Carter’s Grocery: serving Taylor for 72 Years

Published 10:30 am Sunday, June 10, 2018

When Dwight Carter returned home to Taylor, Miss. from fighting in World War II, he did so with a dream.

With his uncle’s help, he used the money he’d saved up during his time in the service to build Carter’s Grocery, a one-room country store with a small apartment added on to the side. The year was 1946.

Carter’s Grocery, located off County Road 338, has withstood the tests of Jim Crow-era Mississippi, integration and the Civil Rights movement, serving the people of Taylor all the while.

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While the old building is long gone, Carter’s descendants are doing their part to preserve that history and keep Taylor’s only convenience store and gas station open.Dwight’s daughter, Regina Carter-Bernard,  and her husband Nathan run the store today.

“My dad was in WWII and when he came back there weren’t a lot of opportunities for African-Americans,” Carter-Bernard said. “Mom was a schoolteacher, and integration was challenging, but Carter’s Grocery was the hub of Taylor at the time. Before integration, you had black Taylor and white Taylor, and they accepted us, but they really didn’t accept us.”

When Dwight passed away in 1985, Geardie, Carter-Bernard’s mother, kept the store going while also teaching full-time. Geardie Carter was the first black teacher to integrate Lafayette High School, and at 95 years old, is the oldest living teacher to have taught at the segregated Weems Elementary School in Taylor.

In 1989, Carter-Bernard said her mother made the difficult decision to tear down her husband’s original building and hired Milton Tatum to construct the storefront that’s standing today. In 2001, the Carter family made the decision to lease the store, and did so until the last tenant closed up shop in 2015. When she found out it was closed, Carter-Bernard said her mother was troubled.

“My mother said, ‘Sweetheart and I struggled for years to have this store, and no one has it,'” Carter-Bernard said. “My husband heard her say it, and he said, ‘Mama Carter, if you give me until the spring of 2017, I will have been at my job for 23 years and I will quit and run the store.’ And that’s what we did.”

The store reopened in May 2017, with the Bernards relocating from Memphis to the old family home.

The decision to take on operation of the store is one Carter-Bernard said is rooted in love of family.

“We grew up here. This was our first school. Before we had calculators, dad has us add up products and count back change in our heads. Mom was a schoolteacher, a math teacher, and we learned math,” she said. “Our boys also, they’re 21 and almost 24, some of their first memories of visiting my mom were here at the store. First steps and crawling, growing up.”

Like nearly all of Taylor’s African-American community, Carter-Bernard is a descendant of Commodore Martin. Martin, a child of slaves from South Carolina, came to Taylor with nothing but a silver coin in his pocket. He married Susan Toles Martin, and together, they had 16 children. At one point, members of the Martin family owned nearly all the land in Taylor.

Carter-Bernard said her great-great-grandfather instilled a strong sense of family in his children, one that’s lasted for generations. 72 years is a lifetime, and Carter-Bernard said the store reflects that in the customers, family or not, who come through every day.

“I want it to be the Carter’s Grocery from my childhood. Back then, people would just stop in for a Coke or something, and they’d stay all day and socialize,” she said. “Everybody who walks in here is either friend, family or if you’re not, we’re going to stand here and talk to you until you are.”