Nannie Potts was the first female and only African American Mayor of Cornelius. She passed away Nov. 9 at 80-years-old. Potts was a teacher and led summer programming for kids in the Smithville neighborhood, where she lived.
Potts grew up in Davidson, North Carolina. Her family and friends remember her fondly.
Vertie Torrence was Nannie Potts’ best friend. For years, they led programs during the summer in Smithville for children who weren’t in school. They were next door neighbors.
“Well, she was a very caring and giving person. She looked out for everyone around her,” Torrence said. “She was just a loving person.”
The two were teachers, which Torrence said was part of what made them care for young people. Later on, when they retired and were helping around the church, they started a catering business.
“We didn’t advertise. We just did it on word of mouth,” Torrence said. “You know, people just saw what we did and ate what we had fixed and passed it on.”
They made dinners and cakes — sometimes, Potts would even make fried chicken feet.
Community in the Smithville neighborhood was tight. Neighbors helped each other and parents would look out for all the children. Torrence said, to neighbors, it was clear that you could always count on Potts if you had a need.
On a front step in the neighborhood, Wanda Gabriel agreed.
“She would give out a lot of stuff to the community — fruits and vegetables. She would just help the community,” Gabriel said. “Everyone, not just some. She would help everyone.”
Of the many children and neighbors who knew Nannie Potts and were helped by her, Thurman Ross is one.
Ross is now a member of the Cornelius Board of Commissioners — the only African American member. He said anyone who wanted to get into politics in Cornelius went to Potts for advice first. As did he.
“She always told me that you’ll have to make some tough decisions, even when it came in terms of Smithville,” Ross said. “Sometimes they may not be, always, the popular decision because you have to look at the bigger picture and take the small details that maybe the community did not see.”
Potts ran for the board of commissioners and after she got the most votes, became Mayor Pro Tem.
When Mayor Wesley Rood quit because of disagreements with the board, Potts was Mayor from 1982-1983. She didn’t want to run for Mayor again, but was elected as a commissioner.
Potts Barber Shop was started by Nannie’s husband, Gerald, who goes by Mickey, in 1950 with his father. Mickey still comes in on Saturdays.
The barber shop on Catawba Avenue has the same swivel chairs from the 1950s, a TV blaring and near-constant banter.
Patrons and barbers remember what Nannie Potts meant to Cornelius. Mark Muldrow has been cutting hair at the shop for 20 years.
He said he remembers meeting Potts and the family for the first time during Thanksgiving. He married into the family.
Muldrow noticed she was a great cook, but the thing that stood out was how she lived her life as an example.
“Education was so important to Aunt Nann,” Muldrow said. “She’s the one that started that scholarship committee at Torrence Chapel Church.”
Now, others are trying to raise more money for the scholarship she started. It’s called the Torrence Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church Scholarship Fund.
Potts grew up on a farm. Neither of her parents went to college, but she went to Barber Scotia College in Concord, North Carolina. While a student, she was a community organizer and political activist, going to sit-ins at lunch counters and the Belk department store.
Nannie’s husband, Mickey, said he saw the sacrifices she made over the years to be a community and political leader. They have three children, nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. But, he said, their family had to share her with so many others.
“If she could do something about something, she would,” Mickey Potts said. “That was just the way she was.”
Mickey Potts said she never did anything for the accolades. But she’s getting them anyway.
A new road being constructed between Highway 21 and Smith Circle will be named Nannie Potts Lane.
Even before she passed, Mickey Potts said, people sent her flowers.
To remember her, the family is holding a visitation Friday evening from 6-8 p.m. The funeral will be 11 a.m. Saturday morning at Torrence Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church.
Iretha Houston said she expects several former pastors of the Church and many from the community to be there. She will be.
“Oh yeah. I wouldn’t miss it, I wouldn’t miss it,” Houston said. “I’ll be singing with the choir.”
Houston said one of the songs they will sing is called, “In Good Hands.”