It's no surprise that one of the most successful furniture businesses in the country was right here in North Carolina, but what might surprise you is that the largest furniture business in the state during the height of slavery was owned and operated by a black man. As we kick off this black history month, Cassandra Bell visited the historic town of Bath to learn more about the man who's furniture pieces are still highly sought after and expensive. His statue stands outside the NC Museum of History in Raleigh.
Lexington, Kincaid, Thomasville: all furniture names you may recognize here in a state known for furniture production. A name you may not know is Thomas Day.
"He was North Carolina's most famous furniture maker of the 19th century. He was a free, a black, and he was very prolific. He had the biggest furniture shop in the state in 1850 during the height of slavery," said researcher and film maker Laurel Sneed.
Historian Laurel Crone Sneed recently made a presentation at the visitors Center in Bath about the life and work of Thomas Day. Sneed has spent years studying the man who made his mark in the North Carolina furniture world.
"It was highly sophisticated furniture. It reflected the great designs that came out of the big cities, and it was available right here in North Carolina. He also put his own little twist on it, so it was a symbol of one's wealth to own a piece of Thomas Day furniture," said Sneed.
For years it's been that furniture that has made day a notable figure in black history, but in recent years, some say Thomas Day's possible ties to the abolitionist movement shine a different light on a man who from the outside fit seamlessly into the slave/free culture of the 19th century south. It's a new twist on the skilled cabinetmaker who was quite wealthy and owned slaves himself. Historians like Sneed continue to unravel the mysteries of Thomas Day as we venture into another month celebrating our black history.
"I hope it will remind them of the significance of Africans Americans in our state. As they go through the rest of the month, I hope they will think of Thomas Day and some of the things they learned here about his extraordinary life and what he gave to North Carolina," said Sneed.
Next Wednesday in our Black History segment on WITN News at 6 a group tackles the issue of supporting black businesses at an event called "Buying Black in America."