Mr. Quick: Journey To The Top Of Depot HillFeb 16, 2021 09:08PM ● By Cynthia Carson-Turner
From the book Preserving Our Heritage Copyright © 1998 Republished with permission from Secure Development Corporation
I was reared by my sister and brother-in-law partly at the Statesville Brick Yard, and later with my grandmother off North Tradd Street. I played with childhood playmates, both black and white. Unity and Morningside schools both hold my admiration for what I have learned.
The formative years of my life were graced with a neighborhood of older adult leaders and role models like Mrs. Bailey, Effie Steele, Jessie Stevenson, G.F. Dalton, Rev. Wilson Lee, Mr. and Mrs. James Howell, Cornelia Masters and others who shared their meager resources and love of mankind. They instilled a pride and hope in me that continues to this day.
At Unity and Morningside, we were taught our heritage. I had fun and knew respect because it was taught at home. Every adult in our neighborhood and school reminded us of that respect. They could and would discipline us!
Forty-one years ago, my neighbors, Effie and Stamey Steele ran Steele’s Café on Depot Hill. Nearly every day, I would beg them to let me work in their café. Always the reply would be, “You’re too young.” But about 5 a.m. one morning, “Steele” (as I fondly called my neighbor) knocked on my grandmother’s door to announce, “I need Cynthia to help at the café,” for Mrs. Steele was ill. I fell hopelessly in love with South Center Street and “Depot Hill.”
Effie and Stamey gave me the opportunity to make my first hot dog and to count and make change. They instilled much pride in me and lifted my self-esteem. They struggled, as I do, to eke out a living on a side of town that so many of our citizenry seem to want to forget.
I never saw the Steeles refuse to feed the hungry – no matter the color. They taught me that to survive in this life and to know peace within yourself, you must give back as God our Creator so blesses us.
When I left Steele’s Café, I worked for Frank’s Grill, owned by Frank and Josephine Feimster. I also worked at another café on Depot Hill called J.W.’s Coffee Shop, owned by John and Anne Mae Sewell.
Yes, there were often fights and shootings and the end of the Vietnam War brought drugs and a stigma upon our “Hill.” It seemed the more negative the talk about our Hill became, the more I realized what the scripture, “The wheat is ripe for harvest” means. It was saying to me, “Stand. Here is a golden opportunity to minister to both black and white youngsters, to say to them, “You’re better than what you’re doing to your lives. You were purposed for more.” I was able to say, “You insult your heritage – those whose struggles allow you the many pleasures and opportunities you enjoy.”
The old train station has moved across the tracks and the view from downtown is no longer visible. But we wish for its renovation and the rejuvenation of Depot Hill and the south side of town… for we, too, are a part of this “City of Progress.”
Depot Hill, why do I love it? Well, from my childhood, it’s been like a drug that pushed me up in the morning and pushed me home at night. It was and is, a place where I work and know who I am. It is a place where we as businesses are making efforts to give back when asked of our community.
Those of us who remain have suffered through economic trials, with great faith. This journey will pass on to our children. Let us leave them with a legacy of which they can be proud. By working together as partners, we all make the journey endless.
Special thanks to Statesville Historical Collection for photos to support this story. (Picture of Steele's Cafe sign was taken by J. C. Gray and donated by John Gray)