Month: July 2023

Mark your calendars.

I’ve got a busy week coming up, and I hope to see some of you here or there.

Thursday evening, August 3, I’ll be in Greenville, North Carolina, at East Carolina Village and Farm Museum, delivering a talk on identifying documents to advance research on enslaved ancestors.

Friday morning — well, I can’t tell you about that right now, but stay tuned.

Saturday morning, August 5, at 10:00 A.M., in partnership with faith leaders from across the city of Wilson, Lane Street Project has organized a reconsecration of Vick Cemetery. Thank God we don’t need a vote of city council to do spiritual work. This will be an ecumenical service — we recognize that we don’t know the specific faith journeys of all who are buried in Vick. Please come. Bring your prayers, your salat, your affirmations, your good vibes as we reclaim Vick Cemetery as a sacred space.

Finally, Saturday evening, I’ll join the Freeman-Hagans Family Reunion to deliver a talk at their reunion dinner. (This is a private event, of course.) This will be my first time addressing a family group other than my own, so I’m pretty excited!

The last will and testament of James Bullock Woodard (1863).

I James B. Woodard of the County of Wilson, State of North Carolina, being of sound mind but advanced in years, & aware of the uncertainty of life, do make, constitute & declare this to be my last will & testament in manner & form as follows.

First, it is my desire that my burial expenses & just debts be paid by my executor, hereinafter named, out of any money on hand at my death, the sale of my perishable estate & the proceeds of my notes, bonds & accounts.

Second, I give & devise to my Eldest daughter Elizabeth Ann Stancil wife of Thomas Stancil the land on which she now lives, known as the Atkinson land containing about two hundred & twenty acres more or less and adjoining the lands of Larry Lassiter, Hilliard Thomas & others, to have and to hold to the said Elizabeth Ann Stancil her heirs & assigns. I also give and bequeath to my said daughter Elizabeth Ann Stancil, the following Slaves, negro man Elvin, woman Feriba & girl Dellah and their increase from this time, & also I give to my said daughter Elizabeth Ann one bed bedstead & bed furniture, which bed bedstead & bed furniture is at this time in said Elizabeth Ann’s possession, the said slaves above named, bed, bedstead & bed furniture, to have & to hold to the said Elizabeth Ann Stancil her heirs and assigns.

Third. I give & devise to my son Gray W. Woodard the upper lot or portion of my land, being in the Northeast corner, bounded as follows beginning at a pine at a corner of the Martha Parker line in the plot of the division of Johnathan Tartts decd land, recorded in Edgecombe County, thence down the old Thomas line to a black gum in a marsh, thence up the various courses of the said marsh to a ditch, thence in a direct line the course of the ditch to a Stake in the upper line of Catherine Smiths lot or portion in the aforesaid division, thence up the said line to D a corner in said division a post oak & pine, thence up the line of said plot to the beginning, to have and to hold to the said Gray W. Woodard his heirs & assigns. I also give & bequeath to my son Gray W. Woodard negro man Amos to have & to hold to the said Gray W. Woodard his heirs & assigns, and I also give & bequeath to my son Gray W. Woodard one bed, bedstead & bed furniture, one horn bridle & saddle, which bed, bed stead & bed furniture, horn, bridle & saddle the said Gray W. Woodard has in his possession.

Fourth. I give & devise to my son John B. Woodard the middle part of my land, included in the following boundaries, beginning at corner D, a post oak & pine thence in a southerly direction with the line of the aforesaid plot to E a corner pine, thence with the lower line of the Catherine Smith lot to the branch, the dividing line between Robt Bynum & myself, thence up the various courses of the dividing line to the corner A a sweet gum, thence with the line of the plat to L thence with the old Thomas line to the black gum in the Marsh, the aforesaid corner in Gray W. Woodard’s above-devised tract, thence with the above line of Gray W. along the marsh & ditch & on to upper line of Catherine Smiths lot, a stake, thence with said upper line to the beginning, to have & to hold to my son John B. Woodard his heirs & assigns.

I also give & bequeath to my son John B. Woodard negro man London to have & to hold to the said John B. Woodard his heirs & assigns & I also give to my son John B. Woodard one bed bedstead & furniture his choice, one horn bridle & saddle.

Fifth. I give & devise to my son George W. Woodard the balance of my home tract of land on which my dwelling and improvements are bounded as follows beginning at E a pine, a corner in the aforesaid plat, in the lower line of Catharine Smiths lot, thence with the said lower line to the branch, the dividing line between Robt Bynum & myself, thence with the branch to the lower line of said plat Bynum’s Corner, thence to H, a lightwood post a corner, thence with the line of said plat to the beginning to have and to hold to the said George W. Woodard his heirs & assigns. I also give & bequeath to my son George W. Woodard the following slaves, Howell & Jessee to have & to hold to the said George W. Woodard his heirs & assigns and I also give to my son George W. Woodard one bed bedstead & furniture, second choice, one horn bridle & saddle.

Sixth. I give & bequeath to my daughter Margaret P. Batts wife of W.W. Batts the following slaves Sarah, Florence, Phebe, Mary & young Sarah and their increase from the present time, to have & to hold to said Margarett P. Batts her heirs & assigns. I also give to my daughter Margarett P. Batts one bed, bedstead & furniture which she has in her possession.

Seventh. I give & bequeath to my daughter Mary J. Edwards wife of W. H. Edwards the following slaves, Harriett, Debba, Ben, Ned, Rose & Fanny and their increase from this time, to have & to hold to said Mary J. Edwards her heirs & assigns. I also give to my daughter Mary J. Edwards one bed bedstead & furniture which she has in her possession.

Eight, It is my will and desire that should I before my death, purchase the inheritance or fee simple in the portion of my land given to John B. Woodard & known as Catharine Smiths lot, in which I now have but an estate for life, that the same shall insure to his benefit & go to the said John B. Woodard & his heirs.

Ninth, It is my will and desire that all of my farming tools, including my blacksmiths tools, carpenters tools & coopers tolls shall be divided equally between my three sons George W. Woodard, John B. Woodard & Gray W. Woodard, by three disinterested neighbors selected by my executor.

Tenth. I give to my son George W. Woodard my patent cider mill, cider press and all the necessary fixings pertaining to the cider press & mill including the barrells.

Eleventh. I give to my three daughters Mary J. Edwards, Margarett P. Batts & Elizabeth Ann Stancil all of my stock of horses, hogs, cattle, sheep & poultry, not otherwise disposed of in this my will to be equally divided as near as possible by three disinterested freeholders, said freeholders to be appointed by my Executor.

Twelfth. I give to my friend Jesse Baker pastor of the White Oak Baptist Church [in Saratoga] one hundred dollars to be paid to him out of any monies belonging to my estate in the hand of my executor.

Thirteenth. It is my will and desire, that all the residue of my estate, after taking out the gifts & devises, shall be sold at public auction by my executor and if there should be any surplus after the payment of my debts, legacies & expinces, that such surplus shall be equally divided between my three daughters, Elizabeth Ann Stancil, Margarett P. Batts & Mary Jane Edwards, Share & Share alike.

I do hereby appoint my friend Robt Bynum my executor, to execute this my last will & testament according to its true meaning & intent. Should Robt Bynum fail from any cause at present unknown, from acting as my executor, it is my desire that my nephew William Woodard should act in his stead Carrying out the true intent & meaning of this my last will & testament.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand & seal this the 22 day of June A. D. 1863. /s/ Jas. B. Woodard {seal}

In the presence of the following witnesses who sign at my request & in my presence /s/ William Thomas, Robt. Bynum


James B. Woodard’s will — drafted six months after the Emancipation Proclamation — included bequests of 18 enslaved people, at least seven of whom — Howell, Elvin, Feriba, Sarah, Amos, Harriett, and London — were the children of London Woodard (1797-1870) and his first wife, Venus (??-circa 1845). In 1854, J.B. Woodard sold London to London’s second wife, a free woman of color named Penelope “Penny” Lassiter. London received his license to preach shortly after the Civil War ended and founded a church in Wilson that still bears his name.

  • Howell Woodard was born about 1818.  In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Howell Woodard, 52, Rodah, 40, and children (and possibly grandchildren) London, 23, Harriet, 20, Venus, 19, Ferebee and Virginia, 17, Mary, 14, Sarah and Penelope, 12, Rodah, 10, Puss, 6, John, 8, Kenny, 5, Fanny, 1, and Martha, 1 month. Rhoda and their children appear to have been enslaved elsewhere. Howell Woodard died before 19 March 1874, when his wife was remarried to Abram Farmer.
  • Elvin Woodard was born about 1822. On 4 April 1866, he and Deby Barnes registered their cohabitation with a Wilson County justice of the peace. In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Elvin Woodard, 47, Deber, 48, and children William, 23, Sylvia, 18, and Amanda, 16. Debbie Barnes Woodard had been enslaved elsewhere.
  • Ferebe Woodard was born about 1828. In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Benj’n Artis, 46, farm laborer; wife Phebee, 42; and children Mary, 2, Julia, 6, Sarah, 17, Debby, 18, and Benjamin, 20.
  • Sarah Woodard was born about 1838. In 1866, she and Warren Rountree [brother of Hilliard Ellis, below] registered their 16-year cohabitation with a Wilson County justice of the peace. In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Warren Rountree, 40; wife Sarah 32; and Florence, 18, Rhebecca, 17, Mary, 11, Howell, 7, Sallie, 5, Lou, 2, and Warren Jr., 20.
  • Amos Woodard was born about 1840. In the 1870 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Amos Woodard, 30, farm laborer. He married Carrie Ellis, daughter of Hill and Ferbee Ellis, on 27 March 1871 at Hill Ellis’ home.
  • Harriet Woodard was born about 1842. In 1866, Harriet Woodard and Alfred Woodard registered their ten-year cohabitation with a Wilson County justice of the peace. In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Alfred Woodard, 40; wife Harriet, 28; and children Ned, 14, Rosa, 15, Zilly, 4, London, 3, and Minny, 2 months. Harriet died before 13 February 1873, when her husband Alfred married her widowed sister Sarah Woodard Rountree.
  • London Woodard Jr. was born about 1844.

The remaining ten were mostly London and Venus Woodard’s grandchildren. Take a look again at Woodard’s distributions. Sometimes he kept mothers and children together. Other times, children were paired with their aunts instead.

  • Dellah — circa 1867, Della Woodard, daughter of Ben Woodard [Artis] and Fereba Woodard, married Henry Woodard, son of Lewis Shallington and Pleasant Woodard, in Wilson County.
  • Jesse
  • Florence — probably the daughter of Sarah Woodard and her husband, Warren Rountree, who was enslaved elsewhere. See the 1870 census entry above.
  • Phebe — probably the daughter of Sarah Woodard and her husband, Warren Rountree. See the 1870 census entry above — she is perhaps “Rhebecca.”
  • Mary — probably the daughter of Sarah Woodard and her husband, Warren Rountree. See the 1870 census entry above.
  • young Sarah — possibly, the daughter of Sarah Woodard and her husband, Warren Rountree, who was enslaved elsewhere. However, she does not appear to be the “Sallie,” age 5, listed in  the 1870 census entry above. More likely, she was the daughter of Ferebee Woodard and her husband, Benjamin Artis, who was enslaved elsewhere. See the 1870 census entry above.
  • Debba — probably the daughter of Ferebee Woodard and her husband, Benjamin Artis, who was enslaved elsewhere. See the 1870 census entry above.
  • Ben — probably the son of Ferebee Woodard and her husband, Benjamin Artis. See the 1870 census entry above.
  • Ned — probably the son of Harriet Woodard and her husband Alfred Woodard, who was enslaved elsewhere. See the 1870 census entry above.
  • Rose — though London and Venus Woodard had a daughter Rose, based on the way she listed in the will, this Rose appears to have been a child in 1863. She was probably the daughter of Harriet Woodard and her husband Alfred Woodard. See the 1870 census entry above.
  • Fanny

The Wilson diaspora.

As I was about to board the elevator in my office building, the shirt pocket of the gentleman next to me caught my eye. In large letters on his gold name tag: SHERROD.

“I grew up in a place where there are lots of Sherrods,” I said suddenly. “Eastern North Carolina.”

He turned into face me fully. “I’m from eastern North Carolina, too,” he responded. “Wilson.”

I screamed a little. “What?!?! Get out of here. I’m from Wilson, too!”

He asked my surname, and when I answered, he said, “… Reggie Henderson?”

“That’s my dad!”

“Coach Hen, we called him.”

“That’s my dad!”

He told me he had been sorry to hear of my father’s passing and asked after my mother, then mentioned our next-door neighbor Herbert Woodard, who also recently passed. We talked about a few people we knew in common, and I asked if he’d graduated from Darden, “Yes,” he said, “class of 1970.”

“The last class!,” I exclaimed, and he nodded.

He didn’t know if he is related to my Viola Street cousins, but I claim John Sherrod anyway. Black Wide-Awake!

Colored High team debates Albion Academy.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 March 1932.


  • Herbert Reid
  • Herman Walker — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: tobacco factory worker Tante Bynum,  50; wife Charlotte, 32; and children John, 9, Carl, 5, Emma, 14, and Herman, 9.
  • W.H.A. Howard — principal William H.A. Howard.
  • Albion Academy


A first look at the Reid Street pool.

Every once in a while, we step outside Black Wide-Awake‘s period of focus to highlight an especially interesting document.

Reid Street Community Center opened in 1939 as, of course, a segregated facility. Long-time plans to build a state-of-the-art “community center building for the whites” (as it was called in a 11 August 1954 Daily Times editorial, and thus the moniker “White Rec,” as it was known for decades and maybe still is) screeched to a halt in early 1954 after the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” standards of racial segregation were unconstitutional.

Opined the Daily Times editorialist:

The exhortations worked, and voters (who were largely white) elected to fund both community centers. Architectural sketches of the proposed new (or renewed) buildings dropped in March 1955, and here’s the proposed updated facility at Reid Street with its big new pool.

A few features were pared away before final construction, but anyone, like me, who learned to swim at Reid Street as late as the 1980s will immediately recognize the high and low diving boards and the lifeguard’s chair. The overhang shown shading the exit from the locker rooms, where you turned in your wire clothes basket and received an enormous numbered safety pin, didn’t make the final cut. Nor did the tennis courts, the large wading pool, or the landscaping.

Courtesy of Google Maps, here’s an aerial rear view of Reid Street Community Center shot when the pool was closed during the pandemic. It’s looking a little worse for the 68 years of wear since 1955, and the $1.9 million overhaul recently announced is long overdue.

Lane Street Project: an earlier look at Lane Street.

My ears pricked up when I spotted this volume at Wilson County Register of Deeds office, but it wasn’t as helpful as I thought. It holds “plans and profiles” of proposed state highway projects in the county. Bishop L.N. Forbes Street, formerly known as Lane Street and State Road 1564, only appears once, and then only at its junction with  Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, also known as Highways 264 and 58. I’d hoped to find documents related to the street’s paving some time in the late 1980s, but as paving didn’t happen until the street was annexed into city limits, it likely was not a state-funded project. 

Still, perusing the volume was not a complete waste of time. Page 1-D of Project 6.3410029 is one of the plat maps prepared in 1968 for a project to widen and improve 264/58 from U.S. 301 (then the city limit) to the split where NC 58 veers south toward Stantonsburg. In the map detail below, the old Rountree Missionary Baptist Church (a clapboard building I vaguely remember from childhood) is bottom left. Running alongside the church lot to the right is the eastern end of Lane Street. It’s a little difficult to see, but in heavy script spanning the street is “30′” over a double-ended arrow, then “Exist. R/W,” in other words, an existing thirty-foot right-of-way. 

A slightly closer look reveals the street width (highlighted in red) within the boundaries of the 30-foot right-of-way. (The little blob by the road, followed by, “GUM”? That’s a sweetgum tree standing inside the right-of-way.) Recall that today’s right-of-way is 60 feet wide. 

It’s difficult to know how close to scale this map is, but Lane Street/S.R. 1546 appears to be about half the width of the right-of-way, or about 15 feet wide. (For perspective, a single-car residential driveway is 10-12 feet wide.) Lane Street was unpaved in 1968 (and 20 or so years thereafter), but was a maintained road, meaning it was regularly scraped and resurfaced with fresh dirt or gravel. However, in the first several decades of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick Cemeteries, this would have not have been much more than a dirt track, heavily rutted from wagon wheels and impossibly muddy after hard rains. 

1968, of course, was well after the period of active burials in the Lane Street cemeteries. A view of the older road is useful, however, to envision where graves may now lie in relation to the modern road and right-of-way.

Reclaiming the Black Past: an Artifactual Journey.

Fantastic programming coming up from Johnston County Museum of History! I’ve featured the Boyette cabin here and have just learned there may be a direct Wilson County link. (More to come on that.) Don’t miss the opportunity to hear Joseph McGill Jr. of The Slave Dwelling Project speak!

Hat tip to Beth Nevarez for sharing this flyer.  

Lane Street Project: the unanswered emails to city officials.

I surely hope that when residents contact council members for ordinary constituent services, they get better service than this. Don’t be fooled by performative politics, folks. Watch what they do, not what they say. (If they say anything at all.)

In the minutes after the May 11 open forum on the Vick Cemetery GPR report, Mayor Carlton Stevens and Councilmember Gillettia Morgan asked if I could provide a few fast-action items prior to council’s next agenda work session on June 1. Here was my response:

After four days of silence, I wrote:

Morgan replied; the Mayor did not:

I responded with thanks and another quick-hit item.

Morgan promptly responded with the attachment enlarged below.

She provided an update of actions taken by council, noting that the land survey was complete; the surveillance cameras were in place; and New South Associates had okayed and would oversee installation of a fence. She also agreed to place a copy of the GPR report with the library and requested that I provide a copy of my presentation as well. No mention of the independent investigation. Or the reconsecration. (For the record, there is a reconsecration service planned at Vick on August 5, but it is not City-planned or -sponsored. I reached out to two local ministers who got the ball rolling.)

I was a little confused about the “survey” part and asked if a survey map had been produced already.

Morgan’s answer is ambiguous. I initially assumed that by “survey report” she meant a land survey map, but I now think she meant a final GPR survey report.

I responded with some notes about the survey flags and urged that the areas at the edges of the cemetery be scanned with GPR. I did not receive a response to this email.

Fifteen days later, I wrote to ask for confirmation that the City had not ordered the contractor to prepare a survey map. The City is not being transparent, I asserted. In keeping with the theme — no response.

I followed up after four days. Crickets.

On June 29, I emailed all seven council members, the Mayor, the city manager, and the various city officials whose fingerprints are all over decisions about Vick Cemetery. I repeated my request, first made in December 2019, for a full survey map of Vick. (Note that some people received duplicate emails. That’s because, in a shocking lapse of cybersecurity and public records protocols, several council members conduct city business using personal email addresses.) Not one person responded.

Twelve days later, I circled back to ask the Mayor and Councilmember Morgan their positions on the survey map. Neither has responded.

On July 13, I asked City Clerk Tonya West to confirm that the GPR report provided on April 18 was not the final version and to ask if the final would include updates from New South’s June 29 activity. West has not responded.

On July 23, I emailed West and city attorney Jim Cauley a public records request for documents related to Vick Cemetery. Details of the request to come. Neither West nor Cauley has acknowledged receipt of the request.


Expect more. Demand more.

We want a full survey map of the property.

We want GPR work completed at the edges of Vick and in the public right-of-way, and we want a soil penetrometer survey of any wooded areas as recommended by New South Associates.

We want engagement with the descendant community on any proposals for restoration and repair at Vick Cemetery and certainly before any decisions are made about anything, including fences and parking lots. There’s much more to talk about.

We want transparency and accountability.