1809 Washington 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 – 1956, this was the longtime home of Rev. Moses Belton, the first Public Relations director at JCSU. He became an important behind-the-scenes bridge-builder during the Civil Rights era, serving on the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee which made Charlotte a national leader in desegregation. In particular, he helped arrange the integration of Charlotte’s upscale restaurants in May of 1963, a year before the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act.

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Moses Belton hailed from rural Fairfield County, South Carolina, fifth of eight children. He came up through the network of Presbyterian private academies that offered the “best and brightest” African American children some hope of educational advancement at a time when many rural areas had no black schools at all beyond eighth grade. Lebanon Parochial Presbyterian School and Harbison Institute funneled him to Johnson C. Smith University.

As a JCSU student he already showed a talent for leadership and organization. “In the fall of 1929 a group of Freshmen, candidates for the ministry, resolved to organize a club for mutual benefit in facing the campus life and preparing for the greater problems of life after college,” reported the university’s Golden Bull yearbook. “On October 17, 1929 the group met in a room in Carter Hall and organized the Christian Leadership Preparatory Club with Moses Belton as president and Herman L. Counts, secretary.” As a sophomore, Moses won third place in a national essay competition sponsored by the American Interracial Peace Committee, a Quaker organization. In his senior year he was a member delegation of students from twenty-three colleges across the nation who met with U.S. President Herbert Hoover as they urged a peaceful solution during the build-up to what became World War II. He graduated cum laude in 1933 with majors in mathematics and philosophy and a minor in English, continuing on for a theological degree in 1936.

Upon graduation his first move as a newly-ordained minister was to “give back.” He returned to South Carolina to lead a small church in Columbia, then became a teacher and dean of boys at two Presbyterian academies: Mary Potter High School in Oxford, NC — where he met wife Cornelia Greene Belton — and Brainerd Institute in Chester, SC. In 1942 Johnson C. Smith University brought the energetic young man back to Charlotte as Associate Dean of Men. He rapidly rose  to Registrar in charge of recruiting new students. As he became a public face of the university, he convinced the administration to create the institution’s first Office of Public Relations, which he led from 1950 to 1970.

As a JCSU adminstrator Moses Belton continued his work for alliances that held hope for social change and African American advancement. In 1949, for instance, he was one of three black delegates from NC colleges to attend an interracial conference at Warren Wilson College on “Social and Religious Values in Higher Education.” In 1953 he arranged for JCSU be one of the hosts of a national oratorical contest on “Building World Peace” whose winner went on to the United Nations in New York City. He also involved JCSU in the new United Negro College Fund, launched in 1944. Belton co-led the organization’s national fund-raising drive in 1957. To help other historically black colleges succeed, he started a summer institute in public relations at JCSU in 1958. “Driving home the importance of an organized approach to the projection of a college image,” in Belton’s words, it helped some 60% of HBCUs institute public relations offices by 1970.

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Rev. Belton’s long track record of working with interracial alliances, plus his skills in public relations, helped make him an invaluable player as Charlotte’s Civil Rights movement heated up first in the sit-ins of 1960, then during the desegregation of upscale restaurants in 1963.

In February 1960, inspired by sit-ins at a Woolworth store lunch counter in Greensboro, JSCU students marched uptown and occupied seats at the “whites only” eateries along Tryon Street. One of the three student leaders in Charlotte was Brumit Belton “B.B.” DeLaine — Moses Belton’s nephew. A second leader was Charles Jones, son of a JCSU professor who would soon become Moses’ neighbor in McCrorey Heights.

As similar demonstrations swept the South, black college administrators elsewhere often reacted against their students, fearing that disrupting the status quo would bring white wrath down upon all blacks. JCSU, in contrast, never cracked down on its student protestors, insisting only that they keep attending classes. Moses Belton’s personal connections almost certainly helped lines of communication remain open within the university. B.B. DeLaine, for instance, recalls having the key to the university athletic bus, part of his campus job. When he used the bus to transport protestors, no administrator ever came to confiscate the key. DeLaine and his fellow students were able to keep up pressure on merchants for six long months. In July the lunch counters finally opened to all.

Rev. Belton’s role as communications conduit was, if anything, even stronger when it came to relationships with white leaders. Mayor James Saxon Smith won national acclaim in 1960 when he created a Mayors Friendly Relations Committee to work informally with protestors. That became a formal part of government in 1961, with a “trustee” group of African American advisors. Its eleven initial members included Rev. Moses Belton along with McCrorey Heights neighbors Gwen Cunningham, school principal, Dr. Emery Rann, physician, and Dr. Coleman Rippy, JCSU social work professor.  The Committee worked hard to transform initial victories, such as desegregation of lunch counters, into substantive change across the economy. Would employers actually hire black workers? Belton and colleagues pressed and cajoled, making slow but steady progress. “[M]y congratulations to you for including Negro employees above that of janitor in at least one of your stores,” Belton wrote the Harris-Teeter Super Markets chain in 1962. “[T]he Negro community appreciates this step in the direction of fuller employment opportunities.”

Even as Belton nurtured connections with Charlotte’s white elite, he did not shy away from controversy. In January 1963 Rev. Belton invited the most controversial African American of the day, Malcolm X, to give a public lecture at Johnson C. Smith. “The white man is on the decline, and one day the Negro will stand on top of the hill,” the Associated Press quoted Malcolm X as saying. “About 500 jammed the university’s auditorium to hear Malcolm X,” the AP estimated, “and cheered and clapped at some of his remarks.” A second talk was arranged off-campus at the Hi Fi Club, where an FBI informant joined the throng, secretly taping the speech. “Malcolm X uses his skill as a speaker to direct emotions and hatreds of his audience …” noted the FBI report. “These bitternesses are easily identified on the tape through crowd outbursts as Malcolm X underlines some of the causes of Negro unrest.”

One object of bitterness: the continuing segregation in public places. Lunch counters had been integrated in 1960 but upscale eateries and also movie theaters still remained closed to African Americans three years later. The issue crystallized in 1963 on May 20, a date when Charlotteans traditionally celebrated a Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence said to have been written at the start of the American Revolution. African American dentist Dr. Reginald Hawkins, a McCrorey Heights neighbor of Rev. Belton who was known for his repeated Civil Rights protests, led a march by JCSU students down to City Hall. “The time for tokenism is over. The time for gradualism is over,” Hawkins thundered. “We want freedom and we want it now.”

Charlotte Mayor Stan Brookshire’s reaction was bold and unexpected. Influenced partly by television images of police dogs and firehoses being turned on protestors  in Birmingham that same month, Brookshire determined to take his city in a direction that would be better for business. He picked up the phone to talk with members of the all-white Chamber of Commerce. They should personally integrate the restaurants, he urged, each inviting a black Charlottean to join them. As Chamber members agreed, Mayor Brookshire picked up the telephone again. He called Rev. Moses Belton, asking him to secure African American participation. On May 29th Brookshire and Dr. John Cunningham of Davidson College sat down with Rev. Belton and Charlotte NAACP leader Kelly [check this] Alexander at the Manger Motor Inn on Tryon Street to share the first meal.

Charlotte’s success made headlines in the New York Times in early June of 1963. Congress was just beginning to consider the legislation that would become the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It mandated that segregation must end in all “public accommodations.” The work of Hawkins, Belton and Brookshire put Charlotte ahead of much of the nation in that regard.

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Cornelia Greene Belton (2.6.1912 – 3.20.1993) married Moses Belton in 1945 and the couple moved to Charlotte in 1950. She taught for nearly a quarter century in Charlotte’s public schools, retiring in 1974.

Moses Belton’s two siblings Joseph C. Belton (4.11.1914 – 3.14.1983) and Mattie Belton DeLaine (12.1.1907 – 12.17.1999) both lived nearby at 1700 and 1809 Washington Avenue. Both shared his drive to make the world a better place. Joseph Belton headed Clear Creek (later known as J.H. Gunn) School, the main rural high school for African Americans in eastern Mecklenburg County. Mattie Belton DeLaine, educated at Allen College in Columbia, S.C., with a graduate degree from Hofstra University in New York, taught elementary school for 43 years. She did nationally important Civil Rights work alongside husband Rev. J.A. DeLaine who led in filing Briggs v Elliot, the first of the five cases in the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education. The United States Congress awarded Rev. and Mrs. DeLaine, along with their Briggs compatriots, the Congressional Medal of Honor in a 2004 ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

 

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Washington-1809-b-web
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Architecture

One-and-a-half story Cottage style house in red brick. The main gable roof hides a small upstairs. A secondary gable extends at the front of the house forming a shallow wing which holds the front entrance. There is no front porch, but rather a brick stoop sheltered by a metal awning. Note the prominent side chimney, a frequent characteristic of the Cottage style, and also the wide front picture window, a favorite of homebuilders during the 1950s -60s. There is a gable-roofed sun-porch enclosed in glass at the west side of the house. At the east side, original owner Moses Belton added a carport in 1969.

Building permits

Washington 1809 House History Sheet

Washington-1809-permit-a
Date issued:July 25, 1969
Owner: Moses S. Belton
Contractor: Boyles Construction
Estimated cost: $2200
Other permit info: Side carport

Washington-1809-permit-b
Date issued: January 13, 1975
Owner: Moses S. Belton
Contractor:
Estimated cost: $800
Other permit info:  under carport, extend stoop for utility room

Washington-1809-permit
Date issued: February 2, 1955
Owner: G. Gepfert
Contractor: G.C. Homes
Estimated cost:
Other permit info: Wiring, likely for original construction of the house.

First appeared in city directory

1956 – Rev. Moses S. Belton & Cornelia G.
He: Minister & Pub Rel Officer, JCSU.
She: Teacher, Sterling High.

Resources

Belton, Moses S., retirement press release, October 6, 1974. In the Records of the Director of Public Relations Moses S. Belton, Inez Moore Parker Archives, Duke Library, Johnson C. Smith University. On-line at: http://cdm16324.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16324coll2/id/419/rec/1

Belton, Moses S. to Robert Kirby, Harris-Teeter, 1962. In the Charlotte Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations Records, 1960 – 1965, Special Collections, Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte. On-line at: http://digitalcollections.uncc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p16033coll11/id/1563

“Black Muslim Says Negroes to Rule Whites,” Greenville News, January 31, 1963. On-line at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/188792540/?terms=%22Moses%2BS.%2BBelton%22

“Campus Chatter,” New York Age, February 9, 1957. On-line at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/40476762/

Golden Bull yearbook, 1936. On-line at: http://www.e-yearbook.com/yearbooks/Johnson_C_Smith_University_Golden_Bull_Yearbook/1936/Page_63.html

“Hoover Opposes Idea of Student Going to Geneva,” Daily Tar Heel, January 7, 1932. On-line at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/67938431

“Mary Potter Academy,” on the website StoppingPoints.com. On-line at: https://www.stoppingpoints.com/north-carolina/sights.cgi?marker=Mary+Potter+Academy&cnty=Granville

“Peace Committee Essay Contest Winners Named,” New York Age, July 19, 1930. On-line at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/40867543/

“Religious Guidance Meet Planned at Warren Wilson,” Asheville Citizen-Times, August 17, 1949. On-line at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/194666476

“Runner Up in Contest,” News Tribune, May 3, 1953. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/21047692

Smith, James Saxon to Moses S. Belton, March 20, 1961. In the Charlotte Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations Records, 1960 – 1965, Special Collections, Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte. On-line at: http://digitalcollections.uncc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p16033coll11/id/1571

Belton, Cornelia Green, funeral program in the collection of Memorial Presbyterian Church, Charlotte.