by Tim Gilmore, 7/11/2016
See also Ambassador Hotel.
Walls talk. There’s no “if they could” about it.
Carrie Bell White, says a wall in Room 314, was “Mother to Infant female and 2 other Males All are Alive and Healthy Date of Birth December 12th, 1996 Live Birth, 6:00 a.m.” Other writings raise doubts on other walls.
Not two years later, the City closed the Ambassador Hotel for code violations. The grand old building was a warren of crack deals and prostitution and cops were tired of raiding the place.
Since 1923, when it was built as the 310 West Church Street Apartments, the noble Georgian Revival style building has enacted millions of stories, but most of them remain unknown.
The walls of Room 314, however, still speak the words Carrie scrawled on them in 1997. Entering 314 is stepping into The Autobiography of Carrie White.
Carrie was born September 1, 1948. She lived away from home “until 1952 – I then was given Back to my parents in Jacksonville, Florida.”
On a different wall, Carrie says, “I know my age 48 years old.” She says her “Momma and Daddy […] won’t tell me, they won’t Show Birth Certificates either, They said my Date of Birth is correct.” She then writes a different birthdate: “August 23rd, 1948.”
In the 19 years since Carrie penciled her low-rent hotel-wall autobiography, the paint beneath her letters has cracked. In places, the words and phrases that have fallen away have isolated others, leaving something that vaguely resembles the shape of a United States map.
In one patch of wall where cracked paint upholds a whole paragraph, Carrie writes, “I do not Have a Recorded Birth Certificate nor my Son nor my Husband We are Christians, American and Black no Social Security # are correct either They are going to this years Assign us a Social Security Card with our numbers on them and name Greene Edward I Greene Edward II Green Violet Mae”
Carrie is obsessed with birth certificates and Social Security Numbers. She writes on walls all over the room about not having them. The Ambassador Hotel, which the 310 became in 1955 after six years as the Griner Hotel, and which declined from 1970 as a low-rent residential hotel, housed unofficial people.
When the City levelled nearly 50 blocks of the dense downtown neighborhood of LaVilla in 1992, many LaVilla residents, with their desperation and their addictions, moved into the Ambassador. An unofficial person, Carrie wrote again and again about documentation she didn’t have. Do you exist if you can’t document that you do? Carrie wasn’t sure, but her desperation was real.
The walls contain lists of jobs for which she’s applying, including “day maid” and “janitorial,” then more notes about not having documentation.
Her wall writings have little apparent order. In one place, she writes, “I am the Wife to one Husband, 3 children, Me.”
She has “2 Boys—1 infant girl from Edward Green I 1556 Fairfield Place I just recently gave Birth to a 6 pound Beautiful girl who look exactly like her paternal Father Edward Green 1.”
Fairfield Place is a street in Jacksonville’s impoverished black Eastside, and 1556 is a 700 square foot woodframe house built in 1943.
The same information about Carrie’s children and their father and his address appears in multiple places on the walls around the room.
Another note says, “Baby is enjoying the Christmas and New Year Holidays.” Another lists the names of several banks and says, “Our Baby Can Cash Checks.”
On the 25th day of a month that’s peeled away, 1997, Carrie made a “public confession […] Jesus Christ” and was excited to be “accepted as a candidate” for baptism.
Elsewhere a tragic narrative rises from the fragments of functionally illiterate phrases: “Wrongful Death / Instigated for Maternal / Mother, father, Child / Carrie Bell / Edward I / Edward II / Father / Mother / and male kid / falsely accused / Dating Back to / 1966—June / for Carrie White / Edward fitz hewn Green I / 1976 Baby ownly 6 years / old falsely accused / at 3537 Brentwood Ave / 4145 Katanga South / 1556 Fairfield Place”
The Fairfield Place address recurs alongside two Northside addresses. The phrase “falsely accused” appears twice near “wrongful death.” But if a child died at “ownly” six years of age, was that in 1966 or 1976? Is Edward II the “male kid,” son of Carrie and Edward I, and was the “male kid” the child who died? Or was Edward II a child for whose existence she fought and sought proof in paperwork while she lived in the third floor of this sturdy brick den of desperation in 1997? Could she have not come to terms with his death? If she were falsely accused, perhaps somehow he lived. Perhaps somehow he lives.
What haunted Carrie haunts Room 314. Because she made the walls the pages of her autobiography, this one story of the Ambassador’s millions remains. Whether or not she legally attained proof that she and her family existed, we share her words from these walls. For as long as anyone reads Carrie’s words, she speaks, and every time Carrie speaks, she’s real.