Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2011
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — When Shirley Moss speaks about her late mother, Cornelia, she can’t hide the pride.
For 25 years, during the first weekend in August, the Lonsdale community in Knoxville, Tenn., has been holding a neighborhood celebration — a homecoming for residents of this redevelopment area.
Cornelia B. Cartwright, the unofficial mayor of Lonsdale, played a key role in organizing that first 1986 event, which has grown into a three-day affair of music, parades, ceremonies, concessions, children’s activities, political glad-handing and “old-timers banquets.”
This past weekend, Shirley and her husband, Grady, and their son, Ernest, traveled to Knoxville from Salisbury and through the Cornelia B. Cartwright Scholarship Fund spent Saturday afternoon giving away supplies to elementary school students.
Back home, the Mosses had collected monetary donations from other family members and friends, then tripled that sum with their own financial contribution.
They sent that gift by certified check to Lonsdale Homecoming Celebration organizers, who bought the school supplies that were handed out under a tent on the grounds of the old Sam E. Hill School — where Shirley and her siblings once attended the elementary grades. It is now a child enrichment center.
Student volunteers with the University of Tennessee helped the Mosses with the “School Tools Giveaway.” Their assistance was another fitting tribute to Cornelia Cartwright, who worked many years at the University of Tennessee as a dietician for the school’s daycare.
With Granite Knitwear’s help, Shirley Moss made the tent banner with her mother’s picture on it that announced the scholarship fund’s school supply giveaway. She had used this same material to make a square for the state organ donors’ quilt in honor of her daughter, Karina Evette Moss, who died Jan. 18.
The night before Karina’s death, Shirley and her daughter had spoken about attending the Lonsdale celebration and walking on the street named after Cornelia Cartwright.
On her kitchen table in Salisbury, Shirley Moss spreads out many of newspaper clippings, official letters, plaques, meeting minutes, resolutions and certificates that show her mother’s prominence in local and state circles, especially in relation to equal housing, educational opportunities and human rights.
The Aug. 14, 2003, minutes from Knoxville City Council report the council’s approval of changing Minnesota Avenue in Lonsdale to Cornelia Cartwright Avenue, between Badget and Pascal drives.
Shirley shows the June 1 letter she wrote to Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown in anticipation of the family’s summer trip to Lonsdale:
“Visiting Lonsdale and attending the 2011 Homecoming Celebration will have a special meaning for our family,” Moss told the mayor. “We will walk on Cornelia Cartwright Avenue remembering the treasured memories of our childhood, community and the legacy of a devoted mother, grandmother and advocate for Lonsdale.
“We will see how tall the tree planted in our mother’s honor has grown. And we will enjoy talking to both young and old residents about our mother’s determination to create projects and activities that enhanced the growth and development of Knoxville and improved the living of Lonsdale’s residents educationally, physically, economically and socially.”
Brown wrote back, that he, too, knew “Mrs. Cartwright as a strong advocate for what she knew was right and beneficial for her community.”
“She diligently pursued the goals that she set,” Brown said. “She also was a member of my church (First AME Zion).”
Shirley met Brown in person at the Lonsdale Celebration this past weekend.
“Her first love was Lonsdale,” Shirley says.
The kitchen table is filled with awards and recognitions from the Knoxville Legal Aid Society, African-American Women, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Knoxville Public Housing, Knox County Schools, Knoxville Tenant Council, AME Zion Church and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Commission.
“This is just my little collection,” Shirley Moss apologizes, noting some awards ended up with other children and grandchildren. “She received things we didn’t even know about.”
Not long before she died in June 1998, Cartwright described herself to a Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter as “a diverse person with many interests.”
“You have to listen to Mrs. Cartwright,” the writer said, “at least officials in this town do. She does not easily take no for an answer, nor is she likely to be put off by what appears to be casual indifference.”
Shirley says her mother was known to show up at housing and school meetings, looking after the interests of Lonsdale and others.
“If nobody else was there, she was there,” Moss says.
Cornelia pretty much raised two boys and two girls on her own. Shirley says she didn’t know her father, Clayborne, well. He was a professional baseball player in the Negro League for a team based out of Nashville, Tenn. Later he became a correctional officer in the state prison system and was, for a time, a personal guard for the assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Shirley eventually migrated to North Carolina to attend Livingstone College, married Grady Moss Jr., and built a 38-year teaching career, mostly at Knox Middle School, before retiring. She also has a master’s degree from Duke University.
Grady and Shirley’s son, Ernest, now 35, is assistant track and field coach for Radford University, and he played the role of official family photographer over the weekend.
On their trip west over the mountains, the Mosses stopped in Asheville, where friend Canary Brooker gave them enough supplies for middle school and high school students to fill up half of their Hyundai Tucson. Those items also were distributed Saturday.
The Lonsdale Homecoming Celebration allowed Shirley to see cousins from as far away as Michigan and New Jersey and friends from her old neighborhood.
“We ate good,” she says, giving a special nod to the vendor who made fried green tomatoes “that were out of sight.”
The Mosses also made sure to have their pictures taken under a Cornelia Cartwright Avenue street sign. Shirley only came to know about the street’s being renamed for her mother within the past year.
“We didn’t know the city and community had done this,” she says.
An 85-year-old cousin who Shirley spoke with last Christmas told Shirley that she had heard about the street named for Cornelia, but she wasn’t sure.
Moss went to Mapquest on her computer, plugged in her mother’s name as a destination point for Knoxville, and was given directions to it.
“Then I got excited,” Shirley says.
She started sharing her excitement with family, including Karina, and began planning the family’s trip to the annual Lonsdale Homecoming Celebration. The idea for the school supplies followed quickly.
Back home, Shirley says the trip was everything she expected.
“I’m real pleased that the community is continuing with my mother’s work,” she says.
Contact Mark Wineka at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-797-4263.