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Rosenwald News


Last updated 9/23/2020 at 4:49pm

This month, amongst other things, I will introduce you to historic sign #16 – Ms. Mat's and Ms. Dot's store. We will take the scenic route, for, as always, there are added treasures that we discovered as we talked to different people.

For over five decades, Mattie O. Pierce owned various businesses at this site, including a café, pool room and package store. After Mrs. Pierce passed, her daughter, Dorothy P. Hill, operated the package store before closing permanently in the 1990s.

Artis Hill Williamson is the catalyst for this week's adventure.

"I'm very proud of my great-grandmother Mattie O. Pierce for being a trailblazer, owning her own business during a time when it was unusual for women to work outside the home or to own their own businesses," Williamson said. "I learned so much from her example on how to work hard and be responsible."

Afterwards, I had an extensive phone conversation with Artis's mother, Sandi Smith. Sandi is the daughter of Dorothy Pierce Hill and granddaughter to Mattie Outlaw Pierce. The details and anecdotes to follow that evening were incredible. The picture that did emerge for me was one of generations of strong, savvy, creative and talented entrepreneurs, Sandi and Artis included.

"The business that Mattie Outlaw Pierce owned and operated could best be described as a convenience store, combined with some elements of a modern-day sports bar," Smith said. "It had pool tables, video games, pinball machines and a juke box. It was a place where people could purchase soul food specialties, like pickled pigs' feet, picked eggs with an RC cola and Planters peanuts and a slice of homemade sweet potato pie. It was also a gathering spot, where people came to discuss and debate current events, politics and to share information. Mattie Outlaw Pierce's contribution was to offer amenities and services to the surrounding black community in a safe and welcoming environment. Dorothy Pierce Hill continued that legacy, eventually closing the game room and focusing on the convenience store. Elders in the community often stopped by to talk, seek advice and small loans, from a place where they knew that they would receive a sympathetic ear, a stern rebuff or both."

Smith said her grandparents moved to Brevard from Wrightsville, Ga.

"My grandfather got a job at the tannery," Smith said. "He was a good employee with Mr. Silversteen. My mom used to take her dad lunch there. Walking, she would cross through where English Hills is, pass the trestle and go on to the tannery. Mr. Silversteen would give her a dime when he'd see her. That was a lot of money back then. On the weekends, she'd take her collected money and buy books.

"At the time, Grannie was a cook at the Pierce-Moore House. Mr. Silversteen used to take his breakfast here. Near the tannery, it was a boarding house, which later became the Womble Inn. One day, my grandmother and Ms. Grace (Pierce) had a tiff. From chucked, leftover food, Grannie gave some workers two leftover pork chops. Ms. Grace fussed about this. Grannie said nothing, but quietly folded her apron and left. Mr. Silversteen came later for his meal and was told, "Sorry, no dinner. Mattie walked out." Silversteen went to my grandfather. He wanted him to please ask Mattie to come back to work, as he didn't get breakfast or supper. She went back after Mr. Silversteen begged her to go back.

"While working at Pierce-Moore House, Grannie heard the business that would become her café was for sale. She bought the building when most black women may not have worked. She was a go-getter, a pioneer in her time to buy a business."

Smith, besides carrying that success gene that her mother and grandmother had, was also a Rosenwald alumna. This connection took me back in time to remember a weekend in mid-July, 2015, when the Rosenwald Alumni met for their very first reunion. The weekend included many celebratory moments, including Saturday morning when we gathered under a tree at the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center. Edith Darity had staked temporary wooden signs in the ground at various historic sites nearby. She guided us on a wonderful walking tour, some of which I had the sense to record and take pictures. Wendell Johnstone was in the group of former students. I especially recall how excited he was, seeing the signs, and sharing what he remembered of the business owners and the places. Ms. Mat's and Ms. Dot's store was one of those establishments. I recently corresponded back and forth with Wendell.

"With great joy, I get to write to you about lifelong family friends in whom, to me, they have been more like family than friends. You see, our family's history is greater than 100 years. It brings to mind 1 Corinthians 12:18 – of us being placed in the body where God sees fit. As a young child I can remember the stories of my parents and grandparents, of how they shared and helped each other through the years. In my youth, Mrs. Mat and Mrs. Dot were one of the anchors of black business on that corner for years. So, by the time my generation came along, honor and respect were the established order.

"I wish I could poll all of us. I know everyone would say they'd go to the pool room for snacks – pickle pig feet, eggs and sausage, or the honey buns and ice-cold sodas. LOL! We had great times there. We also had events at the "center," and Mrs. Dot would help us with something we surely forgot, even if it was nothing but a roll of tape. For me personally, Mrs. Dot was one of my 'go-to' people when I needed to talk about something. She would always listen and give good council. As I wrote that, I know for sure I wasn't the only one. That's a part of the security I remember in being around them. I thank God for them so much for being a part of my life and I miss them so much!"

Smith echoed this feeling that Wendell Johnstone conveyed. She shared, that "He was very close with my mom ever since he was a small boy. They would talk for hours on the phone. He always made sure he came by whenever he came to town. When my niece graduated from Georgetown Medical School, Wendell was there."

Johnstone continued, "I hope this little outline will give you a vision of how much everyone loved Mrs. Mat and Mrs. Dot, so you can know how much they served our community and how very much they gave to all of us. With their excellence in character and goodwill, they set an example before us that we could live by."

Altha Gordon added her recollection, "My memory of going into Ms. Mat's pool room was to buy after-school snacks and sodas. She was very strict on being respected and no foolishness while in her store. The guys played pool, mostly in the afternoons and weekends, but you had to be on your best behavior in order to play games."

Edith Darity offered an expansive view connecting past with today, "With the sharing of history, we wanted to give respect to all who came before who made memories and contributed to our lives being what they are. Growing up, nothing else was available to us. We are proud of all those adults who did make the sacrifice and did something nice for us. It's love when we want to share those stories."

When it is safe to do so, regularly scheduled historic tours will resume on a monthly basis through Morning Glory Inspirations, coinciding with Gallery Walk Fridays. Until then, you can contact me for more information about that or the African American Storyline Project. The Transylvania Visitors Center has revised brochures, with an added insert on the storyline project.

In other news, Malford Jeter Jr. is offering individual lessons and classes (five or fewer people for safe spacing.) This includes martial arts, safety defense, grappling for all ages, including children and mixed or female specific. For more information, contact Malford via Facebook or at (828) 230-4832. About 14 years ago, my son took Kempo Karate classes with Mr. Jeter. They met twice weekly, alternating at the Recreation Department and one of the elementary schools. We were always impressed with the consistency of patience, organization, excellent communication and calm leadership that Malford easily shared. You will be in good hands with a trusted community resource.

(Newsworthy items for submission for Rosenwald Community News are welcomed from community members, churches, clubs and groups. If you have an idea for a story or interview for me to capture, please let me know. Enjoy your week. Nicola Karesh may be reached at [email protected] or (828) 421-8615)


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