TEN BEST THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT WINSTON-SALEM’S 100 YEARS
The semi-pro baseball team closed in 1998 as the oldest team of its kind in existence. The former African-American team was founded in 1914 and named for the part of town known as “the Pond” after a reservoir broke and flooded the area a decade earlier. I would love to see some elementary school kids’ drawings of what a “pond giant” would look like.
Miller Municipal Airport — later renamed Z. Smith Reynolds Airport in 1941 — was completed in 1927, hosting the aviation giant Charles Lindberg soon after. A new terminal was added the same year as the renaming, and the airport still exists for private flights and maintenance but is not open to the public.
If you missed the recent ceremony and historical marker unveiling to honor Local 22 — it was a long but worthwhile event — I recommend reading up on the union’s history beyond what fits here or on the marker. The union was established after a strike in 1943, the first by black workers at RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. Workers struck again in 1947 and won better conditions, benefits and wages. To understand the city’s civil rights history, familiarity with the workers’ struggles and names like Velma Hopkins or Theodosia Simpson is necessary.
A drawing of Junior Johnson hangs at the top of the stairs in my apartment, and though I’ve never been to a NASCAR race, the proximity of the quarter-mile track is alluring. The league’s first weekly track has seen considerable action since 1949 including Johnson, the Pettys, the Earnhardts and more. It’s always struck me as a bizarre sport — drag racing I can understand, but going in circles? — but I have a feeling if I watched in person I’d get into it.
Winston-Salem Teachers’ College, later Winston-Salem State, became the first African-American institution in the country to give elementary teaching degrees in 1925. Ten years after Wake Forest’s medical school moved to Winston-Salem, President Harry Truman participated in the school’s groundbreaking ceremony in the city in 1951. In 1960, what is now Forsyth Tech opened, followed three years later by the UNC School of the Arts. Salem College is significantly older than the joint city.
Gwendolyn Bailey became the first black student to enroll in an all-white public school — RJ Reynolds High — in 1957, and it took 14 years for the school system to fully integrate. In 1960, students from Wake Forest and Winston-Salem Teachers’ College staged a sit-in at the downtown Woolworth’s counter.
In November 1967, black residents rioted after Winston-Salem police killed a black man who was in custody. The National Guard was called in, a curfew was called for three nights and almost 200 people were arrested. The city implemented two curfews in 1969 after racial tension when police shot an escaped prisoner in April and when a deputy was acquitted of assaulting a black youth in October.
Winston-Salem became the first Southern city with a chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1969. The Panthers were known for their community programs, including a free ambulance service, as well as their successful militant stance blocking a woman’s eviction from her home. The city honored the Panthers with a historical marker last year. YES! Weekly ran an in-depth cover story on them in November.
Several musicians and producers with national or international acclaim from Winston-Salem were born in the later half of the first hundred years, including Ben Folds, Mitch Easter and 9 th Wonder. Folds put out a few tracks that were important to me in high school, and Easter produced for REM several times. DJ/producer/rapper Patrick Douthit, or 9 th Wonder has worked with Jay-Z, Murs, Destiny’s Child, David Banner, Drake and many others.
Hanes and RJ Reynolds dominated the city’s economic landscape for decades. In 1924, the city was the biggest tobacco manufacturer in the world and was a leader in knit and woolen goods production (as well as the largest Southern producer of wagons). Reynolds opened its powerhouse Whitaker Park plant in 1961, but in 2010 the company announced it would close the site. These days, healthcare is the largest employing industry.
Thanks to the New Winston Museum for research assistance.