Lake Norman & Mooresville

Historian offers tribute to African-Americans

Mooresville native Cindy Jacobs, an author, photographer and historian, presented "Mooresville History: A Tribute to African-Americans" at the South Iredell Senior Center in recognition of Black History Month.

Jacobs is the author of three books about local history. Her latest, "Legendary Locals of Mooresville," was scheduled for release Feb. 20. She gave her presentation Feb. 7.

When Jacobs began researching Mooresville's history, she said, "I found out Mooresville's a much more interesting place than we thought growing up."

Mooresville began in 1856, when John Franklin Moore donated farmland to build a train depot on the tracks through his land. In 1863, during the Civil War, federal troops removed the tracks to disable the cotton industry.

Progress in Mooresville slowed until the tracks were re-laid in 1872. One year later, the town incorporated.

By the turn of the 20th century, Mooresville had a thriving business district and would soon have the only gasoline pump between Asheville and Salisbury. The town's slogan was "The best way to anywhere is by Mooresville."

Many of Jacobs's "legendary locals" were pioneers in building the town during that era. Selma Burke, Norris F. Woods and Winnie Hooper are historic locals whose names may sound familiar to many Mooresville residents. Each is an important African-American contributor to the town's history.

Selma Burke was born in the Cascade area of Mooresville in 1900, 27 years after the town was incorporated. She became a world-renowned artist who studied ceramics and sculpture in Europe. She earned her doctorate in arts and letters at Livingston College in Salisbury at age 70.

If you think you are not familiar with the work of Burke, you are mistaken. In 1944 she created the portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt that appears on the U.S. dime.

Her only work remaining in Mooresville is a bust of Dr. Davies McLelland. Burke grew up knowing the community physician as a man who made house calls and treated patients well, regardless of race, said Jacobs.

The bust is displayed at the Mooresville Public Library.

Mooresville's N.F. Woods School of Technology and Arts is named for Dr. Norris F. Woods. When Woods led it, it was known as Dunbar School. Built in 1921, Dunbar was the school for Mooresville's African-American children during segregation. Woods fought hard to get resources for his students.

Woods and the other Dunbar educators "contributed to the community in ways that cannot be measured," said Jacobs. They created a school with academic excellence and athletic achievement equal to schools with greater resources.

Mooresville native Ora Carr remembers attending Dunbar School. Thanks to people like Woods, Carr said, "I think I would put the education I received there up against anyone else's."

Carr also said, "When it comes to black history, there was none in the schools then but what our teachers taught us themselves. Our ancestors were left out (of the curriculum). Our parents, friends and teachers had to make sure we knew something about our history."

Another contributor at Dunbar School was Winnie Hooper, remembered as a great youth leader. She led various community activities such as Girl Scouts and is honored today in Mooresville with the Winnie L. Hooper Center on South Sherrill Street.

Carr also remembers Hooper and has helped Jacobs in the production of her books by providing photos from Dunbar School.

Mooresville schools were integrated in 1964.

In the 1980s, Dunbar School was renamed in honor of Norris F. Woods.

Today, Carr has children, grandchildren and even three great-grandchildren.

"My children and grandchildren have more opportunities to advance themselves than I had," Carr said. "There are opportunities for them to advance themselves if they are willing to work.

"Work is the key to success. ... People need to realize that every opportunity is important."