real estate development

Wilson needs a lot of good colored homes now.

Suggs Heights appears to comprise part or all the D.C. Suggs properties platted in the early 1920s.

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“Ask any man who has property to rent what kind pays the most on the investment and he will tell you colored property.” [Likely because one could readily overcharge.] Wilson Daily Times, 11 December 1925.

Stantonsburg Heights may be the area platted as Vicksburg Manor.

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“This high class colored development will build up in good homes and gardens.” Wilson Daily Times, 8 May 1945.

[A note about “Heights.” Wilson sits it in North Carolina’s Upper Coastal Plain at 108 feet above sea level. The eastern half of the county, including the city of Wilson, is notably flat, and low-lying areas flood notoriously. Neither of the areas advertised above are “heights” in any common understanding of the term, and it’s questionable whether the latter area could reasonably be described as high or dry.]

Charles S. Darden, Esq.

The second of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden’s sons, Charles Sylvester Darden made his mark far from home — in Los Angeles, California.  Though he largely eluded the decennial censuses, the trajectory of Darden’s career as a hard-charging attorney can be glimpsed in contemporary newspapers and other documents.

Dinah Darden and her elder sons, James B., Charles S. and John W. Darden.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charles Darden, 26; wife Diana, 21; and children John, 3, Annie, 2, and Charlie, 9 months.

Charles Darden received an undergraduate degree at Howard University and graduated from its law school in 1904.

The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 31 May 1904.

In short order, Darden headed West and in 1906 passed the examination for admission to the California bar. He was one of the first licensed African-American lawyers in the state.

The anomaly of Darden’s position early caught the attention of the local press, and in 1907 this mocking piece appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Times, 25 December 1907.

Within his community, however, Darden was taken seriously. In May 1908, his place in the political life of black Los Angeles was signaled by his inclusion among leaders calling for a protest against Republican presidential nominee William H. Taft for his recommendation that President Theodore Roosevelt dismiss black soldiers blamed for murder in the Brownsville Affair.

 

Los Angeles Herald, 31 May 1908.

That same year, Darden was instrumental in organizing a Howard University alumni association in Los Angeles. The Times covered the group’s annual banquet in 1909.

Los Angeles Times, 11 February 1909.

By 1911, Darden had entered the arena in which he had the greatest impact — real estate development and litigation. That year, as the first black lawyer to argue before the California Supreme Court, Darden attacked racially restrictive covenants

By 1913, he and ten others incorporated the Co-operative Commercial Investment Company.

Los Angeles Times, 27 November 1913.

He also was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1913.

Journal of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 1915, black police officer Homer L. Garrott purchased a home in the Angeles Park subdivision of Los Angeles. Angeles Park lots were covered by a restrictive covenant prohibiting sales to black, Japanese and Chinese buyers, and the Title Guarantee Company sued to enforce it. Charles S. Darden stepped up to defend Garrott. A Superior Court judge ruled in Garrott’s favor, striking down race restrictions as null and void. Angeles Park and the title company appealed, and the case reached the California State Supreme Court in 1919. The ruling was affirmed, but bizarrely undercut by the court’s decision in another case upholding the validity of occupancy clauses. (For more re Garrott, see Douglas Flamming, Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America (2005)).

As the United States entered World War I, Darden got involved in protests over the forced retirement of African-American Colonel Charles Young in the wake of resistance by white officers balking at being outranked by a black man. In a letter to Dean Kelly Miller of Howard University, Darden also championed of the causes of Captain Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and a Captain Green, who had also been effectively sidelined.

Kansas City Sun, 21 July 1917.

Two months later, Darden wrote directly to the Secretary of the War Department, complaining that the applications of well-qualified young African-American men were being turned down “because of their color.” The response was terse and not entirely to the point: “At the present time no colored squadrons are being formed and applications from colored men for this branch of service cannot be considered for that reason.”

Letter from Secretary of War to Charles S. Darden, 11 August 1917; W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312); Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

In 1918, Charles Sylvester Darden registered for the World War I draft in Los Angeles. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1879 in Wilson, North Carolina; resided at 224 South Spring, Los Angeles; was a self-employed lawyer at 407 Germain, Los Angeles; was 5’4″ and of medium build; and his nearest relative was Charles H. Darden, 110 Pender Street, Wilson, North Carolina.

“Incorporations,” Southwest Builder and Contractor, volume 57, number 11 (18 March 1921).

The beach at Santa Monica’s Bay Street, popular with African-Americans in the early 20th century, was derogatorily called “The Inkwell”. While they appreciated the access to the Pacific Ocean that the beach represented, local African-American leaders also wanted an end to all efforts to inhibit their freedom to use all public beaches. In 1922, the Santa Monica Bay Protective League attempted to purge African Americans from the city’’s shoreline by blocking an effort by the Ocean Frontage Syndicate, an African American investment group led by Norman O. Houston and Charles S. Darden, to develop a resort with beach access at the base of Pico Boulevard. Santa Monica officials quickly enacted zoning laws to deny the Ocean Frontage Syndicate beach front property, changing such regulations once whites bought the land and made similar development proposals.

In 1940, Darden partnered with two African-American doctors to form the Los Angeles Negro Professional Men’s Athletic Club, a venue for boxing matches, ball games, dances and other affairs.

Pittsburgh Courier, 29 June 1940.

A whiff of scandal touched Darden in 1940, but failed to gain traction. He was held blameless in a fatal automobile accident on Anaheim’s Santa Ana Canyon Road. Darden apparently never married, and the paper was careful to note that his female companion was white.

Santa Ana Register, 27 August 1940.

In 1942, Charles S. Darden registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1879 in Wilson, North Carolina; he resided at 1802 Central, Los Angeles; his phone number was PR 3750; he was employed as an attorney at 1802 Central; and his contact was C.L. Darden, Wilson, North Carolina.

Charles S. Darden died in March 1954 in Los Angeles.

The Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), 17 March 1954.

Photograph of Dardens courtesy of N.J. and C. Darden, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine; J. Clay Smith Jr., Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer 1844-1944 (1993).

Suggs’ Greensboro dealings.

D.C. Suggs’ real estate speculation was not limited to property in his hometown.

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Brown Flats, 195-201 Lyndon Street, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Greensboro’s Lyndon Street Townhouses, also known as the Brown Flats, were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Per pocketsights.com, “This series of townhouses is rare in Greensboro, where the urban prototype did not gain popularity before apartment houses with shared interior common halls grew acceptable. The four units remain among the few such townhouses in the state.

“The structures were likely built by Brown Real Estate Company, which had offices at 109 East Market Street. The firm was operated by Sample S. Brown, who was involved in several large transactions that transformed the city in the first decade of the twentieth century. At first, the flats were rented to white collar workers such as George Phoenix, clerk for the Southern railroad; rates in 1907 were $15 per unit.

“In 1919, the flats were acquired by Dr. Daniel Cato Suggs. Dr. Suggs was considered one of the wealthiest black men in North Carolina, and possibly the South. A native of Wilson, he graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (B.A. and A.M.) and Morris Brown University (Ph.D.) before beginning his career as a professor in the public school systems of Kinston and Asheville. He married Mary Nocho of Greensboro, daughter of educator Jacob Nocho, in 1902. In 1917 he was elected the President of Livingston College in Salisbury. He maintained his residence in the city until his death.”

The nomination form for the townhouses provides details of Suggs’ real estate activity in Greensboro:

“The failure of the townhouses to attract higher-class tenants was probably due to their location at the eastern edge of downtown, almost up against the tracks of the Southern Railway beyond which were the black neighborhoods of east Greensboro.  Their almost immediate transformation to working or lower middle-class housing was likely due to the construction of working-class black housing immediately to their rear along the railroad tracks in 1907 or 1908. These one-story shotgun duplexes, which no longer stand, were built by Daniel C. Suggs, a black teacher and entrepreneur, on an alley named after him (Sanborn Map Company, 1907 and 1913; Greensboro City Directories).

“Suggs had started to acquire property on the east side of Lyndon Street, on all three sides of the townhouses lot, early in the decade (Guilford County Deed Book 184, Page 240; Deed Book 186, Page 681; and Deed Book 230, Page 350, for example). Although listed in city directories as a teacher, Suggs was also an entrepreneur. He owned and lived in a large, two-story frame house at the southeast corner of Lyndon and East Market streets [a site currently occupied by a row of mid-century commercial buildings, one of which houses Uhuru Book Store], two doors up from the townhouses. A block to the west, at 239-245 East Market Street, he owned the Suggs Building, a three-story brick commercial building which housed a variety of black businesses, including a restaurant, a tailor shop, and a drug store (Greensboro City Directories; Sanborn Map Company 1919.)

“Suggs’ impact on the townhouses was to extend beyond any effect his construction of the houses on Suggs Alley may have caused. In 1919 S.S. and Helen G. Brown sold them to him, which gave him possession of the all of the property on the east side of Lyndon between Washington and Market streets and the tracks (Guilford County Deed Book 330, Page 465). Surprisingly, until 1928 the tenants in the townhouses continued to be white. During these years, Suggs was almost certainly one of the only black landlords in Greensboro who had white tenants. Ironically, in 1929, a year after the building’s tenants shifted from white to black, Suggs and his wife, Mary, defaulted on their mortgage and the townhouses came into the hands of a white owner, Mrs. Lottie Hughes Wallace (Guilford County Deed Book 634, Page 83; Greensboro City Directories). Since 1929, the townhouses have generally continued to be rented to low and  lower-income African-Americans.”

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Sanborn fire insurance map, Greensboro, N.C., 1919.

Image courtesy of Google Maps.

An ideal location for colored people.

Though he never lived in Wilson as an adult, Daniel C. Suggs maintained significant real estate interests there for decades. In the early 1920s, Atlantic Coast Realty handled the division and sale of a chunk of Suggs’ land a mile or so south of Nash Street, east Wilson’s black business block. (This property had originally belonged to his father, Washington Suggs.)

Sugg property

Wilson Daily Times, 27 January 1922.

In 1920 and 1923, Suggs filed four plats for various (and overlapping) subdivisions of the southern most section of his acreage. The land was located down Stantonsburg Road (now Pender) just across from the Colored Graded School. The lots marked off were narrow (25 to 27 feet wide) and deep, and many of the houses eventually built there were shotguns, known locally as endway houses.

The plat below, dated 26 May 1920, and filed in Book 1, page 194, at the Wilson County Register of Deeds office, shows a section of New Street and an unnamed street (now Elvie) capped to the west by Railroad Street. Land owned by S.W. Smith lies to the north, and another Suggs-owned parcel to the east.

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This Bing.com map shows the area today. The lot lines drawn by Atlantic Coast Realty did not hold. Blount Street eliminated the 105′ deep lots extending back from New Street and its unnamed parallel (now Elvie Street), and lot widths along all streets (especially Railroad) are wider than the 25′ proposed.

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The second plat is dated a day later and essentially a continuation to the east of the plat above. What is labeled Stantonsburg Road is now Pender Street. It’s not clear when the name “Elvie” was inked in for “School” Street. However, in the early 1950s, Wilson built an elementary school for African-Americans in the area shown in the northern half of the plat. (It was called Elvie Street School.) If ever there were one, there is now no perpendicular street mid-block, and Suggs Street runs several blocks north. (Lincoln Avenue, by the way, is now a Street, instead.)

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On 13 January 1923, Atlantic Coast Realty commissioned a broader and more detailed survey. Though on this plat New Street that fades to nothing, today it is the street below that survives only in truncated form. (And it is not called Hines, but Blount, apparently after the adjacent landowner. Daniel Blount, 80, a carpenter, is listed in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County, with wife Susan, 45, Susana, 16, Josephine and Joseph, 14, Mary, 12, and George, 3.) The colored cemetery had been abandoned even at that time, and no trace of it now remains. As noted above, Suggs Street is now north the area depicted. Elvie Street is mislabeled “Elmer.” The area then occupied by the Contentnea Guano Company in the space between the neighborhood and the railroad is now home, via mergers and acquisitions, to Crop Production Services.

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This plat, dated 1923, and drafted for Lawrence Realty Company, depicts territory east of Stantonsburg Road/Pender Street.

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The former D.C. Suggs property today:

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Sam Vick and Whitesboro, New Jersey.

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Typescript letter signed from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, signed by George H. White (Secretary and Treasurer of the George H. White Land and Improvement Company of Cape May County, New Jersey) to Samuel H. Vick in Wilson, North Carolina, 23 June 1911. 

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Testimonials from citizens of Whitesboro, N.J., and Wilson, N.C., concerning the lands owned by S.H. Vick in that place.

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Front page, brochure advertising Whitesboro, New Jersey.

Cape May Ave

Postcard.

From Collection of printed and manuscript sales and promotional material for George H. White’s Cape May/Whitesboro, New Jersey housing project; Beinecke Digital Collection, Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Images available on-line.

Beautifully located, high and healthy.

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The Colored American, 28 December 1901.

Whitesboro, New Jersey, was founded about 1901 by the Equitable Industrial Association, whose prominent black American investors included poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, educator Booker T. Washington, Wilson educator and businessman Samuel H. Vick, and George Henry White, the leading investor and the town’s namesake. White, an attorney, had moved to Philadelphia after serving as the last black Republican congressman representing North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. His realty company, advertised above, sold the land on which Whitesboro was developed to E.I.A. White and his fellow entrepreneurs wanted to create a self-reliant community for blacks, free from the discrimination they faced the southern states. Shares in the planned community were sold to African Americans from North and South Carolina and Virginia.

Whitesboro history adapted from “Whitesboro, New Jersey,” wikipedia.com.