This two-story brick residence is the last surviving building from a once-thriving neighborhood of middle and professional class African Americans, defined by the racial segregation of early 20th-century Raleigh. The builder of the house was Dr. Manassas Thomas Pope, a native North Carolinian, born in 1858 to free persons of color. He graduated from Shaw University in 1885 with a degree in medicine. After practicing for a few years in Charlotte, he co-founded the Queen City Drug Company, which in the 1890s grew to be one of that city’s most successful black businesses. An officer and surgeon during the Spanish American War, Dr. Pope moved to Raleigh in 1899. He first set up practice on Fayetteville Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, but later moved his office to 13 E. Hargett Street.
About 1900, he began work on his home. Pope’s choice of a house site was not by chance. The burgeoning white supremacist movement had by then drawn racial lines around most of Raleigh’s neighborhoods. Though no written evidence survives, it seems clear that Dr. Pope built his house in the most prominent place he could--at the edge of what became known as the “Fourth Ward.” The neighborhood included the homes of several other black doctors, dentists and lawyers, as well as churches and a small private hospital. The homes of many of these leading black citizens faced the rear yards of the white houses fronting Fayetteville Street. Despite this environment, Pope built a fine residence. Amenities included a wide side hall with a stained-glass “petal” window and elegantly crafted staircase, sliding pocket doors, milled woodwork and copper-plated hardware. The house was both wired for electricity and piped for gas. A call bell system remains in place from the years the family employed a maid. Later changes made by Dr. Pope included a sunporch over the front porch, and small examining room at the rear of the house.
In 1919, Dr. Pope capped his public career with a remarkable run for public office. Driven by rising assaults on the rights of African Americans, Pope and two others made formal bids for the City Council. Though defeated at the polls, the ticket dramatically brought out the black vote. Pope’s family was equally infused with a sense of service. In 1907, Pope married Delia H. Phillips, an educator from a locally prominent African American family. The couple raised two daughters at the Wilmington Street house, Evelyn and Ruth, both of whom went on to receive master’s degrees from Columbia University and became notable teachers. Each moved back to the house upon retirement. Evelyn died there in 1995; Ruth died in October, 2000.
Today, the house stands alone, surrounded by parking lots. Fourth Ward began to decline in the 1960s, when the end of segregation and growth of suburbia drew middle-class black families elsewhere. Gone too are the fine houses of prominent white families on Fayetteville Street, replaced by towering office buildings and civic spaces. The City of Raleigh is currently the steward of the Dr. M. T. Pope House.
The Dr. M. T. Pope House is located at 511 S. Wilmington St. It is currently not open to the public.
The Pope House is the subject of an online lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Park Service program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.
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