Barton College’s oral history project.

The introduction to Barton College’s Crossing the Tracks: An Oral History of East and West Wilson:

“Starting in the spring of 2013 and concluding in the fall of 2014, Barton College students began interviewing Wilson residents about social, cultural, political, and economic relations between residents of East and West Wilson, and how these relations have changed over the past sixty to seventy years. 

“In spite of the many significant achievements of the modern Civil Rights Movement, our nation, state, and community bear the scars and legacies of a deeply troubled racial history that continues to impact our relationships. While we might like to forget or gloss over the painful part of that history, its effect lingers, and denying it will not make it go away.  As the writer James Baldwin once said, ‘The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.’  One of the goals of Crossing the Tracks, then, is to bring these unconscious forces of history into our consciousness, so that we might begin to confront the historical effects of white supremacy and begin the process of healing.

“A history of segregation, built on a foundation of white supremacy, created a separate but unequal society.  And the traditional historical narrative is at best an incomplete history, written and preserved by those who hold political, social, and economic power.  It too often omits the strong voices and tremendous contributions of those on the margins of power.  Part of the mission of the Freeman Round House Museum is to fill this gap in the historical record by preserving and publicizing the contributions of African American Wilsonians to education, medicine, the arts, criminal justice, and entertainment.  Crossing the Tracks supports this mission.  It is an accessible collection of first-person accounts of life in Wilson that students, scholars, and the general public can use to study and write about this remarkable, underrepresented history.  In many ways, it builds on the work of Dr. Charles W. McKinney, Jr., whose book, Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina, documents decades of committed struggle by East Wilson residents to lay the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement.”

The project includes videotaped interviews with 22 residents of East Wilson. The recollections of many, including Samuel Lathan, Roderick Taylor Jr., and Mattie Bynum Jones, date to the 1930s and ’40s, the latter decades covered by the blog. Barton College partnered with the Freeman Roundhouse and Museum to obtain these invaluable stories and all are available online.

3 comments

  1. Upon reading the accounts of living in East Wilson, I was glad to read about the account of A. Faye Winstead who was reared in “the field” which was around the corner from my home on Manchester St. Even within East Wilson there was a stark wealth divide. Not only did Nash Street (West versus East) divide the black and white communities, Nash Street (North and South sides) divided black folk . The stories of Black folk who lived on the North side of Nash street (i.e., Washington St. Carolina St., Green St. , Vick st.) , as evidenced in most of these interviews, read quite differently from those persons who lived on the streets in the more disadvantaged South side of Nash St. There is always 2 sides, literally, to every story. God blessed us all anyway!

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    1. Which is an interesting circumstance, because in late 19th century Wilson, Manchester Street was arguably the heart of the town’s Black middle-class, and the holdings of large landowners like the Suggses, Freemans and Clarks were below Nash. It’s the reason, in my opinion, that the Colored Graded School was located where it was, far to the edge of what would later be regarded as central East Wilson. Sam Vick pretty much single-handedly shifted development and wealth north to property he owned by building his own house on Green Street and selling lots to his friends and business associates. The construction of new edifices for Saint John AMEZ and First Baptist cemented this shift. After about 1900, the area south of Nash was developed largely as rental property, and most homeowners chose to buy north if they could.

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      1. Duly noted. 19th century was well before my father’s birth of 1919 or my mother’s of 1928. On today, my mom and I reflected on what you raised about the presence of wealth on Manchester St. in the 19th century. This gives credence to why maybe the north end of Manchester Street (from present day Hines St. to Nash St. ) had better houses from 1928 to around the mid 1980s . My parents moved on Manchester St. in 1946 and the neighborhood had changed dramatically resembling somewhat present day. Interesting flips of history !!!

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