“The Black Side of Town”: Challenging Avondale’s White-only Narrative

This is third in a series of posts about the history of Avondale Estates.

Delivering groceries to the A&P, Avondale Estates. DeKalb History Center, Forkner Collection.

Avondale Estates was restricted to white-only residents (or at least homeowners) for much of its 20th century history. And today the city is still almost 80% white.[1] Much of the recent diversification of Avondale’s population has come since 1998, as a result of annexation and changing real estate practices. But a glance at historical photos of Avondale Estates reveals that the white-only narrative misleads us about the fact that African Americans were part of life in Avondale Estates before these changes happened. If we look at historical photos, for instance, we can see Black people all around Avondale Estates in the pre-WWII period.

Annie Mae, who worked for the Forkner family, with Tom Forkner, age six. DeKalb History Center, Forkner Collection.

A Black man leads a horse outside a stable, while another, presumably a groom or trainer, stands among a group of young white riders. A woman named Annie Mae poses next to a 6 year old son of the family she works for. Black men in aprons unload cargo from an A&P truck. I see these figures, many of them nameless, and I want to know who they are.

The history of Avondale Estates has largely been written as if these people did not exist and race was not part of the community story. Yet the lifestyle of Avondale Estates’ residents was dependent on the labor of people of color who maintained their gardens, worked the stables, cleaned their houses, and served in or ran local stores. During one group interview my students and I conducted in 2017, long-time resident Red Murphey, who passed away in 2018, recalled with fondness his family’s connections to the “Black side of town.” He described his family’s “yard man,” Carl, and told a story about how his father and Carl used to slaughter a pig every fall and share the meat.[2]

Tending the horses at the Avondale stables. DeKalb History Center, Forkner Collection

Who was Carl? And where was the “Black side of town?” The 1930 census for Avondale Estates reveals the presence of several Black families living along N. Avondale Road/Covington Highway, and young women  living in as servants with white families. Lucy Watson, a 50 year old widow, lived along N. Avondale, as did George Fuller and Rufus Walker, sawmill laborers.[3]

In 1940, Blacks made up about 2 percent of the Avondale population. Murphey mentioned a block of shotgun houses on Franklin Street, and indeed in 1940 four households were located along then Franklin Avenue, probably in double shotgun houses. At 9A there was the family of Russell McDaniel, a bricklayer/laborer from Stone Mountain/Shermantown, and his wife, Estelle, who worked as a maid, living with their four children. Charlie Banks and his family lived at 11A Franklin. 11B was home to Emma Hinton, a widowed laundress, who lived with her niece, Ella May, and her brother, Drew Hightower. Emma had been married to Elonza Hinton, a truck driver, in 1930, living on Oak Street.[4] Additionally, in 1940 John and Mary Clark, both in their 20s, lived in the rear of 8 Kingstone, where they presumably worked for the Davenport family who lived in the main home at that address. In 1940 seven Black women worked as live-in maids for Avondale families: Jane [?] Brown, 40 ,a cook for the Price family; Rosa Mae Adams, 26; Charlie Mae Parks, 26;  Annie Threeth [sic?], 22; Pearl Brow, 18; Mary King, 20; and “Jane,” 55 who lived with the Potter family at 30 Lakeshore Drive.[5]

Section of 1940 Census listing residents of Franklin Avenue, including Carl Houseworth.

Living at 9B Franklin Avenue in 1940 was Carl Houseworth, 39, a “yard man” with his wife Florida (Flossie), 30.[6] Houseworth had a history in the Avondale/Ingleside area. Born in 1904, he is listed in the 1930 Census as living on North Avondale Road, next to Lucy Watson, with his mother Anna Hammond.[7]

He was part of an extended family of Houseworths who lived in and around Ingleside during the first decades of the 20th century, predating the creation of Avondale Estates. He was likely the grandson of Elihu Houseworth, who lived on Covington Road in 1910 with his wife Liza Houseworth, both in their 40s, and their children Emzel, Annie, Charles, Enrel, Frank, and Marie. I believe Annie was Carl’s mother, Anna, and Frank and Charlie his uncles. Frank and Charlie Houseworth were drafted during WWI and had worked as trackmen for Georgia Railway and Power Company on the Stone Mountain streetcar line. The brothers migrated to Detroit after the war, where Charlie was married in 1932.[8] Elihu and Liza stayed in Ingleside and Elihu died in 1936. Living next door to Elihu and Liza was Le[t]cher Houseworth, 61, Elihu’s mother, with her two sons, a daughter, and grandson German. Letcher, born Adlecta Paden, was married to Elihu’s father Aaron in 1872.[9] The family originated from the Evans District, DeKalb County. By 1920, Letcher Houseworth, now 70, had moved and was living next door to her son, John, and his wife Mamie, on Grand  Avenue and Clarkston Road with her daughter Anna, 37,  and grandson, Carle, 17. Is this the same Carl? I think so. That same year, an Anna Houseworth, 34, was also listed as working with John Hammond and his wife Adaline on Hammond’s farm along “Carline Road.”[10]

Carl’s mother appears to have been a single mother and took the name Hammond later, sometime after 1920.[11] The 1920 Census also lists the household of farmer Arthur Houseworth, who lived on Indian Creek Church Road, with his wife, four young children, and his nephew Carl, 17, who worked as a general laborer.[12] Arthur was one of Elihu’s younger sons and thus likely Carl’s uncle.[13]

So Carl Houseworth’s family had deep roots in this area of DeKalb County. Carl lived in Avondale Estates for at least twenty-five years and worked as a yard man and

Elihou Houseworth’s death certificate, 1936

general laborer for Avondale families and the City, doing landscaping work and caring for horses. He was a familiar sight around the neighborhood, often with his mule in tow.[14] He registered for the draft during WWII, listing Lyman Murphey (Red’s father) as his employer.[15] His wife Florida (“Flossie”) was a domestic worker who also worked for the Murphey family. Because detailed Census records after 1940 are not released yet, I’m not sure how long Houseworth continued to live in Avondale, or when the Franklin Street shotgun houses were demolished. He was still there in Avondale Estates when his mother passed away in 1954.[16] He eventually moved to Gifford Street in Scottdale and died in 1963. His wife Flossie died in 1987.[17] It’s unclear whether or not they had any children.

Carl Houseworth’s WWII Draft registration card. Houseworth listed Lyman Murphey as his employer.

“Carl’s Corner,” the historical gateway located at North Avondale Road that has marked the entrance to Avondale Estates since its founding, is named for Carl Houseworth, who cared for the landscaping there and lived just a stone’s throw away. But on the historical signage recently installed when the gate was restored, no mention is made of the fact that that Carl was Black. In not doing so, the City of Avondale Estates missed an opportunity to pay tribute to the labor of countless Black workers who made life for white folks in the community possible, and to acknowledge the “Black side of town,” which predated Avondale Estates, and, it would seem, was largely displaced by development in the post-WW II period.

Carl Houseworth obituary, 1963

[1] 2010 Census.

[2] Group interview, November 11, 2017.

[3] Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

[4] The Census taker lists this address as “Scottdale,” but Oak Street was/is in Avondale Estates according to current maps. This suggests either changing street names or a blurring of geographic boundaries between Scottdale and Avondale, especially when Black folks were involved.

[5] Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

[6] I am deeply indebted to Charles Turner, who located Carl Houseworth in the 1940 Census and shared with me his last name.

[7] Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

[8] Charlie Houseworth, from “Ingleside, GA,” was born in April 1896 and drafted in June 1917. He was assigned to Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, KS in April 1918 and was honorably discharged,  25% disabled, in October 1918. US Veteran’s Administration Master Index, 1917-1940; Draft record, Registration State: Georgia; Registration County: DeKalb; Roll: 1557025; Draft Board: 7. Houseworth served as a private in the 6th Regiment, 3rd battalion, 164 DB. The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Lists of Men Ordered to Report to Local Board for Military Duty in the District of Columbia; NAI Number: 1159403; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System (World War I), 1917-1939; Record Group Number: 163. Ancestry.com. Georgia, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952; Film: 259; Film Title: 82 Wayne 092580-095859; Film Description: Wayne (Dates TBD). Houseworth died in 1981. Michigan Department of Vital and Health Records. Michigan, Death Index, 1971-1996 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1998. Charlie’s marriage certificate lists father as Elihue Houseworth, so Census listing for Lehn or Lehu was likely nickname or misspelling. Elihou/Elihue died in 1936 in Avondale and is buried in the cemetery at Mt. Pleasant Church. Georgia Department of Health and Vital Statistics; Atlanta, Georgia. Ancestry.com. Georgia, Deaths Index, 1914-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Brothers Frank and NL migrated to Detroit.

[9] Marriage decree, Aaron Houseworth and Adlecta Paden, February 10, 1872. DeKalb County. Record of Marriages, Book B, 1856-1872. Ancestry.com. Georgia, Marriage Records From Select Counties, 1828-1978 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

[10] I don’t know what this refers to but it could be Covington highway or another streetcar  It’s definitely in Militia District 531, which includes eastern Decatur, Scottdale, and Avondale Estates.

[11] Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. Note that the spelling of names is inconsistent due to perceptions of Census workers of the time,, but these are very likely the same individual.

[12] Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

[13] If Anna was a single mother, it would explain why she and Carl were dependent on relatives and employers for a place to live, and they may have stayed in several places over the course of 1920.

[14] DeKalb Champion, April 2, 2014

[15] US Veteran’s Administration Master Index, 1917-1940; Draft record. Note that the name is misspelled “Hausworth.”

[16] Anna Hammond obituary, The Atlanta Constitution, December 11, 1954. Houseworth was noted as living at 12 Franklin Street.

[17] Carl Houseworth obituary, The Atlanta Constitution, December 27, 1963; Florida Houseworth obituary, The Atlanta Constitution, January 21, 1987.

4 thoughts on ““The Black Side of Town”: Challenging Avondale’s White-only Narrative

  1. My father,mother and I moved from Charlotte,N.C.across the street from Red Murphey in 1941 when I was ten and he was 6 yrs old. Carl Houseworth started working for my family and was with us until he retired.Carl was a special person. I so enjoyed him. He helped me with my little horse that I kept in the back yard. I remember going with my Dad to see Carl when he was ill at his home behind the old Hairston Feed Store which is across the street from the old movie theater on the corner of the original business building. Our family still uses a cute expression that Carl always used when my mother offered him a morning cup of coffee. I have warm thoughts of Carl to this day!

    1. Rutledge, thank you so much for your comment! I would love to talk more with you about your memories of Avondale Estates and hope you might be interested in doing an oral history interview when it’s safer.

  2. Thank you for doing this important, thorough, interesting research. Fascinating! Just finished the exhibit at the DeKalb History Center.

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