Month: May 2023

The last will and testament of Jennie Farmer Braswell.

In a will signed 21 May 1907, Jennie Braswell left all her personal and real estate to her sister Venus Farmer.


In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: widow Rhoda Farmer, 70; daughter Jennie Braswell, 40, widow; daughter Martha Wooten, 28; grandchildren Howard, 17, Rena, 15, Lulu, 13, Minnie, 7, Walter, 10, and Lily [Wooten?], 20; and Dennis A. Thadis, 33.

Will of Jennie Braswell (1907), North Carolina Wills and Probate Records 1665-1998,


Jerome De Perlinghi recently revealed this haunting photograph taken just before Farmers Warehouse’s partial collapse last month. Though such images shock us now, they were once as commonplace as dandelions and unremarkable even to those who had to bypass them to slake their thirst under the ‘Colored’ sign.

I was immediately reminded of a passage in William B. Clark Jr.’s Some Reflections On and Trivia of Wilson’s Tobacco Auction Warehouses 1890-1980, self-published in 1991, and excerpted here in 2018.

[The ninth edition of Eyes on Main Street, the incredible international outdoor photography festival De Perlinghi founded in Wilson, opens 1 June and runs through 10 September 2023. Don’t miss it, or his newly opened American Center for Photographers.]

Lane Street Project: moving forward.

After the open forum, Mayor Carlton Stevens and Councilwoman Gillettia Morgan asked me to provide a short list of immediate do’s at Vick Cemetery. On May 24 and 29, I emailed them this:

  1. order a land survey to establish the four corners of the cemetery
  2. organize a “reconsecration” of the cemetery (Rev. Carlton Best has begun assembling local pastors and working on a program for such an occasion)
  3. order an independent investigation of the removal, storage and disappearance of the headstones removed from Vick Cemetery in or about 1996, with results to be shared publicly
  4. install surveillance cameras near the entrance to Vick Cemetery to monitor illegal dumping and access by wheeled vehicles
  5. deposit two copies of the ground-penetrating radar survey report at Wilson County Public Library

This list is not exclusive. It merely scratches the surface of the restorative work needed at Vick. We invite the City to get on the right side of this disgraceful situation right now.

As a reminder, per Article 22 of North Carolina Laws and Statutes Regarding Cemeteries, § 14-149. Desecrating, plowing over or covering up graves; desecrating human remains,

(a) It is a Class I felony, without authorization of law or the consent of the surviving spouse or next of kin of the deceased, to knowingly and willfully:

(1) Open, disturb, destroy, remove, vandalize or desecrate any casket or other repository of any human remains, by any means including plowing under, tearing up, covering over or otherwise obliterating or removing any grave or any portion thereof.

(2) Take away, disturb, vandalize, destroy, tamper with, or deface any tombstone, headstone, monument, grave marker, grave ornamentation, or grave artifacts erected or placed within any cemetery to designate the place where human remains are interred or to preserve and perpetuate the memory and the name of any person. This subdivision shall not apply to the ordinary maintenance and care of a cemetery.

Legally, the City is standing on exceedingly shaky ground in its attempts to deflect responsibility for the desecration of Vick Cemetery. Morally, its messaging is reprehensible.

Reverend Best, with those pastors who rise to this occasion — and that ought to be every one of them in Wilson — will see to the second request with or without the City. We don’t need permission to honor our dead.

We will pursue the remaining requests — actually, demands — and all other appropriate forms of redress in every available forum.

This detail from an image published in Ground-Penetrating Radar Survey to Prospect for Unmarked Graves in the Vick Cemetery (31WL384) shows the relative depth of graves at the site. The yellow and red areas highlight graves located 0 to 30 centimeters (about 12 inches) below the surface.

The Wilson County roots of Professor Christina Sharpe.

While reading Jenna Wortham’s luminous New York Times profile of African-American academic Christina Sharpe, a name popped out at me in the passage detailing her West Philadelphia roots — Van Buren Sharpe.

A little research confirmed what I suspected — Christina Sharpe’s paternal roots lie in Wilson and Edgecombe Counties.


On 26 December 1866, Sampson Sharpe married Nelly Hargrove in Edgecombe County. Wilson Sharpe was bondsman, and Irvin Thigpen, witness.

In the 1880 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County, North Carolina: farmer Samson Sharpe, 40; wife Nellie, 40; and children Mack, 11, Reuben, 8, Madison, 7, Cet, 6, Van, 4, Shepherd, 2, and Mattie, 7.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Sampson Sharpe, 57, and children Mary J., 19, Earnes, 17, Frankling, 15, and Eva, 13.

On 2 February 1901, Mack Sharpe, 31, married Katie Taylor, 19, in Wilson. Rev. J.W. Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of J.D. Reid, Albert Mitchell, and Olin Fenderson.

In the 1910 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: hotel waiter Van Sharpe, 32; wife Marion, 22; and son Carlwood, 9 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: tobacco factory laborer Mack Sharpe, 43; wife Katie, 29, laundress; and children Harvey, 12, servant, Wilbur C., 10, Earnest, 8, Samson, 6, Nellie B., 3, and Elexander, 18 months.

Vanburen Sharpe was born 25 August 1913 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his birth record, his parents were Vanburen Sharpe, 36, waiter, and Marion Sharpe, 27.

In 1918, Van Buren Sharp registered for the World War I draft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his registration card, he was born 29 April 1877; lived at 3921 Melon Street; worked as an oyster opener at Ridgway Hotel, Camden, New Jersey; and his nearest relative was wife Marion Sharp.

In the 1920 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 3921 Melon Street, Vanburen Sharpe, 42; wife Marion, 31; and children Carlwood, 10, Alice, 8, Vanburen Jr., 6, Byron, 4, Roland, 1, and George, 10 months.

Mary Jane Barnes died 27 October 1920 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 April 1881 in Edgecombe County to Samptson Sharpe and Lillie [no maiden name listed]; was married to Jake Barnes; lived at 814 Nash Street; and worked as a domestic. She was buried in Wilson [most likely, Vick Cemetery.]

Eva Lucas died 14 November 1926 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 35 years old; was born in Wilson to Sampson and Mary Jane Sharpe; was married to Walter Lucas; and lived at 108 Vick Street. She was buried in Wilson, N.C. [most likely, in Vick Cemetery.]

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 540 North Wanamaker, club waiter Van Buren Sharpe, 55; wife Marion, 44; and children Carlwood, 20, Alice, 19, Van Buren, 16, Byron, 14, Roland, 12, George, 11, Marion, 8, and Robert, 4.

Earnest Sharpe died 3 January 1931 in U.S. Marine Hospital, Norfolk, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 February 1882 in North Carolina to Sampson Sharpe and Milly Hargrove; was married to Martha Sharpe; lived at 754 Brewer Street, Norfolk; and worked as a waiter on table for the Merchant Marines.

In the 1940 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 5942 Vine, waiter Van Buren Sharpe, 59; wife Marion, 54; and children Alice, 28, Van Buren Jr., 26, Byron, 24, Rowland, 22, George, 21, Marion, 18, and Robert, 14.

In 1942, Van Buren Sharpe registered for the World War II draft in Philadelphia. Per his registration card, he was born 25 August 1913 in Philadelphia; lived at 5942 Vine Street; his contact was father Van Buren Sharpe; and he worked as a classified laborer for Philadelphia Navy Yard, League Island, Philadelphia.

In the 1950 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 5942 Vine, hotel waiter Van Buren Sharpe, 68; wife Marion, 63; and children Alice, 36, post office char woman, Marion, 28, department store stock girl, and Robert, 24.

Van Buren Sharpe died 14 August 1953 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his death certificate, he was born 29 April 1880 in Wilson, N.C.; was married; and worked as a waiter.

Shepard Sharpe died 16 October 1959 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 5 January 1887 in Edgecombe County to Samson Sharpe and Nellie (?); lived at 135 Narroway Street; and worked as a cook. Naomi Sharpe was informant.

Lane Street Project: Memorial Day 2023.

I met Jen Kehrer a little over two months ago when I did research on the people enslaved at Scarborough House during its first several decades. Since then, she has been a committed cheerleader for Lane Street Project. Today, when attempts to secure assistance from a V.F.W. post fell through, Kehrer took it upon herself to make sure that Vick and Odd Fellows’ veterans were honored. She and small band of others, including 15 year-old Boy Scout P.J., came out in the drear and chill of the morning to pay respects.

Kehrer and Scarborough House are teaming up with Lane Street Project to present our first-ever clean-up in honor of Juneteenth. P.J will be there June 19. Will you?

Photos courtesy of Castonoble Hooks and Jen Kehrer.

In memoriam: SP4 Harold Cornell Gay (1951-1970).

SP4 Harold Cornell Gay of Wilson died 20 October 1970 in Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam. He is memorialized on panel 6W at line 11 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

Jim Evans posted this memorial to Gay at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces: “From 03 Aug to 14 Aug 1970, I was temporarily transferred from the 91st Evac Hospital in Chu Lai, to the medical aid station at Kham Duc until the new battalion surgeon arrived. There I met Harold Gay, a medic on the medivac helicopter crew stationed at Kham Duc. Harold was a gentle man who conveyed the sense that he provided medical care for his fellow soldiers from the depths of his heart. At Kham Duc I took several photographs of him. One portrait in black and white shows him looking pensively toward me. He asked me to send him this photo which I did; however, a letter from the Department of the Army on 04 Nov 1970, stated, ‘I regret to inform you that Specialist Gay died on 20 Oct 1970…. I am truly sorry that it was not possible to have delivered this mail [including the photograph] to him.’

“However, his death was old news, since I was working in the Emergency Room of the 91st Evac Hospital, when he was brought in. I pronounced him dead along with 12 other men killed when 2 helicopters collided. Harold Gay had volunteered for this mission.

“Harold’s portrait continues to gaze pensively at me in my home. Although our friendship was brief, my heart aches at his loss and so many others. I regret that it was not possible to share this portrait with his family since I did not have their address. Also given the circumstances in 1970, it was hard to know whether his photograph would be welcome or a cause for even greater grief.” posted this description of Gay’s final flight: “On October 20, 1970, a U.S. Army helicopter UH-1D ‘dust off’ air ambulance (tail number 66-16617) from the 54th Medical Detachment, was involved in a mid-air collision with a U.S. Army helicopter OH-6A (tail number 69-16023) from B Company, 123rd Aviation Battalion, resulting in the loss of life of seven U.S. personnel. The OH-6A was part of an Aero Scout team from Company B, 123rd Aviation Battalion, consisting of one UH-1H ‘slick’ transport helicopter, one AH-1G Cobra attack aircraft, and one OH-6A light observation helicopter from Chu Lai Army Airfield for the purpose of conducting a first-light visual reconnaissance of the area to the south and west of Chu Lai known as the Rocket Pocket. On this particular morning, the Aero Scout team attempted to commence their reconnaissance in the northern portion of the Rocket Pocket. They were, however, unable to proceed with this course of action because artillery was being fired into that area. After determining that they could not enter the area, the team lead directed his team to proceed to the southern portion of the Rocket Pocket and commenced their reconnaissance in that area, working generally east to west. At this time, the team members observed yellow smoke being popped continuously to the southeast. The team lead contacted ground personnel in the area to see if they required any assistance. The ground personnel replied in the negative, that a dust-off (medical evacuation by helicopter) was in progress. At approximately 0700 hours, the UH-1H dust off aircraft under the control of the 54th Medical Detachment, call sign Dust Off 88, departed from Chu Lai Army Airfield on a mission to pick up two urgent U.S. casualties. The two injured soldiers, SP4 Alexander Campbell Jr. and PFC Larry W. Kilgore, both infantrymen from C Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, were wounded while retrieving an explosive device when the device accidently detonated. The Aero Scout team observed the dustoff aircraft and watched it touchdown in the landing zone. The Aero Scout team then turned back to the north continuing their reconnaissance and working their way back towards Chu Lai. Shortly thereafter, the team leader observed the dust off aircraft heading north-northeast approximately 300 to 400 meters south of the OH-6A at low level and moving fast. At this point the team leader advised the OH-6A of the approaching dust off aircraft and the OH-6A pilot rogered the message. The team leader later stated that almost simultaneously with this transmission the UH-1H and OH-6A collided, with the UH-1H on a northerly heading and the OH-6A on a northwesterly heading. The collision occurred in a valley into which the UH-1H had entered coming around a hill to his right and the OH-6A had entered flying west up the valley with the hill on his left. There were no survivors from the dust off aircraft. The OH-6A crew suffered one fatality with two injured. The lost crew members of the air ambulance included aircraft commander CW2 Terence A. Handly, co-pilot 1LT Kenneth M. Schlie, crew chief SP4 Thomas R. Weiss, and medic SP4 Harold C. Gay. The lost passengers were the injured SP4 Campbell and CPL Kilgore, plus an unnamed Vietnamese national. The fatality from the OH-6A was crew chief SP4 Gary R. Cady. The pilot and gunner on the aircraft survived with injuries. Kilgore, one of the dust off patients, was posthumously promoted to corporal. [Taken from and]”


Harold C. Gay was born 14 February 1951 in Wilson to Harold E. Gay, himself an Army sergeant during World War II, and Matteele Floyd Gay (later Robinson). We have seen the family home of his paternal grandparents Albert and Annie Bell Jacobs Gay here and met his maternal grandfather Ambrose Floyd here. He began high school at C.H. Darden, but transferred to quasi-integrated Ralph L. Fike High School under “freedom of choice” and graduated in 1969. He was 19 years old when he died. Harold Gay’s funeral service took place at Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church, and he is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery.

The obituary of Willie Gay.

Wilson Daily Times, 28 May 1940.

Willie Gay‘s headstone is one of only two military markers found in Odd Fellows Cemetery — and the only one that is definitely it the head of a grave. Gay was a Spanish-American War veteran.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2023.