The three-story Hotel Union first appears in Sanborn fire insurance maps of Wilson in 1908. The wooden building had two storefronts on the ground floor and accommodations above.
The hotel also appears in the 1913 Sanborn map. By 1922, however, the Hotel Union was a boarding house. Its ground floor had been expanded to add another commercial space, and the one-story extension on the back of the building comprised a separate dwelling. There’s no listing for a black-owned hotel or boarding house in the 1922 Wilson city directory, but the 1925 directory shows the Whitley Hotel at 535-537 East Nash. Maggie A. Whitley was proprietor. In the 1928 directory, the address of the Whitley is 541 East Nash. The hotel is visible in a postcard of East Nash Street circulated in the 1920s.
In January 1928, a fire broke out in a second-floor bedroom of the Whitley. Quick action by the fire department prevented extensive damage.
Wilson Daily Times, 5 January 1928.
The 1941 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book lists the Wilson Biltmore at 541 East Nash Street, which appears to be a later iteration of Hotel Union/Whitley Hotel. (This observation matches Samuel C. Lathan‘s recollection.) The building burned to the ground in the late 1940s.
Well into the twentieth century, children faced harrowing odds against reaching adulthood. Disease, accidents, violence bore them away in sorrowful numbers. In the 1910s, 17% of American children died before age 5, a figure that was higher for Southern and African-American children. Few children in Wilson County were buried in marked graves. In town, original burials were in Oaklawn or the Masonic cemetery. The Oaklawn graves were exhumed and moved to Rest Haven in the 1940s, and headstones, if they ever existed, have been lost over time.
By allowing us to call their names again, this series of posts memorializes the lives of children who died during the first twenty years in which Wilson County maintained death records. May they rest in peace.
On 11 February 1915, Mary Mercer, 2, in Wilson, daughter of Dempsey Mercer and Maggie Hines, was burned to death.
On 17 February 1915, Wilbert Hall, 3, in Stantonsburg, son of James and Henrietta Hall, died after his “clothes caught fire and [he] was burned so badly he died within a few hours.”
On 11 December 1915, Willie Gray Harrison, 4, in Taylors township, son of Ed Wiggins and Bessie Harrison, died of accidental burns.
On 6 June 1916, Lizzie Green, 14, in Oldfields township, daughter of George Parker, married, was accidentally “burned to death — her dress caught fire while cooking in lumber camp, from cracks in stove.”
On 18 October 1916, Lucrecia Pace, 4, in Oldfields township, daughter of DewittPace and Fannie Renfrow, died after “burned in clothing caught while playing in fire with no one in house but smaller baby.”
On 28 March 1917, Robert Rich, 18 months, in Gardners township, son of Edd Rich and Martha Dickens, died after “burned to death in burning home.”
On 10 May 1918, Milton Haskins, 3, in Wilson township, son of John Haskins and Eliza Joyner, died after “burned while in home asleep.”
On 26 September 1918, Hattie Bynum, 6, in Saratoga township, daughter of Lynn and Lena Bynum, died after being “burned by fire — clothes caught fire around wash pot.” She was buried at the “Whitehead place.”
On 4 March 1920, May Lillie Battle, 7, in Gardners township, daughter of Simon Battle and Mary Hines, died after being burned.
On 27 November 1920, Namie Pearl Clark, 5, in Saratoga township, daughter of William Clark and Ella Graves, “died in about 3 hours of burn covering entire body.” She was buried in “Vines cemetery.”
On 25 April 1922, Manallis Hooks, 3, in Wilson, son of Barnard Hooks and Sittie Dawson, “burned to death, caught from open fireplace during absence of parents.”
On 8 March 1923, Leroy Wanamaker, 6 months, in Saratoga, son of James Wanamaker and Augusta Walker, “burned to death.” He was buried “near Saratoga.”
On 12 November 1923, Linda Inman, 4, in Toisnot township, daughter of Lim Inman and Edna McNeal, “burned to death, dress caught from grate.”
On 9 January 1940, Alice Powell, 11, in Wilson, daughter of James Powell and Lela Wright, “3rd degree burns of entire body, playing in fire.”
Generations of the Whitehead family have been members of Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church for well over one hundred years. Portraits of their matriarch, Victoria Ennis Whitehead, and her children hang prominently in a church hallway.
Victoria Ennis Whitehead (1891-1974).
On 8 December 1908, Henry Whitehead, 34, of Wilson, son of Ben and FrancesWhitehead, married Victoria Innis, 22, of Wilson, daughter of Freeman Innis of Smithfield, at the residence of James Hardy in Wilson. Baptist minister FredM. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of James Hardy, George Brodie, and Lizzie Wayfield.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Smith Street, brickyard laborer Henry Whitehead, 34; wife Victory, 23; daughters Della M., 3, and Lucille, 1; and son Willie, 18.
Lucial Whitehead died 23 December 1910 at home at 120 Smith Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 March 1908 to Henry Whitehead and Victoria Ennis. Informant was Henry Whitehead.
In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Saratoga Road, Henry Whitehead, 48; wife Victoria, 32; and children Willie, 27, Della Mae, 13, Catherine, 9, Odell, 7, James, 5, Grace, 2, and Rosalie, 1.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, owned and valued at $2500, oil mill contractor Henry Whitehead, 53; wife Victoria, 43, seamstress; and children Katherine, 19, Odell, 17, James, 15, Grace, 13, Rosalyn, 11, Herbert, 9, Gertrude, 6, Mable, 4, and Victoria, 2.
In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: widow Victoria Whitehead, 52, sewing; children James, 25, apprentice carpenter; Rosaline, 21; Herbert, 20, tobacco company floor hand; Gertrude, 16, Mabel, 14, and Victoria E., 12; and nieces Elizabeth Brodie, 32, public school teacher, and [actually, granddaughter] Joan Bynum, 6.
Victoria Ennis Whitehead died 2 March 1974 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 December 1891 to Freeman Ennis and Della McCullers; was a widow; resided at 108 Tacoma Street; was a retired seamstress. Informant was Catherine Bynum, 1008 Carolina Street.
The children of J. Henry and Victoria Ennis Whitehead. Top: Victoria W. McCray, James Whitehead, Gertrude E. Whitehead, Herbert V. Whitehead, Rosalyn Whitehead. Bottom: Grace W. Artis (who recently turned 102), Della W. Murrain, Catherine W. Bynum, Odelle W. Barnes, Mable W. Parks.
We pulled over on the side of the highway here, got out and started trudging along the treeline. The ground was saturated from heavy winter rains, and I had not worn the right shoes. Nonetheless, we traipsed back and forth, looking for the Simon and Penninah Woodard Barnes cemetery.
Barnes/Woodard/Lassiter descendant Bernard Patterson had graciously offered to help me find it. However, the land is no longer family-owned, and he had not been there in many years. We did our best, but a thick growth of broomsedge, prickly smilax vines, and young trees prevented us from locating it.
Penninah was the daughter of London and Penelope Lassiter Woodard. She married Simon Barnes on 1 January 1877 in Wilson County, and they and several generations of their descendants are buried in a family graveyard located off what is now N.C. Highway 42. The photo of Pennie Barnes’ grave, below, was taken during a period in which the plot was cleared. Eastern North Carolina’s climate makes rural cemetery maintenance a serious challenge, especially when graves are located on private property far from paved roads and the cemetery is not in active use for burials.
Thanks again to Bernard Patterson. Top photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2019; bottom photo courtesy of Roger Barron.
Per an unsourced inventory compiled by Freeman Round House and Museum, the Wilson Chapel Four performed for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration and were the first African-American gospel quartet to sing on WGTM, a Wilson radio station.
The Wilson Chapel Four performed on Sunday at 10:30 A.M. Wilson Daily Times, 17 July 1943.
Presumably, the quartet was affiliated with Wilson Chapel Free Will Baptist Church at 513 East Barnes Street. If anyone can identify members of the Wilson Chapel Four, I’d appreciate hearing from you.
Reid and Stanback were defended by W.A. Finch, Bryce Little, O.G. Rand, Wade Gardner, and Pete Bell, “Plymouth negro lawyer.”
The State first called certified public accountant C.A. Bean, who testified that he had examined the bank’s records and books on behalf of the North Carolina State Banking Department. Bean testified that pages from the bank’s ledger January 1929 until it closed were destroyed by fire, as well as a number of deposit records. Some documents were found strewn on the floor. He believed the bank was insolvent for four months before it closed. Records shows the bank had $565.84 in cash and checks on hand when it closed, against $72,000 owed to depositors and more than $53,000 in outstanding loans. Bean also found duplicate ledger sheets and a number of accounts under various names controlled by Stanback and Reid (including that of the Wilson Colored Hospital.) Further, he found numerous checks drawn but not charged to Stanback’s account, and well as checks drawn by Stanback from others’ accounts from 1922 to 1928. Bean testified that Stanback told him one of the special accounts was set up for expenses related to operating the bank. Reid had similarly shady accounts. The bankers’ lawyers objected vigorously to the questions put to Bean.
The state next called several bank customers.
Alfred Robinson, secretary-treasurer of the “Grand Lodge of Negro Masons,” testified that he maintained a personal account and the lodge’s account at the bank. He made deposits in his personal account on September 17 and asked for balance statements for both. Stanback gave him the personal account balance, but said he was too busy to give the lodge’s. He put Robinson off again a few days later, then told him the fire had destroyed records before he could get the information. Robinson said Stanback and Reid told him rats and matches had caused the blaze.
The courtroom was packed with spectators — as many as five hundred, most African-American.
Ed Humphrey testified that he had traveled to Roxboro, North Carolina, with Reid to get a two or three thousand dollar check from Lee Clay. He said Reid offered him $25 to deposit $1880 in the bank, but Humphrey refused.
Edwin Fisher testified about deposits he made on behalf of N.C. Mutual and about a “bogus” deposit slip for $150 that Reid had given him to cover an overage at the bank.
Columbus E. Artis testified that his own balance sheets showed a balance of $1176.67, but the bank’s showed him $14 overdrawn. He further stated that once, when he had a balance of $1800, he had written a check for $500. Stanback had returned it to him unpaid, asking him “not to write such big checks as the bank was a little low on funds owing to the demands of farmers.”
Lee Clay, of Roxboro, testified that Reid had convinced him to transfer $2000.00 from a “white man’s bank” to Commercial about September 1.
Plummer A. Richardson testified in his capacity as officer of a Nash County fraternal organization. He testified that Reid and Stanback blamed the tobacco market for cashflow problems, and he had to make several trips to Wilson to get his checks cashed.
Coverage continued the next day under this headline:
Again, hundreds of dismayed African-Americans crowded the courtroom to hear witnesses pile on evidence against Stanback and Reid. Isaac A. Shade, an eight-year customer, testified that Stanback had explained discrepancies with his pharmacy’s checks as mere mistakes. Shade was later recalled and examined about the Commercial Realty Company, which he claimed to known little about. John H. Clark testified that, upon hearing rumors that the bank would close, he tried to cash out his account, and Stanback had told him that the bank was not open for business. John Melton had $860.00 to his credit when the bank closed. Nestus Freeman testified that he had $3100.00 in the bank when it closed.
H.D. Beverly, “colored superintendent” of a lodge called “Brothers and Sisters of Love and Charity,” testified that Reid came to his home in Ahoskie, North Carolina, to solicit him to deposit his and the lodge’s money in the bank. Among other things, he said Reid instructed him to allow Stanback to fill out his savings account book to avoid messing up Stanback’s books. He heard the bank was about to fail, but Reid assured him it was not. Andrew Tate also testified.
Marland Jones of Durham testified at length. Jones opened an account after Stanback “kept after him” to do so. “One morning he went after his money, and it was after the time for the bank to open. Reid came with a sack of money and witness asked what was the matter and if the bank was broke, and Reid said ‘Who said so.’ I wanted to draw out $172.00, and Stanback said that he was short on cash, and I said if you have trouble paying me $172.00, I want all of it.” Jones thought he got the money from Durham, as a Western Union boy came in the office with the money shortly after.
Bertie County depositor N.H. Cherry testified that he had opened an account at Reid’s request and had done so with $500. He later wrote Stanback two letters demanding return of his money. Reid showed up at Cherry’s in person, threatening to “jack up” Stanback for failing to respond and promising to pay Cherry $25 if he kept his money in the bank. Cherry never saw the $25 or his $500 either.
Oscar McCall and Ellen Tate testified about the bank’s shady practices, and Mr. Bean was recalled to testify about irregularities in Hattie Tate‘s account. The State rested, and the defense followed suit, calling no witnesses.
The case went to jury the next day. After just over an hour, they returned two guilty verdicts on the count of receiving deposits knowing that the bank was insolvent. Reid and Stanback were sentenced to five years hard labor, and the remaining charges were deferred to a later date. After abruptly withdrawing their appeals, Reid and Stanback entered state prison by the first of March.
Joe and Minnie Bailey Kent and eldest daughter Fannie, circa 1910.
Joseph Kent, 26, of Cross Roads township, son of Elbert and Bacy Kent, married Minnie Bailiey, 20, of Cross Roads, daughter of Julia Bailey on 19 February 1907. Free Will Baptist minister J.W. Richardson performed the ceremony in the presence of J.H. Rowe, T.W.A. Thompson, and W.H. Richardson, all of Lucama.
In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Joseph Kent, 28; wife Minnie, 22; daughter Fannie, 1; and sister-in-law Rosa Bailey, 18.
In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Joe Kent, 38, farmer; wife Minnie, 30; and children Fannie, 11, Lillie, 9, Joe, 7, Elbert, 5, Ellic, 3, and Pauline, 5 months.
In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Joe Kent, 48, farmer; wife Minnie, 42; and children Joseph, 17, Elbert, 15, Elek, 13, Pauline, 10, Elve, 8, Addilee, 5, and Wallace, 3.
In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Joe Kent, 48; wife Minnie, 51; and children Elbert, 25, Alex, 23, Ella, 17, Addie Lee, 15, and Wallace, 13; as well as daughter Lillie Powell, 25, and her children Joseph, 9, Elmer Lee, 5, and Bill, 3.
Joe Kent died 22 November 1957 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 August 1890 in Wilson County to Elbert Kent; resided in Lucama; was married to Minnie Kent; and was buried in Mary Grove cemetery. Fannie Patterson was informant.
Minnie B. Kent died 15 February 1966 in Lucama. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 March 1890 in Harnett County to George Bailey and Julia Bailey; was a widow; and she was buried in Mary Grove cemetery. Pauline Ward was informant.
Many thanks to Bernard Patterson for sharing this photograph.
John T.M. Artis announced his tobacco stick business in the Daily Times in November 1919. Tobacco sticks were thin cuts of wood used to hang tobacco leaves from barn rafters for drying.
On 24 February 1903, J.T. Artis, 21, of Wilson, son of Ben and Ferabee Artis, married Mattie Thomas, 20, of Gardners township, daughter of Peterand Margaret Thomas. Sidney Wheeler applied for the license, and Primitive Baptist minister Jonah Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Willis P. Evans, John Barnes and Henry Melton. E.L. Reid witnessed Williams sign an X.
John T. M. Artis registered for the World War I draft in Wilson in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 17 March 1880; lived on Route 5, Wilson; farmer for Petter Thomas; nearest relative, Simon Barnes.
In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer John Artis, 38; wife Mattie, 40; sister Hattie Sims, 40; mother Fariby Artis, 82; grandmother Rosa Barnes, 94; and nephew James Artis, 12.
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Artis Jno T (c; Mattie) lab h 1114 Queen
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1114 Queen, rented for $9/month, Morison Artis, 63, and wife Mattie, 65, tobacco factory stemmer.
Mattie Artis died 21 October 1962 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 82 years old; was born in Wilson County to Peter Thomas and Maggie Barnes; was married to J. Marshall Artis; and was buried in Barnes cemetery.
John Marshall Artis died 6 January 1967 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, je was born 17 March 1883 in Wilson County to unknown parents; lived at 1109 Washington Street; was married to Odessa R. Artis; and had worked as a laborer.