1726 Madison 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 1956 for Rowe R. “Jack” Motley and his wife Alma Moreland Motley. Rowe “Jack” Motley became the first African American to win election to County Commission in Mecklenburg County (1974) and went on to serve in the N.C. Legislature.  Wife Alma taught in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools for thirty years and with her husband raised five children here.

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Born in Prattville, Alabama, Rowe Readous Motley (4.29.1926 – 11.12.2010) came to North Carolina to attend NC A & T University in Greensboro, one of the top black colleges in the U.S. He married Alma Moreland, a Charlotte girl who was studying at Greensboro’s Bennett College. After his service as a First Lieutenant in the Korean War, they settled in her hometown where he found work in the Post Office. The U.S. Postal Service was one of the best workplaces open to African Americans before the Civil Rights era, and its solid wages helped him build this stylish dwelling about 1956.

But the Post Office was far from perfect. “A number of highly educated, motivated, talented blacks left the USPS when their attempts to obtain promotion were denied,” wrote attorneys in a subsequent lawsuit. “When Motley attempted to obtain a supervisory job in Customer Relations in about June 1968 he was told ‘you’re a good carrier but you’re colored and Charlotte is not ready for colored to have this job.’ He immediately resigned and left the post office.”

Motley became a real estate broker, a rare occupation for African Americans in the 1960s. He had launched Motley Real Estate and Insurance in 1964 as a sideline, likely mentored by Alma’s uncle George W.C. Moreland, a neighbor at 1801 Patton Avenue, who had been active in real estate since the 1920s.

Rowe also stepped up his involvement in Democratic Party politics. He had helped launch Charlotte’s Black Political Caucus in the early 1960s, recalls Edith Shearin, a fellow political activist and a longtime neighbor on Washington Avenue. “We started the Caucus because during that time you had some black so-called leaders who we called the ‘bagmen.’ On election day they would tell the candidates that they could deliver the vote and they were getting all of this big money.” The Caucus created an alliance of precinct captains in each African American voting precinct, working to mobilize voters to support issues and candidates that actually helped African American interests.

Because of Post Office rules, Motley had to be circumspect about his partisan political involvement. But once out on his own as real estate agent, he could run for office. In 1974 Rowe Motley won election as County Commissioner, first African American to win at-large in Mecklenburg County.

His political involvement continued to grow. He became North Carolina’s first black member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and garnered notice in the national press as a rising star in Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign for the Presidency. Appointed chair of the DNC’s Black Caucus, he persuaded the group to come to Charlotte for an “issues conference” that attracted 1500 participants. But the nationwide recession of the mid 1970s severely squeezed his real estate business, and when articles ran in the Washington Afro American and other newspapers about his failure to pay debts on an apartment project, he found himself pushed out of the national political leadership.

Rowe Motley rebounded in 1981, appointed to the NC State Legislature to fill out the term of another black Charlotte political pioneer, Fred Alexander who had died in office.  Motley also stayed active in local civic affairs, serving on the city-county Planning Commission 1990 – 1999 including a stint as chair.

Wife Alma Grace Moreland Motley had been born to well-educated parents who had both earned masters degrees at Columbia University in New York and went on to teaching careers. Her father W. Howard Moreland served as Principal at Charlotte’s new Marie G. Davis Elementary School in the 1950s and 1960s while her mother Gladys taught at Isabella Wyche School. The parents built a home in 1963 near their adult daughter at 1722 Madison Avenue, and Howard’s brothers George and Clarence (Alma’s uncles) also lived in the neighborhood.

As a teen, Alma went off to boarding school at North Carolina’s elite Palmer Institute, then entered Bennett College in Greensboro where she met Rowe. After finishing her studies at JCSU in 1954, she taught first and second grade for thirty years at Alexander Street School in Charlotte.

Alma and Rowe raised four boys and one girl. The family was active in Gethsemane A.M.E. Zion Church. All four sons still live in Charlotte in 2016: Michael and David had careers with the Post Office like their father; Ron worked with United Parcel Service; Greg became an entrepreneur. Ron still resides in McCrorey Heights, just down the street from the old family home. Rowe and Alma’s daughter Kym, living in New York City, published a book in 2013 with memories of her father.

Madison-1726-a-web
Madison-1726-b-web

Architecture

Ranch house with modernistic features (strip windows, glass-enclosed sun porch) as well as rustic touches (stone and clapboard used as trim). The original owners built a rear carport and room addition in 1961.

Building permits

Madison 1726 permit b
Date issued: December 11, 1961
Owner: Rowe R. Motley
Contractor: P. D. West
Estimated cost: $5,000
Other permit info: To build an addition to be used as a kitchen and washroom, carport and storage area.

Madison 1726 permit a
Date issued: September 1, 1971
Owner: Roe Motley
Contractor: Boyles Const. Co.
Estimated cost: $4,875
Other permit info: General Remodeling, Bring up to meet housing code.

First appeared in city directory

1957 – Rowe R. “Jack” Motley & Alma
He: Carrier, Post Office
She: Teacher, Alexander Street School

1982 city directory –
Rowe R. Motley & Alma M.
He: Motley Realty Co.
She: Teacher, Tryon Hills School
(note Mitchell, Counselor at Open Hs, lives here. Also David & Ronald & Gregg, students, live here.)

Resources

“Blacks Record Election Firsts,” Statesville Landmark, November 8, 1974.

“Change of Heart?” The Dispatch, September 1, 1967.

Chisholm v. U.S. Postal Service 516 F. Supp 810 (W.D. N.C. 1980), Memorandum Opinion by Judge James McMillan.  On-line at https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/1579194/chisholm-v-united-states-postal-service/

“Fallen N.C. Demo Leader Tries for Comeback,” Washington Afro-American June 1, 1976.

Golden Bull Yearbook 1954, Johnson C. Smith University, on-line at

Jordan, M.C., “Black Legislators: From Political Novelty to Political Force,” North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, 1989.  On-line at: https://digital.lib.ecu.edu/ncpi/view/311

Moreland, Clarence, Funeral program in the Digital Smith Collection, Inez Moore Park Archives, Duke Library, Johnson C. Smith University.

Moreland, George W. C., Funeral program in the Herron collection, Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Motley, Alma, oral history interview, in Audrey Thomas McCluskey, The Forgotten Sisterhood: Black Women Educators and Activists in NC. (Rowan & Littlefield, 2014), pp. 79 – 80.

Motley, Alma, and Ron Motley, telephone interview with Tom Hanchett, July 31, 2016.

Motley, Kym, Inky, My Dad & Me (self-published, 2013).

Motley, Michael, Sr., oral history interview with Tom Hanchett, June 20, 2018.

Motley, Rowe, obituary, Charlotte Observer November 14, 2010, on-line at http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/charlotte/obituary-preview.aspx?n=rowe-readous-motley&pid=146590347&referrer=218

“North Carolina’s Motley, Leading Black Politician, Insurance exec, Dies,” Insurance Journal, November 17, 2010, on-line at:  http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2010/11/17/114961.htm

“Rowe Readous (aka) Alg.. Motley,” Geni genealogy webpage, on-line at:  https://www.geni.com/people/Rowe-Readous-aka-Alg-Motley/6000000002453770337

Shearin, Edith, oral history interview with Willie Griffin, 2008, UNC Charlotte Special Collections. Transcript on-line at:  http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/sohp&CISOPTR=6184&filename=6216.pdf