History lives on after the death of 101-year-old lady

MCCONNELLS -- When Ruth Smith Moore was buried last week, more than 101 years of life went with her. The oldest piece of the black side of history at Historic Brattonsville died with her, too.

Brattonsville is a place celebrated by people who love history because an important Revolutionary War battle, Huck's Defeat, was fought right there. It is a place celebrated because the Bratton family plantation house and other buildings survived and is now a museum.

A slave house survived, too. It sits out there, still, like a gallows.

That is Ruth Smith Moore's museum. There is little doubt, almost none, that her grandmother, maybe even her mother, were born or at least lived inside that slave house.

Moore was born on the property in 1906. That old three-room log cabin that burned in May 1996 down the road just a spitting distance? She was born in that house, lived there for years.

That part of history matters so much, because Moore's people survived it.

Kitty Wilson-Evans is the black lady at Brattonsville who teaches groups out there what it was really like for slaves, who gives the tours of that tiny slave house and the rest of the place. She often went to Moore in her research to find out the real deal.

"She knew things nobody else knew, what the fields looked like, what the place really was about from her own life and what people who came earlier had told her," Wilson-Evans said.

Moore was more than just a little old lady who knew a lot. She worked at the Charlotte shell factory during World War II. She and her late husband, Ira, ran a tiny store for blacks on U.S. 321, 5 miles away from Brattonsville.

"It was the community meeting place, where people went to get together and even where they danced," said Ella Bowen, a great-niece who was Moore's caregiver the last few years of her life.

That tiny store, a church now, was the bank for black people who needed a dollar to keep from being put on the street.

In the sharecropper history, the tenant farmer history, Ruth Smith Moore mattered. That's the Ruth Moore that survives. Every person she ever helped with a dollar, or fed, and their families now.

Moore owned a home across the highway from the store, had peaches and cows and an open door. She lived there until about three years ago. She quilted in the living room, becoming so famous for the quilting that when Brattonsville needed a quilting demonstrator, it was Moore who did the demonstrating. When video interviews were needed for history of the area, Moore did some of the talking.

Moore was buried in the cemetery at the church she was part of for a century, Mount Zion AME Zion Baptist Church. The church was founded in 1865, the years the slaves like her grandparents were freed. There is a headstone with a date 1874 in that cemetery that I found, and probably others even older that have no stone.

Her headstone was bought 20 years ago, with her husband's name on one side. The other side says, "Wife Ruth Smith"

There is no date yet because she lived another 20 years.

The church and cemetery sit almost at the corner of McConnells Highway and Brattonsville Road, down the road from the Bratton plantation.

About a decade ago, Wilson-Evans started volunteering before she took the job with the museum. She played a slave named Polly. Polly and husband Watt, another slave, had a child. That child was given, as property, to a Bratton family daughter, Wilson-Evans said her research has shown.

The last three years, Moore was in a nursing home, Bowen said.

But before Moore died, Wilson-Evans would go see her sometimes. The last time Wilson-Evans went to the nursing home to sit close to the history that Moore was, Moore asked her a question.

"Do you still live on the plantation?" Moore asked her.

Wilson-Evans said she didn't know how to respond. She doesn't live at Brattonsville. But she had talked so many times with Moore about the people and the names who had lived there. Those black people, who were slaves.

Then Wilson-Evans figured out why Moore asked her if she still lived there, on the plantation.

That slave daughter's name was Kitty, just like hers. Ruth Smith Moore knew that.