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Interview #3 with Stanford R. Brookshire

Brookshire, Stanford R.
White, Jane
Date of Interview: 
Charlotte mayors; Brooklyn neighborhood; Urban renewal; World War II; Depression
Stanford Brookshire gives his early recollections of coming to Charlotte, how the city changed, and highlights some of his achievements as mayor of Charlotte during the 1960s.
Charlotte, 1920s - 1970s
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
SB (Stan Brookshire): Will this do for a level?
JW (Jane White): That's fine.
SB: Just a normal conversation.
JW: Um-hum.
SB: Well, thank you for the opportunity to record some of my recollections and some of my, my memories of early Charlotte particularly. I came to Charlotte right out of college ( ) Duke University, 1927. That means that I've been here fifty-two years. I do have some recollections of Charlotte back in those you might in your terms think of ancient days.
JW: Oh, no. [laughter]
SB: When I came to Charlotte the population here was approximately 80,000 which means that the corporate limits of Charlotte now contains about four times that population. A growth of four times over the size of the city in 1927. There were many beautiful old homes in Fourth Ward, a lot of Charlotte's old families were still living on North and South Tryon Streets. Most if not all practically all those lovely old homes of course have been sacrificed to commercial development. But at that time Charlotte was showing signs of vigor and growth. I would say that in the fifty-two years that I've been here I've watched it grow remarkably as a viable progressive growing city.
JW: May I ask you was the downtown section where it is now?
SB: The downtown section of Charlotte was confined primarily the commercial area of, the, the business section of Charlotte was composed primarily of Tryon and Trade Streets and College and Trade Streets. Contained perhaps within, the business section was contained within four or five blocks of the Square in each direction. And incidentally West Trade at that time was the real good street and East Trade was the lesser liked. And so now it's just the reverse. So, East Trade is a much better street than West Trade.
JW: Did those streets have buses or streetcars go down them?
SB: We had streetcars. Oh, yes. And you had anywhere in the city of Charlotte either direct with passes or seven cents anywhere you wanted to go. Imagine that. When I mentioned a moment ago that Charlotte was showing signs of development and growth when I came here, the First National Bank building which later became Liberty Life Building then the Ball Building and I believe now is the NC Bank Building first block of South Tryon Street was just being finished. The new courthouse and city hall on East Trade Street had just been completed. In fact, the courthouse was not quite complete because I remember I remember the old courthouse down on South Tryon Street where First Union National Bank is now.
JW: Right
SB: The Hotel Charlotte's been moved. Charlotte was really beginning to take on growth and importance as a southern city.
JW: Were the train station set in the same place?
SB: Train station was on West Trade Street. The building across has now been gone,I'd say, twenty years, fifteen, eighteen years anyway.
JW: Well, well, was Charlotte a hub for the railroad or not, I mean?
SB: There was one main line between Washington and Atlanta of course, butSpencer, Salisbury had the Southern Railway shops and so forth. Incidentally it's interesting that when Southern first extended the line between Greensboro and Atlanta the route was laid through Lincolnton and the people in Lincolnton objected to it and that's how Charlotte got the railroad.
JW: Came to Charlotte.
SB: That's been something over a 100 years ago. Among the early movers and doers in Charlotte were Cameron Morrison who when I came to Charlotte just about that time was finishing his term as Governor of North Carolina. Curtis Johnson who was publisher of the Charlotte Observer. ( ) Dowd of the Charlotte News. And William H. Belk. J. B. Ivey. George Ivey, David Ovens Sr.. ( ) Wood. ( ) Ivey Stewart ( ) Luther Snyder, R. S. Dixon, Charles Lambeth, who I believe was married when I came to Charlotte. J. H. Wearn, Clarence Quester, Chamber of Commerce booster, Tom Glasgow, and Harvey Moore. And I'm sure there were still others that I don't recall at the moment. But one of the chief assets Charlotte has had over the years at least during those fifty-two years I've lived here from my observation the chief asset, as been very fine level of citizenship. Most of them native born, most of them civic minded, willing to work for the city, and out of that citizenship we've grown over the years a dedicated leadership in business and civic affairs as well as church and so forth. Charlotte has had a reputation, well deserved I think, of having good sound and honest local government. It's by that there's never been any aggravations of a ( ) dishonesty or anything of the sort from the government.
JW: Do you include yourself in ( ) the list?
SB: [laughter] I guess I wouldn't deny the fact that I've always tried to be honest and hardworking and I enjoyed serving as mayor of Charlotte through those years of the 60s, 61-69.
JW: Those were not easy years either.
SB: No, we, we faced some real problems in the 60s that were more crucial than other social problem since the civil war. I'm referring of course to the demands the movement of black citizens and their demands for equal rights of citizenship and opportunities and so forth. And of course I brag a little bit on Charlotte when I say that we were able to drop discrimination in places of public accommodations in Charlotte more than a year before the civil rights act of 1964 required it.
JW: I see, um-hum.
SB: That was due in large part to the intelligent business and civic leadership of Charlotte. We were able to by doing that we were able to avoid catastrophic confrontation so many cities in the south experienced. In fact, the cities of the North didn't entirely escape, as you know. Let's cut it off for a moment.
JW: Sure.
SB: I said a moment ago that Charlotte showed signs of progressive dynamic growth back in the late 20s. Specifically beginning my first experience living in Charlotte in 1927. That growth has continued unabated the last fifty-two years except for a period during the great depression, when things came to a standstill all over like this. And of course during World War II when all construction except for military purposes was curtailed by the federal government. It's the most phenomenal growth however has occurred in the last fifteen to eighteen years. When I went to city hall as mayor in 19 and 61 we had 238 acres of the most disgraceful slime and disease ridden slums you can imagine called Brooklyn. That area, area of Brooklyn, 238 acres was in the heart of Charlotte within a stone's throw of Tryon Street lying chiefly between Trade Street and East Morehead. Between College Street and a McDowell Street. So in 19 and 61 we started an urban renewal program here which incidentally was not too popular at the time because many business people, particularly those who owed property in Brooklyn didn't think that it was right under a program of urban clearance to condemn personal property if necessary, clear it and to sell it to someone else for development. But we succeeded in clearing it Brooklyn in five phases over a period of ten years. And about the middle of the 60s we were able, the city was able to develop an agreement with Southern Railway a cooperative development program or plan which Southern lifted all of its obsolete warehouses and spurlines lying chiefly between between College Street and Brevard Street. That was about twenty-five acres, and you add that to the 238 acres of urban renewal clearance, you can now appreciate the development that is occurring on that side of the business core earth city. Stop a minute. TAPE STOPS
SB: Before I leave the subject of Brooklyn I need to mention the fact that the clearing of it was quite timely in view of the race problems of the 60s because we could have had another Watts there had we not moved to clear Brooklyn and remove those families and put them into better housing. Of course, at that time we started again to rebuild public housing. There had been 2000 units built some twenty years before and nothing had built in about twenty years so we launched a program for building public housing for the low income families that largely occupied Brooklyn. Also, I want to mention the fact the connection with the the demands of blacks in Charlotte and elsewhere for equal rights and opportunities, I want to give credit to the mayor's community relations committee, which led the effort to persuade business people of Charlotte to drop discrimination based on color, creed, religion other external factors. And the chamber of commerce, Ed Burnside who at that time was president of the chamber got behind the effort, called a meeting of the executive committee and subsequently the next day a meeting of the full board and passed a resolution recommending to the people doing business in the city of Charlotte--
JW: Excuse me just a minute.
SB: When the chamber of commerce board which incidentally took an interesting action when you consider the fact for years and years the chamber had refused to admit black members, but on this occasion voted to unanimously to recommend to the business public that discrimination be dropped in Charlotte voluntarily. That action was followed up by unique method of implementation. The white leaders of Charlotte were asked to take Black leaders on specified days and by pre-arrangement to Charlotte restaurant that would agree to the plan to take black citizens leaders of Charlotte as their invited guests. When that was done, the ice was broken of course. It was a unique move in the South and was an incident of moves that made national and international note. I remember getting a memorandum or letter from a friend who was travelling at that time in Sweden send me a copy of a newspaper over there a part of a copy of the story in the local newspaper over saying that Charlotte had voluntarily desegregated places of public accommodation. It was a quite a mark of distinction in the South. So I have said for the months before indicated that Charlotte's so progressiveness, willingness to face realities and when you consider the alternatives actually that was really a smart move for Charlotte to make and it showed our leadership of cities as individuals. I think it might be said that Charlotte took this voluntary action to recognize the rights of black citizens as human beings and as citizens out of a city pride social conscious and economic consideration. So back to the growth of the 60s and early 70s of Charlotte. We've had a phenomenal growth and development in the core area of the city. Stimulated by as I said before the change of Brooklyn and Southern Railways obsolete warehouse area. First Union National Bank was the first to take advantage of what was foreseen as a new faith in Charlotte and built First Union tower facing College Street. Subsequently NCNB, North Carolina International Bank built on the corner and developed the NCBC plazas including the Radisson Hotel. And in between the two between the Radisson Hotel and First Union Tower Southern National Bank put up a beautiful high rise office building. Let's cut it off for a moment.
SB: Another factor that influenced the business, explosive business growth core city of Charlotte particularly that facing Southeast, into the old Southern Railway Property area and Brooklyn was the city's willingness to build a new civic center. That was a part of the agreement with Southern Railway was that if Charlotte developed the interior streets and expressway system and built a civic center that Southern would build a merchandise mart, and a hotel. Which incidentally they haven't yet built, and I'm sure will sooner or later perhaps sooner I hope. And the civic center itself development showed the confidence of city government in the development of all that open land that was cleared to urban renewal. I think I should say something about Charlotte as a livable city. It has beautiful residential areas, its citizens are noted as being church going people. It's been said that Charlotte has more churches per population than any other city except Edinburgh, England I believe. But all that I think ties into the human development in Charlotte and in addition it's attention to the needs of the low and middle-income families of the city. It has developed over the twenty, four or five years a real esprit de corps in the area of sustaining health and charitable institutions most prominent of which of course would be our United Way. Twenty-five years ago I think it was called United Community Services. Rather it was called Community Chest under United Community Services what became United Appeal and more recently United Way. 1956 I served as chairman of the annual United Appeal drive and was the first year that Charlotte raised in excess of a million dollars for its associated charities. And under the direction of Gordon Berg, director here in 1955, Charlotte has now for some twenty-four, twenty-five years not only meet but has exceeded every goal. I think that says something for the, for the quality of character of the citizens of Charlotte. Not only for the leaders, but also for the response by the citizens in general. United Community Services also sponsored in 1958 the first, first community foundation now known as the Greater Charlotte Foundation, which is making great strides at the moment. Doing really well. Gordon Berg has retired as director of USC and is now is director of the Greater Charlotte Foundation. It's just something I had a small part in and take some pride in the progress of that the Greater Charlotte Foundation is making.
JW: Excuse, Mayor Brookshire, can you tell me about the hospitals. Memorial Hospital ( ) and a new hospital, was this started during your term or?
SB: No, ( ) The Memorial Hospital was started with a public solicitation drive. I would guess now twenty-five years ago or so that was before I was active in either the chamber of commerce or in local government. But I did have a part in that first drive that resulted in the building, first building of Memorial Hospital and has been expanded now several times. And I believe at the moment at this time has in excess of 800 rooms. It has gained reputation of being one of the finest hospitals in the South. Can I stop a moment.
SB: I think perhaps I have said enough particularly in those matters in which I had a part. Let me say that I have enjoyed living in Charlotte. I've been more successful than I deserve. I've had more honors than I deserved. And the honors that have come to me have come as a result of the efforts of a great many of people. I'm doing things for which I was given credit.
JW: I think your being modest.
SB: I like to brag on Charlotte and I've often said that Charlotte is a vibrant progressive growing city large enough to be cosmopolitan and is in many respects. Yet small enough to be friendly, old enough to possess rich traditions, young enough to be strong and vibrant, rich enough to be generous, poor enough to embrace work. With all possessing a heart and a social conscious that embraces the needs and the interest of all the citizens regardless of race, religion, or any other external factors.
JW: Well, Thank you very much.
SB: You're welcome.
JW: You certainly put it just the way it should be and I think you're being very modest about these awards and tributes you've received.
SB: More or less I've been in the right place at the right time.