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MUCH OF THE Material in this book is information that was told to me by older people. Much of it is what I have remembered from my childhood experiences.
I have decided to write about the section of Charlotte, North Carolina, which was called Brooklyn because I think its development and the history of its colored citizenry should be recorded.
This area was small in land size, but the activities of its people give an intimate glimpse of life as it was centered in this segment of America many years ago.
The contributions of its citizens, whether they were professionals, ditch diggers or skilled colored artisans who once dominated the trades in this city, helped build foundations that have made Charlotte a progressive place and America a strong nation.
The population of Brooklyn varied at different periods for many reasons. Some of the oldest citizens could remember the injustices and the awful horrors of slavery's dark days.
I remember a handsome old man who came to plant for Mother at various times. As a young child I followed him around in the garden and watched him dig around growing things. Sometimes he told me of his harsh childhood during slavery and how he went without shoes all winter. He told me how his feet cracked and bled from walking in the cold and snow while he tried to bring cows in from the pasture.
Some citizens came from families who had lived through years of this era that tried men's souls and had not been direct victims of this cruel, inhuman system but were descendants of people who had always been free men of color. Some of them who were quite accomplished and had a past worthy of recognition had chosen Brooklyn as their home.
I give this quote from an article by the prominent late historian Dr. Carter Woodson that was published in the Negro History Bulletin of October 1946; As early as 1830, there were about 50,000 free Negro families in the United States living according to the highest standards of morals known at that time.
Other members of the community had not had the opportunity of making history, but they had a dream and their dream was to put down roots so that they, too, might be recognized as a part of the land.
By securing homes in Brooklyn they were their own, the citizens acquired status and dignity that lifted them and their families to new heights. This dream of land ownership is typified by a remarkable statement attributed to a woman who was an ex-slave and who received no educational training but innately felt that land ownership was akin to progress. She said, Wherever I move, I always buy a little piece of land. She was one of the earliest landowners of Brooklyn.
No doubt many people selected homesites in the outskirts of Charlotte where Brooklyn was at its beginning because the land was cheap and much of it was undeveloped.
Its earliest settlement by colored people was not long after the close of the War Between the States. Many homeowners were professional people and men skilled in trades, but very frequently, ownership resulted from back-breaking toil over a washtub and an ironing board, working long hours on a farm, or laboring in a ditch under a broiling sun for meager pay.
Many citizens were so happy about their home ownership that they often refused to do anything to improve their homes because they thought that borrowing money might endanger them.
I remember an old neighbor who could only make her mark, but she bought her plot of land by sacrifice and the hardest of toil. Her daughter wished to borrow some money to improve their small home. Her answer was, I never mean to put my hand to a mortgage on my little home.
These courageous citizens found joy in being able to work and receive wages. Careful use of those wages meant the fulfillment of a dream born in hope during dark days and in their determination to show the world that they, too, had worth and dignity.
The earliest citizens were pioneers. In a sense, they were homesteaders. The land had been discovered centuries before, but after the Civil War and the coming of freedom, many began to rediscover the land from the standpoint of being able to own it.
With the purchase of homes, however humble, they made social history. They knew in their hearts that they had satisfied a great longing and given their children a substantial basis for family life, a worthy legacy on which to begin their lives.
Only a segment of Brooklyn's population is discussed in these pages as my personal knowledge of many citizens' lives is too meager for my discussion. However, I wish to acknowledge the worthiness of many citizens who are not included.
The educated, the uneducated, the poor and the well-off did their part in helping to make Brooklyn a once thriving, wholesome community. This segment of Charlotte was a small community, but it could have been called self-sufficient if its inhabitants were measured by their ability to do different kinds of work.
Ministers and physicians were always available to address the spiritual and physical needs of the people. Some of the best artisans for shoe repair lived in Brooklyn. In fact, a family of brothers was famous all over the city for its skill in fixing shoes and making leather products. At one time! a successful businessman ran a brickyard on Sugar Creek and made much of the brick that was used for building in Charlotte. Some of the most skilled carpenters and brick masons as well as men skilled in other building trades called this section home.
An old man who lived on our street at one time ran a blacksmith shop. As children passed, they liked to peek in the open door of the old shop and watch him hammering away on his anvil . Sparks cascaded and created a veritable fireworks display as he shaped shoes for horses and fixed pokers', spades, pots and other things made of iron for people in the neighborhood.
Women also did their part in helping Brooklyn to be a self-sufficient place. Many wives whose husbands were able to provide for their needs did not work but remained at home to care for their families. they applied their knowledge and skills to making their homes happy, pleasant places and to seeing that their husbands and children were well-clothed and well-fed. Other housewives were specialists with the needle, and people from the best sections of the city were thrilled when they could secure their sewing assistance. Some seamstresses went out to sew; others had the work brought to them. I remember Bertha, our next door neighbor, who could make the tiniest stitches and do the most beautiful smocking I have ever seen. Women from some of the most prosperous homes in Charlotte would almost beg her to make their baby clothes and children's dresses.
At one time, most mothers in Brooklyn seldom thought of buying store-bought clothes for their children. Sewing machines would hum late into the night as mothers made clothes for the families.
Many women worked at the occupation of cookery in private homes in the city and in large institutions such as hotels, schools and hospitals. Some had special training for such work. Others had been trained at the feet of their mothers. Their training, coupled with their innate ability to season and beautify foods' made their services in great demand.
I wrote with modesty of life and customs in our own home. I know about its activities best, and it seemed to represent a wholesome family life. The children gathered around the table for family grace, played traditional childhood games, were taught good manners in the home, and otherwise did the things that a normal American family would do.
Since this period, there have been many changes in this section-some were good, some were bad. I write with pride of the Brooklyn that once existed and throbbed with the heartbeats of good honest citizens.
ROSE LEARY LOVE Charlotte, North Carolina April 26, 1965