#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.

throwbackthursday harvey boyd.jpg

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.

tbt november 6 2006 front.jpg

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.

tbt november 30 2006.jpg

#Throwback Thursday: In dire need of protection (circa 2008)

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 article was originally published May 29, 2008. Earlier this week we posted an article, Past to Present: Crestdale’s Roseland Cemetery, about current plans for Roseland. This article discusses a prior rezoning petition from 2008.

In Dire Need of Protection

As development lunges forward, preserving Matthews’ past is critical

by Janet Denk, May 29, 2008

tbt oct 4 page 1.jpg
tbt oct 4.jpg

The Town of Matthews, over the past twenty years, has tried to control development with stringent planning and zoning practices. Tree, landscape and environmental ordinances are constantly being tweaked to promote the protection and preservation of natural resources. Matthews historical preservation is a source of pride.

Many in Matthews are depending on the same source of pride, leadership, and support when it comes to preserving the Roseland Cemetery, one of the few African-American burial grounds, in dire need of protection, located off Monroe Road in Matthews.

The Roseland Cemetery contains the remains of slaves and freed blacks from Matthews and areas beyond. Many who grew up in Matthews remember their parents and grandparents talking about the old ‘Negro Cemetery’.

The Tank Town community, which ran along E. Charles Street is full of ancestral stories. Many of those stories lie beneath two acres of periwinkle-strewn soil on private property which is currently up for rezoning, and then sale. A public hearing for Zoning Petition 531 has been set for June 9. In the meantime, diligent efforts are being made to preserve that piece of history.

“It was one of the only places around in those days where black folks could be buried,’ said Mary Morris, whose family owns land in the Crestdale community of Matthews. ‘My grandaddy, grandmomma, aunts, uncles, plenty of relatives are buried there. Me and Harvey (Boyd) have been talking about what’s going to happen with that place when it’s developed. That’s our history.”

Roseville AME Zion Church was located on Ames Street, which was not in Tank Town, but in Matthews. Its name has been morphed into Roseland and there’s very little written history about the place. Though not for lack of trying.

Harvey Boyd, the tireless Crestdale community activist and resident has worked hard to keep the cemetery preservation issue alive.

“The previous developer who looked at the land assured us that they would provide access to the site, as well as a fence around the area,’ Boyd told The Record. ‘There’s over two acres of African-American history at the back of the land which many people are interested in protecting and preserving.”

Cemeteries, under state law, have to be moved or fenced in. Developers which go before the Matthews Town Board have, thus far, not expressed any objection to the attempts by local historical groups and residents interested in protecting Roseland. Currently, the site is not maintained, as family members move away, grow old, or become unable to tend the graves.

Members of The Matthews Historical Foundation have been working with local families and the town board members to consider the idea of having the portion of land containing the burial plots deeded to the organization, so that the business of preservation and protection can get underway, despite the development of the land.

“Cemeteries are protected by law.” Paula Lester, a Matthews resident and history buff, wrote a book which contains information about the cemetery from interviews with local residents. She is the current president of The Matthews Historical Foundation Board. “It’s an important part of Matthews’ history and we’d be very interested in seeing this place preserved,” she said.

The church was organized in the late nineteenth century and had an active congregation until 1928. The House of Prayer was established in Tank Town in that year and most of the members of Roseville switched to the United House of Prayer. The abandoned Roseville Church eventually collapsed. The Roseville congregation maintained the cemetery several miles away which served as the primary burial ground available to African Americans living near Matthews and who were not affiliated with other churches that had their own churchyards. The book, “Discover Matthews: From Cotton to Corporate,” contains a rough drawing of the Roseville AME Church by Matthews native Mary Louise Phillips.

At one visit to the site, an adjacent homeowner stopped a reporter and photographer to inquire about their business. They were told that several people continue to visit the gravesites until a few years ago. There is no proper entrance or exit to the area. Vandals have visited the wooded area and the overgrowth nearly swallowed the few visible grave markers.

“There aren’t but a few headstones out there. Those old graves were marked with stones because people couldn’t afford monuments,’ Mrs. Morris added. Living now in Davidson, Morris and her husband, the Rev. Clement E. Morris, raised their children in Matthews and have a vested interest in the burial ground. The Morris family is one of Crestdale’s oldest families with generations and relations still living in the, once rural, community alongside the CSX railroad tracks which run behind the Matthews Branch Post Office.

Much of their family land abuts the future Mecklenburg County proposed Soccer Complex. Plans to connect E. John Street to Charles to the recreational site will pass through or alongside this property. The fallen trees and overgrowth in the area in the area prevent people like Mrs. Morris and Viola Boys from ever hoping to visit those graves until something is done to preserve the area.

“I’ve got twins buried there,” said Mrs. Boyd who is approaching 100 years. The Boyds are original settlers to the Matthews area, too.

The public is invited to comment at Town Hall on June 9 with regard to the rezoning of private property from R-20 to R-VS. Previous attempts to develop this property belonging to the Renfrow family have been turned down due to the density of the proposed projects.

No matter the fate of Petition 531 - the pride, leadership, and support of the community can have a direct effect on the pages of how the Matthews story will be told.

Past to Present: Crestdale’s Roseland Cemetery

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

When the Taft Development Group (TDG) begins breaking ground in mid-November on the multi-use 21-acre “Proximity Matthews” complex on 10252 Monroe Rd., Charlotte native and UNC anthropology major Hoke Thompson will be marshaling area townspeople to begin carefully clearing out fallen trees and debris on Roseland Cemetery, located on the back of the property.  

Roseland Cemetery, also known as the town’s African American Cemetery is the final resting place of approximately 75 former slaves, many of whom were also Crestdale residents.  The descendants of many of those buried at Rosedale still own or live on their family land.

roseland cyma 3 pronounced.jpg

There are many sunken spaces once believed to hold graves and a few still-standing and barely legible gravestones.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Overgrown and in total disrepair, the less than two-acre plot is on private property with limited accessibility. There are many sunken spaces believed to once hold graves and a few still-standing and barely legible gravestones. Six years ago, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission designated the cemetery as an historic landmark.

Having originally worked on restoring the Native American and free slave burial cemetery on the grounds of Sardis Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, Hoke Thompson has experience with this type of venture.  Now the Project Manager for this historic cemetery reclamation project, Thompson first showed interest as an Eagle Scout and has waited two long years to see this all of this come to fruition. “I’ve been eager to get in there and fix it up,” he said.  He will also be joined by Paula Lester, president of the Matthews Historical Commission, members of the Matthews Preservation Advisory Committee and others.

According to Dustin Mills, VP of TDG, the cemetery will not be impacted by nearby construction. “There will be no tractors or tree (work there),” said Mills. “It will be preserved in its present state... We’re committed to making this an area which will be beneficial to those who have loved ones in the cemetery and allow them to have access to it, (too).”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Crestdale Heritage Signs

cyma crestdale 2.jpg

The two Crestdale Heritage signs, recently constructed at the (approximate) beginning and end of the perimeters of Crestdale (one on East Charles St. and one on Crestdale Road), were paid for through the town's Tourism Fund. Total cost was $7,754. They are intended to promote awareness of this historical area and were designed in keeping with the town's branding (both colors and signage shape).

Historical Crestdale is a neighborhood with a history dating back to the 1870s as a settlement for freed slaves and their families. It comprises approximately 112 acres.

cyma crestdale.jpg