_815 Condon Street

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

Condon-815-a-webThe Johnson family, publishers of the Charlotte Post, the city’s leading African American newspaper, built this house in the early 1970s. Willie L. Johnson, Sr., lived here during the years as he assumed financial control of the Post. Longtime resident of the house was Johnson’s son Willie L. Johnson, Jr., who resided here with his wife Edna R. Johnson for over two decades.

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An on-line search of the Charlotte Observer turns up early mentions of Willie Lee Johnson, Sr., (3.7.1918 – 6.20.1988) working energetically for economic uplift in Charlotte’s black community:

  • In 1943 he was assistant secretary of the Industrial Men’s Club of the Second Street branch of the YMCA — soon to become the McCrorey YMCA. The club name may have echoed Booker T. Washington’s call for industrial advancement among the Negro race, a phrase that meant becoming part of the business world, gaining the skills and capital to become business owners.
  • In 1950 he was part of an organization of “prospective homeowners” who met at Anthony’s Barber Shop. Dewitt Anthony, president, “extended an invitation to all Negroes — veterans and non-veterans — who are interested in building a home to attend the meetings.”

His son Gerald Oren Johnson, who today publishes the Post, recalls that his father always had his sights set on journalism. The elder Johnson wrote freelance stories from Charlotte for the Baltimore Afro-American and other national publications.  His day-job was with the Post Office where, according to family tradition, he became the city’s first black letter carrier. He broke a second important racial barrier in the late 1950s, the son recalls, when he became the first black staffer at the Charlotte News, the city’s afternoon daily, covering African American sports.

Dr. Nathaniel Tross published the Charlotte Post in those years, an African American weekly whose history stretched back to 1874. When Tross died in 1971, the commercial printer who had handled production took the newspaper over and hired Willie Johnson, Sr., to run it. In 1974, Gerald Johnson recalls, his father secured a city loan that allowed the family to become publishers of the Post.

The joy of gaining control of the Post was tempered by challenges on the homefront. Willie Johnson’s eldest son, Willie L. Johnson, Jr. (7.12.1941 – 8.12.2002), had been gravely injured in 1965 during military service in the Vietnam War. Lower limb amputation led to a long stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. By the 1970s Billy, as he was known, was ready to come home to Charlotte — and military funds helped him build an accessible house. The family took out the building permit in 1970; by 1974 Billy and his wife Edna R. Johnson were listed as living at the address on Condon Street.

Gerald Johnson recalls that the house was designed so that Willie Johnson, Sr., and his wife Thomasina McCullough Johnson could live there, as well. He remembers that both families resided at 815 Condon Street for about four or five years in the mid and late 1970s.

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Architecture

Ranch style house, one story in tan brick. There is a main gable roof, a gable-roofed rear wing and — the defining design feature of the house — an unusually broad gabled front porch whose roof rests on four doric columns. The original owner took out a permit in 1975 to expand the master bedroom, probably the small gable-roofed wing that extends at the north side of the house. There is a two-vehicle carport at the rear of the residence.

This house is one of the few in McCrorey Heights that does not face the main streets of Van Buren, Madison, Patton, Washington or Oaklawn. It sits at the corner of Patton Avenue facing Condon Street.

Building permits

Condon-815-permit-a
Date issued: October 27, 1970
Owner: Mr. Willie Johnson
Contractor: Carolina Builders, Inc.
Estimated cost: $19,850
Other permit info: new residence

Condon-815-permit
Date issued: July 29, 1975
Owner: Willie Johnson
Contractor: Sterling Construction Co.
Estimated cost: $3,800
Other permit info: Extend existing master bedroom

First appeared in city directory

1974 – Willie L. Johnson & Edna R. He: Retired. She: no occupation listed.

(neither is listed in the 1973 city directory)

1975 – same as 1974.
1981 – both are still there.

1996 – he is still listed in street section, but neither is listed in the alphabetical section.

Resources

“Home Owners Will Organize,” Charlotte Observer, June 25, 1950.

“Industrial Men’s Club to Attend Conference,” Charlotte Observer, November 19, 1943.

Johnson, Gerald, telephone interview with Tom Hanchett, January 15, 2017.

“Willie J. Johnson, Jr., Obituary,” Charlotte Observer, August 15, 2002.

“Willie Lee Johnson, Sr.,” on the FindaGrave website. On-line at:

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/150212287/Willie-Lee-Johnson