Joseph Watson: Black History on the Charleston Peninsula

Mr. Joseph Watson is the unofficial mayor of the East Side. He’s the son of the late Mary Watson, owner of Mary’s Sweet Shop–which she opened with only $800 during the Jim Crow era.

Ace: How long have you been a resident of the East Side?

Mr. Watson: Since 1949, I was born here. Amherst Street, that’s where I was born at–which is less than 100 yards from where we’re at on this corner. 

Ace: What do you love most about Charleston?

Mr. Watson: The houses all seem like a room inside of a larger house. In other words, the city itself seems like one huge house. That conversation that you have when you look at the house, and see how that owner designed it for the use of the people and the details and stuff on it; always tell you that the love and happiness that they had that they didn’t want just a bland house. They wanted something to identify them. 

Ace: How has the East Side changed since you were growing up?

Mr. Watson: How we greeted each other in this city with smiles and talking to each other–those things are so important. So much in this neighborhood used to go on between the foundations that were here. When I was 10 and a half years old, mama gave me some money to go downtown and pay some bills. It was a Wednesday, and King Street used to be packed because we had blue laws then, so you could not have stores opened on Sunday. I got there, and decided I would take the railroad tracks. Before I got down the tracks, and turned down there where the old Citadel is at– I lost the money.

Joseph Watson -- Enough Pie
Joseph Watson at Mary’s Sweet Shop. Source: Post and Courier

I guess it fell out of my pocket. Seventy dollars. I looked and I looked, and I walked up and down that track for about four hours. When I got back there, we had the restaurant then, Mama was busy in the kitchen. I said, ‘Mama I lost the money.’ She said, ‘That’s why you been out there that long. I already got a call that they didn’t see you pass on King Street.’ The lady that knew us that worked at the cleaners always looked to see if she saw me pass, and she already called. So Mama pinned the money to my pocket, and told me to stay off the tracks. Look at that village, that care. 

Ace: Who do you consider to be an East Side legend, and why?

Mr. Watson: I think a legend that we have is Ms. Flowers down here–she’s a teacher. She didn’t just teach in the classroom, but she would reach outside of it.

Ace: In your years of living in Charleston, what lessons have you learned?

Mr. Watson: The biggest one is how to save.

Ace: What is your vision for the future of the East Side?

For us to address the flooding in this area, and to have a balanced economy within this area. You can get a job at the Medical University, but you can’t afford to live or buy here in town. Why? Because you don’t have a degree. It shouldn’t be that way. The acceleration of gentrification is happening because we don’t have the training here to help get the jobs. 

Ace: What words of advice would you give to Black youth?

Mr. Watson: To learn and challenge themselves, so they know themselves. They will accept and accomplish the challenges set before them. That’s what I want them to do.

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