Month: February 2021

Lane Street Project: Bones found along the road.

In September 1985, a man jogging along Lane Street discovered human bones lying in a ditch. What happened after is a dispiritingly familiar tale of denial and deflection. 

Wilson Daily Times, 23 September 1985.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1985.

In a nutshell:

  • The jogger had the bones examined by a friend who worked in the Edgecombe County Coroner’s Office, who estimated they were 50 to 60 years old. (The bones themselves were from a 50 to 60 year-old person? Or had been buried 50 to 60 years prior? And why didn’t the Wilson County coroner step in immediately?)
  • The jogger found the bones “on the left side of Lane Street Extension about ten feet from a grave that had been capped with concrete.” (“Left side” is relative, and maddeningly imprecise in a news story, but I interpret this as the opposite side of the road from the main cemeteries, i.e. the left side if one is facing MLK Parkway/Highway 264.)
  • A Cemetery Commission spokesperson identified four cemeteries on Lane Street. (There were, in fact, six — Masonic, Hamilton, Rest Haven, Vick, Odd Fellows, and Rountree.)
  • The city did not begin maintaining Lane Street until after 1972, when it annexed land east and south of Highways 301 and 264. “About five years ago [i.e. 1980], the city attempted to define the road and found, because of the numerous graves in the area, only a 40- to 45-foot right of way could be allowed, compared to the usual 60-foot right of way.” 
  • The city “routinely” scraped the dirt road and cleared the ditches, but “wasn’t sure” when Lane Street had last been maintained. (Yes, you read that right. Past Rest Haven and around to its intersection with Highway 264, Lane Street was unpaved until the late 1980s. Maybe the 1990s. I’ll search for a precise date.)
  • Citing the unusual nature of the find, a county health department spokesperson said she would have to check to determine who was responsible for reburying the bones.
  • The next day, the Public Works Department weighed in to disclaim any responsibility. “We’re not doing anything right now. We’re not aware that we have disturbed any graves.” Further, its spokesman asserted his belief that bones had been recently deposited.
  • He allowed that some unusual things had taken place though. “There is a concrete slab over one grave on one side of the road that wasn’t there when we annexed the property in 1972. The marker says the person died in 1950, but the slab has been poured in the last five or six years.” (I saw that slab as a child riding my bicycle on Lane Street in the mid-1970s. It lay at the very edge of the ditch, with one long edge fully exposed, on the side of the road opposite the main cemeteries. Rountree Missionary Baptist Church owns parcels on both sides of the road, as noted here. Whenever the slab was laid — by a family attempting to ward off the encroaching roadway? — it is no longer there. See my visit to that side of the road here and here.)
  • A former county sanitarian reported that he’d received a call from a woman who believed her relatives might be buried under Lane Street. (This just gets worse and worse.) Public Works: “Asa was going to look into that for me. It could be that we need to find out who that could be and see if they want to do some digging out there to remove the remains.” (“Could be”? And who is “they”? The families whose relatives’ graves the city desecrated?)
  • The police removed the bones, but provided no one knowledgeable enough to make a comment.

And this is the last mention of these bones, or graves lost under Lane Street, that I have found to date. Were they ever reburied? Where? If they weren’t old, was there ever an investigation to determine to whom they belonged and how they came to rest in a Lane Street ditch?

Many thanks to Tracey Barnes for bringing the September 24th article to my attention and alerting me to this chapter of the Lane Street cemeteries’ history.

Lane Street Project: “There is no question … the city owns it.”

Thirty-one years ago this month, the City of Wilson acknowledged what a quick deed search could have told anyone — it owns Vick cemetery.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 February 1990.

The Cemetery Commission’s reaction, as reported here, was a long list of negatives focused on the expense of restoration and upkeep of Vick cemetery, with no comment recorded about duties owed (and neglected for decades) to the dead. 

(N.B.: The Cemetery Commission is not involved in the present upkeep of Vick Cemetery or the narrow strip at the front of Odd Fellows Cemetery. They are mowed, sprayed, etc., by the Public Works Department.)

There was never the least overt act indicating an implication to lynch him?

Wilson Daily Times, 1 February 1914.

A January 31 News & Observer article tells the fuller background story. J.D. Holland of Wake County was out plowing a field near his house when he was robbed at gunpoint of his knife, a gold watch, and one dollar. “Mr. Holland was taken unawares by the negro and at the point of a pistol was first forced to give up his property and then take off all his clothes and plough several furroughs of land. The robbery was not at all welcomed by Mr. Holland, but the work of imitating Adam was very disagreeable to the Wake farmer.” This humiliation was equally disagreeable to Holland’s neighbors, who quickly formed an armed posse to hunt for a Black man “of yellow complexion, weighing about 160 pounds and wearing a slightly dark moustache.” They made one false capture before encountering Tip Barnes walking on railroad tracks near Millbrook and locking him in a store.

When the sheriff arrived, he found a “small crowd of citizens” gathered, who “merely wanted to see that the negro was placed behind bars.” Barnes, however, claimed a hundred armed people milled about all night, hollering “Lynch him!” Barnes further claimed that he could not be the culprit, as he had only arrived in Raleigh the previous morning, having skipped town when he and another man got in some trouble in Wilson. Though the reporter expressed doubt, as reported above, Barnes did in fact have an airtight alibi. He was in Wilson at the time of the robbery, being questioned by Wilson police about a completely different crime.

The news bureau took care to debunk two rumors, perhaps in the interests of lowering public temperature. First, it urged, the robber had not humiliated Holland by forcing him to strip naked and continue plowing. Nor was it true that Barnes “had narrowly escaped lynching” at the time of his arrest.

Tip Barnes, who was well-known to law enforcement, escaped imprisonment (false or otherwise) in this instance. Eight years later, however, he was convicted of the murder of his wife, India Barnes, in Wilson.

Lane Street Project: 20 February clean-up.

Lane Street Project’s fourth official clean-up day dawned blue and brilliant … and frigid. Dozens of stalwarts appeared, though, right on time. Any day we can come together for a common purpose is a good day, but today was extra special. Many thanks to LSP Team Member Raven S. Farmer, who first proposed a candlelighting service to honor those buried in these cemeteries; to Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid, who shared impactful words of prayer, reflection, and challenge; and to all who gathered. Many were moved to voice their thoughts about their Lane Street Project experiences, and we are grateful for your support and the example of unity and community that you embody.

LSP Team Members Charles Eric Jones, Raven S. Farmer, LaMonique Hamilton, Portia Newman, Joyah Bulluck, and Brittany Daniel with Rev. A. Kim Reives and Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid, our esteemed guests and allies.

A big “thank you” to Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard, who showed up not just to show up, but to put in work! Sheriff Woodard’s Wilson County roots run deep, and he likely has family buried in one of the LSP cemeteries.

This chain-link fence divides Vick and Odd Fellows cemeteries. Before yesterday morning, it was nearly invisible under a heavy cloak of honeysuckle and weedy saplings. Targeted attacks on specific problem areas are yielding immediately visible results.

When we tell you this is a multigenerational effort, we mean it!

The young people of the Wilson Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have shown incredible commitment to the Lane Street Project’s work. Thank you!

A generous donor has provided a roll-off dumpster for LSP clean-ups. All of this brush is the result of just one work day! 

Today’s great find — a brick burial vault, the first located in Odd Fellows cemetery.

——

Dr. Rashid graciously shared the text of her responsive reading yesterday:

To our Ancestors here in these hallowed grounds, because you were, we are.

So we are here.

As in the song “The Impossible Dream” by the Temptations, we dare to fight the unbeatable foe and to run where the brave dare not go.

So we are here.

We will right the unrightable wrong and try even when our arms are too weary.

So we are here.

We understand that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.

So we are here.

“We chose to tell OURstory, not HIStory.” Dr. Judy Rashid.

So we are here.

“We recognize that the whole truth is the matter, plus the hidden facts.” Dr. Judy Rashid.

So we are here.  

“Never allow anyone to tell you that your history and culture are not important. Never let anyone tell you ‘it happened a long time ago — get over it!’ Make your history sacred.” Runoko Rashidi

So we are here.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler.

So we are here.

“No people are really free until they become the instrument of their own liberation. Freedom is not legacy that is bequeathed from one generation to another. Each generation must take and maintain its freedom with its own hands.” John Henrik Clarke.

So we are here.

“Let us not  forget who we were so we will know what we still can be.” John Henrik Clarke, paraphrased.

So we are here.

“It is up to us to tell our story in our own way without stuttering, without stammering, without whispering and without apologies.” Runoko Rashidi.

So we are here.

“We are not organized to hate other men but to lift ourselves and to demand respect for all humanity.” Marcus Garvey.

So we are here.

Finally, we know that “when your roots are so deep, there is no reason to fear the wind.” African proverb.

So we are here.

Many thanks to Brittany Daniel, Portia Newman, and A. Kim Reives for these photographs.

The mattress answered the problem perfectly.

Wilson Daily Times, 5 July 1952.

——

Jerry L. Cooke‘s open letter to Heilig-Meyers furniture company offers an unusual glimpse of private life. Cooke wrote of his health, his medical treatment, his work history, and his consumer preferences. Born in 1886 in New Bern, N.C., Cooke lived in Wilson from about 1920 to his death in 1976. Though this letter was published a few years outside the period of Black Wide-Awake’s focus, I post it for its unique insight.

Getting milk from the Vicks.

Excerpt from my interview with my grandmother, Hattie Henderson Ricks, about where her family bought food during her childhood on Elba Street:

“But when I was a little girl, the only place you could get milk was from the Vicks. It was a quarter.  That was the only place we had to get the milk, if you got any. Unless you used canned milk. She had a back porch. Closed-in back porch. Screened in. Anyway, glass in it all around, there on the back porch, and tables out there. One of them things you churn, what I mean, a great, old big urn out there where the milk get too old, and then she’d have buttermilk. And she had a ‘frigerator sitting out there, where she’d taken the shelves out, look like where she’d made a big thing to put it in there. But she would get fresh milk everyday. The cows was somewhere out there, I don’t know where, I didn’t see ‘em in the yard. They wont nowhere up there. But somebody was working for them would go out and get the milk and bring it in these cans where you have, where got the churn in the top of it. And she would put them out there on the porch. Miz Annie seemed to be pretty clean, and the house was clean. Didn’t nobody get sick. Yeah, and they had the two daughters, and I don’t know how many boys it was. Robert was the youngest boy, and I went to school with him, and Doris and I was in the same class in school. And — I didn’t know whether she was a sister to the man, or whether she was sister to the lady, I never did find out which way — but that house, they built that two-story house right next to the Vicks, and they didn’t stay in it, they went to Washington or somewhere. And they rented the house out. And I think somebody else bought it.”

My grandmother, right, and her sister Mamie Henderson Holt, around the time their family was buying milk from the Vicks.

All rights reserved.

Saint Luke A.M.E. lays its cornerstone.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 September 1948.

First: Saint Luke is an A.M.E., not an A.M.E. Zion church. A.M.E. Zion is much larger denomination than A.M.E. in North Carolina and has had several churches in Wilson, including Saint John and Trinity. 

In 1906, a group of A.M.E. trustees bought a lot on Suggs Street and built a church there. The church was not organized as Saint Luke until 1910. In the 1930s, the congregation moved to a storefront at the corner of Vick and Atlantic Streets and erected its current edifice in 1948. The church had early struggles. In 1953, the Times carried a notice of sale for the property; the trustees had defaulted on a loan. 

(I belonged to this church as a child, by the way. Thirty years after its construction, it was little changed, down to its handbuilt pews and wall-mounted gas heaters.)

The cornerstone of Saint Luke A.M.E. Church: “Erected to the glory of God.”

——

  • P.J. McIntyre — Rev. McIntyre was pastor of Saint Luke from 1944 to 1952.
  • Dan Jones — Dan Henry Jones Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his draft registration card, he was born 7 November 1907 in Pender County, N.C.; his contact was father Dan Henry Jones, Rose Hill, Duplin County; and worked at Wilson Tobacco Company, Stemmery Street.
  • F.V. Worley — Frank Void Worley. Frank Worley died 30 January 1963 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson.  Per his death certificate, he was born 22 February 1888 in Robeson County, N.C.; was a tobacco factory laborer; and loved at 408 Grace Street. Informant was Robert Murphy, 716 Hooks Street, Wilson.
  • Wilbert Williams — Wilbert Williams registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his registration card, he was 27 years old; was born in Robeson County, N.C.; lived at 703 Walnut Street, Wilson; and his contact was mother Mary Blanch Williams, same address.
  • J.C. Bess — Rev. James Clinton Bess.
  • A.L. Walden — Alfred Lee Walden died 9 January 1964 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 3 March 1893 in Northampton County, N.C., to John Walden and Martha Jane Roberson; lived at 1301 Washington Street; and was a World War I veteran. Nannie Walden was informant.
  • Samuel Williams
  • B.M. Adams