Cleveland County, NC

This North Carolina African American Heritage tour pulls together many existing sites of significance of the African American experience in Cleveland County. Through this tour you will see many of the schools, churches, and community centers which housed much of the African American Heritage of the area. Most of these sites are on private property so we ask that you respect this and do not trespass.

This tour was shared with the permission of Zach Dressel, Curator of the Earl Scruggs Center: Music & Stories from the American South. To share information or ideas for additional stops, contact Zach Dressel at While in the area, visit the temporary exhibit at the Earl Scruggs Center: African American Builders and Architects. African American Builders and Architects explores the extraordinary buildings across the state of NC constructed by free black artisans and slaves during the pre-Civil War era. Learn about the building styles and tools used by these individuals, as well as African folkways and traditions.

In addition, Redefining Builders: The African American Communities of Cleveland County, co-curated by Chavis Gash and Zach Dressel for the Earl Scruggs Center, transitions from traditional builders to transformational builders of communities. This part of the exhibit documents how African Americans built vibrant communities filled with churches, civic organizations, and businesses. African American Builders and Architects was produced by the Historic Preservation Foundation of NC in cooperation with the Gallery of Art & Design at North Carolina State University.

Low Activity

1 day | 11 stops

Day 1

STOP 1: Cleveland High School

This structure was at one time the Cleveland High School which served the African American community of Shelby from 1895 until the mid-1960s when Cleveland County began to integrate its public schools. The school was open for sixth graders until 1977. Throughout this time the building underwent many changes as the African American population of East Shelby began to grow in the 1920s as jobs in local mills became more readily available.

STOP 2: The Washington Theater

Originally Constructed in the late 1940s by two white men from Shelby, the Washington Theater quickly cemented itself as a staple of the community in east Shelby. Ownership transitioned to the Dillingham family, the Washington Theater was the only theater in Cleveland County to allow all seating to African Americans during segregation. This entertainment center regularly put on shows featuring musicians and singers, often regionally or nationally known.

STOP 3: Dockery Funeral Home

The Dockery family owned one of the oldest funeral homes in the county and were the first to sell burial insurance to African Americans. The original structure on Buffalo St. in the Freedmon Community of East Shelby is still standing as a testament to the early history of the African American community there.

STOP 4: Mt. Calvary Church

Organized in March 1926 in the home of Fess and Flora Young, a small group of members adopted the name Mount Calvary and initially held services in other church buildings. The new Mount Calvary Baptist Church was completed in February 1928 and cost approximately $4,000. The structure exists on Carolina Avenue in the Freedmon community of East Shelby. Carolina Avenue was at one time one of the epicenters of the African American community.

STOP 5: Shiloh Baptist Church

The Shiloh Baptist Church began its life as a Sunday School formed by African Americans just after the Civil War ended in 1865. The small following quickly began to grow a community in West Shelby and the decision was made to begin a church. The first location for the church was at the corner of Logan and Weathers Sts. By 1960, what began as a congregation of fourteen, had quickly outgrown its original home and built its current day structure off of Frederick St. The church at 413 Weathers St. was then purchased for use as a part of Genesis Funeral Home.

STOP 6: Enloe Mortuary

Enloe Mortuary on N. Lafayette St., the oldest African American-owned funeral home in Cleveland County, was established by Sherwood T. Enloe, Sr, one of the first black businesspersons in the county. Still in operation, Enloe Mortuary is the longest-running black owned business in Cleveland County. Sherman and his wife were also civic leaders in the African American community.

STOP 7: Camp School

Camp School served African American students in the small farming community of Shoal Creek, which is located in the southern part of Cleveland County, during segregation. It was one of the schools which closed with consolidation of schools during integration in 1967. Today the building which formerly housed the school serves as a food distribution center for Crossroads Rescue Mission located in Shelby.

STOP 8: Hoper's Chapel Baptist Church

Hoppers Chapel Baptist Church began in the early 1940s with prayer meetings held in various homes in the neighborhood around Minden, Jose, Martin, and Blanton Streets, with the first being in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Odell Hutley. As the congregation grew, they obtained a building and called Rev. J.H. Homes as the first pastor. The church was named Hoppers Chapel Baptist Church in honor of Mr. John B. Hopper, a member of the congregation.

STOP 9: Douglas Highschool

Today Douglas Highschool serves as a part of the First Baptist Church of Lawndale. However, 120 years ago it was a premiere boarding school provided with the help from Emily Prudden of the American Missionary Association at a time when public education for African American children in North Carolina was virtually unheard of.

STOP 10: Davidson Elementary school

From the late 1880s until 1926, the primary educational opportunity for African American youth in Kings Mountain was offered at the Bynum A.M.E. Zion Church and led by one teacher. In 1926, Kings Mountain School, a five-classroom building, was completed and the campus was renamed Davidson School in 1934. The school continued to serve African American students until 1961, when Kings Mountain School District consolidated rural and urban schools and all students were transferred to Compact School. The main building of Davidson School served as the district’s administrative offices starting in 1969.

STOP 11: Compact School

In 1872, African American farmer Peter Forney donated acreage for the building of Compact School and oversaw the construction and initial operation of the institution. The school opened in July 1872 with thirty-five students paying tuition of $2.50 per month. Additions were made to the campus in 1920 with help from the Rosenwald Fund (last two photographs), 1940, and late 1950s. By 1960, the high school enrolled over 100 students.