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Holly Oak Park is a community park located in Shelby, North Carolina. First opened in 1950, the park was a joint effort by white and Black citizens, in addition to the town of Shelby, to build a park for the African American community within the town during the height of the Jim Crow segregation era and before the start of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The park is surrounded by houses on all sides showing just how much of a product the park is of the community. The park is well known for its all-inclusive, diverse culture and its pickup sporting matches.

Snapshot of Holly Oak Park

Tree, Natural landscape, Plant, Biome

Activity Center for Holly Oak Park

Plant, Sky, Property, Building


Sky, Building, Shade, Tree

Sign for Holly Oak Park

Plant, Asphalt, Tree, Road surface

Pickup Basketball game at Holly Oak Park

Shorts, Active shorts, Field house, Sports equipment

Holly Oak Park came about when citizens of Shelby, North Carolina realized that there was no proper place in the community for Black Americans to be able to properly socialize during the era of parks becoming popular. The land that would eventually become the park would be purchased sometime in 1949. Holly Oak Park was funded by local citizens and financially aided through a Federal grant. Between Charlotte and Asheville, North Carolina there was a noticeable lack of a Black American-oriented park with equipment and facilities that matched the “whites only” parks. The park was completed and dedicated on Sunday, August 27, 1950. This would mean that the construction of the park predates the official start of the American Civil Rights movement by about four years. The park’s operations were/are handled by the Shelby Park and Recreation Commission to ensure proper handling and operation of the new park. On opening day, the park offered two natural lakes, three buildings complete with clubrooms, a kitchen, a snack bar, a stage, and a baseball field.

In the opening ceremony of the park, John R. Larkins, a consultant on Negro Affairs for the State Board of Public Welfare stated in his dedication speech that the park "offers concrete evidence that the American people are able to live harmoniously together and work in behalf of the American goal- equality of opportunity for all."1 This illustrates just how concerned community members, both Black and white, were for pooling funds together towards the construction of a park that would provide Black Americans with a community center within Shelby. This community center would provide a group of Americans with a place where they can form relationships and interact with each other on a daily basis. Holly Oak Park, at the time of its opening, was championed for showing how parks can help create understanding and tolerance within a community. It helps to develop wholesome attitudes, cooperative spirit, respect for the law, order, and individual rights to form good, well-rounded citizens within a Democracy. These were characteristics attributed heavily to the park upon its grand opening.

Newspapers at the time, like the Shelby Star, had Holly Oak Park in the headlines as a historic moment for the African American community in Shelby. As earlier mentioned, Holly Oak Park was the only suitable Black American park in any area between Asheville and Charlotte making the park extremely popular for its commodities and the fact that for a while it was the only park for Black Americans. The commodities the park opened with and was most popular for were their pools and pickup basketball games on their basketball courts. These various activities, and many more, provided the African American community within Shelby the opportunity to participate in various different sporting events and peaceful afternoon picnics on particularly nice days. In addition to these sporting events, the park also offered a wide variety of recreational classes like sewing. These events may seem small, but these opportunities for sports and community engagement were allowing for Black Americans to have an outlet to express their passions and engage with others within their community that they may not have had the chance to had the park not been constructed. The park was especially important during an era of intense segregation and the Jim Crow laws which, in many cases, saw a disparity between the quality and condition of facilities, like parks, between white and Black Americans. In the case of Holly Oak Park, it allowed for the Black community to have equal facilities and parks to that of their white counterparts. Today, the park is still a popular park within the Shelby area. The end of Jim Crow laws saw the park desegregated and welcome all Americans to use its facilities. Even today, Holly Oak Park is still well known for its pickup games and various other clubs/team sports competitions, like marbles which keep alive the sense of community the park was explicitly built to cultivate.

  1. "Holly Oak Park Formally Opened." The Wallace Enterprise (Wallace) September 7th 1950. , 12.
  2. Adams, A. P.. "Compact News." The Kings Mountain Herald (Kings Mountain) July 7th 1955. 1 ed, 2.
  3. Adams, A. P.. "Compact News." The Kings Mountain Herald (Kings Mountain) April 12th 1956. 1 ed, 7.
  4. Community facilities plan, Shelby, North Carolina, North Carolina Digital Collections. 1966. Accessed April 13th 2022.
  5. "Holly Oak Park To Be Dedicated." The Wallace Enterprise (Wallace) August 28th 1950. , 5.
  6. Holly Oak Park, City of Shelby. Accessed April 13th 2022.
  7. "Larkins Cites Role of Park In Overall View of Life." The Carolinian (Raleigh) September 2nd 1950. 1 ed, 12.
  8. "Neglected Responsibility." The Kings Mountain Herald (Kings Mountain) August 4th 1966. 1 ed, 2.
  9. "Sewing Classes." The Kings Mountain Herald (Kings Mountain) January 11th 1977. 1 ed, 2.
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