Month: March 2019

Hines brothers’ barber shops.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1947.

In addition to his business and real estate interests, William Hines for decades served as secretary-treasurer and general administrator of Mercy Hospital. This photograph, which probably dates from the mid-1950s, depicts Hines flanked by Helen James, nursing director, and Anna Burgess Johnson, hospital board member. Photo courtesy of O.N. Freeman Round House and Museum.

Leaving Carter’s Cafe.

In the spring of 1921, barber Walter S. Hines served notice that he was getting out of the restaurant business.

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Wilson Daily Times, 11 May 1921.

  • Clarence Carter — Clarence Lenwood Carter. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber Clarence Carter, 36; wife Meena, 25; and children Omega, 9, Clarence H., 7, and Mina G., 5.

1101-1119 South Railroad Street.

Though not in the Historic District, this tight cluster of shotgun houses in the 1100 block of South Railroad Street — called “endway” locally — comprises a sight once common across East Wilson. Built cheaply from about 1900 to World War II as rental housing for low-wage workers, relatively few of the District’s endway houses have survived into the twenty-first century.

These houses, shown here from the rear, were built in the 1920s and feature a small front porch sheltered by a shed roof. The exteriors are little modified since the addition of indoor plumbing (likely in the 1950s), and several retain their original galvanized metal standing-seam roofs. Public documents for 1101 Railroad Street show that the houses measure 504 square feet (14 feet wide by 36 feet deep.)

The block of Railroad below Elvie Street was originally numbered 801-819, as shown in this excerpt from Hill’s 1928 Wilson city directory:

By the early 1960s, it had been renumbered to the 1100 block, as shown in the 1963 directory:

Google Maps Streetview shows the 1100 block from the corner of Railroad and Lincoln Streets.

Top photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2019.

Your history is still around you.

Periodically, I’ll run across a quotation that speaks to Black Wide-Awake‘s purpose. Yesterday, I found it in the words of Dorothy Thompson Bolden, co-founder of the National Domestic Workers Union of America, in a 1995 interview for Georgia State University’s Voices of Labor Oral History Project:

“If you think about it, and you live here and think about it at home when you’re in the bed, that your history is still around you, it don’t go nowhere. People may try to get rid of it, but it never gets out of you, and people don’t realize that. If we go back now and study some of these peoples, and look at it and listen to them talk, we can tell you a great deal …”  

123 North Pender Street.

The house at 123 North Pender Street was located just outside East Wilson Historic District and within the bounds of Wilson Central Business District-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District.

As noted in Nomination Form for Wilson Central Business District – Tobacco Warehouse Historic District: “[121 North Pender Street] and a similarly modest dwelling at 123 North Pender Street were acquired in 1876 by the adjacent St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church for future expansion.  The house at 123 was razed in November 1983 ….”

As shown on this detail from the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, this lot was originally numbered 126 Pender.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Mansfield H. Wilson, 49; wife Maggie, 43; son Samuel, 15; sister-in-law Lucy Richard, 45; and servants John M. Madderson, 14, and William Dew, 21. [No house or street is listed, but the listing is next to the Saint John A.M.E. Zion parsonage, and it’s reasonable to believe this is 123/126 North Pender.]

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 126 Pender Street, Virginia-born house contractor Mansfield H. Wilson, 60; son Samuel H., 20; and sister-in-law Lucy Richards, 40.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 123 Pender Street, owned and valued at $2000, Virginia-born carpenter Mansfield Wilson, 50, widower; son Samual, 30, insurance company agent; daughter-in-law Sarah, 24, public school teacher; granddaughter Audrey, 3; and sister-in-law Lucey Richard, 50.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 123 Pender, Sam Winsted, 36, laborer for Town of Wilson; wife Mattie, 34, cook for private family; children Mattie, 15, and Hilton, 12; brother James Parker, 55; and Louisa Mercer, 15, roomer.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Winstead Samuel (c; Mattie; 2) lab City St Dept h123 Pender

In 1942, Frank Junior Pope registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 1 June 1924; resided on Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; his contact was Mrs. Mattie Winstead, 123 Pender Street; and he worked for his father, Frank Pope, Stantonsburg Street.

Photo, likely taken circa 1979, is courtesy of Robert C. Bainbridge and Kate Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey, originally published by the City of Wilson in 1980 and updated and republished in 2010 under the auspices of the Wilson County Genealogical Society.

The brickmasons’ strike(s).

Newspaper reports reveal a strike (or series of strikes) by African-American brick masons in Wilson in the first decade of the 20th century. Though the record is sparse, these articles offer rare glimpses of black workers flexing their economic muscle, and surprising hints of the reach of organized labor during a time and place well-known for hostility toward unionization.

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Wilmington Messenger, 21 October 1902.

Brickmasons led by Goodsey Holden struck for a nine-hour work day consistent with that required by “the International union.” The protest, at least temporarily, resulted in concessions from the contractors for whom they worked.

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News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 2 April 1903.

Six months later, bricklayers struck again, crippling progress on the construction of several large brick commercial buildings, including Imperial Tobacco’s new stemmery. Contractors brought in nearly 20 masons from Raleigh and Durham to pick up the work. The sub-headline suggests that the men refused to cross picket lines once they arrived in Wilson, but the article does not address the matter. Masons in those cities were also engaged in strike activity.

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Greensboro Daily News, 18 March 1906.

Three years later, Will Kittrell was arrested and charged with conspiracy and blackmail for allegedly warning a Henderson brickmason to leave town. Contractors continued to import masons from across North Carolina to fill the gap created by Wilson workers’ refusal to work without limits on long workdays.

——

In memory of Benjamin Ellis.

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Wilson Daily Times, 7 June 1995.

——

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Joana Ellis, 27; wife Ciller, 23; and children Mattie, 2, and Benjamin, 1.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, Jonah Ellis, 42; wife Precilla, 38; and children Mattie, 11, Benjamin, 9, Dora, 8, Jonah, 6, James, 5, and Caroline, 3.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg & Wilson Road, farmer Jonnie Ellis, 56; wife Prisilla, 46; and children Mattie, 21, Benjamin, 20, Jonnie Jr., 17, Dora, 18, James, 14, Carolin, 13, and Mary, 5.

On 6 January 1923, Benjamin Ellis, 22, of Stantonsburg, son of John and Priscilla Ellis, married Lizzie Simms, 20, of Black Creek, daughter of Reddick and Bettie Simms. Free Will Baptist minister B.F. Lofton performed the ceremony at Red Simms’ house in the presence of Ruffin Roe of Black Creek and Lonzie Bynum and George Woodard of Lucama.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Benjamin Ellis, 29; wife Lizzie, 26; and children Pauline, 6, Benjamin F., 4, Sylvester, 2, and Ruth, 10 months.

In the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamon Ellis, 42; wife Lizzie S., 37; and children Pauline, 16, Benjamon F., 14, Sylvester, 12, Ruth, 10, Moses, 8, Jessie Lee, 6, Jonah, 4, and Lizzie, 1.

In 1942, Benjamin Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 31 July 1899 in Wilson County; lived in Black Creek township on the M.L. Smith farm; and worked for M.L. Smith.

Benjamin Ellis died 7 June 1976 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 November 1899 to Jonah Ellis and Priscilla Woodard; was a farmer; and was married to Lizzie Simms Ellis.

Postcards of East Wilson.

The on-line guide to Newberry Library’s Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection features digitized versions of the geographical index to the company’s historical postcards. The index cards are arranged alphabetically by state and then town or other geographic entity. Here is the Wilson, N.C., card listing the four postcards with African-American subjects. Numbered in sequence, all were taken in 1923.

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The passing of Old Joe.

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The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 16 March 1920.

It’s hard to know what to say about this racist tribute other than “wow, Charlie Chaplin came to Wilson?”

Joe Mercer was also known as Joseph Battle. In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Battle, 40; wife Rose, 35; and children Joe, 15, Frank, 13, John H., 10, Amie, 8, Mattie, 6, and Lou T., 8 months. Thomas and Rose reported having been married 5 years, and Rose as the mother of one child (presumably, the baby Lou.) [Marriage records show that Tom Battle married Rose Mercer on 23 May 1896 in Wilson County.]

Joe Mercer, 24, married Ida Colley, 22, on 7 December 1908 in Wilson County.

Joe Mercer registered for the World War I draft in Wilson in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born April 1881; lived at 136 Roberson; worked as a janitor. His nearest relative was Rose Battle, and he was described as “rheumatic & apparently paralytic.”

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 613 Robinson Street, bank janitor Joe Mercer, 39, and wife Ida, 40.

Joe Mercer died 11 March 1920 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 37 years old; was married; lived on Roberson Street; was engaged in butler service; and was born in Black Creek to Thomas Battle and Rosa Battle. F.F. Battle was informant.

Nestus Freeman … of Ohio?

Eighty years ago today, a newspaper in a small central-Ohio town published a tribute to one of its citizens on the occasion of his 100th birthday. “Nestus Freeman, colored citizen of this city — ” Nestus Freeman? “Mr. Freeman was born in Wilson, North Carolina, on March 16, 1839.” Born in Wilson? Who was this Nestus Freeman?

The article mentions that Freeman ran away from slavery as a child (or, had never been a slave); began barbering at age 7; fought for the Union under an assumed name during the Civil War; worked on a riverboat between Pittsburgh and New Orleans; lived in Urbana and Richwood, Ohio, before settling in Marysville in 1880; had lost his wife in 1909 due to a house fire; and had at least two children, son Shirley Freeman of Marysville and daughter Gertrude Putnam of Cleveland.

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Marysville Journal-Tribune, 17 March 1939.

What information can be gleaned from readily available records?

On 13 March 1873 Nestus L. Freemond married Amanda E. Diltz in Champaign County, Ohio. A tiny notation in the corner of their license identifies them as members of Champaign’s tiny African-American community.

The young family relocated to a larger town in an adjoining county. In the 1880 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: barber Enfield Freeman, 30; wife Amanda, 26; and daughter Lydia, 5. [Later documents show Nestus’ middle initial as E. Was this for “Enfield”?]

In the 1900 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: Nathan [sic] Freemond, 51, barber, born Pennsylvania; wife Amanda A., 45, hairdresser; and children Lydia, 22, hairdresser, Shirley, 19, barber, Elsia, 16, and  Gertrude, 10.

Amanda Diltz Freeman died 1909 as a result of burns suffered in a catastrophic house fire. A local newspaper printed a sympathetic account of her last days:

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 20 May 1909.

In the 1910 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: at 301 North Maple, N. Freeman, 70, barber, born in Ohio, and children Lydia, 32, Shirley, 29, barber, and Elsa, 25, barber.

In the 1930 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: at 307 North Maple, owned and valued at $3000, widowed barber Nestus Freeman, 86, born in Pennsylvania; daughter Lydia M., 54; and son Shirley, 49, barber.

As Nestus Freeman entered his upper 90s, newspapers delighted in reporting on his picturesque life.

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 14 July 1937.

Saint Cloud (Saint Cloud, Minn.), 

A photograph!

Marysville Tribune, 31 March 1938.

Pittsburgh Courier, 25 March 1939.

In the 1940 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: at 10103 Yale Avenue, John Putnam, 63, shade cutter at department store; wife Gertrude F., 42; father James A. Putnam, 84; and father-in-law Nestus Freeman, 96, born in North Carolina.

At last, days before his 102nd birthday, Nestus Freeman passed away at his daughter’s home in Cleveland.

Union County Journal (Marysville, Oh.), 3 March 1941.

Here’s another death notice:

Marion (Oh.) Star, 5 March 1941.

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Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Marysville, Ohio, circa 1900. Nestus and Amanda Freeman’s funerals were held here, and they may well be pictured. Photo courtesy of Allen Chapel’s Facebook page.

Charles [Shirley] Freeman died 7 October 1948 in Orwell, Ashtabula County, Ohio. Per his death certificate, he was born 13 June 1886 in Marysville, Ohio, to Nestus Freeman of Wilson, N.C., and Amanda Diltz; was married; and had worked as a barber.

Gertrude Putnam died 5 February 1953 at Perry township, Stark County, Ohio. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 March 1885 in Marysville to Nestus Freeman and Amanda Diltz; resided in Orwell, Ashtabula County; and was married. She was buried in Oaklawn cemetery, Marysville.

So, was there a connection between Nestus Freeman of Ohio and Oliver Nestus Freeman of Wilson?

  • There is the obvious hint in their names. Was O.N. named after an uncle who left North Carolina long before he was born?
  • Though Nestus reported his birthplace as Pennsylvania to Union County census takers, it was recorded as North Carolina by a Cuyahoga County enumerator; as Wilson and Wilton, North Carolina, by two reporters; and as Wilson on a son’s death certificate.
  • Another hint lies in children’s names.

The graves of the Freeman family are marked by a single large red granite headstone in Marysville’s Oaklawn cemetery. Nestus and Amanda’s dates should read 1839-1941 and 1854-1909.

The back of the stone lists the Freeman children (except Gertrude in Cleveland.) Notably, two of Nestus’ children, Lydia and Daniel, shared names with two of O.N. Freeman’s siblings, Lydia Ann Freeman Norwood Ricks and Daniel Edward Freeman. And — surprise! — there’s a brother of Nestus, also named Daniel. Photos courtesy of Findagrave.com.

The dates given for Daniel Freeman’s lifespan seem unlikely. A 1792 birth year would have made him almost 50 years older than his brother Nestus. I did some searching for Daniel and — voilà!

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 15 October 1926.

Daniel Freeman, too, had held the title of Marysville’s oldest citizen! Daniel, age 102, died at the home of his brother “Nathaniel Freeman, the colored barber” in 1926. Daniel had only recently come to Marysville after working as a blacksmith in Cleveland for forty years. Per the article, Daniel was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in October 1924 to Mr. and Mrs. Lovett Freeman. In this telling, it was Lovett (not Nestus) who worked for years on a steamboat running from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. (Again, the names — O.N. Freeman had a brother Lovett Freeman, the oldest of Julius and Eliza Daniel Freeman‘s children.) And then the clincher — “He is survived by two brothers, Julius, a carpenter of Wilson, North Carolina, and Nathaniel [sic] of this city …”

Death certificate of Daniel Freeman, which lists his parents as Lovette Freeman and Lottie, maiden name was unknown.

Julius Franklin Freeman was born about 1844 in Johnston County, North Carolina. He appears in the 1870 census of Wilson as an adult, already working as a carpenter. Neither his marriage licenses nor his death certificate list his parents. Based on the above, however, it seems clear that Julius’ father was named Lovett Freeman and that he had at least two brothers, Daniel and Nestus.

The 1840 census of Johnston County lists a Lovet Freeman. The census taker apparently forgot to mark the columns beside his name to designate the age and color of members of Lovet’s household, but he was most likely a free person of color.  If this were Daniel and Nestus and Julius’ father, when did he and his family leave North Carolina? Did they first migrate to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania? Did Julius remain behind, or did he return, perhaps after the Civil War? Were there other children? The 1860 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, shows North Carolina-born blacksmith Mathew Freeman, 45; wife Fairly, 30; and children Daniel, 14, Henry B., 10, Lovet B., 9, Liza A., 7, Joseph G., 3, Hanna B., 3, and Bob, 5 months. Again, the names Daniel and Lovett. In addition, Julius had sons Henry and Joseph as well. Was Mathew Freeman perhaps a brother of Lovett Freeman?