Maggie Dew — in the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Joseph Dew, 28; wife Mittie, 27; and daughters Julia, 4, and Maggie, 1.
Willie C. Maryland — in the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Richard Maryland, 36; wife Mary, 30; and children Dasie Lee, 14, and Willie C., 12.
Frances Weaver — in the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Lonnie Weaver, 40; wife Anner, 34; daughter Frances, 9; and widowed mother-in-law Clara Daws, 56.
James Hall — in the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Sela Hall, 34, and children Sylvester, 16, Joe and Joseph, 15, James, 13, Ora Lillie, 9, Erma Lee, 7, and Mildred R., 4.
Daniel Armstrong — in the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Henry Armstrong, 52; wife Minnie, 42; and children Mary, 19, Fred, 18, Rosa, 16, Clarence, 14, Nathan, 11, Daniel, 9, Louise, 8, David, 6, and Henry, 6 months.
Vera Armstrong — in the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Harvey Lee Armstrong, 36; wife Lelah, 30; and children Vera, 11, James, 9, Harvey Lee, 7, Mary, 5, Shirley, 3, and William E., 1.
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.
In 1940, after leadership by boys proved uninspired, girls took over Wilbanks 4-H Club, which met at Wilbanks Colored School.
Odessa Hardy — in the 1940 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: widow Viola Hardy, 36, farm helper, and children Odesa, 15, Albert, 13, and Arthur L., 10.
Cora Lee McNair — Cora McNair traveled a few miles from Edgecombe County to 4-H Club in Wilson County. In the 1940 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: William McNair, 70; wife Marina, 50; daughters Mary, 18, and Cora, 12, and extended family.
Mamie Dell Sharp — in the 1940 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Allen Sharp, 64; wife Mary, 56; son Mark, 27; daughter-in-law Clara, 23; and grandchildren Odel, 17, Roosevelt, 16, Mammie D., 14, Suddie M., 5, Barbara G., 3, Rudolph, 2, and Eugene, 8 months.
Mary Lee Weaver — in the 1940 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Ephram Weaver, 71, farmer; wife Carrie, 65; children Annie, 28, Mattie, 25, and Jessie, 20; granddaughter Mary L., 12; and lodger John Taylor, 18.
On 1 January 1925, Jacob Hargrove, 20, of Wilson, son of Duncan and Vinnie Hargrove, married Carrie Mae Hardy, 20, of Wilson, daughter of W.H. Hardy, at the bride’s residence in Wilson. Duncan J. Hargrove applied for the license, and Free Will Baptist minister E.S. Hargrove performed the ceremony in the presence of John Hargrove, Roser Hargrove, and D.J. Hargrove.
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hargrove Jacob (c; Carrie) lab h 1108 Carolina
On 3 November 1938, Eddie H. Cox, 46, of Wilson, son of Washington and Julia Ann Cox, married Carrie H. Hardy, 33, of Wilson, daughter of Will and Nancy Hardy of Wilson. C.L. Darden applied for the license, and Rev. S. Wilson of Ayden, N.C., performed the ceremony in Wilson in the presence of Richard A.G. Foster and W.H. Phillips of Wilson and H.R. Reaves of Ayden.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 625 Green Street, owned and valued at $2300, Rev. Eddie H. Cox, 49, minister, and wife Carrie H., 32, registered nurse.
Carrie Hardy Cox died 17 February 1942 at her home at 625 East Green Street. Per her death certificate, she was born 4 May 1907 in Lenoir County, N.C., to Willie Hardy and Nancy Locas; was married to Eddie H. Cox; worked as a nurse; and was buried at Rest Haven Cemetery.
Twelve years beforeRosa Parks refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, Irene Barron sat down in the white section of a Wilson bus and held her ground. Barron’s action followed James Parker‘s similar refusal by three months and suggests concerted action.
Do you know of Irene Barron? I am seeking more information about this freedom fighter.
Heritage Cemetery today, annotated, per Google Maps.
I recently revisited Elm City Colored Cemetery, now known as Heritage Cemetery. Founded in 1892 and containing hundreds of graves, Heritage offers a glimpse of what Odd Fellows and Vick Cemeteries might have looked like with consistent, even if half-hearted, maintenance over the last 70 years.
The front section of Heritage is lightly wooded, but with little undergrowth and none of the invasive vines seen in Odd Fellows or Vick. (None of the grave plantings either, such as daffodils or yuccas.)
This large stuccoed brick vault, which appears to belong to the Wynn family, is the only one in the cemetery. There are none similar in Odd Fellows, and we don’t know if there were any in Vick.
The back section of Heritage is an open field traversed by a drainage ditch. In contrast to graves in the front section, which generally lie roughly east-southeast to west-northwest, graves here are orientated northeast to southwest.
As with graves in Odd Fellows, and probably much of Vick, Heritage’s graves primarily are arranged in family groups, not ranks of straight lines.
I cannot say enough in praise of Wilson County Public Library and its incredible cadre of dedicated librarians. WCPL offers an incredible array of services and steadfastly walks the walk of inclusion, holding space for the stories of all of us.
Donna Warren Davis reached out to me after discovering references to her ancestors at Black Wide-Awake. Elijah Warren, Marie Haskins Warren, and their family joined the Great Migration in the mid-1930s, landing, like so many North Carolinians, in Washington, D.C.
In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: William Warren, 42; wife Millie J., 42; and children Ezekiel, 18, Keturrah, 17, Joseph, 14, Elijah, 13, Samuel, 11, Deborah, 9, William, 8, Millie, 5, Alchester, 3, and Edie, 2.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Ada Haskins, 27, odd jobs laborer; daughter Arena, 12, born in Virginia, house servant [is this Marie?]; and lodger Alfred Williams, 32, widower, machinist.
On 21 October 1928, Marie Williams, 26, of Wilson, married Elijah Warren, 29, of Black Creek, in Wilson. Primitive Baptist church Johnie Bunch performed the ceremony in the presence of Cora W. Farmer, William Warren, and Wilson Farmer. [This was a second marriage for Marie Haskins Williams.]
In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer William Warren, 62; wife Millie, 62; daughter-in-law Marie, 26; grandson Jerome, 11 months; granddaughter Mary, 10; sons Elijah, 32, Chichi, 23, and Sam, 30; and adopted son Richard Edmundson, 12.
In the 1940 census of Washington, D.C.: at 2816 Pennsylvania Avenue, W.P.A. laborer Elijah Warren, 38; wife Marie, 38, beauty parlor operator; step-daughter Mary Williams, 20; and children Jerome, 10, Jonathan, 9, and O’Donnell Warren, 7. All were born in North Carolina, except Mary, who was born in Pennsylvania. The census taker noted that the family had been living in the “same place” in 1935, which narrows the date of their migration to D.C. to about 1934.
In February 1942, Elijah Warren registered for the World War II draft in Washington, D.C. Per his registration card, he was born 2 April 1897 in Fremont, Wayne County; lived at 2816 Pennsylvania Avenue; worked for National Defense Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.; and his contact was Marie Warren.
The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 21 August 1942.
The Evening Star, 11 March 1944.
In the 1950 census of Washington, D.C.: at 2816 Pennsylvania Avenue, beauty shop proprietor Marie Warren, 46; children Jerome, 20, mechanic at auto dealer, Donald, 17, and William V., 6; and mother Ada Haskins, 80, widow.
In the 1950 census of Washington, D.C.: at 1616 – 10th Street N.W., lodger Elijah Warren, 54, separated, mechanic at Navy Yard.
The Evening Star, 6 January 1954.
Whitelaw Hotel — designed, financed, and built by African-Americans for African-Americans, the Whitelaw was an upscale apartment hotel in the U Street Corridor neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
2816 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. — Elijah and Marie Warren arrived in Georgetown in the last decades of the long period that it was home to a sizable African-American minority. By the 1950s, gentrification was pushing Black Washingtonians out. Built about 1900, the two-story brick building at 2816 Pennsylvania Avenue now houses a high-end spirits retailer and is just down the street from the Four Seasons Hotel.
Funeral program courtesy of Donna Warren Davis. Thank you!