1927 Oaklawn Avenue

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

This residence first appeared in the city directory in 1932. Owners for over fifty years were Rev. Abraham H. Prince and wife Susan Prince. Rev. Prince ranked among the leading ministers in the southeastern United States, director of evangelical outreach for the Atlantic Synod and later the Catawba Synod of the Presbyterian Church.

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Abraham H. Prince came from South Carolina to attend what is now Johnson C. Smith University in the late 1910s. It was then called Biddle University and it still had a “high school department,” a necessity in an era when many rural counties across the South provided little or no public education for black children beyond eighth grade. In 1920 the Charlotte Observer noted that the graduation exercises for the Biddle highschoolers included a prize for oratory. Professors chose the six best students in the class to compete: A.H. Prince spoke on “Our Place in the World’s Reconstruction.”

That gift for public speaking helped set the young man on his life’s path. He stayed on for college at Biddle, well regarded as a training ground for Presbyterian pastors. In 1923 he won the school’s medal for oratory and upon graduation he took up the robes of the ministry. By the mid 1930s he was leading Brooklyn Presbyterian Church, an important congregation in Charlotte’s main black neighborhood. (The church would later merge with today’s First United Presbyterian on Seventh Street when the Brooklyn neighborhood was wiped out by “urban renewal” in the late 1960s).

He married Susan Peacock Prince in 1930 and the pair likely built this house soon after. She came from Wilson, North Carolina, where her father had been a political leader during the years before Disfranchisement, appointed Assistant Postmaster in 1891. Susan attended Shaw University in Raleigh and became a lifelong educator in Charlotte’s public schools. In 1940 the U.S. Census indicated that the couple had two daughters: Dorothy, age eight, and Susan, age six.

Rev. Prince traveled often to speak at the invitation of Presbyterian churches around the Carolinas. In 1939 he left Brooklyn Presbyterian to take up that work full-time. He became “Field Representative for the Synod of the Atlantic, comprising the states of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida,” reported the Carolina Times of Durham. Later he shifted to a similar position in the Catawba Synod, serving western North Carolina. For two decades he worked with local pastors to expand their churches’ influence in their communities and he spoke frequently about evangelistic techniques to ministerial conferences.

In 1978, near the end of his life, the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper carried the news that “The McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago recently awarded a certificate of recognition to Rev. Abraham H. Prince in recognition of ’50 years of distinguished service’ to the United Presbyterian Church.”

Rev. Prince lived in this house at 1927 Oaklawn Avenue during the 1930s and into the 1940s. His work for the Presbyterian synods evidently spurred him to find a home more central to his travels. By 1951 he was no longer listed at this address, nor even in Charlotte. But he continued to own the house as rental property at least into the 1970s. A note in the 1967 JCSU yearbook indicated he was then living in Columbia, South Carolina, pastor of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church. Rev. Prince died in Columbia on April 10, 1985 at age 85.

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In 2018, Angela Mcmillian-Orr shared this memory: “My grandmother Mabelle Roberts lived in this house for many years. My aunt Pansy Roberts purchased it in July 1989 for my grandmother to continue to live in this house.  There were 3 generations of family that grew up in this home from the Roberts [era].  It still remains in our family today. I had the opportunity to meet Rev. Prince when I was a small child. It makes me proud to know that this home has so much rich history. ” 


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Architecture

This large dwelling on a corner lot is among the older residences in McCrorey Heights, and is likely the best Bungalow style house in African American Charlotte. It is wood-frame, 1.5 stories tall, with asphalt shingle siding likely added by the original owner after a 1959 fire, but otherwise is in nearly perfect original condition.

A prominent, sheltering roof was a hallmark of Bungalow design, the most popular house style of the 1920s. Here the gable roof extends outward in the eaves, supported by wooden brackets. A front gabled dormer brings light to the second floor of the dwelling, nestled under the roof.

The main roof slopes outward at the front to create the broad porch across the entire front of the house. Chunky red-brick pillars support the porch roof. Low brick walls border the front steps and continue on either side to form the substantial porch balustrade.

The house faces Oaklawn Avenue at the corner of Condon Street. In 1974 the City of Charlotte used its eminent domain power to take land along Oaklawn Avenue in order to widen the the street. The project was part of a planned thoroughfare that would have included present-day Matheson Avenue in the NoDa area. Community activists, especially in the neighborhood that became known as Plaza Midwood, succeeded in blocking the plan but not before Oaklawn Avenue was widened. Abraham and Susan Prince were compelled to sell about thirty feet of their front lawn along Oaklawn and also about nine feet of their side lawn along Condon.

Building permits

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Date issued: March 3, 1959
Owner: Rev. A. H. Prince
Contractor: Major Bunch
Other permit info: repairs due to fire

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Date issued: March 5, 1959
Owner: A. H. Prince
Contractor: Robinson Electric Co.
Other permit info: install outlets, fixtures

Date issued: September 2, 1960
Owner: A. H. Prince
Contractor: Robinson Electric Co.

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

First appeared in city directory

1932 – Rev. Prince at 1927 Oaklawn Av.

1933 – Rev. Abraham H. Prince & Susan M.
He: Pastor, Brooklyn Presby. She: No occupation listed.

1940 – Rev. Abraham Prince & Susan

He: Field Representative

1951 – John C. Watts & Alice

He: Porter, American Bakeries

She: No occupation listed.

(Prince is not listed in 1951 directory)

1959 – Will Hughey & Annie B.  No occupation info.

(Prince is not listed in 1959 directory)

1969 – Joseph Roberts & Maybelle M. Retired.

1982 – Mrs. Maybelle Roberts (renter). Retired.

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

Resources

“Abraham Prince in the 1940 Census,” Ancestry.com website. On-line at www.ancestry.com/1940-census/usa/North-Carolina/Abraham-Prince_5dd8cd

All-Black Governing Bodies: A History of All-Black Governing Bodies in the Predecessor Denominations of the Presbyterian Church (USA), (Louisville, Kentucky: Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church(USA), 1996) pp. 94, 99. On-line at: http://www.chicagopresbytery.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/All-Black-Governing-Bodies.pdf

“Biddle University Holds High School Exercises,” Charlotte Observer, May 29, 1920. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/newspage/74191839/

Charlotte City Clerk Minutes, Minute Book 60, page 101, March 25, 1974. On-line at: http://charlottenc.gov/CityClerk/Minutes/March%2025,%201974.pdf

“Churches Hold Joint Services,” Carolina Times, March 24, 1940. On-line at: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1940-03-24/ed-1/seq-6/#

“Commencement” page on the website Black Wide-Awake: Documents of Historical and Genealogical Interest to Researchers of Wilson County, North Carolina’s African American Past. On-line at: https://afamwilsonnc.com/2017/03/15/commencement/

“Former UPC Official Dies,” Presbyterian News, May 1985.  On-line at: https://archive.org/stream/presbyteriannews1985pres/presbyteriannews1985pres_djvu.txt

Golden Bull yearbook, 1967. Johnson C. Smith University. On-line at: https://archive.org/stream/goldenbull1967john/goldenbull1967john_djvu.txt

Mcmillian-Orr, Angela, e-mail to Tom Hanchett, April 12, 2018.

“Mrs. Susan P. Prince,” obituary in Greensboro News & Record, November 2, 1992. On-line at: http://www.greensboro.com/guilford-county-obituaries/article_e0532b6f-d85c-50d1-b74c-d093023048b8.html

“News of Statesville Colored People,” Statesville Daily Record, September 11, 1936. www.newspapers.com/newspage/3289344/

“Oldest Negro Church to Dedicate Building,” Statesville Record and Landmark, December 4, 1954. On-line at: https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/3666205/

“Presbyterian Staff Field Reports,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 16, 1939. On-line at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/39549129

“Smith Named Moderator of Presbytery Unit,” Carolina Times, July 4, 1959.  On-line at: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1959-07-04/ed-1/seq-8/

Untitled article with dateline Columbia, SC, Baltimore Afro-American, October 21, 1978. On-line at: https://newspaperarchive.com/baltimore-afro-amrerican-oct-21-1978-p-9/