Slades Chapel (1961)

Slades Chapel is a story where, under the surface, a group of women emerged to lead their children and their families into the forefront of civil rights action in Burke County through their efforts to seek equality in their children's education. They worked within the system, using nonviolent means, and they pushed progress. Their own children were among the first students who integrated local schools. Most lived on West Concord Street in a traditionally black neighborhood. They called themselves the West Concord Street mothers; over time, they've become known locally as the "Seven Mothers." Their efforts spread to other areas of life and others in the community joined in.  

The mothers started out trying to do what they could to improve the materials provided to their children in schools. The band students at Olive Hill High School wore suits that were handed down from the white schools. The mothers sewed and repaired the old band uniforms to make them better for their children. They also repaired the old textbooks that were also hand-me-downs from the white schools, gluing and taping them together as necessary and "trying to make them look decent". Perhaps at these meetings, they discussed some of the injustices and inequalities they observed in the schools. The mothers wanted the opportunity for their children to take more classes that would increase their job opportunities after school. "At Olive Hill, for example, typing and shorthand were not offered". So the women worked with alumni and the PTA to purchase tables and typewriters for the class and a teacher volunteered to teach it after school. These actions laid the groundwork for their involvement in educational changes to come. 

In September of 1961, the group of concerned mothers approached the Morganton City School Board and the Town Council to request assistance in providing transportation for their children to attend school across town. The schools were segregated and the school for black children was Mountain View School, which opened in 1958 and was over a mile from many of the students' homes. There were no school buses in the city school system, and public 

transportation was expensive. Although the women worked outside the home, they made less than $20 per week. Many black women at that time worked in domestic jobs, cleaning homes and taking care of families, due to limitations in the kinds of jobs available to them. For one of the women, it would cost $9 of her $20 weekly salary to pay for lunch and transportation for four of her children to attend school. They asked for assistance from the school and town leadership. They emphasized that they wanted their students to stay at Mountain View School but they also "pointed out that if something is not done about this that the colored children plan to enter white schools next year." This was the first challenge to the segregated school system in Burke County, initiated by a group of humble yet vocal mothers. 

Black and white group photo of African Americans standing in front of a church (Slades Chapel) in formal church attire.
Slades Chapel AME Zion Church Congregation, 1966, courtesy of Burke County Library



Beach, John W. "No Transportation To School Allowed." The News Herald, 19 Sept. 1961.
Cable, Dorothy. "City School Board Assigns Negroes." The News Herald, 11 June 1963.
Fleming, John E. "Open Forum: Sees No Racial Progress." The News Herald, 6 June 1963.
Largent, (Mrs.) Mildred. "Open Forum: Practicing and Preaching." The News Herald, 3 Apr. 1964.
Moore, W. Stanley. "Decision Has Been Expected." The News-Herald, 11 June 1963.
Moore, W. Stanley. "Don't Blame Death On Press." The News-Herald, 13 June 1963.
Riddle, H. L. et. al. Minutes: Regular Meeting of the Board of Aldermen of the Town of Morganton, 11 Sept. 1961. Book 9, pp. 100-102.