1812 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 1958, the longtime home of Alexander H. Byers, a pioneering black school principal in the era of integration, and his wife Rachel, also an educator in the public schools.

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Alexander Hamilton Byers (10.18.1922 – 3.2.2009) grew up in Charlotte, one of five children in a family that believed in education. At a time when few African Americans made it past eight grade, Alex Byers graduated from Second Ward High in 1939, then worked at Dunbar Photography to earn enough money to enroll at Johnson C. Smith University in 1947. In the words of his obituary, his “strong leadership and ability to mediate led him to student government” where he won election as president. He also became a life-long member of the Swanks, the social club whose founders Thomas Wyche, Ray Booton, Gerson Stroud and others would do much to lead Civil Rights activism in Charlotte. He graduated magna cum laude in May of 1951.

Byers began his career teaching at a junior high school in High Point, North Carolina, but also continued his studies. After earning a masters degree from Columbia University in New York City he came back to Charlotte to teach mathematics at Northwest Junior High. That is where he was working when the city directory first listed him living here at 1812 Madison Avenue in 1959.

“Alex discovered his true passion and gift in administration as he went on to become principal at Amay James and Irwin Avenue elementary schools,” reported his funeral program. “Two distinct honors for Alex occurred when he was named the first principal of the newly opened J.T. William Junior High School, and later Ranson Junior High, where he became the first principal of a predominantly white school.”

He subsequently led Cochran Junior High, then stepped up to the central office, ultimately becoming Area Superintendent of the Garinger/Independence area. He served as president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Teachers Association and chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Principals Association. He was also active in Gethsemane AME Zion Church, a life-long member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity and served on the board of the School Workers Federal Credit Union.

Byers met his future wife Rachel Duren when both were students at Second Ward High. She went off to Bennett College, the highly respected school for African American women in Greensboro, while he attended Johnson C. Smith. A long-distance courtship led to marriage on August 15, 1951, shortly after he graduated. She became a school teacher, serving at Myers Street School in the Brooklyn neighborhood among other posts. The couple raised daughters Brenda Alexis and Bonita Rachel in this house on Madison Avenue.

Alexander Byers’ older brother Eddie E. Byers, Sr., (3.28.1921 – 6.23.1997) lived just down the street at 1608 Madison Avenue. The two had quite similar careers. Eddie Byers also attended Johnson C. Smith University where he joined the Swanks and became president of the Class of ’48. He worked as a classroom teacher, then earned a Masters Degree at Columbia University and moved into administration as a principal at several schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system.

Madison-1812-b-web
Madison-1812-a-web

Architecture

This is an early example of Split-level design, an architectural form first introduced to Charlotte in the middle years of the 1950s. Visitors enter a one-story west wing which holds the “public” spaces: living room and dining/kitchen area. The more “private” bedroom areas are in a two-story east wing, reached by a half-flight of stairs up or down. The exterior of the house is sheathed in red brick. Note the prominent chimney and the large “picture” window in the living room. Owner Alexander Byers took out a permit in 1962 to upfit the downstairs of the two-story wing, previously unfinished, as a living area.

Only six Split-levels exist in McCrorey Heights. This was the second to be built, after that of Excelsior Club proprietor Jimmy McKee on Oaklawn Avenue.

Building permits

Madison 1812 permit a
Date issued: September 7, 1962
Owner: Alex H. Byers
Contractor: K. G. Taylor
Estimated cost: $3,300
Other permit info: Developing basement into living area, bedroom, den, 1/2 bath.

First appeared in city directory

1952 & 53 William Smith is listed at 1818.
Agent NC Mutual Life Ins. No wife

1961 city directory:
Alex H. Byers & Rachel D.
He: Principal, Amay James Sch.
She: Teacher, Myers St. Sch.

1982 city directory:
Alex H. Byers & Rachel D.
He: Area Supt, Char Meck Bd Education Areas Cntr.
She: No occupation listed   (Also Brenda A & Bonita, students, live here)

 

obituary

Resources

“In Memory of Alexander Hamilton Byers,” Q-City Metro, April 4, 2009. On-line at: https://qcitymetro.com/2009/04/04/in-memory-alexander-hamilton-byers-025741541/