#ThrowbackThursday: June 18, 2009

With permission, The Beacon is archiving past issues of Matthews Record (also called Matthews News and Record and The Matthews Record) articles online. Throwback Thursday articles will include relevant content still facing Matthews today. This story was originally published June 18, 2009 and was written by Janet Denk.

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Crestdale at the Crossroads

Group seeks to create a piece of work that will preserve the history of the Crestdale community and its people

They called it a Crestdale Reunion - and it had all the makings of one: food, family, laughter, some tears. But the gathering at the United House of Prayer was a chance for members of the longstanding Matthews community to pay tribute to loved ones gone before, honor their elders, and celebrate their journey.

The most recent journey in the Crestdale area of Matthews is The Crestdale Community Project - a collaborative effort of community and arts groups celebrating the history and cultural stew that is Crestdale. The past couple of weeks have been part of a Kick-Off event scheduled for July 11. Pastor Greg Watson of the United House of Prayer welcomed guests. The church has generously offered space to the Crestdale Community Project supporters which will include a series of workshops around town focusing on fine art, music, storytelling, film making, and more. The Matthews Community Center will also be offering work space. Project participants are hoping other groups step up to host workshops, too.

Through a grant from Crossroads Charlotte, the Arts & Science Council is partnering with the The Light Factory and fiber artist Sunya Folayan to create a piece of work that will preserve the history of the Crestdale community and its people. All of the work produced will be placed in a formal exhibit this winter in various locations throughout Matthews.

“It’s time that all the communities in the area come together in tribute to share the history and culture of Crestdale with the rest of Matthews, and the surrounding area,” said Walter Stewart, who was joined by Harvey Boyd and other life-long residents of the area who attended the first two meetings planned for The Crestdale Community Project.

The Crestdale neighborhood is one of the oldest African American communities in the nation, established soon after the Civil War. Located along the railroad tracks in Matthews, between old Highway 51 and Charles Street, the community has become home to a patchwork of different cultural communities. Habitat for Humanity Matthews is located within the Crestdale Community, including Fullwood Trace, a modest neighborhood of brick homes off Charles St. Sunrise Crossing is the newest development. Rainbow Ridge is home to many Montagnard families. Pronounced “mountain-yard,” the term is French for “mountain dweller” or “mountain people.” North Carolina is one of the largest settlements for Montagnards, who fought alongside US Special Forces during the Vietnam Conflict. Crestdale Crossing is a subdivision of one and two-story bungalow-style single family homes with green space shared by all. It was developed on land belonging to the Stewart family.

The Light Factory promotes the power of image by informing, challenging, and stimulating audiences using photography, film, and other light-based media to see their world through a different lens. It is located in Spirit Square in uptown Charlotte.

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Morning Minute: Friday, February 8, 2019

News About Town:  Monday, February 11 is the first Board of Commissioners meeting for February.  As it’s the first meeting of the month the Board will focus on Planning and Zoning business for much of the meeting. Other items of interest include reports from the Mecklenburg Education Advisory Committee, Tree & Appearance Committee and the Historical Preservation Committee. Of note on the Consent Agenda (a list of items on which the Board generally votes ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ as a group) is the Budget Adoption Schedule for Fiscal Year 2019-2020. If you’re curious about how the Town will address new property tax valuations, the meetings on that schedule might be worth attending.

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News Around Town: “Tank Town: A Good Place to Live” opens next week (February 16) at the Matthews Heritage Museum, 232 N. Trade Street. On display will be a year’s worth of research and findings about Crestdale, a portion of Matthews formerly known as Tank Town. The area, settled by freed slaves and post-Civil War freedmen. Learn how the area was settled by former slaves and freedmen after the Civil War, about the segregated schools, and the significant community organizations of the neighborhood.
Open Thursday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Entry fee: $4 for adults, $2 for children 10 to 17, and Free under 10.  The first Saturdays of the month are free.

One Good Thing: This Sunday, February 10, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Bright Blessings will hold their annual Baby Shower and Open House. Members of the community are welcome to drop in and learn more about Bright Blessings’ work serving homeless and impoverished children, in particular their Bless-a-Baby program. Attendees may also partake in refreshments, games, and service projects. Donations will be collected for Bless-a-Baby, which must be new and unused: Diaper bags, Bottles (8 oz minimum), Hooded Baby Towels, 0-3 month outfits, and 0-3 month onesies. Bright Blessings is located at 1150 Crews Rd, Suite C, in Matthews.

#ThrowbackThursday: January 22, 2009

With permission, The Beacon is archiving past issues of Matthews Record (also called Matthews News and Record and The Matthews Record) articles online. Throwback Thursday articles will include relevant content still facing Matthews today. This story was originally published January 22, 2009 and was written by Janet Denk.

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Dreams of the Promised Land

Viola Boyd has lived nearly 100 years. All of it in Matthews. As a witness to a century of civil rights struggle, she will finally see the dream realized.

“He’s allowed me to go up the mountain!”

The preacher was referring to his sovereign Lord who had blessed him with the gift of heart, mind, and speech.

“I looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land,” he told a jam-packed room in Memphis that evening back in 1968. Then hauntingly added, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

These powerful words were refreshing to people like Viola Teeter Boyd, who was halfway through her life when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave that speech.

Like any Christian woman, she understood intimately through her faith that she would make it to the Promised Land.

The Bible told her so.

But, being black in the segregated south told her something completely different. It told her that, despite having her own business in a home that she and her husband Sam built on their own land, where they raised four kids, that they were second class citizens.

This was not God’s rule. This was man’s rule. And man’s ways can change.

For what good were rules which allowed her to vote as a woman, but denied her the right as a black?

Battle cries, such as those articulated by Dr. King, were being heard around the world.

And things changed.

This week, the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, was cause for lively discussion in the Boyd home in Matthews, which today includes the matriarch and her last surviving son, Harvey Boyd, who buried his brother Calvin this past month.

“Lord no!” Mrs. Boyd replied when asked if she thought she would ever see a black man become president in her day. She will turn 90 years old this summer. Mrs. Boyd is practical about the election, if not politically-minded.

“Aren’t we blessed? But, let’s just see, “ she added, the product of a people with a lifetime of dreams deferred.

Son Harvey, a senior citizen himself, articulates the artist’s heart.

“This is an exciting time,” he said about the election of an African American president. A time of renewed hope and inclusion for all people. “It’s a chance for the world to see America living out all the dreams they represent. This is a victory for all people.”

Mrs. Boyd’s practical nature, or perhaps her memory, is what caused her to blurt out, when discussing the foibles of powerful men in office, “they would’ve hung him, in my day.”

That practical nature cautions her to remember that men are not gods.

Viola Teeter’s world began right here in Matthews in 1910. Most likely, it will end here, in her house on Crestdale Road.

Married at 14 years old, she moved to Philadelphia when Sam was looking for work up there.

“I didn’t like it, there were too many buildings,” said the small town girl who moved back south. The couple became the first black couple to really settle in the area of Matthews known today as Crestdale. Sam Boyd worked for the railroad and became known as the Mayor of Crestdale, for his community activism. Viola opened a beauty shop in her home.

“Customers came from all over the place…Monroe, Charlotte,” she said. “That’s how I got to know so much about people.”

That, and her practical nature.

Harvey Boyd said his mother was a voracious reader - newspapers, magazines, church bulletins, anything she could get her hands on. She was also an Angel of Mercy - part of a group of women who lent others less fortunate a helping hand.

“Some people couldn’t pay me for their hair. I’d say, ‘Can’t you pay me just a little?’ Then I’d find out that somebody lost a job or they ran out of money and didn’t know what to do. So I showed them how to get what was theirs,” she recalled.

Harvey said his mother helped with dozens of people in the area with medical or insurance benefits and claims. Many had no money, or a means to take care of themselves because they were not taught. Poverty didn’t help.

“I just opened my mouth,” she confessed, when asked how she learned to navigate a system that didn’t always work in her favor. “We didn’t have a lot of education, but we had knowledge!”

She squirreled away every dime she earned from her business and whatever else she could scrape up from watching other people’s children.

“I jimmied the lock, so couldn’t nobody get in the box where I put the money,” she laughed. She collected paper and cans for recycling cash. Then she took $10,000 in cash to Wachovia.

“I don’t think the man believed me. But I had it.” Whatever interest she earned, she put right back in. “I wanted to make that money grow,” she said with great animation. Her three favorite presidents were Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Carter. The last one, she says, because her CDs did well.

Practicality and determination keep Viola Teeter Boyd going.

And dreams of the Promised Land continue to make the trip worthwhile.

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Morning Minute: Friday, January 18, 2019

News About Town: At Monday’s Council meeting the Board approved two zoning motions: 2018-692 and 2018-693. The property for Motion 692 is at the corner of Ames St. and West John St. The application for rezoning was unanimously approved, and zoning changed from R-20 (single-family - minimum lot size 20,000 square feet ) to O (CD) (office, conditional use). The properties for Motion 693 included several properties in the Crestdale neighborhood. The rezoning was a request to change from Crestadale Conservation zoning code CrC (old) to CrC (new). The new code essentially changes the approval process for any construction other than single-family homes to undergo a site plan and elevation approval process rather than the previously required quasi-judicial system (similar to a Variance Board hearing). The Board unanimously approved this rezoning.


News Around Town:  Although we posted this a few days ago, it’s an event worth repeating and attending. This Sunday, January 20, join Pastor Larry Whitley at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church (381 Crestdale Rd.) at 2:00 p.m. for the Third Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Peaceful March & Commemorative Worship. After a brief presentation about civil rights, attendees will gather outside to walk to Town Hall.

One Good Thing:  It’s officially Thesaurus Day, so although it’s casual Friday at work, you better fancy up your words. Grab your compendium of synonyms and orate with imperturbable verve.

Star of St. Matthews Lodge #566, Crestdale

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

The Star of St. Matthews Lodge #566, once the central pride of the Crestdale community, is undergoing a facelift thanks to several individuals in the Charlotte community.

Spearheaded by Silver Star Community, Inc., a Charlotte-based nonprofit community outreach organization, the group intends to renovate the building and create a community center dedicated to restoring a sense of leadership, community, and tradition.

Silver Star’s President Jerry Hollis and Webmaster Tony Womble most recently partnered with the community in Newell, NC, to preserve and restore the Newell Rosenwald School. They, together with Worshipful Master Nathan Parker, see the Lodge as the next frontier and the perfect central location for the surrounding area – a place dedicated to providing after school educational opportunities and offering holiday events in addition to providing a monthly meeting place for the nearly three dozen local Lodge members.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

“This is a way to get things up and running and [help] keep the community together,” said Womble. “Members were leaving the Lodge and [other] members were passing away,” he said. Worshipful Master Nathan Parker had reached out to area Lodges for help with necessary repair and renovations, to no avail. A chance encounter with Hollis produced a positive result; the nonprofit’s Board of Directors were consulted and agreed to take on the project.

Last year, the Lodge received historic landmark status via a recommendation by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Landmarks Commission and approval by the Town of Matthews.  The ordinance cited “special significance in terms of its history, architecture and/or cultural importance… The Star of St. Matthews Lodge #566 is an important artifact in understanding Prince Hall Freemasonry in Mecklenburg County, and is an important element of the historic built environment of the African-American community in Matthews during the Jim Crow Era.” The report went on to highlight the “integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association” of the building, itself.

Star of St. Matthews Lodge #566 was the center for cultural life in Crestdale. It is the only surviving African American Masonic Lodge of that era left in the county.

Designation ensures that demolition cannot occur and that renovations/repairs are dictated by the designation. It falls, in effect, under the auspices of “special zoning” guidelines.

According to Dan Morrill, Director of the Charlotte Landmarks, the Lodge was recommended because of its role as an “important artifact to the African American community of Matthews. It was the [centerpiece] of cultural life of that community…[And is the] only surviving African American Masonic Lodge [of that era] in the county.”

History of the Lodge dates back to the early 1920s when the group received its charter from the North Carolina Prince Hall Affiliation (now Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina in Durham, NC). In 1928, trustees of the Lodge purchased an acre of land and the two-story concrete-masonry building from the Board of Education for $500. (Star of St. Matthews is unusual for having acquired and kept its building and surrounding land.)  

In its heyday, area churches and the surrounding community focused their attention on the Lodge as the center of Crestdale with picnics, softball games, and as a regularly used community meeting house. The building was also once used for administrative offices and as a school.

For the past few years, the group has been meeting nearly every weekend to work on necessary repairs and renovation work. Their next major expense will be the $8000 needed to fix the plumbing/water and bring in public sewers.

To raise money, SSC hosts events and solicits donations at events held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The group is also pursuing grants.

In the future, they not only foresee the possibilities for a community center but would also like to offer a large community garden.  

“We want to go with the times to try to bring something [special] back,” said Parker.

“Once they see and hear that the building is functioning, we’re hoping that the community and the town will use the building for community meetings, education – [that it will provide an] atmosphere for people in that area,” said Womble. “We [also] want to do something for the young men of Crestdale and Matthews who are lost at this time. To get them back on track and productive,” he said.

#ThrowbackThursday: December 21, 2006

With permission, The Beacon is archiving past issues of Matthews Record (also called Matthews News and Record and The Matthews Record) articles online. Throwback Thursday articles will include relevant content still facing Matthews today. These stories were originally published December 21, 2006 and was written by Janet Denk.

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Back in the day, a young black kid from Matthews had the choice of two high schools to attend - Second Ward or West Charlotte High, both in Charlotte. Harvey Boyd chose the latter for its art department. That choice would pay off, as Boyd became a skilled graphic artist who went on to attend Howard University, then later, travel and lives the good life. When he was 21 years old, “on a whim” Boyd entered a contest sponsored by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. Out of the seven finalists in the 1964 contest, Boyd’s work was selected to become the Mecklenburg County seal.

The County government is undergoing a logo redesign for branding purposes, but folks making the final decisions are intent on preserving the original design because it remains representative of the County nearly 50 years later.

The image on the seal includes four aspects of Mecklenburg County and it still holds up. “The seal is as relative today as it was back then,” said County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts. She, along with many others in the community, appreciate the origins of the seal design: that fresh out of the segregationist days of the old south, a young black kid from the country is selected by a powerful board of local leaders to document and preserve the history of the county.

“I thought I could contribute something,” the young man told the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners in 1964 after receiving the honor. He’s still trying to make a contribution, which is why he’s been before the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to offer his consulting services, should the design team need a little help.

Boyd never received any royalties for his work, despite the fact that he owns the patent on the design. He doesn’t want his contribution to be in vain.

That’s not likely to happen, his supporters say. The fact that a County Seal can say so much, from a guy who could’ve claimed so little and have it last so long - is admirable.

“That says an awful lot about the spirit of this place,” explained Juan Williams, owner and operator of Queen City Tours  who’s given more than his fair share of history lessons to natives and tourists alike. “It’s part of what makes the history of this place so interesting to so many people.” The seal is on vehicles, stationery, websites, and government paperwork. Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones Sr. has assured folks that Boyd will be included in a logo redesign, should the need arise.

#ThrowbackThursday: November 30, 2006

With permission, The Beacon is archiving past issues of Matthews Record (also called Matthews News and Record and The Matthews Record) articles online. Throwback Thursday articles will include relevant content still facing Matthews today. These stories were originally published November 30, 2006 and was written by Janet Denk.

Two men, two worlds apart, together again

When the two Matthews men first met, a little over a year ago, it didn’t take long for the exchanged pleasantries to move into much deeper territory. Discussions of home ownership, family and food preparation shed light on the cultural differences between Oh Rmah and Bill Dixon. But their stories began to intersect when the topic of Vietnam began to emerge.

Oh, a local cabinet assembler living on Tank Town Road in Matthews, was born in the central highland region of Vietnam. His people are known as Montagnards (French for “mountain people”). North Carolina is home to many Montagnard families.

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These two men, from two different worlds, have discovered that they traversed the same jungle decades terrain decades ago. They shared similar memories and fought, quite possibly, on the same mountain thousands of miles from where they stood that day in Crestdale. both men grew up modestly, raised families, joined armies, endured the deaths of their own sons. They’ve seen guts and glory, yet go about their days, as neighbors and simple men. Their communication, like many soldiers, does not depend on words.

It just is.

That comes with the territory.

The territory in the late 60s was the central area of Vietnam in places with names like Dakto, Khe Son, Hamburger Hill.

Oh Rmah

When Americans pulled out of Vietnam in 1975, the war for Oh Rmah and his people did not end. A constant struggle to secure his homeland, the Montagnard joined those who fought against communism in his country. Oh Rmah was happy to work alongside US Army troops to serve as an interpreter and a guide in his native highlands.

For this allegiance, Oh and many others like him would pay a costly price. It would be two years into his imprisonment that his wife, Din, would have knowledge of his whereabouts. The war in Vietnam ended in 1993 for Oh when he was released from prisoner of war camp where he endured years of torture, starvation, and misery in an attempt by the government to “re-educate” him and his people.

It didn’t work because he is a proud American today.

But memories of home still haunt him. The scars on his ankles from shackles remind him of communist Vietnam, where he still has family, including a daughter in her twenties.

The first three months in the camp, Oh, like many others who fought alongside Americans, was tossed into a hole in the ground with his hands and feet bound together. “No light,” Oh recalls. “My hair grew down to here,” he gestures to his forearm. “We were so dirty and we had lice. Excuse me, ma’am.” His recollection of the filth and the shame cause him to become modest in front of strangers. “I told them whatever they wanted to hear, because I wanted to live.”

“Dick” Dixon

Daylight can hardly penetrate a triple canopy jungle. Company A from the 173rd Airborne Division, found themselves smack in the middle of the firing perimeter before they, or the well-entrenched North Vietnamese Army, discovered each other. Three machine guns, at close range, opened fire nearly decimating Company A.

Bill “Dick” Dixon’s command group directed Company B to a left-flanking maneuver to give support to the first company. They immediately came under enemy fire, as well, causing fifteen casualties and wounding the company commander. Throughout the chaos, as darkness began to fall and men around him were dying, Dixon’s military training, or maybe his maturity (he was seasoned at the age of 25, while the average age of soldier in that war was 17) motivated him. He initiated radio contact with the main command post and began reorganizing the remaining men. The battle raged on for another 45 minutes until a thick fog and relentless rain blanketed the hilltop leaving Company A out there isolated and cut off. Dixon headed out into the jungle alone to find them.

This brave act would later earn him a Silver Star. But it would be another seventeen hours before the last wounded man would make it off that battlefield.

Two weeks ago, at the Matthews Rotary Club luncheon for the Armed Services, both men strolled the grounds of Central Piedmont Community College enjoying the food and fellowship. These are better days for both me.

When Oh earned his citizenship this year, Dixon was there. When the fancy washing machine confounded the Rmah family, Dixon helped straighten it out. When Oh threw a birthday party for one of their daughters, Dixon went to the celebration. The commissioner helps out because that’s a part of his nature.

“We couldn’t have operated over there without these guys,” Dixon says of the Montagnards. But something deeper exists between these two men that was not forged in a Matthews neighborhood or at a patriotic luncheon beneath a Carolina blue sky. It was forged in a highland jungle thousands and thousands of miles away when they were soldiers once.

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