Hey! Mooresville Residents! The Fireworks are Over and The Celebratory Events Begin! MARK YOUR CALENDARS. Let’s continue to celebrate Mooresville’s 150th anniversary.   Everyone is invited!

(Images used with the permission of the Town of Mooresville/Collage by Tesa Jones)

Mark Your Calendars

In honor of Mooresville’s Sesquicentennial Anniversary Celebration, the Town of Mooresville, the Mooresville Public Library and the 150th Anniversary Planning Committee present “Black Mooresville: The Untold Story” Documentary. 

This free event is at The Charles Mack Citizen Center on Main Street in Downtown Mooresville on February 11th at 2:00.  Everyone is invited!

The Event

The 60-minute film, produced and directed by Shawn Eckles of Iredell County Television is narrated by Reverend Curtis Johnson, Reverend Gavin Gabriel and Sharnetta Clark-Gordon. The videographer,  Antony “AJ” Smith, captures it all.

The Team Behind the Documentary

The documentary focuses on living memories of current Mooresville residents, personal photographs, oral histories, and notable events that occurred during the past century and a half. In addition, there will be speakers, appetizers, memorabilia and fellowship. All are invited to enjoy this historic documentary. 

Meet the Man Who Got the Ball Rolling

The project is the brainstorm of Reverend Curtis Johnson, a lifelong resident of Mooresville. He approached the Mooresville Public Library with the concept, which was then presented to the Town — they enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

Reverend Curtis Johnson – photo by Tesa Jones – taken at Mooresville’s West Branch Library

“By me studying my history, it makes me a better person.,” say Reverend Johnson. “When I talk to people now, I talk through my own eyes and my own experience,” he claims as he reflects on the months he spent working on the project. “The Lord said to take my experiences and my talent and do this project.” After taking a deep breath, he continues, “Now I can see the beginning of the harvest. I hope this documentary opens conversation,” says Reverend Johnson, “so people will know more — understand more — and all of us will have a better relationship toward one another.”

The Planning Process

 In September of 2022, Reverend Johnson and a team of volunteers invited interested community members to meet at the Heritage House hosted by Mike Cook of Cavin-Cook Funeral Home to kick off the project.

Commissioner Thurman Houston and Mike Cook (owner of Cavin-Cook Funeral Home)
– who have been friends since childhood – work on the documentary together.

When asked about the planning process, Mike Cook recalls his early childhood friendship with Commissioner Thurman Houston. “Thurman and I are best friends. We grew up together — living within walking distance of each other’s homes — playing together on a daily basis; however, we were teenagers before we could attend the same school or sit at a restaurant table or go to a movie together,” he pauses. “That is why I got on board with this amazing project. I want our community to embrace race relations and through education and understanding, we can work together. I am hopeful this documentary will spotlight history and help everyone understand what it was like in our past so we can better move forward in the future.” 

Commissioner Thurman Houston, who has lived in Mooresville his entire life, spoke at the Fireworks Festival on January 14th. When asked what he loves about Mooresville, he answers, “When I first came on the Board, there were about 15,000 people [in our small town,]” says Commissioner Houston as he looks out at the crowd. There are more than 50,000 people living in Mooresville now.  He continues, “I was born and raised here . . .  and even though we’ve grown, I can still feel that ‘hometown’ feeling.  That is the greatest thing . . . even with all of the newcomers we have . . . we still have that feeling we are family.”  He points at the crowd and repeats himself, “We are family here in Mooresville and we’re keeping that tradition. That is what I love about this town.” 

Reverend Gavin Gabriel’s Insight

Reverend Gavin Gabriel is one the youngest members of the team who is compiling and creating the documentary. He is a sixth generation Catawba County resident. Gavin Gabriel grew up on the land where his ancestors were originally enslaved.

Reverend Gavin Gabriel

While in high school, Gavin was the Secretary of the North Carolina NAACP Youth and College Division. After leaving that position, he left the role of activism behind him. With dreams of “big city life” inspiring him, he eventually moved to New York City; however, he returned to the Mooresville area in 2018 because – as he claims – “Home is home and family is family. Family brought me back.”   

With ministry in his heart, he became the Senior Pastor at Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church on Neel Avenue in Mooresville and also works for a non-profit organization – Profound Gentlemen – that helps male educators of color.  profoundgentlemen.org. 

He enthusiastically speaks about being part of the documentary. During the interviewing process, he was honored to spotlight his own grandmother, Shelva-Jean Mayhew Gabriel, who graduated from Dunbar High School and had fabulous stories to tell. Unfortunately, Rev Gabriel recounts, “She passed away before she could tell her story to the camera.”   

Thankfully, Reverend Gabriel did get to hear about his grandmother’s life and her perspective. “The interesting thing is,” he adds, “we all have a story to tell that is directly related to Black history in Mooresville.  I learned so much about the area, the people of Mooresville and myself.  We are picking up pieces of our history – connecting them – and learning from it.” 

As Reverend Gabriel talks about the team meetings while working on the documentary, he says, “We had a lot of enlightening moments where we thought to ourselves and each other – ‘That makes so much sense’.”  He adds, “This documentary helped us open the door to our past. Most of the things we learned were not necessarily sad things — most of them were joyous.”

In Reverend Gabriel’s opinion, “The consistency during the interviewing process was – be the individual white or black – that Mooresville didn’t have the same amount of racial problems as the rest of the country.”  During his grandmother’s lifetime – and at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement – there was unrest and often violence all over America.  However, Mooresville stayed peaceful by comparison.  Reverend Gabriel adds, “That is because everybody knew their place.”   

“Generally speaking,” says Reverend Gabriel, “I have been so blessed to hear these stories from our seniors.  I tell them — think of me as the grandchild who has not been listening to you all of these years – because I want you to know that I am listening now and I hear you,” states Gavin Gabriel who wants to help elevate Black voices.  He believes it is good to talk about the past – learn from it — and then more forward

A Few of the Individuals Who Were Interviewed (or Spotlighted)

The following are some of the many numerous Mooresville residents who were interviewed (or a family member was interviewed) while making the film:

A collage of notable Mooresville residents – past and present.

Dynamic radio DJ Vivian Ramsey Brandon who hosts the show “Morning Glory” on WHIP, actress, producer, writer, motivational speaker and environmentalist Karen Amercrombie – who starred in “The War Room”, artist Dr. Selma Burke, who was commissioned in 1944 to sculpt a likeness of President  Franklin Roosevelt – which – to this day – is still the profile seen on the dime. Mooresville musicians Tony Bowers who plays with Antony Hamilton and Trevina Johnson, who works with Mary J. Blith, Terry Graham – successful businessman who owned Terry’s Taxi and 4-6 Diner (Terry Graham’s daughter will speak on his behalf), Winnie L Hooper – the woman with an enormous heart for children and a dream to help them thrive, Reverend Curtis Johnson, President of Mooresville/South Iredell Branch of the NAACP, Rev. John E. McKenzie, Helen Nixon who attended Dunbar from elementary through high school, Thurman Houston, Commissioner of Ward 2 in Mooresville, Naurice F. Woods, Principal of Dunbar School for 35 years — retired in 1972, and Vance Neill owner of the Baseball team called The Mooresville Negro Demon Tigers (his daughter Barbara will speak on his behalf.)  This is a small sample of the fabulous Mooresville residents who are interviewed and honored.

A Few of the Organizations

Some of the historic churches and organizations in the Mooresville area

Spotlight on Faith

There is an emphasis and a firm foundation of faith in the Black community; as a result, numerous churches are spotlighted while creating this documentary including Reid’s Memorial Church on Broad St (celebrating 155 years – currently the pastor is Reverend Harley), Bethesda Church on Shearers Road (Pastor William Puryear) , Shinnsville United Church of Christ on Winford Rd (Pastor/Dr. Betty Graves)  and Morrows Chapel United Methodist Church on Brawley School Rd. This 148 year old house of God is tucked between the Lake Norman Firehouse and the entrance to The Point. Percell Vandeburg – at 91, he is the oldest member of Morrows Chapel – and contributes interesting accounts of the years he spent at his beloved church.  

Sharnetta Clark-Gordon, author of Sparks of Miracles, is one of the co-hosts of the event

“Mooresville history is rich in faith, family, music and fellowship,” says co-host and narrator Sharnetta Clark-Gordon, author of Sparks of Miracles, “I am honored to be a part of this project.“  She pauses before adding,  “It is going to be an emotional and fun event.  I hope the audience can feel the experience from the storytellers as they relive the history. I firmly believe — to know your history is to know your self-worth.” 

Winnie L. Hooper Center

The West End Recreation Center was built in 1965. Winnie L. Hooper was its first Director.The objective was to provide activities and programs for the neighborhood. She was beloved by all because of her benevolence toward children and seniors and her dedication and service to the Mooresville community.  The recreation center was later renamed The Winnie L. Hooper Center in her honor.   

Dunbar School

In addition, there are fascinating stories about students and teachers from Dunbar High School.  The school has a long history. It was originally called Dunbar (after Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the nationally known poet.) Naurice F. Woods was the principal at the school for 35 years. When he retired in 1972, the school was renamed Woods in his honor and renamed a third time in 1993 — N. F. Woods Advanced Technology. His legacy lives on through the memories of the students who attended the school.

Faith and Family

Faith and family are common themes in the life of motivational speaker, actress, writer, producer and environmentalist Karen Amercrombie, who is best known for her starring role in “The War Room.”  Her movies focus on a faith based foundation and a love of Jesus Christ.

Originally from Alquippa, Pennsylvania, Ms. Amercrombie attended The American Academy of the Dramatic Arts in NYC.  In 1991, her dream of acting took her to Hollywood. A little over a decade later, she headed back East where she landed in Mooresville to be closer to family. Award winning actress, Karen Amercrombie formed a film production company initially called Isanaklesh Entertainment Company (Isanaklesh is a Native American name meaning “Mother of the Land”) Her company is now called Earth Mother Entertainment.  It is under this company the movie “Discarded Things” is produced.  Much of it is filmed locally including some scenes inside Williamson’s Chapel UMC on Brawley School Road. Members of the church are in scenes as extras.   

Some of the cast of “Discarded Things” plus the ‘extras’ who are Mooresville reisdents

“This documentary is a great opportunity for me to share what I see and feel regarding my experiences about being Black in Mooresville,” says Ms. Ambercrombie. “I am happy to be a part of this because I see so much potential here. I feel that the documentary and the people working together will make a positive impact on our community.” 

On February 3rd, the movie “Heaven Sent” will be released on Pure Flicks streaming platform and “Angels Unaware” is another movie produced by Ms. Amercrombie’s film company.  It is available on Amazon Prime. 

Preserving the Memories

There are key people to mention who are instrumental in making this documentary.

“In 2015, Iredell County Television was formed because – at that time — the county did not have a true public access television program,” says Shawn Eckles, President of ICT and producer/director of the documentary. “The station is a non-profit organization. We started by recording local candidates to give information about the individuals running in our local elections.” Eckles continues, “As the station grew, it started covering ‘what’s happening’ in the area and spotlighting people in the county who deserve recognition.”

Shawn Eckles

“More recently, I turned the spotlight on this documentary – ‘Black Mooreville: The Untold Story’,” states Shawn Eckles. “Doing this documentary has shown me how much we have grown and changed in the last 150 years. I love to capture – with cameras and words —  the stories of people in our area so that their history can live on — and can be remembered — for generations to come,” he pauses, “That is why I chose to do this project.”

“Those individuals who have moved here during the last decade see Mooresville in an entirely different way than those who have been here for generations.  Mooresville’s natives feel differently about the progress we have made,” Eckles says. “However, the young people – they see the opportunity and the positive change but – unfortunately — they do not have the circle of people to support them who have the experience to show them how to proceed in order to live successful lives. I hope all Mooreville residents will reach out and help this younger generation — uplift them – support them — so they can have a brighter future.” In Eckles’ mind – this is the Mission and the Goal of the Documentary. 

Smith Antony “AJ” is the cameraman for the documentary

The Role of The Mooresville Public Library

When the Mooresville Public Library was expanded in 2005, the community and Town leaders decided they wanted a repository for the Town’s history. As a result, the Local History & Archives department was created. The responsibility for this department was all on one person until Library Associate Sara McKee became involved in 2017. Initially, she was part-time. In 2021, she took on the full-time position.

When Ms. McKee joined the department, she noticed a few cultural gaps in the library’s collections, including the history of Indigenous peoples, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans in Mooresville.  

“Local History & Archives is responsible for collecting and preserving the history of Mooresville for future generations,” says Sara McKee. “History is not only found in books—it’s the letters, diaries, photographs, and documents of private citizens that tell the real story.”  When Ms. McKee describes the reason for the documentary, she explains, “I don’t want to take your memories from you. I want to help preserve them.”  She continues, “We cannot tell the story without the community’s help. I’m excited about this documentary because I see it as a jumping off point, a way to build trust with the Black community so we can work together to fill in that gap and preserve a more inclusive and accurate picture of Mooresville’s history.”

Library Director Marian Lytle and Sara McKee, Library Associate

Marian Lytle is Mooresville’s Library Director and she is also the Chairperson of the History Subcommittee for the 150th Celebration. “History is happening today at the speed of light but this project allows us to take the time to capture and listen to local stories that were previously untold,” states Marian Lytle. “We are excited to capture and preserve the history of Black Mooresville and the memories of our community members who have firsthand experience with some of the most momentous changes in our Nation’s history.”

Join fellow Mooresville residents at the Charles Mack Citizen Center on February 11th at 2:00 to discover some amazing facts and history about our town.

 “After the event,” Library Director Marian Lytle proudly states, “the documentary film – in its entirety — and all of the individual interviews will be available through the Mooresville Public Library Local History and Archine digital exhibits.” 

Photo credit to the Mooresville Public Library Archives/Image used with the permission of the Town of Mooresville

One More Thing Before You Go . . .

As we progress through 2023, more celebratory occasions will be added  . . . keep your eyes on LKN Connect for articles by Tesa Jones spotlighting each of these events. 

Photo credits to Sharnetta Clark-Gordon, Mike Cook, Curtis Johnson, Gavin Gabriel, Shawn Eckles, Tesa Jones and historic images used with the permission of the Town of Mooresville.

Article by Tesa Jones

Tesa Jones is a graduate of Elon College, now Elon University, a mother of two, a grandmother of five, and she currently resides in Mooresville with her husband. She is a published author, an avid blogger, and a passionate photographer. Learn more about Tesa Jones at www.booksbytesajones.com/book and contact her via:

cobwebsoftime@gmail.com

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