“Personalities of the Eastside” draws crowd to June’s installment of Tales of Tryon

Published 1:17 pm Monday, July 1, 2024

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TRYON—The latest installment of the Tryon History Museum’s Tales of Tryon series took place on Thursday, June 13, at the Roseland Community Center. Dr. Warren Carson, educator, leading citizen, and raconteur, reprised his 2023 “Walk on the Eastside” performance in grand fashion with “Personalities of the Eastside and Environs: Entrepreneurs, Educators, Ecclesiastics, and Everyday People.”

Carson is a born storyteller and teacher. His long tenure as a college professor burnished these skills to a fine luster, and his talks always demonstrate why his classes at the University of South Carolina Upstate were long among the school’s most popular. Add to this his growing up on Tryon’s Eastside as a keen observer of people and their lasting impact on the community, and you have an unbeatable recipe for an hour of learning, laughter, and reflection.

Carson first reminded his audience that place has always been important to Southerners but then noted that it is people who create the history and the culture that give a place its identity. With that, he announced his intention to talk about “the notable, the noted, and the notorious.”  

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On his way to doing so, he pointed out that the African American community in Tryon extended to all points of the compass, that the Eastside was merely the heaviest concentration of settlement—hence, his use of the word “environs.”

A significant commercial area in fact lay just to the west of Trade Street, where Rogers Park is now located. Near the present park entrance stood a building that housed the Moonlite Grille and the Massey Beauty Shop, owned by neighborhood fixture Carrie Lee Massey. Massey was not only a New York City-trained beautician, she was a nurse’s assistant, longtime community activist, and member of the Tryon City School Board. Her versatility was not unique among Tryon entrepreneurs; it was a characteristic shared by many in the African American community.

While the Massey Beauty Shop was a gathering place for women, Hannon’s Barber Shop was a place where men not only got haircuts but exchanged news, gossip, and collective wisdom, all presided over by the highly opinionated Edgar Hannon, a Tryon All-Stars ball player, and a member of the family that ran Hannon’s General Hauling, the town’s oldest family-owned business.

Hannon’s contemporary, James Bryan Sr., ran Bryan’s Store, which sold “a little of this, a little of that” and “dozed but never closed.” How Bryan could doze is hard to fathom; he was a scoutmaster, Episcopal layman, president of the Polk County NAACP, and a vacuum cleaner salesman. “He was going to sell you something,” according to Carson.

Educators Esther Wilkins Robinson and Helen Harris Hannon were among the molders and shapers of young lives and minds at Edmund Embury School. Mrs. Harris instilled lessons of savings and thrift by encouraging students to save a nickel a week, which she deposited into an account for each student and presented to the student with accumulated interest upon graduation.  Other educators included Professor Lewis W. Thompson Jr., Coach A.C. Bobbit, and principals Herman “Booty” Green, R.L. Webster, and Cedric Jones.

Numbered among the ecclesiastics—ministers and pastors of the community—were the Rev. J.W. Johnson (also a high school English teacher) at Garrison Chapel Baptist, Rev. Charles Roman at St. Lukes CME, Mary Kay Waymon, the only woman ordained as a minister and the mother of Nina Simone, Harold Cox, a Baptist and social activist, and Charles Marion Carson, a founder of the NAACP. The contributions of these men and women to the growth and stability of the community were invaluable.

Last, but by no means least, were the everyday people—the laundresses, caterers, cooks and purveyors of whatever people might need—who were “the warp and woof” of the community.  Too numerous to mention by name, many were known by nicknames— “Clip Ear,” “June Bug,” “Pee Wee,” “Lil’ Bit,” two “Bucks,” and several “Ducks” among them. Carson admitted that he didn’t know some of these people’s given names until after he reached adulthood.

The next stop on the Tales Trail will be September 26; the speaker and place will be announced soon.


Submitted by Dick Callaway