The Rock Wall
When you jumped off the rock wall in Northside, you felt like it was fifty feet high!”
- David Caldwell, Jr.
At the front edge of the Bradshaw/Patterson home at the corner of Cotton and McDade Streets is a low rock wall that Mr. Atlas Bradshaw and local, artisanal masons built in the 1930s from materials leftover from a job across the street. In the heart of Pottersfield, under the keen watch of Ms. Fannie Bradshaw, the wall quickly became a gathering spot. Kids stopped there on their way down the hill from school. Their parents rested there on their way back up the hill after work. Lit by a rare streetlight, it became the place to connect, to exchange news, sometimes to call out each other’s children, and, in the early 1960s, to plan the first salvos in the fight for Black freedom in Chapel Hill.
The rock wall has since become a symbol of community sustenance and struggle. Ms. Esphur Foster called it “the hanging out wall.” It was a place for “just discussing things”. For Esphur’s brother, Harold Foster, and his high school friends, it was “a safe place, after the Greensboro sit-ins” to reckon with segregation in Chapel Hill. “Everybody in PottersField and Sunset could go there,” she said, “because everybody knew Miss Fannie.” And everybody had a place at the wall. As Keith Edwards recalls, if the teenagers got cliquish and shooed away a younger child, Miss Fannie would shout out from the front porch, “This place is for EVERYBODY!”
Durham Freedom School students at rock wall, 2016
From the Rock Wall is also for everybody. It is a multi-generational place to talk, to listen, to learn, and to stake claims for home, community, and justice. Sit for a spell. Take a load off on the way up your own hill. Hear what Northside neighbors have to say and respond in kind. History doesn’t stop with a speaker’s last word. It demands a response. From the Rock Wall is a call to be part of answering to and for the history of Black Chapel Hill/Carrboro. As listeners, we have the honor and privilege to carry this great legacy forward—from the rock wall to our homes, schools, communities, towns, and cities today.
Left image: UNC campus stone wall, attributed to Thomas Booth (1887-1955); Right image: Stone wall below UNC campus north quad, on Franklin Street, after the 1963 act to exclude alleged communists from speaking on campus or the “Speaker Ban” (Courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina.)
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Northside neighbors have a long and storied history of artisanal masonry. They built the stone walls that famously surround the UNC campus and laid its brick walkways. To learn more about the masons and builders who have distinguished Northside history, listen to interviews with Ezra Barbee, Handy Campbell, William ”Smitty” Smith, Albert Washington, and Min. Albert Williams.