Month: October 2021

The majority of the children are picking cotton.

Wilson Advance, 15 October 1891.

School calendars aligned with the rhythms of the agricultural calendar. Even so, children picking cotton missed the beginning of school in October. (Just as children at my high school who worked in tobacco nearly one hundred years later sometimes did not report until after Labor Day.)

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In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Enos Thompson, 41; wife Hillon, 41; and children John, 17, Margaret, 16, Lucy, 6, Pet, 4, and Ennis, 3.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: garden laborer Ennis Thompson, 72; wife Helen, 65; and daughter Lucy, 35, laundress.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 144 East, Lucy Thompson, 40, and father Ennice Thompson, 81, widower.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 200 Pender, renting [likely a room] at $2/month, Lucy Thompson, 65.

Lucy A. Thompson died 24 July 1946 at her home at 310 Singletary Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 71 years old; was born in Wilson County to Ennis Thompson of Greene County, N.C., and Hellen A. Ruffin of Louisburg, N.C.; worked as a teacher; and was buried in Rountree cemetery.

  • Victoria Battle

 

Transportation to the Colored Industrial Fair and Colored Farmers Convention.

Wilson Daily Times, 18 October 1910.

Wilson’s Norfolk Southern passenger station stood at the corner of South Spring (now Douglas) and East Barnes Streets.

Detail from 1908 Wilson, N.C., Sanborn fire insurance map.

A Google Maps image shows that the much-modified rail station is still standing, as is the cotton and freight platform, which was completely enclosed subsequent to 1908.

Family ties, no. 6: we got strayed apart.

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 sixth in a series of excerpts from documents and 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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Tilithia Brewington King Godbold Dabney was my grandmother’s father’s first cousin. Born 1878 in Wayne County, North Carolina, to Joshua and Amelia Aldridge Brewington, she married Emanuel King in 1898. By 1910, the couple and their daughters Juanita, Elizabeth, Amelia, Maybelle, and Tilithia had settled in Norfolk, Virginia. Tilithia (pronounced “Ti-LYE-a-thy”) and Emanuel soon divorced and, by 1920, Tilithia had married railroad fireman Walter Godbold and was running a little restaurant.

Cousin Tilithia’s Strand Cafe made a deep impression on my grandmother, who laughingly recalled waiting tables during childhood visits and being dazzled by the  menu offerings.

Cousin Tilithia also offered lodging. Norfolk Journal & Guide, 12 March 1921.

“I was thinking about Cousin Tilithia Godbold when I was a little girl. She had a restaurant large enough to work in and serve patrons. It wasn’t real big, but they were serving patrons, and Mama carried me up there, and we spent the night there. And whenever she’d come to Wilson she’d stay with us.

“Cousin Tilithia, she lived in Norfolk, and she married this man. That wasn’t her children’s daddy. King was her children’s daddy. Godbold was the man she married later. He lived over in Rocky Mount, and he worked in the roundhouse or something.  I think he fixed the train, but he wasn’t the one on the train. And Godbold, Tilithia’s husband, he stayed there in Rocky Mount. ‘Cause Tilithia lived in Norfolk. Her and her five or six girls or whatever it was, and she was running what they call the Strand Café. And it was down on the first floor, and they lived up over it. Go out there, and it was a sleeping compartment. I was over there one time, and I remember it. I think I was about seven or eight years old. Went with Mama over there. We was just running all over the place. She had us waiting tables. I wanted to wait tables. I was wondering, I asked Mama, “Well, why come we couldn’t have a place like that?” And all that food!  Look like whatever the food was – I didn’t even know what it was ‘cause we ain’t never had none. It was a whole lot of stuff, look like they had, I didn’t want it, but then I know it looked good, and we ate down there in the café.

“And another time Mama took me on the train to see her. And it was right down in South Philadelphia where we went to their house. Where they was staying. And when I moved up here to Philadelphia, Tilithia’s sister Hattie, she was telling me ‘bout how the daughters were there in Norfolk, her sister and all them. I said, well, I could remember some of them, but I don’t remember what –  and I asked where some of the girls was. Some of them in Norfolk and some of ‘em, one’s dead. [Inaudible] the family. We got strayed apart.”

Norfolk Journal & Guide, 9 December 1922.

Norfolk Journal & Guide, 28 May 1927.

She and my grandmother lost touch, but Cousin Tilithia lived until 1965.

Virginian Pilot, 22 November 1965.

Interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson adapted and edited for clarity. Copyright 1994, 1996. All rights reserved. 

A theatre for the Negroes.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 August 1935.

This theatre for colored patrons presumably was the Ritz Theatre at 523 East Nash Street.

A few comments:

Lane Street Project: the power of one.

I opened an email yesterday afternoon to find this photo of freshly cut Odd Fellows Cemetery. Thank you, Jeff Barefoot! I’ve been so discouraged by the discontinuation of mowing services from this section of the cemetery, so his unexpected work is really uplifting. This is the spirit of generosity and care that will see Lane Street Program through.

The obituary of Moses Parker: he said he was going to live with Jesus.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 September 1936.

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In the 1870 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: farm laborer Jason Parker, 35; wife Annis, 24; and children Moses, 8, Harriet, 5, Jerry, 4, and Sophy, 1.

In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: farmer Jason Parker, 43; wife Annis, 39; and children Moses, 17, Harriet, 15, Jere, 13, Sophia, 10, Mathew, 9, Cintha, 7, Susan, 5, and Abel, 2.

On 5 March 1892, Moses Parker, 29, married Henrietta Woodard, 27, at Isaac Farmer‘s residence in Wilson County. Free Will Baptist minister Crockett Best performed the ceremony in the presence of Jordan Braswell, Jno. W. Williford, and J.G. Barnes.

On 17 June 1897, Moses Parker, 33, married Sallie Reid, 27, at William Taylor’s residence in Wilson County. Jason Parker was a witness.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Mosses Parker, 40; wife Sarah, 30; and daughters Jennie, 14, and Mary, 12. (Next door, Moses’ brother Abel Parker, 21, farmer, wife Sarah, 20, son Jerry, 6 months, and boarder Thomas Horn, 60, widower, farm laborer.)

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 415 Goldsboro Street, widower Moses Parker, 45, house carpenter; daughters Mary, 21, and Nera, 23, private family cook; and granddaughter Lee Parker, 4.

On 7 September 1911, Moses Parker, 47, of Wilson, married Charity Holland, 50, of Wilson, in Wilson township. Primitive Baptist minister Jonah Williams performed the ceremony at Charity Holland’s residence in the presence of John Battle, George W. Wood, and John H. Akins.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 417 Goldsboro Street, general public drayman Moses Parker, 59, and wife Charity, 64.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 June 1921.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1004 East Nash Street, owned and valued at $1700, grocery store proprietor Moses Parker, 63; wife Charity, 60; and roomer Elizabeth Simms, 17.

Moses Parker died 23 September 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 73 years old; was born in Edgecombe County, N.C., to Jason Parker and Annis Parker; was married to Charity Parker; lived at 1004 East Nash Street; and worked as a carpenter.

Negroes to receive lifetime pension for amputated feet.

When I stumbled upon this article, I was not sure if the terrible incident it described involved African-Americans from Wilson County. (It turns out they were not.) I did know, however, that state legislator Troy T. Barnes of Wilson co-sponsored a bill to award the victims pensions, and I knew I wanted to know more.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 March 1935.

A review of the widespread state news coverage reveals:

  • In December 1934, Woodrow Wilson Shropshire, 19, was sentenced to 120 days on a chain gang for drunkenness and drunk driving. In January 1935, Robert Barnes, also 19, was sentenced to a year “on the road” for possession of a stolen camera. Both were sent to a Mecklenburg County labor camp.
  • In January 1935, Shropshire and Barnes were placed in solitary confinement for alleged insubordination and cursing at a guard. The men were chained in a standing position against a wall for eight hours a day for four days. During the cold nights, they slept in an unheated room with little covering. The camp doctor failed to check on them as required by law. Both suffered severe damage to their feet that led to gangrene.
  • In early March, Wilson and Barnes were taken to Central State Prison in Raleigh where their feet were amputated. The following week, the state legislature opened an investigation into the matter. 
  • Per testimony, the men originally been held at Mecklenburg County camp #411. When they attempted to warm themselves at a fire without permission during frigid January temperatures, a guard warned them away and Shropshire cursed him. Because camp #411 had no solitary confinement, they were moved to camp #413. Barnes, Shropshire, and a former prisoner named John Reid testified that a prison guard beat Barnes unconscious for spitting on the floor. The men were fed half a biscuit twice a day and a small amount of water. Prison officials claimed the men’s feet had been damaged by erysipelas, a strep bacterial infection. And/or their gangrene had been caused by the men stuffing rags too tightly between their skin and shackles. (“It is astonishing,” [testified prison physician] Coleman, “how some prisoners will mutilate themselves to escape work.”]
  • The investigation turned up an additional atrocity — the secret burials of Black convicts in a Watauga County cornfield during construction of the Boone Trail state highway in 1930. (The men had been reported as escapees.) Legislators had questions about the laws concerning prisoners in state camp, the limits (or lack thereof) on the kind of punishment guards could mete out, and the practice of transferring prisoners to camps with “little dark houses” used for solitary confinement. Three state representatives, including Barnes of Wilson, sponsored a bill providing a lifetime pension for Shropshire and Barnes.
  • In early April, the camp superintendent, camp physician, and three guards were arrested and charged with crimes including neglect, torture, maiming, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Shropshire was taken by ambulance from Raleigh to testify before a Mecklenburg County grand jury; Barnes was still too weak from his injuries.
  • The committee’s recommendation, issued in late April, was conservative. North Carolina penal camps could continue using whips and “dark cells” to punish prisoners. On the bright side, Shropshire and Barnes were to receive prosthetic feet and jobs in the highway or prison departments. 
  • By mid-May, the State had spent $500 for four sets of artificial limbs for the two men, but neither was strong enough to use them.
  • The trial got underway in mid-July. Surprise — all defendants were acquitted!
  • Shropshire made good progress adjusting to his prosthetics. He declined a job in Raleigh, preferring to return to Mecklenburg to be near family, and the State promised to find him a job there. Barnes continued to struggle. In 1940, when he registered for the World War II draft, he was described as unemployed. His card noted “both feet amputated below knees.” 

The obituary of Eugene Williams of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Indianapolis News, 11 August 1959.

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In the 1900 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: at 1110-12th Street, janitoress Margaret Puryear, 38, widow; daughter Mary, 13; and cousin Eugene Williams, 25; all born in North Carolina.

Eugene Hummons Williams was born 24 February 1908 in Indianapolis to Eugene Williams, 23, foundry man, born in North Carolina, resides at 915 Paca Street, and Janie Isom, 33, born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, resides at 915 Paca Street.

In the 1910 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: at 803 West Pratt, Eugene Williams, 35, steel works machinist; wife Jane, 25; son Eugene, 2; and sister-in-law Roberta Morse, 15.

Eugene Williams registered for the World War I draft in Indianapolis in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 9 May 1874; lived at 805 West Pratt; was a fireman for C. & A. Potts & Company; and his nearest relative was Janie Williams.

In the 1920 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: at 805 West Pratt, Eugene Williams, 46, steel works machinist; wife Jane, 36; and children Eugene, 11, Don C., 4, and Harlan, 6 months.

In the 1930 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: at 918 Fayette Street, owned and valued at $4000, foundry laborer Eugene H. Williams, 53; wife Jane, 46; and sons Eugene Jr., 20, Don C., 14, and Harland D., 10.

In the 1940 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: at 918 Fayette Street, steel plant fireman Eugene Williams, 56; wife Jane, 54; and son Harlan, 20.

Eugene Williams registered for the World War II draft in Indianapolis in 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 9 May 1878 in Wilson County, N.C.; lived at 918 Fayette Street, Indianapolis; his contact was Jannie Williams; and he worked for Heteren & Burner & Co., Indianapolis.

Eugene Williams died 9 August 1959 in Indianapolis. Per his death certificate, he was born 9 May 1876 in Wilson, North Carolina, to Moses Williams and Mary [last name unknown]; lived at 918 Fayette Street; was retired from Hetherington Steel Structure; and was married to Jane Williams.