Walter Henry Graves was born in December, 1873, likely in the small town of Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina to African-American couple W. Pinkney and Caroline (or Mildred) Graves. His parents married on July 13th, 1872 in Caswell County, NC. In 1880, the couple lived in Yanceyville, where Pinkney worked as a farm hand and Caroline as a housekeeper. Walter, at age 7, was their eldest child, followed by William (6), Arlie (4), Charles F. (2), and Rosa (2 months). None of their children were currently attending school at the time of the 1880 census.
Unfortunately, all information about Walter’s formative years is unknown, as the 1890 census, which could have told us whether he attended school is not available. He must have had some incredible opportunities, however, because in 1898, he graduated from Shaw University’s Leonard Medical School with a B.S. degree and passed the necessary state examination for practicing medicine, events that were reported in the Raleigh Morning Post and the Charlotte Observer. Shaw University was established in 1865 and, today, is the oldest historically black university in American South. The Leonard Medical School, founded in 1881, was the similarly the first four-year medical school in the American South to train black physicians.
On June 28th, 1899, Walter married Lillian Beatrice Crews in Granville County, NC. As a couple, they moved to Charlotte, NC not long after their marriage, presumably because Walter had either found an opening as a physician or was searching for one. In 1900, they lived in a rented home at 310 Stonewall Alley. Walter worked as a doctor, while Lillian was a housekeeper. She is said to be the mother of one living child, but they have no children listed on the census. It is likely she was pregnant at the time of recording.
It is unknown where Walter worked in 1900-01, but by 1902, he was employed as a physician at 221 E. Trade St., while he and Lillian had moved to 306 E. Vance St., a road that has now been replaced with I-277. They would live on E. Vance St. for the rest of their lives. However, Walter’s place of employment changed quite a few times over the following years. In 1904, he worked at 317 E. Trade St.; in 1908, at 32 S. College St. The Charlotte Observer reported on March 24th, 1905 that Walter had been summoned to the recorder for issuing a prescription of whiskey, although it is unclear why.
In 1910, the couple owned their home at 306 E. Vance, and Walter still worked at 32 S. College. Their family had grown, however. They had five children; daughters R. Thelma (9), Gladys (8), and Mildred (6) all attended school, while the youngest, daughter Gertrude (5) and son Walter H. (3) did not. Lillian had found work from home as a dressmaker, and the family housed a boarder named Mary Kalsey who, as she is also listed as a dressmaker, presumably worked with Lillian.
In 1915, Walter had changed locations again and was working at 303 S. Brevard St. In the 1918 Charlotte city directory, the family is listed as living at 424 E. Vance St. though by 1920, they had returned to their home at 306 E. Vance. It is unclear whether they did move or the city directory issued a misnumber. That same year, Walter had returned to work at S. College St., this time at number 13.
In the 1920 census, the family still lived at 306 E. Vance, and all of their children were by that point either graduated or currently in school. While Lillian no longer worked as a dressmaker, their eldest daughter Regina Thelma (19) was working as a public school teacher and still lived at home. Interestingly, though still a physician, Walter is listed as employed by his own account, indicating that he potentially owned the place at 13 S. College where he was working.
In 1926, Walter, Lillian, and their children had moved to 406 E. Vance St. That same year, Walter passed away on May 8th of apoplexy, which was apparently brought on by heart disease. He was buried in the Pinewood Cemetery in Charlotte, NC.
However, the family stayed together in Charlotte. By 1930, they were living at 416 E. Vance in a home they owned. Lillian had gone back to work as a dressmaker, while her eldest three daughters, the widowed Regina (married name Campbell), the married Gladys (married name Pharr), and the unmarried Mildred all worked as city school teachers. Gertrude, the youngest daughter, held no job, while the youngest child and only son, Walter, worked as a cleaner at a tailor shop, potentially the one where his mother made dresses. In addition to the nuclear family was Lillian’s widowed mother Sarah Crews, Gladys’ husband Sydney Pharr, and Gladys and Sydney’s three young daughters – Edywinna, Henrie, and Sydneye.