Or . . .”How Well Do You Know Black Asheville History?”
“Colored Race Prospers in Asheville as the Result of Attitude of White Citizens” was the title of an article published in an Asheville Citizen-Times on December 3, 1922.
“While it would be difficult indeed to mention in a short article the numerous successful business and professional colored citizens contributing to the general high tone of their community, certain outstanding men of progressive type come to mind readily.”
Then follows a list of 17 prominent black Asheville businessmen and their professions. The article mentions that “some 7,000 negroes” live in Asheville.
In terms of the documented annals of the history of black Asheville, only three of the names below rise to the top. Why and how were they remembered? How have the other men’s names been lost over time?
[The sentiment of the title of the article is not lost on us. The unidentified writer apparently could not consider that black residents of Asheville were perfectly capable of prospering on their own, even given the segregated society they lived in. But the article does offer an interesting insight into the relations of the black and white people of Asheville in the early 1920s.]
*At the end of the list of names, we’ll take a closer look at the first man. More people will follow on future blogs.
Thomas Oglesby, real estate.
Noah Murrough, Murrough and Company, as undertaker, insurance and real estate agent.
Eugene Gastion, grocer.
H. E. Jones, druggist in the Y.M.I.
J. F. Butler, barber.
Prince A. Goins, barber. Goins & Justice (George C. Justice).
J. A. Wilson, barber.
W. P. Brooks, barber. Brooks & Perrin, (Walter F. Perrin), barber. 8 Eagle Street.
James V. Miller, contractor.
Louis W. Williams, contractor.
Ed Pearson, real estate.
F. A. Evans, dentist.
U. S. Gunthrop, dentist.
F. S. Campbell, grocer.
B. J. Jackson, grocer.
George Richards, grocer.
Here’s a closer look at the first man.
Thomas Oglesby, real estate.
Oglesby was born a slave on a plantation in Fairfield County, South Carolina (near Columbia) in 1860 to Jim and Isabella Megill Oglesby. Thomas married Helen Griffin in 1885 and they were in Asheville by 1891 when he purchased two pieces of property in December on Mountain Street, one from Sandy A. Goodman (an African American) for $425.00 and one from A. J. Lyman (real estate and brokerage business) for $500.00.
Asheville looking toward Beaumont and Zealandia with Mountain Street area in view showing farms and houses. Photo was taken circa 1891 when Oglesby first came to Asheville and bought property on Mountain Street.
Many thanks to Rich Mathews who has been researching early images of East End. Streets names are Mountain Street running up on left, Valley Street running across bottom left, Tuskegee Street on top right, Hazzard Street at far right running into Eagle Street that runs across center on the other side of the long wooden structure, and Town Ditch across bottom right. Rich says that the dark area just in view on upper side of Hazzard Street is “Town Branch” aka “Nasty Branch.”
Oglesby worked as a janitor. Helen died in 1910. Thomas then married Marie Carter of Warren County in 1911, the daughter of Hawkins W. and Nannie Carter. Marie was a school teacher and had a college education.
From 1909, Oglesby also had the active management of the Mountain City Mutual Insurance company, which was “formed for the benefit of colored people.”
In 1912 he resigned from his position as caretaker at the Elks’ Club where he’d worked for 11 years, to enter the real estate business in partnership with R. B. Cannon. His office is listed as being in the African American Masonic Temple at 44 S. Market. The Masonic Temple building pictured below has a circular panel at top center with the date 1926. As documented in the National Register of Historic Places, that date indicates a much later renovation to the front facade, of a building that was actually built in 1891 and is the earliest brick building in the Downtown Historic District.
The Colored Betterment League was organized in Asheville in 1916. Oglesby and B. J. Jackson were among the men present. Oglesby was also president of the board of directors of the YMI and a trustee of the Blue Ridge Hospital for blacks here.
Thomas Oglesby died in Asheville in 1923 at the age of 60 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery. According to his obituary he was “one of Asheville’s most prominent and prosperous colored residents” . . . and was “respected by both the white and colored citizens.” Further information informs us: “Friends said he has done as much as any other person in Asheville for his race. In addition to setting the negro an example of thrift and frugality, he financially assisted many colored families in Asheville to buy their homes on easy terms.” His advice: “Be honest, industrious and sober, and make the very best of every opportunity.” Oglesby’s frugality explains how he was able to purchase property when he first came to Asheville.
The year after Thomas died, their oldest son, Thomas Jr. died at the age of 17. After her husband and son’s deaths, Marie and their youngest son, Isadore Boyd Oglesby, were living in Durham, NC. In the 1930 census Marie was 48 and Isadore was 16.
Isadore became a lyric tenor and performed in Baltimore in 1949 where his voice was praised by the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory. He later became the minister of music of the Enon Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1961 he returned to Asheville for his first home performance presenting a concert at the Stephens-Lee High School auditorium. Later that week he also had a concert “featuring songs of the Negro People in simple verse,” accompanied by Mrs. Ollie McCool Reynolds, music teacher at Stephens-Lee.
Please comment if you have more information to add about this man, his contributions or his family.