James “Jim” P. Aiken, Businessman: Part Two

by Bruce Whitaker

(See part 1 of this story here.)

James P. Aiken, born into slavery and raised in poverty, in the short 48 years of his life raised his family to a life of privilege. His home was among the finest in Brevard for that period of time.

Aiken left his wife five businesses, a large store building eight houses and a considerable sum of money. Mary Aiken, his widow, was married for the second time to Rev. George W. Parton. They moved to Washington, D.C. around 1915, and later they were living in Cleveland, Ohio, according to the 1930 and 1940 Census. Jim Aiken’s wife Mary died in Washington, D.C. on February 12, 1947.

On December 25, 1971, an article featuring Jim Aiken appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times. D. H. Orr of Pisgah Forest in Transylvania County wrote, “My most memorable Christmas was just before the turn of the century, about 1898-1899. It was the opening of a package given to my parents by Jim Aiken. Jim Aiken… was a large Negro man, always immaculately dressed. He owned a store on Main Street in Brevard. … On this particular Christmas, after my father and mother had bought the usual Christmas things, oranges, raisins, candy etc., he gave them a box ‘For your Children,’ but not to be opened until Christmas Day.

“Never will I forget the joys we had when the box was taken from under the tree and opened. Among other things for my sister was a doll and for me a small book of children‘s stories. After some 70 years, the book is still one of my most valued possessions. … After his death I often wished he could have known the joy and happiness he brought to two white children.”

James P. Aiken and his first wife Dafney had two children. (All of Jim Aiken’s children were born in Transylvania County, NC.)

Jennie Aiken was born in April 1883.

William James was born in April 1891. He played baseball on the Brevard Negro team, and his father’s half-brother Cleveland Hall was the umpire. William died on September 12, 1915.

James P. Aiken and his second wife Mary Smith had 10 children, including three that were lost in infancy.

Jesse Irene Aiken was born in September 1892.

George Harry Lake Aiken was born on April 3, 1895. He was a barber and mechanic in Washington, D.C. He married Ida Morris.

Loretta Mary Aiken was born on March 19, 1897. She left home at an early age, went to Cleveland, Ohio and got into show business. She changed her name to Jackie “Moms” Mabley after her brother requested it, in order not to embarrass the family. She became very successful as a comedienne and was the first black woman to become a big comedy star. She became rich and famous, lived in a mansion in Scarsdale, Westchester County, NY, and rode in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. She died on May 23, 1975.

James P. Aiken, Jr. was born in 1900.

Frank Aiken was born in 1901.

Marjorie Aiken was born in 1907, moved to Cleveland, Ohio and married Oscar Harris. Marjorie died in Cleveland.

Melvin Aiken was born on November 13, 1908, moved to Cleveland and married Mabel Ruth Bradley (1912-1996). Melvin died in Cleveland on April 30, 2009, at 100 years 5 months old.

Mary Smith Aiken and her second husband had two children.

George W. Parton Jr. was born in 1913 in Transylvania County, NC.

Edward Parton was born in 1919 in Washington, DC.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. You can reach him at 628-1089 or email him at [email protected].

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