The eastern end of Lane Street, in southeast Wilson, is home to three historic African-American cemeteries: Rountree (established about 1906), Odd Fellows (established circa 1900), and Vick (established 1913).
Rountree and Odd Fellows are privately owned. Vick is owned by the City of Wilson.
Rountree is completely overgrown with mature trees and heavy underbrush.
Odd Fellows is also overgrown, except for a narrow strip along the road that the city maintains.
In 1996, the city clear-cut Vick cemetery, removed its remaining headstones, graded the entire parcel, and erected a single marker in memory of the dead.
A series of aerial photographs of the cemeteries over time shows in astonishing detail the forgotten features of these cemeteries and the terrible march of neglect across all three. Each photograph has been overlaid with the present-day boundaries of tax parcels. The rectangle at left is Vick, then Odd Fellows and Rountree.
This blurry photograph shows the interconnectedness of the three cemeteries, with narrow dirt paths winding across property lines and no visible boundary markers. The light areas are too large to be individual stones and more likely are family plots of varying sizes. The back edge of Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries — marshy land along Sandy Creek — was wooded.
Though hundreds were buried between 1937 and 1948, Vick is still almost completely open field, with some trees at its western and southern edges and numerous plots visible. A large cleared trapezoid straddles the Vick and Odd Fellows boundaries — what is this?
Six years later, the change is shocking. Vick has clearly fallen into disuse, its paths allowed to fill with weeds. Rountree and Odd Fellows, too, are overgrown, but their major paths remain clear. The mystery trapezoid, however, is gone.
Another ten years and all three cemeteries are well on their way to complete abandonment. Only one path is clear, a new passage cut to join an old one in Odd Fellows.
A contemporary aerial view of the three cemeteries shows the empty expanse of Vick; its lone city-sponsored monument; the paved path leading from the monument to a small parking lot located at the boundary of Vick and Odd Fellows; the cleared bit of Odd Fellows; and the jungle that is Rountree. There is no trace of the trapezoid.
I am indebted to Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department, for responding to my inquiry re the availability of Wilson County maps, answering a million questions, and providing these remarkable images.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spring Street, factory nightwatchman Joe Crawford, 53; wife Annie, 46; and children Clarence, 21, brickmason, Willie, 19, odd jobs laborer, Mabel, 16, Mamie, 14, Williard, 10, Theodore, 7, Jessie, 5, and Maudy, 3.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spring Street, tobacco watchman Daniel Crawford, 63; wife Annie, 58; and children Theodore, 17, Maria, 21, Jesse, 14, and Morty, 12.
In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Crawford Theodore, student h 605 S Spring
In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Crawford Theodore, porter h 605 S Spring
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Crawford Theodore, laborer h 616 E Green
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on South Spring Street, in a house owned and valued at $2000, factory watchman Daniel Crawford, 74; wife Alas, 51; and sons Daniel W., 25, tobacco factory laborer, Theodore R., 23, Jesse, 22, laborer, and Morton, 20, laundryman at Carolina Laundry.
Per his death certificate, Theodore Crawford died 25 November 1940 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. He was 36 years old; single; a common laborer; born in Wilson to Daniel Crawford and Annie Whitted; and died of “accident due to laceration rt. wrist” with paralysis agitans [Parkinson’s Disease] as “other condition.”
Good Fishing Ground, Contentnea Creek, Wilson, N.C.
This undated postcard depicts several men (and perhaps one woman) on the banks of Contentnea Creek in Wilson County. One, at far left, appears to kneel in a pirogue. A closer look reveals that several, including the woman, are African-American.
The collection in Wilson County Public Library’s Local History Room includes the transcript of a 1986 interview with Clifton Tomlinson, a farmer who had grown up in the Black Creek-Lucama area.
These pages include recollections of the some of the African-Americans who had been his family’s tenants and neighbors.
Sidney and Milbry Ramseur
In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Sidney Johnson [sic], 56, and wife Millie, __, both laborers working out.
In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: on Black Creek and Lucama Road, farmer Sidney R. Ramseur, 69, and wife Milly, 60.
In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Sidney Ramsoo, 73, and wife Millie, 70.
Sidney Ramseur died 30 October 1941 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was born in Wilson County; lived on Viola Street; and was the widower of Milbry Ramseur. Informant was J. Clifton Tomlinson, Black Creek.
John and Robert Clay
In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Clay, 45; wife Elizabeth, 46; and children Maggie, 21, Charlie, 20, Joseph, 17, Pearle, 15, Levi, 13, Johnnie, 10, Esrayson, 8, Bettie, 7, and Earl, 2; plus nephew Sam, 15, and widowed mother Mariah, 84.
In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Robert Clay, 24; wife Mary, 23; son James, 7 months; and sister-in-law Hattie Artis, 12.
In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John H. Clay, 54, wife Elizabeth, 54, and children Lary, 24, Bettie, 16, and Early, 12; next door, farmer Robert Clay, 33, wife Mary, 32, and children James, 10, Ollie, 6, and Lottie, 3; and next door to them Joseph Clay, 28, wife Essa, 22, and children Ethel, 2, and Joseph, 9 months.
John Edward Artis
In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg & Wilson Road, John Ed Artis, 31, tenant farmer; wife Maggie, 32; and children Jessie, 9, Rosa, 7, Henry, 5, Claud, 2, Lyra, 2, and Ella, 6 months.
In the 1930 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: John E. Artis, 41, farmer, widower, and children Jesse, 19, Rosa, 18, Henry, 15, Claud, 13, Larry, 12, Mary, 10, Eddie, 8, Mamie, 6, Carry L., 4, and Maggie, 2.
Ruthie and Anderson Hunter
Anderson Hunter, 45, of Toisnot township, applied for a license to marry Lula Farmer, 23, of Toisnot township, on 7 May 1901.
In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Anderson Hunter, 50; wife Lula, 33; and children Chanie, 18, Sam, 16, Emma, 15, Robert, 11, Annie, 6, and Clyde, 2.
In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Anderson Hunter, 62; wife Lula, 39; and children Emma, 25, Robert, 21, Annie, 15, Clyde, 11, and Hazel, 4.
In the 1930 census of Town of Sharpsburg, Edgecombe County: cotton and tobacco farmer Anderson Hunter, 71; wife Lula, 47; and children Clyde, 22, Hazel, 14, and James C., 9.
Last night, I spent an hour on Facebook Live in conversation with Amelia Rivera Speight and Craig Barnes Jr. of Change Coalition of Wilson. At the end, I was both full and spent and above all grateful for the opportunity to talk about what Say Their Names means to me. With Change Coalition’s permission, I share video of our discussion here.
Imagination Station is still closed, but Change Coalition plans to lead more private tours of Say Their Names in coming months. You can also contact director Jennifer Baker Byrd at the museum to arrange a visit. Please see it for yourself. Also, please join The Change Coalition on Facebook and support their efforts to dismantle systemic barriers to equality and promote justice and opportunity for all Wilson’s people.