Darden v. Robert G. Lassiter & Co., 198 N.C. 427, 152 S.E. 32 (1930).

Wilson Daily Times, 31 October 1929.

Darden v. Robert G. Lassiter & Company reached the North Carolina Supreme Court on appeal from Wilson County Superior Court. Camillus L. Darden, administrator of the estate of Evan Powell, filed the action against Robert G. Lassiter & Company to recover damages for Powell’s death of plaintiff’s death, which was alleged to have been caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of the defendant. The county court entered a judgment for plaintiff, and Lassiter & Company appealed.

The evidence showed that on December 29, 1927, Powell was working for Lassiter in a trench or ditch cut along Mercer Street in the town of Wilson in preparation for laying sewer or water mains. The trench was cut by a ditching machine to approximately the required depth, and Powell was engaged in smoothing out the bottom of the trench to a uniform grade, called “fine grading,” when the trench caved in and injured him, along with two other workmen. Powell died the following day.

Powell, “a colored man about 29 years of age,” had been employer by Lassiter as a day laborer for about five months and working with this particular crew for about two months prior to his injury. The trench was approximately 7 feet deep and about 21 inches wide. The ground was saturated with water from heavy rainfall.  Water seeped in from the walls on both sides of the trench, and there had been a couple of cave-ins prior to this one. About fifteen yards from the most recent cave-in, workers encountered quicksand about 6 feet below the surface of the ground. Lassiter installed a pump to keep the water out of the trench.

Lassiter’s foreman, O.L. Pickering, directed that certain bracing be used to keep the walls of the trench from falling in — two upright pieces of timber, placed from 8 to 16 feet apart along the sides of the ditch, with two horizontal braces placed between them, one at the top and the other at the bottom. However, contrary to custom, Pickering provided no longitudinal stringers to keep the banks of the ditch from falling or caving in.

On the day of the incident, Pickering went to lunch about 12:30 and left the others working in the ditch. There were no braces for a space of 18 or 20 feet (one witness said from 35 to 40 feet) immediately behind the ditching machine where Powell was working. Shortly after the foreman left, the bank of the ditch suddenly caved in just beyond the last brace and temporarily buried three of the workmen.

Foreman Pickering testified, in part: “It was my duty to see that these braces were put in. I instructed them to put the braces in at intervals of 8 feet. There was a space behind the machine of about 12 or 15 feet in which there were no braces. They had put in all the braces I had instructed them to put in except the last one. They did not have it in when I left. I left them to put that in — the one right behind the machine — and to lay the pipe. Evan Powell was in the ditch at the time I left. He was leveling the bottom or doing fine grading.”

Lassiter offered evidence that Powell had a duty to help put in braces and assumed the risk of his injury. However, this was countered by evidence showing that Powell had no such responsibility. Other employees were instructed to place the braces in the ditch under the immediate supervision of the foreman, who, in turn, was under the supervision of an engineer employed by Lassiter.

The usual issues of negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, and damages were submitted to the jury, resulting in a verdict for the plaintiff. The defendant appealed.

Chief Justice Stacy wrote the opinion. “The case, with evidence sufficient to carry it to the jury, was tried upon the theory that in law the defendant was in duty bound, in the exercise of ordinary care, to provide a reasonably safe place for [Powell] to work, and to furnish him reasonably safe means and suitable appliances with which to execute the work assigned, subject to the limitation that the deceased took upon himself, as an employee or servant of the defendant, the ordinary risks of danger incident to the employment, which were obvious or could have been perceived by him in the exercise of his senses and by the use of ordinary care and circumspection. In this, there was no error. …

“Whether ‘fine grading’ in the bottom of a trench, such as [Powell] was doing in the instant case, is dangerous, or otherwise, would seem to depend upon a variety of circumstances. In some cases, it might be entirely safe; in others, not. The size and dimensions of the trench might affect it. The character of the soil would certainly have some influence. The presence of lime, stone, or quicksand, or of earth newly filled in, the moisture in the ground, and numerous other conditions might render such work more or less safe, or more or less hazardous. The state of the weather or the season of the year might have something to do with it. But all of these are matters of fact, about which there may be conflicting evidence, as in the instant case, calling for determination by a jury.

“Indeed, in the instant case, the fact that [Powell]’s work was done under the immediate supervision and direction of the defendant’s foreman would seem to be equivalent to an assurance that he might safely proceed with it. … When the foreman went to get his lunch, he left [Powell] at work in the trench, leveling the bottom or doing fine grading. He was therefore, at the time of leaving, in a better position than [Powell] to observe and appreciate the danger.

“The case was properly submitted to the jury.

“No error.”

Evan Powell’s death certificate. Cause: “Paralysis. Crushed by falling dirt while digging a ditch in town of Wilson; fractured vertebrae.” Powell was a native of Whiteville, Columbus County, in southeast North Carolina.

203 North Pender Street.

The one hundred-third in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this house is: “ca. 1890; 1 story; Reverend Henry W. Farrior House; L-plan cottage with intact Victorian motifs, including bracketed chamfered porch posts and bay window; Farrior was minister of the St. John’s A.M.E. Zion Church.”

Robert C. Bainbridge and Kate Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey (1980) provides additional details about the house, including the photo above: “This L-plan cottage probably dates c. 1880. It boasts a handsome three-sided baby in the front ell. The bay is ornamented by a molded cornice, paired scrolled brackets, and arched window surrounds.” As shown in Sanborn fire insurance maps, prior to 1923 the house was numbered 130 Pender.

From the 1908 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson.

In the 1916 and 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Farrior Henry W Rev h 130 Pender. (In 1916, also:, Farrior Dancy h 130 Pender)

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 130 Pender, minister of the Gospel Henry W. Farrior, 56; wife Icey, 54; and granddaughter Florence, 10; plus Isadora Estoll, 18.

In the 1922 and 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Farrior Henry W Rev h 203 Pender

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 203 Pender, owned and valued at $4000, Christian Church minister Henry W. Farrior, 60, and wife Aria, 60, with boarders tobacco factory stemmer Earnest Bulluck, 35, his wife Lena, 30, and children Earnest Jr., 12, Paul T., 8, and Lee, 7.

Henry William Farrior died 6 March 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate: he was born 12 August 1859 in Powhatan, Virginia, to Henry and Sylvia Farrior; resided at 203 Pender Street, Wilson; was married Isiebell Farrior; and was a preacher. Dalley Farrior was informant.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 203 Pender Street, widow Ossie M. Royall, 33, an elevator girl at the courthouse; her mother Tossie Jenkins, 53, stemmer at a tobacco factory; daughters LaForest, 16, and Evaline Royall, 14; and a roomer named Ed Hart, 45, a laborer employed by the town of Wilson. Ossie and LaForest were born in Wilson; Evaline in Battleboro [Nash County]; and Tossie and Ed in Nash County.

Wilson Daily Times, 18 September 1948.

203 North Pender has been demolished. The property now belongs to nearby Calvary Presbyterian Church.

Hines brothers’ barber shops.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1947.

In addition to his business and real estate interests, William Hines for decades served as secretary-treasurer and general administrator of Mercy Hospital. This photograph, which probably dates from the mid-1950s, depicts Hines flanked by Helen James, nursing director, and Anna Burgess Johnson, hospital board member. Photo courtesy of O.N. Freeman Round House and Museum.

Leaving Carter’s Cafe.

In the spring of 1921, barber Walter S. Hines served notice that he was getting out of the restaurant business.

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Wilson Daily Times, 11 May 1921.

  • Clarence Carter — Clarence Lenwood Carter. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber Clarence Carter, 36; wife Meena, 25; and children Omega, 9, Clarence H., 7, and Mina G., 5.

1101-1119 South Railroad Street.

Though not in the Historic District, this tight cluster of shotgun houses in the 1100 block of South Railroad Street — called “endway” locally — comprises a sight once common across East Wilson. Built cheaply from about 1900 to World War II as rental housing for low-wage workers, relatively few of the District’s endway houses have survived into the twenty-first century.

These houses, shown here from the rear, were built in the 1920s and feature a small front porch sheltered by a shed roof. The exteriors are little modified since the addition of indoor plumbing (likely in the 1950s), and several retain their original galvanized metal standing-seam roofs. Public documents for 1101 Railroad Street show that the houses measure 504 square feet (14 feet wide by 36 feet deep.)

The block of Railroad below Elvie Street was originally numbered 801-819, as shown in this excerpt from Hill’s 1928 Wilson city directory:

By the early 1960s, it had been renumbered to the 1100 block, as shown in the 1963 directory:

Google Maps Streetview shows the 1100 block from the corner of Railroad and Lincoln Streets.

Top photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2019.

Your history is still around you.

Periodically, I’ll run across a quotation that speaks to Black Wide-Awake‘s purpose. Yesterday, I found it in the words of Dorothy Thompson Bolden, co-founder of the National Domestic Workers Union of America, in a 1995 interview for Georgia State University’s Voices of Labor Oral History Project:

“If you think about it, and you live here and think about it at home when you’re in the bed, that your history is still around you, it don’t go nowhere. People may try to get rid of it, but it never gets out of you, and people don’t realize that. If we go back now and study some of these peoples, and look at it and listen to them talk, we can tell you a great deal …”  

123 North Pender Street.

The house at 123 North Pender Street was located just outside East Wilson Historic District and within the bounds of Wilson Central Business District-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District.

As noted in Nomination Form for Wilson Central Business District – Tobacco Warehouse Historic District: “[121 North Pender Street] and a similarly modest dwelling at 123 North Pender Street were acquired in 1876 by the adjacent St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church for future expansion.  The house at 123 was razed in November 1983 ….”

As shown on this detail from the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, this lot was originally numbered 126 Pender.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Mansfield H. Wilson, 49; wife Maggie, 43; son Samuel, 15; sister-in-law Lucy Richard, 45; and servants John M. Madderson, 14, and William Dew, 21. [No house or street is listed, but the listing is next to the Saint John A.M.E. Zion parsonage, and it’s reasonable to believe this is 123/126 North Pender.]

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 126 Pender Street, Virginia-born house contractor Mansfield H. Wilson, 60; son Samuel H., 20; and sister-in-law Lucy Richards, 40.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 123 Pender Street, owned and valued at $2000, Virginia-born carpenter Mansfield Wilson, 50, widower; son Samual, 30, insurance company agent; daughter-in-law Sarah, 24, public school teacher; granddaughter Audrey, 3; and sister-in-law Lucey Richard, 50.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 123 Pender, Sam Winsted, 36, laborer for Town of Wilson; wife Mattie, 34, cook for private family; children Mattie, 15, and Hilton, 12; brother James Parker, 55; and Louisa Mercer, 15, roomer.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Winstead Samuel (c; Mattie; 2) lab City St Dept h123 Pender

In 1942, Frank Junior Pope registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 1 June 1924; resided on Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; his contact was Mrs. Mattie Winstead, 123 Pender Street; and he worked for his father, Frank Pope, Stantonsburg Street.

Photo, likely taken circa 1979, is courtesy of Robert C. Bainbridge and Kate Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey, originally published by the City of Wilson in 1980 and updated and republished in 2010 under the auspices of the Wilson County Genealogical Society.

The brickmasons’ strike(s).

Newspaper reports reveal a strike (or series of strikes) by African-American brick masons in Wilson in the first decade of the 20th century. Though the record is sparse, these articles offer rare glimpses of black workers flexing their economic muscle, and surprising hints of the reach of organized labor during a time and place well-known for hostility toward unionization.

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Wilmington Messenger, 21 October 1902.

Brickmasons led by Goodsey Holden struck for a nine-hour work day consistent with that required by “the International union.” The protest, at least temporarily, resulted in concessions from the contractors for whom they worked.

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News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 2 April 1903.

Six months later, bricklayers struck again, crippling progress on the construction of several large brick commercial buildings, including Imperial Tobacco’s new stemmery. Contractors brought in nearly 20 masons from Raleigh and Durham to pick up the work. The sub-headline suggests that the men refused to cross picket lines once they arrived in Wilson, but the article does not address the matter. Masons in those cities were also engaged in strike activity.

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Greensboro Daily News, 18 March 1906.

Three years later, Will Kittrell was arrested and charged with conspiracy and blackmail for allegedly warning a Henderson brickmason to leave town. Contractors continued to import masons from across North Carolina to fill the gap created by Wilson workers’ refusal to work without limits on long workdays.

——

In memory of Benjamin Ellis.

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Wilson Daily Times, 7 June 1995.

——

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Joana Ellis, 27; wife Ciller, 23; and children Mattie, 2, and Benjamin, 1.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, Jonah Ellis, 42; wife Precilla, 38; and children Mattie, 11, Benjamin, 9, Dora, 8, Jonah, 6, James, 5, and Caroline, 3.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg & Wilson Road, farmer Jonnie Ellis, 56; wife Prisilla, 46; and children Mattie, 21, Benjamin, 20, Jonnie Jr., 17, Dora, 18, James, 14, Carolin, 13, and Mary, 5.

On 6 January 1923, Benjamin Ellis, 22, of Stantonsburg, son of John and Priscilla Ellis, married Lizzie Simms, 20, of Black Creek, daughter of Reddick and Bettie Simms. Free Will Baptist minister B.F. Lofton performed the ceremony at Red Simms’ house in the presence of Ruffin Roe of Black Creek and Lonzie Bynum and George Woodard of Lucama.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Benjamin Ellis, 29; wife Lizzie, 26; and children Pauline, 6, Benjamin F., 4, Sylvester, 2, and Ruth, 10 months.

In the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamon Ellis, 42; wife Lizzie S., 37; and children Pauline, 16, Benjamon F., 14, Sylvester, 12, Ruth, 10, Moses, 8, Jessie Lee, 6, Jonah, 4, and Lizzie, 1.

In 1942, Benjamin Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 31 July 1899 in Wilson County; lived in Black Creek township on the M.L. Smith farm; and worked for M.L. Smith.

Benjamin Ellis died 7 June 1976 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 November 1899 to Jonah Ellis and Priscilla Woodard; was a farmer; and was married to Lizzie Simms Ellis.