Wilson Commercial Realty Company commissioned a survey in November 1925 of three commercial buildings it owned at 418, 420 and 422 East Nash Street between South Pettigrew Street and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, adjacent to the African-American-owned Commercial Bank.
The labels on the buildings — grocery store, clothing, barber shop — were perhaps intended to suggest suitable uses for the spaces, as they do not correlate with the businesses listed at those addresses in 1922 or 1925 city directories.
I have not been able to identify businesses for 418, which stood closest to the railroad.
In the center building, James Henry Barnes operated a barbershop at 420 1/2, which perhaps was a second floor space. Cutt Davis and James Mack operated the Baltimore Shoe Repair Shop at 420.
At 422, next to the bank, Leroy G. Hemingway operated a second-hand furniture dealer and repair shop, The Furniture Exchange.
The photos of the old church (since replaced) above and the Rosenwald-funded school, below, come courtesy of New Vester Missionary Baptist Church, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in the fall of 2022.
New Vester School was built on the two-teacher plan, but was later enlarged. The view above shows one of the two banks of six windows at the rear of the building.
Nearly all grave markers from the last 40 years or so are machine-cut, their lettering precise and even and utterly predictable. In Wilson County’s African-American cemeteries, however, even a casual perusal of older markers reveals artisanal work, almost always anonymous. Though there are many hand-cut styles, one repeatedly snags the eye with its distinctive font — squared letters with flared serifs and, especially, 9’s with long, pointed tails. These carvings are the work of marble cutterClarence Benjamin Best, who chiseled stars, crosses, flowers, lambs, and Masonic emblems, as well as grammatically idiosyncratic epitaphs, into slabs of stone for more than 50 years. I have found his work in rural Wilson County cemeteries and as far afield as Wayne, Edgecombe, and Greene Counties, butRest Haven Cemeteryis the ground zero of his oeuvre.
Best got his start as a marble cutter at Wilson Marble Mantle & Tile Company on North Railroad Street. By the early 1920s, he was designing and cutting headstones for African-American clients as a side gig. Operating from a backyard workshop, Best worked at every price point, often repurposing scrap stone or headstone seconds to create custom monuments that collectively testify to his skill and endless creativity. He opened his own business in 1946, advertising FINE CEMETERY MEMORIALS, and worked another 30 years.
As a tribute to this unsung vernacular artist, I’ve set out to photograph every monument I can attribute to Clarence B. Best and will feature his stand-out pieces in a dedicated Instagram account. Stay tuned.
Behold the Lamb of God. Clarence B. Best’s work is well-represented in Saint Delight Cemetery, near Walstonburg, Greene County, North Carolina.
On 23 January 1902, James A. Armstrong married Lucinda Lee in Ware County, Georgia.
In 1918, James Edmon Armstrong registered for the World War I draft in Pierce County, Georgia. Per his registration card, he was 17 April 1880; lived on Route 2, Alma, Pierce County; farmed for A.C. Sweat; and his nearest relative was Lusendy Armstrong.
In the 1920 census of Sweats township, Pierce County, Georgia: farm laborer James Armstrong, 39, born in North Carolina; wife Lucinda, 36; and children Richmond, 19, Luster, 15, Maimie, 13, Prissillar, 11, Lola, 9, Aaron, 7, Lucinda, 5, Edmund, 4, Amos, 2, and Calonia, 9 months.
In the 1930 census of Louisville township, Bacon County, Georgia: farmer James Armstrong, 50, born in North Carolina; wife Lusenda, 44; and children Aaron, 20, Edwin, 16, Amos, 12, Carolonia, 10, Mary O., 8, John, 6, Bernice, 3, and Jasper, 2.
James Armstrong died 1 February 1935 in Alma, Georgia. Per his death certificate, he was 53 years old; was born in Wilson, N.C., to Charles Armstrong and Mary Larence; was married; and worked as a farmer. Lester Armstrong was informant.
James C. Clark
James C. Clark died 3 July 1933 in Waycross, Ware County, Georgia. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1871 in Wilson, N.C., to unknown parents; was married; lived at 821 Pittman, Waycross; and was buried in Redhill Cemetery, Waycross. Informant was Ammie Clark.
In the 1910 census of Milan, Telfair County, Georgia: turpentine laborer Hector Daniels, 56, and wife Mary, 45.
In the 1930 census of Milan, Telfair County, Georgia: Henry G. Daniels, 75, and wife Mary, 67. Both were North Carolina-born farm laborers.
Mary Daniels died 11 May 1933 in Milan, Telfair County, Georgia. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 May 1857 in Wilson County, N.C., to Isaac and Cheney Joiner; was married; and was buried at Camp Six, Milan. Rex Daniels was informant.
In the 1880 census of Elizabethtown, Bladen County, North Carolina: laborer Troy McMillan, 26; wife Alice, 25; and children Mag J., 4, Mary A., 3, and Attie, 8 months; plus brother Clifton McMillan, 22.
In the 1900 census of Wooten township, Coffee County, Georgia: day laborer John Williams, 21; wife Maggie, 23; and children Lola, 3, and Mary, 1.
In the 1910 census of Dickens Mill township, Ben Hill County, Georgia: farmer John Williams, 35; wife Maggie, 31; children Neil, 16, Mary, 13, Lola, 11, and Esau, 2; plus boarder Clarance Harris, 39.
Maggie Mumford died 4 December 1932 in Douglas, Coffee County, Georgia. Per her death certificate, she was 56 years old; was born in Wilson, N.C., to Troy McMillian; was married; and was buried in the city cemetery in Broxton, Georgia.
William Jones died 29 January 1927 in Odum, Wayne County, Georgia. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 July 1867 in Wilson, N.C.; was married to Lody Jones; worked as a common laborer; and was buried in Pine Grove cemetery.
John Lucas (also known as Locus) made out his will on 10 July 1926, about six months before he died.
His bequests included:
to son Kenney Lucas, a life interest in “that part of the home place, on the North side of the cart road, on which the house I live in now stands,” and after his death to children Sidney Lucas, Susia Sims, and Eddie Lucas in equal shares.
to children Sidney Lucas and Susia Sims, in equal shares, the portion of the home place on the south side of the cart road, adjoining Dew’s place.
to son Eddie Lucas, 20 acres known as “the old Phine place,” adjoining the lands of Allison Howard, Gib Howard, Dick Cozart, and ten acres Eddie Lucas purchased from his father earlier.
to daughter Nannie Deans, ten acres from the old Phine place.
to daughter Dora Battle, ten acres of the Phine tract.
to son Frank Lucas, five dollars.
to Roxia Blackwell [daughter of Susan Lucas Simms Ellis],his organ.
to an unnamed granddaughter, described as “the daughter of Sidney Lucas, the one next to the oldest girl,” his bureau.
to granddaughter “Mink,” daughter of Eddie Lucas, his “clothing safe.”
to daughter Susia Simms, his sewing machine.
to son Kenney Lucas, his iron safe.
and other property to be divided equally among children Kenney Lucas, Sidney Lucas, Eddie Lucas, Dora Battle, Nannie Deans, and Susia Simms.
children Kenney Lucas and Dora Battle were named co-executors, and Glenn McBrayer legal adviser.
In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Abraham Horne, 45, with Jefferson, 30, Gray, 15, Lettuce, 17, Rayford, 13, Jeff Davis, 8, and Milburn Horne, 6; and Martha Holland, 14.
In the 1880 census of District 384, Dodge County, Georgia: Columbus Barnes, 24; Gray Horne, 22; Samuel Jenkins, 18; Alfred Caruthers, 20; and Everett Farmer, 20. All were described as laborers, and all were born in North Carolina except Caruthers, who was a native Georgian.
On 12 December 1893, Joseph Grey Horn married Tena Small in Glynn County, Georgia.
In the 1920 census of Militia District 1356, Glynn County, Georgia: farmer Joe Horne, 74; wife Clementina, 42; daughter Rosalee Henry, 2 [sic]; and grandson Edwin Henry, 3 months.
Joseph Horne died 22 June 1924 in Southern Junction, Glynn County, Georgia; was about 59 years old; was born in Wilson, N.C., to Abraham Horne and an unnamed mother; was married; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Freeman Rest cemetery. Clementine Horne was informant.
In the 1930 census of Militia District 1356, Glynn County, Georgia: widow Climentine Horn, 48, farm laborer; daughter Rosalee Club, 24, widow; and grandson Edwin Hinry, 10.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Warren Thorne, 28; wife Rachel, 28; and children Louisa, 16, Stephen, 15, Rosa, 5, Grant, 4, John, 3, and Patsey, 10 months.
In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Lewis Woodard, 36; wife Bashaby, 32; son Henry, 16, farm laborer; and servant Grant Thorn, 14.
In the 1900 census of Arabi village, Dooly County, Georgia: turpentine laborer Grant Thorn, 35, born in North Carolina, and wife Evie, 35.
In the 1910 census of Militia District 762, Crisp County, Georgia: turpentine laborer Grant Thomas, 45, born in North Carolina; wife Julia, 28; and daughter Florie M., 9; sister-in-law Dina Shivers, 40, private family cook, and niece Adel Shivers, 18, public school teacher.
In the 1920 census of Arabi township, Crisp County, Georgia: in Turpentine Quarters, naval stores laborer Grant T. Thorn, 55, born in North Carolina; wife Julia, 36; and children Grant T., Jr., 7, and Evans L., 4.
Grant Thorn died 10 May 1925 in Arabi, Crisp County, Georgia. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1859 in Wilson County, N.C., to Warren Thorn and Rachal Thorn; worked as a farmer; and was buried in Little Rock Cemetery, Arabi. John Thorn was informant.
In 1940, Evans Lawton Thornes registered for the World War II draft in Palm Beach County, Florida. Per his registration card, he was born 1 February 1915 in Arabi, Georgia; lived at 2126 Contentment Avenue, West Palm Beach, Florida; his contact was mother Julia Thornes; and worked for John Zennie, West Palm Beach
In 1941, G.T. Thornes registered for the World War II draft in Crisp County. Per his registration card, he was born 17 July 1912 in Crisp County; lived at R.F.D. No. 2, Arabi, Crisp County; his contact was mother Julia Ray Thornes; and worked for H.W. Hamilton, Arabi, Crisp County.
In the 1920 census of District 1157, Berrien County, Georgia: farmer Joe W. Burgess, 50; wife Lucy, 48; nephews Brie, 10, and Jim, 8; and nieces Minnie, 16, and Agnes Perry, 13.
Lucy Burgess died 20 March 1926 in Nashville, Berrien County, Georgia. Per her death certificate, she was 52 years old; was born in Wilson County, N.C., to Trim Body and Jennie [maiden name not listed]; was married; and worked as a cook. J.N. Burgess was informant.
Lizzie Bradley died 6 October 1924 in Fort Mudge, Ware County, Georgia. Per her death certificate, she was born 28 May 1882 in Wilson, N.C., to Ike Williams and an unnamed mother; was married to R.B. Bradley; and worked as a domestic. Mattie Williams was informant.
In the 1900 census of Smiths township, Laurens County, Georgia: farmer Allen Mercer, 40, farmer; wife Bettie, 44; son Willie, 18; and daughter Anna, 14.
In the 1910 census of Smiths township, Laurens County, Georgia: farmer Allen Mercer, 50, born in North Carolina, and wife Bettie, 52, born in Virginia.
Allen Mercy [Mercer] died 22 April 1922 in Dublin, Laurens County, Georgia. Per his death certificate, he was 65 years old; was born in Wilson, N.C., to John and Sarah Mercy; was a widower; and worked as a ditcher. Johnny Mercy was informant.
In the 1900 census of Abbeville, Wilcox County, Georgia; Alison Atwater[?], 60; wife Mollie, 45; stepson Daniel Barnes, 21; and grandsons Mager Shaws, 13, and Richard Barnes, 4. All were born in North Carolina except Richard, who was born in Georgia.
Daniel Barnes died 23 November 1920 in Fitzgerald, Ben Hill County, Georgia. Per her death certificate, he was 42 years old; was born in Wilson County, North Carolina, to Daniel Barnes and Mollie [maiden name not given]; was married; lived in Osierfield, Georgia; and was buried in Abbeville, Wilcox County, Georgia. Lawyer Davis was informant.
Roderick Johnson — There is no death certificate for Roderick Johnson. However, on 20 February 1921, Rudolph Johnson died in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in Jacksonville, N.C., to unknown parents; his age was unknown; he was single; and he worked as a sawmill helper for sawyer W.W. Sims Company. Under “cause of death”: “No further information obtainable.”
On 10 November 1921, Jonah Pitts, 24, of Wilson, son of Haywood Becton and Martha Pitts, married Annie Mae Dillard, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Abe Dillard and Sallie D. White. Chesley White applied for the license, and Missionary Baptist minister John A. Mebane performed the ceremony at 206 Pender Street, Wilson, in the presence of James Crocker, NancyCrocker, and Rosetta Bunn.
Jonah Pitt Jr. died 4 February 1922 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 3 February and lived only 20 hours; his parents were Jonah Pitt and Annie Mae Dillard; and he lived at 604 Spring.
Jonah Pitt died 14 February 1923 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 July 1897 in Wilson to Haywood Beckwith and Martha Pitt; was married to Annie Mae Pitts; lived on Vance Street; and worked as a cook. Elsie Pitt was informant.