Mr. Connie Patton was born in Charlotte, NC and lived most of his early years in the Brooklyn area of Charlotte, NC. As a young man he was a member of the ROTC, through Second Ward High school. He also participated in many social and sporting clubs, such as boxing and baseball. An active member of the church, he warmly remembers the impact that the House of Prayer had on the Brooklyn area, though he was not a member. Upon reaching enlistment age, Mr. Patton joined the United States Navy, where he served with distinction. Upon returning home he witnessed the process of Urban Renewal that the Brooklyn neighborhood underwent.
Tape Log: Oral History Interview with Connie Patton
Interviewed at Mr. Patton’s home
April 2, 2007
Interviewer: Bemis, Robert
|Time||Description of Interview Contents|
|0:0||Introduction. Background-memories of family. Fathers illness Mothers occupation. Myers St. Elementary School. Elementary education and teachers. High School education. Sports teams – Foot ball Baseball – “Black Bottom” “Blue Heaven” “Hillbillies” sports teams – Boxing as a neighborhood sport|
Sporting teams by Wards. Community development. Brooklyn Presbyterian. Church as community center. Summer bible school William Tabernacle. Friendship Baptist
8:07 hand clap
Daddy Grace as an influence. House of Prayer. parades. Civic influence
|10:00||House of Prayer parade description. House of Prayer a benevolent society. Navy experience. Post wart work experience. 1950’s and Urban renewal. Businesses in Brooklyn. El Chico nightclub.|
|15:00||Nightlife in Brooklyn. Grady Cole Center. Oscar’s Cafe. Speak easy’s. Brooklyn as center of regional Afro-American activities. Grocery stores. Caucasian owned grocery.|
|20:00||Urban Renewal – results of move. Community ties disappear, Upsetting social life. Disservive by Afro American Cultural Center Publication. Misrepresentation of Brooklyn. Brooklyn professions. Mr. Blakely, prinicapl of West Charlotte residence. “The Brooklyn Story”|
|25:00||High School experiences and conclusion.|
Interviewed at Mr. Patton’s home
April 2, 2007
Interviewer: Bemis, Robert
Transcription completed: April 9, 2007
Transcriber: Robert Bemis
Editor: Dr. Karen Flint
Title: Interview with Connie Patton
Keywords [Subject]: Brooklyn, Biddleville, Second Ward High School, World War II, ROTC, El Chico, Nightlife, Sports, Boxing, Baseball, House of Prayer, Daddy Grace, parades, Morgan school, Charlotte Police, Chief Littlejohn
Abstract [Description]: Mr. Connie Patton
Interview Date: 2007-4-2
Coverage: Charlotte, NC; 1920s to 1990s
Interviewer: Bemis, Robert
Transcriber: Bemis, Robert
Transcription Completed: 2007-4-9
Birth location: Charlotte, NC
Residence: 521 S. Summit Dr. Charlotte, NC
Education: High School
Setting Description: Interviewed at his home in Charlotte, NC
Begin Transcribing Interview Below.
RB Robert Bemis
CP Connie Patton
RB – Today is April 2nd 2007, I am Robert Bemis Interviewing Mr. Connie Patton in his home this is for the Brooklyn to Biddleville class, professor: Dr. Karen Flint and we’re going to start with just a few easy background questions, no problem, just to establish who you are. Umm, so Mr. Mr. Patton you grew up in, in Brooklyn?
CP – Yeah, Born and raised
RB – Could you tell me a little bit about your family and your earliest memories in the area?
CP – My memories of the area or my family or both?
RB – Both
CP – Well, my parents, I remember my father, he was sick and my mother and sisters and times were pretty, pretty bad. We were raised in a religious family. My mother took care of my father and she worked seven days a week and try to raise and feed, cloth, parent for three…three children and she did a pretty good…best she could with what she made.
RB – And what did your Mother do?
CP – Beg your pardon?
RB – What did she do?
CP – My mother worked in service. Domestic work. Yeah.
RB – This was the 1930’s?
CP – Yeah, the 30’s I understand my father got sick in 1929 and I think I remember, what I remember of my father when he was sick and my mother was 32, I believe it was, and she was working then.
RB – Now did she work for families that lived in Brooklyn?
CP – Nah, she worked for white families out in Myers Park, out in that area.
RB – Myers Park, now you grew up in Brooklyn, born and raised, so obviously as a child you went to school in Brooklyn?
CP – Nah, at first I went to school in Morgan, in an area called Cherry. It was a building, Myers street school at the time. So I went to Morgan school. To me that was one of the best elementary schools in the world. I’ll never forget, when I left Morgan school in the sixth grade I could read as well in sixth grade as well as I could when I was in twelfth. They were really good teachers, maybe because the classes were not that large, and the time, and they took so much energy. Plus when I got home, with my father being sick, he could help me go over my reading and spelling. I think that helped also.
RB – So were you involved in any kind of extracurricular activities when you were at these schools?
CP – At Morgan, no
RB – Now when you got to high school
CP – Yes
RB – And you played baseball
CP – Nah, I played football
RB – Football! Now you had mentioned that there were local kids who would have teams
CP – Yeah
RB – And you would play others. There was a vibrant community of these teams. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?
CP – Sure. See there were a lot of kids in Brooklyn and they had sections in Brooklyn, one I’ll never forget was up near the Police department they called that area Black Bottom. Then it was Brooklyn, it was all Brooklyn but there was a little area called that, and then to the left of us in an area off Morehead Street, off McDowell off of Morehead Street, we called Blue Heaven. And they had a baseball team, and then where I lived is kind of, you come up a hill, and they call us the Hillbillies. So we had a team and we go around playing baseball. And also back then boxing was a famous thing for kids. There were a lot of boxing teams
RB – Wow! Boxing teams. That’s a little uncommon these days. So when you had boxing teams or even baseball teams, were you practicing in facilities or was it just something you would do?
CP – Well we didn’t have our own clothes. We didn’t have a sponsor like they do now. We just had our own gloves and we’d go around. We call up a group. We’d walk to an area and tell those boys we‘d be up there to play you guys Wednesday, “Ok”, and then we’d go to another area and tell those boys in Black Bottom we’d play you guys. Then we’d go to Cherry and we would walk to First Ward to play baseball.
RB – Were there teams that would play outside of the area or that would come in from outside the area to play?
CP – Oh yeah, they would come in to play us.
RB – Really?
CP – Yeah, but the best team, in our group, was the boys in Third War. Johnny Perlow, and (unintelligible) Richardson. They had the best team.
RB – Yeah?
CP – Yeah, they beat us all. But when we got older, the boys in First Ward, they had a team, and they were the best. When we got in our teams.
RB – So these were established teams, you knew the people?
CP – See what happened, you’d meet these guys in high…elementary school and then you meet them in high school and then that’s how we.,,,
RB – You grew up together. So you had mentioned that your family was a religious…a religious family. What church did you belong to?
CP – Yeah
CP – First United Pres…no I’m sorry, The church at that time we merged with First United Presbyterian Church later, but my church was Brooklyn Presbyterian on McDowell.
RB – Brooklyn Presbyterian on McDowell…and did you spend a lot of time in the church?
CP – Oh yeah. Back then the church was the social…was much more like a part of our life you go to Sunday school, then when my mother got off at twelve o’ clock…about three o’clock on Sunday evening, I’d go to church with her on Sunday night, but between that time they had what you call a young people’s forum. Go there about 5-6. So the church was real important.
RB – So it acted in a religious function and a civic function as well. So it was like a boys club? Or a teen-agers club?
CP – At Church, yeah.
RB – It sounds like between church and school you were busy!
CP – Yeah they kept you kind of busy. You know during the summer. When school was out we’d have bible school. So we’d go to bible school, maybe a couple of weeks, and then at the second week, we’d have a play, and then the next week I go down… My wife, well she wasn’t my wife then, but the church she went to William tabernacle, that was a Methodist church about two blocks away, a little red church, that’s where all the kids went. Then I’d go up to the Friendship Baptist Church to bible service. So we kept busy doing those of things. Doing something during the summer.
RB – Well geez, that’s hahaha…that’s amazing, yeah I …the interaction between the churches is something that we’ve heard a lot about the United House of Prayer.
CP – Uh huh
RB – And how much…(clapping)….oh and how much of an influence Daddy Grace was in the area.
CP – He was a great influence. Yes he was. And the people were the nicest people in the city. In fact, see the House of Prayer was in Brooklyn on a street called Long Street maybe about three blocks from where I was born and raised. And I never forget that during the hard time the House of Prayer would feed people, I think for five cent. They’d get a bowl of beans, and I think it was cornbread and that was one of the reasons I think… They were always there to help the people and years ago the chief of Police, Chief Littlejohn, I read an article, he said less than one or two percent of the kids who come down there in trouble are from the House of Prayer and there were very few kids from the House of Prayer that got in trouble. Well one thing they kept them busy, they was in the band and marching.
RB – And we often hear about people’s recollection of parades
CP – Yeah
RB – That they would have around.
CP – And it was a group, I’d say from six to ten, and nine to twelve. They really were together.
RB – So I imagine that when you had holidays the community,would have, a number of the different churches and I imagine, the schools as well, would have some kind of holiday programs?
CP – Holiday programs? I don’t know. Let me see…now I know that once a year the House of Prayer would have a parade, and it was a parade! It was really a parade. Bands would come from Newport News and Norfolk, Augusta, Columbia. It was a big day. Almost like the holiday for Thanksgiving
RB – And what time of the year was this?
CP – This would be I think around September.
RB – Around September
CP–Before it gets too cold cause they would baptize that day. That was a big day for Charlotte. All of Charlotte when the House of Prayer had their parade. And another thing I’d like to tell you about the House of Prayer: I never, as a kid I remember, if anyone would get sick, someone from the House of Prayer would go to check on them.
RB – Really?
CP – Sometimes they ‘d stay with them all night and they are like…they are a close religious group now. The best neighbors, some of the best neighbors I’ve had in my life were House of Prayer people.
RB – Says a lot!
CP – Yeah, they are all right. They are really really good people.
RB – Now, in the 1940’s you went into the military?
CP – Yep
RB – And what branch of the service?
CP – I was in the Navy
RB – You were in the Navy?
CP – Yep
RB – Could you tell me a little about your experiences in the Navy?
CP – Well, in the Navy at that time all a black, when I went in the service, all a black man could be was stewards’ man. We couldn’t be a boat’s mate or a seaman. You couldn’t be an electrician…or a.just a steward’s mate. I didn’t like that part, but I was in there so I made the best of it. I really got out; when I got out I was a petty officer.
RB – And you got out in 1946?
CP – Yeah
RB – And you came back to the Brooklyn area?
CP – Yeah
RB – Could you maybe speak a bit about how the war had changed Brooklyn, if at all?
CP – Well, I can’t see what…the only thing I could see where the war had changed Brooklyn was that during the war, black people got a little better jobs because they needed them during defense. But other than that it didn’t change that much. Not to me.
RB – So when you came back from the service you went to work?
CP – Yeah, I loped one day and my mother said…when you got out of the service the government would pay you twenty dollars a week for fifty two weeks to give you time to get you a job. So my mother told me “why don’t you look around now and get you a good job while those other boys are getting their twenty dollars” and I did I loped one day then went to work and I have been working ever since!
RB – Missed your time off didn’t you!
CP – Yeah, yeah
RB – Came back from the war and your Mom made you get a job!
CP – Yeah, I enjoyed it
RB – So from the forties to…when did you first hear about the development that was going to occur in the Brooklyn area? The Urban Renewal?
CP – I guess it was in the fifties, yeah
RB – So about ten years after you got back
CP – Yeah I guess in the fifties
RB – So you remember how you heard about that?
CP – You know, hearsay. You’d read it in the paper, but I was young, I wasn’t paying too much attention. Next thing you know they start tearing down up in Brooklyn near town and came on down where I lived. But I miss it. Brooklyn was an unusual place. There were over two hundred businesses in Brooklyn.
RB – Two Hundred Businesses?
CP – Two Hundred Businesses…everybody, you really didn’t have to go out of Brooklyn for anything. Everything was right there. Social life, Everything. Right there.
RB – Actually that’s one of the principle projects I’m working on in this class iss documenting the nightlife in the Brooklyn area. Do you have recollections of any of the nighttime spots?
CP – Oh yeah! Oh yeah. El Chico, that was the place where every Friday night, about every Friday night, they’d have a big name band come to Charlotte. And we’d all go out to the Grady Cole Center and we’d leave there and come back and stop at El Chico’s. We had Cafés up and down Seventh Street and McDowell. All over the place there were nightspots and speak..
RB – A lot of bands came in from out of town?
CP – Yeah, just over there now, if we wanted bands and to dance we go to El Chico’s. Other cafes like Oscar’s café and then you know you got the little speak-easys.
RB – Of course
RB – we better not talk about those!
CP – And it was, Brooklyn was the best place in the world to live. I’m telling you the truth. See most of, at that time, they didn’t have many business way out, so we could walk to work. Everything was downtown. Most would work downtown. If you lived in Brooklyn you were right downtown. You would just walk to work.
RB – Because jobs were centralized and the nightlife centralized, you find that people would come in from different parts of town?
CP – Right, from the smaller places cause Brooklyn as the largest black area in Charlotte and had all the nightspots, cafes and places.
RB – Did you find that it was only other black communities that would come in or would you find some white people would come in?
CP Nah, it was mostly black. All black. Then after the weekend they would go back
RB – Time to go back home!
RB – You had mentioned there were over two hundred businesses, were there any particular businesses or business owners that you remember being an integral part of the community. I know that we’ve discussed.. Some of the people in other interviews have discussed the lack of banks. Any memories of banks or grocery stores that would hold money?
CP – Well, in my area of town, where I lived I remember…let me go back a bit. A lot of the businesses, on every corner in Brooklyn was a grocery store and people didn’t have cash money so they would go to the store, with their book and the man (talk to wife) (was it James Corouthers? What was his last name? He lived down on Brown street…we’ll anyway.) You know you’d go to the store and you’d take your book and you’d get your groceries and he’d put down what you get, and put it on his book and you’d pay on Friday, and start all over again. See but James, he was raised down there with us. His father had the store and then we…he stayed down there. He went to a white school but he still stayed down there.
RB – Oh he was a white guy?
CP – Yeah
RB – Ahh…Ok
CP – And he played baseball with a group but he was some…some black people would give him their money and he’d keep a record of it. He saved their money; they wouldn’t go to the bank. That’s the kind of guy he was, he was an unusual guy. He was a great, great guy. I tell everybody that during the time, the sixties, when they were…it was after Martin Luther King got killed and everybody was burning things, I bet you that no one would think about touching that store, cause he was our friend. He was the best guy in the world.
RB – That speaks to the person and speaks to the community
CP – Yeah
CP – Oh yeah and we had in Brooklyn we had two theatres, lawyers, doctors, tailor shops, barber shops….all kinds of businesses. I’ve said two theatres. Drug stores, two drug stores and shoe shop.
RB – Now, when Urban Renewal came about, did people really realize, in your opinion that their community, this vibrant place, that everyone we talk to has wonderful memories of…did they really realize it was going away?
CP – Yeah, I think they did, but I got…I’ll tell you; I’ll be frank with you. We hated to leave, I did, everybody hated to leave Brooklyn, but I declare everybody, that left Brooklyn got a little better house, better place. Just about everyone I know, got a better place than the one they had.
RB – Now, even though they had better places to live did those ties, those ties to the community, did that disappear?
CP – Yeah, that disappeared. They disappeared. They disappeared. The only time we get together, right, is like if someone dies from Brooklyn. If you go to the funeral, that’s when we see all our old friends. Old buddies. The places we’d hang out on Friday. The drug store, the corner block…they tore it down. You don’t see them unless you go to a funeral. There’s some smart there, guys will stop by and hang but not anymore.
RB – Right
CP – Yeah, it really upset the social life. You know, maybe I’m getting off the question
RB – Oh no you’re fine
CP – This Afro American Cultural Service they did Brooklyn a disservice. Terrible disservice and I think they should be ashamed of themselves. Every picture that they ever taken of Brooklyn, old run down, three room shotgun house. Now I’m not knocking a shotgun house, I was born and raised in one, but my mother couldn’t do any better. But (unintelligible) was a little old house. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. But this Afro American Cultural Center, all the houses three room shotgun houses and that’s not so! There were some nice homes in Brooklyn. You see at that time we didn’t have development like all new homes for blacks. Everybody lived in Brooklyn and then in Brooklyn there were teachers, lawyers, preachers, and all professional people. Who’s his name? Dentists, ministers, lawyers, doctors, teachers.
RB – With over two hundred businesses…
CP – With all the business owners and then there were about fourteen of fifteen nice, nice churches. Friendship and the pastors. I mean the churches, ministers stayed in the parsonage next to the church. Teachers stayed in…now, I know Mr. Blakely, Principal of West Charlotte; he had a big white two-story house. But two or a few houses before him were shotgun houses. You know what I mean? And now what this organization did, they went around and tried to find all the areas with shotgun houses and that’s all they shot. Had they gone up Boundary, Myers street, Alexander Street, Hill street, Myers street, McDowell street and other streets they’d have found nice homes! You see?
RB – So why do you think they did that?
CP – I don’t know. I don’t know why they would do that and it’sa shame. People get this book “The Brooklyn Story” and all they see are these little houses right here. In fact had they came down, well no…on my street there was three or four nice houses and a few shotguns. Nothing wrong with shotguns, people lived doing the best they could. But it looks like an organization like this would have tried to find something…a nice spot in Brooklyn. I know Ms. Kenny Diamond[?], my French teacher. A lot of teachers lived up there on Boundary and Mr. Blakely, Principal at West Charlotte, Ms Williams, a lot of the teachers lived up there. A lot of teachers lived on Myers and Alexander streets. You know and I just don’t see why…in fact, of these sixteen big churches all of the ministers lived in the parson next to the church. I think that‘s why we had so much discipline in Brooklyn. Kids weren’t walking around cursing and riding by or skating on the sidewalk. They didn’t do that. You see, they respected their teachers and people like policemen. We had some policemen, they lived in Brooklyn.
RB – Right
CP – But all this book show [pointing at it] was run down three room houses. See shotgun houses. That’s not right
RB – That’s not the way you want to remember it
CP – Huh?
RB – That’s not the way you want to remember it
CP – No I don’t. We had some nice homes in Brooklyn but they didn’t show it. Anything else you want to ask? [phone ringing]
RB – No thank you very much I think this has been…
CP – That’s all?
RB – Well, unless you have any more you’d like to add
CP – Oh, I forget. I do want to say a few things about my school. If I make no mistake, Second Ward High school…greatest high school in the world
RB – Now what was that name again? Second Ward?
CP – Second Ward. That was the school that I went to. High School. We had some very good teachers. Good teachers. And we had a principal…when the war started, our Principal had been a captain in World War Two…World War One…Captain I think it was maybe a lieutenant first. I think it was a Captain. And he started a ROTC and every boy sixteen, seventeen, we had to take ROTC. And you got drafted, when you were eighteen years old. They drafted you and when you go in the service, you ready to drill. To become a Drill Sergeant. And very few boys I knew who went to second ward didn’t come out of the service with stripes, because we knew. We took ROTC in High School. Yes sir.
RB – You hear often mention of Civic organizations, but I don’t think I recall a mention of ROTC?
CP – We used to walk…march up and down. We had made our gun; we were marching down the street. And we had the best teachers. Our teachers cared for us. They were…if you had a problem. Now if you were trying and you came back in the afternoon they would help you. Free, wasn’t getting paid for it. I’m telling you the truth. Very few children, our kids, I’ve never been in a class like high school. Kids couldn’t read? Not at Second Ward. I could read as well in sixth grade as I could when I was in twelfth because the teachers had morals and it came out to Second Ward. But I stayed two years at Myers Street elementary. Another thing I tell you I’ll you a few things about Second Ward. I think that, if remember, the first black Marine was from Second Ward, Roy Perry and I think the first black Naval Officer graduated Second Ward. Watkins! Dr. Watkins. Our ship was one of the first few to land in Tokyo bay. I think I can stand up
CP – I hope this has been helpful to you.
RB – Oh this has been great! This has been absolutely wonderful! Thank you very much!
End of Interview
Approx. 29 min