Mr. Will and Tanglewood Park

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hi this is barry helms archivist at renata house museum of american art will reynolds is often overshadowed by his older more successful brother r.j but mr will as he was called made his own impact on winston-salem he's most notably associated with tanglewood which he purchased in 1921 as the farm to raise and raise standard red horses whilst pagers and trotters many of which he trained himself won the sport's most prestigious races including the 1931 hamiltonian a race he helped establish he won it with a philly named after his niece mary reynolds at riddles tobacco he was vice president but referring his horses to the office he lacked rj's drive in ambition after rj's death in 1918 will took over as president but soon relinquished the role to bowman gray in 1924. will remained involved with the tobacco company serving as the first chairman of the board of directors then as chair of the executive committee until he stepped down in 1941. interestingly will left rj reynolds tobacco company on the eve of the predominantly black workforce successfully unionizing the most powerful corporation in the city in 1943 leaf workers mostly black women initiated a sit-down strike that sparked seven years of struggle for workplace equality thousands of workers united to form the local 22 union throughout the 1940s they challenged economic exploitation political disfranchisement and racial segregation in winston-salem as workers prepared to vote for the union for many the first election they had ever participated in foreman passed out flyers with real women reynolds statement that a union would quote tear down this house of protection which has taken us generations to build frustrated workers left their own messages on these flyers including some directed at will quote we've been suffering under rentals tobacco company for these 40 50 60 years we want better working conditions and more money and we had to organize to get it you just stay down there in florida and 10 your horses will stay here and send to the business of reynolds tobacco company local 22 laid a foundation for activism that expanded beyond company walls they promoted education affordable housing and successively backed a black candidate for aldermen kenneth r williams became the first black candidate to beat a white rival in a southern city since the end of reconstruction will reynolds had little to no involvement with a tobacco company following the formation of local 22 focusing instead on his horses and philanthropy projects he was instrumental in founding the z smith reynolds foundation relocating wake forest university to winston-salem and provided funds for schools and universities including duke nc state and wake in the 1920s he donated land to build a black orphanage and in 1938 will and his wife kate reynolds funded the building of a black hospital which greatly expanded health care to the black community but when he died in 1951 wool reynolds left left tanglewood to the county to be used as a public park for only quote the white race while it is rarely mentioned today tanglewood remains segregated until years after the civil rights act took effect in 1964 it would take a federal court case to finally force desegregation in the park in 1971.

In our latest “Call-a-Curator,” Reynolda’s Director of Archives and Library Bari Helms chronicles the story of “Tanglewood and Mr. Will.”

After R.J. Reynolds died in 1918, his younger brother Will took the helm of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company but soon turned his attention to his other interests including racing, raising horses, and philanthropy projects. Will left R.J.R. Tobacco shortly before a sit-down strike, led mostly by Black women, led to the formation of the Local 22 union that spent the 1940s fighting economic exploitation, racial segregation, and political disfranchisement. Will Reynolds made gifts and bequests to North Carolina universities and created a hospital for the Black citizens of Winston-Salem, but his philanthropy also helped maintain a system of racism and white supremacy. In 1951, he left his Tanglewood estate as a public park for “the white race.” Tanglewood remained segregated until years after the Civil Rights Act took effect in 1964. It would take a federal court case to finally force desegregation of the park in 1971.

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