Sarah Evans

Sarah Nachamson Evans

Born 1905-1986, Baltimore Maryland

FAMILY: Mother: Jenny Blum Nachamson, Father: Eli Nachamson; Siblings: Naomi, Mary, Eve, Ethel, Grace, Irene, Bill, Dodie; Husband Emmanuel “Mutt” Evans; Sons Eli and Robert

Sarah Nachamson Evans, the wife of Mayor Emanuel J. "Mutt" Evans, served as the "first lady" of Durham, North Carolina, from 1951 to 1963. Known as "Miz Evans" by friends, she was a long-time local, regional, and national leader of Hadassah

Sarah's mother, Jenny Blum Nachamson, was born in Lithuania and lived in a Shtetl. Life was hard on Jews of the former Soviet Union, and young boys, like Sarah's father Eli, were taken off to the military. The czar demanded such service that could last for years. The Nachamson family came to America, through Ellis Island, to escape the military situation in Russia.

Sarah, the eldest child of Jenny and Eli, was the oldest of seven sisters and a brother. Known as the “assistant mother” to the nine children, Sarah was in charge of making sure no one was left behind, always "counting to eight". Jenny dictated a memoir of her life, recorded by Sarah's sister Ethel, in the 1930's, a memoir later found by Sarah's son, Eli Evans, in 1968. This memoir became the inspiration for Eli Evan's subsequent book about Jewish life in the South, called "The Provincials".

After Sarah's parents married, they initially moved to Dover in eastern NC, and subsequently moved to Kinston, NC, opening a store. Sarah's sisters practiced tap dancing and piano, and hundreds of people would come and watch the "Nash Sisters" perform regularly at the store. Sarah's father thought they should to move to Durham to allow the girls to meet young Jewish men. After one trip to Durham, he came home to a surprise, with people waiting for him as he got off the train, carrying him on their shoulders, shouting "IT'S A BOY!", and Sarah's only brother had been born.

Moving to Durham, Sarah worked in her father's store and became the "responsible, serious-minded one". In addition to playing the piano, she could type "60 words a minute with two fingers". Jenny helped to develop a toy department in their family store, and they were known all over for their doll collection. Jenny was also one of the only Jews to celebrate the Jewish holidays in Durham, teaching her kids about the holidays.

After graduating from Durham High, Sarah went on to Gaucher College in Baltimore. Few Jewish girls were at Gaucher at that time, and Sarah went with homemade clothes. Some of her family went to Duke University. When in Baltimore, she had a glancing relationship with Henrietta Szold (the founder of Hadassah), and this Influenced her to start the first Hadassah chapter in the South in Durham, where she became an ardent Zionist. She became head of the Seaboard region of Hadassah and went all over the South to speak about Hadassah and Israel. Sarah would practice her speeches in front of the mirror, becoming very emotional, knowing what was happening to Jews in WWII and during the formation of the state of Israel.

Sarah met her future husband Mutt Evans when he was a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill, after he was invited to the Nachamsom family home to hear the sisters play music and dance. Sarah's first impression was that Mutt was tall, sweet and smart. Sarah liked him immediately, and Mutt had a Model T car named “Josephine”. Sarah and Mutt's wedding included all of the sisters, and Bill carried the ring at the Washington Duke Hotel. Bill said “I dwopped it” when asked for the ring. Mutt helped walk all of the Nachamson sisters down the aisle when they got married because their father was no longer alive. Mutt and Sara Evans built the Durham store, renamed Evans United Department Stores, into a chain of stores in North Carolina and Virginia.

Locally, Mutt and Sarah recruited members for Beth El, and they helped finance the current Beth El location, taking on financial burdens, and helping to sustain the congregation.

Sarah's gravestone says "Hadassah Pioneer in the American South". Sarah's son Eli took dirt from her grave and planted a tree at Hadassah hospital with some of the dirt. He took some of that same dirt to New York when his own son was born, saying "He was born with some Southern soil".