Month: March 2020

A lot in Rest Haven.

Ed and Daisy Hagans purchased a plot at Rest Haven cemetery for twenty-five dollars on 26 July 1948. Such a sale constitutes a real estate transaction, and the Haganses’ transaction was recorded in Deed Book 357, page 413, at the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

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This is somewhat confusing, as Edward Hagans died 20 July 1948. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 April 1913 in Wilson County to Isaac Hagans and Essie Mae Farmer; was married to Daisy Hagans; lived at 555 East Nash Street; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Rest Haven on 22 July 1948.

Edward and Daisy Hagans’ daughter Gloria Devetta Hagans died at home on 28 July 1948 of pulmonary tuberculosis (as had her father.) Per her death certificate, she was born 25 November 1934 in Wilson to Edward Hagans and Daisy Melton; was a student; lived at 536 East Nash; and was buried at Rest Haven.

Per Joan Howell’s Cemetery, Volume 5, Edward, Daisy and Gloria Hagans, plus Albert Hagans, are buried in Section 3 between rows L and M.

Princess Batoula?

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Indianapolis Recorder, 22 July 1939.

The Recorder was rather late to Harriett Mercer‘s remarkable story. A month earlier, the New York Daily News had cast Mercer as latter-day Cinderella in a piece whose mockery was only thinly veiled.

A few basics about Mercer: she was born in Wilson about 1913; lived in Philadelphia with her uncle and family; graduated Simon Gratz High School; briefly attended Cheyney State; worked as a teacher in a W.P.A. project; moved to New York after a layoff; and found work as a laundress. (Note that the African-American Recorder — choosing to focus on the uplifting aspects of Mercer’s life — omitted this last detail. The Daily News, on the other hand, blared it in its headline.)

New York Daily News, 27 June 1939.

There was, unfortunately, more.  Reportedly, a Pullman porter named Carson C. Rollins Jr. glanced at a newspaper on a train to find that his estranged wife, Harriett Mercer Rollins, was about to marry Prince Batoula of Senegal. Rollins claimed that the two had married in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1931 and separated ten months later when she walked out on him.

New York Daily News, 29 July 1939.

Things got worse.

Baltimore Afro-American, 22 July 1939.

Perhaps needless to say, Prince Batoula was no prince at all. But here’s what the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had to say about him when he arrived in New York:


7 May 1939.

The New York Age, another African-American paper, ran a full article six days later. Batoula had arrived at the World’s Fair to find that he was not welcome in the best New York hotels and was forced to seek lodging in Harlem at the Braddock, which adjoined the Apollo Theater and catered mostly to the theatrical trade. In addition to touting his own religion, Batoula, a self-professed World War I hero, expressed in meeting Father Divine and Franklin D. Roosevelt and hoped to “make a tour of the Negro educational institutions of the South.”

In fact, per historian Katherine Keller, who is working on a scholarly treatment of his life, Prince Batoula was Mamadou Alioune Kane, a Senegalese immigrant to France who worked as a taxi driver and fruit seller in Paris before transforming himself into African royalty.

Prince Batoula, Pittsburgh Courier, 20 May 1939.

As for Harriett Mercer, there’s relatively little.

Pittsburgh Courier, 1 July 1939.

I have found no references to her birth family or life in North Carolina. Nor have I found her 1931 marriage license to Carson Rollins.

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: at 1910 North 21st Street, John Highsmith, 45, grocery store keeper; wife Katie, 42; uncle William Mercer, 18; nieces Cary, 14, and Harritt Mercer, 17; and roomers Winnie Robinson, 25, maid, and Elizabeth Cart, 35, cook, all born in North Carolina.

And here, the manifest for the ship that returned Harriett Mercer to New York.

She apparently made the best of her situation, spending six weeks in France. On 10 August 1939, she boarded the S.S. Champlain at Le Havre, bound for New York City. On 17 August, she was back at home.

New York New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957, www. familysearch.org.

The last will and testament of Washington Pitts.

On 25 November 1916, Washington Pitts (or Pitt) wrote out his last will and testament:

  • to his aunt Lucinda Pitts, the lot on Vance Street in Wilson on which he then lived, purchased from Earnest Deans and wife and recorded at Deed Book 91, page 37; all his personal property; and any residual money
  • to his brothers Martin and Jack Pitts, a lot on Vance Street purchased from Wilson Real Estate and Loan Company and recorded at Deed Book 102, page 246
  • to his cousin Hattie Slight, a lot at 523 Church Street at which Beatrice Sugg now resided
  • Lucinda Pitts was named executor of the will, and C.T. Harriss and W.P. Whitaker Jr. were witnesses

Washington Pitts Will (1916), Wilson County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Establishing a property line.

On 12 February 1946, Leslie and Minnie Diggs Artis of Eureka, Wayne County, and the Trustees of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church reached an agreement to resolve uncertainty over the location of back boundary for property that each party owned on Smith and Church Streets.

Both Artises had close ties to Wilson. Leslie Artis, son of Napoleon and Sallie Taylor Artis, was the nephew of Cain, C.E., June Scott, Walter and William Artis, Josephine Artis Sherrod, and Amanda Artis Cooper, as well as Jonah Williams, whose daughter Clarissa Williams owned the lot adjoining the disputed properties.

Leslie Artis (1892-1974).

Minnie Diggs Artis was a cousin of Edgar H. Diggs. And the Artises’ daughter Sallie Mae Artis Shackleford (1924-2013) was a long-time resident of Academy Street in East Wilson.

Minnie Diggs Artis (1897-1970).

The church’s trustees were Camillus L. Darden, John Mack Barnes, Separise P. Artis, Louis Thomas, James Henry Knight, Charles Knight, D.E. Simms, C.L. Hardy, A.J. McCoy, Linwood Moore, and David Henry Coley.

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Photos courtesy of Leroy Barnes; deed book 318, pages 183-185, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

George H. Washington is buried at Crown Hill.

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Indianapolis Recorder, 9 May 1936.

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In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: blacksmith Jerry Washington, 42; wife Jane, 29; and children Georgiana, 14, Joshua, 12, William, 11, George H., 7, Andrew, 5, and Samuel, 2.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: blacksmith Jerry Washington, 52; wife Jane, 40; and children George H., 17, works in blacksmith shop, Andrew, 14, Samuel, 12, Anna Maria, 8, Paul, 6, Sarah Jane, 3, and Mary Cathren, 11 months.

On 15 August 1901, George Henry Washington, 38, of Wilson, son of Jerry and Jane Washington, married Cora Miller, 25, of Wilson, daughter of Cynthia Miller, at the bride’s residence on Green Street. A.M.E. Zion minister C.L. Alexander performed the service in the presence of Sallie M. Barbour and Alice F. Moore. [George Washington was the brother of Samuel H. Vick‘s wife, Annie Washington Vick. She is the “Anna Vicks” erroneously listed as George’s daughter in the obituary.]

In the 1910 census of Indianapolis, Center township, Marion County, Indiana: Marie Smith, 35, single, laundress, born in Kentucky, and George H. Washington, 50, widower, railroad company coach cleaner, born in North Carolina.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed cook Lou Miller; her daughter Cora Washington, 34, a widowed school teacher; her grandchildren Irene, 7, James, 4, and Cora Washington, 1; and two boarders, Mary Hadley, 20, cook, and Mary Pender, 60, widowed servant. [Obviously, neither George nor Cora Washington was, in fact, a widower. They had been either separated (most likely) or divorced since George H. Washington had taken up residence in Indiana in 1903.]

In the 1920 census of Indianapolis, Center township, Marion County, Indiana: Emma Lilly, 49, widow, laundress, born in Kentucky, and George Washington, 30 [sic], married, railroad employee, born in North Carolina.

George H. Washington died 28 April 1936 in Indianapolis, Center township, Marion County, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1856 in Wilson County, North Carolina, to Jerry Washington; was the widower of Cora Washington; was a laborer; and lived at 802 1/2 Indiana Avenue.

Madam Walker and Doctor Ward.

The Netflix limited series Self Made is refocusing attention on Madam C.J. Walker, the millionaire entrepreneur and empowerer of women best known for her haircare empire. The series is honest about being more “inspired by” Madam Walker’s life than true to it. Chockablock with B-list black star power (plus Octavia Spencer), Self Made is entertaining if you don’t think about it too hard. Ultimately, however, its heavy-handed resort to tropes and types and its soap opera style do a disservice to her story. Anyone wanting a closer truth should turn to A’Lelia Bundles’ On Her Own Ground, or my fave, Beverly Lowry’s Her Dream of Dreams: The Rise and Triumph of Madam C.J. Walker. Among other things, you’ll find an important part of Walker’s story completely omitted from Self-Made — her relationship with Dr. Joseph H. Ward, an African-American physician born in Wilson about 1872.

When she first arrived in Indianapolis in 1910, Walker boarded with Joseph and Zella Locklear Ward and gave beauty culture demonstrations in their parlor.

Indianapolis Recorder, 12 February 1910.

Indianapolis Recorder, 5 March 1910.

Walker and her daughter Lelia Robinson grew close to the Wards, and Dr. Ward was Madam’s personal physician the remainder of her life. He was at her bedside when she died.

The Wards accompanied Madam Walker on a drive to Kansas City, Missouri, where she addressed the National Educational Congress on “How the Negro Woman May Success in Business.” Indianapolis Star, 13 July 1913.

On a drive from Saint Louis to Kansas City, the automobile in which the Wards and Walker were traveling was jumped by a wild animal. Indianapolis Star, 28 September 1913.

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Also in 1913, on the steps of the newly dedicated Y.M.C.A., Madam Walker with Booker T. Washington and, behind them, her lawyer Freeman Ransom and Dr. Joseph H. Ward.  

From Lowry’s Her Dream of Dreams:

“By Friday, Ward informs the household that Madame Walker cannot last longer than Sunday. On Saturday night, about midnight, she slips into unconsciousness. And her faithful friends and doctors and family gather around her bed; they are religious people who also believe in love and company, and that no one should pass from this life into the next alone. And so they wait, hushed, whispering, watching her, waiting.

“Sunday dawns warms and clear, and early rays of the sun crack through the drawn damask curtains and perhaps fall in splinters across the rose silk coverlet on Madame’s bed. At seven o’clock her people are still there, but no one feels her go and no one knows when she dies until Ward turns and says, ‘It’s over.’

“And if they weep it is with relief, for the end of her suffering. Her dying words, Ward later reports, were ‘I want to live to help my race.'”

Photo courtesy of Madam Walker Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Studio shots, nos. 143 and 144: Henry S. and Laura Wilder Reid.

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Laura Ann Wilder Reid (1870-1936).

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Henry Sampson Reid (1861-1944).

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In the 1870 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer Washington Reid, 54; wife Penina, 40; and children Louisa, 19, Christian, 16 Sarah, 14, Henry, 9, Elijah, 6, and George W., 8 months.

In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Ishmal Wilder, 44, his mother Classey, 65, his wife Sarah, 36, and children Hinton, 15, Josiah, 13, James, 12, Lorrian, 9, Guilford, 8, Clarian, 7, Henry, 5, and Nancy An, 3.

In the 1880 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: Wash Reid, 55, farmer; children Louiza, 30, Sarah, 25, Christian, 22, Henry, 20, Elizah, 17, George, 11, Daniel, 9, and Penny, 26; and grandchildren Jonah, 6, and Appie Barnes, 7 months.

On 11 June 1892, Mahala Williamson, daughter of Patrick and Spicey Williamson, married Henry S. Reid, of Nahunta, Wayne County, son of Washington and Penninah Reid, in Wilson in the presence of Samuel H. Vick, Elijah L. Reid, and M.H. Cotton.

On 22 October 1895, Laura Wilder, 25, daughter of Ishmael and Sarah Wilder, married Henry S. Reid, 34, son of Washington and Penina Reid of Wayne County. Samuel H. Vick applied for the couple’s license. (Henry was a brother of veterinarian Elijah Reid and principal J.D. Reid.)

In the 1900 census of Nahunta township, Wilson County: farmer Henry Reid, 39; wife Laura A., 29; and children Minnie N., 4, Lena, 2, Arthur S., 12, and Arnold, 7.

In the 1910 census of Nahunta township, Wilson County: farmer Henry S. Reid, 49; wife Laura A., 39; and children Arnold D., 17, Minnie N., 13, Mary L., 11, Levi J., 8, Hugh C.W., 5, James H.H., 4, Walter M., 2, and Elroye S., 2 months.

In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on the avenue between Lucama and Old Raleigh Road, farmer Henry S. Reid, 58; wife Laura, 50; and children Arthur A., 32, Minnie N., 23, Levi J., 18, Hugh C., 15, Harvey J., 14, Walter M., 12, Cary C., 10, Penina, 8, Mittie, 6, and Sarah C., 4.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Henry Reid, 69, farmer; wife Lara A., 59; and children Walter, 22, Cary, 20, Pinina, 19, Mittie, 16, and Sarah, 14.

In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farm laborer Bud Creech, 51; wife Minnie, 42; father-in-law Henry Reid, 79; and sister-in-law Sara Reid, 24.

Laura Reid died 14 April 1936 in Wilson. Per her death certification, she was born 1 July 1870 in Wilson to Ishman and Laura Wilder; was married to Henry Reid; and lived at 307 North Reid. Penina Barnes was informant.

Henry Sampson Reid died 16 April 1944 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 83 years old; was born in Wayne County to Washington Reid and Penina [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; and was a farmer. Informant was Levi Reid, 25 Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

Photos courtesy of Ancestry user Joyce Rucker-Barnes.

Carver Place.

Wilson County Register of Deeds’ office has digitized relatively few of its real estate records. Nonetheless, its limited database is yielding up treasure after treasure.

This plat map for Carver Place, bristling with more than 200 tiny 25-foot-wide lots, was registered in 1948. The subdivision never came together. Nonetheless, this landscape is easily recognizable today, which I’m beginning to recognize as a reflection of the underdevelopment of East Wilson, stagnant for decades.

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  1. “Colored Cemetery Road” — Lane Street.
  2. Dempsey Lassiter (col.) — This lot is now home to Tabernacle Temple of Jesus Christ.
  3. Masonic Cemetery — In 1900, Cain and Margaret Artis sold this lot to Mount Hebron No. 42, Prince Hall Masons.
  4. R.T. Smith tract — Now home to Hamilton Burial Gardens.
  5. This edge of Rest Haven Cemetery was part of the Jesse Barnes land (which Barnes’ wife Sarah Barnes Barnes inherited from her mother Margaret Artis.)
  6. Ward Boulevard runs coterminously with U.S. Highway 301.
  7. Finch Street is not open between Ward Boulevard and Tuskegee Street. Southeast of Tuskegee, it is the central artery of a mobile home park — laid out on those 25-foot lots — and bends slightly before terminating in a dead end.
  8. This street was named Freeman, not Woodard. It starts at Tuskegee and runs southeast past the dead end of Tacoma Street, then makes two sharp turns through a trailer park.
  9. Today, site of a Walgreens Pharmacy.

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Plat book 6, page 6, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson; aerial view courtesy of Bing.com.

Snaps, no. 65: At the Zam Zam Club.

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In 1946, Raines and Cox provided photography service to patrons of the Zam Zam Club, a private, white-only supper club just north of Wilson on Highway 301. While on duty, the photographers also took photos of staff of the club, including this dapper gentleman. Anyone recognize him?

Many thanks to John Teel for sharing this image from the Raines & Cox collection of photographs at the North Carolina. The photo is catalogued as PhC_196_ZZ_8C.