How to Use
Reading 1: Family History
Before the Civil War, not all African Americans were slaves. There were free people of color. Some of them lived in North Carolina as either farmers or skilled craftsmen. Manassa Thomas Pope, builder of the Pope House, was born near Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina, in 1858. Both of his parents were free African Americans. Manassa's father, Jonas Elias Pope (1827- 1913) was a carpenter who owned a large amount of land. Jonas Pope was a Quaker, and well-educated for the era. He was described as being of "bright yellow complexion," indicating that he was of multi-racial heritage. Not much is currently known about Manassa's mother, though evidently she too was born free and was of multi-racial ancestry.
In 1874, Manassa Pope came to Raleigh to attend Shaw University which was founded in 1865 as a college for African-American men. He finished his undergraduate education and then began study at the Leonard Medical School at Shaw University, the first four-year medical college in North Carolina. Dr. Pope was part of the first graduating class from the medical college in 1886. Although James F. Shober of Wilmington was the first black doctor (with a medical degree) to practice (without a license) in North Carolina, Pope became the state's first African-American man to receive a medical license. In 1887, he married Lydia Walden of Winton, NC and the couple moved to Henderson, NC, in 1888, where Dr. Pope served as assistant postmaster until they moved to Charlotte, NC in 1892. In Charlotte, Dr. Pope not only practiced medicine but was a very active businessman. He helped to establish the Queen City Drug Store, which grew to be one of the most successful black-owned businesses in Charlotte, and the People's Benevolent Association, an insurance company.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Dr. Pope's good friend James H. Young formed an all-black volunteer regiment. Many prominent black men wanted to enlist, including Dr. Pope, to prove their patriotism as well as their ability to fight. Dr. Pope enlisted as first assistant surgeon in the Third Regiment on July 4, 1898, serving until his discharge in February of 1899. Although the regiment never saw action, the Third Regiment made a strong statement about the character of North Carolina's African-American population.
In 1899, Dr. Pope moved to Raleigh and established his medical practice on East Hargett Street, which was rapidly becoming the city's central African-American business district. He built a brick house not far away, at 511 South Wilmington Street. The choice of location for the house was not coincidental. Informal racial segregation was common by this time, and was beginning to be written into official housing documents. The Pope House was one of many homes of prominent black professionals on Wilmington Street, which faced the back of the homes of elite whites on Fayetteville Street. South Wilmington Street served as a buffer zone between these black and white neighborhoods. Though no written evidence survives, it seems clear that Dr. Pope built his house in the best place he was allowed as a black man in a segregated city.
Dr. Pope and his wife Lydia moved into the new house in 1901. He took much pride in his fine new home, decorating it in elegant fashion. At that time, most homes were made of wood, so it was a sign of wealth to have a home of brick. The interior had darkly varnished wood trim, doors, and floors; an impressive staircase; and an attractive stained glass window in the front hall. He installed the latest technology, including a kitchen with running water, a full bathroom, coal burning heating stoves, and even a telephone. He also installed a call bell system for the family's hired help, and saw patients in his home as well as his Hargett Street office.
Dr. Pope soon became an important figure in Raleigh's political scene. Racial tensions were very high during this time. Many powerful whites felt threatened by the success of black people like Dr. Pope, and tried to find ways to block their progress. North Carolina's white supremacist politicians passed an amendment to the state constitution in 1900 that disfranchised most African-American men by adding a literacy requirement for voting. To not disfranchise illiterate white men, a so-called "grandfather clause" was added to the amendment which stated that anyone whose father or grandfather could vote prior to 1867 (the start of federal Reconstruction, which gave freed slaves the vote) would be exempt from the literacy test. Dr. Pope, however, did not lose his right to vote. Because neither his father nor grandfather had been a slave, he was able to get around the amendment through the "grandfather clause." He walked to the registration office in 1902, when the new law took effect, presented his father's 1851 freedman papers, and was issued a voter registration card. Dr. Pope thus became one of only seven black men in the entire city of Raleigh to be eligible to vote. In 1916, a group of African-American men formed the Twentieth Century Voters' Club. This was one of many black political groups that formed in North Carolina in the 1910s to encourage black political participation.
Dr. Pope's political activity reached a high point in the spring of 1919. That spring thousands of American soldiers returned from the bloody battlefields of World War I, including a significant number of African Americans. Many of these black veterans expected to be treated differently after having fought in a war that was supposed to make the world safer for democracy, but instead were forced to return to the status of second-class citizens. Both the demands for justice by angry African Americans and the increasing competition between blacks and whites brought on by the war and the black migration to urban areas in the North contributed to a record year for racial violence in 1919. Race riots took place throughout the northeast and a record number of lynchings occurred.
Putting their very lives in danger in this volatile environment, Dr. Pope courageously ran for mayor of Raleigh on a non-partisan African-American slate along with two other black candidates running for commissioner of public safety and commissioner of public work. They were sponsored by the Twentieth Century Voter's Club. Of registered voters, 2,550 cast ballots, with Dr. Pope receiving 126 (98 of these came from the precinct in which he lived). As one of Dr. Pope's fellow black candidates later remembered, "we knew we wouldn't win…but we just did it to wake our people up politically."¹ Dr. Pope's run for mayor in 1919 represented an important risk. Taking such a public stand on racial issues was an act of non-violent protest that came decades before the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Outside of his political activities, Dr. Pope led a quiet family life. In 1906, his first wife Lydia Walden Pope died of tuberculosis. The next year he married Delia Haywood Phillips, who was 22 years younger than Dr. Pope. She too came from a multi-racial background. Though Delia's parents were both born into slavery, her family was very prominent in the area. Delia worked as a teacher before her marriage to Dr. Pope. She was later employed as a cosmetics representative for a company owned by Madam C.J. Walker, one of the most famous and successful black businesswoman of the period, selling beauty products made for African-American women.
Two daughters were born to the couple: Evelyn B. Pope in 1908 and Ruth P. Pope in 1910. The family belonged to Raleigh's elite black society. Despite being strict Baptists, Dr. and Mrs. Pope seem to have been thoroughly "modern" parents where their daughters were concerned. They freely discussed adult issues with them, and strongly encouraged them to pursue higher education. Both daughters received undergraduate degrees from Shaw University, and both went on to earn Master's degrees from Columbia University in New York: Evelyn in library science, and Ruth in home economics.
Dr. Pope died in 1934 at the age of 76, and his wife followed him in 1955. Evelyn was by then a respected librarian at the North Carolina Central University Law School, which at the time was an African-American institution, and Ruth was a beloved home economics teacher in the Chapel Hill public schools. The two sisters, neither of whom married, kept up the family home in Raleigh and retired there in the 1970s. Evelyn died in 1995, and Ruth passed away in October of 2000.
Questions for Reading 1
1. Who was the "Talented Tenth?" What were their goals?
2. What does disfranchise mean? If needed, refer to a dictionary. How would a literacy requirement accomplish this?
3. What were some of Dr. Pope's major accomplishments? What role did his being African American play in these accomplishments? Why do you think Dr. Pope enlisted in the military?
4. Why were Dr. Pope and his fellow candidates so certain that they would not win the election of 1919? Why did they take the risk of running for office if they knew they wouldn't win? In what way did their actions foreshadow those of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s? Explain your answer.
Reading 1 was adapted from the Pope House Museum Foundation's website: http://www.thepopehousemuseum.org (May 10, 2005), and from the National Register of Historic Places Nomination, both written by Pope House Museum Foundation director Kenneth Joel Zogry.
¹ Wilmoth A. Carter, The Urban Negro in the South (New York: Vantage Press, 1961), 80.