East Greensboro is a constellation of neighborhoods, many with a spectrum of African American connections. However, the heart of East Greensboro is within a triangle of seminal institutions including North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Bennett College, and Dudley High School. These institutions define a community that led North Carolina through the Civil Rights Era.
East Greensboro enjoys an African American narrative of history that began in the mid-nineteenth century. Before the Jim Crow Era started in 1896, black and white populations were distributed across Greensboro, with enclaves of black residents in today’s Warnersville, College Hill, and Westerwood, and populations of white residents who lived along East Washington Street and Asheboro Street (today known as Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). Around 1900, racial segregation caused whites to gravitate west and north of the city, and blacks to relocate to the east and south.
In 1866, the first two churches were established by black citizens in Greensboro: Providence Baptist Church on Baptist Street in East Greensboro and St. Matthews Methodist Church (which relocated to Warnersville) in 1868.
People followed their churches, and schools followed people. St James Presbyterian Church, founded in 1868 by the black members of First Presbyterian Church, established a free school for black children in their sanctuary in the 200-block of North Church Street. The school was financed by a Pittsburgh PA church and taxpayer support. In 1875, St. Matthews Methodist Church partnered with the Freedman’s Aid Society to acquire a 20-acre campus for a new school. Located just south of the railroad tracks in East Greensboro, the school became known as the Bennett Seminary. A&T State University was established in 1891 along East Market Street at its intersection with Dudley Street. The Immanuel Lutheran College moved from Concord NC to a 13-acre campus on East Market Street in 1905 to serve the spiritual and educational needs of black citizens
Among early neighborhoods of East Greensboro, the Jonesboro community at East Market Street at Booker Street is perhaps the oldest. It was populated by black families formerly enslaved by the Dick family at their Dunleath plantation. By 1919 the community featured more than two dozen modest frame houses as well as a school, church, and grocery store. Jonesboro was destroyed by the construction of U.S. Route 29 and university expansion in the mid-twentieth century.
Other neighborhoods include East Side Park, a rectlinear grid plan platted in 1907 by the Central Securities Company just south of the North Carolina Railroad at Gillespie Street. Lincoln Grove was established by attorney E. D. Broadhurst in 1914 and re-platted in 1926 around the intersection of Lincoln Street and East Gate City Boulevard. College Heights was created by developer J. E. Latham in 1918 just north of East Market Street; to its west is Scott Park, another subdivision established the same year by the Real Estate Trust Company. Booker Heights was developed by S. J. Stern just north of A&T in 1924. Located along Benbow Road between Julian and Florida streets, Clinton Hills was likely the first black-consumer subdivision designed with curvilinear streets. Benbow Park, a large subdivision along South Benbow Road at Florida Street, continued curvilinear themes with cul-de-sacs by developer Joseph Koury between 1959-1965. Overall, these subdivisions were built on previously agricultural lands by well-financed white bankers, attorneys, and developers in a way to maximize profits. The plats in general chronicle an evolution of street patterns that transitioned from gridded to curvilinear.
The premiere historic neighborhood of East Greensboro is Nocho Park. Platted in 1923 on the pastureland of the former Benbow Dairy, Nocho (likely pronounced No-coe) Park was an exclusive residential development targeting middle- and high-income black citizens. From the start, it was to include a 12-acre park, a hospital, and a school. The developers of Nocho Park were white developers Matheson-Wills Real Estate in partnership with the agency Benbow & White.
The subdivision was named for Jacob Robert Nocho (1840-1912), an African American teacher, humanitarian, and community leader.
J. R. Nocho
Jacob Robert Nocho was born in Pequea Valley Pennsylvania near Lancaster in 1840. His parents were likely Edward and Mary Noker, both listed as “mulatto” in the 1850 census, perhaps due to a degree of Native American ancestry. As a young man, Nocho attended Lincoln University in the Hinsonville community of Pennsylvania.
Lincoln University was founded in 1854 as the nation’s first degree-granting Historically Black College and University, or HBCU. Originally chartered as Ashmun Institute, it was re-named Lincoln University in 1866 in honor of President Abraham Lincoln. As a student, Nocho was drafted into the United States Army in 1863 and served as a teamster in Aquia Creek, Virginia. In that role, he visited many communities across the south, including Greensboro.
After the war Nocho returned to Lincoln University and earned a baccalaureate in the Collegiate Department in 1869, and a masters in 1872. As he earned these degrees, he returned to Greensboro to serve as the principal of the free African American school held at St. James’s Presbyterian Church on Church Street between 1868 and 1872.
During these early years of Reconstruction, Nocho grew increasingly involved in politics. He was elected as the secretary of the Republicans of Guilford County in July 1872. He was apparently passionate about politics. On Independence Day 1872, he and George M. Arnold of Greensboro, were named as antagonists in Yanceyville of “any negro who voted the Conservative ticket.”
He married Jaila (Jalia) Whitis in 1874. Two years later, in 1876, the Charlotte Democrat newspaper declared it “radical” when Nocho represented NC’s Sixth Congressional District at the Republican National Convention in Cincinnati in 1876. He also served at the North Carolina Republican Convention in Charlotte in June 1876 where advocated for desegregation of the coveted federal postal clerk position. This too, was radical at the time, resulting in the Charlotte Observer referencing the possibility an appointment of “the n– clerk”. Apparently, Jacob was hired for the position. Being a political appointee, he struggled to keep the job through the 1880s.
Nocho was well-respected and well-connected in North Carolina. He served as a trustee of Livingstone College beginning in 1888. When orator J. C. Price visited Greensboro in August 1878, he was a guest of his friend J. R. Nocho. When Booker T. Washington visited the city on October 30, 1910, Nocho organized the event from his home at 401 East Market Street.
When Nocho died in 1912, he was said to possess a net worth been worth $20,000-$30,000…much to the agitation of the white supremacist editors of “The Caucasian” newspaper of Clinton NC. His worth was boosted through ownership of income producing residential and commercial properties throughout Greensboro. In contrast, the Greensboro Patriot remembered Jacob in more respectful terms: “He leaves an honored name and a good character.”
As part of the eponymous subdivision, the “Nocho Park” parkland was established as early as 1923, though the property was left undeveloped. In 1937 the park reopened with hiking trails, picnic spots, and the Windsor Community Center. The Windsor Center included a bath house, swimming pool, tennis court, and playground. According to historian Ethel Stephens Arnett, it was “recognized as one of the best Negro recreation centers in the South.” In 1968, the older facility was replaced by a new $450,000 building designed by the recreation specialist Charles M. Graves Organization based in Atlanta.
Within the Nocho Park subdivision was planned the L. Richardson Memorial Hospital. It opened on 27 May 1927 as Greensboro’s first modern medical facility for African American citizens. The facility was funded by the community with a lead gift from the Richardson family. The hospital was heralded by the Greensboro Daily Record newspaper “for convenience of arrangements, safety from fire, abundance of fresh air and sunshine in every room, sanitary conveniences, and surgical equipment, it is one of the best equipped hospitals in the state.” The $150,000 hospital was designed by the Greensboro architect Charles C. Hartmann as an example of Spanish Mission Revival style architecture. The structure features masonry walls and an entry portal topped with a red tile roof. It was recognized to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and as a Guilford Landmark in 2002 (image, right).
An important advocate of the new hospital was Dr. Simon Powell Sebastian (1876-1937). Born in Antigua, Dr. Sebastian arrived in New York in 1902 and attended medical school in Massachusetts. There, he married Martha Oxford of Massachusetts in 1915. The Sebastians moved to Greensboro after their marriage and grew to become pillars of the community. They began construction of their English Tudor-style house in October 1927. There, the couple raised two sons as Martha served as librarian at the Carnegie Negro Library on the campus of Bennett College. Around 2006, developer Allen Sharpe redeveloped the surrounding property but saved the house, which remains a benchmark for Greensboro citizens located at 1402 East Washington Drive (image, right).
Other institutions established facilities in and around Nocho Park. Construction of Grace Lutheran Memorial Church was announced in October 1928 to serve black Lutherans of the nearby Immanuel Lutheran College. The architect was Theodore Steinmeyer of St. Louis, who designed the chapel and school building to resemble an English parish.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church dates to 1928, when plans were announced for a new mission and school for black families. The project originally included a residence for sisters who taught in the adjacent school building. The buildings were constructed by Southeastern Construction of Charlotte.
By 1936, the area fell victim to institutional redlining. Redlining was a systematic denial of various services through the government-sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation based on community racial composition. Most of Nocho Park, Clinton Hills, and surrounding neighborhoods were shaded yellow or red and deemed “definitely declining” or “hazardous” for investment. Of the Nocho Park neighborhood, the report opined “This is another good residential negro section, close proximity to colored college being a contributing factor. Negro swimming pool now being constructed on Benbow Rd. Good negro hospital also adds to section.” Of adjoining areas, the report simply stated, “This is a typical southern negro section composed mostly of laborers and domestics of all types.” Redlining discouraged re-investment and diminished real estate values.
Changes: Thoroughfares, Public Housing, and Urban Renewal
East Greensboro witnessed major changes in the 1950s and 1960s as governmental initiatives resulted in new thoroughfares, public housing, and urban renewal.
In 1953, a professor of civil engineering at NC State, Willard Babcock, proposed a city-wide thoroughfare plan. Known as the “Babcock Plan,” it devised a network of concentric loops extending from the heart of the city. In this plan, neighborhoods were expendable, and so neighborhoods were often bisected from parks and schools. Homes were considered expendable if the property owners were financially compensated.
Today’s O.Henry Boulevard was part of the outermost loop of the Babcock Plan. It was dedicated on January 15, 1957. East Greensboro land values were already vulnerable due to substandard housing and cases of overcrowding caused by institutional redlining; this road expansion hurt the residential neighborhoods even more.
As early as 1950, public housing was initiated to provide modern and affordable living units to residents displaced by urban renewal. East Greensboro saw two public housing developments: Morningside Homes and Ray Warren Homes. Morningside was located east of O.Henry Boulevard and has since been redeveloped using neo-traditional principles. Ray Warren Homes remains standing just south of East Gate City Boulevard. It was announced in 1957 and named to honor the first executive director of the Greensboro Housing Authority. It included 236 units that sought to provide housing for black families displaced by renewal projects. Rent for the one to five-bedroom units was based on family income and included utilities. When first constructed, an income of $3,000 to $4,000 was the maximum for residents to be admitted to “public housing.”
Beginning in 1965, Greensboro was the first municipality in the state to participate in federally subsidized Urban Renewal efforts. Officially, the program sought to eliminate blighted housing conditions and to improve community facilities such as parks and recreation facilities.
To their credit, governmental officials successfully rebuilt communities that suffered from under-investment and were substandard in meeting health codes and public safety measures. These communities were rebuilt to the suburban idea with stylish ranch houses and apartment complexes. To their discredit, broader objectives such as thoroughfare widening and road re-alignment resulted in loss of owner-occupied housing. Additionally, productive commercial and institutional property that held deep historical significance was destroyed. Urban Renewal remains a sensitive topic in American cities today because it often resulted in loss of community heritage and displaced residents against their will. Today, these areas are now being reassessed in terms of new historic significance as they approach sixty years of age and represent mid-century architectural ideals.
New Progressive Architects
The architecture of these Greensboro neighborhoods represents broad trends in American taste. Older generations of African Americans sometimes selected European architecture, but later families increasingly turned to modernism as a fresh and egalitarian design approach. Dr. Sebastian’s English Tudor-style house of 1927 is representative of traditional European architecture in the Nocho Park neighborhood. However, after World War II, black architects began to introduce new and modern architectural styles to these neighborhoods; among them Floyd A. Mayfield, William A. Streat, and W. Edward Jenkins.
Floyd A. Mayfield (1898-1975) grew up in Lake Providence LA. He graduated from Howard University with post-graduate work at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 1930, Mayfield was head of the Contracting and Building Department of NC A&T State University in the College of Architecture and Engineering. In 1941, he headed the Department of Architecture, where he stayed until 1947 and went into private practice. In 1949, he was one of the first black candidates for Greensboro City Council, a position he ran for at least two additional times. His stylistic leanings include the streamlined Maurice Lytell House at 1201 South Benbow Road in Clinton Hills (image, right). This dwelling presages modernism with a low hipped roofline, broad windows, and a recessed main entry flanked by decorative screens that are representative of Regency Revival-style design.
William A. Streat, Jr. (1920-1994) was part of a group of progressive African American architects in Greensboro, including Gerard Gray, W. Edward Jenkins, and Clinton Gravely. Together these men comprised the first major group of successful African American architects in North Carolina. By the early 1960s they were supported by a client base of the city’s African American progressives, as well as white affiliates. The Clover, Virginia-born Streat earned a master’s degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1949. He later served as Chair of the Architectural Engineering department at NC A&T State University from 1949 to 1985. His home at 1507 Tuscaloosa Street in Clinton Hills is a remarkable example of Mid-Century Modernism.
W. Edward Jenkins (1923-1900) was born in Raleigh and graduated from Washington High School before serving in the Army Corps of Engineers from 1943 to 1946. He attended NC A&T State University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in architectural engineering with high honors in 1949. Greensboro architect Edward Loewenstein hired Jenkins, who was the firm’s first black architect. In 1953, Jenkins was the third licensed black architect in North Carolina.
Jenkins designed many innovative modernist projects such as the Dudley High School gymnasium in Greensboro, and the J. Kenneth Lee House on Broad Street (image, right). Lee was a civil rights pioneer for North Carolina. In June 1950, Ken Lee and Harvey E. Beech, both of Kinston integrated the University of North Carolina law school. He graduated in 1952. In 1962 he opened his own practice as served as an attorney alongside Thurgood Marshall. When Dr. Martin Luther King visited Greensboro, he stayed as a guest at the Lee House in a lower-level apartment. Later, Lee founded American Federal, the first black federally-chartered savings and loan bank in the state. In 1973 he become the first black member of North Carolina’s banking commission.
These architects and other progressive black designers were commissioned by clients who were keen to promote a new narrative in their community of East Greensboro. Their historic religious sanctuaries destroyed by urban renewal; congregants of St. Matthews United Methodist Church commissioned a new modern sanctuary at 600 E Florida Street by architect W. Edward Jenkins (image, lower right). Similarly, St. James Presbyterian Church built their new sanctuary at 820 Ross Ave on modernist lines by architectural firm Loewenstein-Atkinson.Homes constructed by Joseph Koury in the 1960s in Benbow Park continued modern themes, including split-levels, ranchers, and contemporary forms,
Residents from these neighborhoods influenced North Carolina’s civil rights movement in the twentieth century by participating in civil rights activities. The Greensboro Sit-Ins, a series of nonviolent protests in downtown stores between February and July 1960, included students from NC A&T, Bennett College, and Dudley High School. Many of these students were born and raised in and around Nocho Park.
Nine years later, the 1969 Greensboro uprising began on the campus of Dudley High School as an election protest and filtered through Nocho Park to reassemble at NC A&T. The event led to the death of student Willie E. Grimes and was ended when 500 National Guardsmen summoned by North Carolina Governor Robert Scott used a tank and a helicopter to arrest students and close the campus.
In the 1970s, the neighborhood continued as a bastion of civil rights energy. In 1976, Shirley and Henry E. Frye moved into their Edward Jenkins-designed home in Clinton Hills. Henry Frye graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law and took a position as an assistant U.S. Attorney in 1963 – one of the first African Americans to hold such a position in the South. When Frye was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly as a state representative in 1968, he was the only black North Carolina legislator, and the first elected in the 20th century. In 1983, North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt appointed Frye to the North Carolina Supreme Court as an associate justice, the first African American to hold that position in North Carolina history. In 1999, he was appointed to the state’s highest judicial post as chief justice.
From Jacob Nocho to Chief Justice Frye, residents of Nocho Park, Clinton Hills, and Benbow Park benefited from early residents and namesakes who demand equal rights in education, governance, and judication. Their legacy, mirrored by the architecture of the neighborhood, illustrates a trajectory on which modern North Carolina stands today in terms of human rights and progressivism. Perhaps these neighborhoods have had a greater impact on our state in the twenty-first century than any other community in the state.
The City of Greensboro has partnered with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to fund a survey of these neighborhoods in 2020. Project work began in February 2020, and research will continue through the summer. The project steering committee is working to keep those in the community updated on progress and involved in documenting history through student work accomplished by NCA&T State University and the Greensboro History Museum. This project has long been the dream of Eric Woodard and Preservation Greensboro as narratives grew from two symposia offered in 2005 and 2013 entitled “The Loewenstein Legacy.” If you live in this area, say hello to survey contractors Heather Slane and Cheri Szcodronski who will likely pass along your street with clipboard and camera in hand!
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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