High Point’s Black History

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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.

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.

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 10th 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. Uncle Cheesecake, Sidwills Café & Catering,   Mayberry Ice Cream & Sandwich Shop, Gametime Sports Bar & Grill, Becky’s & Mary’sThick’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 along with more than 400 other businesses.

“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:

Black History Month Trivia Contest Hosted By The High Point Museum
          How well do you know your Black history? Questions will be posted to the High Point Museum Facebook page each Monday at 8am and you must submit your answers by 5pm each Friday to hpmuseum@highpointnc.gov. One winner each week will be awarded based on the entry with the most correct answers. In the event of a tie, the winner will be selected by a drawing. Each weekly winner will receive a free individual membership to the High Point Historical society & a coupon for 10% off purchase of “Our Roots, Our Branches, Our Fruits of Knowledge – Black Schools of High Point & Surrounding Area 1868-1968” book by local historian Glenn Chavis. Weekly winners and answers will be posted each Saturday.

Fascinating Artifacts Video Series Hosted By The High Point Museum
          This video series will be released via social media every Wednesday throughout the month of February and will focus on objects on display related to African Americans.

History Of The Underground Railroad In NC Sponsored By The High Point Museum & The High Point Historical Society
          Follow along with Max Carter, PhD and Dr. Adrienne Israel as they discuss the Quaker involvement in the Underground Railroad in North Carolina. This presentation can be found on the High Point Museum website.

Artsy People Of Color Hosted By Sabrina McGowens At Gallery On Main
Sunday, February 7th | 1pm-6pm
          Artsy People of Color and Sabrina McGowens Art Gallery are excited about hosting the Black History Month Pop-Up Market. If you’re looking for that special item with an Afrocentric and unique point of view, art, organic skincare, beaty, hair care and other wellness products and poured soy candles, homemade edible treats, boutique clothing, hand knitted clothing, specialty tees, totes and bags and handcrafted jewelry, come shop Sunday February 7th at Gallery on Main – 112 South Main Street, High Point, NC.

African Arts & Culture Day Hosted By The High Point Arts Council
Sunday, February 7th | 2pm-4pm
          The Arts Council will present an African-themed event for an afternoon of cultural learning and celebration. This event will feature music, art, clothing, crafts and stories from various African cultures. This will be a pay-as-you-can event at the Centennial Station Arts Center, 121 S. Centennial Street, in downtown High Point. Tickets are no cost, but are required as attendance is limited dur to COVID restrictions. This event will also be livestreamed for people who would prefer to experience it in their own home. Programming will be provided by the Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble. This group is over forty years old and has set an iconic precedence of excellence in the African dance and drumming community. Using traditional West African music and dance, their mission is to continue their legacy of educating, enriching, and inspiring communities both nationally and internationally.

Jackie Robinson Livestream Production Hosted By The High Point Arts Council
Sunday, February 21st | 2pm-3pm
          The High Point Arts Council is excited to bring a live theatrical production straight to your living room on Sunday, February 21, 2021, to celebrate Black History Month and honor the late, great Jackie Robinson. This play will be produced by The Bright Star Touring Theatre out of Asheville, North Carolina. This performance is intended for school-age children. Jackie Robinson’s number “42” has come to symbolize the triumph of the human spirit over incredible odds. This biographical tale follows the life of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to cross the color lines in the Major Leagues. A real-life hero and a tribute to the power of persistence and determination in the face of adversity, see why Jackie Robinson has inspired so many people both in and out of sports! The production celebrates the achievements of Jackie Robinson, highlighting some of the best moments of his career and explaining his role in ending segregation. Erin Schmidt, Director of Development for Bright Star, says she hopes the performance will help young audiences understand why it is important to stand up for what is right without using violence. “Our shows have lots of interaction and bring big moments to life,” says Schmidt. “When you see Jackie Robinson scoring his first home run right in front of you, even when he is being treated so unfairly, it’s hard not to be inspired. We hope the play will encourage audiences to find good role models and use good leadership skills.” This event will be broadcast via the Internet and is a free event to view made possible through grassroots funding from the North Carolina Arts Council. Viewing is limited to the first 500 people that login that day. Please feel free to share this link with your family and friends! Click here to view this show.  

Black History Month Live Wax Museum Hosted By High Point Parks & Recreation
Friday, February 26th | 6pm-8pm
          Tour the Black History Month Live Wax Museum and hear from some of the most influential African American and non-African American people in history. Participants will be able to try and guess the identity of each person and the top five with the most correct win a prize!

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