George A. Wallace, Sr.
Mr. George A. Wallace, Sr. is a leader in the black community and the grandson of a founder of the Grier Heights neighborhood. He works for a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of Grier Heights’ residents. In the interview Mr. Wallace gave information concerning the reasons why blacks throughout Charlotte who didn’t live in Brooklyn would visit; how the community was affected by urban renewal; different forms of entertainment for blacks in Charlotte; black entrepreneurship in Charlotte and how blacks should learn a lesson from urban renewal and support activism and home ownership in their communities.
Tape Log: Oral History Interview with George A. Wallace, Sr.
Interviewed by Tamara Dial
|Time||Description of Interview Contents|
|Tape One, Side One|
|0.0||Beginning of Interview.|
|3.0||Personal information concerning family and occupation.|
|8.||Growing up in Grier Heights and Charlotte; discusses the borders of different neighborhoods and traveling between neighborhoods.|
|17.0||Discusses schools attended; rivalries between different neighborhoods and reasons for people who did not live in Brooklyn to go to the neighborhood.|
|24.0||Describes businesses and other civic institutions located in Brooklyn and how they were impacted by urban renewal.|
|32.0||How other black neighborhoods affected by urban renewal and what lessons should be learned.|
|36.0||Issues I should have addressed in the interview and a Brooklyn story about how he met the mother of his children.|
George A. Wallace, Sr.
Wallace’s Business Office
March 24, 2004
TD: Tamara Dial
GW: George Wallace
TD: The following interview was conducted with Mr. George Wallace on behalf of the New South Voices
Project for the Brooklyn Neighborhood Oral History Project. It took place on March 24, 2004 at Mr.
Wallace’s office. The interviewer is Tamara Dial.
TD: All right, what is your full name?
GW: George Alexander Wallace.
TD: And when and where were you born?
GW: I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte, North Carolina. You need me closer?
TD: Yeah, oh no you’re fine.
GW: Oh, oh, there you go ok.
TD: And where, where in Charlotte were you born?
GW: Here in the Grier Heights community.
TD: Ok, do you have any children?
GW: I do.
TD: And what are their names?
GW: Uh, Jeffery Lamar Perry and Daryl Antoine Perry.
TD: Any grandchildren?
GW: Yes I do.
TD: [Laughter] And what is their names?
GW: Their name Michael Perry, Jaylan Perry, and Kendall Perry.
TD: Ok, what is your occupation?
GW: I am the executive director of a community development corporation.
TD: How long have you worked at this job?
GW: I’ve held this position as since 1994. Prior to that I was the board of director’s chair for this organization
while employed with the city of Charlotte.
TD: What inspired you to get into this type of business?
GW: A love of history, a love of neighborhood, and some say that I’ve inherited what I do from my grandfather.
TD: Who’s that?
GW: Edward Wallace.
TD: What did he do?
GW: He was one of the founders of this neighborhood. He was the contractor by trade and profession and one of
the major developers or founders of this neighborhood.
TD: Ok, and this neighborhood is the Grier Heights community.
GW: It is indeed.
TD: Ok, in, so you basically you grew in here in Grier Heights?
GW: I did.
TD: Could you tell me or describe one of your fondest childhood memories of growing up in this
GW: Fondest memory was from this neighborhood was the outdoor experience of going to on field trips near and
close to the neighborhood such as the Mint Museum that is still over here off of Randolph Rd. Or going on
a outing down to the creeks here to study tadpoles as they called them, things of that nature, also, playing
funeral home directors. My best friend Eugene Grier’s grandfather owned Grier Funeral Service and we use
to create, build our little own funeral homes and things like that.
TD: Ok. Where in Charlotte did most of your friends and family live?
GW: All my closest friend up until high school lived here in the Grier Heights community.
TD: Uh-huh. And your family?
GW: My family also yes.
TD: Ok, did you have any friends or family that lived in other neighborhoods in Charlotte?
GW: [cough] Yes I did.
TD: What were some of those neighborhoods that they?
GW: They lived in Brooklyn and in Biddleville.
GW: And Cherry.
TD: And Cherry?
GW: Cherry, Brooklyn, and Biddleville.
TD: How would you describe the boundaries of the different black neighborhoods? How did you know whether
you were in Cherry, or whether you were in Brooklyn, or whether you were in Grier Heights?
GW: Well Grier Heights is unique in that it is not continuous or either interlocked with any of the other African
American neighborhoods. We are still boundered by the prestigious East Over community, Elizabeth
community, and the Cotswald neighborhood. These neighborhoods are predominately white neighborhoods
that have a lot of history to them and have been there quite while. And Grier Heights is somewhat in the
triangle and to go to Cherry was about a two mile walk, to Brooklyn about a two and a half mile walk, two
and a half three mile walk.
TD: How would you know the difference between Cherry and Brooklyn?
GW: How would I know the difference?
GW: [Laughter] Grier Heights from Brooklyn had more so of in it, at the time I was growing up we were
considered in the county. I believe Grier Heights was incorporated into the city some time in the 50s. But,
we had to walk through white neighborhoods to get to Cherry, or to get to Brooklyn. And we had a lot more
open space than those two neighborhoods, they were sort of more so, urban type African American
neighborhoods and we were sort of a, you know had a more of a country atmosphere.
TD: So you knew that you got to either Brooklyn or Cherry when you saw black people?
GW: Yeah, yeah.
TD: Ok, so that was, so that’s basically how the different neighborhoods were defined?
GW: That’s correct. We had to go through several white neighborhoods to get to Cherry or Brooklyn.
TD: Ok, so other than walking what was a way that you could get transportation from neighborhood to
GW: Well, bus transportation of course, buses at that time stopped on the fringes of the neighborhood and we
had to walk up Seventh Street, to Seventh and Fifth Street to catch the bus.
TD: Did they have any black like taxi services or anything for the communities?
GW: They had taxi services but they rarely came to the neighborhood, of course if you had the money to afford
taxis back then, yes they came to the neighborhood.
TD: Ok, could you talk to me about some the different schools that you attended?
GW: I attended this school of which we are sitting in now, Billingsville Elementary. Again we are actually in my
second grade classroom. Across the hall there was my first, over in that corner over there was my third, and
over there was the fourth. And when I moved on to the fifth grade they began to add on to this building.
GW: And as you can see outside now, the old Billingsville School for my fifth up until the ninth grade that’s
been torn down and they are building a new school back there.
TD: Where did you go to high school?
GW: Second Ward.
TD: You went to Second Ward high school?
TD: And Second Ward was located in the Brooklyn community?
TD: When did you graduate from Second Ward?
TD: In 1961? All right, and what was Second Ward’s mascot?
GW: A tiger.
TD: It was the tiger.
TD: Now what, between, because you spent a lot of time in all the different, different black neighborhoods in
GW: Uh-um. I did.
TD: What were some of the rivalries, some of the, between the different neighborhoods? Who had the strongest
GW: One well known rivalry that was going that took place was the annual Thanksgiving Day football game
between Cherry and Grier Heights. That went on for years. I witnessed it as a small kid and began to play
in it as I got older. That was an annual affair. We played sandlot football.
GW: That’s football without any equipment and gear. But it was a well known game. It was played either behind
the school here or over on property at the Mint Museum.
GW: Well it was a much smoother, nicer area.
TD: Ok. Even though you didn’t live in the Brooklyn community what were some of your reasons for going to
the Brooklyn neighborhood?
GW: I became knowledgeable with Brooklyn as a young man. As a child my grandmother and mother and father
would carry me over to witness the annual House of Prayer parade. I was I guess five or six years old or
older and we’d go to my great aunt’s house on McDowell street and she, at that time she had she lived in a
quadraplex upstairs type of apartment and we would on the banner watch the parade go by. That’s when I
became aware of Brooklyn. In addition to that my best friend Grier, Eugene Grier his grandfather and
father would take me over to their funeral home at a very young age. And from that time it was like going
to town or whatever to go over to Brooklyn and that’s when I became knowledgeable as a very young kid
and then went on and to then go to high school there and spend all of my young days prior to going into the
service and on to school after service.
TD: What was you, you mentioned the House of Prayer/
TD: A parade?
TD: What was the reason for the parade?
GW: That was convocation. It was called convocation where Sweet Daddy Grace came back to Charlotte to
launch a, his, his convocation throughout the East where all he had all his churches up and down the south.
It would start here then it would go to all the other churches that he had throughout the state. Not only that,
back then Bishop Grace had his tent out here in the Grier Heights community where he was doing revival
and things of that nature.
TD: Does Grier Heights have its own House of Prayer?
GW: No, no we don’t. It was just getting started. Rumor has it and it has been said that he actually started out
here before he went over to Brooklyn.
GW: I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t around at that time. It was long before my time.
TD: Ok. How about, some, what were some of the other social or civic institutions in Brooklyn that were
important to you?
GW: There was a YMCA and a YWCA. There was a social there were pool rooms that we played pool in. There
was a, clubs as I recall. There were quite a few cultural and social things taking place in Brooklyn back
then that we didn’t have maybe out here in this neighborhood.
TD: What were, do you remember any of the names or any of those like clubs or any of the pool halls and stuff
that you would go to?
GW: Oh yeah, there was a pool hall owned by a gentleman named Sug Brown on Myers St. There was a pool
hall down on, he owned two pool halls one on Myers and one on McDowell St.
TD: What about the Hi Five club?
GW: The Hi Five was on the west side of town.
TD: Was the west side?
GW: Yeah, up on the west side of town on Estelle St. off of Beaties Ford Rd.
TD: Uh-um. With the YMCA and the YWCA that were located in Brooklyn.
TD: Were those the only ones for the blacks in Charlotte?
GW: Yeah, the only ones, yeah for the blacks in Charlotte. That I knew of.
TD: That you know of?
TD: What about.
GW: Then there was the theatres, ok, theatres. Brooklyn had two theatres, the Savoy and the Lincoln theatre.
TD: Were the Savoy and Lincoln black owned?
GW: Yes. No, no, no they were not.
TD: They were not?
TD: Were they black operated?
GW: Yes, the managers were black. I believe she is getting ready to leave can we stop?
TD: Other than the, the different things like the pool halls and stuff was there any place else in the Brooklyn
area that you just hung out, or would go to have a good time?
GW: Well, you know, once I began to go to high school over there mainly a lot of my time was spent at football
practice that was to take place down at Pearl Street Park. That’s where a lot of the time, of course I would
always visit relatives that I had in Brooklyn. And then before going to high school as a kid, junior high or
elementary school spent a lot of time at Grier Funeral Services because again my best friend’s grandfather
owned it and we would play there in the, in the funeral home lawn talking about the days we were going to,
going high, Second Ward High School and you know, again Brooklyn was like going to New York City
for, in a sense for people living out the country out here.
TD: Did you spend any time in the Blue Heaven area?
GW: Yes I did. I have so many of my friends, some of my best high school friends lived down in Blue Heaven.
TD: Can you tell me about a funny time or an experience from something you did or had some fun in Blue
GW: [Laughing] Well, Blue Heaven had more of a, of a what we call.
Secretary: You know I’m getting ready to leave and the doors open.
GW: Lock it then. A couple of my high school schoolmates we played football with, lived in Blue Heaven and
the closeness of the homes and houses in Blue Heaven was something to remember. You know they real
close and jammed up and, and any particular incident I can’t recall but I spent a lot of time that’s all I could
say in Blue Heaven.
TD: Well what were?
GW: And they were close proximity to Brooklyn and you had to come across McDowell St and Independence
Blvd. had just cut through, well Independence had been cut through Brooklyn long before I came about but
you might say the shabbiness of the houses in Blue Heaven was something that stood out. They were real,
they were real poverty looking and all brick, I’m sorry all wooden, wasn’t brick and had sort of a ghetto
look. I hate to say that. But I have a lot of fond memories of Blue Heaven also.
TD: What about when you were attending high school at Second Ward did you have any like fierce rivalries
with other, with other schools?
GW: Of course West Charlotte, York Road that was on the south side I think your parents went to York Road
TD: My dad went to York Road and my mom went to West Charlotte.
GW: [Laughing] Yes that was from West Charlotte.
TD: Ok. And with the,the rilvary between Second Ward and West Charlotte what was the, what was the name
GW: The Queen City Classic.
TD: The Queen City Classic?
GW: Annual football game.
TD: Did you ever participate in that?
GW: Oh yes, I played football for three years at Second Ward.
GW: Captain of my senior class team.
GW: Yeah Co-captain, played quarterback.
TD: Describe some of the businesses that you frequented in Brooklyn.
GW: There was the Orange Bowl which was a sandwich shop on the corner of McDowell in Brooklyn. There
was a pastry shop on McDowell St that I frequented, of course there was El Chico’s, the famous El Chico’s
restaurant. Up on First and Second St there was a café on First and Second, I can’t think of the name right
now but, oh lord, then there was the grocery store called Pitman’s grocery store over on First St, and right
across the corner from a Grier Funeral Services was a little store, I can’t think of the name of it, but
patronized it a lot, you know.
TD: What made El Chico’s so famous what was?
GW: Their sandwiches, their bologna sandwiches.
GW: And hamburgers.
TD: Were these all black owned businesses?
GW: They were all black owned yes. Pitman was owned by a white man though.
TD: Were any of there businesses affected by urban renewal?
GW: They all were removed.
TD: They were all removed?
TD: Did any of them move to someplace else?
GW: Grier Funeral Services moved over to Statesville Ave, as you know.
GW: Ok. El Chico’s, they closed down entirely. Pitman’s grocery store I think they moved either to Third Ward
or some place.
GW: Orange Bowl it, it they folded.
TD: [Sneeze] Excuse me.
GW: Bless you.
GW: Trying to think. Alexander, Alexander Funeral Home moved and they’re still in existence. There were
some doctors and dentists that were located in Brooklyn that relocated their offices. That’s all I can
remember right now.
TD: So other than the two funeral homes can’t think of really any other businesses that survived?
GW: The AME Zion Publishing House well they, they moved, they moved and they moved back, and they’re
still there on Second and Brevard St., the AME Zion Publishing House. The two funeral homes are
surviving and the professional people like doctors and nurses, doctors and dentists, but those doctors all
dead and gone now. Trying to think. That’s a very good question, a real good question, what businesses are
still in existence other than those two funeral homes. My mind now is going, walking through the
neighborhood, right now through all the main streets and I’m tying to think of businesses other than those
two and I don’t think it is. Those are the only two businesses that’s surviving. That are.
TD: Or, go ahead.
GW: That are recognizable.
TD: Were they a lot of white owned businesses in Brooklyn also?
GW: Not as many as black. No.
GW: Whites didn’t own but like I said Pitman’s grocery store was owned by a white man. All of the businesses,
ninety percent of the businesses in Brooklyn were black owned. The two theatres were owned by whites
but all the other businesses were black owned.
TD: Ok. How do you think that not just with businesses but also when you talk about other civic institutions,
how did urban renewal affect Brooklyn as a whole?
GW: I think how it affected it actually eliminated it as a, as a Mecca for black entrepreneurship and black
businesses, urban renewal eliminated it. When urban renewal came through Brooklyn a lot of the black
businesses were told that they were gone probably as a, as always done were told that they were probably
get an opportunity to move back in some form or fashion, it never happened. And they all took what was,
what could be described now as a little bit of money, for what was a thriving business and did not take
advantage of a, of a really urban renewal, had as a part of the packaging deal in it they could get long term
loans and things of that nature but they just took the first lump of money and never did you know, get back
TD: With Second Ward being located in Brooklyn and you having attended Second Ward. Did you have any
type of notification that they were going knock, they were going knock Second Ward down?
GW: No when, I was in service when it was made known that Second Ward was going to be removed. Of course
I was out of service when the actual removal took place but, I think sixty-nine I believe. But I was in the
service at the time that the notification that it was going to be closed down took place.
TD: And that was in the military?
GW: In the army, I was in the army yes.
TD: Ok. What about some of the other black neighborhoods in Charlotte, or in the Charlotte area how were they
affected by urban renewal?
GW: A lot of the people moved from Brooklyn over to First Ward. Ok First Ward is still around, you know and
again of the black neighborhoods back then First Ward and Biddleville supposedly had the more affluent
and prominent of blacks. You know in terms of blacks with a little wealth and they moved to Brooklyn, I
mean sorry, they moved to First Ward, a lot of them moved to the west side of town.
TD: So, after urban renewal or a lot of things were, were displaced in Brooklyn people moved to other
GW: Uh-um. Uh-um.
TD: Were any other neighborhoods in Charlotte affected by urban renewal other than Brooklyn?
GW: First Ward.
TD: First Ward was?
GW: And Third Ward.
TD: And the same kind of things happened?
GW: Same kind of things happened. Where Ericsson Stadium is that was Third Ward. I was born right in the c
enter of Ericsson Stadium at the old Good Samaritan hospital, that was where I was born.
TD: Ok. So all of the, so, in, in all how would, how have urban renewal affected the businesses in Charlotte
black owned businesses?
GW: Black businesses as we knew it then were somewhat, you know, became, very few survived urban renewal.
GW: Very few survived you might put it that way. Very few survived.
TD: Do you see any type of connection between urban renewal and integration in Charlotte?
GW: Any connection?
GW: Whether it was a good thing or a bad thing or?
GW: In terms of black identification and heritage I see it as a bad thing, it wasn’t good. A lot of blacks lost a lot
of identity as it relates to black commerce, black business entrepreneurship, urban renewal destroyed that
and those blacks who owned a lot back then in Brooklyn, their families never did obtain some of the wealth
that the families had back then.
TD: What were your impressions of how other communities responded to what happened in Brooklyn?
GW: What’s my impressions of other communities here in Charlotte or around the country?
GW: Blacks are more aware now, in my work what we’re doing now here in this neighborhood, has made us
more recognizance of and aware of what can happen when governmental entities come in and say that for
the betterment we want to this or that. That’s the reason we are about homeownership, a lot more people
need to own their home in this neighborhood to assure its survival.
TD: Do you think that property ownership was an issue with urban renewal in Brooklyn?
GW: It was. Yes, a lot of people lost property and were is, these, now I think blacks are more aware because of
what happened in Brooklyn and First Ward, of what could happen if before, you know instead of just
taking for granted that you are going to be given something to better your condition. You know, it’s made,
urban renewal has made those surviving black neighborhoods more aware of governmental entities coming
forward and saying this is for the betterment of the community.
GW: And that’s what we’re thriving to do here now, is to maintain this stability because a lot of homeownership,
at one time this neighborhood was every bit seventy or eighty percent home owned but now, is not, but
we’re bringing back homeownership with what we do here.
TD: So because of people not owning the property in Brooklyn and in other black neighborhoods that were
affected by urban renewal do you think that had an impact on the peoples’ voice, of like protest against it?
GW: It did, it had, it had not only a, it played a big role in what they could demand and ask for at the time.
TD: So because they didn’t own it, they didn’t have a lot of say.
TD: When things came through.
TD: What lessons do you think politicians should take from the experience of Brooklyn or just urban renewal in
general in Charlotte?
GW: Politicians or policy makers have learnt from urban renewal here in Charlotte that when there’s
displacement wholesale of a lot folk that they should be more sensitivity to the historical value that the
people may have in, where they live and to make sure that they are aware of what’s being done and be
given an opportunity to have input.
TD: Do you think that other than here in Grier Heights because I know you are familiar with that.
TD: But any other black communities here in Charlotte, do you think they learned any lessons from urban
GW: Yes I believe so, a good example would be in the Belmont Villa Heights neighborhood that at one time was
predominately white, but is now ninety percent black. They are going to their various community advocate
groups, aren’t going to just set and let all these, you know, new programs come in and just wholesale move
GW: Because they have seen what is happened in Brooklyn, First Ward, Third Ward, and Greenville.
TD: Ok. From a.
GW: Greenville has bounced back, I’ll have to say, they’ve, they’ve bounced back to become a predominately
black neighborhood so.
TD: Have any of the other black neighborhoods in the area seem to have bounced back or done that?
GW: Yeah, Greenville has and then out on West Blvd where there is, use to be Dalton Village that neighborhood
is going through a revitalization that’s bringing back a more healthier and stable type African American
type neighborhood and atmosphere.
TD: Ok, for my final two questions, first do you think that there were any issues or any questions that I should
have asked about any of the black communities that I didn’t address in the interview?
GW: No I think you covered it real well, I think based on what I read in your, your informational sheet here and
your questions were so all in line with what’s going on or what’s gone here in Charlotte.
TD: And have you thought of anything from your stuff from Blue Heaven any experiences in Blue Heaven that
you want to talk to me about?
GW: Brooklyn or Blue Heaven?
TD: Either one is fine with me.
GW: I did, I met my kids’ mother in Brooklyn.
GW: Both of my boys’ mother. I met them as a young teenager and I think of some very memorable times that
we had as young folk during high school and some fond memories of my dating days with her. And you
know, you know her very well now and I believe a lot of times I spent in Brooklyn were because of her. I
don’t believe I know that she.
TD: Did she know that?
GW: She, I spent a lot of time because, I met her, even though I was in school here in junior high school, I met
her in junior high school, she was president of the Myers Park, I’m sorry, not Myers Park scratch. She was
president of Myers Street Elementary school student council and I was being installed as student council
president here and believe it or not it was in eight, ninth grade.
GW: And we had an installation service up at Billingsville, I’m sorry up at my church Grier Heights Presbyterian
Church. She came out representing Myers Street and I set eyes on her and never did take my eyes off her
TD: [laughing]. Now she, Myers School.
GW: Myers Street.
TD: Was located in Brooklyn?
GW: Yeah, it was right across the street from Second Ward.
TD: And she grew up in Brooklyn.
GW: She grew up in Brooklyn, yeah.
TD: All right, and participating in an oral history class we are interested in the interaction between the
interviewer and the interviewee.
TD: Could you tell me if my gender, race, or university affiliations affected the answers you were willing to
GW: None what so ever I, I, I feel that you have not only come prepared, you asked the right questions and then
as I indicated to you earlier I had gone through this, through this with Smith and they weren’t as prepared as
you are in your questions and how you have researched a lot of what you wanted to know.
GW: You asked the right questions.
TD: Anything else you want to add?
GW: No, I, I have fond memories of Brooklyn will always because it’s, it was a part of my life that I enjoyed
even though I was a young man and had some little raunchy times back then it was fun, it was fun , it was
clean decent fun.
TD: Ok, all right, well thank you very much Mr. Wallace.
GW: No problem.