EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE: First black contractor in New Hanover county
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Inside a quaint brick home in Wilmington is a man with quite the story and an abundance of talents. At 86 years old and battling Alzheimer’s, Alfred Mitchell spends his days pursuing his passion of writing songs and poetry.
Despite his memory loss, he can still find the words from his favorite authors. “When I think how my light is spent, half my days in this dark world and wide. And that one talent which is death to hide,” Mitchell quotes.
Mitchell was born and raised in Wilmington, living most of his life in the Sea Breeze community off Carolina Beach Road. He remembers Wilmington as a place of dirt roads and forests back in the thirties and forties. “College road was more less a cow path when I was a boy,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell had a first-hand experience of the hatred and exclusion of African Americans during the civil rights era. He recalls being treated as a second-class citizen. “We enjoyed being ourselves being black and segregated better than we did in the first stages of integration.”
But the hardships he endured because of the color of his skin didn’t crush his spirit. Mitchell taught himself how to read, eventually reading books on masonry and carpentry leading to him becoming the first black building contractor in New Hanover county. Mitchell beat out many of his white competitors on bids because of his excellent work.
“The three most important things in a brick layer’s life are do it right, do it right, do it right,” Mitchell said.
A lot of his work was brick laying for white families and business owners. He built structures he wasn’t even allowed to enter through the front door of because he was black. “It’s hard to explain to someone who has never experienced that type of thing where you had to go in a certain door,” Mitchell said.
So, Mitchell built his best project for himself, a life he looks back on with pride, attributing his success to his faith in God.
These days, his hands no longer lay bricks. Instead, he uses them to write about his experiences and lessons learned. He plans to live the rest of his life laughing with his high school sweetheart, Eleanor.
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