An afternoon with Mr. Latham.

Samuel Caswell Latham sat in the front row during my presentation at Wilson County Public Library last week, making me a little nervous. This extraordinary musician, who once played drums for James Brown, was especially interested in the topic — he grew up on the 500 block of East Nash Street in the 1930s and ’40s. I visited with Mr. Latham the next afternoon, soaking up his memories of the people and businesses of the block, whom he credits for setting him on his path as a drummer. He urged me to continue my documentation of East Wilson and expressed appreciation for and satisfaction with my work thus far.

Mr. Latham also shared with me some extraordinary photographs of pre-World War II East Nash Street. Here he is as a toddler, circa 1931.

This stunning image depicts Austin Neal‘s Barbershop, with three of its barbers, circa 1935. Mr. Latham is the boy leaning against the window, and Walter Sanders is seated in the chair awaiting a cut. “Billy Jr.” stands to his left in the photo, and an unidentified boy to the right.

African-American photographer John H. Baker took this family portrait of an adolescent Sam Latham with his mother Christine Barnes Collins, grandmother Jeanette Barnes Plummer, and aunt Irene Plummer Dew in the late 1930s.

And this Baker portrait depicts Mr. Latham’s beloved late wife, Mary Magdelene Knight Lathan.

Sam Latham has graciously agreed to meet with me again to further explore his recollection of Black Wilson. I thank him for his interest, his time, and his generosity.

Photos courtesy of Samuel C. Latham, please do not reproduce without permission.


  1. One fine man. I knew his son and I worked with him at Elm City High School when I was a student teacher there.. He had a tremendous positive impact on every student at that school.

  2. I loved Mr. Lathan when he was my study hall teacher at Fike in 1979 and 1980. We had long talks and he always laughed at my sense of humor. Larger than life man who treated me as an equal.

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