by Susan Taylor Block
George Evans, son of artist Minnie Evans and cherished employee to some of Cape Fear’s most illustrious citizens, has died. He lived to be 99, and that virtual century gave him a vantage point most rare. His life spanned segregation to integration; and the change from the wary view of his famous mother’s artwork to the national, even international acclaim for her complex and spiritually sophisticated creations.
One of Mr. Evans earliest memories was of going with his father, Julius Evans, to the African-American resort that was built at Shell Island. He remembered the fun he had there and he recalled the time when it was burned. He remembered when the expansive development we know as Landfall was the property of one man: Pembroke Jones.
In our interviews, he described the gregarious nature of Mr. Jones and the very private nature of the Joneses’ constant companion – Henry Walters. Pembroke Jones sang at the top of his lungs when on carriage rides from Landfall to Airlie – his wife’s property. Mr. Walters carried on soft-spoken conversations with those he entrusted with running the mighty Atlantic Coast Line Railroad after he officially retired.
George Evans could recite the surnames of the Joneses’ most frequent guests: Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon and his family, the Kenans, Sprunts, Rountrees, Bolles, and others. Mr. Evans knew not only their faces. He knew their hearts – from tender to unmalleably tough (though none of the names listed fits this category.) Everything he ever shared with me has been borne out in subsequent research.
George Evans was a deeply spiritual man. His mother’s vision and subsequent decades of work that witnessed to the reality of that vision fell right in line with the teachings he heard at both of the MacCumber Terrace African-American churches: St. Matthews A.M.E. Zion and Pilgrims’ Rest Baptist.I had the privilege of sitting across from him at a service at St. Matthew’s. His face became beatific during prayer.
George Evans learned from his Mother that playing for a human audience alone is not worthwhile. He learned from the Lord’s Prayer that forgiveness is expected. And he lived to reap the benefits promised in the commandment to honor your parents:”That your days may be long in the land….”
The death of George Evans is a benchmark in local history. He will be sorely missed.