Lee and Evelyn
On February 1, 2023, the museum staff was privileged to interview one of our area’s outstanding African American couples, Lee and Evelyn Booker. We share from our notes of this interview which will become part of our audio-visual collection in the Fuquay-Varina Museums archives.
The Booker Family of Fuquay-Varina originated with Kater Brown Booker and Ethel Jones Booker. The couple raised seven children in the family homeplace on Sunset Lake Road.
Siblings were: Dorothy Booker Killian b. 1934; Ralph Booker b. 1936; Elijah Booker b. 1939; Harold Booker b. 1941, Evelyn Pearl Booker Wicker) b. 1943; Brenton Booker b. 1945 and Lee Booker b. 1948.
Kater came into the area from South Carolina working at odds and ends, pulpwood and timber according to son, Lee. He opened a restaurant in Varina across from the town’s tennis courts location today. From there, the enterprising father arranged to purchase land which became the original Booker Farms on Sunset Lake Rd. Other purchases added to the farm over time. Besides tobacco, the family added market produce to the family enterprise. Generally the older brothers, Ralph, Elijah, and Brenton, were responsible for the farming operation, according to Lee.
Lee was able to confirm the location of the Providence School on the site of the New Providence Church today. Earlier we had been able to identify that this was one of the Rosenwald Schools in Wake County. He further detailed the founding of Providence Church under a brush arbor in l860, the oldest African American Church in our area.
Lee began school at the Fuquay Consolidated School in 1954. He recalled the traumatic day when Hurricane Hazel graced Fuquay with her winds and rain. Mr. Booker came to the school to pick up his children and they experienced the car being flooded out in water over the roads as they tried to make their way home. By the 1960’s the children were able to have bus transportation to Fuquay Consolidated High School.
When asked about sports, Lee told us that Mr. William Freeman introduced football to Fuquay Consolidated High School in 1967. The school already had baseball, basketball, and track teams. Band was also an outstanding student activity.
The couple met when both enrolled at North Carolina Central University. Lee, a senior, managed to date, Evelyn, a freshman, and their romance became a lifetime affair. They are proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Millicent and Yolanda.
Lee’s college major was business administration. Upon graduation, Lee first worked for Central Carolina Bank in Durham and then Insurance USF& D. Eventually, Lee moved to the State Insurance Department as an Examiner and Auditor.
Evelyn hailed from Nakina, North Carolina, in rural Columbus County. The daughter of Henry Roland Smith and Eulah Belle Long Smith, she was eighth in a family of ten children. Born in a pattern two years between each: Esther & Ethel, Henry & Rufus, Archie & Roy, Clara & Evelyn, and finally ending with the last two boys, Ervin & Jerome.
Evelyn attended Oak Forest Elementary school, an all black Columbus county school. However, when she was ready for high school, the laws allowed student choice. She and her older sister, Clara, decided to integrate the Nakina High School. She remembers being told by white students she was not wanted, to which she replied, she did not want to come but it was the closest high school to her home and choice was allowed. She was encouraged by two neighbor white children with whom they played as they rode the bus together to high school, Within the year, these two brave Smith ladies proved themselves as straight “A” students. Unfortunately, when graduation time arrived, the top three students of the class were ranked, Evelyn 97, a white girl 95, and another black cousin of Evelyn 93. The administration decided not to award her the valedictory distinction but to have three honor graduates. So comes more understanding for the title of her recent book, “A Winner In Spite of…”
The first semester Evelyn enrolled at North Carolina Central University, she had to withdraw to help care for her sick mother. Upon her return as an advanced freshman in September of 1970, Lee Booker, as a big-time senior, began his courtship of the freshman beauty.
Evelyn was graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Education. After their marriage in 1973, she began her career with CP & L as a programmer. After staying home with her girls until they began school, in 1980 Evelyn became a copywriter for WRAL. From there she moved into TV sales. By the time of her retirement, she was General Sales Manager at Fox TV in Raleigh. Her March 11, 2011 retirement party after 30 years in her remarkable career culminated her “Winner in Spite of….” Evelyn had overcome all her racial and feminine obstacles and emerged the ultimate Christian lady, professional, wife, and mother.
This amazing couple instilled a love of education into both their daughters. Millicent is a pediatrician in Winston-Salem. Eulonda heads the cheerleading program at Delaware State University where she also tutors athletes.
Our interview ended with our wishing Grandpa Lee and Grandmama Evelyn a wonderful trip to see grandson Nathan compete in the State of Deleware’s spelling competition. They will also be attending the basketball games of Millicent’s son in Forsyth County. Grandparenting brings a gleam into both their eyes.
In retirement, Evelyn is a vital role model within her church, a part of Healing Transitions, and a leader in the Cultural Arts Society of Fuquay-Varina. Evelyn has begun a term of service for the Board of Supporters of the Friends of the Fuquay-Varina Museums. She has also trained as a docent for the Friends of the Museum’s staff. Earlier, Evelyn had became a supporter of our museums effort while serving on a committee with the Fuquay-Varina Centennial of 2009.
Their contribution of an interview and of the family history is exactly what the museums staff hopes to replicate with many families and individuals as we preserve our area history. The Booker Family produced a video of family recollections and history in 2018 which they have graciously shared with the museums. Part II of the Booker family will include more of the life of this remarkable family.
Source: Interview of Evelyn Smith Booker and Lee Booker, January, 2023., A Winner in Spite of… Evelyn Smith Booker, White Way Pub, 2021.