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The African American Experience in Franklin

Many African Americans in Franklin, NC made significant strides towards success, such as Rev. James T. Kennedy, a black minister from Columbia, SC. He came to Franklin and contributed to the building of St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church and the development of an educational system for blacks in the late 1800s. Although met with hesitation and skepticism by both the white and black communities at first, Kennedy's strict teaching style directly led to the development of the some of the most outstanding individuals in the community. He taught the community's residents vocational skills and the "three R's": reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Other members of the black community brought their skills to various businesses and trades. For instance, Grace Stewart and Viola Lenior were considered to be the best cooks in Macon County. According to Sue Waldroop, Ella Stewart made the best lemon pie in Franklin! All of these women worked at Lassie Kelly's Tea Room, a popular bakery that used to stand in Franklin, NC.

Emma England was a leader in educating the black youth of Franklin. A student of St. Cyprian's, she graduated in 1930 and soon thereafter left the town for a higher education. When she came back to Franklin, she secured a job as a teacher at a three-room schoolhouse, which eventually became the black high school in the area. During the 1950s, a newer building was built to segregate black students. The new building contributed to the increasing number of black pupils who attended public school. However, these numbers quickly dwindled as black families began to move away in order to find new opportunities under the slow-growing economy during that time period.

In about 1963, three black students, Walter Scruggs, James Stewart, and Odet Thompson approached H. Bueck, the superintendent of the white high school in Franklin, about joining the school. The transition was easier than most integrations, but it is important to note that it still occurred.

The African American community in Franklin has always been a rather small one, residing among Green St. and eventually migrating over to Roller Mill Rd. This did not stop them from getting involved in issues that were important to them. One collective in particular that was important to the community was the Frazier Community Center, a center named for W. W. Frazier of Philadelphia, a man who donated land to the black community of Franklin.

Relations between African Americans and the whites were not always pleasant in this small town. According to Emma England, the Ku Klux Klan was active in the region and was the primary cause of the burning down of the Frazier Community Center. Other tragedies occurred in the black community, including the death of Walter Scruggs, a prominent black student athlete who was killed in a car crash and the disappearance of Alden Lawrence, a two year old who was never found.