Depot Street Renaissance Mural

19 minute read

A portion of the Depot Street Mural in progress

Discover Depot Street

During the late 19th and 20th centuries, the area surrounding R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s manufacturing facilities was known as the Depot Street neighborhood. Depot Street (now Patterson Avenue) was one of the first prestigious Black neighborhoods in Winston-Salem and a thriving hub of Black enterprise. It remains a vital and esteemed part of the city through institutions like the Clark S. Brown & Sons Funeral Home, A. Robinson Building and Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.

The Depot Street Renaissance mural represents the contributions of just a few of the many individuals, businesses and institutions that created this neighborhood’s rich heritage. You can visit the Depot Street Renaissance Mural on 7th Street between Research Pkwy and Vine St.

Special thanks to Inmar Intelligence for sponsoring this inclusive initiative.

Click image to enlarge.

The What and Who of the Neighborhood

Lloyd Presbyterian Church

Lloyd Presbyterian Church is a historic African American church located at 748 Chestnut Street in Winston-Salem. Originally constructed between 1890 and 1907 by its congregation, it is the second oldest African American church in Forsyth County, where worship still occurs in an original location and structure. Lloyd Presbyterian Church is the only example of Carpenter Gothic architecture in Forsyth County and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Learn more: Lloyd Presbyterian Church

George H. Black

George H. Black was a nationally known brickmaker with an outstanding reputation for quality and durability. He worked from as early as the 1920s until his death in 1980 at the age of 101. As the son of a former enslaved person, Black came to Winston-Salem as a boy, hauling bricks for a white brickmaker before starting his own brickyard. He continued to make bricks by hand for decades, teaching others the art of this dying craft well into his nineties. A historical marker can be found at 111 Dellabrook Road.

Learn more: City of Winston-Salem Historic Marker

Mo Lucas

Moses “Mo” Lucas was a role model and mentor to generations of Winston-Salem resident, serving fifty years as the director of the Patterson Avenue YMCA and later the Winston Lake YMCA and founding numerous community programs during his tenure. Lucas passed away in 2016.

Learn more: Winston-Salem Journal

Patterson Avenue YMCA

In 1924, the Patterson Avenue YMCA branch opened on Depot Street, serving African Americans in Winston-Salem during Jim Crow-era racial segregation. In 1985, the Patterson Avenue YMCA moved to a new facility in Winston Lake Park and was renamed the Winston Lake Family YMCA.

Learn more: YMCA of Northwest North Carolina

Naomi C. McClean

Naomi McClean was the founder of the first Black public stenographic office (est. 1939) and the first Black business school (est. 1941) in Winston-Salem. Both the office and school were located in the Bruce Building on Patterson Avenue. The school offered day and evening classes to young men and women, providing an opportunity to acquire business and clerical skills. During the 1960s, the school was renamed McLean’s Stenographic Services, and McClean continued to teach and serve the community until her retirement in 1987. McClean passed away in 1995.

Learn more:

Delray Sylvester Hartsfield

Delray Hartsfield was the Chairman of the YMCA’s board during its move from Patterson Avenue to the Waterworks Road location in 1985. Hartsfield led the transition to the new location and was instrumental in the architectural design and historic preservation between the two locations. Along with supporters from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, he worked closely with architect Harvey Gant of Charlotte, NC. Hartsfield was instrumental in bringing on Norm Joyner as the first director of the YMCA on Waterworks. Delray was also a brick mason by trade and an industrial arts educator at Atkins High School, where he taught bricklaying. He and his students were responsible for much of the brick and stonework in the Patterson Avenue corridor. When Delray Hartsfield retired, he was the principal of the Career Center Forsyth County. He passed away in 2002.

Source: The Delray Sylvester Hartsfield family

Velma Hopkins

Velma Hopkins was a tireless civil rights advocate. Hopkins worked for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company as a tobacco stemmer in the harsh warehouse conditions of the 1940s, earning less than 17% of her male counterparts. In 1943, after a fellow worker’s death, Hopkins and others organized a month-long picketed strike. The strike resulted in the formation of a union known as Local 22, which negotiated for pay raises, equity and improved working conditions. Hopkins continued to spend her life advocating for equality and desegregation and inspired a generation of activists.

Learn more: Winston-Salem Monthly

The Lafayette Theatre

The Lafayette Theatre was one of three African American theatres located on the 100 block of East Fourth Street, all opened by local entrepreneur and moviemaker Williams S. Scales during the early 20th century. The Lafayette began with Vaudeville acts in the 1920s. By the 1940s, the theatre offered “westerns and action pictures as well as Saturday offerings for children.” The theatre operated until the mid-1960s and has since been demolished.

Learn more: Forsyth County Public LibraryCity of Winston-Salem

William S. Scales

W.S. Scales was an early moviemaker and entrepreneur who contributed to the Winston-Salem African American community’s entertainment and cultural life in the early and mid–1900s. A former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco laborer, he left the factory to open a small café before opening three theatres to serve African Americans:  Lincoln Theatre, Lafayette Theatre and Rex Theatre. Scales passed away in 1949.

Learn more: City of Winston-Salem 

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company Factory Strike

In the 1940s and 1950s, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was one of the largest employers in Winston-Salem. After a worker died on the job at Factory 64, a group of workers, primarily African American women, organized a strike in 1943 that spread throughout most of the R.J. Reynolds factories and resulted in the creation of the Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers of America-CIO (F.T.A.) union. A second strike occurred in 1947 when the R.J. Reynolds administration refused to create a 65-cent minimum wage for stemmers, who were mostly African American women. In the end, an agreement was reached that would grant a 60-cent minimum wage to workers in Factory 64. A historical marker can be found on N. Research Parkway between E. Fourth and E. Fifth Streets.

Learn more: City of Winston-Salem Historic Marker

Virginia Newell

In 1977, Virginia Newell was one of two Black women to be elected to Winston-Salem’s Board of Alderman, which later became part of Winston-Salem’s city council. Newell championed racial equality, fair-housing and equal rights while representing the city’s East Ward. In addition to her position on the board, she is remembered as a gifted professor and computer-science advocate at Winston-Salem State University.

Learn more: Winston-Salem Journal

Ghuneem Furqan and Pyramid Barber School

Ghuneem Furqan founded and operated the Pyramid Institute of Barbering for thirty-seven years before retiring in 2013. A graduate of the old Modern Barber College in Winston-Salem, Furqan began his career as a barber in 1960. The school, which opened in 1978 in Winston-Salem, moved to Patterson Avenue and 7th Street in the Howard-Robinson Building, where it operated for nineteen years. In addition to running this school, Furqan worked for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in research and development before retiring from Reynolds in 1994. Furqan estimates that his school graduated approximately 8,000 students.

Learn more: Winston-Salem Journal

The A. Robinson Building

The A. Robinson Building, also known as the Howard-Robinson Building or the Pyramid Barber Shop, is a historic commercial building located at the corner of 7th Street and Patterson Avenue in Winston-Salem. Constructed in 1940, the building is named after Aladine Robinson, who designed it for his funeral business. Most notably, the north and south facades of this brick commercial building were made by hand by celebrated local brickmaker George S. Black. In 1998, the building was recognized in the National Register of Historic Places.

Learn more:  Winston-Salem’s Architectural Heritage by Heather Fernbach, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2015

Clark S. Brown Sr. and Browns-Fraternal Funeral Directors

Clark S. Brown Sr. was the founder of Clark S. Brown & Sons Funeral Home. After moving to Winston-Salem from Roanoke, Virginia, in 1930, Brown worked as an embalmer at The Fraternal Funeral Home. In 1931, Brown was named its manager, and by 1933, the home became Browns-Fraternal Funeral Directors, located at 201 East 7th Street. In 1935, Brown purchased the company outright, and by 1945 it became Clark S. Brown & Sons Funeral Home. In 1962, a new funeral home was constructed at 727 North Patterson Avenue, and a second generation of Brown funeral directors would begin with Clark’s sons. Brown Sr. ran Clark S. Brown & Sons Funeral Home until he died in 2001. The funeral home remains a pillar in the Winston-Salem community.

Learn more: Clark S. Brown & Sons

Model Pharmacy at Bruce Building

In the mid-1920s, Dr. William H. Bruce constructed the Bruce Building to house his medical practice, a pharmacy, professional offices, a florist, dry cleaners and a pool parlor. The Horton Branch of the Forsyth County Public Library was also housed in the Bruce Building in 1927. By 1958, Bruce Building tenants included Naomi C. McLean’s stenography business, Boy Scouts of America, NC Mutual Insurance Company and several doctors’ offices. It was demolished in 1992.

Learn more:  Winston-Salem’s Architectural Heritage by Heather Fernbach, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2015

LaMae Beauty College

Ola Mae Forte establish the LaMae Beauty College in 1937 at Patterson Avenue and Sixth Street with the motto “LaMae is our Name, to Beautify is our Aim.” Approximately forty Black men and women matriculated from LaMae each year, where various classes ranging from “anatomy and hygiene to shop management and salesmanship” were part of the curriculum. The school ran until its closure in 1975. This building was torn down in the late 1980s.

Learn more: Winston-Salem Journal

Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church

This historic African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, established in 1918, is one of the most influential African American churches in the city. Initially founded in 1881 as Winston Tabernacle A.M.E. Church, its first worship service was led by Dr. William H. Goler and held at the Forsyth County Courthouse. Also known as “Old Goler,” the church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Learn more: Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church

Dr. William H. Goler

William Harvey Goler, born in 1846, was an educator, church leader and president of Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC. Born in Nova Scotia, Goler emigrated to the United States in 1870 to pursue a seminary education. Goler eventually led a small church group in Forsyth County and established what would become Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church (now Goler Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church) before becoming the second president of Livingston College, a private, historically Black Christian college.

Learn more:

Depot Street Graded School

The Depot Street Graded School was the first public school for African Americans in Winston, opening for classes in December of 1887 on Depot Street’s east side, between East Sixth and East Seventh Streets. The school only offered primary education and limited industrial training until the arrival of principal Simon Green Atkins in 1890. Under his leadership, the school expanded and became the first African American high school in Winston-Salem in 1895. In 1924, the Depot Street Graded School burnt down, and the Fourteenth Street Colored Grade School was built.

Learn more: Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission 

Mary Burns

The Safe Bus Company, the largest Black transportation company in the world, was formed in 1926 in response to a “poorly regulated, dangerous and overcrowded jitney system” that connected Black riders to electric streetcars that only operated inside white neighborhoods. The jitney operators pooled their resources to form this safer solution and ran a fleet of 35 buses. In 1959, Safe Bus named Mary Burns its first female president. She went on to drive for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Greyhound Bus lines before retiring in 2012. The Safe Bus Company operated until 1972 when it was purchased by the City of Winston-Salem and became the Winston-Salem Transit Authority.

Learn more: Visit Winston-Salem Winston-Salem Chronicle

Clark Campbell

Clark Campbell was a city bus driver for sixty-two years, starting his career doing maintenance at the Safe Bus Company in 1944. Campbell was joined by his brother Theodore (pictured in the mural) a few years later, before both brothers became drivers. Campbell was well known in the community and trained many new hires. After the Safe Bus Company became the Winston-Salem Transit Authority, Campbell continued to drive until 2006 and remained on the active driver list until he died in 2008. In 2007 the WSTA renamed its transportation center for him, making it the first building in downtown Winston-Salem to be named for a Black person.

Learn more: Winston-Salem JournalOur State Magazine

Barbara Morris

Barbara Morris’s childhood home was relocated from Belews Street (near the area of Third and Research Parkway) to Cunningham Avenue when U.S. Route 52 was constructed. In 1958, several hundred families were forced to leave their homes to make way for this new highway, part of the city’s urban renewal project. The entire neighborhood was razed. Morris, a secretary of the Belews Street Reunion, which first gathered in 1955, advocated “for recognition of the neighborhood’s history.” Morris continues to keep the history of this area alive by sharing her memories. In 2014, a historical marker was unveiled in recognition of this neighborhood’s history.

Learn more: Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem Journal

Grocery Stores

Grocery stores were popular businesses to own in the Black community in Winston-Salem. One successful grocer was Thomas L. Hooper Sr. Hooper came to Winston-Salem to work in a friend’s grocery store after graduating from North Carolina A&T State University. In 1903, he bought his first grocery store on East Third Street, between Patterson and Church Street. In 1918, Hooper opened a second grocery store on 7th and Patterson Avenue. He remained at this location until 1962 when this property was razed because of the city’s urban renewal project.

Source: Triad Cultural Arts

Cafés on Patterson Ave

In 1890 there were ten Black eating establishments in the Depot Street area, and by 1915 thirty-five were in operation. The original Starlight Café was established by Mrs. Christine D. “Ma Chris” Burton, known for her soul food/low country cuisine. Burton’s food was highly regarded by locals and celebrities passing through Winston-Salem. The restaurant later moved to Liberty Street, continuing Ma Chris’s legacy. Burton passed in 2005.

Source: Triad Cultural Arts

Benjamin Sylvester Ruffin Jr.

Benjamin Sylvester Ruffin Jr. was an African American civil rights activist, educator and businessman. He grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where he began his work as an activist, assuming numerous leadership positions within organizations that ensured social justice and access to opportunities for African Americans. Ruffin continued his civil rights activism throughout college before beginning government work in 1977. He contributed significantly to “helping Black presence become more widespread in governmental roles.” He was a successful businessman and was named Vice President for Corporate Affairs at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1989, helping make connections with minority businesses and integrating minorities within the workforce. Ruffin continued at R.J. Reynolds until 1999, when he retired to focus on his work as part of the U.N.C. Board of Governors. Ruffin held numerous notable roles and received several awards and recognitions, including being named a “Life” and “Golden Heritage” member of the NAACP. He passed away in 2006.

Learn more: Benjamin S Ruffin Jr.

Dr. Manderline Scales

Manderline Scales was a long-time educator and advocate for human and family rights in Forsyth County. Scales began her career at Atkins High School, becoming one of four Black teachers to integrate the predominately white Parkland High School in 1966. After more than twenty years of teaching with Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools, Scales served for three decades in various positions at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU). She is credited for starting the first Spanish program for local high schools and WSSU students. Scales was also involved in numerous civic and community organizations and served on countless boards. Scales passed away in 2019.

Learn more: Winston-Salem ChronicleWinston-Salem Journal

Ralph Morgan

Ralph Morgan saw jitney services being operated while he served in the military during WWI. After returning home to Winston-Salem following his service, Ralph joined forces with his brother Harvey and began running their own jitney service for black workers. In 1926, the Morgan brothers, along with 19 other bus owners, pooled their resources to create Safe Bus Company, purchasing $100,000 shares of stock and a fleet of 35 buses. The Safe Bus Company provided a safer solution to a “poorly regulated, dangerous and overcrowding jitney system.” At the time it was the largest black-owned transportation company in the world, enabling black workers to travel to and from their jobs for 42 years.

Learn more.

Mrs. Ricky Wilson

Ricky Wilson was a teacher, model, designer, church member and civic leader in the community. A graduate of La Mae Beauty College, Wilson worked as a cosmetologist before receiving a degree from Baltimore School of the Arts and opening many successful businesses, including Ricky’s Boutique, Ricky’s Modeling Agency and Wedding Consultant L.T.D. In addition to serving as a teacher at Forsyth Technical Community College, Wilson served in the community in many capacities including as President of the local Urban League Guild and on the board of various organizations including NAACP Treasurer. She became the first African-American to chair the Convention Center and Coliseum Commission and received numerous awards and recognition for outstanding community service, including being named the recipient of the Winston-Salem Chronicle Lifetime Achievement Award.

Thomas L. Hooper Sr.

After graduating from AT&T college, Hooper Sr. came to Winston-Salem to work for a friend as a grocery clerk. In 1903 Hooper Sr. bought his first grocery store on E. 3rd Street between Patterson Avenue and Church Street. In 1918, he opened a second grocery store at 7th and Patterson Avenue where it operated until 1962 when urban renewal efforts led to the closure of the property.

D.L. Morgan

One of the most successful Black businesses in Winston-Salem, D.L. Morgan founded the Morgan Huffman Dry Cleaners in 1909. Morgan then opened the Cleaning and Dye Company in 1914. By the 1930s, Morgan had branches across Winston-Salem, including white communities. To get around the segregation policy, Morgan hired white managers to run those businesses. Morgan’s business was successful due to his constant study of the latest methods of dry cleaning and modern equipment. He retired in 1961 after more than 50 years in business.

“Chain Link” Adinkra Symbol

The Adinkra symbol of West Africa representing unity which was added by mural artist Leo Rucker as a reminder to contribute to the community and that in unity lies strength.

Sankofa Heart

Sankofa is a word in the Akan Twi and Fante languages of Ghana that translates to “retrieve.” The stylized Adinkra symbol of Sankofa is often represented by this heart shape or a bird with its head turning backward. According to the mural artist the Sankofa heart on the mural represents “learning from the past to build for the future.”

Do you have a personal memory or historical account of a person or place from the Depot Street neighborhood? Fill out this form to share your personal recollection now.

Depot Street Renaissance Mural Video Series

Depot Street Mural: History

From barbershops to business schools, discover the richness behind the Depot Street and Belews Street neighborhoods in this first episode of a new video series celebrating our “Depot Street Renaissance” mural by Leo Rucker.

Depot Street Mural: Legacy

How do we carry on the spirit and tradition of Black entrepreneurship? Watch this video to discover how we are doing just that in the Innovation Quarter through initiatives like the Depot Street Renaissance mural by Leo Rucker and partnerships with entities like ACCESS Center for Equity + Success.

Meet the Artist: Leo Rucker

Leo Rucker, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina artist, began his love for art at the early age of 5 yrs old. After receiving many awards in high school, Leo continued his pursuit of art at Rutledge College in commercial art in Winston-Salem, N.C., receiving his degree in 1983 and an outstanding artist award. These accomplishments opened the door for Leo to express his craft as supervisor in the gold leaf department at Carolina Art and Frame, where he nurtured his craft for ten years.

Leo Rucker is a Winston-Salem, North Carolina artist

While building the foundation of his career, Leo connected with mentors, who encouraged him to enter into his first Sawtooth Art Center competition out of high school. This would lead to the first of many portraiture and mural commissions. His career began to escalate with the commission of a series of drawings and paintings for Forsyth County Partnership (Smart Start), as well as the career-long agreement with Segment Marketing Service Inc. This relationship yields pastel, oils and acrylic portraits for an ongoing column called (Role Models) featured in Sophisticate’s Black Hair Magazine. Sophisticate’s Black Hair Magazine has featured more than 200 accomplished ethnic women from around the world. Leo has most recently completed a tribute to the history and progression of transportation in Winston-Salem, NC, through murals on the pillars of Winston-Salem city’s transportation center. These murals include the people, places and things involved in its rich history and also reveal the future of energy and sustainability worldwide.

Leo Rucker is the Lead Historic Interpreter at Old Salem Museum and Gardens at the St. Philip’s African Moravian Heritage site. Learn more about Rucker’s art here.