Johnny Matthews and Luther Barber [Barbour] were fined ten dollars each (or was it $22?) after an altercation over two bottles of Coca-Cola at Matthews’ cold drink stand on the Plank Road (roughly, Martin Luther King Parkway). State law prohibited the sale on Sunday of any goods other than “drugs, undertaking supplies, ice and those things absolutely necessary for the sick.”
This beautifully crisp photo depicts a gathering of Prince Hall Masons in front of Saint John A.M.E. Zion‘s distinctive Gothic arches during the church’s construction. Dated 1914-1915, I do not know the specific occasion for the photograph, or whether it features only members of Mount Hebron Lodge No. 42, whose lodge was just across Smith Street. I do know that it is fantastic in every detail.
Though my focus is on the men assembled at center, the edges of the image are rich with detail as well — the boy in a newsboy cap perched on the scaffolding; the boys peering over the heads of the suited men; the few girls clustered at right, with a woman in a magnificent hat just behind them; another woman at extreme left, visible only as an eye under the wide brim of her hat.
Of the 36 men depicted, as of now, I have only been able to identify only eleven certain and a few possibles. Do you recognize any others?
And a question to any Prince Hall Masons, do the medallions, swords, aprons, or other regalia disclose anything public about the wearer’s status or office within the lodge?
[Sidenote: There is something incredibly moving about seeing these men in the early part of what arguably was Black Wilson’s Golden Age in the 1910s and ’20s. Though the photograph was staged, their expressions (other than Sam Vick, who was obviously accustomed to formal portrait-posing) are almost candid. They are a mix of old heads, born in the final days of slavery, and a new generation of young lions. I was surprised by my instant recognition of Charles and Camillus Darden and William Hines. It took me longer to realize my own grandfather stood at far left. My identification of Arthur N. Darden is based in part on his close resemblance to his mother, Dinah Scarborough Darden. Most of the others I was able to name only after reviewing other photos of men I know to have been Masons. Leonard Barnes, astonishingly, I recognized because of his close resemblance to his grandson, who was my childhood playmate.]
Many thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for the copy of this photograph. And a special shout-out to Stanley Horton, Past Worshipful Master, Foundation Lodge #592, Prince Hall Affiliated, for his help in identifying offices and emblems.
[Updates: Rev. Halley B. Taylor and the Jones brothers added 3 September 2020.]
John F. Bruton was the keynote speaker on opening day and delivered this strange and eye-poppingly (by today’s standards) offensive homily: “One thing you people cannot afford to stop, it is your native song. When you cut that off, you cut off your right hand. I remember my old mammy as she clasped me to her withered bosom singing ‘These bones shall rise again.’ Then I was taught the meaning of immortality, ‘when I can read my title clear,’ she sang. I knew that she was going to read her title in the skies. I do not know what heaven is, but I know she is there. As for me I’ll be content to spend the first thousand years there, listening to the angels singing, with that old mammy joining in the chorus, with her hand in mine leading me to my mother. That will be heaven for me. You can’t abandon those songs! When you do, you’d just as well turn this church into a moving picture show.”
The account of the annual lunch the Amos Hayes family hosted for the “help on the farm.” Hayes himself was a tenant farmer, renting his farm from Congressman Frederick A. Woodard, but he operated on a large scale and employed dozens of laborers. Sixty-seven attended the mid-day meal, 33 white and 34 black, seated separately at two long tables spread with “barbecue, chicken, pickles, bread, cake, and other good things to eat.”
Levi Jones clearly believed in the benefits of advertising to set himself apart from the crowded barbershop market in early 20th-century Wilson. This notice touted his business at 108 East Nash Street, opposite Lumina Theatre. (Wilson changed its street numbering system about 1921; Jones’ shop was located at what is now a parking lot at the corner of Tarboro and West Nash Streets.)