History Lives at Levine
When it comes to exploring local history, there’s no better source than the Levine Museum of the New South, where visitors can learn about the area’s old cotton plantations, the banking boom and, of course, everything in between. This year, Levine Museum will celebrate 20 years of keeping Charlotte in touch with its past, so to celebrate two special anniversaries, we’re sharing a few of the museum’s best stories about how Charlotte shaped itself into the city it is today.
The Cotton Mills
It’s easy to think of Charlotte’s financial industry as the bedrock of the city, but as you’ll learn at the museum, Charlotte’s destiny as a prosperous city was woven from cotton. In fact, in the 1880s, with the introduction of the cotton gin to the area, the South bypassed New England as the country’s top textile region. The museum’s permanent exhibit, “Cottonfields to Skyscrapers,” shows visitors a tenant farmer’s home (its walls plastered with 19th-century Charlotte Observer pages) from the area’s early agricultural years, and then guides them to a model cotton mill and mill village house.
To this day, Mecklenburg County residents send their monthly utility payments to Duke Energy. Without Duke’s light to guide us, Charlotte as a city would be (literally) in the dark. As far back as the 1880s, cotton mills around the Piedmont region were powered by some of the earliest long-distance power lines; in the 1910s, they were hooked into a power grid operated by the brand new Southern Power Company, owned by William States Lee, James B. Duke, and Gill Wylie. By mid-20th century, Duke was operating streetcars in Charlotte and Greensboro, and is still one of the world’s largest utility companies. Be sure to check out the display of some nifty early 20th-century appliances.
WBT and RCA Recording
Once upon a time, Nashville wasn’t the only road to country stardom for rising musicians. In 1922, Charlotte launched WBT, the first radio station to go on air in the Carolinas. At night, the channel reached all the way to New England and Florida. WBT attracted singers and bands from all over the South to perform live, and soon, RCA Regional Recording set up a studio. They recorded the likes of the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, and Earl Scuggs—whose earliest recordings you can hear broadcasting from an authentic, 1930s radio inside the museum.
Inside the Levine Museum is a beautiful installation of stained-glass windows, pews, and the altar from the first-ever private African- American hospital, the Good Samaritan Hospital. On the chapel’s walls, visitors can read the story of Daddy Grace (born Charles Manuel Grace) who immigrated to America from Africa’s Cape Verde Islands. On June 26, 1926, he hosted a tent revival in downtown Charlotte that lasted all summer, and ended the event with a 645-person baptism on Sept. 12. Today, his church, the United House of Prayer for All People, is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with 132 locations.
The Rev. De Laine and Brown vs. Board of Education
In the Levine’s newest exhibit, “Courage: The Carolina Story That Changed America,” visitors will learn about Reverend De Laine and the Clarendon County, S.C. families who filed the first lawsuit to end segregation in schools. Their actions, led by the Rev. De Laine and his family, joined forces with similar suits from Kansas, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Delaware to become the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case. The exhibit features photographs and historic documents from these early lawsuits, and even includes models of a 1940s “black classroom,” and Reverend De Laine’s study.
Admission is $5-$6 and free on Sundays. M-Sa, 10 am-5 pm. Levine Museum is located at 200 E. 7th St, 704-333-1887, museumofthenewsouth.org.
5 Essential Stories of Charlotte’s History
History Lives at Levine