The Taylors were a prominent and influential African American family in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charles Samuel Lafayette Alexander Taylor (1849-1934) was born enslaved in South Carolina. Before the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, Taylor was enslaved in Union County, North Carolina, making shoes for A. A. Laney and Patterson Houston. During the war, the shoe business continued under Confederate government contract, and the shoes Taylor made, from wood and cloth due to a leather shortage, adorned the feet of soldiers fighting for the right to keep him enslaved. Following the war, Taylor attended Quaker schools and eventually opened his own barber shop on East Trade Street in Charlotte, where he served as captain and financial secretary of a local African American fire company, the Neptune Volunteer Fire Company. The Neptune Fire Company originated as the Yellow Jackets, a volunteer Fire Company made up of slaves and freedmen during the Civil War. Colonel Taylor was a founding member of the Neptunes. His work as a volunteer fireman led to involvement with state and national fire service organizations, including the North Carolina Colored Volunteer Firemen’s Association, for which he served as financial secretary for 18 years. He remained active in the organization until his death.
From May 4, 1885, to May 2, 1887, he was an alderman representing the third ward of the city of Charlotte. In 1887, Taylor organized an all-African American company of the national guard in Charlotte, for which unit he served as captain. The company was rolled into the Third North Carolina Regiment of Volunteers during the Spanish American War, and Taylor was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the organization.
Taylor’s participation in numerous other civic and political causes in Charlotte included membership in the Charlotte Light Infantry, an African American state militia unit, and service as chairman of the Mecklenburg County Black Republican Delegation.
Charlotte Fire Department reenactment of the first fire apparatus (Neptune) commanded by Colonel Charles Samuel Lafayette Alexander Taylor on display at Elmwood Pinewood Cemetery in Charlotte. Commander of first black fire company in Charlotte. Apparatus normally display at CFD Headquarters.
In 1869 Taylor married Augusta Wheeler (1852-1904) and had three sons, John J.L. Taylor, George R.N. Taylor, and Charles S.L.A. Taylor, Jr., all of whom served in the U.S. Army. After the death of his first wife, Taylor married Ella Louise Pickens (1875-1957) in 1905 and had two daughters, Harriet (1906-1961) and Louise (1909-?). Taylor and his second wife later assumed custody of James Franklin Richardson (1926-2003), his nephew by marriage. After service in the U.S. Navy during World War II and retirement from the U.S. Postal Service, Richardson embarked on a political career in Mecklenburg County, serving as a North Carolina general assemblyman and as a North Carolina state senator.
Charles Samuel Lafayette Alexander Taylor and Ella Louise Pickens with daughters, Harriet and Louise, MS0469, Taylor and Richardson families album, UNC Charlotte
The Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives at UNC Charlotte has an album for the Taylor family. The album contains photographs and other materials that document the life of Charles Samuel Lafayette Alexander Taylor and his family. The album predominantly contains portrait and informal photographs of Taylor; Ella Louise Pickens Taylor, his second wife; Harriet and Louise Taylor, his daughters; James Franklin Richardson, his nephew and ward; and numerous other relatives and family connections. Among the other documents included in the album are the will of Charles Taylor, family letters and birthday cards, newspaper clippings, obituaries for Charles Taylor and condolence letters written to the family following his death, death certificates of family members, historical sketches, stock certificates, and papers related to the purchase of land and cemetery plots.
Below is a letter from the Colored Knights of Pythias, a black fraternal organization of which Taylor was a member, to North Carolina Governor Thomas W. Bickett in July of 1920 asking for improvements in race relations as it related to racial violence, rape, and lynching. The “colored” organization of Knights of Pythias, as so many other associations, was brought into being because the original/ white Knights of Pythias, founded in 1864, would not allow non-whites to join. The organization rose to prominence across the nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Open to all races, this order quickly spread across the nation, reaching a peak enrollment of nearly 200,000 (mostly black) members in the 1920s. The Colored Knights fostered camaraderie among members, performed charitable acts and provided vital social services such as sick pay, life insurance and banking.
The Colored Knights also enjoyed a certain degree of pageantry – evident in this helmet's horsehair plume, gilded straps and heraldic crest. Some ranks of Knights wore this headgear with their military-like uniforms when they marched in public parades. This artifact embodies the pride and civic spirit of African-Americans who sought to build vibrant communities, improve lives and combat segregation. Although the popularity of fraternal orders declined after the Great Depression, the Pythian motto of "Friendship, Charity and Benevolence" still serves as an aspirational ideal today.
Colored Knights of Pythias helmet (c. 1890) that belonged to Edward A. Washington of Richmond.
July 20, 1920
Your committee on Race Relations, respectfully submit:
That we believe it fitting and proper that the Grand Lodge of Knights of Pythias representing every grade of Negro enterprise and uplift, and every section of our beloved state, should take cognizance of the serious menace to the peace and happiness of our homes, and of our state that is being made by criminal and vicious elements; that we do deplore these occasions so frought with race prejudice and hatred; and that we should place on record our firm and positive pledge to aid as far is in our power the civil authorities in their efforts to maintain law and to preserve the good name and reputation of our respective communities, and of our state.
That we earnestly appeal to the preachers, teachers and leaders of our race to show Negro appreciation of the firm and noble stand taken by His Excellency, Governor T. W. Bickett for the enforcement of law, and the suppression of mob-violence, by emulating his noble example and by giving their besforts and influence to teach our people to respect law, to assist in the suppression of crime, and in the elimination of race prejudice.
That we appeal to the citizenry of North Carolina, to the Christian leaders of both races to join together in earnest prayer work and in every lawful and christian means to banish from our state those baneful and all too frequent crimes of rape and of lynching.
That the betterelement of the white race and the better element of the Negro race, combine against vicious elements of either race to the end that the low, brutal, and vicious be not allowed to disgrace the name of North Carolina, or to check the Christian spirit and uplift that should exist between the best elements of both races.
We also desire to express of our gratitude and appreciation to His Excellency, Governor Bickett, for his manly efforts in upholding the dignity of the law to the end that even the criminal may have the benefit of a legal trial.
That a copy of this report, be sent to the Governor of the State and to the Associated Press.
J. W. JONES, Chairman.
JAMES H. YOUNG
J. E. SHEPARD
W. GEORGE AVANT
C. S. BROWN
R. J. BEVERLY
A. M. MOORE
E. E. SMITH
A. J. WILSON
J. A. BONNER.
E. T. GORDON.
F. W. M. BUTLER
EDWARD W. MILLER.
C. S. L. A. TAYLOR.
L. J. MELTON.
JAMES B. DUDLEY, Secretary.
Unanimously adopted by the Negro Grand Lodge of Pythias this 20th day of July 1920
Jas B Dudley
Until next week,
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Information taken from:
UNC Charlotte Special Collections on Instagram: @unccspeccoll
J. Murray Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives at UNC Charlotte
Second Ward High School National Alumni Foundation
Charlotte Fire Department on Twitter: @charlottefire
Historic Indianapolis, "Then & Now: 'Colored Knights of Pythias, 701-703 North Senate" by Tiffany Benedict Browne. February 11, 2016.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Artifact spotlight: Colored Knights of Pythias helmet," August 12, 2018.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass