1722 Van Buren Avenue

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

Built about 1958 for Ray Booton, Jr., a member of Charlotte’s distinguished Tate family, who repeatedly made headlines as a Civil Rights pioneer. In 1946 Booton became one of Charlotte first eight black full-time policemen. Five years later he helped launch the lawsuit that desegregated Charlotte’s Bonnie Brae Golf Course (now the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park). In 1999 he was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame and since 1992 a “Ray A. Booton Golf Classic” has been played in Charlotte to benefit his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi.

*    *     *

Ray Andre Booton, Jr. (February 15, 1920 – August 30, 2009) was grandson of Charlotte businessman and community leader Thaddeus Lincoln Tate. In the years around 1900, no African American did more for Charlotte than Thad Tate. As barber whose downtown shop served the most elite white clients, he had a sizable income and the ear of powerful men. He helped start Grace AME Zion Church, co-developed the adjacent Mecklenburg Investment Company office building, sold land to the city for the original West Charlotte High, and much more. His story is told at length by historian Janette Greenwood in her book Bittersweet Legacy: The Black and White ‘Better Classes’ in Charlotte, 1850 – 1910. Thadeus Tate and his wife Mary Butler Tate had ten children; people called the Tates “The Dozen Family.” Among them was Maggie Tate Trent, whose son would become the first executive director (1944 – 1964) of the United Negro College Fund, perhaps the most important black-led force in American education.

Maggie’s younger sister Cora was also deeply involved with education, a lifelong teacher in Charlotte’s public schools. She married Ray A. Booton, Sr., in 1918 and son Ray, Jr., was born in 1920. Young Ray attended JCSU for his first two years of college, then went off to the famed Tuskegee University (Class of 1941) in Alabama to finish his undergraduate work. He began teaching public school in Mobile, Alabama, soon after graduation in 1941. As the United States entered World War II he was swept up in the draft. He served 1943 – 1945 in the Ordinance Division, Third Army, across Britain, France, Belgium and into Germany itself, mustering out as a First Sergeant in 1945.

He came home to Charlotte where the City was looking to hire its first African American policemen. The young veteran who carried himself with the calm assurance of a classroom teacher seemed an excellent candidate. On February 19, 1946 he became one of eight African Americans appointed as full-time Special Peace Officers (two part-time officers had been appointed previously). He would serve until 1949. It was a huge step forward, but it was nothing like equality. The black Peace Officers were not issued guns. “African American police could not arrest white people, they could only arrest African American,” recalled James Ross, a friend and fellow activist. “They didn’t even have a car. They just patrolled Brooklyn and Blue Heaven. They patrolled Brooklyn and if some got out of line, they had to call the police to come pick them up in the car.”

With his police job in hand, Ray Booton married his sweetheart Laura Mason (3.4.1916 – 8.27.2007) of Roanoke, Virginia, on April 20, 1946. She was a graduate of Virginia’s Hampton Institute and an educator who had taught high school in Charlottesville and college at Bowie State in Maryland. Moving to Charlotte, she continued her teaching in Charlotte’s public schools and at Johnson C. Smith University. She later joined the staff of Mechanics and Farmers Bank on Beatties Ford Road across from the JCSU campus.

Ray Booton left the police force and joined the U.S. Postal Service in 1950. Postal jobs were among the best employment open to African Americans in that period, steady-paying with opportunities for advancement based on merit. Booton worked his way up from Clerk to Carrier to Supervisor, then became Regional Investigation and Hearing Officer dealing with personnel issues. That work pulled him into the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 1966 – 68, based in Atlanta. He moved to another federal job, Contract Compliance for the Department of Defense, where he covered North and South Carolina from an office in Charlotte until retirement in 1976.

Even as he worked in those various government offices, Ray Booton pursued another dream. In 1960 he began taking courses at JCSU to prepare for the ministry. He attained a Master of Divinity in 1965, then went on to Union Theological in Richmond to study Old Testament Theology. Ordained by the Presbyterian Church, Rev. Booton led churches in Monroe and Morven, North Carolina, became founding pastor at Covenant Presbyterian in Kannapolis, and also served at Ben Salem Presbyterian in Charlotte where he retired in 1984.

Pursuing an office career and a religious calling at the same time might have been more than enough challenge for most people, but not Ray Booton. He also passionately loved golf. “Ray had played while he was in the military,” remembered James Ross, also an avid golfer. Booton’s post office job gave him some weekdays off, so in 1951 he headed down to the Bonnie Brae links in Revolution Park, the city’s only public golf course. Ross continued: “He wanted to play golf, so he went down one Monday to play and they said, ‘No you, you, you can’t play.’ And Ray’s family, you know his family is one of the leading families in this community. And he, ‘What do you mean I can’t play?’ ‘Well you can’t play.’ And so Ray and Reginald Hawkins and some other people filed a lawsuit.”

Thomas Wyche, Charlotte’s most active Civil Rights attorney and a resident of McCrorey Heights at 1635 Oaklawn Avenue, filed the lawsuit with help from Spottswood Robinson III. Robinson was a nationally respected lawyer for the Washington-based NAACP Legal Defense Fund who was also working on the landmark Brown v Board case at that moment. Indeed it seems likely that Wyche, Robinson and Booton had planned things in advance. Booton had been one of Wyche’s closest friends ever since Second Ward High School, a fellow member of the Swanks social club. Robinson had been one of Wyche’s professors at Howard, teaching a seminar that considered strategies to attack segregation.

The Charlotte lawsuit attracted national headlines. It represented an early challenge to segregation in public spaces and it specifically questioned the legality of a “reverter clause.” Parkland donor Osmond Barringer had specified that if the park ever admitted Negroes, ownership would revert to his family. Sixteen African Americans signed on to the suit, including McCrorey Heights physicians Dr. Rudolph P. Wyche (no relation to Thomas Wyche) and Dr. Robert H. Green. Though Booton had triggered the suit, he was not formally a plaintiff.

If the case had been decided quickly, it might be taught today in history books alongside Rosa Parks’ 1955 protest against public bus segregation. But the courts dragged their feet until 1956. Ultimately county Superior Court Judge Susie Sharp (herself a pioneer as a female judge) decided in Wyche’s favor. Bonnie Brae admitted African Americans, reverter clauses were ruled unenforceable, and Revolution Park remained a public park.

Ray Booton’s enthusiasm for golf never waned. He won six amateur tournaments, played often with Charlotte native Charles Sifford (who became the first African American on the PGA Tour) and “in 1957, long before the course ended its all-white policy, watched the Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National from a house on the 10th hole with President Dwight Eisenhower.” In 1992 he and friends launched an annual African American golf tournament to raised money for college scholarships through the Kappa Foundation. It continues today in the late 2010s as the Ray Booton Classic, played each year at a different course in the Carolinas. In 1999 Ray Booton was honored with induction into the Atlanta-based National Black Golf Hall of Fame.
 
In addition to Alpha Kappa Alpha fraternity and the Swank social club, Ray Booton belonged to the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP, was an active Mason (32nd degree) and Shriner, and helped charter the Dalebrook Corporation which developed the Dalebrook office building for black professionals on Beatties Ford Road.

See also 1000 Clifton Avenue (built 1952) in McCrorey Heights where Ray Jr’s mother Cora Tate Booton and aunt Aurelia Tate Henderson lived during their latter years.

[Note that Booton is frequently misspelled Bouton]

VanBuren-1722-a-web

Architecture

Large Ranch style house, tan brick, one story under a gable roof. Located on a large, sloping corner lot.

Building permits

No permits found.

First appeared in city directory

1959 – Ray A. Booton, Jr. & Laura M.
He: Carrier, Post Office.  She: Teacher, Carver College

Resources

“Architect of the United Negro College Fund: William J. Trent, Jr.,” Wharton Magazine, Spring-Summer 2017.  On-line at: http://whartonmagazine.com/issues/anniversary-issue/architect-of-the-united-negro-college-fund-william-j-trent-jr-wg-32/#sthash.OF9qrbOE.dpbs

“Cora Tate Booton,” on the FindAGrave.com website. On-line at: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=148313009

“Former UNCF Director Dise at 83,” Greensboro News & Record, November 27, 1993. On-line at: http://www.greensboro.com/former-uncf-director-william-trent-dies-at/article_ae2fb970-9c54-53b4-b646-79d77580112f.html

Greenwood, Janette, Bittersweet Legacy: The Black and White ‘Better Classes’ in Charlotte, 1850 – 1910 (UNC Press, 1994), especially pp. 240 – 243.

“Kappa Foundation of Charlotte, 16th Annual Ray Booton Golf Classic, 2008.”  On-line at: http://www.cltkappas.com/assets/BootonGolfFlyer.pdf

“NBGHF Inductees 1990 – 1999,” National Black Golf Hall of Fame website. On-line at: http://www.nationalblackgolfhalloffame.com/page/492839588

“Resolution Appointing Ray Andre Booton a Special Peace Officer in Police Dept.,” Charlotte City Council Minutes, February 19, 1946. On-line at: http://charlottenc.gov/CityClerk/Minutes/February%2019,%201946.pdf

Ross, James, transcript of oral history interview April 12, 2010, with Kyle, UNC Charlotte. On-line at:

“Seven of the Sixteen Negroes Who Were Not Allowed to Play Golf…” (photo), Carolina Times, January 5, 1952. Text on-line at http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1952-01-05/ed-1/seq-1/ocr.txt

“Swank Social Club Celebrates 60 Years,” Charlotte Observer, November 21, 1994.

Swank Social Club Records, Special Collections, Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte. https://findingaids.uncc.edu/repositories/4/resources/313

“Thad Lincoln Tate Family,” on the CMStory.org website of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. On-line at: http://cmstory.org/content/thad-lincoln-tate-family-circa-1907

Usher, Jesse, “‘The Golfers:’ African American Golfers of the North Carolina Piedmont and the Struggle for Access,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 2010), pp. 158 – 193.

“William Trent, 83, Negro College Fund,” New York Times, November 29, 1993. On-line at: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/29/obituaries/william-trent-83-director-of-negro-college-fund.html?mcubz=0