C.H. Darden & Sons is credited as the first African-American undertaking establishment in Wilson. In the first quarter of the 20th century, however, a few others managed to establish a toehold in the funeral business, which was rapidly professionalizing. During this era, most African-Americans in the county still turned to family members or hardware stores to bury their dead, but in town trained undertakers increasingly vied for business.
In the 1908 Wilson city directory, C.H. Darden & Son is the sole black funeral business listed. This early start laid a foundation for their dominance of the trade for decades.
In the 1915 Wilson city directory, Darden was joined by Columbus E. Artis, who was described as an undertaker, though it’s not clear for whom he worked or if he owned his own business at that time.
This 1918 death certificate for Joshua Barnes lists A. Batts as undertaker:
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1000 Nash Street, undertaker Amos Batts, 48; wife Jennie, 38, and children Eddie, 16, Joseph, 9, Olive, 6, and Josephean, 4.
Three years later, the death certificate of Stephen Simms lists Batts Brothers & Artis as undertakers. Presumably, Amos Batts was one of the Batts brothers who joined forces with C.E. Artis for a short stretch. I have not been able to identify the other Batts brother.
Rivalries between the young businesses sometimes took terrible turns.
The 1925 Wilson city directory carries entries for ARTIS & FLANAGAN (C E Artis, W E Flanagan) funeral directors 563 E Nash — phone 1183 and DARDEN C H & SONS (C H, C L & A N), funeral directors 608-610 E Nash — phone 60. (Walter E. Flanagan lived in Greenville, North Carolina.) Gussie Mae Blackman‘s burial was handled by Artis & Flanagan:
The Darden sons were Camillus L. Darden and Arthur N. Darden. They and their father dominated the black funeral business in Wilson in this decade, and began making inroads into townships outside the town.
Amos Batts was still in Wilson in 1925, but was listed in the directory without an occupation (other than lodge officer.) Nonetheless, Batts Brothers continued to handle burials, as shown on Sarah Batts‘ January 1925 death certificate.
In the 1928 city directory, Batts is again listed as an undertaker.
C.E. Artis was in business by himself by 1928. In addition to his work in Wilson, he performed considerable services in neighboring Wayne County, especially in and around Eureka, where he was born.
Darden and Artis were the leading black undertaking establishments in Wilson through the middle of the century, when they were joined by Edwards Funeral Home and a branch of the Goldsboro-based Hamilton Funeral Home.