1704 Patton Avenue

This is a draft, now being reviewed by members of the McCrorey Heights Neighborhood Association. Please share comments with Tom@HistorySouth.org 

Built in 1955 by “spec-builder” E.O. Clarkson and sold to Mrs. Wilma G. Williams, an instructor at Johnson C. Smith University.

In the mid 1960s this became the longtime residence of Malachi L. Greene, Sr. and spouse Mattie M. Greene. Mr. Greene was a skilled cement mason who had co-founded the Charlotte local of the Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association (OPCMIA) — a nationwide union largely led by African Americans. 

About 1979 Malachi Greene, Sr., turned the house over to his son William Greene. William’s wife Ruth gave birth to daughter Jamila that year and the family lived here until Jamila was in junior high school — then moved a block away to 1000 Clifton Avenue.

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Little is known about original owner Wilma Williams, but the Greene family had considerable impact in Charlotte.

Malachi Greene, Sr., grew up in South Carolina where he learned the trade of cement finishing. In the early twentieth century, African Americans dominated plastering, brick masonry, and cement work in the South. This skilled artisan tradition, which dated back to slavery times, allowed its practitioners to earn a solid middle-class living. Mr. Greene graduated from Clinton College, an AME Zion school in Rock Hill, South Carolina, about an hour south of Charlotte, and taught school before focusing on his masonry work. He married wife Mattie, who had graduated from Johnson C. Smith University then taught school herself in Columbia and Richburg, South Carolina. Opportunities to work on construction projects in fast-growing Charlotte pulled Greene and his wife to the Queen City, recalled son William Greene in a 2018 oral history interview.

Mr. Greene worked on many of Charlotte’s major building projects, his son remembered. “He did not miss many that were over ten stories high. He was a major concrete person because his knowledge was just so immense that he was one of the major people – especially as the buildings became higher, taller and taller and taller, bigger and bigger. And he was quite an adept person in the work that he did.”

On October 25, 1946, the Charlotte Observer carried a brief notice that the Secretary of State had granted a charter to create a Charlotte chapter of the Operative Plasterers and Cement Finishers [later changed to Masons] Association International. The national OPCMIA organization is still in existence today, said to be the oldest union in the U.S., founded in 1864. Unions were rare in the South then (and now), so the Charlotte local represented an impressive organizing achievement. “The incorporators are T.A. Aldridge, Sam Kendell and H.L. Green [probably a mis-transcription of M. L. Greene],” reported the Observer. William Greene has a photo of a meeting of the Charlotte local in the 1940s or 1950s, a roomful of perhaps a hundred men, apparently all African Americans. “This was a meeting that was every week, every Saturday,” which William Greene attended with his father. “When you look at this group of men, you are looking at well-educated and well qualified folks with significant skills.” The August 16, 1954 Charlotte Observer listed “Operative Plasterers & Cement Finishers, Local 477,” as meeting at 162-23 Statesville Avenue, corner of Oaklawn Avenue. 

In 1979 the black Charlotte Business League named Malachi Greene, Sr., then age 67, to its Hall of Fame for “providing business opportunities for minorities,” the Charlotte Observer reported: “A former teacher, a 33rd degree Mason and a church leader, Greene is founder of one of the largest black-owned construction firms in the area and has been responsible for giving training in building skills.”

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Malachi Greene, Sr. and Mattie Green raised two sons, Malachi, Jr., and William H., who became respected leaders in North Carolina and beyond. Both were entering adulthood by the time the family moved to McCrorey Heights in the 1960s.

The elder son, Malachi Greene, Jr. (7.14.1942 – 2.25.2016) graduated from West Charlotte High School in 1960. The following Fall he enrolled at Charlotte College, soon to be renamed UNC Charlotte. His admission in 1961, alongside Calvin Hugh Beckwith and LaVerne McIlwaine, integrated the formerly all-white school. He finished his degree at historically black Livingston College in Salisbury, then went off to teach high school in Hillsborough, N.C., and later taught English and Theater at Bennett College in Greensboro. “Teaching was the profession African Americans were welcomed into. And very few other professions could college-educated black folks get jobs in,” he later explained. By 1969 he was back in Charlotte, running a construction business and living on Greenleaf Avenue in Third Ward, where he became a vocal force for the neighborhood’s revitalization.

Naturally outgoing, Malachi, Jr. gravitated to political activism.“He loved to challenge you,” remembered West Charlotte High classmate Eula White. “If you had an opinion and he thought it was not the way it should be – it was on. He was smart, loved to use words. He was a real politician, even then.”

He participated in Civil Rights actions such as a 1962 march from Johnson C. Smith University to the Post Office at the U.S. Federal Building on West Trade Street — where “Malachi mailed hundreds of letters from Smith students and members of the African-American community to the district’s congressional representative seeking voting rights, equal opportunity, and civil rights for all,” his friend Curt Peters recalled.

As early as 1964 Greene was in the Young Democrats, co-chair of the group’s statewide platform committee. His youthful zest for political engagement caught the eye of white Charlotte leader James Martin. When Martin won election as North Carolina’s first Republican governor of the twentieth century, he tapped Malachi Greene, Jr., to be Assistant Secretary of the Department of Transportation. Greene later served on North Carolina’s State Personnel Commission, State Employment and Training Council, and the state’s first Lottery Commission (2005). In Charlotte, he won two terms on City Council, 1995 – 1999, and subsequently sat on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission.

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William, the younger son of Malachi Greene, Sr, eventually moved his own family into this house on Patton Avenue in 1979. Coming out of high school in the mid 1960s, he had been recruited to be one of the early African American students at North Carolina State University but grew disenchanted — “I got tired of overcoming” — and transferred to Johnson C. Smith University where he graduated in 1967. The Civil Rights movement’s focus on grassroots community empowerment was then at its height. William Greene found a teaching position in rural eastern North Carolina where he delighted in working with poor families, helping them help their youngsters to go beyond rudimentary schooling. Inspired, he went to Michigan State to earn a doctorate in education.

That opened doors for a wide-ranging career in university administration included serving as president from 1983 to 1987 of Livingstone College, the flagship educational institution of the A.M.E. Zion denomination.

“William H. Greene was a founding Director of the Navy Race Relations School, and served as Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Gaston College, President of Livingstone College, and most recently, Director of Development and Assistant to the Vice Provost for Minority Affairs at The Ohio State University,” noted a University of Wisconsin publication when Greene visited for a speaking engagement in 2014.  He also worked as an administrator at Amherst in Massachusetts and Fayetteville State in eastern North Carolina.

His wife Dr. Ruth L. Greene, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at JCSU, won a national reputation for her expertise on African American families and education. She earned her PhD at University of Massachusetts. Her work beyond JCSU included stints as Assistant Dean at Mt. Holyoke College, Chair of the Education and Psychology Department at Fayetteville State University and researcher for the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Always William and Ruth maintained ties to Charlotte and McCrorey Heights. The elder Malachi Greene, “when he found out he was going to be a granddaddy, that’s when he got that other house so that his grands would have a house,” William told an oral history interviewer. The transfer occurred about 1979, the same year that Ruth gave birth to daughter Jamila. The family lived at 1704 Patton Avenue until Jamila was in junior high in the early 1990s, then moved around the corner to 1000 Clifton Avenue where the family still resided in 2018.  Even when Livingstone College provided living quarters in Salisbury, Ruth and the family remained in McCrorey Heights.

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This was one of four houses in McCrorey Heights “spec built” by contractor Edwin O. Clarkson: 1704 Patton (1954), 1708 Patton (1954), 1613 Madison (1956), 1708 Madison (1956). Neighbors evidently admired his work; several families who took out building permits on their own asked Clarkson to handle their construction: James McClellan at 1712 Van Buren (1955), Dr. Rudolph Wyche at 1713 Oaklawn (1959), Otis Young at 1700 Patton, Carrie Hart at 1607 Washington (1959).

1704-Patton-b

Architecture

One-story red-brick house in the Cottage style. Houses in this style had more compact massing and steeper roofs than the long, low Ranch style that was also popular in this period. This house has a main gable roof and a projecting front gable facing Patton Avenue, plus a small east side gable wing. A metal awning shades the front porch, supported by “wrought iron” columns. At the rear of the house are several additions created by the first and second owners during the late 1950s – early 1970s.

Building permits

Patton-1704-permit

Date issued: July 19, 1960
Owner: William L. Williams
Contractor: Wells Construction Company
Estimated cost: $900
Other permit info: enclose rear porch

Patton-1704-permit-d

Date issued: May 7, 1974
Owner: M.L. Greene
Contractor: M.L. Greene
Estimated cost: $800
Other permit info: Add detached metal carport

Patton-1704-permit-c

Date issued: July 7, 1969
Owner: M.L. Greene
Contractor: M.L. Greene
Estimated cost: $6000
Other permit info: rear addition: bedroom and bath

Patton-1704-permit-b

Date issued: September 29, 1958
Owner: Wilma Williams
Contractor:  Carolina Insulation and Awning Co.
Other permit info: addition

Patton-1704-permit-a

Date issued: October 29, 1958
Owner: Mrs. Wilma L. Williams
Contractor: Wells Construction
Other permit info: Addition

Patton-1704-1705-permit

Date issued: December 28, 1954
Owner: E. O. Clarkson
Contractor: E.O. Clarkson
Other permit info: Build residence

Building permit files, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

First appeared in city directory

1959 – Mrs. Wilma G. Williams. Widow of Frank. She: Instructor, JCSU.
1975 – Malachi L. Greene & Mattie M.
He: Greene Bros Florist. She: No occupation listed

City directory collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Resources

“A Lifetime of Fighting for Rights: Malachi Greene Left His City with a Spirit and a Legacy that Will Live On,” Charlotte Observer, March 1, 2016. On-line at: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article63413727.html

“Malachi Greene: Former Council Member a ‘Great and Wise Man,'” Charlotte Observer, February 26, 2016.  On-line at: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article62603712.html

“Malachi Jerome Greene,” obituary published by Cremation Society of Charlotte. On-line at: http://www.csofcharlotte.com/obits/obituary.php?id=592902

“Opening Doors Integration Research Project: North Carolina,” Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, Southern Methodist University.  On-line at: http://www.smu.edu/Dedman/Academics/InstitutesCenters/EmbreyHumanRights/integration/northcarolina

“Unions Plan New Structure,” Charlotte Observer, October 25, 1946.

“Colored Corporations,” Charlotte Observer, August 16, 1954.

“West Charlotte Pride Stays Strong Despite School’s Struggles,” WFAE radio, Charlotte, June 6, 2013. On-line at: http://wfae.org/post/west-charlotte-pride-stays-strong-despite-schools-struggles

William H. Greene, oral history interview with Tom Hanchett, February 21, 2018.

“Hall of Fame Honors Five for Helping Out Minorities,” Charlotte Observer, October 20, 1979.