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Salem Pioneer Cemetery ~ Charles Earnest Letcher ~ part of the Marion County Pioneer Cemeteries of Oregon
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Charles Earnest Letcher
BORN: 28 Dec 1878 DIED: 2 May 1946 BURIED: 9 May 1946
ETHNICITY:  African American OCCUPATION:  Laborer
BIRTH PLACE:  St Charles Co., Missouri
DEATH PLACE: Salem, Marion Co., Oregon
OSBH DC (Marion 1946) #3545 - Charles Earnest Letcher, male, single, black, occupation laborer, b. 1880 in St. Charles Co., Mo., d. 2 May 1946 in Salem, Oregon (540 Lefelle St.) at the age of 66 years, name of father Charles Letcher (b. New London, Kahla Co., Missouri) maiden name of mother Rose Black, interment 9 May, undertaker Virgil T. Golden, informant Artie Mickey Edwards from O'Gallva [O'Fallon?], Missouri.
WWI Draft Registration Card, 1917-1918:
Charles Earnest Letcher, residing at 1350 Cross Street in Salem, Oregon, age 40, date of birth Dec. 28, 1878, Negro, occupation farming, employer Livesley & Co., name of nearest relative Mr. Chas. Letcher of O'Fallon, St.  Charles., Missouri, height - medium, build - medium, eyes - black, hair - black.
1920 OR CENSUS - Charley Letcher, black, age 43, single, occupation laborer, b. Missouri.

The Spring of 1927 was when John Roberts decided to change one of the boilers in the main drying complex into a water tank for the entire farm. I heard a lot of hammering in the boiler room one day, being curious, I went over to see what was going on. A door was open so I went inside. There was a ladder leaning against the breeching of the boiler and the inspection plate in the front end of the boiler was open. I climbed the ladder to the inspection hole and looked inside. It was dark in there. At the far end of the boiler there was a single bare light bulb and a dark form wielding a hammer as the man was chipping the scale from the inside of the boiler shell. The tubes had been removed by a cutting torch so the boiler was already made over into a tank the man was engaged in cleaning it for service. The man saw me in the inspection hole and came crawling toward me as the tank was too small to stand upright inside. He was carrying a three pound lard pail which he held out to me and asked me if I would please get him some drinking water as the supply had been shut off in the boiler room. He was right up to the inspection plate when I realized he was a black man. I took the pail home and filled it with fresh water and went back. I climbed into the boiler with him and watched as he kept chipping away. 
He was named Charles Letcher and lived in a room in the basement of John J. Roberts apartment house on Winter Street just South of the (then) Salem Public Library. He had been brought to Oregon when he was a very small boy by a Southern gentleman who owned him as a slave. 
When Emancipation was passed by the Congress they made no arrangements for the care and feeding of the slaves. Bingo! They were free. An entire era of forced labor was made unlawful with the stroke of a pen. Charlie was too small to take care of himself. He simply stayed with his master and lived with him in Corvallis, Oregon until the Master died. 
Charlie was living in Salem and did odd jobs for John Roberts and for Tom Livesley. They made sure that Charlie was comfortable to the end of his days. That evening, after father came home, Charlie came to the house and asked to speak to him. He asked Father if he could take me with him on a berry picking expedition the next day. Father asked me if I wanted to go and I said I did. I was to be ready at four o'clock in the morning. I was, with a brown bag lunch. 
Charlie had a Ford Coupe with a high cab and big sliding glass windows. He had driven six miles out to Roberts to pick me up and we went back to Salem to a place that stood just across Commercial Street and a block North of Marion Square. We went around to the back where there was an ell on the house. In the ell were several elderly women working on a canning operation. When Charlie arrived they gave him a cardboard box filled with groceries which Charley carried back to the car and we left town to drive to Marion. We turned toward Stayton and then off the road to a little used track where we stopped near a mean little shack where Charley got out of the car, took up the box of groceries, and took them to the porch of the little house. He deposited the box on the porch and left. As we left the place I asked Charlie why he didn't let the people know that he had left the groceries. He said, "They would be too proud to accept groceries from a black man." 
I grew to know Charlie Letcher as a kind and good man. The place we had picked up the groceries was owned by a man who did not live in Salem most of the year. He allowed the ladies I had met to use the huge kitchen in back of the house for a Church sponsored food program that fed many people like the ones that Charlie delivered that box of groceries to. 
Charlie picked berries and all kinds of fruit, gleaned potatoes and root crops, and gave of himself with no thought of repayment. He was, at that time, the only black person in Salem that I knew about. He was probably lonely at times but he was tireless in his efforts to help the ladies of the Church group to carry on their mission of mercy. 
In his trips about the Valley and in the hills and valleys of the Cascades and the Coast Range I was taken to fishing holes that had the biggest fish, to berry fields where the best of the native blackberries grew, and to places where the farmers welcomed him to glean of their crops for the operation in Salem for the poor. 
Charlie dressed in the most elemental of clothes. He was ragged and generally unkempt, but he was clean and lived a very moral existance. That he was given a car to drive and permanent lodging by John Roberts was an indication of the respect htat he generated in the community. If he had been given a new suit I have no doubt that he would have given it to someone who needed it more than he did, and he would be the judge of that. 
A new beer place was opened under the Old Oregon Electric Passenger Depot after 1933. Charlie was hired to play his banjo and dance. He was well up into his eighties then. I last saw him standing in the front entrance to the Guardian Building on State Street in about 1936. He remembered me asked about my parents. I did not see him again, but he had a part in shaping my life. He has a place in God's Heaven for he was a good man. 
Chambers, p. 57, 58

DISCREPANCY - age and birthdate given in DC do not match with age given in 1930 Census record and the Chambers article.

NOTE - Salem Pioneer Cemetery Black Pioneer Omnibus dedicated by the Oregon Northwest Pioneers on 1 Feb 2007.


Charles Letcher, long a resident of Salem, died Friday following a heart attack suffered Thursday.
Born on a Georgia plantation, the little Negro who was known to many residents of this area as "Charlie," came to Oregon with the plantation's owners, the Bests, and made his home with them for a number of years on a portion of the Sol Durbin farm (now East Salem Four Corners).
Devoutly religious, cheerful and an able worker to the time of his final illness, he had been employed by various Salem families including those of Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Moore, Russell Catlin, T. A. Livesley, John Roberts and Mark Skiff. He was the first elevator boy in the United States National bank building.
As a younger man he had been considered a skillful hunter and fisherman.
Mrs. Arlie M. Edwards of O'Fallon, Mo., a sister, survives him. Funeral services will be announced later by Clough-Barrick company.
Oregon Statesman 4 May 1946, 5:4

Charles Earnest Letcher
Charles Earnest Letcher at his residence 196 S. Liberty street, May 2. Survived by a sister, Mrs. Artie M. Edwards of O'Fallon, Mo. Services will be held at the Clough-Barrick chapel Thursday, May 9, at 10 a.m. Interment in IOOF cemetery.
Capital Journal,  6 - 8 May 1946.



No marker other than memorial

OSBH DC (Marion 1946) #3545 
1920 OR CENSUS (Marion Co., Salem, ED 354, sheet )
OS 4 May 1946, 5:4
CJ 6 - 8 May 1946

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