Memories of Raleigh

Raleigh in 1959 and 1999
Wake County - blue
Raleigh in 1998 - pink
Raleigh in 1959 - yellow

Raleigh was much smaller then. East of Tarboro Road or the Longview area was wooded. The last house was Fred Fletcher’s house, owner of WRAL-TV. New Bern Avenue was a one-lane, dirt road.
Life for all people, regardless of race, was quite different in the 1940’s. Mr. Hunter remembers that in his home there were no computers, televisions, refrigerators, electric stoves, washers or dryers. Clothes were cleaned with washboards instead. People bathed in a wash tub with water heated on a stove. Few people had cars. Most people rode busses. The fare was 5 cents; blacks had to ride in the back. 
Women wash clothes in wash tubs
Women wash clothes in washtubs along Crabtree Creek
Photo from the Library of Congress 
American Memories collection
Under segregation separate entrances were provided to this restaurant.
Photo from the Library of Congress 
American Memories collection
Segregation or “Jim Crowism” was practiced during this period. Not only did students attend schools segregated by race, but also there were strict laws regarding relationships. If a black person met a white person on the street and there was no room to pass on the sidewalk, the black person had to step into the street so that the white person could pass. There could be no touching or eye contact.

There were few professional jobs available to African Americans. Mr. Hunter’s grandmother did domestic work. She washed and ironed clothes for $3-5 a week. Mr. Hunter started working when he was a teenager. He sold newspapers published by black people door to door in the black neighborhoods and at the bus station. He shined shoes in the barbershop on Martin Street and kept the shop clean. On Saturdays he was a caddy at the golf course on Poole Road for $5 each half a day. He also earned money by cutting grass and working on tobacco and cotton farms. On an average Saturday he would make good money, $10-15, working from 10 in the morning until 9 at night. He kept $2-3 and gave the rest to his grandmother to help pay the family expenses. His first experience with integration came in working for the Gattling family, descendants of the man who invented the gattling gun. The Gattlings were wealthy and quite colorful. They owned Robert’s Park. They shot anyone caught trespassing on the property. They also walked around town with guns in holsters strapped around their waists. Both Mr. Hunter and his grandmother worked for the family. Mr. Hunter experienced more integration when he joined the military in 1955.
Medical care was segregated. Rex Hospital on the corner of Wade Avenue and St. Mary’s Street served the white population. It had better facilities and better health care than St. Agnes Hospital, the care center for blacks on the campus of Saint Augustine’s College. St. Agnes hospital also had a school of nursing. According to Mr. Hunter at least two tragic events occurred at this hospital because of segregation and the lack of resources at this hospital.
St. Agnes Hospital
Photo from the State of North Carolina Archives

In the 50’s Charles Drew, the man who found the way to preserve and store blood plasma, fell asleep at the wheel while traveling through Raleigh on his way home to Washington, DC.  In the resulting accident he was seriously injured. He was taken to St. Agnes Hospital. He needed blood plasma to save his life, but the technology he invented was not available at St. Agnes and he was refused admission to Rex because he was black. He died on April 1, 1950, as a result of this cruel irony.

The first black heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson, also died at St. Agnes Hospital because they lacked the technology that could have saved his life. It was available at Rex Hospital.
Shopping was quite different in Mr. Hunter’s childhood. There were no malls. Instead there were commercial blocks of privately owned shops…a grocer, drug store, clothing store, shoe store. In Raleigh the heart of the shopping area was located downtown along Fayetteville and Wilmington Streets with a few stores on Hargett Street. Both blacks and whites could shop in the stores, but if a black people could not try on clothes because if they let anything touch their skin they had to purchase it. Therefore African Americans did most of their shopping in stores owned by people of their race. 

The primary shopping area for blacks in Raleigh was on East Hargett Street, Blount Street, and East Davie across from the park currently called Moore Square. That area was then called Baptist Grove. The black owned businesses included Hamlin Drug Store, the Lightner Hotel, Dr. Hunt’s office, and Acme Realty that was owned by the Gibsons.


Going to the movies on Saturday was a favorite treat. The Royal Theater was located across the street from the Lightner Hotel. It was called the “Rat Box” by the locals because of some of its less desirable inhabitants. Patrons could not put their bag of popcorn on the floor for even a minute without surrendering it to the rats. The other theater just for blacks, the Lincoln, was on Cabarras Street between Blount and Wilmington in the building that now contains Guilleys. Blacks could also go to movies at the two white theaters, the Ambassador located just south of the capitol and the State located where the Police Department currently has their offices. They entered a side door in the alley marked “Colored” and had to sit in the balcony. The day at the movies cost 25 cents. It cost 9 cents for a ticket that included three full-length movies, a chapter picture, five to six cartoons, and a newsreel. A bag of popcorn was 5 cents and a big soda was 5 cents. That left just enough change to buy candy at Hammond’s Drug Store across the street. All the Mary Janes you could scoop from the candy jar in one handful cost 1 cent.
The Royal Theater in 1937
The State Theater
The State Theater Box Office

Photos from the State of North Carolina Archives

Chavis Park, located on Smithfield Road, was the only park for black people in this part of the state. People came to enjoy this pretty recreational area from as far away as Rocky Mount. The park included a winding creek, stately shade trees, picnic areas, and a carousel called a “Spinning Ginny” by the old timers. It was a beautiful ride with solid wood carved horses. The park also had open sunny areas and a pool. On weekends the park was very crowded. Sometimes the children could only stand in the pool because there were so many people.

Maps created from a Geographic Information System (GIS) created using ArcView software by ESRI
Data used in this project was provided by Raleigh GIS and Wake County GIS

Introduction | Biography | Ligon Memories | Memories of Segregation
Ligon High History
For questions or comments contact the Ligon Historians.
Ligon GT Magnet Middle School
706 East Lenoir Street
Raleigh, NC  27615
(919) 856-7929 (Main Number)
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