Salem Family


Salem Family


Materials provided by Joseph and his son Ron Salem, 1910s-2007 and undated.

This collection contains materials related to the life of Joseph R. Salem. Joe was born in Hamana, Lebanon on May 5, 1909 to Freda George and Shikery Salem. Freda and Shikery had four children together:  Renee (also called Rena), Bertha, Joseph, and Abdon (later called Albert). In June of 1912, when Joe was about two and a half years old, Shikery initiated the family’s immigration to America. The Salem family planned to be permanent immigrants from the start:  soon after his arrival in New York City, on June 29, 1912, Shikery filed an immediate petition for naturalization. Soon after, Shikery joined members of Freda’s family, who had already immigrated to New Bern, North Carolina. He went to work as a peddler in rural North Carolina, selling goods primarily by foot. Through this hard work, Shikery hoped to save money enough money to quickly bring his wife and children to America to join him.

The family’s plans to reunite in America were derailed by the onset of World War One, which interrupted communications between the United States and the blockaded Ottoman Empire. Freda and her three small children were increasingly isolated:  though Shikery’s parents were still in Lebanon, the older generation of the Salem family were supporters of the French. Shikery’s father, Mackoul Salem, was executed by the Turkish during the war, and his mother, Lucy Joseph Salem, died from unknown causes--perhaps sickness or starvation. Freda and her children were forced to work in fields by the German and Turkish allies, and the famine that struck the country led Joseph and his siblings to beg for food in order to survive.

Though Shikery and Freda had no way of communicating to one another that they were still alive for the duration of the war, Shikery took action to reunite his family. In 1917, he enlisted in the United States Army. He was the first Lebanese American from Eastern North Carolina to do so, and according to a 1917 issue of the Morning New Bernian, he gave up a thriving business in order to serve his adoptive country. Shikery served in Battery A of the 113 Field Artillery, where he fought throughout French battlefields, including the Argonne Forest. He was awarded honors for bravery for saving the lives of two superior officers. In 1918, having proven his commitment through military service, Shikery re-applied for naturalization and was given citizenship.

Service in the military provided Shikery with an opportunity to reunite with his family:  he even hoped to travel straight to Hamana from France after the war. Though Shikery was returned with his unit to North America, Shikery was assisted by friends he had made in the army, including Robert Haines. With support from his fellow soldiers, Shikery was able to locate his family and bring them to New Bern, North Carolina, in 1920. Freda Salem settled into America as a homemaker while Shikery returned to business. A partnership with Frederick Habeeb allowed the two Lebanese Americans to purchase the New Bern Bargain House. This grew into a series of other business ventures including:  in 1926, the Craven Fruit Store; and, in the 1930s, a gas station, convenience store, and taxi service. Though Maronite Christians, the family attended the Roman Catholic St. Paul’s church in New Bern.

The two older Salem children, Renee and Bertha, struggled with learning a new language, and soon left school. Renee married David Halen of New Jersey; in the 1930s, Renee and her family assisted Shikery in running his businesses; later, she moved to New Jersey, where she lived until her death. Bertha married Charles K. Fadel, a Lebanese American from Charlotte. The two lived in several cities across North Carolina, eventually settling in Fayetteville, where they opened and operated the Palace Grill. The two had three children together:  Frieda, Albert, and Shikery.

Joe and Albert, both much younger, soon began to excel in school. Joseph, in particular, had an innate gift for language:  already bilingual in both Arabic and French, he quickly learned English, augmenting his formal lessons by exchanging English lessons with a classmate in return for teaching Arabic. Joseph soon began to excel in school, and by high school he was a top student, not only in his school in New Bern, but also in North Carolina. He graduated as valedictorian in 1929; Albert graduated in 1932.

Joseph attended the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering (now North Carolina State University) and studied electrical engineering. In 1942, Joseph married Amelia Wehbie, daughter of Mickel Mettrey and Mary Saliba Wehbie. That same year, he followed in his father’s footsteps of service and joined the United States Army, where he served as a cryptanalytic officer, using his language skills for translation and code breaking. Amelia also served as a member of the Red Cross. Joseph remained in the Army Reserves until 1963, when he was transferred to the Retired Reserves, having achieved the rank of Major. Joseph remained in the army until After World War II, Joseph and Amelia had four children together:  Jay, Michael, Donna, and Ronald.

Albert, the youngest son of Freda and Shikery, married Vivian Zaytoun, daughter of Ellis and Isabel Zaytoun, on July 14, 1937. Like his older brother, Albert served in the military, working as a Radio Operator for the United States Navy and earning seven Battle Stars. After his service, Albert and Vivian had two children:  Albert, Jr. and Mary Isabel. The couple lived in North Carolina for most of their lives, eventually retiring to Tampa, Florida. 

Scope and Contents
This collection contains photographs, certificates, and newspaper articles documenting the life of Joseph Salem and his family in North Carolina.




Ronald Salem


Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies




Donor retains full ownership of any and all copyright currently controlled in agreement with Khayrallah Center. Nonexclusive right to authorize all uses of these materials for non-commercial research, scholarly, or other educational purposes are granted to Khayrallah Center pursuant to Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA).

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