In an unassuming brick row house downtown on Saturday, city officials turned back the clock 70 years, to a time and place that would reshape Raleigh’s African-American community.
In 1945, America’s soldiers began returning home, worn from a war that derailed the lives of millions of Americans. For the African-American soldiers returning to Raleigh after World War II, their service offered an awakening.
Those deployed overseas had been exposed to cultures not controlled by Jim Crow segregation. These soldiers realized they wanted more, expected more, and over the years to come, began to demand more.
“This was their first time traveling outside of the United States, and they realized that Jim Crow was not everywhere,” said Percia Swift, a City of Raleigh official. “They felt more free in a different country than their home. They got a taste of freedom and respect.”
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Raleigh officials celebrated that post-war awakening Saturday at city-owned Pope House Museum on Wilmington Street. The red-brick house was home to Dr. Manassa T. Pope, one of Raleigh’s few African-American doctors at the turn of the 20th century. The house anchored several blocks populated by Raleigh’s African-American community throughout much of the 20th century; today it stands alone in a desolate block surrounded by parking lots and the nearby Lincoln Theater.
On Saturday, city officials invited visitors into the home to learn more about Pope’s family and the black community through the 1940s and 1950s. After Pope died in 1934, his two daughters, Evelyn and Ruth, remained in the family home for decades. The sisters, too, felt the post-war surge of change and energy. Both women received college educations and Evelyn Pope would go on to lobby for public libraries for black children throughout North Carolina.
They felt more free in a different country than their home. They got a taste of freedom and respect.
On Saturday, a team of museum staff and volunteers tried to re-create 1945 in Raleigh’s black community. Josh Trower wore a wool World War II Army uniform, complete with a transportation patch from the units where many black soldiers served. Tarecka Payne played Evelyn Pope, a studious librarian in a smart wool A-line skirt. Upstairs, Sharon Hackney pretended to be Ruth Pope, the younger sister who had a shock of red hair.
Ezavion Womack of Raleigh said he had walked by the Pope House Museum a hundred times without knowing its significance. On Saturday, he ambled through the house, studying World War II ration books and Pope family photographs.
“To know this is here and its story is really cool,” he said.
The city acquired the Pope home in 2012, and it is run by the City of Raleigh Museum. Ernest Dollar, director of the city museum, calls the home a “diamond in the rough” that needs to be experienced by the community.
The Pope House Museum, 511 S. Wilmington St., is regularly open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. The City of Raleigh Museum on Fayetteville Street is also hosting an exhibit on the experiences of World War II veterans upon their return to Raleigh. That museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
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