Month: November 2021


Wilson Daily Times, 10 November 1932.

This ad for musical comedy The Big Broadcast focused on Cab Calloway and his Orchestra (who performed the opening of their big new hit “Minnie the Moocher), rather than stars like Bing Crosby. Wilson’s African-American moviegoers would have had to enter through a side door and watch from Carolina Theatre’s balcony.

406 East Green Street.

The one hundred-fortieth 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. 1893; 1 story; two-room house; among oldest in district; intact porch with chamfered posts.”


As shown in the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, the first few houses of the 400 block of East Green comprised a rare integrated block. Houses (and a grocery) numbered 402, 404, 406, 408 1/2, and 410 had white occupants. Numbers 405, 408, 411, and the remainder of the block headed east had black occupants. (400 and 407 were vacant; there was no 401 or 403.) 406 was occupied by William H. and Cora Brown.

By the 1930 Hill’s city directory, laborer Ephraim Brown and his wife Cora lived at 406. His white neighbors were Baker Brothers grocery, William J. and Mandy Pittman, Sallie A. Ezzell (who owned three adjoining houses mid-block), and James and Martha Farmer. 

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 406 East Green, Evelyne Giles, 30, stemmer, divorced; daughter Thelma, 14; mother Aline Hawkins, 42, stemmer, and her son Lee Hawkins, 22, odd jobs laborer. 

John Lee Hawkins registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 6 July 1916 in Black Creek, N.C.; lived at 406 East Green; his contact was mother Aileen Hawkins; and he worked for Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, South Goldsboro Street.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Giles Evelyn (c) tob wkr h 406 E Green

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Giles Evelyn (c) fctywkr h 406 E Green

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, November 2021.

More renovation in East Wilson.

I mentioned here and here the recent renovation of houses on East Green Street, a phenomenon that actually extends throughout East Wilson. Some are on the market for sale; others are upgraded rental properties. Here are two more:

  • 900 Viola Street

More about this house later.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, November 2021.

Where we worked: Farmers Cotton Oil Company.

Farmers Cotton Oil Company had been in operation only six years when an artist sketched it for the border of T.M. Fowler’s 1908 bird’s-eye map of Wilson. At the time, the tobacco town was also one of the larger cotton markets in eastern North Carolina, and Farmers not only ginned cotton and pressed cotton seed oil, it manufactured fertilizer.

It was also a dangerous place to work. In November 1922, doctors amputated Will Scott’s left hand after it was mangled in machinery at the mill.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 November 1922.

Seven years later, Wade Vick was whirled to death after being caught in a revolving wheel at the compound.

As shown in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Farmers Cotton Oil Company filled almost the whole block bounded by East Barnes, Grace, Stemmery, and South Railroad Streets. The church at lower right was Wilson Chapel Free Will Baptist

  • Will Scott

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Runaway horse injures girl.


Sunday afternoon while James Daniel and Christine Forte, both young colored people were out driving late in the evening on the Lucama road about three miles from Wilson, the horse ran away and the young woman was badly hurt. She is suffering from concussion of the brain and is in a local hospital for treatment.

The father of the girl is named A.F. Forte of Franklinton and was called here to see his daughter, who was on a visit to her sister, Cornelius Sellars.

Forte says that the statement of the young man is to the effect that he stood up in the buggy to get a cigarette from his hop pocket when the horse sprang away, throwing Daniel who held the reins, to the ground. The horse ran further throwing the girl from the buggy and when Dr. Reid came along in his car, he found the man trying to hold up the girl, who was unable to stand. Dr. Reid brought both to the city.

Forte says the young man has expressed his deep sympathy for the girl and has offered to pay all of her expenses while in the hospital.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 August 1916


  • Christine Fort and Cornelius Sellars [actually, Cornelia Fort Artis]

In the 1880 census of Franklinton township, Franklin County, N.C.: Anderson F. Fort, 29, born in Alabama; wife Mary J., 22, born in Mississippi; and children Cornelia, 6, Florence, 4, James, 2, and Eva, 1 month. Cornelia was born in Mississippi; the other children in North Carolina.

On 30 November 1898, James M. Artis, 32, of Wilson County, married Cornelia Fort, 24, of Franklinton, in Franklin County.

In the 1900 census of Franklinton township, Franklin County, N.C.: farmer Anderson Fort, 50; wife Mary J., 43; and children James, 21, restaurant worker; Evie, 20; Henry, 15; Battle, 13; Luther, 8; Lola, 5; and Christine, 2.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer James Artis, 26; wife Cornelia, 22; son Solomon, 8 months; and brother-in-law Charlie B. Fort, 12.

In the 1910 census of Franklinton township, Franklin County, N.C.: Cornelia Fort, 31, cook, and children Mary E., 8, and Albert, 2.

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Artist Cornelia (c) cook 640 Viola

On 19 May 1923, Christine Fort married Nathaniel Kearney [also of Franklin County] in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Solomon Artis died 29 November 1927 in Washington, Beaufort County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was about 26 years old; was born in Wilson County to James M. Artis and Cornelius Fort; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Franklinton. Mary A. Daly was informant.

In the 1930 census of Bridgeport, Connecticut: Nathel Kearney, 50, bolt shop laborer; wife Christine, 28; and children Nathael, 5, and Louise, 3.

In the 1940 census of Bridgeport, Fairfield County, Connecticut: Nathaniel Kearney, 50, park maintenance project laborer; wife Christine, 38; and children Nathaniel, 15, and Louise, 13.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Though I disavow the false narrative that has been passed down to us about the first Thanksgiving, I embrace the setting aside of a day to give thanks. In these times more than ever, I’m grateful for the overwhelming bounty of my life. In all my years, I have never wanted for family, health, shelter, or wealth, and I understand the privilege that bestows upon me. Black Wide-Awake and Lane Street Project are ways I honor the people and place that nourished and encouraged and shaped me. 

Fatal auto accident on the road to Wilson.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 November 1918.


While trying to pass a wagon on the road from Black Creek to Wilson (probably today’s Black Creek and Frank Price Church Roads), Johnnie Williams smashed his automobile into a telegraph pole, killing Washington Joyner and injuring Coot Robbins and Hiram Faulkner.

  • Johnnie Williams
  • Washington Joyner — George Washington Joyner.
  • Coot Robbins
  • Hiram Faulkner — probably, Hiram Faulkland.

Smooth Jim Watson.

This article is fascinating both for its details of Jim Watson‘s medical condition and the sophisticated operation of his “blind tiger,” or illegal bar. A search of digitized newspapers found a little more about Watson’s exploits in Wilson, but nothing about how he wound up in a Richmond jail.

Wilson Times, 14 November 1911.

Watson first appears in available newspaper records on 24 May 1910, when the Times reported his acquittal on retailing (i.e. unlawfully selling liquor) charges.

Two weeks later, on June 7, the paper reported that Watson had again been charged with retailing.

On 13 September 1910, the Times reported that a hung jury had resulted in a mistrial on Watson’s retailing charges. He was again a free man.

On 30 June 1911, per the paper, Watson was fined $9.50 on a reckless driving charge.

In September 1911, a man (presumably, an informant) entered Watson’s store and asked to buy whiskey. Watson pulled a pistol and said, “This is the strongest thing in the house.” The man reported Watson to the police, who charged him with carrying a concealed weapon. His defense: he was in his own place of business, and the gun was not concealed. Verdict: not guilty.

On October 23, William Anderson, allegedly a trusted friend, went into Watson’s place and put down two quarters for a pint of whiskey. Watson purportedly sold him a half-pint, which Anderson took outside to share with his pals. A police officer swooped in and, after some pressure, Anderson admitted he’d bought the liquor from Watson. 

The Daily Times‘ coverage led with a reference to Jim Watson’s physical condition. While locked up in the Richmond (Virginia, presumably) jail, Watson allegedly had slit his own throat. As a result, he now breathed through a tube inserted in his windpipe, an astonishing example of an effective, long-term tracheotomy in an era in which surgery was still relatively crude, and antibiotics were nonexistent. It was also, apparently, Watson’s super-power.

Then, a description of Jim Watson’s set-up. In Watson’s otherwise legitimate restaurant, he raised a curtain in a corner. A customer would lay down his (maybe occasionally her) money, and a trusted accomplice would disappear behind the curtain and return with the liquor. No one other than Watson’s confederates saw Watson handle the goods, and they were allowed entry only one at a time. 

As Jim Watson’s trial neared, things got busy for him and his “systematic coterie of dispensers of the ardent.” Watson’s wife Cyndia Watson was arrested after slashing at Coot Robbins with a knife. Notwithstanding, Robbins joined Junius Peacock and Mark Sharpe on a visit to the police station to seek her release, unsuccessfully. Later, a mysterious hack appeared at the chief of police’s home, and an unseen man yelled threats and imprecations if his wife were not released. Robbins admitted to the police that he driven a man to the house, but claimed he did not know him and the man had only politely inquired after Chief Glover. 

This incident seems to have exhausted the paper’s patience (and even admiration) for this “touch character.”

Wilson Times, 12 December 1911.

Watson’s day in court came on December 21, and he was finally convicted. The principal witness against him was his former friend Will Anderson, “a notorious negro of Georgia and a murdered who served then years on the chain gang of that state.” For his efforts, Anderson, too, was convicted of retailing. The paper noted with satisfaction that there were several more charges pending against Watson, and his attorney was expected to advise him to throw himself at the mercy of the court.

Wilson Times, 22 December 1911.

However, as the same edition sourly noted, court had adjourned unexpectedly due the judge’s family emergency. “… Jim Watson, … convicted but unsentenced, remains out on bond, and will probably have a good time during the holidays supplying his friends with blind tiger booze.”