Month: September 2021

1006 Washington Street.

The one hundred thirty-fourth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1930; 1 story; Bungalow with gable-end form and subsidiary gable-end porch.”

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In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Lamm Edward (Etta) (L&L Oldsmobile Co) h 1006 Washington. Edwin (not Edward) and Etta Bass Lamm were white. Why they were living in a solidly African-American residential block in 1928 is a mystery.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Murphy Josephine (c) cook h 1006 Washington

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1006 Washington, owned and valued at $3000, Josephine Murphy, 56, widow, washing, born in Bennettsville [, S.C.] and two roomers Herbert Hines, 35, hotel bell boy, and Aletha, 27, cook.

Josephine Murphy died 15 December 1951 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 70 years old; was born in Marlboro, S.C., to Edmond Stubbs and Donella Jackson; lived at 1006 East Washington Street; was a widow; and had lived in Wilson since 1930. She was buried in Macedonia Cemetery, Bennettsville. Josephine Williams was informant.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 September 1983.

Photo taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2021.

Lane Street Project: a reckoning.

Just as last night’s Wilson City Council meeting closed, Mayor Carlton Stevens posed a question. Lane Street Project volunteers had put a lot of work into Odd Fellows Cemetery, he said. Could the Deputy City Manager shed any light on why the city had stopped cutting the grass?

Said Harry Tyson in response: City crews have never maintained Vick Cemetery. Rather, the City pays a private company to cut the grass and, every once in a while, throw down a little topsoil. “If” anything beyond Vick — like Odd Fellows for 25 years — has ever been cut, it was due to the benevolence of that company. The City doesn’t know anything about it. And doesn’t know anything about why it’s stopped.

A moment of silence to acknowledge my shock at this revelation. The City has not even been doing the little bit at Odd Fellows that I had been giving it credit for.

I think it is safe to say that neither the City nor the contractor that it has been paying for 25 years to do something it would seem Public Works could do a lot more cheaply plans to pass another blade over the weeds of Odd Fellows Cemetery.

We press on.

LSP Fam, please start talking to your people. Get them lined up and ready. We have work to do.

Odd Fellows in weeds, September 2021.

503 East Hines Street.

The one-hundred-thirty-third in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1913; 1 story; shotgun with shed-roofed porch and gable returns.”

The constriction date of this house puzzling. Hines Street did not cross the railroad until the early 1970s. When it was finally cut through, Hines Street followed, more or less, the course of the old Wiggins Street, which no longer exists. But Wiggins Street had stopped at Stantonsburg [now Pender] Street before picking up again east of Manchester Street. The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson shows no street east of Stantonsburg and no house either. 

And 503 East Hines? This isn’t the 500 block of East Hines Street. It should be the 800.

Was this house moved from elsewhere? 

Ah!

In my post on 505 South Pender, I noted that two adjacent houses on then-Stantonsburg Street had been cleared out to make room for Hines Street, which was much wider than Wiggins. They were numbered 501 and 503. Was 503 Stantonsburg Street simply lifted from its lot and slotted behind, and perpendicular to, 505?

Detail from Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C., 1922.

I am certain this is the case.

503 Stantonsburg Street is now 503 East Hines, though the house is in the 800 block. 503 and 505 are identical shotgun houses, as drawn in the 1922 Sanborn map. Photographs of 503 and 505 (prior to renovation) confirm that they share vented gables with gable returns, shed-roofed front porches, and no back porches. 503 has been heavily, but superficially, modified, with faux-brick tarpaper siding and tin skirting. Cinderblock pillars have replaced the original brick; the porch posts, probably originally turned, have been replaced with four-by-fours; and a small shed-roofed porch has been tacked onto the back.

The houses shown in 1922 at 507 and 509 Stantonsburg are long demolished, but 511 — which was identical to 503 and 505 — is under renovation. Will 503 be renovated next?

The rear of 503 East Hines.

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In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Thompson Nelson (c) mill hd h 503 Stantonsburg

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Thompson Nelson (c; Annie M) lab h 503 Stantonsburg

In 1930, the city directory lists the house as vacant.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hammett John S (c) City Light Water & Gas Dept h 503 Stantonsburg

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hammett John S (c; Flossie L) firemn Town of Wilson h 503 Stantonsburg

This aerial image, courtesy of Google Maps, shows 503 East Hines tucked behind the apartment building that replaced 507 South Pender [Stantonsburg] Street.

Photos taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2021.

The last will and testament of Herman N. Grissom.

I, Herman Grissom, of the town of Wilson, State of North Carolina, declare this to be my last Will and testament.

1 — I give and devise to my wife Lydia Grissom, the dwelling house and lot on which it stands, and after her death to my three children Dorthea, Vivian and Lydia Grisom.

2 — I will and devise to my mother Hattie Grisom, the vacant lot on the north side of the above named house & lot, on which my said mother is to build a house as soon as possible after my death, and after her death, said house and lot, to go to my children.

I name as my executor, Walter Hines.

In testimony whereof, I have set my hand and seal this the 23rd day of Mar., A.D. 1921.      Herman X Grisom

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Hattie Grissom, 25; son Herman, 8; sister Anie, 23, and brother Warren, 15, day laborer.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: factory laborer Etta [sic] Grissom, 35, divorced, and son Herman, 16, barbershop bootblack.

On 24 July 1913, Herman Grissom, 22, of Wilson, son of Willis and Hattie Grissom, married Lydia Meeks, 20, of Edgecombe, daughter of Philip and Nancy Meeks, at Saint Paul’s A.M.E. Zion in Tarboro, Edgecombe County.

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Grissom Herman N (c) barber Tate & Hines h N Vick cor Atlantic

In 1917, Herman Natius Grissom registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 12 January 1890 in Wilson; lived on Atlantic Street, Wilson; was a barber with Tate & Hines; and had a wife and two children. He signed his card “Herman Nadis Grissom.”

Herman Nadies Grissom died 23 March 1921 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 January 1891 in Wilson to Willis Grissom of Franklin County, N.C., and Hattie Thorne of Wilson; was married to Lydia Grissom; lived at 201 Vick Street; and worked as a barber.

Apparently, Walter Hines, the barber for whom Grissom had worked, carried out the terms of Grissom’s will immediately. As early as the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories, his mother, nurse Hattie Grissom, is listed at 203 North Vick Street, the house built on the north side of the house in which he had lived at 201.

 

Henrietta Ruffin, champion canner.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 August 1944.

Once again, Henrietta Ruffin was recognized for her canning prowess, here crowned Wilson County champion canner by the Farm Security Administration. Using a pressure cooker obtained via an FSA loan, Ruffin planned to can 800 quarts of fruit, meat, and vegetables in 1944, topping her 550-quart total the year before.

Lane Street Project: a regression.

This is going to ramble. It is not my best work. But I don’t have time to polish it before I need to post it. So bear with me, please, and read.

A sweetgum sapling emerges from the base of Delzela Rountree’s headstone.

It’s not oversight. It’s deliberate. After 25 years, the city of Wilson has stopped mowing the front section of Odd Fellows Cemetery. The vague reason proffered: the Cemetery Commission only covers Rest Haven and Maplewood Cemeteries, and Odd Fellows is privately owned.

Let’s talk about the Cemetery Commission part for a minute.

First, a “cemetery,” as defined in Wilson’s Code of Ordinances, Chapter 9 — Cemeteries:

Sec. 9-1. – Definition.

(Code 1969, § 8-1) [emphasis added]

The Wilson Cemetery Commission was established per North Carolina General Statutes, specifically Chapter 160A — Cities and Towns, which states in pertinent part:

§ 160A-349.3.  Property vested.

Upon the creation of such board the title to all property held by the town or city and used for cemetery purposes shall pass to and vest in said board, subject to the same limitations, conditions and restrictions as it was held by the town or city; provided, that the governing body of the town or city may at any time by resolution direct that title to such property shall pass to and vest in the town  or city itself, and in such event it shall be the duty of the board and its officers to execute all necessary documents to effect such transfer and vesting. (Pub. Loc. 1923, c. 583, s. 3; 1979, 2nd Sess., c. 1247, s. 30.)

§ 160A-349.4.  Control and management; superintendent and assistants; enumeration of powers.

The said board shall have the exclusive control and management of such cemetery; shall have the power to employ a superintendent and such assistants as may be needed, and may do any and all things pertaining to the control, maintenance, management and upkeep of the cemetery which the governing body of the town or city could have done, or which by law the governing body of the town or city shall hereafter be authorized to do. (Pub. Loc. 1923, c. 583, s. 4.)

The City of Wilson established Vick Cemetery in 1913. It was a cemetery owned and operated by the City. State statute requirements notwithstanding, the Cemetery Commission has never taken title to Vick Cemetery. To this day, the Commission neither controls, maintains, manages, nor keeps up Vick Cemetery. The Commission has failed its obligation even to publicly-owned Vick Cemetery. And to the point, the Commission is irrelevant to the City’s withdrawal of Public Works support from Odd Fellows.

(As a sidenote, the statute also states:

§ 160A-349.8.  Commissioners to obtain maps, plats and deeds; list of lots sold and owners; surveys and plats to be made; additional lots, streets, walks and parkways; price of lots; regulation of sale of lots.

The board of trustees shall obtain from the governing body all maps, plats, deeds and other evidences relating to the lands, lots and property of the cemetery; they shall also obtain from the governing body of the town or city, as nearly as possible, an accurate list of the lots theretofore sold, together with the names of the owners thereof. The said board of trustees shall from time to time cause surveys to be made, maps and plats prepared, laying out additional lots, streets, paths, walks and parkways; shall fix a price at which such lots shall be sold, which price may from time to time, in the discretion of the board, be changed; shall adopt rules and regulations as to the sale of said lots and deliver to the purchaser or purchasers deed or evidences of title thereto. (Pub. Loc. 1923, c. 583, s. 8.)

Per the City’s responses to my Public Records Act requests, the Cemetery Commission has NO records of Vick Cemetery [or its publicly-owned predecessor Oakdale.] No maps, no plats, no deeds, no lists of lots or owners. The Cemetery Commission does not even have records of the graves disinterred from Oakdale/Oaklawn Cemetery in 1941 and reburied in Rest Haven Cemetery, the current “Black” cemetery. Nor does the Commission have early records of Rest Haven, which the City established in the early 1930s to replace Vick.

But I digress.)

Again: the City of Wilson owns Vick Cemetery. It established the cemetery in 1913 as a resting place for African-Americans, who were forbidden to purchase lots in Maplewood Cemetery. The City collected fees from lot sales and grave openings for 45 years, but lifted not a hand to maintain the cemetery’s eight acres. In the 1950s, the City condemned Vick and closed it, shifting burials to another segregated public cemetery, Rest Haven. From the 1950s to the mid-1990s, Vick Cemetery, along with adjacent Odd Fellows and Rountree Cemeteries, devolved to woodland and dumping ground.

In 1990, following decades of denial, the City admitted that it owns Vick cemetery. After several years of haggling and foot-dragging, the City settled on a plan that — astoundingly —  resulted in the clear-cutting of Vick Cemetery, the removal of its headstones, and the erection of a single memorial in 1996. The City also created a small parking lot at the border of Vick and Odd Fellows Cemeteries and installed two large granite blocks inscribed “Rountree-Vick Cemetery.” Until this year, the City’s Public Works Department regularly cut the grass in the front section of Odd Fellows (which it calls Rountree) when it mowed Vick. (Rountree Cemetery is actually another private cemetery on the other side of Odd Fellows.)

I repeat: the Cemetery Commission has never cared for Vick Cemetery. Rather, the City of Wilson, however, spent decades ignoring (and, alternately, abusing) its property. While the City was erecting a massive blond-brick Mission Style entrance  and carefully manicuring the shady paths of Maplewood’s park-like landscape, the families of Vick’s dead were pleading for help navigating the muddy roads that led to that graveyard. In the 1980s and early ’90s, when citizens demanded that the City clear Vick of decades of trash, some councilmen blamed descendant families for letting the cemetery — the city’s own property — fall into disrepair. In the end, the City pulled up the Vick’s remaining headstones and, within the past 20 years, destroyed them.

Vick Cemetery today. More than 1500 graves lie under this field. Every Black Wilsonian whose family has been here more than 50 years has people under this grass.

A closer look at the memorial site, which is shrouded by overgrown hollies and dead cherry trees and is in itself a testament to City neglect.

Now to the “Odd Fellows is privately owned” piece. In 1900, African-Americans were barred from Maplewood, the lovely public cemetery their taxes supported. The “colored” city cemetery was crowded and flood-prone and ill-maintained. Seeking better options, Hannibal Lodge #1552, Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, established its own burial ground. The cemetery is the resting place of Samuel H. Vick and his family and two to three generations of the African-American men and women who built East Wilson and its institutions during the darkest days of Jim Crow.

Within 15 years, the City purchased eight acres adjacent to Odd Fellows to establish a new Black cemetery. However, both it and Odd Fellows Cemetery fell from use around 1950 and by the 1960s were trash heaps. The Odd Fellows Lodge went defunct in the 1980s, leaving its Cemetery with no real owner.

In January 2021, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-religious group of volunteers came together to reclaim the vine-strangled rear of Odd Fellows Cemetery. Twice a month for the next four months, dozens donated time and muscle to restore honor and dignity to Odd Fellows’ forgotten dead. In the wake of Lane Street Project’s powerful display of collective purpose, the City abruptly halted its 25-year practice of mowing the strip of graveyard nearest the road.

THIS ISN’T ABOUT OWNERSHIP. IT’S ABOUT EQUITY.

Having disinvested in East Wilson for so long, having forsaken its institutions, having desecrated its public burial grounds, having watered the west side while leaving the east to wither on the vine, will the City continue to withhold even this minor gesture of acknowledgement of and respect for Black bodies?

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2021.

Knight falls from truck and is killed.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 March 1935.

  • Boy Knight — “Boy” was, in fact, named Efird Knight. Per his death certificate, he was 27 years old; was born in Wilson to Eddie Knight and Minerva Ellis; was single; and worked as a common laborer. Minerva Gray of Wilson was informant. He died 15 March 1935, and his cause of death was: “Accidental fell of truck killing him instantly.”
  • Dock Sims

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Family ties, no. 4: I pray for the whole family.

Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the fourth in a series of excerpts from interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)

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A few months after my grandmother passed away in January 2001, my father, mother, sister, and I converged on her little rowhouse at 5549 Wyalusing Avenue, Philadelphia, to clean it out. In a drawer of a large steel desk in the basement, I found a packet of papers. In them, a letter I’d never known existed, from my great-great-grandmother Loudie Henderson‘s brother Caswell C. Henderson to their sister, Sarah H. Jacobs, who reared my grandmother. It is dated 16 August 1926 and was mailed to Sarah in Greensboro, N.C., where she was visiting their niece, Mamie Henderson Holt.

Though he does not say so directly, Caswell Henderson seems to have been responding to the news of the death of Sarah’s husband Jesse A. Jacobs about five weeks earlier. Sarah has asked him to come to North Carolina, for a visit or perhaps permanently, but he cannot, pleading health and finances. (Caswell worked as a messenger for the United States Custom House in lower Manhattan.) He is hopeful, though, that soon they will be together to “help one another.” He expresses the importance of his family by sending greetings to his great-nieces (my grandmother Hattie and her sister Mamie) and inquiring after niece Minnie Simmons Budd, who had migrated to Philadelphia from Mount Olive, North Carolina. Of course, while “prayers are wonderful when said in all sincerity from the heart,” the prayers of his friends could not keep Caswell C. Henderson forever, and he died 16 January 1927.

Lane Street Project: Negro cemetery put in fine condition.

This nearly 90 year-old article could not be more current.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 March 1932.

“A Subscriber,” undoubtedly African-American and thus needing to display circumspection, wrote to the paper to report improved conditions at “the cemetery used by the colored citizens of Wilson.” The reference was almost certainly to the large public cemetery now known as Vick

The writer gently pointed out that recent work had given the cemetery “a more pleasing aspect,” but “while this work has added much to the looks of the cemetery, it will not be left to those who have lots there to take a wider interest and thus keep the place up to a standard of beauty and cleanliness. With the manifestation of such interest the cemetery will show the care the resting place of the dead should have.” 

In other words, the upkeep of a public cemetery was not the sole (or even primary) responsibility of the families of the dead. This appeal to city officials fell on deaf ears. Within a few years, Wilson opened Rest Haven, a second public Black-only cemetery, and Vick was gradually subsumed into the woods

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.