Travel

Visit Raleigh home of early civil rights leader

Strange as it seems to refer to a house built in 1901 as “new,” the former home of Dr. Manassas Thomas Pope in Raleigh’s Third Ward is just that. Having opened to the public in 2013, it is among the newest museums in North Carolina. Of greater significance is that the Pope House is the only historic house museum of an African-American family in North Carolina. The modest two-story brick house on South Wilmington Street was a typical home in its neighborhood, a primarily black community of professionals and prosperous laborers that developed in the late 1800s.

Distance

Raleigh is 143 miles from Charlotte, about a 2  1/2-hour drive.

To see and do

Like his father and grandfather, Manassas Pope was a free black man; he was born on the eve of the Civil War. His parents, residents of Rich Square, were prosperous, literate landowners with property in Northampton and Bertie counties. Pope attended Shaw University, a college for blacks established in 1865; he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1879. Pope earned a medical degree from the Leonard School of Medicine, the first four-year medical college established in North Carolina, in 1886. One year later, Pope married Lydia Walden and the couple took up residence in Henderson. In 1892, the Popes moved to Charlotte, where in addition to maintaining a medical practice, Pope helped establish the Queen City Drug Company and the People’s Benevolent Association insurance company.

During the Spanish-American War, he served as an officer in the 3rd N.C. Volunteers, an all-black regiment. After the war, Pope moved his practice to Raleigh and had a new house built in 1901.

Lydia Pope died of tuberculosis in 1906; the following year Dr. Pope married Delia Haywood Phillips, 22 years his junior. The couple had two daughters, both of whom went on to earn B.A. degrees from Shaw University and M.A. degrees from Columbia University.

By the time Pope moved to Raleigh, the era of Jim Crow was in effect, and the voting rights of blacks were severely compromised, primarily by requiring voters to pass a “literacy test” administered and graded by biased polling officials. To avoid disenfranchising illiterate whites, a “grandfather clause” stated that anyone whose father or grandfather had been able to vote prior to 1867 would be exempt from the literacy test. This loophole meant that Manassas Pope was qualified to vote – one of only seven blacks in Raleigh able to cast a ballot.

In 1919, Pope ran for mayor of Raleigh. Although he garnered only a small number of votes in the general election, he earned the distinction of being the only black man known to run for mayor of the capital city of a Southern state during the entire Jim Crow era. This was a harbinger of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The house itself is representative of a typical urban row house, with a parlor, dining room and kitchen on the right side of the first floor, a hallway and stairs on the left, and two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. The house also had front and rear porches. At the time of its construction, Dr. Pope included all the latest technologies, including combination gas and electric fixtures, indoor plumbing, coal-burning heating stoves and a telephone! Artifacts displayed include Pope’s medical diploma, his revolver and the medical bag he carried while serving in the Spanish-American War. Numerous family items and photos are presented.

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