The country recently recognized the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. About 300 miles from the nation’s capital, some people recall life in segregated Cary.
Ralph Ashworth saw segregation through the lens of a business owner – he bought his drugstore and soda fountain in 1957 and still owns it today.
Jeannette Evans, Linda Evans, Herbert Bailey, Carolyn Rogers and Sallie Jones grew up in black neighborhoods of Cary and Apex.
Ralph Ashworth: In 1957, we didn’t have much of a black community in Cary, but here in the segregated South, it was very bad. At that time African-Americans did not sit down and eat at our soda fountain. There were no signs or anything. It was just understood that they shouldn’t do that, but they could carry everything out. African-Americans did come to Ashworth Drugstore to get their drugs.
Jeannette Evans: Cary was a one-horse town with one policeman, one stop light and all dirt roads except the main street. We really didn’t have any problems, black or white, because we all knew one another. When I grew up, we couldn’t sit down at the Cary lunch counter. We could go in and buy anything we wanted but we had to carry it out. Another place on Highway 54 would sell us hot dogs, but we had to go around the back and knock on the door. That place is torn down now. We had at least two grocery stores in Cary where they gave us credit.
Linda Evans: Evans Road was dirt and only a few families lived on it. I remember going to Winn Dixie for groceries, where Sorrell’s is now on Harrison Avenue. Our parents would park behind the store and go into the back door. I think the store was segregated because they would come out the back. I remember a small grocery store on Highway 54 near Academy Street called Terrell’s Groceries. It was owned by a white man, but James, who worked in the meat department, was black. My mother would go in there to buy meat and other things.
Herbert Bailey: Evans Road once dead-ended into Highway 54. There was a place on that corner called Stone’s Barbeque, a combination barbecue restaurant and grocery store. As a kid, I’d save my money all week to buy a Tootsie pop at Stone’s Barbeque.
Carolyn Rogers: I remember going to a movie once in Apex. It was segregated, so you had to go upstairs to the balcony. There was a store in Apex called John Beasley’s General Store. The Beasleys welcomed the black farmers, and extended credit to them. That’s the only store I can remember being allowed to go into in downtown Apex. In Cary, Terrell’s Grocery Store on 54 Highway is where my parents got groceries.
Sallie Jones: We would always go to Hobby’s Grocery store to buy candy. Mr. Hobby had this black guy working with him named Russ. We looked for Russ because for your nickel you may get five pieces of candy, or maybe six. Growing up, on Saturday we could take our allowance nickel to Adams Drugstore to get a cone of ice cream. We bought our staple foods at Hobby’s Grocery or catch a ride into Raleigh to shop at the A&P.
Cary’s Heritage was taken from the book “Desegregating Cary,” first published in February 2010. The book is a collection of oral-history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker.