Local News

Local Author Documents Cary's African American Roots

Posted February 16, 1999

— The town ofCaryis one of the fastest growing municipalities in the country; income is high and the crime rate is low.

How did the town get off on the right track? A retired Cary school teacher has written a book documenting the town's African American heritage.

Like many stories about the racial divide, this one starts with a railroad.

"Everybody who ever knew anything about Cary will tell you about the railroad. It was just a little old hitch hike town with the railroad going through it and that's all you saw," Ella Arrington Williams-Vinson says.

For many small towns, the railroad marked a boundary between the races. Whites lived on one side, blacks on the other. Williams-Vinson says early Cary knew no such distinction.

"I was born on the south side of the tracks, my sister was born on the north side of the track, and that's the area now that is considered downtown Cary," she says.

Her book, "Both Sides of the Tracks," highlights the fact that Cary began as a predominantly black community.

In fact, freed slaves settled in the area after the Civil War and lived off the land. They became landowners and passed that precious possession on to their sons and daughters.

"Many of the descendants are still living in Cary," Williams-Vinson says. Much of those large landholdings are still in the family, including the land where her childhood home still sits; the land bordering highway 54 and surrounding the old AME Zion Church; and the land surrounding Kingswood Elementary School, where she taught third graders.

Her grandfather, Arch Arrington Sr., was Cary's first mayor in the 1920s.

The Cottons, the Ferrells, the Meadows and Scotts are just a few of the African American families from Cary that now boast educators, ministers, business owners and lawyers.

Ella Arrington Williams-Vinson says her very name keeps that legacy alive for her. Her book keeps it alive for future generations.

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