It was time to pay tribute to the impressive legacy of C.W. Matthews, whose story remained untold for far too long.
More than 100 of Matthews’s descendants recently gathered at Harris Lake Park to celebrate the life of a man that played such a key role in the early days of Apex.
Clad in matching T-shirts emblazoned with the motto “Strong Roots – Strong Branches,” family members listened intently during the June 25 gathering as Apex Town Clerk Georgia Evangelist presented a proclamation that recognized Matthews’s many accomplishments.
“Much of the information being shared here is the first time a lot of our great-grandfather’s family members are able to hear it,” said Karen Matthews Lee. “So it’s just a wonderful time and the Lord has blessed us in being able to uncover this history.
“From building and owning a store in downtown Apex to helping build schools and working in the Wisdom Lodge, it’s a wonderful legacy he left us. We just wanted to unveil it and preserve it.”
It was a moment that just as easily could never have happened if not for some determined genealogy detective work by Annette Matthews Cox. The Holly Springs resident spent more than a decade researching her family’s history and preserved her discoveries in a book.
To have the Town of Apex officially recognize Matthews was an emotional moment.
“I felt it was important for us to know our history,” said Cox. “Now, to have so many family members here and have the town recognize his achievements is just wonderful. It’s a great feeling.”
During the 1880s, Matthews became the first African-American business owner in Apex when he opened a general store on Salem Street. He also helped establish Mt. Zion Baptist Church, organized a private school for children in grades 1-6, was named founding trustee of Apex Normal and Collegiate Institute and served as the first Master of the African-American Masons Wisdom Lodge No. 34.
Amateur historian Ann Grebing also helped the family with its research and provided information about the accident that claimed the life of Matthews’s wife.
“Miss Ann Grebing was very helpful,” said Lee. “My great-grandmother was killed in a train wreck in Apex and Miss Grebing sent me pictures and eyewitness accounts of the accident. I have all that in my scrapbook.”
Following a massive fire in 1911 that destroyed numerous structures, Matthews used his skills as a craftsman and brick mason to help rebuild the downtown with fireproof brick buildings.
The town proclamation, signed by Mayor Keith Weatherly, describes Matthews as a “citizen characterized for his significant role that enriched the greater Apex community.”
Lee believes her great-grandfather is still enriching lives by leaving behind such an inspirational history.
“His story is so important and it’s been unknown for so many years,” said Lee. “It’s a wonderful time to become inspired. He was doing all of this in a difficult era and he still persevered. It inspires us to work hard and no matter what type of obstacles are there, you can overcome them if you make up your mind. That’s what I draw from his strength.”