Month: August 2023

A love story.

Samuel Farmer stayed chasing runaways. Two weeks after disappearing into the inky darkness of a winter night, Davy slipped back into Farmer’s quarters to steal away his wife Malvina.

Tarboro Free Press, 19 February 1833.

$60 Reward.

RAN AWAY from the Subscriber, on Tuesday night, 22d January last, negro man


Aged about 27 or 28 years, 5 feet 6 or 7 inches high, well built, dark complexion, has a scar about an inch and a half in length on the forehead near the hair, and several scars on his head. Davy came home clandestinely on Tuesday, 5th Feb. and took off with him his wife MALVINA, aged about 21 or 22 years, dark complexion and well grown. A reward of $50 will be given for Davy, and $10 for Malvina, if both or either of them be delivered to me, or secured in any jail so that I get them again. All persons are forewarned harboring, employing, or carrying off said negroes under penalty of the law. SAMUEL FARMER.

Edgecombe Co. Feb. 12, 1833

Lane Street Project: a closer look at these power poles.

Something about these power poles was vexing my spirit.

There is the terrible fact that they and their guy wires lie inside the boundaries of Vick Cemetery, but my suspicion was about something worse.

Back on July 13, I posted video of a morning walk in Vick Cemetery. At 2:23, I stop at power pole #4 and zoom in on a small plaque affixed to its side. “Ah!,” I exclaimed, “1997.”

“So, one year after the City did this [camera pans across the empty cemetery], it put in these poles, which undoubtedly replaced poles that were here previously.”

Undoubtedly replaced poles that were here previously”? Did I overspeak?

Wilson Energy’s Substation No. 2 was constructed in the mid-1960s after Wilson got out of the electricity generation business and entered into an agreement with Carolina Power & Light to distribute CP&L’s electricity.

Utility poles line both sides of Bishop L.N. Forbes Street between Substation 2 and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Those on the north side are smaller wooden poles, the ordinary kind that carry low- and medium-voltage electrical lines and telecommunication lines. On the south side — the cemetery side — the poles are much taller and thicker, are made of steel, and appear to be transmission, rather than distribution, lines. (I’m not an electrical engineer or lineman, and I welcome a more precise identification of the type of pole, but it’s a minor point in this discussion.)

I had assumed that both sets of poles on B.L.N.F. Street were erected around the same time as the substation.

I was wrong.

The dirty truth is that the City of Wilson installed the steel power poles after it cleared Vick Cemetery, when it incontrovertibly knew this was the site of a public graveyard.

I’ve shared a 1994 aerial photograph of Vick Cemetery, but its poor resolution did not allow a close examination of the landscape. However, a couple of weeks ago, I received United States Geologic Survey aerial images of Vick Cemetery taken in 1993 and 1998.

Vick Cemetery, March 1993.

The ’93 image is also pretty low-resolution, and I set it aside (figuratively speaking) to look at the 1998 shot. 1998 was fuzzy, too, but I immediately noticed a difference between the two images. 1998 is a mid-winter shot, taken in the morning as the elongated shadows of power poles stretched across what was then known as Lane Street. They’re a little faint, so I’ve added yellow lines below to parallel their paths.

Here’s a current Google Maps image of the site with the five poles clearly visible.

I went back to take a look at 1993. 1998 — power poles. 1993 — no power poles.

The City cleared Vick Cemetery in 1995 and erected the central monument in 1996. In 1997, knowing full well that Vick and Rountree were cemeteries, the City ran a power line through them, sinking one wooden and three steel poles into Vick and one steel pole into Rountree.

Sit with that a minute.

After desecrating Vick cemetery by removing its headstones and leveling its surface, the City turned around and rammed power poles and guy wires into its graves.

Twenty-six years ago.

From Wilson County GIS’ website, here’s an image showing property lines (in orange) superimposed over part of Vick Cemetery. The bases of the steel poles on the south side of the street are plainly outside the public right-of-way and inside Vick Cemetery, which we know is chockfull of graves.

Here’s an angle from the ground, shot in mid-July. The yellowish specks in the grass to the right are the tops of the markers New South Associates placed to show graves detected along the cemetery’s border. Clearly, they lie outside the power pole.
Here’s this area in the grid 9 of New South’s report’s Appendix A, thick with graves.
And this gruesome shot at the other end of cemetery. Surely, when these poles were placed, workers unearthed evidence of damaged graves.


A survey map of Vick would make clear the location of power poles inside Vick Cemetery’s boundaries. Is this why the City is refusing to produce one?

On August 16, I submitted this public records request for records related to the power poles running alongside Vick Cemetery:

I have not received a response.

Mayor, Council, City Manager, Wilson Energy — what is your response to this outrage? Who is accountable for this further — and ongoing — abuse of Vick Cemetery’s dead? What is the plan for righting this continuing wrong?

Lane Street Project: New South’s updated recommendations.

The final report New South Associates submitted to the City on August 14 contained augmented recommendations. (The originals may be seen here.) The most notable change is the addition of a recommendation that the City develop a comprehensive cemetery management plan. My thoughts in red.

Tapping pines for turpentine.

Harper’s was not the only illustrated periodical. Ballou’s Pictorial had a short run the decade before the Civil War and on 12 May 1855 published a feature on North Carolina. The illustration above and description below depict a scene — other than the ship — that would have been commonplace in Wilson County:

“The yeoman with the axe has been engaged in ‘tapping’ these pines to obtain the crude turpentine, which exudes in great abundance. The negro hands are busy in directing its flow into the bung-holes of the barrels rolled against the trees for the purpose. A negro in the middle distance is making an incision in the hole of a pine tree with an axe. In the distance we behold a loaded ox-team with its driver, and far off a vessel laden with the exports of the State, under full sail. The turpentine in the form of tar and pitch is exported in great quantities and gives employment to between two and three thousand men.”

We Built This: the exhibit.

Preservation of Wilson presents

We Built This: Profiles of Black Architects and Builders in North Carolina

1 September-31 October 2023

Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House & African-American Museum
1202 Hines Street SE
Wilson, NC 27893

This traveling exhibit, presented by Preservation North Carolina, highlights the stories of those who constructed and designed many of North Carolina’s most treasured historic sites. Spanning more than three centuries, We Built This provides more than two dozen personal profiles and historic context on key topics including slavery and Reconstruction; the founding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Black churches; Jim Crow and segregation; and the rise of Black politicians and professionals.

10 A.M.–3 P.M.
Free Admission

Big thanks to Preservation North Carolina and Wilson Arts for helping bring this exhibit to Wilson.


Don’t miss this fantastic exhibit! Wilson’s most notable African-American builders were Oliver Nestus Freeman and John Mack Barnes, but other early craftsmen included brickmasons like Julius F. Freeman Jr. and Benjamin A. Harris Sr., and carpenters like Julius F. Freeman Sr., Short W. Barnes, John R. Reid, Louis Thomas Sr.,

Lane Street Project: the border markers.

Here’s the graphic I requested last week. New South Associates displayed it in its PowerPoint presentation to City Council, but did not include it in the final version of the GPR survey report.

The blue dots correspond to the little wooden blocks, spray-painted orange, that New South placed along three edges of Vick Cemetery on June 29. Each pair of blocks marks the head and foot of a grave close to or straddling Vick Cemetery’s current property lines. The City asked for this in service of its stubborn quest for a fence around the site.

It’s a little hard to see. I’ll zoom in. You might want to refresh your memory of our little videoed walk last month as you view these maps.

First, the street-edge of Grid 9, which runs from the parking lot past two power poles. At the far upper right, you’ll see a bit of yellow line. It marks the edge of the public right-of-way, and thus the cemetery’s present-day front boundary. New South did not survey the right-of-way, but there is no reason to believe there are no graves there. Look carefully at the fuzzy gray strip slanting across the image. This is the ditch. At the first power pole, at upper right, do you see where it widens a bit? That’s here, where runoff cascades after every hard rain, and crawfish flap their swimmerets. Several blue dots sit right on the line, and others just inside it, where a fence would run if anyone were so unwise as to install one.

Next, Grid 1, the northwest corner of the cemetery. The graves continue along the edge of the right-of-way. As we round the corner, we are in the corridor marked by Piedmont Natural Gas as the location of a natural gas pipeline easement (though no such easement was filed or recorded at Wilson County Register of Deeds.) In other words, as we’ve seen, there is a gas line running along the edge of the cemetery. There are also, as the blue dots indicate, several graves straddling the border.

Next, the middle section of the western edge. Again, several graves straddle the border.

Finally, the back section. The yellow line is the property line. New South surveyed to the line on the western edge of the property, so its red grid line is shown atop the property line. As New South did not survey all the way to the property line on the back edge of the cemetery, we don’t know where or how many graves lie in this narrow strip. Along the west side, several dots lie on the property line, and one completely outside it in the  natural gas pipeline easement.

Sunday school at Calvary, no. 3.

This photograph of Della Hines Barnes‘ Sunday School class at Calvary Presbyterian appears to have been taken at the same as this one. Della Barnes’ grandchildren Walter Dortch Hines and Elizabeth Scott Hines stand on either end of the front row. Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick‘s son Robert E. Vick stands between them in knickers. The three were born in 1908 and 1909, which dates the photo a little later than the 1915 earlier estimate. 

Thank you to an anonymous contributor.

Lane Street Project: credit where credit is due.

I shot these images of Vick Cemetery’s central monument one year ago. It was a whole, hot, disrespectful mess.


But here was the monument earlier this month, on the morning of our Reconsecration ceremony. Hats off to the Cemetery Commission’s grounds crew, who lopped, chopped, yanked, swept, edged, power-washed, and mulched this area to decency earlier this year.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2022 and August 2023.