Honoring history & preserving the historic integrity of our community Preserve
The Buck Leonard History & Learning Center at The Mitchell House
The Mitchell House Construction Trades project is a partnership with O.I.C. (Opportunities Industrialization Corporation), to provide hands-on skills development in construction and the trades. Education is the key to growing the local economy, and we share OIC’s dedication to building career pathways for under-skilled and unemployed youth and adults.
The “Mitchell House” is a 2 ½ Story, 2700 sq. ft. home located in Rocky Mount, NC at 402 Albemarle Avenue. The home was built in the early 1900’s and frequently served as “Green Book” lodging for black entertainers during the “Jim Crow” era.
When completed, the Mitchell House will serve as the new hub of activity for our community enrichment programming, including The Stan & Donna Colson Negro League Baseball Collection – over 2,500 books about Negro Leagues baseball, from Pre-k picture books, to advanced volumes and research papers. More than 3,000 total works and exhibits will engage families and individuals of all ages in vicarious exploration activities – simultaneously learning reading skills along with local and Black American history.
Walter “Buck” Leonard Home Historical Landmark
Like many structures in the historically Black Crosstown District, the home at 605 Atlantic Avenue in Rocky Mount, North Carolina is a product of the late 19th-century Fusion political movement that led to significant social reform, as white-supremecists were largely voted out of office.
Constructed in 1900, this house represents an intact example of a modest, American Bungalow-style home chosen by many middle-class citizens in Rocky Mount during the first half of the 20th century. The home is principally significant for its association with Walter “Buck” Leonard, a Rocky Mount native born in 1907, who resided there from 1934, until his death in 1997.
Mr. Leonard had a long and distinguished career in professional baseball, playing 15 years in the Negro Leagues (1934-48) with the Homestead Grays, and appearing in a record 13 East-West All-Star games. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1974.
After a successful community petition led by his family and the Buck Leonard Association, the Rocky Mount City Council voted unanimously in May 2019, to officially designate the Walter “ Buck” Leonard home as a Historical Landmark.
Crosstown Corridor Front Porch Study Project
In 1892, a group of progressive “Gilded Age” industrialists incorporated under the name “The Rocky Mount Improvement and Manufacturing Company”, purchasing 383.5 acres of land, and creating Rocky Mount’s first Land Use Plan. Along with the construction of James Buchanan Duke’s American Tobacco Company manufacturing plant, the group developed and promoted an adjacent, racially-inclusive residential area to the northeast, that included a school, church, and the Riverside Park and Boulevard.
Not only does this represent our local shift from a rural, agrarian town to an industrialized city, the new “Crosstown” community offered Black settlers an equal opportunity to invest in prime downtown real estate, and the rare chance to pursue, and help shape the emerging “American Dream” of home ownership and economic advancement.
Despite the rich history of the Crosstown community, it has now been subject to decades of targeted neglect, economic disinvestment, and systemic exclusion from historic planning. In an effort to restore its historic integrity, our “Crosstown Front Porch Study” proposes community education, collaboration and inclusion in the preservation and historic designation of Crosstown.
This project will bring preservation professionals together with a consortium of no fewer than 30 Crosstown residents, to draw upon their historic knowledge and lived experience. This community-led group will learn to create, submit and negotiate proposals that will meet the national and local criteria for historic designation, as well as the identified needs of our Crosstown neighbors.
Unity Cemetery Restoration
Inspired by a visit from Booker T. Washington in 1910, “The Father of Rocky Mount” Thomas H. Battle led the city to purchase two acres of property next to the privately owned Unity Cemetery on November 15, 1915. Here, the city opened the first area cemetery where Black people could purchase lots and bury their loved ones.
For more than 25 years this “separate but equal” cemetery became the final resting place for many important and beloved Black ancestors of Rocky Mount. In the 1940s, a second segregated cemetery was built, and soon thereafter the cemetery was abandoned. Neglected for so many years, the cemetery is now lost in the woods and falling into ruin, dishonoring the historic value of the life and times of many remarkable African Americans.
Among the graves sadly lost to time is that of William Lee Person who in 1888, alongside Battle, was a founding member of a new, industrialized Rocky Mount, an important part of America’s “New South”. Person later served as Rocky Mount Postmaster from 1890-1893, and as a North Carolina State Senator 1896-1897. Two graves easily located in this historic but derelict cemetery are those of Frank W. Davis, a successful entrepreneur and community builder, and Peter Darden, the first African American elected to the Rocky Mount Board of Aldermen.
Along with other community partners, we seek to restore the integrity of the final resting place and honor the good-faith purchases of our ancestors lost in the city’s first Black cemetery.