Angeline McConnaughey‘s mother Caroline may have lived long enough to breathe the sweet air of freedom, but not deeply. By 1870, she was gone, and her only child is listed in the census that year with Caroline’s mother, Margaret McConnaughey. By 1875, Angeline had left the Mount Ulla countryside for the town of Salisbury and in February of that year she married Fletcher Reeves, the 21 year-old son of Henry and Phrina (or Fina) Overman Reeves. With unusual candor, Angeline named her father on her marriage license. He was Robert L. McConnaughey of Morganton, white and a relative of Angeline’s former owner, James M. McConnaughey.
Angeline Reeves gave birth to her first two children, Caroline R. (1875) and M. Ada (1878), in Salisbury. The Reeves had plans bigger than that town could hold, however, and shortly after 1880 the family settled at 409 East Eighth Street in Charlotte’s First Ward, a racially integrated, largely working-class neighborhood in the city’s center. Fletcher Reeves went to work as a hostler for John W. Wadsworth, who climbed to millionaire status with his livery stables even as Charlotte’s first electric streetcars were poised to dramatically transform the city’s landscape. In short order, three more children — Frank Charles (1882), Edna (1884) and John Henry (1888) — joined the household, and Angeline took in washing to supplement the family’s income.
Fletcher and Angeline’s combined incomes created a comfortable cushion for their children. On 1 March 1894, in an article snarkily titled “A Fashionable Wedding in Colored High Life,” the Charlotte Observer identified Carrie Reeves, accompanied by Cowan Graham, as a bridal attendant at the marriage of Hattie L. Henderson and Richard C. Graham, “one of the best and most popular waiters at the Buford Hotel.” The ceremony was held at Seventh Street Presbyterian Church and “‘owing to the prominence of the contracting parties,’ a number of white people were present.” Carrie herself was a bride eight months later when she married James Rufus Williams. Her sister Ada’s nuptials, in March 1895, were announced in the March 14 edition of the Observer: “Frank Eccles and Ada Reeves, colored, were married Tuesday night. The groom is Farrior’s man ‘Friday.’ He is a good citizen and deserves happiness and prosperity.”
By 1900, the Reeveses were renting a house at 413 East Eighth. Fletcher continued his work as a “horseler,” but Angeline reported no occupation, apparently having withdrawn from public work. Eighteen year-old son Frank worked as a porter, and youngest children Edna (15) and John (11) were at school. On 21 August 1902, Frank made an ill-starred marriage to Kate Smith. Two and a half years later, his sister Edna married William H. Kiner of Boston, Massachusetts.
When the censustaker returned in 1910, he found Fletcher and Angeline still living in the 400 block of East Eighth. All of their children had left the nest, and in their place was 7 year-old grandson Wilbur Reeves, who was probably Frank and Kate Reeves’ child. If the boy found comfort and stability in his grandparents’ home, however, it was not to last. On 4 September 1910, Fletcher succumbed to kidney disease. He was buried in Pinewood Cemetery, and Angeline went to live with her oldest daughter’s family.
In the 1900 census, Rufus and Carrie Williams and sons Worth (5) and Hugh J. (2) shared a house at 419 Caldwell Street with Frank and Ada Eccles and their son Harry. Rufus, who owned the house, worked as a hotel waiter and Frank as a day laborer. In 1906, Carrie posted a series of ads in the Charlotte News seeking customers for her sewing business.
Charlotte News, 5 September 1900.
Rufus seems to have spent his free team pitching for a top local baseball team:
Charlotte News, 13 August 1900.
Charlotte News, 4 September 1900.
In the 1910 census, the family is listed at 212 West First Street. Rufus worked as a porter at a club and Carrie as a seamstress. Sons Worth (14) and Jennings (12) were students. Ada Eccles, already a widow, had migrated to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is listed at 8 Rockwell Street with brother-in-law William H. Kiner, sister Edna E. and their children Addison F. (4) and Carroll M. (2), plus brother John H. Reeves. William worked as a clothes presser in a tailor shop, Ada as a servant, and John as a hotel waiter. William was born in Virginia, all the others except Carroll in NC. (The Kiners also spent time in Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard. Son Carroll Milton was born there in 1907; the birth register gave William’s occupation as theological student.) Frank is not found in the 1910, but the state of his marriage can be inferred from a newspaper article about his wife, passing for white in Hollywood.
Charlotte News, 15 May 1910.
Hugh Jennings Williams died after a battle with tuberculosis in 1913, during his final year in Biddle University‘s preparatory division. (His older brother, Worth Armstead Williams, also attended Biddle for high school and college.) Jennings’ obituary paints a charming picture of the boy and makes clear his parents’ status in the eyes of white Charlotte.
Charlotte News, 20 November 1913.
Just months later, more than 800 miles away in Cambridge, Jennings’ uncle John H. Reeves also contracted TB. He was dead by April 1915.
By 1920, the Williamses had moved a little ways out of the heart of the city to 826 South Church Street in the Ninth Ward. Widow Angeline Reeves was listed in the household with Rufus, Carrie, and 24 year-old Worth Williams. Rufus was a porter at a club, Carrie was a dressmaker, and Worth a student at a dental college. (Worth was only at home temporarily. He was enrolled at Howard University’s dental school.)Meanwhile, up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the censustaker found William H. Kiner (a chipper at a shipyard), wife Edna E., and children Addison F., Carroll M. and Evelyn C. living at 8 Rockwell Street, and Ada Eccles and her son Harry at 65 Grigg Street.
Rufus Williams continued to enjoy the esteem of his employer and patrons at the Southern Manufacturers Club — at what personal cost unknown. Waiting on the cream of the Queen City’s burgeoning manufacturing magnates was a path to economic security, but that path was strewn with daily indignity, both casual and intentional. Rufus, and his father before him, were what some fondly called “white man’s niggers,” but to acknowledge this is not to indict them. In a 1924 news article, note that Rufus’ speech honoring his benefactor, John C. McNeill, also shines a light on the fruit of his years as a servant — his “son, W.A. Williams, who is a surgeon dentist at New Bern.”
James Rufus Williams died 24 May 1947 in Charlotte. Six years later, on 25 March 1953, his mother-in-law Angeline McConnaughey Reeves passed away at the age of 94. Her mother and husband gone, Carrie Reeves Williams lived just six months more and died 28 September 1953. I have not found record of Frank Reeves’ death. His sisters Edna Reeves Kiner died in New York City in 1969 and Ada Reeves Eccles in Cambridge in 1979.
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