Part 2: A Who’s Who List of Prominent Black Asheville Businessmen in 1922

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?

*At the end of the list of names (I’ve rearranged the list by profession), we’ll take a closer look at Noah Murrough. More people’s biographies will follow on future blogs. Here’s a link to the previous blog on Thomas Oglesby.

The 17 Prominent black Asheville businessmen in 1922:

Thomas Oglesby, real estate; Noah Murrough, undertaker, insurance and real estate; Ed Pearson, real estate.

Eugene Gastion, grocer; F. S. Campbell, grocer; B. J. Jackson, grocer. George Richards, 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.

F. A. Evans, dentist; U. S. Gunthrop, dentist.

Here’s a close look at

Noah Murrough, undertaker, insurance and real estate and . . . restaurateur!

Noah Murrough was born in North Carolina in 1862, so would have been born into slavery; place and parents could not be determined.

Murrough splashed into town by making the Asheville newspaper on February 1, 1890, being found guilty of an affray and fined $25.00 and court costs. Then, settling down, he purchased two properties that year, one on Sorrells Street and the other on Philp Street. And then he kept purchasing land, lot after lot, through 1930.

He married Agnes Hornesby in Buncombe County in 1894. Agnes was born in 1861 in Shelby, NC to Sam and Flora Hoey.

In 1894 he opened the Woodlawn Cafe on South Main. Of note is that he served only white people, as well as he kept the cafe open day and night. Emma Greenlee cooked, and may have been the wife of his business partner. No city directory exists for this year so it is not clear what Greenlee’s first name was. In 1896 he removed his business to 36 South Main in the Little Delmonico Building where he advertised The Woodlawn as “the oldest and the leading Cafe in the city.” He sold the cafe in 1898, probably because he joined the Maceo Volunteers, a company of “colored men under Capt. Thomas L. Leatherwood” who left Asheville in July 1898 for Cuba.

In 1902 Murrough was listed again as proprietor of the Woodlawn, and it included boarding. This location would have been north of Eagle Street.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is woodlawn.png
Asheville Citizen-Times July 30, 1894

The Asheville Undertaking company was formed in July 1900 with capital stock of $500. Murrough joined other African American incorporators J. B. Wallace, E. L. Watkins, J. A. Wilson, Isaac Dixon, H. P. Pearson, H. B. Brown and John Cathey.

It appears that Murrough’s claim to fame in Asheville history is that in 1910 he was the “first licensed undertaker and funeral parlor operator in Asheville’s African-American community.” “Black History Month Moment in WNC History,” Asheville Citizen-Times Feb. 19, 2008.

“Believing that all people deserved a proper Christian burial, Noah Murrough established a funeral home dedicated solely to black families.” (From “APPALACHIAN ACTIVISTS: THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN ASHEVILLE, NC” A Thesis by Patrick Shane Parker, Graduate School at Appalachian State University, 2016.) When the Catholic Hill School burned to the ground in November 1917, the bodies of the children were taken to the Murrough Undertaking Company at 31 Eagle Street in the Young Men’s Institute. Murrough sold this company in 1927 for $4,100.00.

In 1903 he became the proprietor of the Royal Victoria Hotel, again on South Main, but this time for the purpose of “meeting the great need of the better class of negroes who come to our city from time to time.” He operated it through 1904.

Asheville Citizen-Times November 3, 1903

Noah’s wife Agnes died in 1928. He married Mammie, whose parents were from Tennessee, in 1929 and there are property deeds for them through 1930. Noah would have been 68. No information has been found when or where Noah or Mammie died or are buried.

Please comment if you have more information to add about Noah Murrough, his contributions to Asheville, or his family.

Post by North Carolina Room librarian Zoe Rhine

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