Black History Month is a time for highlighting the many accomplishments and contributions that African Americans have made to the scientific, educational, and social justice fabric of our country. This celebration has been a tradition since 1976, when President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month by calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” So, in commemoration of Black History Month we would like to honor and highlight High Point’s African American heritage, that rises from a deeply grounded sense of community. Throughout the city’s history, African Americans built successful, meaningful lives. The resulting legacy has enriched not only the African American community, but the entire city. As we proudly share this vibrant past with you, we hope you feel the vitality that has marked High Point’s African American community throughout its history.
“Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.” – Coretta Scott King
Early in High Point’s history, Washington Street became the “Main Street” of the African American community. Along Washington Street, schools provided top-quality education for High Point’s African Americans during an era when no public education was available to them. Congregations built and consecrated churches, while hotels offered hospitality. Dr. G.A. Gerran hung out his shingle on Washington Street and became the first documented African American physician in the city. Attorneys, realtors, undertakers, dentists, and pharmacists opened their doors along the street as well. By the early twentieth century, a movie theatre offered entertainment. Buildings like the Odd Fellows Hall provided meeting space. Despite the inequalities of the past, Washington Street became a bustling center of African American education, business, worship, entertainment, and community.
The Civil Rights Movement is a key element of High Point’s history and has helped to dramatically improve race relations in the city. On February 1, 1960, a group of four college students began a sit-in at a Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. News spread quickly to High Point and in a few days a High Point native and past City Councilwoman started to organize the High Point sit-in. Mary Lou Andrews, now Blakeney, was 15 at the time and a student at the all-black William Penn High School. After hearing the news of the sit-in in Greensboro, she began meeting with friends to stage a sit-in here in High Point. She approached local Reverend, Benjamin Elton Cox and a retired teacher, Miriam Fountain. After some hesitation due to their age, Cox agreed to train the students in nonviolent resistance at his church. On February 11, 1960, twenty-six students, led by Cox and joined with Cox’s friends Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Douglas Moore, marched from Washington Street to the F.W. Woolworth’s on South Main Street – currently where the Red Lion Hotel stands. The store was set up so that blacks and whites could order food, but only the whites could eat there. After a signal, the students sat at the empty seats and stood behind seats occupied by white patrons. While the students were studying homework and reading history at the counter, they never realized that they too, would become a part of an important piece of history as the first organized high school sit-in in the United States.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Fast forward 59 years later, February 21, 2019 – the day High Point began the planning to fully embrace its most famous native son and his childhood home. John Coltrane became a jazz legend after releasing his masterpiece A Love Supreme in 1965. Contemporary critics called it the most important album of post-war jazz as it sold a half million copies and quickly cemented Coltrane’s place in the Jazz pantheon. But the musical beginnings of the groundbreaking saxophonist took place decades earlier on a quiet little street in east High Point called Underhill Road. John Coltrane’s family moved to High Point when he was just an infant. He and his parents lived with his grandparents and his cousin’s family in a house that was built by his grandfather in 1928. In 1939, Coltrane joined Warren B. Steele’s community band, starting out on alto horn and later moving to clarinet. The success of the community band inspired William Penn Principal, Samuel Burford to start a school band in 1940. Coltrane joined as a founding member of the school band under the direction of Grayce W. Yokely. Later, Coltrane developed an interest in the saxophone practicing with Charlie Haygood, a restaurant owner on Washington Street. By his senior year, Coltrane’s musical talents earned him the vote of “most musical.” He also earned a lyre for his participation with the Boys’ Chorus. Now, John Coltrane is proudly displayed throughout the city with his childhood two-story home being a historic property, an eight-foot bronzed statue sitting on the corner of Commerce Avenue and Hamilton Street offering an interactive kiosk so you can hear some of his music, and an exhibit at the High Point Museum featuring various artifacts including the piano that was in his childhood home. The Friends of John Coltrane will host the 11th annual John Coltrane International Jazz & Blues Festival at Oak Hollow Festival Park this year during Labor Day Weekend.
“The only way you really see change is by helping create it.” – Lena Waithe
The campus of High Point University is filled with sculptures of inspirational leaders designed to surround students with influential people who inspired the world, accomplishing great things in their lives. The sculptures, sprinkled across the High Point University campus, offer another element of education and modeling of values as these sculptures across campus include Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, Maya Angelou, Mohandas Gandhi and now Harriet Tubman and Thurgood Marshall. Both Harriet Tubman and Thurgood Marshall lived extraordinary lives of significance, modeling personal initiative, resilience, leadership and service. Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1913, escaped and made more than a dozen missions to rescue about 70 enslaved people using safehouses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. Later in her life, she was an activist in the movement for women’s suffrage. Thurgood Marshall was born in the early 1900s and was descended from enslaved people on both sides of his family. He was a graduate of Howard University School of Law and later established a private legal practice in Baltimore before founding the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He was the first black associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served from 1967 until 1991.
“Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.” – Bryan Stevenson
With the goal to mend the economic and systematic gaps that plague the African American community today, a High Point woman, Temoura Jefferies took it upon herself to launch a new business with the mission to spread awareness of Black-owned businesses in the Triad. Juneteenth of 2020 was a very special day, as that was the day she launched her business – The Buy Black Guide. This platform is a way that business owners can amplify their voices while also remaining visible to their target audience. Within the guide is a directory of Black-owned businesses ranging from food, catering, clothing apparel, cleaning services as well as health and wellness. Since their launch in 2020, they now have hundreds of Black-Owned Businesses listed from all over the nation. Uncle Cheesecake, Sidwills Café & Catering, Mayberry Ice Cream & Sandwich Shop, Gametime Sports Bar & Grill, Becky’s & Mary’s, Thick’ems Clothing Boutique, Jazzy Fashions Shoes & Apparel, 18th & Extra Boutique, WatchLadyJB, Blair’s Closet, Lady of Curves Boutique, and Sade Décor & Gifts are some of the few High Point Black-owned businesses that are listed in the guide.
“Be Black, buy Black, think Black, and all else will take care of itself.” – Marcus Garvey
All throughout High Point we celebrate the lives and contributions of trailblazing African Americans. With exhibits at the High Point Museum, statues around the city, historic properties like John Coltrane’s childhood home, the Oakwood Municipal Cemetery where the earliest black settlers of High Point, North Carolina lay, and the Mendenhall Homeplace that holds a proud possession – the Stanley-Murrow False-Bottom Wagon, which was used during the days of the Underground Railroad to carry enslaved people to freedom. The High Point Regional Visitors Center also proudly pays tribute to the African American Heritage with a documentary produced by Phyllis Bridges – The March On An All-American City, where it plays daily in our gallery devoted to members of the African American community, not just in High Point but the region. While you’re visiting, celebrate and explore High Point’s African American Heritage with our guide, a great resource for those looking to learn more about, not only the rich history but today’s success stories with many local African Americans who call and have called High Point home. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram as we will be highlighting Black Owned Businesses during the month of February!
Looking for additional Black History Month events in the area? Check out the events below:
“I Am Black History,” A Four-Part Virtual Series On Researching Your Genealogy Hosted By The High Point Museum
The High Point Museum, The High Point Public Library and Yaliks American Art & Cultural Movement will present a four-part series where you will explore various ways to research genealogy and will be given the tools to continue your journey beyond the series.
Saturday, February 5th | 11am-12pm
High Point Museum’s Curator of Education, Sara Blanchett, will present “Beginner’s Luck.” Genealogical research can be an emotional journey, especially for those who have experienced the adoption process. For an adoptee, the roadblock of finding one’s heritage and identity can begin with genetic testing. Blanchett will discuss her current path down the road of her own self-discovery.
Saturday, February 12th | 11am-12pm
Angela Roach Roberson will present “A Snapshot of Color and Wealth.” Color indicates class, and wealth indicates assets. To understand the interlocking systems of capitalism and racism in U.S. History, follow along as Roberson traces the assets of three African American couples in Pitt County, N.C., through her genealogical research.
Saturday, February 19th | 11am-12pm
Marcellaus Joiner of the Heritage Research Center will present “Using Social Media for Genealogy.” A recent revolution in online communication has transformed the way genealogists network. Some have found themselves left out of the loop but with so much to offer. What is the most effective way to use social media channels to reach out to others? Joiner explores these options.
Saturday, February 26th | 11am-1pm
The Black GenEx Genealogy Experience will host a three-hour program. From 10 to 11 a.m., “Black GENeX Coaching and Consultations” will provide a mini quick start on genealogy with individual 15-minute consultations and a time for questions. “FOUNDeX: Introduction to African American eXperience” will be from 11 a.m. to noon and will offer an active-learning introduction to family history research that demonstrates basic methods, resources and tools used to research and record the ancestry of African American families. Finally, from noon to 1 p.m., FOUNDeX attendees 80 years old and over are invited to an after-party with a special Q&A session. Registration is required for this event.
High Point Historical Society presents: The Making of a Black Panther: A discussion with Brad Lilley
Wednesday, February 16th | 1pm | The High Point Museum
The High Point Historical Society will host Brad Lilley, an alumni member of the Black Panthers and co-founder of the High Point Peacemakers, and Paul Ringel, an associate professor of history at High Point University, to discuss why a shootout between Black Panthers and law enforcement 50 years ago matters today. Free to the public.
African Arts & Culture Day – Featuring Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble
In 2021 High Point Arts Council introduced the Arts & Culture series, featuring various artists who represent the rich diversity of our community. The arts bring us together to celebrate our differences and highlight our similarities!
Sunday, February 20th | 2pm-3:30pm | Centennial Station Arts Center
The Arts Council is proud to present an African-themed event, with programming provided by the Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble. This afternoon of cultural learning and celebration will feature music, art, clothing, crafts, and stories from various African cultures. Created in 1972 by Ron Dortch, Gilbert Young, and Queen Mother Amatullah Saleem, The Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble is an iconic presence in the African dance and drumming community. Using traditional West African music and dance, their mission is to “offer a holistic cultural arts experience by following traditions set by [their] ancestors and honor their contributions throughout the African Diaspora.” The dancers move in an expression of their inner feelings, their movements are in rhythm to the beat of the Djembe or Congo drums. It is the sound of the music and the rhythms that are played that provide the heartbeat of the dance. Otesha Creative Arts has a continued legacy of educating, enriching, and inspiring communities both nationally and internationally. The company partnerships between education and entertainment, and has continued its mission to promote culture awareness through arts education across the nation.
High Point Noire – A Celebration of Black Culture & Commerce in High Point
Tuesday, February 22nd | 5:30pm-7:30pm | Gallery On Main
In honor of Black History Month, join Business High Point – Chamber of Commerce, The Buy Black Guide and Thrive High Point for High Point Noire, a celebration of Black Culture and Commerce. This event will take place at the Gallery on Main and will feature their latest exhibit as well as live music, food, drinks and more. Registration will be limited, RSVP today to save your spot!