African American History Walking Tour for Pittsboro, NC
Created by the Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham
Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation
African Americans in the Pittsboro Community have survived despite segregation and discrimination throughout the history of enslavement that began over 250 years ago. Unfortunately much of this history has never been recorded and thus has largely been hidden. Black families and churches have preserved that history and created their own communities. Yet their contributions remain unknown and unappreciated. We hope you learn more about the history and richness of this culture, the contributions as well as the struggles of the Black citizens of Chatham County.
Once slavery was outlawed, many African Americans in Chatham County became sharecroppers and then began owning property and developing businesses many from their own homes. The Pittsboro main street became a gathering place for the Black community.
Photo by Dorothea Lange
*Blacks in Pittsboro owned many types of businesses such as taxicabs, restaurants, pool rooms, service stations, beauty salons, barber shops, grocery stores and rest homes. They were farmers, construction, workers in pulpwood and cedar post dealers, plumbers, electricians, and operators of roadside produce stands.
Most of the places in this walk no longer exist so it is important to use your imagination to capture a time when the African American culture and entrepreneurship thrived here.
*Emancipation Day, (Jan. 1st ) was a gala affair for the African- Americans with a big parade through Pittsboro. Pittsboro was in the mud until 1911.
BEGIN: Main Street - Hillsboro St.
Café - Martin Scurlock and Violet Williams´ Café served both Black and White patrons.
TAXI Service - Elbert Ramsey - Charlie Council -
Wade Pugh - Cornish (Connie) Sellars* - David Smith*
Mail Deliverers - Richard Ramsey and his son Elbert Ramsey. The gymnasium in the Chatham High School in Siler City is named after another son, Ernest Ramsey, a resident of Pittsboro who was a Principal of the school.
Barber - John Council was also a store owner
Fish Market and Ice House and Undertaker - Manley Smith*
Blacksmith - Henry Thompson & Simon Tennin*
Dry Cleaners - Roy Siler’s Dry Cleaners
Auto Repair - Peter Rogers operated a garage.
Coffin Maker - Charles Warmack* - served both Black and White
Shoe Store - Sherman Alston *
Hotel - Long Hotel - * Mark Farrar and Simon Leach operated a shoe shop in the hotel.
Bicycle Shop - Franklin Kirby
Directions -Turn onto Hanks street, then right onto Credle St.
BROWN TOWN - This area of Pittsboro is referred to as Brown town because the Brown family lived here. It was, and still is, home to many Black families.
Staunton Memorial CME Church was, at one time, part of Hamlet Chapel CME. 230 Credle St.
Rev. Rufus V. Horton and Mr. Knotts operated a funeral home across the road from Staunton Memorial CME Church.
A special thank you to Rev. Horton who was also our water witcher and owner of a grocery store. He also authored Can These Bones Live?
Directions - Turn around on Credle Street and turn right onto W. Salisbury Street.
Lewis Freeman Home, 159 W. Salisbury Street now Hobbs Architects. Is one of only four remaining dwellings from Pittsboro’s initial settlement in the early 19th century and is on the National Register of Historic Places. North Carolina law restricted free black men from buying slaves, but white businessmen in Pittsboro performed the transactions on his behalf. In honor of his contributions to the history and early economic development of the town, The Lewis Freeman Historic Park is now located between Rectory Street and Hobbs Architects on land Freeman once owned,
WEST - Directions: Return to Hillsboro Street. Make a sharp right onto West Street at the circle.
Mathiesen Clinic - 45 West Street - Prior to the clinic health care was provided locally through traditional herbal remedies.
The Mathiesen Clinic was built in 1948 and closed in 1974. For many years there was a colored section of the clinic. Aunt Junior Alston, a midwife, and JoAnna Leach, known as a baby nurse, worked in the maternity ward where many current Pittsboro residents were born. Mrs. Naomi Womble served as a nurse and Mrs. Leola Headen and Ms. Alice Peoples were cooks.
St. James Episcopal Church - St. James Mission started in 1880. The church served Black Episcopalians. It no longer exists. There is only one stone left in the old cemetery behind the Modern Life Deli and Drinks (MOD)Turn left on Fayetteville St. A one room schoolhouse was between the St. James Episcopal Church and the Pittsboro Methodist Church. Walker and Margaret Bynum lived there.
*Aunt Margaret Bynum and Katie Jackson owned land and a house where Twin Rivers is now on 64W-25 South Rectory St.
SOUTH Directions - Return to the circle and turn right onto Sanford Rd.
In 1949 on the right where John's Italian Pizza Restaurant is now, the Bryant family bought the land and rented it to Mr. Black, and Mr. Knott's - Blackknott Restaurant. Later it became Wade Pugh's Grill and then Marsh's Grill. More was added to the building and it was rented to Cliff Scurlock for a barber shop and then Dudley's Beauty Supply which is now owned by Carl Bryant. He also owns the Joint Orange Chatham Community Action Building (JOCCA) at 35 West Chatham Street and the blue building which was Faye Cheek Leach’s Beauty Shop, and is now “The Hop”.
Across the road, The Bryant family owned property adjacent to the 911 memorial. In 1949 they donated one tract of land to the Chatham County Fair for office space for the Chatham County Negro Home Demonstration Extension Agenda Director, Mrs. Mildred Bright Payton and Mr. Joseph Turner, County Farm Agent. Mildred Powell Ramsey, Secretary. A trailer was added on a second lot and it became the Hair Gallery run by Brigal Nettles Stone’s, then Susan Brooks Dark. Josie Snipes Ramsey's Beauty Shop opened beside the Bryant's land. The Fairground sold the land to Chatham County for the 911 memorial.
A Baseball field for Blacks was across the road from the Circle K Gas Station.
On the right side before Robeson Creek where Circle K Gas Station is now located was once Floyd Wicker (Phil’s) Restaurant.
Cross the road over Robeson Creek on the left side was June & Mary Reaves Barber Shop. Their Restaurant and the Pool Hall were on the left. It is still owned by the Reaves Family and is now 4 apartments.
George Moses Horton Middle School, 79 George Moses Horton Rd 1933-1934 Pittsboro Colored School was renamed to Horton High School in 1935, renamed to Horton Middle School 1970 and renamed George Moses Horton Middle School in 2021. George Moses Horton was a Black poet who was born a slave. George Moses Horton Middle School has had a black principal from 1933 until 2020.
Barber Shop - Turn around and on the left side after the George Moses Horton Middle School beside Diane Street is now an empty lot but was Mathy Goins Barber Shop.
Charlie Baldwins, Sr.'s Boarding House where many teachers stayed was located across from the George Moses Horton School.
EAST - Directions - Return to the circle, turn to your right onto US 64 business - East Street.
Boarding House - Ruth McLeadon’s Boarding House now Knott’s Funeral Home, 50 Masonic Street behind Hardee’s.
Church - Mt. Sinai AME Church, the only AME in Chatham County, is across the road from Knotts Funeral Home parking lot - Masonic Street. The church provided day care for Pittsboro.
South Small Street - Dorothy Poston’s Beauty Shop.
300 East Street - Delgato Auto Shop
Julia (Mama Junior) Roberts Alston owned several acres of property behind the former Piggly Wiggly. She only sold her land to Black families. This land has since been sold to Habitat for Humanity.
Toomer Loop Road - Gene Taylor Barber Shop. He was also the Bondsman for the community.
Lee’s Barber/Beauty Shop is in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
Directions: Turn right onto Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and go to the end of the street on the right to the Chatham Agriculture and Industrial Fair Building.
The Chatham County Agriculture and Industrial Fair Building opened in 1950 as the Chatham County Colored Agricultural Fair.
R.G. Bryant was the first President of the Chatham County Agricultural and Industrial Fair Association. Charlie Baldwin, Sr. donated the Milliken Log Cabin that has been on the grounds since the 1980’s. Across the road is the cemetery for First Baptist Church, Mt. Sinai Church and Staunton Memorial Church members.
Directions: Go back to the stop light and go straight across the road.
C. E. Willie’s Funeral Home, previously owned by Oliver and Julia Marsh, was on the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, where B & T HVAC is today.
Church - First Baptist Church started under a tent in 1944 is the only Black Baptist church in Pittsboro. Corner of Thompson Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
Directions: Turn right at First Baptist Church and then left into Chatham Park.
Tony and Eliza Knight, Black farmers born before the Civil War, acquired and developed more than 100 acres. This land was acquired by the Chatham Park development, the Knight Farm Community Park is named for them.
Descendants of the Yarborough and Alston families have also sold land to Chatham Park.
Directions: Across from the entry to Knights Farm Community Park.
St. Andrews Church, 723 East Street, was built in1952 but was established in the 1880s as Hanks Chapel. The original site of the church after slavery is on Thompson Street where the cemetery is located. A few bricks from the original church are still there.
Directions: Turn right on Thompson Street onto Fire Tower Road.
Fire Tower Road
Beauty Shop - Mary Lillie Snipes Wombles beauty shop
The land on the left behind the green house on Fire Tower Road where Mary Alice Taylor sold buttermilk and butter wouldn't sell to Chatham Forest. Taylor’s heirs still own the land.
On the right side of Thompson Street, before the entry of Chatham Forest, belonged to Elbert and Mildred Ramsey before it was sold.
Thomas and Rachel Taylor were the first former slaves to purchase land near Chatham Forest. The land was in their family for 155 years.
North Small Street
Garage - James Lee Harris was on the corner.
Barber - At the corner of E. Salisbury Street and North Small Street - Donnie Womble
*Richard Ramsey Sr., embalmer and Justice of the Peace owned property behind Claps Laundry on Masonic Street then Harry Lee Smith and Maggie Smith owned the property.
NORTH Directions - return to Hillsboro Street and go towards Chapel Hill on 15/501 North
Josie Snipes Beauty Shop at her home at 739 Hillsboro Street
On the left side is Marsha and Robert (Bob) Scurlock’s Catering,773 Hillsboro St.
Restaurant - Gather and Lillie Freeman Rodgers Grill then George L. Dark’s Grill was beside the Belmont Church 15-501 north. The land is still owned by the Rodgers’ Family and is now two apartments.
Belmont AME Zion Church was at 947 Hillsboro St.
Beauty shop - Mary Patterson Farrar, 971 Hillsboro St. Now operated by her daughter.
PROPERTY OWNERSHIP - Many African Americans who were brought here as slaves became land owners.
Our African American Firsts and Outstanding Citizens
The number of Outstanding and First African American Citizens in Pittsboro are too numerous to list or mention all by name. We honor all of our First and Outstanding Citizens, who may or may not have been residents of Pittsboro, but who served Pittsboro.
Special Thanks to all our service men and women that returned home, those that were lost, and other enlisted military personnel. To view pictures and names, please visit the Chatham Historical Museum, Chatham County Courthouse, 9 Hillsboro St., Open Wednesday - Friday, 11 AM to 4 PM.
School Principals from Pittsboro - Benjamin J. Lee, Northwood Auditorium named in his honor, Isaiah E. Taylor, Ernest D. Alston, Wallace Jones, Mattie Smith, Valencia Toomer, Karla S. Eanes and Christopher Poston.
Special Thanks to all of our Educators. Space will not permit us to list all their names.
*David Smith provided transportation for children to Horton School.
*Chatham-Lee Credit Union received its charter December 6, 1956 and was moved from Sanford to Pittsboro. Bishop Leach was made manager of the organization.
*Board of Education of Chatham County – Richard Ramsey, Thomas Leach and Benjamin Scurlock, School Committeemen
School Board of Education –Rev. Gregory Headen (first), also Rev. Headen, Executive Director – Chatham County Housing Authority, Ernest H. Dark Jr., Norman Clark, Karen Howard (appointed) and Del Turner.
County Commissioner - Rev. Carl Thompson, (first), E.T. Hanner
County Commissioner - Uva Holland (first), Margaret Pollard, Karen Howard
Pittsboro Commissioner - Isaiah E. Taylor (first), Pamela Baldwin(first)
Democratic Party Executive Board Chairperson – Mary D. Nettles (first)
Chatham County Sheriff's Office - Charles Gardner became the first African American Chief Deputy in the 250 years of the Chatham County Sheriff's Office.
Louis Edgar Bland was the first Black to join the Sheriff's Office.
London Richardson also worked for the Chatham County Sheriff's Office.
More information on distinguished African Americans of Chatham County can be found here.
*Per Bishop Leach Research. The information in this brochure comes from many conversations with local Pittsboro downtown residents in 2021.