Author: Lisa Y. Henderson

History. Genealogy. Culture.

Historic cemetery registration.

Last week, I registered Rountree, Odd Fellows, Vick, and Oakdale Cemeteries as historic cemeteries with North Carolina’s Office of State Archaeology, Division of Archives and History. Registration does not offer protection per se, but does guarantee their placement on state maps of sites of archaeological interest.

As an example, the form for Vick Cemetery:

 

VOTE.

Black Wide-Awake‘s temporal cut-off is generally 1949, but 2020 calls for flexibility. If you are of voting age, but are not registered to vote, I don’t know what will stir you. Here’s a story for you though.

This receipt acknowledged the seven dollars my grandmother paid dentist George K. Butterfield for services on 17 September 1955. I’m not sure why she saved it, but perhaps the times felt historic. Just a few months before this office visit, Dr. Butterfield had thwarted the city’s voter suppression shenanigans to win a second term on Wilson’s Board of Aldermen. In 1957, to make sure this didn’t happen again, Wilson dynamited its ward system. 

Dr. Butterfield’s son George K., Jr. is, of course, the United States Congressman for the 1st District of North Carolina, which includes Wilson County. “That is the thing that has precipitated my whole interest in law and politics,” Butterfield Jr. told the Wilson Daily Times in a 3 February 2003 article, “I’ve learned how government can work for you and against you. And in this case, it worked against a significant portion of the community.”

The bullet-point version:

  • In 1928, Dr. Butterfield was one of 46 Black registered voters in Wilson.  
  • In the 1930s and ’40s, several organizations formed to support political and educational advancement of African-Americans, including voter registration.
  • By the early 1950s, about 500 Black voters were registered, almost all of whom lived in the city’s Third Ward, a long narrow precinct that crossed Wilson east to west.
  • In early 1953, Dr. Butterfield announced his candidacy for a seat on Wilson’s Board of Aldermen, the precursor to today’s city council. He drew immediate widespread support from unionized tobacco leafhouse workers (many of whom were women), churches, and the small African-American professional class.
  • A few days before the election, incumbent Herbert Harriss challenged the eligibility of 185 voters. Of 150 voters struck from the rolls as a result, all but three were Black. 
  • On election night, Dr. Butterfield and Harriss each received 382 votes, but Butterfield objected that the registrar had violated regulations requiring votes be counted where ballot boxes were opened. City Attorney W.A. Lucas conceded the count was irregular, but declared the point moot, as there were tie-breaker provisions. Over Dr. Butterfield’s expostulations, the City Clerk placed the two candidates’ names in a hat, blindfolded a three year-old girl, and asked her to draw a name.
  • Dr. Butterfield won!
  • Two years later, the City of Wilson rolled up its sleeves to get in front of Dr. Butterfield’s re-election. First, it threw out all the registration books, ostensibly to clear the rolls of dead or otherwise ineligible voters. It gave citizens one month to re-register by notifying their ward registrar at his house on a weekday, a difficult feat for factory workers and domestics working on the other side of town from their homes. Next, the city expanded Ward 3 on its western end to pull in hundreds more white voters. And the Wilson Daily Times did its part to highlight the peril by publishing running tallies of new registrations by race. 

Wilson Daily Times, 8 April 1955.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 April 1955.

  • On election day, 93% of all eligible Black voters voted — let me say that again, NINETY-THREE PERCENT OF ALL ELIGIBLE BLACK VOTERS VOTED — and Dr. Butterfield won again! (Won’t He do it?)
  • In 1957, faced with another Butterfield campaign, the City went for the nuclear option and chucked the whole ward system for “new and fair” city-wide, at-large seats. Further, to thwart bloc voting, voters would not be able to vote for just one candidate. Rather, they had to select six or their ballots would be invalidated. Jim Crow protocols prevented Dr. Butterfield from campaigning directly to white voters, and he was unable to counter when his white opponents sneered at his ties to “special interest groups” like the NAACP and cast him as a candidate solely interested in advancing Black issues. (One, oh, the hypocrisy! Two, doesn’t this all sound familiar?)
  • Unsurprisingly, Dr. Butterfield placed eighth of 16 candidates and was the sole incumbent to lose his seat. 

The story didn’t end there, of course. Butterfield’s final defeat coincided with the emergence of new grassroots civil rights organizing efforts to attack segregation and racism in every corner of Wilson life. I’m shining a timely light on Dr. Butterfield’s pioneering political career to remind you that there is nothing new under the sun; that voter suppression is the weapon of choice whenever you show your strength; and that, though you may not win every battle, you can do no less than the Black men and women of Wilson who defied their government and risked it all to vote over and over and over. 

“Victors in May 3 City Elections Are Given Oaths of Office Today,” Wilson Daily Times, 6 June 1955.

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The deadline for registration in Georgia is October 5.

The deadline for registration in North Carolina is October 9.

For the full, fascinating source of my summary of Dr. Butterfield’s elections, please read Charles W. McKinney Jr., Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina (2010).

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P.S. Right on time — today, the first in the New York Times’ video series, Stressed Election, focuses on voter suppression in Georgia, where I now live. 

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006810942

The obituary of Moses Woodard.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 August 1928.

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In 1918, Moses Woodard registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 6 November 1873; lived at 615 Darden, Wilson; worked as a laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company, Ltd.; and his nearest relative was wife Mary Woodard.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 615 Darden, carpenter Moses Woodard, 47, and wife Mary, 32.

“Septicemia due to a burn on finger. Arm had to be opened in two places”

Hat tip to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing this clipping.

Pioneer Boys run from Goldsboro to Wilson.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 June 1928.

  • James T. Parker — James Thomas Parker. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1003 Washington Street, chauffeur George Connie, 41; wife Nona, 36, laundress; and laborers Cora Parker, 38, widowed cook, and her son James T., 15.
  • Jim L. Parker — probably, in the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker James L (c) student h 305 Pender
  • Joe Haskins — Joseph Franklin Haskins. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1200 Wainwright, valued at $1700, Coca-Cola Plant laborer Damp Haskins, 24; wife Sudie B., 21; children Damp Jr., 2, and Hellen, 6 months; mother Hester, 72; brother Jospeh , 18; sister Martha Pitt, 52, servant; and nephew Jim R. Haskins, 10.
  • Fletcher Pierce — Fletcher Forest Pierce. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 905 Vance Street, insurance agent Nazareth Pierce, 54; wife Ada, seamstress; son Fletcher, 17, and daughter Elmira, 25. 
  • Esmond Langley — Esmond Connell Langley. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 Viola Street, grocery store merchant Jarrette J. Langley; wife Mary, 49; and children Ivary, 21 public school teacher, Esmond, 19, grocery store delivery boy, Ruttena, 16, Alcesta, 14, and Eunice, 8.
  • Chas. W. Gilliam — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 805 East Nash Street, valued at $8000, physician Matthew S. Gilliam, 45; wife Annie L., 42; and children Charles W., 17, Matthew, 15, Emily, 13, George T., 12, and Herman, 10.
  • Chas. Edwards — probably: Charles Edwards registered for the World War II draft in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born in Wilson, N.C., on 20 July 1912; he lived at 1342 Fulton Street, Brooklyn (updated to 1165 Fulton Street); his contact was sister Scottie Carter, 150 Wyckoff Street, Brooklyn; and he was employed by Etta Webb, 1144-A Fulton Street, Brooklyn.
  • James E. Farmer — James Edward Farmer. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 706 East Green, plasterer John A. Farmer, 60; wife Nona, 61; sons James E., 17, and Woodie, 22, barber; and daughter-in-law Savana, 22, lodge bookkeeper. [His parents, in fact, were John W. and Edmonia Barnes Farmer.]

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing this clipping.

Shaw ’49.

From the 1949 edition of The Bear, the yearbook of Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina:

  • Helen Jean Harrison

In the 1930 census of Bailey township, Nash County: farmer Ellie W. Harris, 45; wife Rosa A., 44; and children Carrie L.,21, William E., 19, Ojetta, 18, Lila M., 16, Ethel M., 14, Mattie E., 13, Robert H., 10, Jessie L., 10, Beatrice, 8, George L., 6, and Hellin J., 2. Ellie, Rosa, and their four oldest children were born in South Carolina; Ethel in Virginia; and the remaining in North Carolina.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 303 Lane Street, Eli Harrison, 56, mechanic helper in “carpentering”; wife Rosa, 54, tobacco factory laborer; and children Ethel, 23, Jessie, 19, Beatrix, 17, Leroy, 16, and Helen, 12. Eli, Rosa and Ethel Harrison was South Carolina-born; the others, North Carolina.

  • Claretha Jones

A rowboat capsized, drowning two.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 May 1928.

  • Tom Wilson

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Finch Mill Road, farmer Thomas W. Wilson, 42; wife Anna, 33; and children Winnie, 12, Vina, 10, Corina, 8, Hester, 6, Thomas, 4, and Georgianna, 2.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Tom Wilson, 56; wife Leanna, 40; and children Sarah, 17, Ester, 15, Thomas, 14, Georgia, 11, Nancy, 9, Gola, 7, and Margie, 3; and sister Nance, 16.

Thomas Wilson Jr. died 20 May 1928 in Wilson township, Wilson County, “drowned, boat capsized.” Per his death certificate, he was 22 years old; single; a farmer; born in Wilson County to Thomas Wilson Sr. of Caswell County and Leanna Briggs of Pearson [Person] County; and buried in Rountree cemetery.

  • Babe Tyson

Leanda Tyson died 20 May 1928 in Wilson township, Wilson County, “drowned, boat capsized.” Per his death certificate, he was 18 years old; single; a farmer; born in Wayne County to Walter Tyson and Olive Parker; and buried in Rountree cemetery. Walter Tyson, Elm City, was informant.

  • Jarvis Lofton

Eddie Jarvis Lofton registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 1 May 1911 in Wayne County, N.C.; lived at 816 Mercer Street; his contact was mother Tynce Lofton, 902 West Broad Street; and he worked for Loftin Cafe, Tarboro Street, Wilson.

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing this clipping.

511 South Pender Street.

The one-hundred-twenty-third 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.

The nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District lists this description of 505 South Pender [originally Stantonsburg Street]: “ca. 1922; 1 story; shotgun with shed-roofed porch and gable returns.”

In the 1928 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Barnes Lena (c) dom h 511 Stantonsburg

In the 1930 Wilson, N.C., city directory, the house was vacant.

In 1940, Prince Mincey registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 18 March 1908 in Wilson; lived at 511 Stantonsburg Street; his contact was wife Alice Hinnh [Hannah] Mincey; and he worked for C.J. Moore, Wilson.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 511 Stantonsburg Street, rented for $8/month, fertilizer plant laborer Prince Mincy, 30, and wife Alice, 29.

The 1941 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Mincey Prince (c; Alice) tob wkr h 511 Stantonsburg

In the 1947 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Mincey Prince (c; Alice) carp h 511 Stantonsburg

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.

The streets of East Wilson, part 2.

Many of East Wilson’s streets were laid out on parcels of land owned by African-Americans and still bear the names they chose.

  • Suggs and Moore Streets

G. Washington Suggs — and later his children, especially Daniel C. Suggs — owned large parcels of land south of present-day Hines Street as early as 1870. Suggs Street is named for the family. Moore Street is likely named for Serena Suggs Moore or her husband Edward Moore. Edward Moore was an early principal of Wilson Academy, the private school that educated African-American children in the decades after Emancipation.

  • Blount Street

Calvin Blount owned land adjacent to Washington Suggs and purchased his property even earlier than Suggs did.

  • Cemetery Street

In 1870, Washington Suggs purchased a lot adjacent to “the grave yard lot” and the African church, south of downtown between the railroad and what is now Pender Street. In the 1890s, the town of Wilson formally established a public cemetery for African-Americans in this area and called it Oakdale. The cemetery was active until the 1920s, though decreasingly so after Vick Cemetery was established in 1913 further from the center of town. In 1941, Wilson disinterred the graves at Oakdale and reburied them in Rest Haven Cemetery. Per Wilson’s Cemetery Commission, no records exist of the names of those whose remains were moved.

The obituary of Rev. James C. Bess.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 April 2002.

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In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason Clinton Bess, 37; wife Minnie, 26; and children Hampton, 7, Ruth G., 6, and James C., 4. 

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 Pender Street, brickmason Clinton Bess, 40; wife Minnie, 30; children Glenwood, 5, Gladis, 15, and James, 12; and boarders Mary Reid, 21, and Martha Robinson, 25, teachers.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 Pender Street, widow Minnie Best, 48; and children Hartford, 30, delivery boy for retail dry goods business; Ruth, 27, teacher at Williamston School; James, 23, janitor at Oettinger’s store; and Glenwood, 10, grocery delivery boy.

James Clinton Bess registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 9 November 1915 in Wilson County; lived at 208 Pender; his contact was mother Minnie Bess; and he worked for Oettinger’s Estate, Wilson.

[N.B.: “Wilson Training School” was another name for the Wilson Industrial and Normal School.]