- 1 Black Workers at American Enka: Few and Mostly Invisible
- 1.1 Following Your Dutch Raising: Data Gaps and Timeworn Patterns
- 1.2 The Available Record, White and Black
- 1.3 Jobs by the Truckload: Young Blacks on a Hopeful Ride to Enka
- 1.4 Black Enka Plant Employees, 1929-1944
- 1.4.1 1929-1930: Early Hints of Employment Patterns
- 1.4.2 1930-1932: Trends and Impacts
- 1.4.3 1935: A Spectrum in Black and White, and Mocking “Julius Caesar” Hansberry
- 1.4.4 Many Whites and a Few Blacks: Enka and West Asheville, 1936-1938
- 1.4.5 Two Contemporary Hiring Norms: Black Workers at Hans Rees Tannery and Sayles Bleacheries
- 1.4.6 1940-1944: Enka’s Wartime Hiring of Blacks–or Not?
- 1.4.7 Shiloh Road (and Community): Jim Haynes and Others
- 1.5 A Black Maid at Home: Quiet Workaround for Executives Living in the Enka Village?
- 1.6 The Village as a (Small) “Sundown Town”
- 1.7 Epilogue: Fleishman Smith, B. M. Smathers, and Enka’s Racist and Corporatist Meta-stories
- 1.8 Invitation to Readers
- 1.9 REFERENCES
Black Workers at American Enka: Few and Mostly Invisible
I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. . . .
When they approach me they see only my surroundings,
themselves or figments of their imagination,
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
I am grateful to Anne Mitchell Whisnant for assistance with some of the digital documentary work in this post, for which we expanded and sharpened our critical and methodological skills while working together on our recently completed National Park Service historic resource study, Black Lives and Whitened Stories: From the Lowcountry to the Mountains (November 2020).1
Following Your Dutch Raising: Data Gaps and Timeworn Patterns
The object of this post is to inventory and analyze the employment situation for Blacks at the American Enka Corporation, to assess as much individual and group data and detail on Black employees as I have been able to discover (biographical, job descriptions, representations in company publications), and to set them within appropriate contextual frames.
These tasks would be the ones one might address with regard to normally expected data sources. But searching for “Black employees at Enka” (or related terms, online or off) is surprisingly unproductive. Why?
A central problem is the absence of primary documents. Troves of potentially useful documents were destroyed when Hominy Creek dumped 4-5 feet of water into the entire plant in 1940 and again in 1949.2
Data gaps or not, the inquiries that motivate this present post are economically, socially and culturally important, and prepared for in several previous posts: “The Best and Most Prosperous City”: American Enka and the Imagined Transformation of Asheville; Enka Builds a Labor Force: The Magic of Native-Born Mountain Workers; and American Enka Corporation Was a Dutch Company: Did It Matter, and If So, How?: Part I.
This post moves to the issue of the hiring of Black workers and their treatment after hiring.
The Enka plant began to hire in 1928-1929, and hired rapidly. So many jobs would have been enormously important at any juncture, but they were far more so when Asheville, tipped by the closing of the doors at Central Bank and Trust Company (where the city kept most of its funds), collapsed disastrously in November 1930.
That (and its aftermath) made the appearance of some 2,500-3,000 new jobs nothing short of a miracle.3
The jobs were indeed miracles for whites, but not for Blacks, of course, who at the time comprised 28% of Asheville’s population. Blacks’ “fair share” of 2,500 to 3,000 jobs would have been perhaps 700-840, but since Blacks never got anything like their mathematically proportionate share of jobs–good or bad–in any economic sector, such numbers have heuristic value only.
I elaborated upon the history of racism in Holland in Part I of this present post:
- the long and deep involvement of the Netherlands in the global slave trade;
- the post-Civil War persistence of strong racial divisions (and consequent racism) in Dutch society and culture;
- the tacit and official maintenance of a culture of denial with regard to that racial situation, and the minimization of it throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries;
- the impact of that culture upon the early-life and adult formation of high-level Dutch administrators sent to the U.S. to plan, build and operate American Enka;
- the collaboration between the site-seekers and the Asheville Chamber or Commerce to provide primarily white “mountain workers” for the plant;
- a persistent focus upon Dutch culture by Enka’s top executives and managers.
The leader of the site-seeking group was German-born and Holland-raised Dr. A. J. L. Moritz (b. 1883), who arrived in 1928 as a fully-formed (culturally and otherwise) 45 year-old, and remained as American Enka’s Technical Vice President until his retirement in 1949.4
Beyond “mountain white” workers, a major preoccupation was on what might be called the Dutch-ness of the Dutch: early managers and top executives, instructors of local workers, their families and connections with Holland.
Over the years, the Enka Voice carried scores of articles and illustrations with this emphasis.5
Other parts of the answer to the “Why so few Black employees?” question have to do directly with American Enka’s hiring and employment practices, once it opened and began to operate.
Despite the analytical and documentary challenges, the aim of this present post is to fill in–to the extent that still-available data allow–some of the many gaps in the story.
The Available Record, White and Black
If one wants to know about white employees at Enka, the available record is large.
For more than 40 years, the Enka Voice employee magazine offered literally thousands of names, job titles, family members’ names, vital dates and important occasions and the like, issue after issue. But not surprisingly, the volume and prominence of their coverage was skewed socially, culturally and racially.
The 1935 engagement announcement of Enka CEO A. J. L. Moritz’s Yale-educated son Leo (also an Enka employee) and his New England-bred and elite-school educated fiancée Virginia Gibbud was prominently featured, together with a photo by Culberson–Asheville’s leading studio, in the Enka Voice. It was one of many of its type in the employee magazine.
Announcements for lower-level employees featured an informal snapshot (if any image at all) and a brief text saying (more often than not) that the event took place in Greenville or Spartanburg SC (where it was quicker and cheaper).6
More broadly, Asheville newspapers tracked the company’s development on an almost daily basis. City directories regularly provided individual employees’ spouses’ names, community and/or street addresses, employment and/or marital (Miss, widow, single) status, job types (bookkeeper, cook, clerk, machinist, welder, laborer, salesman), and sometimes job titles (Supt., Mgr).
For white (and especially elite white) subjects, cross-checking such data with census records and other online sources (e.g. newspapers) is usually easy and productive.
Not so for Black employees. Searching for them is uncertain, tedious, time-consuming, and too often unproductive. City directories offer a useful (however limited) workaround, burdened as they are by serious limitations. Over the years they changed compilers/publishers, their data collection methods varied, the amount of data presented on any individual or entity was small, and they were above all commercial products, dependent upon advertising and sales for their survival. But along with the decennial census, marriage and death certificates, and the like, one can sometimes patch together a minimal snapshot.
I have used all of these sources to inventory the few Black workers Enka ever hired, and to provide a few details on the still fewer who ever received even marginal attention in the company’s own publications. These details are scant not because I think they are sufficient, but because they are all I could find.
Jobs by the Truckload: Young Blacks on a Hopeful Ride to Enka
The Asheville Sunday Citizen‘s lavish “Rayon Section” of September 23, 1928 announced that Asheville was to get the huge Dutch rayon plant that more than 50 cities had been vying for. Signs were that the $10 million plant was going to be put in place quickly.
By the following Wednesday, they were moving dirt, and concrete and steel were on order.7 General contractor H. K. Ferguson planned to assemble the entire labor force within 60 days.
Slightly more than a month later, a small Help Wanted notice said that “colored laborers” (by the bus or truck load) were needed at the site.
The doubling of Asheville’s Black population since 1920 (from 7,145 to 14,255), promised to make plenty of “colored” workers available. Truckloads of them, contractors hoped.
On November 8 at 6:15, the first truck–loaded with 51 young Black men–pulled away from Pack Square, headed west to Enka. Somewhere outside town, it “turned completely over” on a rain-slick curve, hurling all the men into a clay bank.
The “one white man on the truck,” said the newspaper report, “took charge of the situation . . . [and] calmed the excited negroes and kept things in hand.”8
Follow-up articles on the accident continued through the end of the month, some with (unsubtle) damage-control messaging, some referring to lawsuits filed by a few of the injured, and one to the death of a young Black man (E. W. Walker) from a broken back.
The outcome of lawsuits by poor young Black men against powerful white men and their companies was not surprising. “All of the [nine] plaintiffs are colored and minors,” the newspaper said. All the suits (against H. K. Ferguson Co., not American Enka) had been filed “by next friend” without legal counsel or assistance. And the jury found “negligence” on the part of each plaintiff. A Buncombe County Superior Court judge awarded 7 of the young men $5.00 [sic] each ; one got $112.50 and another $125. No compensation was awarded to E. W. Walker’s family.9
On January 1, Southern Railway announced that a spur into the Enka construction site would be available the next day, “with a low rate of fare . . . for the benefit of . . . employees of the Ferguson Construction Company.” A few days later, Ferguson advertised for “100 Laborers.” “Laborers” customarily meant Black, and although “Colored” did not appear in the advertisement, even its absence could have signaled that “no colored need apply.” The former “trucks and buses” were replaced by the 6:55 a.m. “shuttle train” from Southern’s Asheville station.10
Whether any of the plaintiffs (all named) returned to the site is not known.11 It does appear, however, that some Blacks had managed to get some sort of jobs at the site, whether as day laborers working for H. K. Ferguson, or longer-term employees for American Enka itself is not known.
Whatever the case, it soon became clear that some local whites were hostile to the presence of any Blacks at the site, whatever their jobs. Several days before Christmas, 12 to15 white men in 4 automobiles drove up to the new railroad siding and tacked a crude 8 x 12 inch sign to a post. “Take Notice,” it said, “Any negroes working on this job in 48 hours from now, it won’t be good for them.”
Among those working, “four or five negroes did quit,” the news article said, adding that “last night, two automobile [sic] loads of negroes, each containing 72 men, were taken to the property to work yesterday morning.”12 When they learned of the warning, however, “half of them left.”
Where Enka’s already formed and widely praised police department had been when 12 to 15 unmasked white men piled out of four automobiles to tack the warning to the post was left unexplained, but “officers said last night that none had been identified” and that “no arrests has [sic] been made.”
Black Enka Plant Employees, 1929-1944
What can one learn about those Blacks who did manage to get jobs at Enka? First, that the color line in Asheville had been carefully marked for more than 100 years, and that reminders of it were everywhere, especially with regard to jobs.
The earliest Asheville city directory I have seen (1883-1884) was divided into sections for whites and “Colored.” The latter included about 400 individuals, mostly designated as cooks, domestics, laborers, washerwomen, and the like, with some skilled workers (bricklayers and blacksmiths, carpenters, nurses, shoemakers and stonemasons). The Commercial section merged Blacks and whites, but Blacks were marked (col[ored]).13
The 1928 Asheville directory did not even include the term Enka, since the company’s arrival was not publicly announced until late September. “Enka” began to appear in individual entries in 1929-1930.14
In March 1929, four months before its actual opening in July, American Enka officials issued a formal call for labor. No reference was made to either Black or white workers, but clues ran throughout.15Anyone familiar with Asheville would have been able to tell (click the image below to see the entire Call in a separate window) that the Call was aimed toward white workers. Boxes for applications were placed in about 70 listed locations.
“Every man, girl or woman” did not mean every; it meant every white person.
In any case, Blacks were not allowed inside white eating establishments (restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, soda parlors) where boxes were placed.
No Black churches were included, although the 1929 city directory listed about 35 of them in Asheville. The few Asheville churches in the Enka list were of the “First” or “Central” variety (Baptist, Christian, Methodist): large, white, and located (safely) away from Black areas.
West Asheville locations were all on Haywood Road, where no Blacks lived.
Some locations were in upscale white suburbs (Beaver Lake, Biltmore, Woodfin).
Except for two outlying areas to the west (Waynesville and Clyde), one south (Hendersonville), one east (Black Mountain), and one north (Weaverville), other locations were in downtown Asheville–close to Pack Square on either Patton or Biltmore Avenue. The latter ones were close to the dense Black business area on Eagle Street, but there were no locations on Eagle Street itself, nor in any of the city’s other large Black areas.
Among the listed locations, the S. H. Kress “10-Cent Store” on Patton Avenue near Pack Square might have been the only place where Blacks were both likely to shop and be able to deposit an application quickly and anonymously.
Hence although no language in the Labor Call specifically excluded Blacks, the probable the outcome was biased in that direction.
1929-1930: Early Hints of Employment Patterns
Dutch officials signed their American Enka agreement in late 1928, near the peak of the city’s 1920s boom, two years before its catastrophic crash in November 1930.
For whites, that boom had brought new jobs, elegant downtown buildings and posh subdivisions, more tourists (with their dollars) and real estate buyers, and a lavish annual Rhododendron Festival to celebrate it all. For blacks it had brought a sharply contrasting menu of changes: inflation (from groceries to rents), more low-wage jobs, and intensified ghettoization.16
Enka hiring advanced rapidly in 1929-1930, but Black city directory listings were few. The 1929 directory announced the coming of the Enka plant, but did not contain a separate Enka community listing, as it did several years later. Of the approximately 20 Enka employees listed, only 2 were Black: Harry Bird, a laborer, living in a rented room at 35 Brookland [Brooklyn], “a colored settlement south of Biltmore”; and Lewis Zone, designated only as “employee,” rooming at 471 1/2 South French Broad.17
The 1930 edition, perhaps already in production in early 1929, before the plant opened in July, listed about 400 white employees, but only 3 Blacks (without job descriptions): William Bryant, 22 Knob Circle; Rosa Carlisle, 38 Smith; and John Smith, 59 Choctaw Street (all 3 were all-Black streets). Harry Bird of 1929 did not make it into the 1930 edition.
For whites and a few elites, the economic groundswell was under way. In June 1930, downtown drug store owner (and past president of the Chamber of Commerce)
John Goode (guided by some of American Enka’s recently-arrived “natives of Holland”) seized the moment to retrofit the 2nd floor of his drugstore (decorated with a Dutch clock and wooden shoes) as Goode’s Dutch Kitchen, “a modern, high-class place” for “globe trotters” and “world wide travelers.”18
At the opening, local dignitaries (including the Enka Voice editor and his wife) feasted on “a splendid six-course dinner” from recipes provided by Enka VP Dr. A. J. L. Moritz’s wife and “other Dutch ladies,” and served by “a dozen . . . competent little waitresses in Dutch costumes.”
Goode’s Dutch Kitchen was declared “the most successful effort . . . [ever] to provide “an adequate eating place in keeping with the growing importance of our world wide famous resort city . . . near the great Dutch rayon plant at Enka . . . which practically joins the city limits of Asheville” (OK, only 7 miles away).19
For Blacks, however, the employment news was not good, and they wouldn’t have been allowed to dine in the John Goode’s Dutch Kitchen, anyway, even if they could have afforded it.
1930-1932: Trends and Impacts
Enka employees listed in the 1931 directory increased sharply enough from the year before to hazard several generalizations:
- Virtually all were white.
- A large percentage were unmarried women (“Miss”), and more than a few widows.20
- The majority were living in West Asheville, and the directory also included South Asheville, Biltmore, Biltmore Forest, South Biltmore, Woolsey, Grace, Chunn’s Cove, Richmond Hill, Kenilworth, Vernon Hill, and perhaps a few others. But not farther-out ones, especially those lying to the west, where many other Enka employees lived and did their shopping.
- A substantial number of Enka-located small businesses were also included (e.g., the heavily advertised Moody’s Garage, a barber shop, a cleaners, a dry goods store, and others).
- The Enka Village was divided into 3 sections: Orchard Avenue, mainly for production workers; the Crescent/Oak/Pine section, for low- to mid-level executives and some skilled workers; and the Lake Drive/Hillcrest area, for upper-level managers and executives (most of them Dutch).21
However many the employees at this early point, and despite the fact that, even generously considered, Enka lay actually about 7 miles west of West Asheville, their economic and commercial ties were many, and there was wide agreement that the plant was making a major impact. Near the front of the directory, the city’s “The Land of the Sky” boosters touted the importance of “a $10,000,000 rayon plant, [that] has nearly doubled the total value of manufactured goods” in the Asheville area.
Taking the 1931 city directory (no doubt somewhat incomplete, but probably a reasonable way to compare with whites) as an index to Black employment, Enka seems to have had as few as 5 Black employees, all living in Asheville. William Bryant, Rosa Carlisle, and John Smith from the 1930 directory were no longer listed. Maid Carrie Anderson commuted every day from all-Black Buttrick Street. Jesse and William Sherard (brothers?, jobs unspecified) were living with another male family member at 16 Hibernia Street (all-Black).
Except for laborer Clyde Suber, no further information is accessible on these employees. For Suber, the 1931 directory said only that he was living in a rented room with his wife Zona at 34 Brick Street (all-Black). But the 1930 census added that he was 25, Zona was 22, both were able to read and write, and they had a 1 1/2 year-old daughter, Helen. Zona had no job, but Clyde was then working as a railroad brakeman. Two other Subers–Steve (24) and Agnes (23)–were sharing the space (and presumably the rent). All were born (Clyde and Steve as brothers?) in South Carolina.22
The Subers’ situation was not promising. Sometime before 1939, Clyde and Zona moved to 178 Eagle Street. In early 1939, Zona (“Zonnie”), then working as a “dom[estic]” at that address, died of diabetic gangrene in both feet at 29, leaving their 10 year-old daughter motherless. Shortly thereafter, the 1940 census says, Clyde (“Laborer, Rayon Mill”) became a “lodger” on Water Street with Mabel Fowler, then working as a maid at Enka.
Even such scant information as can be found on Black employees was not always complete or correct in a given source, or congruent between sources.
Head Porter Henry Summey was apparently the first (of never more than a few) Black workers to have his photo in the Enka Voice (March 1931).23 He married to Daisy Payne (June 30, 1928) when he was 24 and she was 19. The 1930 census listed him as “Janitor, Rayon Mill,” and Daisy as “servant, private family.” Whether the private family was living in the Enka area or not was not revealed.24
Had Henry in one year been promoted from janitor to Head Porter (wearing a white servant’s jacket)? Possible but unlikely, it seems. In the 1935 directory, he was listed (p. 573) as a cook, but no employer was given.
Similarly, trying to check on the “Walter Melvin, Hospital Porter” who appeared in a small April 1931 Enka Voice photo leads to confusion. The 1930 census said he was 48 years old, able to read and write, married (wife Bertha, 45 years old, unable to read or write) and with a 12 year-old daughter, and living in a house he owned on Shiloh Road in south Biltmore. He was working as “janitor, hospital” and she was “launderess, hospital.”
The 1931 directory listed another Black cook named Walter Melvin, also living on Shiloh Road (p. 497), but not employed at Enka–which his Enka Voice photo affirms that he was. Beyond that, the caption only jokes that he could have used some snow shoes (there was only a little bit of snow, actually), but the photo suggests that he could have used a warmer jacket.25
Beginning with the 1932 directory, I stopped counting (or even estimating) white Enka workers, because by then they were already outstripping Blacks by the hundreds. The directory listed only 2 Black workers: Walter Melvin, hospital porter from the prior city directory and the Enka Voice of the year before, as was Henry Summey–again as janitor rather than [Head] porter.26
1935: A Spectrum in Black and White, and Mocking “Julius Caesar” Hansberry
Unfortunately, no city directories were published during the Depression years of 1933 and 1934, but when they resumed in 1935, the “list of communities” included a separate section on Enka.27 A quick estimate suggests that perhaps 500 or so employees lived within the immediate area (perhaps 200 of them–all white, of course–within the Enka Village). And however many Black employees there were, none were identified as such (c) in the Enka section.
Since the Asheville Citizen had reported on March 1, 1930 that total employment was already more than 2,000, it likely was 2,500-3,000 five years later. The 1935 classified business section’s list of “Schools and Colleges–Private (White)” included the Enka Dutch employees’ Dutch School (3 Hillcrest Drive in the Village, p. 747), but an extensive “directory of householders” by street address (pp. 757-910) omitted Enka Village streets and some public roads and streets in the area heavily inhabited by Enka employees.28
One Black employee who deserved comment was Julius Caesar Hanberry [Hansberry], chef at the Enka Lake Club.29
Hansberry did not appear again in the city directory, but in May 1938 the Enka Voice published a (poor) photo of him. The caption downgraded his role from the city directory’s “chef” to “cook.”30 And the “This is Julius Caesar!” upper caption poked fun at giving a Black child such a pretentiously classical name.
In Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community (1984), however, folklorist and ethnographer Charles Joyner provides a possible explanation for Hansberry’s classical name: Within a slavery-based, Creolizing culture such as that of the South Carolina Lowcountry, Joyner says, slave masters felt entitled to bestow classical names upon their slaves’ offspring (e.g., Caesar, Cato, Juno, Pompey).
Instead of the Enka Voice‘s comic interpretation, then, a Black man of Hansberry’s age, one generation out of slavery, could have been given a by then family name, originally provided by a slavemaster, or by parents–born into slavery–who somehow managed later to gain some education in the classics.
The lower caption (also gratuitous and fun-poking) conflated “faithful” (widely used in the South to connote the obsequious faithfulness of Blacks to white masters) with “jack-of-all-trades,” which denigrated the status and skill of “chef” and suggested that his skills thereat were no greater than in any other of the trades he may have claimed to be “jack” (or Julius?) of.
The derision notwithstanding, Hansberry was an extraordinary employee. He had been the Enka Lake Club chef since at least 1938, and continued in that role until the mid-1950s. Working at the Club as lifeguard in those years, I saw Hansberry every day as he answered the bell at the kitchen door, took the bathing-suited kids’ nickels, and handed them a cup of ice cream with a flat wooden spoon. 31
Many Whites and a Few Blacks: Enka and West Asheville, 1936-1938
Of the several hundred Enka employees in the 1936 directory, a majority were living in West Asheville on identifiably “white” streets. Some were clerks, stenographers, and foremen; others worked production as spinners, coners, reelers, sorters, or twisters. Best paid were machinists, mechanics, pipe- and steam-fitters and lead-burners. Both lead-burners and spinners had hazardous jobs: the former welding (“burning”) the lead pipes that carried the sulphuric acid to the spinning roughs, and the latter breathing toxic acid fumes from the troughs while they watched liquid viscose become rayon filaments.
At the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum, the directory identified some upper-level Enka employees who could afford to live in more elegant and expensive locations.
Vocational Education Director J. Warren Smith chose West Asheville’s Lucerne Park, where coded language assured “high-class” potential buyers that they would not compromise their investment: “restricted”; “Just a touch of [Lucerne] Switzerland”; “unusual permanent protection”; protection from “cheaply constructed houses.”
Pilot Plant manager Pete VanScherpenzeel moved into a 1600 square-foot two-story on Brucemont Circle, and dye chemist Ross Stribling found Asheville’s Mildred Avenue apartments to his liking.
Topping them all, corporate secretary Vanderhooven came home every day to a unit in the newly built grand and imposing
Longchamps Apartments. County architectural historian Douglas Swaim later called it a “theatrical [combination] of Chateauesque and Tudoresque elements, in an agreeably grotesque amalgam,” 32
No marker for Black workers appeared in the directory, although job descriptors for several listings (e.g., laborer) could have implied “colored” jobs.33
For the following year (1937), I was able to verify only 4 Black employees (all living in Asheville): helper Rosa Carlisle, in an apartment on virtually all-Black Southside Avenue; Frank Davis (a waiter), and cook Julia Williams, both on all-Black Crescent St.; and Fleishman Smith, a laborer, at 9 Orange St. White men held all skilled jobs, and even some low-level generic ones (maintenance man, employee, helper), frequently held elsewhere by Blacks.
The 1938 directory contained only two verifiable Black employees, waiter Frank Davis and laborer Fleishman Smith, both still there from 1937. Smith’s time at Enka turned out to be short. I will explain why toward the end of this post.
Two Contemporary Hiring Norms: Black Workers at Hans Rees Tannery and Sayles Bleacheries
At this juncture it is useful to contrast Enka’s race-biased hiring policy with that of the large, long-established Hans Rees Tannery (founded 1868, opened in Asheville 1898), which was providing many jobs to Blacks while the Enka plant was providing almost none.34
In the 1939 Asheville city directory, all Blacks (and many whites) working at Hans Rees were classified as laborers, and all skilled workers (e.g., mechanics), watchmen (of whom there were quite a number), salesmen, superintendents and foremen were white. But Black jobs, such as they were, were at least available.
On the other hand, another local textile plant, Sayles Biltmore Bleacheries (opened just before American Enka), seems to have had a “few Black workers” stance similar to Enka’s.35
1940-1944: Enka’s Wartime Hiring of Blacks–or Not?
Hence ten years after it started hiring in 1929, Enka still had–to the extent one may trust city directory data–only a handful of Black workers.36
By 1940, having checked all directories from 1928 through 1939, it seemed unproductive to continue to search every volume.
It occurred to me, however, that with the coming of World War II in December 1941, one might reasonably expect an uptick in Black employees by 1943, given the departure of so many white male (and a few female) Enka employees to the armed services. So I checked the first half of the individual listings in the 1943 directory, and in the Enka Voice for the war years, and found that my expectation was not fulfilled.
There was in fact not a single Black employee. White employees, both male and female, serving in the armed services were regularly featured in the Enka Voice during the war years, but not a single Black was. Whether that means that, of the very few Black employees, no one was drafted or volunteered, or that one or more served, but without recognition from their workplace, I have no idea.37
The following year (1944) the directory included 11 Black employees–the highest number ever. But the dismissive (and racist) treatment and representations of them at Enka were unaltered. There appear to have been no Black women employees, male workers commuted from all-Black streets in Asheville or West Asheville, and all were in the lowest job classifications: undesignated “employee” (2), helper (1), laborer (5), janitor (2) and cook (1).38
Shiloh Road (and Community): Jim Haynes and Others
Not only during the war, but across all the years, steadfast, productive and competent Black workers were treated dismissively and denied the mobility and status that might have come to them had they been white.
A particularly striking example was James Haynes, “One of our oldest employees,” said a 1950 Enka Voice caption. Indeed he was: if he completed his 21 years “last September”(of 1950) he would have been hired in September 1929 (2 months after Enka opened in July), and would have already completed 15 years by 1944.39
Haynes’s 15th Enka anniversary (1944) had apparently passed without notice. He had not become a foreman, and was not photographed in a suit, receiving his ruby-studded 15-year pin in the usual ceremony. No company notice at all came until 1950, when he was presented (rather vaguely) in the Enka Voice as “of the Yard Department” and photographed in bib-front overalls, exhibiting his gigantic home-grown sweet potato, which Black people are stereotypically depicted as loving to eat, along with chittlins and collards.
A white “Maintenance Department worker” who had been hired 6 months prior to Haynes, and also had not, it appears, achieved any experienced-employee status, had had his well-dressed ceremonial moment 3 years earlier.
Upon his retirement in 1952, the Enka UTWA honored Haynes and another Black employee, and 30 white employees in separate racially-segregated ceremonies: Haynes’s and the other Black employee’s in neighbor Thomas Camp’s (misspelled Kemp in the newspaper) house on West Chapel Road in Shiloh, and the 30 white employees at the elegant downtown Art Deco S&W Cafeteria, which Blacks of course would not have been allowed to attend. Two UTWA regional and international officials spoke at the white ceremony.
When Haynes (still living in Shiloh) died in 1966 at age 80 of metastatic lung cancer, he left six living children, 24 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His daughter Emma died (at 43 in 1973) of cirrhosis. A younger daughter Florence died at 50 (in 1985) of “choronic and acute” ethanol abuse. In these two cases, at least, the stresses of Black life would seem to have extended to the second generation.
More broadly, key social and cultural information on Haynes had been occluded in the Enka Voice caption’s cryptic “lives on Shiloh Road near Biltmore” phrase.40
Shiloh Road was a main east-west through the historic Shiloh Community. Roughly bounded by I-40 on the north, US 25A on the west, Sweeten Creek Road on the east, and Rock Hill Road on the south, mostly Black Shiloh (together with adjacent Brooklyn, Rock Hill and Petersburg) was one of Asheville’s oldest Black communities, carved out of a local plantation based upon enslaved labor around 1870, and reconfigured after George Vanderbilt arrived in 1888.41
Besides Haynes, at least 5 (and likely more) Black Enka workers discussed here also lived in the Shiloh area: Edwin Brown and laborer Harry Bird on Brooklyn Street; Walter Melvin on Shiloh Road; Thomas Camp and waiter Henry Summey on West Chapel Road.
As historian John Ross and others have related:
“when Vanderbilt stood on the knoll where he planned to place his mansion, he could see . . . a log church on a low ridge (probably Possum Ridge then, Caribou Road now) to the north. The church was known as Shiloh. . . . [He] purchased [it] and land for $1,000,” and moved the families and church “to the eastern fringe of what became Biltmore Forest. . . . When that church burned in 1890, Vanderbilt and its pastor . . . built a new one of brick.”
Several decades later, the Rosenwald Fund provided money to build a new school, and additional churches and other changes followed. Construction of the I-40/US 25 interchange on the NW corner of the larger area destroyed portions of the small adjacent Brooklyn community. Problems with encroaching development, changing land-use patterns and gentrification plagued them from 1960 onward.42
Whatever the situations and characterizations of these several employees, and of Shiloh, I also suspect that my 1944 count of Black Enka workers may be somewhat low, as indicated by the building of a “Colored Cafeteria” in June 1944 (15 years after the plant opened).43
Archival drawings of the Men’s Cafeteria and the Colored Cafeteria show that the latter was far smaller than the former–no doubt because it served far fewer employees.44
Manifestly, the Dutch planners and executives had managed to create and maintain an almost exclusively white labor force for a large manufacturing plant situated within an urban/suburban/rural area with a substantial Black population.
From the beginning, they made clear that they did not want a significant number of permanent Black workers. They structured their hiring and employment system to almost entirely exclude them, and thus had to deal with them almost not at all.45
And that, as the saying goes, was that.
But not entirely.
A Black Maid at Home: Quiet Workaround for Executives Living in the Enka Village?
Despite objections to hiring Blacks at the plant, some higher-level Enka technicians, scientists, managers and executives (mostly Dutch, but also a few non-Dutch) hired Black maids, cooks, and childcare workers for their Enka Village residences.46
The 1930 enumeration was too early to reflect the earliest (1929) Enka employees in Lower Hominy, but contains a few clues, nevertheless.
At 2 Hillcrest, in the upscale (almost totally Dutch) section of the Village, plant manager Joseph Gill (himself a New Jersey native) and his wife Pauline had hired 28 year-old Black Ethel Aiken as servant. She could read and write, but had married at 16 and (likely) dropped out of school.47
Across the street at 5 Hillcrest, civil engineer Jan Heykoop and his wife Josina, both born in Holland and in their early 30s with 2 young children, had hired single, 25 year-old Black servant/maid Joanna [?] Bratton.
Meanwhile, another nearby family, the Windhagens (from Germany), were augmenting their income by taking in boarders.48
Four other Dutch families on the same street, the Slikkers (he was an engineer), Gorters (job illegible), Bouhuyses (textile engineer?), and Spaanbroeks (instrument maker and chief photographer for the Enka Voice), had neither boarders nor maids.
The 1935 directory–the only one that had a separate Enka section, offers an additional between-censuses sidelight on Blacks and Enka:
Maid Beulah Higgins was living at 87 Livingston St. (almost entirely Black) in Asheville with her husband James (and at least several children, it appears), and working at (mid-level) 2 Oak Street in the village for C. R. Hall, a knitting expert at the plant.49 For her, that job represented an economic step up. Five years earlier, the 1930 Census said she (born in South Carolina) and was 37
years old and was not working. By the time of the 1940 census, she was 47 years old, no longer had her Enka village job (step up or not), but was working as a seamstress in the clothing industry and living at 40 Congress St., an all-Black street that ran off (also all-Black) Southside Avenue.
Maid Allie Zachary was working at 40 Orchard Ave. for Baylous C. Nicholson and his wife Estell. Oddly, neither Nicholson’s job title nor description is given.50
On the more upscale streets in the village (Lake Drive and Hillcrest Avenue) there were a number of such arrangements.
Ruth Kearse worked as a maid in the employees’ Enka Lake Club on Lake Drive, returning each evening to her family of 8 at 30 Oakdale Avenue (all-Black) in Asheville.51
Across from the employee Club House, at 4 Lake Drive, Mary Leher worked as cook for chief engineer P. P. Kriek and his wife Henny (both Dutch).52
At 2 Hillcrest, power engineer Paul N. Pittenger and his wife had a maid named Annie Morrison who lived north of the plant on Highway 10. Also on Highway 10 lived maid Janie Simpkins, who worked at 7 Hillcrest (employee resident’s name not given).
Maid Estelle Johnson worked across the street at 8 Hillcrest for Enka chemist Joseph Houtman and his wife Joanna (both Dutch). She lived on all-Black Fair St.53
A few doors up from the Pittengers (12 Hillcrest), Juanita Owens worked for Buck and Myrtle Arnold. Buck was “supervisor of outside properties,” an important position, since Enka owned and managed more than 2,000 acres in the area.54
Next door to the Pittengers (14 Hillcrest), Mattie Sullivan worked for chief of pump and filter plant operations John Gorter and his wife Gertrude. Sullivan also lived on Highway 10 (for which there is no street listing).55
Plant manager J. R. Gill lived at 2 Lake Drive, chief chemist J. J. Schilthuis and his wife Henny at #3, Jan Heykoop and his wife Josina at #5, and Detmer Hubbeling and his wife Margot at #6, but no maids were listed for those addresses.56)
These are the executive-level employees with maids or cooks I was able to locate in the 1935 directory. I suspect that there were others who did not turn up in the directory searches, so that the actual number of Black maids hired by Enka Village residents may have been somewhat higher.
By the time of the 1940 census, the Village was completely built out and occupied, so the 1940 census data are better than those of 1930.57
Black maid Jenny Simpkins, married and 30 years old, with a 5th grade education, was working for Peter Kriek and his family.58
Hannah Poole, Black, single, 26 years old, and with one year of college, was working as a maid for Dutch chief building engineer Jan Heykoop and his wife to help care for their three children (2, 11, and 13 years old).59
Young New Jersey native Francis Brezeale and his Henderson County-born wife Inez (both 27) had chosen Estelle Gist, a 40 year-old widowed white woman from Asheville, to help them care for their small child.60
Dr. William Brewton, Enka’s staff physician, and his wife Zillha hired married, 30 year-old Black June Wilson from South Carolina as their maid, presumably to help care for Brewton’s 84 year-old mother, who lived with them.61
Virginians Carwitch Jolliff (a microscopist) and his wife Ethel hired Amelia [Glenn?], Black, single, 25 years old, with a 6th grade education, to help them care for their four children (6, 10, 12, 14).62
Vice President A. J. L. Moritz’s young son Leonard and his wife Virginia (presumably the Leo Moritz and Virginia Gibbud whose 1935 engagement is described above) hired 35 year-old, widowed, Black Pearl Reed, with a 7th grade education, as maid and caretaker for their 2 year-old daughter.63
Aleidus Bouhuys and his wife (Bernadina?), both Dutch, hired 25 year-old Black Rose Heard, divorced and with a 7th grade education, as maid and caretaker for their two daughters (10 and 8). 64
Chief chemist Jon Schilthuis and his wife Marie(both Dutch) employed single, white 19 year-old Ethel Maynard to help care for his 77 year-old father and their two young children. The Schilthuises were not the only couple to choose white over Black, but most made the opposite choice.65
Employment manager Edward (“Mac”) Salley (34) and his wife Mary (28) (likely residence Lake Drive) hired married South Carolina-born Black Jessie Thompson (45), a high school graduate, as maid and caretaker for their 1 year-old daughter Vernon [sic]. Vernon was almost certainly the daughter we who later swam at the Enka Lake Club and rode the school bus together knew as Kay.66
Foreman of mechanics Jake Schoonderwoerd (with 5 years of college) and his (high school graduate) wife Johanna (likely address 14 Crescent Avenue, next door to my family) employed 19 year-old, single Black Lucy Jenkins, with a 7th grade education, as maid.67
Since with only a couple of exceptions, Black maids in the 1930 and 1940 censuses and the 1935 Enka directory do not overlap, it seems reasonable to estimate that there were perhaps 20 or so of them employed (not all necessarily at the same time) in the Village during these years.
In any case it is important to bear in mind that simply counting the number of Black employees in the plant or maids and cooks in the Village does not tell everything about racism at American Enka. There was also (as always in such cases) an underlying, supporting, rationalizing climate and culture of racism that manifested in a variety of other ways.
The Village as a (Small) “Sundown Town”
One way that American Enka provided comfortable elite lifestyles for Dutch executives and managers was to build what they envisioned as a large employee town on the then-current, fairly progressive, garden city model. To implement the latest landscaping and design paradigms, they hired an Olmsted brothers student, Harold Brown Swope, who had worked on the Biltmore Estate.
The development and its associated civic, service and commercial buildings were to be situated along winding, picturesque roads stretching across much of Enka’s 2,000 acres, and accommodate thousands of workers. Although scaled down considerably within the plant’s first decade, it carried forward the plan’s Progressive model, albeit within a class-stratified framework that underlay the architectural design of residences.68
The village houses on the Enka Voice photo at left were either one- or two-story, and had 5 or 6 rooms, while those on Hillcrest Avenue and Lake Drive ranged from there up to 16 rooms for the imposing 4500sf, tile-roofed domicile of Vice President Moritz overlooking the Enka Lake.
However expansive and well-maintained the village proved to be in many respects, its operation was tightly controlled by the plant’s Police Department, whose superintendent Frank C. Conder was also its designated manager.69
According to a July 1931 news report, Enka’s 16 policemen (also sworn county deputies and state policemen) investigated anyone who applied for a job in the plant, or to rent a house. They also kept and submitted records of “ill or absent employees,” and punched watchman’s clocks all over the premises from 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. every day. They drove buses to “transport schoolchildren living on corporate property to [their] schools.” Enka nurses also made “semi-monthly inspections of all the houses in the village, and reported “births, deaths, [and] contagious/infectious diseases.”
It was, the Asheville Citizen-Times averred, a police department “that would be the envy of many a town of several thousand residents,” meant to–among other objectives–keep a tight rein on the village. So why were they so tight? What did they think might happen without such watchfulness? What bad actors might they have been afraid of?
Whatever it was, we “village kids” were oblivious to it. We roamed the forests, played in the streets, visited in each others’ houses in complete freedom. No house door was ever locked.
I also spent many an evening riding around and chatting with the officers as they punched their clocks. During my high school years, I rode Enka buses to and from Lee H. Edwards High School in Asheville. And I never saw or heard anything that–in my youthful naiveté–I recognized as disturbing, threatening, or “out of the way.”
So much for youthful naiveté. Actually, as I learned much later, Enka officials were afraid mainly of two things: Black people, and unions and their organizers. Workers had begun union-organizing efforts immediately after the plant opened in 1929 and there was a major strike in 1940 (the subject of a later post).
A brief statement/requirement from the “Enka Plant Has Crack Police Department” article cited (and inserted) at left removes all doubt about the perceived Black threat. Among the various police duties enumerated (checking employees in/out of gate, issuing “visitor” permits, inspecting tools and materials passing out of gate, etc.), appears this cryptic requirement:
“To transport the servants employed in the village to Asheville each night, except Sunday, at 7:30 p.m.”
Reading this stricture reminded me of James Loewen’s Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (2005), which documents and examines towns (not just in the south, but spread across the entire country) from which Blacks were bound–by law, custom or numerous other stratagems and understandings–to leave by sundown. In many cases, long-established, racially diverse towns became sundown towns after violent assaults against Blacks by white residents.
North Carolina is only marginally present in Loewen’s book, but a few in-process data appear in the website. Lynching was widespread in western North Carolina after 1870. Blacks in overwhelmingly white Mitchell County dropped by 90% between 1890 and 1990, especially following the 1923 furor over a racially-charged rape incident.70
Sundown towns, as Loewen meticulously documented them, dating mostly from the 1890s to 1940, ranged from tiny hamlets–De Land IL (popn. 500) to Appleton WI (57,000 in 1970) to entire counties, and included large “sundown suburbs” (1900-1968) reaching from Darien CT to La Jolla CA, and “across the income spectrum.” Long Island’s 82,000-resident Levittown was a “sundown suburb,” along with Livonia MI and Parma OH (both 100,000+). Some large-population towns/suburbs, Loewen established, had–due to circumstances beyond their control–a token number of minority families (e.g., Detroit’s 180,000-person Warren had 28 who lived within a U.S. Army facility).
Indeed, Loewen concluded, “outside the traditional South,” where paradoxically “sundown towns are rare . . . probably a majority of all incorporated places kept out African Americans” (his italics). As a single example, he chose Illinois, 75% of whose 671 towns of 1,000+ people “were all-white in census after census 71 Fully documented and comprehended, Loewen argued, the U.S. was (and remains) a “sundown nation.” 72
Since the Enka Village was never incorporated as a legal entity, it could (and did) not enact official ordinances barring Black residence or “after-hours” presence. But de facto monitoring and control were completely within the purview of Frank C. Conder’s Enka police department. And in this case, that was more than sufficient to achieve the desired ends.
Besides the racist patterns, practices, regulations and tacit understandings considered in this post, the accompanying culture and climate were evident in and augmented by racist content within the employee magazine The Enka Voice, which is the topic of my next post.
Epilogue: Fleishman Smith, B. M. Smathers, and Enka’s Racist and Corporatist Meta-stories
I began assessing the story of Black workers at American Enka expecting that I would encounter a fair number of them, in various jobs and roles, over the 20 or so years I intended for this post to engage. That did not prove to be the case, but what did emerge was a racist culture reflected in management attitudes, policies (some already discussed above, some to come in a future post), and some none-too-subtle presentations of a few of those Black employees.
Several of the latter (e.g., Julius Caesar Hansberry and James Haynes) have already been discussed above. Two other employees (one Black, one white) merit further discussion, both individually and comparatively.
Fleishman Smith (mentioned briefly above) came to Enka in 1936, but was there for a relatively short time. He was present in the 1937 and 1938 directories, but not in 1939. He reappeared in 1940 and 1941 as “Fletcher” Smith, living (with wife Hattie) at 20 Hibernia Street (all-Black).
The March 1941 Enka Voice reported his death, but without any detail.73
Even his photo was an enigma, resembling nothing so much as an image from a police lineup. Was it taken at the time of his employment in 1936? Supplied by his family? Taken later at work by an Enka Voice photographer?
And what was one to make of the cryptic caption? The customary (sympathetic) phrase would have been “late lamented”–for someone who has died and is missed. Dropping “lamented” implied devaluation and denigration. The Enka Voice was not merely reporting, but taking a position on the meaning(lessness?) of a life.
Weeks later, when I had almost finished writing, the post didn’t yet feel finished. If there was a back story about Fleishman Smith, I wanted to find it, whatever it was, so as not to leave him–as the Enka Voice‘s treatment modeled–as an enigmatic nothing.
Fortunately, at least some bits of Smith’s story can still be discovered, now 80 years after his death.74
So what can one learn about Fleishman’s life before Enka? Most obviously, that he had grown up (at least from 8 years old, and probably earlier) amidst unstable and destructive circumstances. The record speaks of lack of regular education, child labor, later low-wage jobs, repeated family moves and separations, and personal/family loss and tragedy. Those circumstances would likely have compromised his (or any child’s) development: emotionally, socially, intellectually, and in terms of self-image, self-confidence, and stability.
Fleishman’s father Phillip Smith had married Willie Mae Gambrell when she was only 14 (ca. 1909). Their first son Sirvanus was born that same year (a “forced” marriage?), Fleishman two years later, and Nathan in 1913.75
In the Anderson County SC, Broadway Township census for 1920 (taken in January), the 3 brothers (12, 10 and 8) are living with their grandmother Caroline Gambrell. Neither father nor mother was listed in the household, headed by Caroline. In a second (February) version of the same census, Caroline was working as a farm laborer (General Farm) and Sirvanus and Fleishman as farm laborers (Home Farm).
Caroline very likely was born into slavery in Danville, SC (not indicated on available maps). Her 1933 death certificate gives her own mother’s name as Carolin[a?] Priman, but no name for her father. It also says she worked as a midwife. The 1880 Anderson County, Broadway township census lists her as 26 years old (thus born in 1854), married to farm worker Matthew Gambrell, and with 2 sons and a daughter (8, 6, and 3).
In the 1930 census, Fleishman (19) and Nathan (17) and their 65 (perhaps 70) year-old, widowed grandmother Caroline Gambrell (unable to read and write) were living with her daughter (Fleishman and Nathan’s mother) Willie Mae Smith in Asheville, but Willie Mae’s husband (and her children’s father) Philip was no longer present. Willie Mae was working as a housekeeper for a “private family,” and had managed to buy a house at 67 Owens Alley.76 At the time of the census enumeration (April 4), son Nathan was working as dishwasher in a cafe. Shortly thereafter, he got a job as a caddy, but became ill in June with tubercular peritonitis, and (according to his death certificate) died of endocarditis in September. His body was taken back to the family seat in Belton SC for burial.
Fleishman (still single) was a laborer at a country club (most likely upscale Biltmore Forest). He was able to read and write, but neither he nor his brother had attended school the previous year (his normal high school graduation year, if he graduated, would have been 1928 or 1929).
Fleishman turns up separately for the first time in the directory in 1936 (as “Fletcher” Smith), 25 years old, married (for 5 years) to Hattie, living at 9 Orange Alley, and working as a laborer (but not at Enka). The same entry, but with him working at Enka, occurred again in 1937 and 1938 (as Fleishman again) but not 1939.
In 1940 and 1941, he (again as “Fletcher”) and Hattie (by then married for 9 years) had three small children: daughter Jessie Nell (1) and sons Leroy (3) and William C. (7), and were living at 20 Hibernia Street (all-Black).
Their assets for making it as a couple and family were meager. Fleishman had left school after 4th grade, and Hattie after 5th. His job at Enka could not have paid very much, and she had 3 small children to take care of.77
One can imagine that 30 years of such a life would likely have produced an unstable, uncertain, sad, confused and angry person–as Fleishman appears to have been. Somewhere around 9:00 p.m. on January 31, 1941, he left his wife and children in their (probably) small apartment on the upper end of all-Black Blanton Street (22 1/2, owned by Horace Adams, with the 1/2 frequently connoting small, opportunistically hived off from a large space, low-rent) and walked about 10 minutes or so to Leo’s Place, a pool room at 334 Southside Avenue. Taking that walk proved to be a fateful choice.78
For years, pool rooms in Asheville had had a bad reputation. A 1937 city ordinance that banned liquor law violations, gambling, fighting, and other nuisances had been widely ignored. But recent incidents had led to renewed police inspections, and public concern (especially in West Asheville) found voice in protest meetings and petitions not to re-open them. Permits, licensing and bonds by operators were reactivated, and Leo’s Place had recently received one.
Police reports of what happened at Leo’s Place no longer exist, but the Asheville Citizen reported the next day that Fleishman walked into Leo’s, broke up a pool game by throwing his hat on the table, and pulled his knife on player Albert Greene. Taken outside by others, Fleishman broke away. A short time later, Greene reported, Smith came back and tried to slash him, but he drew his own knife and stabbed him. Greene then ran away with Smith in pursuit.
Smith was found lying “several blocks away” and taken by ambulance to the hospital, where (his death certificate says) he died 3 minutes later. The certificate was terse: “stab wound of chest [on] public street; sudden death.” A week later, Black-owned Jesse Ray Funeral Home transported his body to Mt. Zion Cemetery in Belton, SC.
Albert Green was charged with murder, pleaded self-defense, and was convicted of manslaughter. Whether he actually went to prison, I did not discover.79
Fleishman’s mother Willie Mae died at Mission Hospital in Asheville in 1956. Her death certificate, for which her daughter-in-law (Fleishman’s wife Hattie) was the informant, says that her body was returned to Belton, SC for burial, as her sons’ had been.
So this is the story I had set out to discover. How much of it anyone at American Enka knew about it, I have no idea. But someone decided that it was in the company’s interest to wipe it from the slate, and present the young Black man as if there was nothing that could (should?) be said about him.
My aim here has been to recover as much of the story (and its meta-aspects) as I could, and present it so that others can make their own decisions.80
Bowden Mease Smathers
Four issues after the Enka Voice‘s denigrating and dismissive notification of Fleishman Smith’s death, it carried a dignified photograph and extended eulogy of B. M. [Bowden Mease] Smathers, the recently deceased young white Superintendent of the Twisting Department.
Why had Smathers been eulogized so fawningly? Was there a meta-narrative as well? And if so, what was it, and what might have been in it for Enka?
What was in it for Enka, I think, was communicated by the plant’s upper management.
After reading the memorial several times, I noticed the writer’s cryptic initials (v. D.) at the end. My familiarity with Enka’s upper management roster suggested that the initials likely referred to Dr. W. J. D. van Dobbenburg, Chief of Textiles for the entire plant. The van occurs in many of the Dutch officials’ surnames (Van Scherpenzeel, Vanderkaaden, et al.), but this was the first van D—— surname I had encountered. Van Dobbenburg arrived as a member of the original management team, and would therefore have likely subscribed to their preference for “Native-Born [i.e., white] Labor,” as opposed to (they feared) unreliable, untrainable, restless and (thus likely pro-union and dangerous) Blacks.
In contrast to some of his countrymen/neighbors on upscale Lake Drive in the Enka Village who were hiring young Black women for childcare, van Dobbenburg brought a 60 year-old Dutch nurse (likely “read” as white) from Holland to care for his 6 month-old child. In doing so, he would have tracked the admiration for local white workers (and fear of Black ones) expressed so strongly by other Dutch officials who negotiated to bring American Enka to Asheville.
The written memorial rendered Smathers personally, while a parallel meta-narrative (marked [ ]) rendered him as a model company asset:
- A “pleasant, quiet, broad shouldered young man” [unchallenging and unthreatening]
- “thoroughly identified with his department . . . [and] determined to do his work well” partly because he and his department “belonged together” [a “company man,” willing to blur the line between personal and company identity]
- “soon promoted . . . [to] superintendent” [ascending the corporate ladder through his own exemplary efforts]
- When he died, it was his coworkers who carried him–young, white Native-born man that he was, to “the little cemetery on Newfound, near his home” [matching the humble, rural, “Native” origins the company had named as preferable from the beginning]
- And, at the end, surprising ambiguity about “those he left behind.” Did he ever go to school anywhere? Was he married? Did he have children? Parents, siblings or relatives who worked at Enka (as many employees did)?
It was oddly like Enka’s Fleishman Smith touch: a protocol of silence that blocked discussion.
But why? There was almost certainly more that could be said here.81
B[owden] M[ease] Smathers, admirable as he apparently was in a number of ways, turned out to be far from what the Enka Voice article conveyed: a poor, self-made mountain boy who got a good job, rose rapidly through the ranks, developed some sort of “trouble with his leg,” became seriously ill (from something like the flu, was it?), suffered 5 months, died, and was carried by his fellow employees back to the “little cemetery on Newfound, near his home.”
Contrary to that narrative, Smathers was born in 1907 to J. Bowden and Blanche Mease Smathers of Canton, NC, who raised their son and his younger sister in a stable, middle-class household on Newfound Street, near the huge, recently established pulp and paper mill.82 When his father J. Bowden died at 74 in 1945 (still living at the same address), his obituary described him as a “widely known retired farmer and politician”–staunch Methodist, second oldest member of the Pigeon River Masonic lodge, former member of Haywood County’s board of education, board of commissioners, and Canton’s board of aldermen. He also served as foreman of a grand jury for the WNC District Court in 1913.
Mease apparently attended local public schools, presumably through high school, from which he would have graduated about 1926.83 He may have worked on the farm with his father after graduation, but at 21 he married Annie M. Brannon, the tenth of ten children from a family in nearby Henderson County.84
The 1930 census listed both as employed at American Enka, Mease as a foreman and Annie Mae as a stenographer. During the early months of their marriage, they may have lived with his parents on Newfound Street, but soon bought a small new bungalow at 39 Poplar Street (near the family home), where they (and their son B. M. Smathers, Jr., born in 1935) lived until Mease died 12 years later.
Annie Mae pparently took a job with the the pulp and paper mill in Canton some time after Mease’s death. She continued to live in the 39 Poplar Street family home until she died (as a widow, said her death certificate) in 1983.
Paradoxically, both Fleishman Smith’s and Mease Smathers’s lives ended tragically, but otherwise they could not have been more different.
Smith had lived his life within some of the worst the social, cultural and economic order had to offer (including pervasive racism and a toxic model of masculinity), and it ended through violence and a lack of medical care (“stab wound of chest . . . [on] public street . . . sudden death” 3 minutes after he entered the hospital).
Smathers had been born into a stable, property-owning, upper middle-class, prominent and respected white family. Likely bolstered by at least some “intergeneraltional transfer of wealth,” he was able to establish his own two-income, home-owning family with one son. He secured a (presumably) well-paid supervisory position in a new, thriving, local company. And he was driving a new 1929 Ford, as well. Up until his final few months of severe and tragic illness, his life seemed idyllic.
In terms of the Enka Voice‘s barely even captioned Smith photo and its overwrought Smathers memorial, Enka’s narrative of each life was carefully selected, constructed and deployed: 9 words for Smith, to minimize potential risk or damage to the company from drawing attention to him, and about 200 for Smathers, to maximize his potential iconic value to the company.
Indeed, a key feature of the memorial was that the company writer’s language displaced Smathers’s immediate family (parents, wife, 6 year-old son), as well as no doubt many Smathers and Mease relatives from Canton and Haywood County), and replaced them with the vague “we who were his friends” (at Enka, it appears to imply) and “those he left behind” (outside the Enka frame).
I do not present these observations and surmises as the only possible ones. Discovery of additional evidence might suggest others. Lacking that, I hope these will prove interesting and engaging.
Invitation to Readers
In addition to the References listed below, I have pieced this post together from data (the census, city directories, death certificates, the Enka Voice, newspaper notices, library archives) that are sometimes scant, full of voids and unresolvable inconsistencies. If you have additional (or better) data of any sort (photographs, textual statements, personal memories, family connections or memories, etc.), I would be very glad to receive it, and will credit you in my additions and corrections. Insert a comment on the post and I will get back to you.
American Enka Corporation records, Western Regional Archives of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History; Asheville North Carolina: The Land of the Sky (Asheville Board of Trade, ca. 1915); Asheville City Directory, 1920-1950; Buncombe County Special Collections, “The Tale of Goode’s Drug Store”; Nan Chase and Aldo P. Magi. Asheville: A History (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2007); City of Asheville, “Neighborhood Profile: Shiloh Community” (2013); J. Timothy Cole. The Forest City Lynching of 1900: Populism, Racism, and White Supremacy in Rutherford County, North Carolina. McFarland, 2016; Jon Elliston, “WNC’s Lynchings: New Study Sheds Light on a Once-Pervasive Southern Atrocity,” Carolina Public Press, February 18, 2015; Enka Voice, April 1930-December 1950 and scattered issues; Kathryn Anne Franks, “Enka North Carolina: New Planning in an Early Twentieth Century Mill Town” (thesis, Drexel Univ., 1990); Charles Joyner, Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984); James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: New Press, 2005); J. L. Mashburn, Hominy Valley: The Golden Years (Enka, NC: Colonial House,2008); Douglas Swaim, Cabins & Castles: The History & Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (Fairview, NC: Historical Images, 2008, 1981); Darin J. Waters, Life Beneath The Veneer: The Black Community in Asheville, North Carolina from 1793 to 1900 (Ph.D. diss, UNC 2012).
- Digital edition free at this link.
- Tennessee Valley Authority. Floods of August 1940 in Tennessee River Basin Report No. 0-243- 678 (Knoxville 1940), and Enka Voice, October 1940, pp. 10-22. The June 1949 flood (widespread in western North Carolina) was covered extensively in the Asheville Citizen on June 17, but not by the Enka Voice. To some never documented extent, many primary American Enka documents also vanished later when the company was sold to BASF in 1985. Some architectural drawings went to the Western Regional Archives of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History in 2013. Some photographs and a nearly full run of the Enka Voice (most of it not digitized) remain in the Buncombe County Special Collections at Asheville’s Pack Memorial Public Library.
- For a good synopsis of Asheville’s Depression, see Nan Chase and Aldo P. Magi. Asheville: A History (2007).
- Enka Voice, September 1949, p. 3.
- There were also many over the years on local musicians, dancers, and other talented and skilled cultural performers and practicioners.
- I intend this not to denigrate the couples, but to reflect extant socioeconomic and cultural differences and limitations.
- Asheville Citizen, September 26, 1928, p. 1
- Asheville Citizen, November 9, 1928, p. 3.
- Asheville Citizen, December 13, 1928, p. 7.
- Asheville Citizen, January 1, 1929, p. 11, and January 7, 1929, p. 21.
- None of the truck accident plaintiffs appeared among Enka employees listed in subsequent city directories or the Enka Voice.
- They must have been in railroad cars, not automobiles.
- A possible line of inquiry the directories suggested that I have not yet pursued (Black branches of the Whisnant family) is that the 1896 the directory included (p. 340) a colored laborer named John Whisnant (also my father’s name) at 8 McDowell St. Other sources indicate that there were widespread Black branches of the Whisnant family (frequently Whisonant or other spellings) –at least 116 individuals in North Carolina in the 1880 census. But pursuing such clues would have taken me far from the focus of this blog.
- The focus here is upon Black employees employed within the American Enka plant itself. Later in this post I will turn to Blacks employed by private homeowners within the Enka Village.
- An Enka employment application postmarked August 9, 1929 does not include a space for Race, although it asks for applicants’ addresses, which could in many cases have revealed their probable race. See Enka’s mail-out Help Wanted brochure and application card in Mashburn’s Hominy Valley: The Golden Years, pp. 278-279.
- Previous posts in this blog have addressed aspects of this dizzying sequence, from the 1870s onward.
- Brooklyn was one of four long-established Black communities in the “south of Biltmore” area. I will return to them later.
- See also “The Tale of Goode’s Drug Store” in the Heard Tell blog of Buncombe County Special Collections, Pack Memorial Public Library, from which these images come. That account dates the advent of the Dutch Kitchen to 1930, but does not link it to American Enka’s opening in 1929, or the involvement of Enka personnel and their wives.
- Enka Voice, July 1930, p. 13. Editor J. E. Hollowell was an honored guest.
- A future post will examine Enka’s hiring and treatment of women, who by design comprised about 65% of its entire workforce.
- On the Village, see Robert Bunnelle, “Model Village Grows Up at Enka,” Asheville Citizen-Times, June 26, 1930, and a brief documentary film by Jonathan Flaum and Kurt Mann, Enka Village: A Living History, August 24, 2005.
- The 1931 directory lists 24 Subers in Asheville, including Steven and Agnes. They were living on (all-Black) Valley Street, and Steve was working as a helper in a coffee shop.
- Summey also appeared in the 1931 directory’s individual list as Summey Henry (Daisy) (c) employee [but not Head Porter] Amer Enka Corp, h 956 W Chapel rd, S Bilt [Shiloh community area] (p. 668).
- Daisy’s death certificate (July 17, 1967, at age 56) says she worked as a maid, was married (no spouse listed) and living at 321 Brooklyn Road in the Shiloh area south of Biltmore.
- Bertha’s death certificate offers that she was born Bertha Burgin Melvin in McDowell County, NC to Eliza Burgin and an unknown father. She was able to read and write, worked as a laundress and died May 26, 1935 at age 48, leaving a 15 year-old daughter to be raised through her late teens by a single father.
- Pages 462 and 612, respectively.
- pp. 649-658
- Asbury Road, running northward from the plant into rural areas; Highway 10, running west toward Haywood County; and Sand Hill Road, running from Haywood Road in West Asheville toward Enka.
- 20 Crescent St. in Asheville
- The 1940 census offered a few more details: Hansberry had been born in South Carolina in 1905, and occupied as “Chef, Rayon Factory & Club.”
- The 1944 directory also includes James L. “Hanberry,” a waiter at Oteen Hospital, living at the same 20 Crescent St. address listed for Julius Caesar Hansberry in the 1940 census.
- Douglas Swaim, Cabins & Castles (1981), p. 202.
- One likely one was Edwin Brown, who lived in Brooklyn, “a colored section of West Chapel rd (S Biltmore), on Brooklyn Avenue,” which ran “from 960 West Chapel rd north.” Pages 171 and 858, respectively. Entries for Brooklyn and Brooklyn Avenue did not include individual listings. Another (p. 169) was William C. Brooks, “lab[orer] Enka,” but not marked “colored,” who lived on Elk Mountain Road in the Woodfin area adjacent to north Asheville.
- On the tannery, see Historic Architectural Resources Report U‐5019: River Arts District Transportation Project in Asheville, Buncombe County NC, the Hans Rees Tannery Site (BN 0414), pp. 27-32. It includes detailed historical discussion and carefully captioned photos. Also see Rob Neufeld, “Hans Rees, 1st Factory in Asheville.” The Asheville Citizen Times, November 6, 2016.
- For summary details on Sayles (1920s-1991), see Jill Ingram’s article, Asheville Citizen-Times, December 30, 2003, A1. A Wal-Mart later occupied 60 acres of the (cleared) Sayles site.
- The directories cannot be assumed to include all of the area in which Enka employees lived, so that the available directories 1928-1938 almost certainly do not include all Black employees. But it does seem reasonable to assume that they reflect the ratio of Black to white employees working for the company in any given year. For that purpose, fewer than 1% would seem appropriate.
- I think the latter is the more likely possibility.
- Names and data from the 1944 directory:
105: Camp Thos (c; Annie) employee Enka r 962 West Chapel rd [Shiloh community]
148: Dawkins Geo (c; Hazel) laborer Enka h 228 Beaumont
176: Flint Adam (c; Kathleen) laborer Enka r 146 Poplar
206: Grinyard Wm (c; Australia) laborer Enka h 173 Burton av (WA)
214: Handbury [sic] Luther [?] (c) cook Enka r 153 Valley St.
222: Haynes Jas (c; Azalee) employee Enka h 5 Haid
218: Harrison Thos (c; Carrie) laborer Enka h 76 Pine
300: Mason Benj (c; Sallie) janitor Enka h 3 Short Pine
328: Moise Thos (c) laborer Enka r 373 Southside
358: Payne Saml L (c; Marg) janitor Enka h 3 James
371: Pressley Allen (c) employee Enka h 24 Curve
477: Wells Robt (c) helper Enka r 153 Valley.
- Haynes was listed in the 1930 directory as a laborer, but not at Enka. He first appeared as an Enka worker in 1932, and again in 1935 (when he lived at 25 1/2 Max St. (all-Black). In the 1940 census (which said he had a 4th grade education), he and his family (wife Azalee, 3 sons and 3 daughters) were living in a rented home on all-Black Haid Street (connected with all-Black Valley St.), where they had been for at least 5 years.
- The information on Shiloh that follows is drawn from the City of Asheville’s Shiloh Community: Neighborhood Profile (2013); John Ross, “Shiloh Community’s Roots Run Deep,” Jan. 20, 2020; a brief Shiloh Community Association history by Anita White Carter; and Darin J. Waters, Life Beneath The Veneer: The Black Community in Asheville, North Carolina from 1793 to 1900 (Ph.D. diss., UNC Chapel Hill, 2012).
- Shiloh Road runs E-W at center. In the NW corner are streets cut by the construction of the I-40 interchange (Reed, Loudon, Brooklyn, Caribou Road). Rock Hill Road (at Biltmore Forest) marks the southern boundary of the original 4-community area. Shiloh Road runs E-W at center.
- Recent community efforts in documentation, protective codes and community organization have addressed some of these issues.
- Asheville Citizen, April 11, 1950, p. 10. It may have continued to function as late as 1965.
- American Enka engineering drawings M-2069 and G804-S2 (June 15, 1944), North Carolina Western Regional Archives, Asheville NC. I have seen one reference to a “Girls’ Cafeteria,” but have found no details on it. There were far more (something like 60/40) women employees than men.
- See previous post Enka Builds a Labor Force: The Magic of Native-Born Mountain Workers.
- Details are available in the Lower Hominy Township enumerations, Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1930 (sheets 11B and following), the 1935 Enka section of the city directory, the Fifteenth Census of 1940 (sheets 6A and following), and–along the way–The Enka Voice.
- Sheet 16B, lines 96-100
- Sheet 16B, lines 89-93
- pp. 306, 658
- Allie Zachary was likely Black. She was not listed in the 1937 or 1938 directories.
- pp. 654, 862
- pp. 380, 654
- p. 655
- pp. 172, 655
- pp. 652, 657
- All except Gill were Dutch. (pp. 286, 380, 654, 654
- Although some entries lack street name or number (“Enka Village,” is all the sheets say), these appear to be primarily on Hillcrest Avenue. I include marital status and levels of education for maids (when given in the census) not to judge, blame or denigrate, but to communicate the few social and economic details the census reveals, and hence the huge gaps (racial, of course, but not only that) between the assets and advantages of those on opposite sides of the contract.
- Sheet 6A, lines 10-14
- Sheet 6A, lines 15-20
- Sheet 6A, lines 25-28
- Sheet 6B, lines 58-61
- Sheet 6B, lines 62-68
- Sheet 6B, lines 69-72
- Sheet 6B, lines 73-77
- Sheet 7A, lines 1-5
- Sheet 7A, lines 17-20
- Sheet 7B, lines 52-55
- For an elaborate discussion of this vision and process (upon which my brief précis is based), see Kathryn Anne Franks’s thesis in References.
- I will return to Conder in a subsequent post, with regard to his role in Enka’s labor relations and the strike of 1941.
- For numerous examples, see Jon Elliston, “WNC’s Lynchings” and J. Timothy Cole,The Forest City Lynching of 1900 (2016) in References. On Mitchell County, see Rob Neufeld, Visiting Our Past: Feldspar Mining and Racial Tensions, Asheville Citizen-Times, Aug. 4, 2019.
- Loewen, Sundown Towns, 4-9.
- Loewen, Sundown Towns, 12-14. When he died in 2021, Loewen was still far from completing his work on this topic, including that on southern states. Fortunately that work found a home at Tougaloo College (where he had been on the faculty), which established a facility for continuing research and maintains a related website.
- One of the Enka Mutual Death Benefit Association’s periodic reports appeared just below the photograph. “On Friday January 31st,” it said, “one of our members, Fleishman Smith, passed away. His mother and beneficiary, Mrs. Nelle Mae Smith, received our check on February 1st.” Her name was Willie Mae Smith.
- Details presented here come from:
Asheville city directories, 1920-1961
Federal censuses: 1880, Anderson County SC, Broadway Township, p. 35; 1920, Anderson County SC, Broadway Township, sheet 3B; 1930 and 1940, Asheville Township, Ward 4, sheets 4A and 8A, respectively.
Birth, Marriage, Death certificates: Nathan Smith Death Certificate, 1930; Caroline Gamble [Grambrell] Death Certificate, 1933; Fleishman Smith Death Certificate, 1941; Willie Mae Smith Death Certificate, 1956.
North Carolina County Marriages, 1762-1979 (Fleishman Smith to Hattie Wilson, Buncombe County, September 24, 1932).
Newspaper articles, including “Police to Enforce Old Pool Room Ordinance.” Asheville Citizen, May 31, 1939, pp. 1-2; [Leo’s Pool Room permit granted], Asheville Citizen, November 22, 1940, p. 11; “Negro Is Slain in Fight Here,” Asheville Citizen, February 1, 1941, p. 5; “Negro Is Held for Grand Jury in Slaying Case,” Asheville Citizen, February 4, 1941; “Jury Convicts Defendant in Manslaughter,” Asheville Citizen, February 20, 1941, p. 5.
Other contextual items on Asheville, 1920-1960.
- Searching online for Sirvanus leads to Silvanus, who was a mythological, but also Biblical, figure.
- They later moved to 173 1/2 Livingston Street.
- One might guess that the Fleishman-to-Fletcher and back again name change might have come from an attempt to convert a “foreign-sounding” (and alienating?) first-name into a more popular/common one, but I was able neither to find actual evidence of that, nor to trace the possible family reasons for his having been given that name.
- The Blanton Street address, from the death certificate, conflicts with the 1940 and 1941 20 Hibernia Street address in the directory, but seems likely correct, given Blanton Street’s proximity to Leo’s.
- His death certificate says he died of heart disease at 55 in 1967, still living on South French Broad and working as a construction laborer.
- The Enka Voice‘s habitual denigrating and erasing virtually all of the(small) Black presence at Enka is the subject of my next post.
- Sources for my discussion include:
Census of 1920: Haywood County, NC, Beaverdam Township, Canton, North Ward, sheet 25A, lines 12-15
Census of 1930: Haywood Co.,NC, Beaverdam Township, Canton Town, April 11, 1930, sheet 11B, lines 96-97
Census of 1940: Haywood County, NC, Beaverdam Township, Canton, South Ward, Sheet 10A, lines 15-17
B. Mease Smathers, Death Certificate, June 6, 1941
B. MeaseSmathers, Death Notice, Asheville Citizen, June 21, 1941
B. Mease Smathers, Obituary, AshevilleCitizen-Times, June 22, 1941
Annie Mae Smathers (wife), Death Certificate, December 7, 1983
B. Mease Smathers Estate Documents, Haywood County Superior Court, various dates
- One source says 12 Newfound St.; another says #5. I could not locate either on a current map.
- The “Advanced school or college since Sept. 1, 1929” column of the 1930 census said “No” for both him and his wife.
- Annie’s older sister Lela Ethel Brannon (1894-1960), the sixth child, had also married a Smathers. She died in Asheville.