Carolina History Project
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Black History in Marion, North Carolina


Back around the early 1990's, I came across a box of old sepia-toned (gold-hued) snapshot photographs, most of which were 2 inches wide by 3 inches long, depicting black-Americans in a moutainous setting.  An elderly white lady had brought them down to the Metrolina Expo Flea Market in Charlotte, North Carolina, from an estate in or around near Marion, North Carolina.  What I found so intriguing about them was that they were of what appeared to be a prosperous black-American family that had lived around that area from about the late 1910's until about the very early 1930's.  I arrived at the conclusion that they were from this town judging by some of the paper ephemera that was included in the lot: an invitation to a dance in Marion, probably only attended by the black folks who lived around there, for the "O.K. Babies (performing) from Won to Three"....and some funeral home fans depicting a black child for the "Ebony Mutual Burial Association" in the town of Marion as well.  Marion's black population was obviously quite small for a rural town hugging the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and according to recent Census statistics, isn't that large today.  I remember buying the whole box of photographs and paper memorabilia for around ten dollars...and I never saw that flea market vendor again.  I'm glad I got them when I did.  And it is fortuitous for all of us that they survived!

"The Best for Your Loved Ones."  Yes, found with the Marion, North Carolina photographs, were these advertisements printed on the back of a funeral home fan for the Ebony Funeral Service, which also included "Day and Night" Ambulance Service for the North Carolina foothill mountain towns of Morganton, Lenoir, as well as Marion.  In addition to funeral and ambulance services, burial insurance was sold as well through the Ebony Mutual Burial Association, Inc.  This funeral fan is of more recent origin than the photos shown here, judging by the "letter-prefix" telephone numbers that would have been used in the 1950's up until about the mid-1960's.  Perhaps the people seen in these photos may have had some connection to this business in later years.

At the time, I was teacher assistant at Eastover Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I taught a lot of black children from the Cherry and Wilmore neighborhoods.  Things were pretty rough in those areas at the time...and I felt it incumbent on me to do my best to bring some black history to them....using genuine historical artifacts.  And for me, these photos were a treasure trove for that purpurse.  When Black History month would roll around in February, I used to show these photos in a glass hallway display case for all of the students to see.  And they enjoyed them quite much.  I recently ran into a former child I in her mid-twenties, and with a child of her own now, too, and she told me just how much she enjoyed the history displays I used to put on at Eastover.  That now she was able to watch some history quiz program on the A&E channel....and thanks to me, she said, she usually got most of the answers right!  It's my fond hope that some of the other students that I had under my care at the time....felt the same way.  I left my teaching assistant job way back in 1995.  But now thanks to the internet, I hope to start sharing these historical photos again to some new faces.  Who knows?  Somebody might recognize these ancestors.  And you know, there is something quite haunting about these "scenes from another time":  they almost have a "contemporary feel" to them.  It may be strange for me to say this, but I almost feel like I've met these people in this modern day.  Only the clothes are different.  Perhaps me living in North Carolina, maybe I've run into their modern-day descendents...and perhaps that's why.  There's just something "familiar" about them.  Well, enough about the possible synchronicity of it all.  Let's start sorting through this old photo album shall we?

This is the one I included on the homepage.  Could this be a street scene in downtown Marion, North Carolina?  It's a great old snapshot...with a lot of emotion between two young lovers.  Note the handwritten caption:  "Some Rose."  Yes, back when automobiles had running boards to sit on, courting could be made much easier on any sidewalk!

This shot's penciled-in title is "a group of friends."  Some are wearing suits with hats, or fedoras.  The others are wearing what are called "slouch caps" or "newsboy's hats" so popular with men back during the 1920's and 1930's.  (They resurfaced again as fashion statement in the 1970's when the Jackson Five made them popular.  Often at the time, the caps were called "apples.")  Yes, just a bunch of friends "hanging out" on the street corner I guess.

This one is titled "Pals."  No doubt this is a "staged" boxing match which was shot for humorous purposes.  These fellows probably had a lot of fun together!

This title says it all:  "My, my.  Ain't we "it" standing here (!)  Looks to be about summertime, what with the ladies wearing straw hats and light-weight "flapper-like" dresses.  And note, there are four ladies....with one man! 

Shades of the movie, "The Color Purple."  Here is a young black lady, obviously dressed in a "driving coat" or "duster" (coats that were worn in open cars of the day to prevent one's clothes from getting "too dusty" on the unpaved dirt roads that were so common at the time, just like the one seen in the photo.)  The wide-brim hat she is wearing could be seen in a church service today!  She's just gotten out of the car behind her and is "really putting on a pose" for the camera.  Notice the old barn in the background.


Again, notice the hilly countryside on a nice sunny day.  It seems to be overlooking a valley.  And the caption, too!  "Miss Rodgers & Mr. Doughter with a feeling Lord!"  At least we've got some surnames to work with here.


Again, we appear to have the same countryside, of a photo taken that same sunny day, same man....but a different woman.  The handwritten caption?  "Oh Mama!"  What an outing that day must have been.  (You've gotta love these captions!)

Waiting for a train at what appears on the sign behind them, "---BLLES GAP."  But where?  Is it a train depot long gone from the landscape now?  Yes, "Why won't that train come on?"

Here again is another "real photo" postcard that looks to be from about the late 19-teens or 1920's.  Methinks it is for a wedding couple, done in a studio with props and a fake forest back drop.  Truly an interesting photo....and an interesting period wedding dress, too!

This rouhgly 8 X 10 school wall photo also came from the same lot.  It's of an old school house that had, according to the handwritten tally on the top:  "32 boys and 32 girls."  Perhaps it could be a Rosenwald school.  Rosenwald was a turn-of-the-20th century Jewish-American philantropist, then CEO of the Sears and Roebuck merchandising empire, who, among other things, helped build black only, or "colored schools" as they were called then, for black children in the South.  Very few of these old type schools, black or white, have survived.  I wonder where this school could have been?  Do take a look at the next photo, as that it is related.

This group scene was found in the Marion, North Carolina lot as well.  Whereas the previous photo showed a wooden school, I am assuming this shot was taken at the side of a brick-made school.  There appears to be elementary children as well as what could be considered high school students.  The children in front are wearing knickers, denoting that they are under the age of 12.  Back then, when a boy reached 12, he could get rid of the knickers and wear long pants just like regular adults.  The older boys look quite astute and the young women look quite mature...and serious...ready for their life's work.  Folks had to grow up early back then...and take adult responsiblities at a very early age...usually in their teenage years.  There's something to be said for that.  

There are more photos in this lot that I still haven't scanned yet.  But I hope to have more from this estate lot in the near future.  Do check back for additions.


UPDATE  DECEMBER 2012:  Well, it's been a long time folks since I updated this page.  And since I first put up this rare folio of black history from Marion, North Carolina (2009), I have since received a few requests to please scan some more photos from this lot, which I have done...uh...before my scanner of ten years finally expired.  If anybody has a scanner out there that will work with Windows XP, I sure could use it...if more of these photos are to be preserved.  Anyway, what we have in the photo above is small thumbnail shot of a rather lovely young lady...and happily smiling too!  The photo was hardly more than an inch square.  I enlarged just a little bigger.  Judging by the hat, it could have been taken in either the late 19-teens or early 1920's.  It came out of a small photo scrapbook from Marion, North Carolina.  I also want to mention that many of the snapshots on this page were processed at Acorn Studios of Marion, North Carolina.  Where was it located?  Wonder what ever became of it?


And here we appear to have the same young lady again, still smiling, but this time hatless.  Who was she?  And what part did she play in the town of Marion?  Perhaps so much time has passed...we may never know.  But like Mona Lisa of old, she was smiling about something.  That would be a mystery to solve.

Well isn't this a happy gathering on a sunny day!  Again, judging by the clothes, it looks like this snapshot photo could have been taken in either the late 19--teens or early 1920's.  Wonder what the gala occasion was?  Were they high school/college students.  What's the building on the hill?  It's quite an imposing edifice.  And telephone lines are apparently in use  This photo came from the Marion estate.  Is this part of Marion?  Let's look to the next photo, as that it might be related.

Here are two young ladies in front of what may appear to be the same building seen in the previous picture.  It looks, for the most part, to be about three stories tall, with a protruding tower in its middle.  What was its purpose?  Is it still standing?  Perhaps some of my gentle readers can help solve this mystery.                         

ust a note here.   Many of the ephemeral artifacts found on this website are now, due to age, in the public domain and are from my private collection.  Items and quotes of a more recent vintage, that are used here in part for newsworthy commentary and/or educational purposes, are covered by the Fair Use Act of the US Copyright Office.

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