Spirit of Rowan 2022: African-American Heritage Trail continues to highlight Black history, culture 20 years later

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022

SALISBURY — Though it only scratches the surface, the African-American Heritage Trial has highlighted historic places, leaders and experiences in the lives of Black Rowan Countians for more than 20 years.

The project was established in 2000 with the support of Livingstone College and the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. It has since been expanded to denote 20 sites in downtown Salisbury, 24 across Livingstone College’s campus and 11 scattered throughout Rowan County.

Downtown sites highlight notable people such as Joseph Ballard, a blacksmith and politician born into slavery and freed with Emancipation, along with Harry Cowan, a Baptist minister who established 49 churches across the state. One marker recognizes the achievements of Wiley Immanuel Lash, the city’s first Black mayor, a political activist and humanitarian. William Valentine is honored for owning a barber shop that marks Salisbury’s oldest extant commercial structure, the Innes Street side of the building at 101 North Main St.

A marker on the 120 block of West Innes honors integration at historic movie theaters following protests from Livingstone students in 1962.

One site commemorates the office of World War I veteran and dentist Lee Clarence Jones at 118 North Lee St., which was once known as Roseman’s Grocery. Historic Black churches are also recognized, including Mount Zion Baptist, established in 1867; Soldiers Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, established in 1865; Crown in Glory Lutheran Church, established in 1971; and Dixonville Baptist Church, destroyed during urban renewal in the 20th century. Salisbury’s first Black public school, Lincoln School, along with the adjacent Dixonville Cemetery, are also recognized along the trail.

Other Salisbury locations along the trail include Oak Grove-Freedman’s Cemetery, the Rowan Museum, the “Crossroads: Past and Present” mural along the 100 block of West Fisher Street and the Historic National Cemetery on Government Street.

The Mowery block, spanning from 113 to 119 East Fisher St., is honored on the trail for a history of Black businesses operating in the area since erected in 1902. Those businesses include the Noble and Kelsey Funeral Home, Mowery Tailor Shop, Union Drug Store and doctors’ offices. Additionally, the Negro Center at 223 East Fisher Street honors the Negro branch of the Rowan Public Library and currently houses the Noble and Kelsey Funeral Home.

Markers across Livingstone’s campus honor the school and Union Hill district, which were both part of the Frohock plantation established in 1761. The trail notes that when Union Gen. Stoneman invaded Salisbury in 1865, soldiers camped nearby in what’s now known as Union Hill.

Markers on Livingstone’s campus also highlight Lash and his family’s homes, along with the Duncan Family Home built in 1917 for Samuel E. Duncan Sr., who led the school’s math department. Additionally, the trail recognizes the homes of other notable Livingstone faculty, including William O. Ferron, James E. K. and Rose Douglass Aggrey, Pinkey A. Stevenson, John C. Dancy and Joseph Charles and Jennie Smallwood Price.

The trail also recognizes the Monroe Street School, the J. C. Price High School, Moore’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, Oakdale/Union Hill Cemetery and Miller Recreation Center.

Across the county, the trail marks the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer. A number of schools are included, such as the R. A. Clement School in Cleveland, the Dunbar High School in East Spencer, the Shuford Memorial Elementary School in Granite Quarry, the gymnasium at the old Aggrey Memorial High School and the Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Elementary School in Salisbury.

he Gilliam Family Farm in Salisbury, Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, In Landis, notable sites include Sandy Ridge A.M.E. Zion Church and museum, and both the White Rock Community of Granite Quarry and the Village of Gold Hill are marked.

Two decades later, and the trail is still being viewed today.

Gretchen Witt, supervisor of the Edith M. Clark History Room at the Rowan Public Library, said patrons continue to print copies of the brochure that includes a map and description of all the sites. The brochure can be picked up free of cost at the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 204 E. Innes St.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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