Time Was: 1952
By Don Bailey
The following is a segment from Don Bailey’s book, Cliffside, North Carolina: The First Half Century. These things happened over 60 years ago, but, to many of us, it seems like only yesterday.
Nineteen fifty two was another lean year, following on the heels of other lean years, for we see that not until November were the county’s textile plants running at “rather full speed” and unemployment had somewhat declined. Of the nearly 8,700 industrial workers in Rutherford County over 6,000 were then textile workers and it was thought to be a good sign that there were only 710 unemployed at mid November! The normal total was said to be near 1000. With this in mind Cliffside residents must have taken justifiable pride in their performance in the county Cancer Fund Drive. The county contributed $2,398 and Cliffside gave $393 — more than any other town or village in the county. Forest City with a much larger population and a more diverse economy contributed less than $374.
In January Charles H. Haynes resigned his position as president of the Haynes Bank. Haynes had been president of the bank since 1917 and he was replaced by J. C. Hames, vice-president and cashier. Hames had been with the bank since 1919. In July Dr. George F. Becknell, Jr. began practice in Cliffside. Dr. Becknell was born in Grover in 1921 and attended high school in Gaffney. He worked for a short while after graduation, until he volunteered for the Air Corps. He served 4 years in WWII and after his discharge attended Duke University and then the Medical College of South Carolina, from which he graduated in 1951.
In September Dr. G. 0. Moss, who had practiced medicine in Cliffside since 1928, replaced Dr. W. L. Norville as Health Officer of the Rutherford-Polk District. And Claud Gilstrap, music and educational director of Cliffside Baptist Church since 1950, resigned to accept a position at the First Baptist Church of Statesboro, GA.
Carver High School, which had opened in August of 1951, was dedicated on Sunday, March 9. W. L. Greene, executive secretary of the NC Negro Teachers Association was the main speaker. It seems strange now to note that near year’s end the Rutherford County News ran an editorial praising Carver High School, all the while asserting that “only separate schools for each race will satisfy, in the South”.
In June the County School Board had decided to change the name of Grahamtown School. It seems the name “Grahamtown” was originally given to the community because a Black man named Graham was a dominant figure in the area, but his reputation was “not the best”. In January the Superintendent had written to Tuskegee Institute and asked about a suitable name to replace Grahamtown. Accordingly, Grahamtown Elementary was renamed Dunbar Elementary School. Robert Lawrence Dunbar, for whom the school was named, was a noted poet and author. He was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872 of parents who had been slaves in Kentucky. He was educated in the Dayton public schools and at Steele High School where he was the only Black student.
The new Dunbar Elementary School at Forest City was opened to students September 1, and was dedicated on Sunday, November 23. Dr. Harold Trigg, formerly an inspector of “Negro high schools” for North Carolina, was the principal speaker. Dr. Trigg had also served as president of Elizabeth City College and was at the time of the dedication, president of Saint Augustine College in Raleigh. Over 600 persons attended the dedication ceremonies. The Dunbar School now finally made obsolete the two room brick Black school in Cliffside, so the superintendent advertised the school building and grounds for sale in October.
The Cliffside High Class of 1952 had 36 members. Frances McMurray was Valedictorian and Eunice Jones was Salutatorian. The Cliffside High Class of 1952 had 36 members. Frances McMurray was Valedictorian and Eunice Jones was Salutatorian. The County now had 11 high schools which graduated only 457 students. Cliffside’s number was exactly at the median, but the mean was only 42. Clearly this cried out for consolidation.
This year the Rutherford County Club, the oldest of the county wide service clubs, and approximately 50 strong, celebrated its 30th anniversary. When the Club met in December seven men were in attendance who had been present in December 1922 when the Club was formed. They were: K. S. Tanner, S. E. Elmore, F. I. Barber, O. J. Holler, R. E. Price, Hoyle Elliott and Charles Flack. Of course Charles Haynes of Cliffside had been present at the formation of the club and Cliffside men had always been active in the club. In 1952 two of the three directors were Cliffside men, J. E. Cargill and H. M. Owens.
The clubs still active in Cliffside per se were the Lions, the Masons, the Legion and the Junior OUAM. In April the Lions sponsored a musical variety show, “Shooting Starts”, using all local talent. The proceeds of the show were to benefit the visually handicapped and it was directed by one Miss Mary-Lou Hopkins of Buffalo, NY. In connection with this production a tiny tot popularity contest for children under 6 was held. The king and queen were determined by votes at a penny a vote.
The Cliffside American Legion Post staged an Armistice Ceremony and Parade on Saturday November 8. Sponsors for the events were Mills Drug Co., Hawkins Hardware, R. C. Dry Cleaners, Sparks’ 5 and 10 cent Store, Ralph Beason Recapping Co., and C. P. Hamrick Stores, and in what seems to have been a yearly event the Junior Order of United American Mechanics held their district meeting at Cliffside in October.
Politics was front and center in Cliffside in 1952. In February Hollis M. Owens, Jr. announced his candidacy for Rutherford County Solicitor; subject to the Democratic primary May 31st. Owens did not live in Cliffside, but was always considered a Cliffside citizen by virtue of his attending Cliffside High School and his father serving as director for the Haynes Bank.
In May the registrar of the Cliffside precinct, H. A. Ingram, reported 1200 people registered at Cliffside. This is an astonishing number since the population of Cliffside could not have exceeded 3000. In the primaries in June Cliffside cast the largest vote of any precinct in the county, 523 votes. In the contest for the Democratic nomination for constable of High Shoals Township Bill Ingram of Cliffside received 723 votes and Homer Barnes of Henrietta 594. And Hollis Owens, Jr. won the primary election for County Solicitor.
In November, in the general election, Hollis Owens, Jr. was elected Solicitor, and Bill Ingram was elected Constable. In the presidential contest, even though Rutherford County went with Eisenhower by 8387 to 7755, Cliffside voted 485 for Stevenson and 338 for Eisenhower.
Between November 10 and November 25 Cliffside experienced what can only be called an epidemic of suicide. Sadly Cliffside had more than its share of tragedy in 1952. By October four cases of polio had been reported in Rutherford County. Joseph Moore, 14 year old African American, was in the Asheville hospital. Roger Ledbetter, age 10 of Avondale, was stricken; and Jackie Green, 7, and his sister Judy, 11, both of Cliffside, contracted the disease. The only up side to this was that the Green children had only a mild case. More tragic yet, in March Miss Betty Jean Bridges, 16, of Cliffside, died as the result of injuries received in an auto accident. And on August 2 the “forgotten war” in Korea claimed PVT A. C. Green of Cliffside when he was killed in action.
Most tragic of all perhaps, between November 10 and November 25 Cliffside experienced what can only be called an epidemic of suicide. On November 10 Tommy Dobbins shot himself to death. On November 19 Barney L. Davidson was found dead in his store. Davidson was 63 years old and had been operating the North Main Grocery in Cliffside for the past 38 years. He had hanged himself. Then on November 25 Jack C. Melton, 22, of Cliffside killed himself with a shotgun.
Finally we should note that the day after Christmas Dr. T. B. Lovelace died in Rutherford Hospital. We note Lovelace’s passing not because he was a resident of Cliffside — he was not but because he was the last of the men who was associated with R. R. Haynes in the chartering of Cliffside Mills in 1901. Lovelace was born in Cleveland County on November 8, 1856, and when the town of Forest City was incorporated, as Burnt Chimney, in 1877 his family was one of a dozen or so living in the town.
This article appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of The Cliffside Chimes