The pitmasters of Dixie Inn.

From “Facts … About Wilson North Carolina: The City of Beautiful Trees,” a 1934 publication of the Wilson Chamber of Commerce.

The Dixie Inn opened in 1930 just south of Wilson and quickly established itself as the go-to spot for nights out, civic group meetings, company banquets, and rehearsal dinners. Its painted roof proclaimed its specialties, barbecue and oysters. Like every restaurant of its time and place, Dixie Inn was strictly segregated — at least, in terms of its dining tables. The Inn’s cooks and wait staff were Black, as were their so-called “pitboys,” the men who produced the barbecue for which the Inn was renowned. The photo above shows several African-American men shoveling charcoal under a long row of halved hogs and others tending to the fire that produced the coals while a boy in a cap looks on.


The obituary of Ardelia Nunn.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 June 1947.


In the 1880 census of Clayton, Johnston County: Essex Blake, ; wife Clara, ; children Della, Robert, Sallie, Benjamin, James, Halsey, Antney, Timothy, Ardelia, and Jerry, 5; and granddaughter Narcissie, 6.

In the 1900 census of Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina: minister of the gospel Essex Blake, 70; wife Nancy, 59; daughter Ardelia, 26, trained nurse; and Ellen Ransom, 60, seamstress.

In the 1910 census of Raleigh, Wake County: Ardelia Blake, 35, sick nurse, and “sleepers” Joanna Taylor, 42, and Harriett Davis, 65, both children’s nurses.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Nunn Ardelia (c) 1100 E Nash

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Sallie Barbour, 85, widow, and lodgers Ordelia Nunn, 66, and James Pettiford, 47, barber at Hines barbershop.

Sallie Minnie Barbour died 22 April 1942 at her home at 1100 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 71 years old; was born in Wake County to Essex Blake and Clara Hodge; was a widow; and was a schoolteacher. Ardelia Nunn, 1100 East Nash, was informant.

Ardelia executed a will on 24 June 1946 in the presence of D.C. Yancey and C.E. Artis. Nine months later, she signed a codicil adding provision. The first provision bequeathed to Wesley Rogers her house at 1100 East Nash Street provided he care for her if she became disabled. Second, she bequeathed $100 to her sister Ordie J. Jones. Third, to her cousin Maud Hobbs, her interest in a house at 306 South Street, Raleigh, that had been willed to her and her sister Sallie Barbour. Per the codicil, Nunn bequeathed various sums of money to Maud Hobbs, Rebecca Farmer, and Vernecia Moore.

Ardelia Nunn died 25 June 1947 at Mercy Hospital. Per her death certificate, she was 70 years old; was born in Wake County, N.C., to Essex Blake and Clara Hodges; was a widow; lived at 608 North Carroll Street; and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery. Informant was Caroline Dismond, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III; Ardelia Nunn Will, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records 1665-1998,

501 East Barnes Street.

This building does not lie within East Wilson Historic District, nor was it ever occupied by African-American residents. I include it, however, because it lies east of the tracks, has housed  Black-owned and/or -operated businesses for decades, and has an unexpected hidden history.

The 1988 nomination form for Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse District described J. and F. Service Center at 501 East Barnes Street thus: “Although extensively altered, the core of this structure, a rectangular frame dwelling under a low hip roof, dates from the late 1880s according to the Sanborn Insurance Maps. In the mid 1890s a smokehouse was added at the east corner; the pleasant gable roofed structure has returning boxed eaves and a standing seam roof. About 1940 Reuben A. Wilder added a small, three-bay-by-two-bay frame store onto the west (along South Pettigrew Street) and converted the property into the Wilder Grocery and Cafe. It currently houses an auto repair business and a large sliding garage door has been added to the Barnes Street elevation of the original dwelling.”

A ride past the location today offers no hint of its origins. A modern Google Maps aerial view, however, clearly reveals the original house at the heart of what is now 501 Car Wash.

Image courtesy of Google Maps.

This detail from the 1897 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson shows that the original dwelling, described as a boarding house, was oriented toward Pettigrew Street.

As late as the late 1940s, several houses stood between Wilder Grocery at 501 East Barnes and Wilson Chapel Free Will Baptist Church. All had white occupants. Across the street, but further east toward what is now called Pender Street, five houses sheltered African-American families. By about 1950, all the houses in the 500 block of East Barnes had been demolished.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, May 2022.

Sheppard arrested for murder; witnesses held, too.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 June 1926.

Howard and Catherine Hamilton were arrested and jailed as witnesses to John Henry Sheppard‘s alleged murder of his wife.

On 29 August 1926, Raleigh’s News and Observer identified the victim as Lillie Mae Ward in an article detailing the eleven murder cases on Wilson County Superior Court’s docket. On 7 September 1926, the N&O followed up to report that a judge had convicted Sheppard and sentenced him to five years in prison.

The murder of Mary Huggins.

On 22 October 1933, the Daily Times reported the murder of Mary Bethea, who had been found shot to death in a ditch on Suggs Street.

In fact, the victim’s name was Mary Huggins. Per her death certificate, she lived on Gay Street; was married; was 29 years old; and was born in Wilson County to Arch Bynum and Pennie Barnes. Annie James, 619 Suggs Street, was informant. Her listed cause of death went so far as to name a suspect: “Murdered. Shot to death. Supposed by James McPhail.”

On 22 December 1934, the Daily Times reported that James McNeil, not McPhail, had convicted of manslaughter in Huggins’ death and sentenced to ten years in state prison.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Blaming the coons.

Wilson Advance, 20 June 1889.

Josephus DanielsWilson Advance advanced a racist theory to explain why the Mount Olive Telegram was not receiving its courtesy copies of “brethren” newspapers — the appointment of African-American postal route agents, “coons … turned loose among loads of mail matter.” Alfred Robinson was one such agent.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

1204 Carolina Street.

The one hundred-seventy-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 building is: “ca. 1930; 1 story; shotgun with engaged porch.”

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Coleman James W (c; Annie) cook h 1204 Carolina St. The house was described as vacant in the 1930 city directory.

James Walter Coleman died 1 April 1930 in Wilson of an “unavoidable auto accident.” Per his death certificate, he was born 7 January 1900 in Nash County, North Carolina, to John Coleman; was married to Johnnie Ann Coleman; worked as a waiter at the Imperial Hotel; and lived at 1204 Carolina Street.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1204 Carolina Street, Oscar Ratcliff, 26, mortar mixer for Wilkins & Wilkins, and wife Nellie, 30, tobacco factory stemmer.

In the 1941 and 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Ratcliff Oscar (c; Nellie) lab h 1204 Carolina

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1204 Carolina Street, Oscar Ratcliff, 49, plumbing and heating laborer, and wife Nellie, 43, worked in diet kitchen at tuberculosis sanitorium.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2022.

Countywide picnic.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 June 1941.

Picnics organized by Wilson County’s Black 4-H and Home Demonstration clubs were annual social highlights. In 1941, a hundred and fifty families traveled to Yelverton School at the far eastern edge of the county for fun and frolic in such contests as milk-sucking, cracker-eating, nail-driving, bag-racing, and horseshoe-pitching.