Community Memories of John Chavis Memorial Park

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Narrator: John Chavis Memorial Park opened in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1937 as one of the few parks of its size accessible to Black Americans in the South. The park soon became a significant place where generations of Raleigh residents and regional visitors gathered together. 

The park’s namesake, John Chavis, was a free Black man, a Revolutionary War veteran, and one of the first Black Americans to gain a college education in the United States. He worked as an educator and preacher in Raleigh in the early 1800s.  

In 2014, Jeffrey A. Harris completed an oral history project to document community memories of this historic park . . .

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Narrator: Alicia Adcock 

“Well, I consider Chavis Park as really just being our world when I was a youngster. And even a better term to use would be our stomping ground. It was a place of safety; a place where we could come and be introduced to sports and games, and that was one of the things that interested me most about it, and to have been able to learn tennis, during those years, in my early years, and then to become a tennis champion. That is just phenomenal to me.” 

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Narrator: Rosia Butler 

“The fact that there was a place to go. There was a place to go where we had not had a place before. There was a beautiful place to go, and the place had a big swimming pool, a merry-go-round, and a play area for us to enjoy. And that was wonderful. . . . And those things were not available to us during segregation days. And that’s how I grew up, during segregation. And when these thing, when the park came, it was like freedom that you could come and enjoy, and know that you were safe, that you had a place where you didn’t have somebody to tell you, you couldn’t come over here or whatever. It was a safe place.”

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Narrator: Otis Allen 

“It means a lot to me. If you think about the ‘40s, the ‘50s, and the ‘60s, it was basically the only place outside of the church that the Blacks of southeast Raleigh could meet and congregate and have fun, have conversations, have meals, and things like that. So it means a great deal to me. It has a lot of memories to me. It has a lot of significance to a lot of people. 

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Narrator: Frances Lonnette Williams 

“There are a lot of people who got their begins here in Chavis Park who went on to become very important people. . . . So the park actually was an early introduction of laying a foundation for us. It was the village. ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ Well, Chavis Park was the village that raised a lot of very prominent people who, in spite of what people thought segregation meant, it meant something quite different for us. Because it was a place of us coming together where people were pooling their resources to invest in the children, who then became adults, who went on to become and contribute more. And that sphere of influence continues today. So, it’s no telling how many people have been influenced by the people who got their early beginnings, the nurturing, the training that we got here at Chavis Park, to help build other generations of people who are also contributing and doing things. And so, it’s a never-ending cycle of where good things have happened from Chavis Park.” 

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Narrator: North Carolina Representative Yvonne Holley 

“It shows a community. . . . It shows African American family, and African American life post-Civil War. Everybody’s got all the slave stuff, but nobody talks about what Black life was like during the ‘50s, the ‘60s, the ‘70s, and the ‘80s. You know? Talk about Black family life. What is this actually like? And this brings attention to what it was like because of the activities that were here, the baseball games, the history here. Everybody is just attached in some kind of way. People met their spouses there. It was a date place for a lot of people. You know, well, what are you going to do when nobody had any money? ‘Let’s go to the park’. . . . It was a safe place to be.” 

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Narrator: Edna Rich-Ballentine

“My first real memory is walking from my house on Cabarrus Street, which is about two blocks from downtown Fayetteville Street, to the park on either Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon to ride the merry-go-round. And I’ve forgotten how much it cost at the time, but I think something like five or ten cents. And my mother would sit outside and put me on the merry-go-round until I fell asleep. And then they would stop it, and she would take me home. The other thing I remember, we had lots of water fountains, and none of them had ‘Black’ or ‘white’ on them. So that was a marked difference from downtown in the ten-cent store where they had a white fountain and a Black fountain. And my girlfriend and I used to go on Saturday afternoon and drive my grandmama crazy by saying, ‘Oh, the water doesn’t look black; it doesn’t look black, grandma.’ So anyway, so the marked difference was downtown there were Black and white water fountains, and here there were just water fountains.” 

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Narrator: Larry Wells

“As a child, my mom brought me when I was four years old, and she said they’re getting ready to build a park. I said, ‘What’s a park?’ She said, ‘Where you play at and go swimming.’ And this was like the only Black park where Blacks could go. And we had Pullen Park, but that was for whites. That’s right up the street. And also I enjoyed, like I said the train, and we had an Olympic-sized swimming pool, where all the great singers and all the great acts would come when they came to Raleigh. They came over here. And we had ‘Teenage Frolics,’ which was the first ‘Soul Train.’ And we had a football field, football stadium right out there . . . track. We had, like I said, the swimming pool and the merry-go-round. . . . and just growing up with my friends. Like I said, this was a neighborhood, and this is where I grew up.”

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Narrator: Gretchel Carter-Hinton

“Very, very early on, I actually grew up across the street. This is my community. I came over here every day. It was like an everyday thing for us after school. Went from elementary all the way to high school, I lived in the community. And the park was just . . . we thought it was the most awesome place to be.”

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Narrator: In 2016, John Chavis Memorial Park was designated to the National Register of Historic Places, an honor reserved for our nation's most historic sites worthy of protection and preservation.

Please visit the park often, enjoy its rich history, and make your own memories too. 

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