1930s

I do like they done.

Martha Ann Tyson Dixon of DeValls Bluff, Arkansas, sat for an interview with a Federal Writers Project worker in the late 1930s. Dixon had spent her childhood enslaved near Saratoga, Wilson County, and she and her husband Luke D. Dixon had migrated west in the late 1880s. More than 50 years after Emancipation, she vividly described the hardships of life during and after slavery.

“I am eighty-one years old. I was born close to Saratoga, North Carolina. My mother died before I can recollect and my grandmother raised me. They said my father was a white man. They said Jim Beckton [Becton]. I don’t recollect him. My mother was named Mariah Tyson.

“I recollect how things was. My grandmother was Miss Nancy Tyson’s cook. She had one son named Mr. Seth Tyson. He run her farm. They et in the dining room, we et in the kitchen. Clothes and somethng to eat was scarce. I worked at whatever I was told to do. Grandma told me things to do and Miss Nancy told me what to do. I went to the field when I was pretty little. Once my uncle left the mule standing out in the field and went off to do something else. It come up a hard shower. I crawled under the mule. If I had been still it would have been all right but my hair stood up and tickled the mule’s stomach. The mule jumped and the plough hit me in my hip here at the side. It is a wonder I didn’t get killed.

“After the Civil War was times like now. Money scarce and prices high, and you had to start all over new. Pigs was hard to start, mules and horses was mighty scarce. Seed was scarce. Everything had to be started from the stump. Something to eat was mighty plain and scarce and one or two dresses a year had to do. Folks didn’t study about going so much.”

“I had to rake up leaves and fetch em to the barn to make beds for the little pigs in cold weather. The rake was made out of wood. It had hickory wood teeth and about a foot long. It was heavy. I put my leaves in a basket bout so high [three or four feet high.] I couldn’t tote it — I drug it. I had to get leaves in to do a long time and wait till the snow got off before I could get more. It seem like it snowed a lot. The pigs rooted the leaves all about in day and back up in the corners at night. It was ditched all around. It didn’t get very muddy. Rattle snakes was bad in the mountains. I used to tote water — one bucketful on my head and one bucketful in each hand. We used wooden buckets. It was a lot of fun to hunt guinea nests and turkey nests. When other little children come visiting that is what we would do. We didn’t set around and listen at the grown folks. We toted up rocks and then they made rows [terraces] and rock fences about the yard and garden. They looked so pretty. Some of them would be white, some gray, sometimes it would be mixed. They walled wells with rocks too. All we done or knowed was work. When we got tired there was places to set and rest. The men made plough stocks and hoe handles and worked at the blacksmith shop in snowy weather. I used to pick up literd [lightwood] knots and pile them in piles along the road so they could take them to the house to burn. They made a good light and kindling wood.

“They didn’t whoop Grandma but she whooped me a plenty.

“After the war some white folks would tell Grandma one thing and some others tell her something else.  She kept me and”

“cooked right on. I didn’t know what freedom was. Seemed like most of them I knowed didn’t know what to do. Most of the slaves left the white folks where I was raised. It took a long time to ever get fixed. Some of them died, some went to the cities, some up North, some come to the country. I married and come to Fredonia, Arkansas in 1889. I had been married since I was a young girl. But as I was saying the slaves still hunting a better place and more freedom. Grandma learnt me to set down and be content. We have done better out here than we could done in North Carolina but I don’t believe in so much rambling.

“We come on the passenger train and paid our own way to Arkansas. It was a wild and sickly country and has changed. Not like living in the same country. I try to live like the white folks and Grandma raised me. I do like they done. I think is the reason we have saved and have good a living as we got. We do on as little as we can and save a little for the rainy day.”

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In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Nancy Scarborough, 47; Victoria, 10, Susan, 6, and Laurina Scarborough, 3; farm manager Seth Tyson, 23; and Julia, 18, Nancy, 17, Aaron, 15, and Abner Tyson, 13.

In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Mary Tyson, 62, with Edith, 23, John, 21, Abraham, 16, and Martha Tyson, 11.

In the 1880 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: Martha Tyson, 20, was a cook in the household of white marchant/farmer Mark Atkinson.

Martha Tyson, 26, married Luke Dixon, 26, in Wilson County on 12 February 1885. Minister E.H. Ward performed the ceremony in the presence of Charles Batts, Tempey Cotton and Green Taylor.

In the 1910 census of Watensaw township, Prairie County, Arkansas: Luke Dixon, 49, saw filer at Bar factory, and wife Martha M., 52.

In the 1920 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cedar Street, farmer Luke Dixon, 58; wife Martha, 59; and cousins Margaret Tyson, 14, and Oleo McClarin, 9.

In the 1930 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cypress Street, owned and valued at $2000, Luke D. Dixon, 70, born in Virginia, and wife Martha, 70, born in North Carolina, with cousin Allen Reaves, 8.

In the 1940 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cypress Street, owned and valued at $2000, Luke Dixon, 84, born in Virginia, and wife Martha A., 84, born in North Carolina.

Federal Writers’ Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 2, Arkansas, Part 2, Cannon-Evans, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mesn.022.

The division of Mary Eliza Farmer’s land.

In late September 1934, a surveyor walked the land of Mary Eliza Farmer and prepared a plat dividing it into five equal sections. Mary Eliza had inherited a life estate in the property from her husband Valentine Farmer, and upon her death or remarriage it was to pass to her children and step-children. The double line at the left edge of the plat denotes a road and fronting it, in the fourth strip of lad, a pack house and dwelling are marked.

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On 5 February 1882, Vaul Farmer, 52, married Mary E. Ruffin, 43, in Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Valintine Farmer, 70, wife Mary, 58, children Mattie, 30, Elizabeth, 26, Mary J., 24, and Elizar, 22, son-in-law Charly Freeman and daughter Carolina. All did farm work except Elizabeth, who was a cook, and Elizar, who was a schoolteacher.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: widowed farmer Mary L. Farmer, 64; daughter Mattie, 48; and granddaughter Mary Batts, 28.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Winstead Road, widowed farmer Mary Farmer, 75, and daughter Mattie, 40.

Mary Eliza Farmer died 31 October 1928. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 February 1836 in Wilson County to Bob Shelley and Minerva Barnes; was the widow of Vol Farmer; and her informant was Mattie Stallings.

Plat book 2, page 101, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Birds of a feather?

As shown in the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory, other than the Masons, all of the city’s white-only benevolent and fraternal organizations met at the Odd Fellows’ Hall at 208 1/2 South Goldsboro Street — including the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

The building at 206-208 Goldsboro Street S.W. is still standing. Per the nomination report for the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District, when constructed in 1916, the Tomlinson Building “had two storefronts with a central door leading to the lodge on the second story.” The first floor was originally occupied by the Tomlinson Company, then a series of automobile dealers, then Southern Auto Company, and now a wrought-iron design workshop. Fraternal organizations occupied the second floor into the 1930s.

The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan operated 1915 to 1944, the Klan’s so-called second era, when the group fashioned itself — and was clearly accepted as — as a fraternal organization. As across the country, the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s ushered in another wave of KKK activity in Wilson County.

Unemployment fraud?

On 30 April 1938, the Pittsburgh Courier reported that three African-American Wilson women were facing fraud and misrepresentation charges connected with unemployment compensation applications. Though the details of their alleged crimes are not listed, the article notes that several others had recently been penalized after refusing employment in strawberry fields.

Pittsburgh Courier, 30 April 1938.

  • Maggie Rogers — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: perhaps, at 705 Dew Street, high school lunchroom cook Maggie Rogers, 40, and her sons Phillip Henry, 18, a tobacco factory laborer, Millard Jr., 16, and Coach V., 14.
  • Lena Kirby
  • Tiny Hobbs Jefferson — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: fertilizer plant laborer Tom Jefferson, 43; wife Tiny, 32; and children George, 12, Lena, 10, Tom Jr., 4, and Momynise, 2.

The end of the Red Hots?

In 1938, the city of Wilson professionalized its firefighting operations, converting the white volunteer department to semi-paid status. The Daily Times originally reported that the black volunteer organization, the Red Hots, would be abolished, but here clarified that, while they were being retired from active service, they would continue to send representatives to competitions and state conventions and would be called upon in emergencies.  

Wilson Daily Times, 14 July 1938.

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  • Ben Mincey
  • George Coppedge — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason George Coppedge, 34; wife Mittie, 34; and children George Jr., 4, and Elenora, 2.
  • Aaron Best — William Aaron Best died 21 August 1949 at his home at 1009 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 September 1900 in Wilson County to Aaron Best and Nannie Best; was a widower; and had been a laborer at Export Tobacco Company. Audrey Best was informant.
  • Ambrose Floyd — in 1942, Ambrose Floyd registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 4 February 1901 in Lumberton, North Carolina; resided at 1214 East Nash Street; his contact was Clara Smith; and he was employed by Gary Fulghum, 901 Branch Street, United States Post Office.
  • W.J. Howell
  • Henry Sauls — in 1942, Henry Sauls registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 10 February 1898 in Black Creek; resided at 21 Carolina Street (mailing address 1114 Carolina Street); his contact was Hattie Davis, 19 Carolina Street; and he worked for W.T. Clark Jr., 1415 West Nash Street, Barnes Street tobacco factory.
  • Louis Thomas — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 715 East Green Street, carpenter Louis Thomas, 53; wife Lillie, 33; and children Louis Jr., 16, Charlie H., 14, and Van Jewel, 12.

A song of adoration.

In 1939, Spencer J. Satchell penned original music and lyrics for an alma mater for Charles H. Darden High School.

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We sing a song of adoration, a song full of love and praise,

For the school that is our inspiration, for the place where we spend our high school days

We dedicate our thoughts to thee, thoughts of true love and good will

Loyal students we will always be, as we journey o’er the rugged hills

Dear ol’ Darden High!

We laud thee to the sky, we sing thy name in reverence,

Praise Darden High! Darden High!

We raise our Alma Mater, Darden High!

Although from thee we must part, this song will linger within

Yearning and longing in our hearts, for our Alma Mater we will sing

We strive to do our best, while we proudly sing thy name

May we love, work and be blessed, this is our beloved refrain!