1930s

She swallowed a button.

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“No physician in attendance Died Suddenly All I can find out was that the child swalord a buton on Sowtha So the child told the Parnes.”

Seven year-old Rosa Lee Whitaker choked to death after swallowing a tufting button.

——

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Jessie Whitterker, 38; wife Mary, 27; and daughters Ethel, 7, Rosa, 3, and Annie, 20 months.

Lane Street Project: aerial views.

A refresher:

  • The eastern end of Lane Street, in southeast Wilson, is home to three historic African-American cemeteries: Rountree (established about 1906), Odd Fellows (established circa 1900), and Vick (established 1913).
  • Rountree and Odd Fellows are privately owned. Vick is owned by the City of Wilson.
  • All three have been abandoned.
  • Rountree is completely overgrown with mature trees and heavy underbrush.
  • Odd Fellows is also overgrown, except for a narrow strip along the road that the city maintains.
  • In 1996, the city clear-cut Vick cemetery, removed its remaining headstones, graded the entire parcel, and erected a single marker in memory of the dead.

A series of aerial photographs of the cemeteries over time shows in astonishing detail the forgotten features of these cemeteries and the terrible march of neglect across all three. Each photograph has been overlaid with the present-day boundaries of tax parcels. The rectangle at left is Vick, then Odd Fellows and Rountree.

  • 1937

This blurry photograph shows the interconnectedness of the three cemeteries, with narrow dirt paths winding across property lines and no visible boundary markers. The light areas are too large to be individual stones and more likely are family plots of varying sizes. The back edge of Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries — marshy land along Sandy Creek — was wooded.

  • 1948

Though hundreds were buried between 1937 and 1948, Vick is still almost completely open field, with some trees at its western and southern edges and numerous plots visible.  A large cleared trapezoid straddles the Vick and Odd Fellows boundaries — what is this?

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  • 1954

Six years later, the change is shocking. Vick has clearly fallen into disuse, its paths allowed to fill with weeds. Rountree and Odd Fellows, too, are overgrown, but their major paths remain clear. The mystery trapezoid, however, is gone.

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  • 1964

Another ten years and all three cemeteries are well on their way to complete abandonment. Only one path is clear, a new passage cut to join an old one in Odd Fellows.

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  • Today

A contemporary aerial view of the three cemeteries shows the empty expanse of Vick; its lone city-sponsored monument; the paved path leading from the monument to a small parking lot located at the boundary of Vick and Odd Fellows; the cleared bit of Odd Fellows; and the jungle that is Rountree. There is no trace of the trapezoid.

I am indebted to Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department, for responding to my inquiry re the availability of Wilson County maps, answering a million questions, and providing these remarkable images.

Road map to county schools.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has made available digitally copies of many of its historic maps. The 1936 North Carolina County Road Survey not only maps Wilson County’s roads, it also shows the locations of schools and churches. African-American county schools appear as “other”:

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Some of the schools are easily identified, but for others I have made best guesses.

Starting in the northern part of the county, which covers parts of Taylor, Toisnot, Wilson, and Gardners townships:

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  1. Turner School
  2. Page School
  3. Wilbanks School
  4. Pender School
  5. Mitchell School
  6. William Chapel Missionary Baptist Church

The southeast sector, covering parts of Wilson, Saratoga, Stantonsburg, and Black Creek townships. Holdens and Saratoga Schools do not appear:

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  1. London’s Primitive Baptist Church
  2. Bynum School
  3. Lane School
  4. Evansdale School
  5. Brooks School
  6. Minshew School
  7. Stantonsburg School
  8. Healthy Plains School
  9. Yelverton School

The southwest sector, covering parts of Wilson, Spring Hill, Cross Roads, and Black Creek townships:

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  1. Rocky Branch Christian Church; Rocky Branch School
  2. Williamson School
  3. Calvin Level School
  4. Kirby School
  5. Powell School
  6. probably Ruffin or Ferrell School

The northwest sector, covering parts of Wilson, Taylors, and Old Fields townships. Barnes, Sims, Howard, and Jones Hill Schools do not appear to be marked:

  1. Lofton School
  2. New Vester Missionary Baptist Church; New Vester School
  3. Farmer School

High school renamed for C.H. Darden, who had “a fine spirit as a citizen.”

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 January 1938.

Hurt playing ball.

On an early April day in 1934, William A. Williams set aside his farm work to play baseball with friends. On April 8, he died. The coroner noted that Williams had an “injury to head said to be accidental. Probably fractured skull. Said to have been injured playing few days before.” A slide head-first into home plate? A collision in the outfield?

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Poisoned liquor.

The end of Prohibition in December 1933 did nothing to stem the flow of bootleg liquor in Wilson (or anywhere else). Home brew could be dangerous though, and, in the new year, Charley Singletary and John Hagans died in back-to-back months from poisoned alcohol.

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“Found dead in Bed supposed to have drank poison liquor No Sign foul play.”

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“Supposed from drinking poison whiskey”

——

  • Charley Singletary

Charlie Singletary registered for the World War I draft in Florence County, South Carolina, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born in 1896 in Olanta, South Carolina; lived in Lake City, South Carolina; was a farm laborer; and was married with a child.

In the 1920 census of Lake township, Florence County, South Carolina: Charlie Singletary, 22; wife Josephine, 20; and son Wallace, 3.

Charlie Singletary, 23, son of Simp and Mollie Singletary, married Elizabeth Singletary, 19, daughter of Sam and Mary Singletary, on 17 March 1925 in Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Charley Singletary, 33; wife Lizabeth, 23; and children Fred, 4, J.B., 2, Gilbert, 1, and Evon, 2 months. Charley and Lizabeth were born in South Carolina.

  • John Hagans

John Hagans registered for the World War I draft in Oldfields township, Wilson County in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 25 December 1889 in Rock Hill, South Carolina; lived in Rock Hill; worked as a stone quarry laborer for Harris G[ranite]. Co., Neverson, Wilson County; and was married.

In the 1920 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: on Neverson Stone Quarry Road, stone quarry laborer John Hogan, 31, and wife Mattie, 23.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, widow Mittie Lucas, 40, laundress; her sons Otis, 19, and Maryland, 14; and roomers John Hagan, 38; Carder, 19, and Mandy Walker, 17, all of South Carolina.

Someone to take care of her.

Like hundreds of others, Annie Mae Lewis likely came to Wilson during the Depression to seek work in the tobacco factories. She fell sick though, far from her family, and died in the winter of 1934.

Registrar Kate C. Daniels’ note on Lewis’ death certificate: “This girl came here from S.C. & the welfare dept got this woman at 313 Manchester St to take care of her.”

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Struck by a falling tree.

William Artis was killed by a falling tree while working “on the roads” somewhere near the current intersection of Lamm Road and Raleigh Road/U.S. Highway 264 Alternate between Wilson and Sims. After an inquest held at Charles H. Darden‘s funeral parlor, a coroner’s jury pronounced Artis’ death accidental. I have not found his death certificate.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 February 1931.