This week, we look back at the violence in Anson County in the 1950s and 1960s from the perspective of the Rev. Charles Ford. This year will also mark the 50th anniversary of a lawsuit — intended to combat racism — against the Anson County school board. Ford’s mother, Ada Ford Singleton, led the lawsuit to fight for equality.
Charles Huntley Ford ducked in the bushes, listening for the mob. He waited to learn his fate.
When the bushes parted and one of the men searching for him looked straight into his face, Ford knew he’d be captured.
Ford, a black teenager, was being hunted by a group of about 25 white men as he walked through uptown Wadesboro on his way from what is now the IGA to Salisbury Street at about 9 p.m. Now 73, he was then a young man about 17 years old who had gone to a girl’s house with a friend when he heard someone yell, “There goes two of them!”
Ford and his friend ran from the men, and he hid in bushes near where Anson County Family and Pediatric Dentistry on Morgan Street is now, he said. One pulled open the bushes and looked into Ford’s face.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’m dead,’” Ford recalled. “And he said, ‘No, sir; there’s nobody in here.’ And they went on and let me get away.”
When the group walked on, Ford was relieved.
It wasn’t his first experience with racial tensions.
‘I didn’t know’
Ford’s parents, John and Ada, were married until John was killed in Korea in late 1955.
Before John’s death, he was stationed in Fort Bragg before being sent overseas. In about 1953, Ada had a job working for a white doctor and his family in Durham. When the doctor’s family went to Morehead City for a vacation on a boat and island for a couple of months, Ada and Charles accompanied them. Ada cooked and cleaned for her employers. They’d been on vacation for about a month when the trouble started.
“I came in sick one day,” Charles said. “The men would take me out on the boat with them. So she asked me — I had the runoffs, I was sick — ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘I ate up all them bananas.’
“She said, ‘What bananas?’ I said, ‘They give me bananas.’ They’d stop and buy a big old thing of bananas. They’d give me one, and give me one, and sit there and laugh while I was eating them. I didn’t know because I loved bananas, you know? Well, I ate some of them and got sick.”
When Ada asked where he’d gotten bananas, Charles told her the doctor and his friends bought him bananas every time they went out and laughed while he ate them. Ada told Charles he wasn’t allowed to go out with the doctor and his friends anymore.
“She said something to the doctor about it,” Charles said. “The doctor laughed and said something back, something smart. He said, ‘Go back in there and do your work.’ So Mama did.”
Soon, the family had company coming, and Ada was instructed to pick up the ingredients to make a certain meal while they were on the mainland. When she couldn’t find them, she substituted and made something else, infuriating the doctor’s wife.
“She said, ‘Why’d you do so-and-so?’ And she was cursing and all,” Charles said. “And Mama said, ‘Well, I thought you wanted me —” And (the doctor’s wife) said, ‘Who told you to think?’”
Charles said that moment was when it “clicked” for Ada.
Ada demanded to be taken back to the mainland. In the middle of the night around 2 a.m., the mother and son went to a bus station before learning the bus wouldn’t be by for hours. An employee there lived alone and let the two sit on his couch, giving Ada coffee and young Charles a soda.
The two caught a bus back to Durham before moving back to Wadesboro. Ada saw tins laying in the yard and had Charles fetch some. She then used a knife to cut it, then rolled the pieces back. A storeowner bought the twirled and painted decorations from her for a few dollars.
Another time the family was running low, Ada cut and sold her long hair.
Charles didn’t tell his father about some of the experiences he and Ada had, including the one with the doctor.
“She kept it, because he would’ve went — you know,” Charles said. “He would’ve got a drink and gone down and gotten into trouble. He had a lot of stress on him. He was sergeant major and he had a lot of duties. He was a boxer in the military.”
He didn’t like keeping the secrets.
“It was confusing,” Charles said. “It was confusing. I didn’t know, first of all, that the guys was picking at me, giving me these bananas. And then when Mother explained to me what was going on, it made me angry. But there wasn’t nothing I could do, with the size I was. But that gave me an inferiority complex.”
John was from New York City, while Ada’s family was from Anson County. After John was killed in Korea, Ada moved herself and Charles back to Wadesboro.
Ada was heavily involved in the NAACP, and spearheaded desegregation efforts in Anson County. She led a lawsuit against the Anson County Board of Education for failing to integrate the schools.
All of this activity infuriated some in the community. As he grew into his teens and early 20s, Charles became better able to help his mother. He and several friends formed a sort of protection group to keep her safe.
He grew “rowdy,” and went to Fayetteville with some others for a time as they trained in martial arts. Ada wanted them to learn to disarm others rather than shoot someone, he said.
Once, he heard about a black man getting beaten nearly to death at the former Blalock Truck Stop near the present Peaches and Cream along U.S. Highway 74. A man who washed dishes there had been jumped.
“They called me and told me about it, so me and the guys got out there together and was going to see if we could regulate it,” Charles said. “And the police, right across from where Walmart is now, pulled us over across from Anson High.”
The officer asked that the men turn over any weapons.
“He knew what we was doing,” Charles said. “He knew we was on our way to get in trouble.”
Everyone turned their guns over but one.
“One guy sitting in the backseat kept raising up, raising up,” Charles said. “And the officer said, ‘Well, what’re you doing? What’re you sliding under there?’ And he said, ‘Nothing.’ He said, ‘Well, I gave you all the chance to take your weapons out.’ And he made him stand up and he had a gun, so they charged us then. All of us.”
Ada challenged the case in court, going to Raleigh. Eventually, the police were ordered to return the weapons.
“We had one sawed-off shotgun sitting in there,” Charles recalled. “So they gave everybody their weapon out, then pulled out that shotgun and said, ‘Here, you forgot the shotgun.’ And one of the guys started to get it, and I slapped his hand down. That would’ve turned it back into federal if he would’ve, because that sawed-off shotgun was illegal.”
So Charles and his friends left the sawed-off shotgun with the police. A lawyer later confirmed that they’d avoided legal trouble by doing so.
An Anson Record article from June 29, 1967 recorded the incident in, “NAACP chief’s son caught with arsenal.”
The article said the police described the guns as “an arsenal of arms,” and that Officer Gilbert Dean was parked near the Hub restaurant when he saw the car speeding and pulled them over on the road by Anson High School. Officer Frankie Hyatt assisted.
“… the two officers searched the car and found a sawed-off .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle, a .12 gauge shotgun, a tear gas pistol, a number of rounds of ammunition, and a bandolier containing an undetermined number of shotgun shells,” the article said.
Charles, Paul Thomas Gainey, Franklin Lee Royal, Frederick W. Ingram and Billy Bob Tyson were all charged with aiding and abeting in carrying concealed weapons.
“Some people treated us decent and fair,” he said. “They went by the law.”
Now, Charles believes it was a good thing that they were stopped. They were just too angry following the truck stop worker’s beating.
“We didn’t have no weapons then,” he said. “And we was so glad we wasn’t in jail. I mean, I think maybe we had second thoughts, anyway. It was a safe thing. It was, the reason none of us tried to resist, it was, whew. We just got to pumping. ‘Y’all ain’t never let any man get beat down there.’ And so we were pumped. Some of us would’ve been dead, probably.”
In another incident, Charles went to visit a young woman between Wadesboro and Ansonville. He stayed until about midnight and when the man he’d driven with wasn’t ready to return, Charles decided to walk home when some white men driving by saw him and turned around.
Charles hid in the bushes as they searched.
“That was a scary experience, because there were about four or five of those guys,” he said. “I went out there and hid, briars and all. They kept on hollering, ‘You’ve got to come out, you’ve got to come out.’ I was trembling, I’m not going to tell no lie. I could fight, but, five or six people? That would have been foolish.”
Charles started working on a book about his mother, who was born in 1929 and died May 28, 1998. He hasn’t worked on it as much as he’d like due to family disagreements about writing it, but would like to finish it.
He’s now an associate pastor at East Rock Ford Baptist Church on White Store Road in Wadesboro.
He can only remember one white woman who was in an interracial relationship, and she was treated poorly for it.
“I’d hate to go through that period again,” he said. “Too much hate.”
Now, the times are much better, he said. But interracial tensions have him concerned as others seek him for counsel and he hears stories of problems with police.
“I thought, for one time, that we was on the road going straight on up, but it’s deteriorating,” he said. “Some of the guys now tell me that, you know, ‘Man, we ought to know that wouldn’t work, that it was just a put-on.’ But it’s not. You have some white friends that’s honest with you, you know, and I don’t go to their house, and they don’t go to my house. We meet in the street, you know. We’re good friends and talk. But I have some white friends who, if I’m sick, come see me, and if they’re sick, I go see them.”
There are still racial tensions. And people often say things without thinking about it.
“Blacks do the same thing,” he said. “Blacks are just as racist. It’s just that they feel like the whites have so much more power over them.”
He said black people can sometimes be misrepresented or vilified if one black person steals something, as it can cause others to be suspicious of all blacks and “sets us back.”
Charles said he saw something on television recently about a store that had a code when a black person walked in.
“I could fault them for doing like that, but then I could fault my race for not taking better care of themselves,” he said. “If you’re going to be stealing, and walking around not properly dressed and stuff like that, it just — if you want to be in a society that’s a little bit grade ahead of you, then get your grade up. It’s the same as going to school. To graduate and get your diploma, you need to get your grades up.
“There’s some blacks that don’t carry themselves in a good way, and there’s some whites that don’t carry themselves in a good way,” he continued.
He wants to see everything calm down. He wants white guests at his mostly-black church to know they’re welcome, and blacks who visit predominantly white churches to feel safe.
“We have a whole lot more opportunities than we used to have,” he said. “But what brings us down is the ones that don’t work.
Skin color is a “hyped-up thing,” he said. He wants to see respect.
“I would hope that we would just try to be equal to each other.”
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.