Joe Simms and Susie win a blue ribbon.

Wanda Simms Page shared this heartwarming story of her father’s days as a proud young farmer.

Joe Louis Simms was born and raised up in Wilson County, North Carolina, four miles east of Black Creek. He and his brother attended the all-black, two-room Minchew Elementary School and did work in the 4-H Club alongside Raymond Hall, Daniel Green, and other neighborhood kids. Joe had long loved animals, and in 1949 he took on a project—raising and training a competition calf. His goals, simple and ambitious: to have the absolute best-looking and prettiest calf and to win the blue ribbon.

“Same as plenty of others in the area, Joe’s family already kept cows, and when one gave birth to a dark red female calf, he knew she was the one. As was their practice, he named her Susie, and she quickly showed herself to be gentle and a good breed. He made sure she always had her fill of green grass and dry hay. He washed her coat to a shine with fresh water from a bucket and trained her to walk beside him on a rope so that she wouldn’t be scared. She, of course, stayed with the cows, but his eyes never strayed far from her.

“When the day of the competition came, Joe and Susie set off walking beside the three-mile dirt road leading to Minchew. They had no other transportation. Joe carried a stick to protect Susie from the mean dogs they’d meet, though he didn’t think she’d be scared—their family had mean dogs too and she was used to them. They stopped along the road every now and then, as they’d practiced, but the walk still didn’t take so long.

“When they got to the school, Joe realized that it was, in fact, a pretty big day. The yard was full of people and calves. Folks, including Joe’s mom, had canned lots of food and made other preparations. A bunch of things were going on. As was the case with the school, everyone at and in the competition was black. All black. White people didn’t really deal with them—not like that—and Joe knew he wouldn’t even have had a fair shot at the blue ribbon if they did. Eventually, they found and fell in line with the rest of the boys and calves.

“After a while, Carter Foster, Wilson County’s second Negro Agricultural Extension Agent, began the judging. Joe knew Foster from his visits to teach them at the school and because he sometimes worked with Joe’s dad on their farm. In 1945, Foster and Jane Boyd, the Negro Home Demonstration Agent, had been mentioned in the Wilson Daily Times for their “wonderful work among the Negroes in the area” and for “working quietly with little publicity and no brass bands.” Their salaries were reported as less than half that of J.O. Anthony and Lois Rainwater, their white counterparts.

“Foster judged each calf, and at the end of that day Joe and Susie had the blue ribbon, making him one of the first ones at the school to win a prize like that with an animal. Joe felt very, very good. Susie, if she was aware that something had happened, maybe felt good too. When it was time to make a picture, Foster pulled them away from the rest of the group. Just before the camera clicked, Joe threw his arm around Susie’s neck and gave a big smile. Eventually, they headed back down the road they came in on, ribbon in hand.

“Joe’s family made a milk cow out of Susie after she got grown and kept her for some years. Joe went on to do other projects in 4-H, including making things out of wood, tobacco-grading contests (his team won third prize at the state fair), and raising up other animals like turkeys, which he bought twenty of as chicks for very cheap from a hatchery (one was included for free) and later sold around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Minchew Elementary School closed in 1951, and Joe started attending the consolidated Speight High School near Stantonsburg. Through it all, he never forgot Susie.”

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Joe Louis Simms and his prize-winning calf Susie, 1949.

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Reddick Simms, 24, son of Jack and Treacy Simms, married Bettie Barden, 20, on 6 September 1890 at Woodson Rountree‘s in Black Creek township. Frank Simms, Jesse Rountree and Lee Moore were witnesses.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Rederick Simms, 52; wife Elizabeth 40; and children Johnie, 16, Thestus L., 14, Ardena, 11, Amena, 8, Bettie E., 7, Joseph, 3, and Charlie, 1.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Reddick Simms, 62; wife Bettie P., 50; and children Johnnie, 24, Festus, 22, Ardena, 20, Almena, 17, Lizzie, 15, Joseph, 12, Charlie, 10, and Freddie, 7.

Reddick Simms died 6 March 1923 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1861 and was married to Bettie Simms.

On 15 March 1923, C.L. Darden applied for letters of administration for the estate of Reddick Simms. The value of the estate was estimated at $338, and heirs were widow Bettie Simms and children John, Festus, Ardena, Almina, Lizzie, Joseph, Charlie and Fred.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Brockington, 47; wife Mary, 47; children James, 27, Ethel, 18, Eulah Mae, 17, Irene, 14, Mamie, 13, Zollie, 10, Pearle, 8, and Bertha, 5; plus grandson John Ed Cooper, 2. All were described as born in South Carolina except Bertha (North Carolina) and John Ed (Michigan).

Joseph Simms, 21, of Cross Roads, son of Reddick and Bettie Simms, married Ethel Brockington, 20, of Black Creek, daughter of John and Mary Brockington, on 26 March 1932 in Wilson. Mary Brockington, Joe Gibson and J.T. Daniel were witnesses.

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Joseph Simms, 29; wife Ethel, 26; children Rosa L., 6, Helen and Ellen, 5, Joseph Jr., 3, and Billie J., 1; and uncle Jesse, 70.

Joe Louis Simms married Rose Elizabeth Arrington on 15 November 1958 in Wilson.

Bettie Barden Simms died 7 October 1962 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 80 years old; had been a farmer; was widowed. Joseph Simms, 705 Carroll Street, was informant.

Thanks to Carol Lee Ware for bringing this story to my attention and to Wanda S. Page for allowing me to share and for citing Black Wide-Awake in the original as a source of reference for Carter W. Foster and Jane Amos Boyd.

Soil map of Wilson County, 1925.

At last, a county map marked with the locations of Lane Street cemeteries. This 1925 soil map indicates a combined Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries at (A) and the Masonic cemetery at (B). There is no cemetery indicated in the general location of Oakdale cemetery (C). (Note that, as in the 1904 topographic map, the eastern arm of Lane extended to Stantonsburg Road and the western arm extended to what is now Pender Street.)

Detail of “Soil Map of Wilson County, North Carolina,” U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1929, available via East Carolina University Digital Collections.

 

Hardy Tabourn seeks a Revolutionary War pension.

State of North Carolina, Nash County  }   On this thirteenth day of August Eighteen hundred and Forty four Personally appeared in open Court Hardiman Tabourn a resident of the County of Nash and maketh the following declaration in order to obtain a pension under the act of Congress passed on the seventh day of June Eighteen hundred and thirty two and after being duly sworn according to law doth declare on his oath that he is the son of Burrell Tabourn who Enlisted in the war of the revolution in the year Seventeen hundred and eighty-one For the term of Twelve months under Capt Lytle and after he had served out that time he was drafted for a twelve month tour in the year of Seventeen hundred and eighty two as he has always heard his said father say who will more fully appear by two certificates which he has procured from the Secretary of the State of North Carolina, which he submits as evidence in Connection with his own of his Said Fathers services.

And further declares that his said Father Burrell Tabourn died leaving no widow and that his said father Burrell Tabourn died on the Ninth day of January Eighteen hundred and fortytwo and that he was Eighty one years old when he died and that he himself is forty nine years old and that he has three Brothers and two Sisters Namely Larkin Tabourn forty seven years old, Caleb Tabourn Thirtyfive years old, Boling Tabourn twentyeight years old, Beady Tabourn who intermarried with one Berry Locust Thirtytwo years old and Elizabeth Tabourn Thirty years old and he Further declares that his said Father was at the time he entered the Service a resident of the County of Nash and remained as Such up to this death and that he himself and all his brothers and sisters are Residents of the County of Nash and State aforesaid

And he Further declares that he has always heard his Father Say that he served the last Tower under the same Capt as he did the first two and he said Hardiman Further declares that he hims [sic] and he in behalf of his Brother and Sisters do hereby relinquish all Right to a pension whatever Except this

Sworn and subscribed to the day and date before written Before me  Francis M. Taylor  Hardiman X Tabourn

——

In the 1850 census of Nash County: Caleb Tayborne, 51, wife Susan, 50, and children Quilly, 20, Jane, 15, Owen, 15, Martha, 12, Larkin, 12, and Sallie, 10.  Also, Larkin Tayborne, 57, wife Rebecca, 68, Ricks, 24, and Levenia, 15.  Also, Berry Locust, 50, wife Beedy, 45, and children Arthur, 25, Eliza, 19, Hepsy A., 16, Ivah, 15, Alsey, 12, Henry, 10, and Leymon, 8.

In the 1860 census of Old Fields, Wilson County: Hardy Tabourn, 70, farm laborer, living alone.

From the file of Burrell Tabourn, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives and Records Administration.

A producer of fine quality tobacco.

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Wilson Daily Times, 9 August 1946.

Floyd W. Farmer was not only a prosperous farmer, he was a force in the effort to get Wilson County to build rural high schools for African-Americans in the late 1940s.

——

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Cromwell Farmer, 57; wife Mary Jane, 48; and children James, 20, Ida, 20, Cromwell, 19, Ella, 17, Maggie, 16, Clara, 14, Floyd, 12, Viola, 9, Liola, 9, Esther, 8, Lee A., 7, and George, 6.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Mary Jane Farmer, 65, and children Floyd W., 21, Leola, 19, Viola, 19, Queen Esther, 17, and George, 15.

In 1940, Floyd Willie Farmer applied for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born in April 1919 in Wilson; lived on Route 1, Elm City; his contact was mother Mary Jane Farmer; and he worked as a tenant farmer for Mrs. M.A. Bryant.

On 14 November 1942, Floyd Farmer, 24, of Elm City, son of Crumel and Mary J. Farmer, married Odell Sharp, 20, of WIlson, daughter of Alvin and Carrie Sharp, in Wilson. C.E. Artis applied for the license, and a justice of the peace performed the ceremony in the presence of J.H. Forbes, J.E. Miles and B.E. Howard.

Floyd W. Farmer died 16 April 2014.

Remembering Mrs. Johnson, honoring Mrs. Richie.

Pioneering mathematician Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson passed away today at the age of 101. Mrs. Johnson’s calculations of orbital mechanics were vital to the success of the United States’ first manned space flights.

Wilson County’s own Christine Barnes Richie also worked as a “human computer” for NASA’s predecessor in the 1950s. In 2019, Mrs. Richie was selected as one of two inaugural recipients of the Salem College Trailblazer Award. Her taped acceptance speech was aired at Salem College’s 2019 commencement ceremony.

Many thanks to Patricia Freeman for sharing.

Elder Hattie Daniels conducts revival.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 October 1943.

Hattie Daniels not only preached the Gospel, but founded a daycare that continues to educate young children.

This photo depicts Mrs. Daniels with fellow members of Mary McLeod Bethune Women’s Civic Club (including Geneva Wynn Dew, Norma Duncan Darden, Bessie Sanders Satchell, Christine Armstrong, and Bertha Bryant Hawkins Carroll) probably in the mid-1970s. Source unknown.

Studio shots, no. 139: Willie Barnes.

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Willie Barnes.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Wright Creech, 38; wife Sallie A., 26; children Leory, 13, Richard, 12, Penny, 9, Naomie, 7, Luther, 4, Lilly, 2, and Johnnie, 4 months; and Willie, 9, and Odalia Barnes, 7 [who were described as sons-in-law, but were actually Wright’s step-children and Sallie’s children.]

In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on New Wilson and Raleigh Road, farmer Right Creech, 48; wife Sallie, 37; and children Willie, 19, James O., 17, Maomie, 18, Luther, 14, Lillie May, 11, Alex, 9, Elizabeth, 8, Beulah, 6, Gertrude, 3, and David, 1.

On 16 December 1919, in Old Fields township, Willie Barnes, 20, of Cross Roads township, son of Sallie Creech, married Lina Rodgers, 19, of Cross Roads township, daughter of James and Fannie Rodgers.

Thank you, Edith Jones Garnett, for sharing this photo.

Cemetery records request update, no. 5: the city’s response.

I have received the city’s response to my request for documents related to the removal and destruction of headstones from Vick cemetery, made under North Carolina’s Public Records Law.

My initial request to the Wilson Cemetery Commission was made 6 September 2019. (Thanks again to Heather Goff for her quick response.)

I followed up with letters to several city officials in October and November. The city clerk responded quickly to my first letter, providing copies of relevant city council minutes from 1990 to 1995. The city manager and city engineer did not respond at all, even to acknowledge receipt of my request.

On 30 December 2019, I sent a letter to the mayor of Wilson, the city manager, and all seven council members setting forth my concerns and my unanswered requests for information about Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries. At the behest of the city’s new mayor, Carlton Stevens, and council, city attorney James Cauley assumed responsibility for the search for responsive documents. I commend Mr. Cauley for his periodic updates on the status of the city’s response and for his candor concerning the paucity of records.

Here, in their entirety, are the documents I received.

(1) Purchase Order, dated 10 November 1994, for services by vendor PLT Construction, described in “Bid for improvements to S.H. Vick Cemetery.” The document’s right edge is cut off, but the amount the city paid was more than $139,000.

(2) A request for payment of balance due submitted by PLT Construction to the City of Wilson on 5 June 1995. Note the change item: “deduct for replacing headstones and portion of survey work.” PLT did not perform this work and thus credited the city $4500.

 

(3) A 21 June 1995 invoice for the amount set forth in PLT’s letter above.

(4) Page 1 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” Section 4A of this document is particularly interesting: “All existing graves whether marked by a grave marker or not shall be identified and located so as to be able to be re-located after completion of the work. A detailed survey may be needed in order to ensure that graves are marked in the correct location after completion of the work. A drawing showing all graves shall be prepared for future reference. All existing tombstones shall be removed, labeled, and stored until after all work is completed.” As we know, the grave markers were not relocated to the cemetery. They were stored for an indeterminate period of time, then destroyed.

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(5) Page 2 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” See particularly, Section E: “All graves identified and located prior to construction shall be re-located and marked. Graves shall be marked in one of two ways: (1) Tombstones removed from graves prior to construction shall be reset at the proper grave locations. (2) Any unmarked graves which were located shall be marked by means of a small metal marker as typically used in cemeteries. A map showing the locations of all graves shall be furnished to the City of Wilson.”

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(6) A plat map of the cemetery and surrounding properties, including Odd Fellows cemetery.

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(7) Another plat map prepared by F.T. Green and Associates [now Green Engineering]. Under the label “Odd Fellows Cemetery” is this note: “No deed on record. See D.B. 81, p. 196.”

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(8) This map, also prepared by F.T. Green, reveals with terrible clarity the reality of the smooth field that is now Vick cemetery. This map shows the location of every grave found on the site. You have to imagine the boundaries: Lane Street the top, woods to the right (concealing Odd Fellows cemetery) and bottom. The clear strip bisecting the map likely indicates an access lane. Contrary to claims made by public officials in the 1990s, Vick cemetery was laid out quite regularly. Graves were oriented parallel to the road (roughly northeast to southwest) in rows running perpendicular.

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Please look more closely. The resolution is awful, but these — hundreds, thousands of? — little marks are not just marks. They are numbers. Each grave was numbered as it surveyed, and the city cannot locate its copy of the key to these numbers. Nor, apparently, can Green Engineering.

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The takeaway: the city (or its contractors) surveyed and assigned each grave a number; prepared a map of those graves; removed the gravestones; graded the site; stored, then destroyed the gravestones; and lost the key that identified any of the graves that could be identified. 

I need to sit with this for a minute to process my sadness and anger and profound disappointment in the city’s handling of the “restoration and improvement” of a public cemetery founded during the darkest days of segregation and neglected through and after its fifty years as an active burial ground. The graves of the thousands of African-Americans buried in Vick cemetery remain in situ, the names of their dead lost.

Vick Cemetery, Christmas Eve 2019.