that the KKK was coming to town, L.C. says black folks ignored it and as a result it became a non-event. He was aware of the troubling events going on in other parts of the state and country against blacks, but this did not have a great impact on his life here in Brevard.
When integration of schools and businesses occurred in the 1960s, black people were able to patronize both black and white establishments. As a result, some black businesses were financially unable to continue operation. So while integration brought fairness in schooling, and accommodations and services for blacks, it was accompanied by an unexpected reduction in the number of black-owned businesses in the community.
In “Transylvania County Across the Woodland,” a booklet published in 1997 by Humanities Extension/ Publications of North Carolina State University, Brevard resident Gertrude Gash, at the age of 100, is quoted as saying: “Black people have come a long way. Some blacks have been included in trials and juries. Some of my relatives are policemen and lawyers. What they’ve got today, they have earned. They have worked for it.”
In addition to creating the display in the library, Darity is hard at work on the exhibit opening at The Transylvania Heritage Museum on Feb. 18.
The Transylvania Heritage Coalition, partnering with the Transylvania County Improvement Organization and the African American Community, is celebrating the history and heritage of African Americans in Transylvania County over the past 150 years. Real stories of trials and triumphs will be an integral part of the exhibit.
A series of panels will chronicle the journey of the African American from slavery to the present day. Artifacts to demonstrate and accentuate that journey will be on display as well.
For more information about Black History, the Transylvania County Library has a wide range of sources on the subject in its collection. Visit the library or view the library catalog online in your web browser by going to http://library.transylvaniacounty.org/ — select online resources\ library catalog.
(The Transylvania County Library provides exhibit and display space for educational, artistic, historical and cultural materials that promote interest in the use of library materials and information, or that share information about the local area, culture and organizations. The Friends of the Library, an association of more than 600 members, coordinates the approved use of the monthly display cases located near the elevator in the library.)