Gastonia African American Museum quilt shows black pioneer heritage

A quilt on display at the African American Museum shines a light on black entrepreneurship throughout Gaston County’s history, museum founder Dot Guthrie said.

“It’s for the community,” said Guthrie, who founded the museum located at the Loray mill in Gastonia in 2019.

“It’s up to our older generations to remember and to current generations to share with the young people of today, and it’s up to the young people of tomorrow to never forget their past.”

The 5 by 6 quilt made with African prints and patterns features many of Gaston County’s black pioneers dating back to the early 1920s and 1940s.

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The quilt also contains news articles highlighting the progress and advancement of black entrepreneurs in the 1940s and advertisements for their businesses.

Guthrie worked with the African American Quilt Guild of Gaston County to create the quilt after talking with the Gastonia Business Association about sharing more information about black-owned businesses with the community.

“It’s important for our kids to know that the county had a lucrative business community years ago,” Guthrie said.

Quilt Features

The quilt displays over 60 squares of Gaston County leaders, business owners and more. Some plazas include familiar faces like current Mayor Walker Reid and Thebaud “T” Jeffers, Gastonia’s first elected black mayor.

Other squares include black men and women who have made pioneering achievements such as Charlie Mae Moore Forney, Dr. Herbert J. Erwin Sr. and Donald E. Ramseur.

Forney was the first African-American female barber in Gastonia (1950s and 60s). Erwin was Gastonia’s first African-American physician, the founder of the Negro Colored Hospital, and the man for whom the Erwin Center is named.

Ramseur was Gastonia’s first African-American lawyer in the 1950s. He was also the first African-American elected to the Gastonia City school board in 1965, according to the Gazette.

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Prominent business owners include Costner Funeral Home owner Charles W. Costner Sr., Gastonia’s first African-American councilman Nathaniel Barber, and many others.

Barber was one of the founders of the Excelsior Credit Union (1942), which was at one time one of the largest black-owned credit unions in the country, according to 1992 reports from the Gazette Gaston.

Museum board member Charles Whiteside, 74, says he admired many of the faces he saw on the quilt.

“I remember as a kid I was going to deposit 10 cents and a quarter at Excelsior (Credit Union),” said Whitesides, who grew up in Gastonia.

Whitesides is also remembered for the many businesses owned by Leslie “Les” Lightner, such as his taxi company (Lightner Cab) and his sandwich shop (The Dairy Bar).

“I want people to know how rich our history is in Gaston County,” Whitesides said. “We worked for each other and worked together to improve the community.”

The quilt includes a paper guide displaying the quilt squares along with a description and research references.

Guides are made available and free by contacting the Loray Mill African American Museum, located at 300 S. Firestone St.

The quilt will also be used for an online program created by the museum that includes courses in social studies and business economics. The Gaston Community Foundation will sponsor the program.

Financial support for the quilt and related educational materials came from the Glenn Foundation, Gaston Arts Council, Gaston Community Foundation, Loray Mill Lofts and the Gaston Business Association, Guthrie said.

Organizations and groups can reserve the quilt for exhibits at events by making reservations online.

Contact Janiya Winchester at 980-319-6819 or [email protected].

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