Joe Simms and Susie win a blue ribbon.

Wanda Simms Page shared this heartwarming story of her father’s days as a proud young farmer.

Joe Louis Simms was born and raised up in Wilson County, North Carolina, four miles east of Black Creek. He and his brother attended the all-black, two-room Minchew Elementary School and did work in the 4-H Club alongside Raymond Hall, Daniel Green, and other neighborhood kids. Joe had long loved animals, and in 1949 he took on a project—raising and training a competition calf. His goals, simple and ambitious: to have the absolute best-looking and prettiest calf and to win the blue ribbon.

“Same as plenty of others in the area, Joe’s family already kept cows, and when one gave birth to a dark red female calf, he knew she was the one. As was their practice, he named her Susie, and she quickly showed herself to be gentle and a good breed. He made sure she always had her fill of green grass and dry hay. He washed her coat to a shine with fresh water from a bucket and trained her to walk beside him on a rope so that she wouldn’t be scared. She, of course, stayed with the cows, but his eyes never strayed far from her.

“When the day of the competition came, Joe and Susie set off walking beside the three-mile dirt road leading to Minchew. They had no other transportation. Joe carried a stick to protect Susie from the mean dogs they’d meet, though he didn’t think she’d be scared—their family had mean dogs too and she was used to them. They stopped along the road every now and then, as they’d practiced, but the walk still didn’t take so long.

“When they got to the school, Joe realized that it was, in fact, a pretty big day. The yard was full of people and calves. Folks, including Joe’s mom, had canned lots of food and made other preparations. A bunch of things were going on. As was the case with the school, everyone at and in the competition was black. All black. White people didn’t really deal with them—not like that—and Joe knew he wouldn’t even have had a fair shot at the blue ribbon if they did. Eventually, they found and fell in line with the rest of the boys and calves.

“After a while, Carter Foster, Wilson County’s second Negro Agricultural Extension Agent, began the judging. Joe knew Foster from his visits to teach them at the school and because he sometimes worked with Joe’s dad on their farm. In 1945, Foster and Jane Boyd, the Negro Home Demonstration Agent, had been mentioned in the Wilson Daily Times for their “wonderful work among the Negroes in the area” and for “working quietly with little publicity and no brass bands.” Their salaries were reported as less than half that of J.O. Anthony and Lois Rainwater, their white counterparts.

“Foster judged each calf, and at the end of that day Joe and Susie had the blue ribbon, making him one of the first ones at the school to win a prize like that with an animal. Joe felt very, very good. Susie, if she was aware that something had happened, maybe felt good too. When it was time to make a picture, Foster pulled them away from the rest of the group. Just before the camera clicked, Joe threw his arm around Susie’s neck and gave a big smile. Eventually, they headed back down the road they came in on, ribbon in hand.

“Joe’s family made a milk cow out of Susie after she got grown and kept her for some years. Joe went on to do other projects in 4-H, including making things out of wood, tobacco-grading contests (his team won third prize at the state fair), and raising up other animals like turkeys, which he bought twenty of as chicks for very cheap from a hatchery (one was included for free) and later sold around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Minchew Elementary School closed in 1951, and Joe started attending the consolidated Speight High School near Stantonsburg. Through it all, he never forgot Susie.”

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Joe Louis Simms and his prize-winning calf Susie, 1949.

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Reddick Simms, 24, son of Jack and Treacy Simms, married Bettie Barden, 20, on 6 September 1890 at Woodson Rountree‘s in Black Creek township. Frank Simms, Jesse Rountree and Lee Moore were witnesses.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Rederick Simms, 52; wife Elizabeth 40; and children Johnie, 16, Thestus L., 14, Ardena, 11, Amena, 8, Bettie E., 7, Joseph, 3, and Charlie, 1.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Reddick Simms, 62; wife Bettie P., 50; and children Johnnie, 24, Festus, 22, Ardena, 20, Almena, 17, Lizzie, 15, Joseph, 12, Charlie, 10, and Freddie, 7.

Reddick Simms died 6 March 1923 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1861 and was married to Bettie Simms.

On 15 March 1923, C.L. Darden applied for letters of administration for the estate of Reddick Simms. The value of the estate was estimated at $338, and heirs were widow Bettie Simms and children John, Festus, Ardena, Almina, Lizzie, Joseph, Charlie and Fred.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Brockington, 47; wife Mary, 47; children James, 27, Ethel, 18, Eulah Mae, 17, Irene, 14, Mamie, 13, Zollie, 10, Pearle, 8, and Bertha, 5; plus grandson John Ed Cooper, 2. All were described as born in South Carolina except Bertha (North Carolina) and John Ed (Michigan).

Joseph Simms, 21, of Cross Roads, son of Reddick and Bettie Simms, married Ethel Brockington, 20, of Black Creek, daughter of John and Mary Brockington, on 26 March 1932 in Wilson. Mary Brockington, Joe Gibson and J.T. Daniel were witnesses.

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Joseph Simms, 29; wife Ethel, 26; children Rosa L., 6, Helen and Ellen, 5, Joseph Jr., 3, and Billie J., 1; and uncle Jesse, 70.

Joe Louis Simms married Rose Elizabeth Arrington on 15 November 1958 in Wilson.

Bettie Barden Simms died 7 October 1962 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 80 years old; had been a farmer; was widowed. Joseph Simms, 705 Carroll Street, was informant.

Thanks to Carol Lee Ware for bringing this story to my attention and to Wanda S. Page for allowing me to share and for citing Black Wide-Awake in the original as a source of reference for Carter W. Foster and Jane Amos Boyd.

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