By Renée S. Gordon
During the period after the Civil War North Carolina had more schools for blacks than any other state. Though not all of these institutions survived, all of these institutions produced individuals who would have a profound effect on the country’s history.
A few miles from Greensboro, in Sedalia, is the site of the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at Historic Palmer Institute. Palmer, the best and most elite black preparatory school in its era, was founded in 1902 by Dr. Hawkins and remained under her leadership for fifty years.
She died in 1961 and a decade later the school closed. In 1987, it reopened as a State Historic Site, the first honoring an African American female. The school began in a stable and the first buildings were wooden. All of the original buildings were destroyed in a fire.
The 16-area tour of the grounds includes Dr. Hawkins gravesite and Canary Cottage (1927), the presidents’ campus residence. Dr. Hawkins lived, worked and entertained here and it has been furnished to interpret the 1930s and 40s. Nat King Cole’s widow, Maria, was her niece and assisted with the restoration. The majority of the furnishings are original. 6136 Burlington Road. www.nchistoricsites.org/chb
Before leaving the Greensboro area everyone must visit Replacements, Ltd. The company is the love child of Bob Page. Page’s hobby was prowling flea markets in search of china and crystal. Gradually, as friends heard about it they asked him to hunt for particular patterns for them.
He quit his “real” job and set up business in his attic in 1981. Today he has a warehouse the size of 7 football fields, a 12,000-sq. ft. main showroom, 13-million items in inventory with more than 300,000 china patterns and 40,000 flatware patterns and $70-million in sales annually.
Free tours are offered daily. Highlights of your visit are “The Great Wall of China,” that features the top 500 selling patterns and a showcase filled with patterns that have been requested by such luminaries as Barbara Walters, the Vatican, the Queen of England, Jackie Onassis and Oprah. Replacements offers a palette of services including pattern identification and restoration. Information on tours and services is available online. wwwreplacements.com
Winston-Salem, one of the oldest cities in the state, is actually two cites, the oldest, Salem, dates from 1752. The Moravians, a protestant sect that originated in what is now the Czech Republic, originally settled in Pennsylvania but eventually a group moved to 100,000-acres in North Carolina and named their colony Wachovia, the land of streams and rivers. In 1766, Salem was chosen as the site upon which to build an administration center for their three farming communities. Records indicate that they hired labor for the construction, at least one of which was a rented Louisiana slave who asked to be purchased in 1769.
Today, Old Salem is a living history museum town that interprets the lives of both the black and white Moravians of the 19th-century. Church policy did not allow individual ownership of slaves but by 1800 the church owned and rented out nearly 80 slaves and at least 25 freedmen. As time went on, members began to purchase slaves and their treatment became an issue.
A highlight of a visit to Old Salem is The St. Philips Church Complex. In 1822, the black Moravians established their own church in a log cabin and in 1861 it was replaced with a brick structure that was built over an existing graveyard. St. Philip’s congregation is 188 years old and it is the only African American Moravian Church in the US.
Visits begin in the graveyard of the church. The names of the 131 identified African American burials are inscribed on the façade of the church’s foundation. In the interior, the pews date from 1861 and the pulpit furniture from the 1890s. There is a small museum on the second level. On May 21, 1865, it was in this church that the Union Army read the general orders that emancipated the area’s slaves.
After the Civil War, many African Americans purchased land for $10.00 a lot moved to a settlement they named Liberia.
Adjacent to the church is an orientation center housed within the reconstructed Log Church. A ceiling mural shows the town’s history and kiosks relate ten individual stories of black Moravians. A copy of Johann Haidt’s 1747 painting, “First Fruits,” is also on display. Haidt painted the first converts, some black, arrayed around Christ in heaven. www.oldsalem.com
Winston was founded in 1849, because the Moravians did not want certain types of business carried on in Salem. The towns were united in 1913 and became Winston-Salem officially. In 1874 R. J. Reynolds moved there and established his tobacco company producing such products as Winstons, Salems and Camels. He became the richest man in the state.
Winston has more than 50 African American heritage sites, most notably Winston-Salem State University founded in 1892. www.visitwinstonsalem.com
Tours of Charlotte, the largest city in the state, should begin where Thomas Polk settled in 1755. He built his home where two native trade routes met; the north-south path would become the Great Wagon Road. The settlement that grew up was called Charlotte Town, after Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg, and in 1768 was incorporated. Those roads are now Tryon and Trade Streets and the crossroads is Independence Square. www.charlottesgotalot.com
One bronze sculpture on a granite pedestal dominates each corner, stands 25-feet tall and weighs 5,000-lbs. Artist Raymond Kaskey completed the works in 1995 and when viewed together they present the history of the city. “Commerce” is depicted as a gold prospector above a bust of Alan Greenspan to memorialize Charlotte’s place as the 2nd largest financial center in the country. An African American male in the “Transportation” sculpture represents the city’s first railroads and those who built them. A female worker portrays the early factories in “Industry”.
A child beside her, the likeness of the sculptor as a child, stands for the children who labored in mills. The final work, “Future,” consists of a mother and child surrounded by dogwood blossoms beneath a hornet’s nest.
A wonderful way to see the most important African American sites is to take a guided, “From Slavery to Freedom Tour.” The tour orients you to the city, provides an overview of the city’s history, introduces you to the historic and leadership neighborhoods and stops at several sites that enhance your understanding. www.charrlottenctours.
A visit to Settler’s Cemetery is a must. Many graves of prominent early colonists, including Polk, are interred here and an interpretive panel list the names and locations of burials of blacks. Burials date from 1768.
Johnson C. Smith University, originally Biddle Memorial Institute, dates from 1867 and was named for donor Mary Biddle of Philadelphia. She endowed the money for its establishment in honor of her husband who was killed in the Civil War. The most historic building on the campus is the Romanesque Biddle Memorial Hall (1883).
The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture, 551 S. Tryon St., is an art and architecture lovers’ dream. The 44,000-sq.-ft. center is 400-ft. long and 50-ft. wide and thematically is designed to recall the Jacob’s Ladder quilting pattern both externally and on the interior. The Hewitt Collection, 79 artworks by 22 of the best African American artists purchased by Bank of America in 1998 is the foundation of the museum’s permanent holdings www.ganttcenter.org
“Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” is the award-winning exhibit featured at the Levine Museum of the New South. It explores the changing South since the end of the Civil War. The museum is experiential and tours include a 10-minute introductory film and five environments with a cotton field, the authentic 1880s AME Zion Chapel and a tenant farmer’s house. You can also sit at a segregated lunch counter and try on garments in the clothing store. This is a treat for all ages. www.museumofthenewsouth.org
The 55-acre Latta Plantation is the last extant Catawba River Plantation offering tours. The complex consists of 13 sites including the original 1810 plantation house and replicated slave cabins. The story of the Latta family and the 33 enslaved people on the 742-acre plantation are recounted. Special emphasis is placed on the life of Sucky the cook. She was purchased in 1812, stayed with the family after the war and outlived them all. Highlights of the mansion tour are the original pine interior woodwork and floorboards and the “courting window” and functioning 8-day clock in the parlor. www.lattaplantation.org
The LEED® Gold certified Ritz-Carlton opened in October 2009 and it provides 146 luxurious accommodations and amenities that include a bi-level penthouse spa and Wellness Center, fine dining, inlaid bathroom mirror Flat screen television, Frette linens, 10-ft. ceilings, outstanding views and prime location. It is within walking distance of sites, attractions, shopping and dining. www.ritzcarlton.com
North Carolina has it all and we have barely scratched the surface. Read all about it and then make a reservation. www.visitnc.com
I wish you smooth and safe travels!