Black-owned Businesses 1900-1950

1900-1920

By 1910, 46 Blacks owned at least 30 acres of land with three of these farmers owning 100 acres or more:
M. R. Anderson of Mills River Township (230 acres), Martin Herrin (100 acres) and Washington Shipman
(100 acres) both of the Hendersonville Township. To be a property owner gave Blacks some security and
independence in an unpredictable world. There were other Blacks who never gained financial success but
were admired by their peers for their acquired skills. Among these persons were the much sought-after
midwife Margaret Summey, hod carrier Thomas Mitchel, and mail carriers Garfield Markey and John
Whitmire.

There were a few individuals who launched successful businesses in downtown Hendersonville. The
county’s earliest recorded Black commercial enterprise was a confectionery shop owned by C. E.
McKenzie. McKenzie’s shop provided customers with groceries, sweets, candles, soap, tea, coffee and
spices. As Kirsten Mullen, reseacher for the Black History Research Project, notes; “Small businesses like
McKenzie’s had difficulty securing credit and had to rely on a high volume of customers, who made their
purchases in cash, to make a profit. Many of them failed. Located near Black neighborhoods—more
profitable locations were often barred to them—Blacks were their primary customers. They also had to
compete with White businesses that routinely outdistanced them in merchandise selection, prices, and
services.” Confectioneries were the seventh most likely business chosen by Blacks after restaurants,
barbershops, grocery stores, cleaning and pressing establishments, shoe repair shops, and mortuaries.
Confectioneries were chosen for the relatively modest initial investment.

Simpson D. Dogan, a South Carolina native, came to Hendersonville and established himself as a very
capable businessman. He opened a textile and apparel “cleaning and dyeing” operation on the northern
edge of downtown Hendersonville near West College and North Main Streets. Dogan was the first Black
merchant to use advertising extensively and showed his humor in this 1902 teaser: “S. D. Dogan, who has
been dyeing for some time, is still alive and can be found at the old stand, where you can get clothes
cleaned and dyed at reasonable prices.” In 1903, Dogan opened a grocery store and by 1905 he had
become the most propertied Black in Henderson County. As Mullen uncovered, “Dogan’s business assets
were valued at more than five times that of the next highest Black property owner in 1905 and the value of
his cleaning and dyeing concern rose steadily each of the next four years.” By 1915, Dogan refined his
company’s specialty to include “French Dry Cleaning and Pressing,” added a telephone and moved his
business to a more desirable location across from the Courthouse. H. S. Maxey owned a “pressing club,”
another designation for a dry cleaners, in “the old rock building on Main Street” in 1909, but his firm was
never any real threat to Dogan’s business. Kirsten Mullen goes on to state that, “Well-positioned within the
city’s business circle and an unparalleled leader among Blacks… Dogan remained virtually unchallenged as
the county’s Black business kingpin until the late 1910’s when Rosa and James E. Pilgrim established the
5th Avenue (West) Pressing Club near Main Street, which would eventually overshadow Dogan’s highly
successful pioneering enterprise… ”

Rounding out the early Black middle-class were ten teachers, seven ministers, three barbers and
blacksmiths, and a butler. The teachers were literate, received a guaranteed income and were respected
members of the community. The length of the school year varied from three to nine months and was a
determining factor in their incomes. Mullen’s research indicates the teachers at the time were: In the Mills
River Township the county commissioners employed Hattie Butler, who would become a model of
philanthropy for the community; brother and sister, Thomas and Nannie Allen taught in the Clear Creek
Township one third of the year; and in the Hendersonville Township, Elizabeth Caffe, Miss M. E. Henin,
Lola Jefferson, John Wesley Neill, and Louisa Simmons were engaged in teaching occupations.

Hendersonville Township supported eight Black ministers in 1900: Frank Brown, who along with his
mother, Harriet Westmoreland, had been a slave of Col. Valentine Ripley; Giles Fortune, Mr. Louis
Gowan, Mr. Hemphill, Jack Lynch, Frank R. White, Morgan Williams, and Walter Williams. The Rev.
Frank Brown was a businessman as well as pastor of the Star of Bethel Baptist Church, of which he was a
founding member. He owned and operated a successful livery stable at the south end of Grove Street.

Calvin Russel was another man who did what was needed to make a living in the early years of the
twentieth century. He was a farmer most of his life, but he did stints as a street grader and paver, grading
First Street and paving with concrete the Main Street of Hendersonville. At one time he was a woodcutter
and sold his products out of the back of a covered wagon.

Two members of the Happy Land colony, Perry and Sarah Williams, left the colony to open a restaurant
close to the South Carolina line in southern Henderson County, catering to the needs of travelers
“wagoning” down the old state road. They gained a reputation for well-cooked food, cleanliness, and
providing the comforts people wanted while making the hard journey.

Lavinia Potts used her knowledge of medicines and herbs to help nurse the people of her East Flat Rock
community. Her skills with people led her into midwifery, for which she became well known and
respected by both Blacks and Whites. She was able to earn extra money as a seamstress, making
comforters and quilts. She also gained a reputation as a baker, making fancy pastries, which she would sell
on Saturdays to regular customers. The farm on which she and her husband George Potts lived was for the
most part self-sustaining, but the money she brought in helped to pay the bills for the things that they could
not supply themselves.

There were others, no doubt, who contributed their talents and energies to make an independent living but
whose accounts have not been available for this history. The overwhelming majority of people between
1865 and 1920, however, labored in the hotels, houses, and fields of Whites, and the dignity of their work
should not be forgotten. Without their dedication the generations of young people who have followed
would not have had the expanding opportunities that their labors produced.

1920-1950

During this time most Blacks in Henderson County worked as maids, cooks, servants, and chauffeurs, with
the Black professionals being teachers and ministers. Henderson County continued to base much of its
economy on the tourist trade, and prior to 1925 the only other main industry was agriculture. Between 1925
and 1939 two industries located in Henderson County, Balfour Mills and Grey’s Hosiery Mill, but Blacks
were employed at these locations primarily in custodial capacities. An example of a “good job” was one
with the railroad. There were good wages and benefits, and in the Black community, a certain status went
with the job. Racial prejudice continued to limit Blacks ability to get a fair opportunity at good jobs. To
illustrate the pervasiveness of the prejudice, in Hendersonville, Blacks were denied such basic human
decencies as being able to drink from the public drinking fountains or to rest on the green benches on Main
Street. Until the early 1960’s Blacks had to enter restaurants by the back door, and although they could
order take-out, they were not allowed to sit down and eat a meal. It wasn’t until the early 1920’s that Black
people could stay at Patton Memorial Hospital and then they were relegated to a “Black wing” in the
basement of the building. Prior to this time operations would be performed at Patton Memorial, but Blacks
were then sent home in an open wagon to recover from surgery. Because Black people were excluded from
the mainstream, a lively second economy grew up that catered just to Black people. There were two cafes, a
taxi service, two boarding houses, at least one nightspot of note, two beauty shops, one newspaper and a
funeral home.

During this time, from 1920 through 1950, Alberta Jowers is an example of a person who continued to give
to the Hendersonville community in many enterprising and creative ways. Mrs. Jowers came to
Hendersonville in the early 1920’s with a nursing degree from the Savannah School of Nursing. She came
to Henderson County to do private duty nursing but soon was employed by Patton Memorial Hospital. She
was the first Black nurse at the old Patton Memorial Hospital and her responsibilities were extensive. She
not only performed her nursing duties but she lived in the hospital as well. She would be called on day or
night as the need arose. Before the days of hospital dieticians, the nurses were expected to wash dishes,
attend to the needs of the patients, and assist the doctors with their medical duties. Mrs. Jowers
accomplished all these responsibilities with professionalism and caring. Blacks were reluctant at first to
come to the White hospital. Black patients would come for appendix operations and serious medical needs,
but events such as home births were still the norm at that time, with midwives serving the needs of the
mother and her child. Lance Allen remembers that during those times “we never had a doctor till I was
nearly grown. That was when my sister’s appendix ruptured and the doctor operated on her there at our
house with his wife helping him.” Allen said a doctor was present when only two of the 13 babies came.
“Sometimes there was a midwife, but not always.”

In 1927 Patton Memorial had had a succession of custodians who would come and go. It wasn’t until that
year that Fred Means joined the staff doing yard work. He soon displayed the characteristics of a
responsible worker and it wasn’t long before he was made head orderly. For the next 40 years Fred Means
worked as head orderly, first at Patton Memorial Hospital, and then at Pardee Hospital. Of his work he
said, “You must have a natural compassion for sick people and the will to contribute to their overall good
or you don’t belong on this job.”

Mrs. Jowers also started the Mountain News, the only Black-run paper ever to be published in Henderson
County. On the cover of each of her weekly papers she stated that the purpose for the paper was for “the
betterment of Colored People in Western North Carolina.” She also started a beauty parlor called the
Alberta Jowers Mooney Beauty Shop. One of the beauticians employed by Mrs. Jowers was Mrs. Kathleen
Williams. Mrs. Williams later started her own beauty shop called Kathleen’s Beauty Shop, which has been
in operation for more than 40 years. In 1948 Mrs. Jowers was appointed as the field representative for the
North Carolina State Beautician and Cosmetologist Association. From this work she started the
Beauticians Chapter 38 in Hendersonville with five beauticians as original members: Ms. Lydia Landrum,
Mrs. Kathleen Williams, Mrs. Georgia Mims, Mrs. Lillie B. Quinn, and Ms. Geneva Green. The chapter
continued to grow by including members from Polk and Transylvania counties. Among her community
activities, Mrs. Jowers started the first Black Girl Scout troop, Troop No. 7, in the mid-1940’s, and also
sponsored a Black baseball team in Hendersonville during the 1920’s. She had a car, an unusual possession
for a woman at the time, and she drove the team to the towns where they played. Her accomplishments
were unusual for a woman of her time but her characteristics of fortitude and imagination made her a
notable businesswoman and community leader throughout her life. Toward the end of her life she moved
to Washington, D.C. to be near relatives.

Another businessman who got his start during the 1930’s had an enduring influence on the Hendersonville
community. The man was James Pilgrim. After graduating from Stephens-Lee High School in Asheville,
N.C., in 1934, Pilgrim began work with Mark’s Cleaners, eventually buying into the business with partners
Eric Frady and Max Markowitz. One day Thomas Shepherd approached Pilgrim, offering him a position in
his funeral home business. Pilgrim accepted. From this start Shepherd aided Pilgrim in gaining his
education and eventually, in 1941, helped him establish his own business by signing the bank notes,
lending him equipment and aiding in the performance of his first funerals. Pilgrim’s Funeral Home
prospered under the careful and compassionate eye of its founder. Pilgrim became involved in the activities
of the Black community, always offering to help in any way he could. He was instrumental on the
Community Council, which won a more equal footing in hiring practices for Blacks in Henderson County.
James Pilgrim was motivated by his faith in Christian principles and said, “I’ve always tried to do the
Christian thing, to follow the Master.” Because of his compassion and his position of financial
independence, he continued to be a leader of stature in the Hendersonville Black community as well as the
community as a whole until his death in 1988.

During the period from 1920 through 1950 Blacks in Henderson County, for the most part, were employed
in more service-oriented work. This work had its demands as well as its traditions. For example, schedules
within the Black community were adapted to accommodate domestic workers. Churches held two Sunday
worship services so that members working as servants could attend an evening service. There were social
traditions as well. One such traditional party was an annual event held at the end of the summer season
which became known as the “Chauffeurs’ Ball.” The drivers for Low Country Whites, summering in Flat
Rock, would celebrate with an end-of-the-season party. For that evening they had the use of the “big car,” a
Cadillac, Pierce Arrow, or Packard, and it was traditional to dress elegantly. A band from Asheville called
“The Little Brown Jug” would offer the music. Another popular gathering place during the 30’s and 40’s
was the “Merry Garden,” located off of Mine Gap Road in East Flat Rock. Bands traveling through the area
would play on weekends. Occasionally, a big name band would play at the Merry Garden. The place to
gather downtown was Bennett’s Barber Shop. This popular place remained open from the late 1940’s to
1973. There one could get a haircut as well as a sandwich and a good dose of conversation.

The years from 1920 through 1950 were a period of gradual change in the economic life of Blacks. The
Great Depression and WWII were over and many Blacks had served their country honorably during the
war. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had opened doors for many people and it wouldn’t be long before the
tight bonds of segregation would begin to come apart. The stage was set for the dramatic changes that were
about to take place across the nation and in Henderson County as well.

From A Brief History of the Black Presence in Henderson County by Gary Franklin Green