Said Hattie Henderson Ricks, who lived in East Wilson from 1911 to 1958: “Yep, that’s me standing up there, and [my sister] Mamie sitting in the chair. And that little arm [of the chair] off there, it was Picture-Taking Barnes, they called him then. You were gon have your pictures made, you went to Picture-Taking Barnes.”
George Washington Barnes‘ one-armed chair is also recognizable in this image of Ricks’ great-aunt, Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver:
Per Stephen E. Massingill’s Photographers in North Carolina (2004), Barnes was perhaps the first of three African-American photographers operating in Wilson in the early part of the twentieth century. In the 1908 city of directory of Wilson, George W. Barnes’ listing shows that he worked for photographer Orren “O.W.” Turner. The others were J. Thomas Artis, active in Wilson by 1921 and also in Wilmington, North Carolina, in the 1920s, and Connecticut native Edwin D. Fisher, active by 1930.
Wilson City Directory, 1916. (The asterisk * indicates “colored.”)
In The Sweet Hell Inside (2001), Edward Ball prints a letter that 28 year-old Elise Forrest wrote her boyfriend Teddy Harleston after she arrived in New York City in 1918 to begin classes at the Emile Brunel School of Photography. “Dear Ted,” she began. “This morning I went to school. I am the only woman. There is one other colored, a young man from Wilson, N.C., …” … Who?
1922 Sanborn map of Wilson showing 2nd floor location of Barnes’ East Barnes Street photography studio.
Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved; photographs in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.