Snaps, no. 7: Marie Lofton Jones.

Marie Jones in front of 1109 Queen Street, Wilson. Probably early 1940s.

In the 1910 census of Brogden township, Wayne County: farmer Robert Lofton, 66; wife Eveline, 66; daughters Emma J. Lofton, 37, Alice A. Wilson, 35, and Mary, 24, Bettie, 19, Florence, 19, and Jessie Lofton, 14, plus granddaughters Donnie, 4, Mable, 3, and Marie, 2 months.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Major J. Loftin, 42; mother Evaline, 71; brother-in-law Sam Barron, 24; sister Jessie Lofton, 24; and nieces Donnie, 13, Maybelle, 12, and Marie Loftin, 10.

On 11 October 1926, John William Jones, 23, of Black Creek, married Marie Lofton, 18, of Black Creek. A. Bynum performed the ceremony in the presence of Sylvester Woodard, R.H. Lofton and J.A. Jones.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek, Wilson County: farmer John W. Jones, 26; wife Maria, 20, a farm laborer; and daughters Celie Mae, 3, and Ruby Lee, 2.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1107 Queen Street, tobacco factory carpenter Johnnie Jones, 36; wife Marie, 30, cook; and children Ruby Lee, 11, Cecilia, 13, Johnnie, 9, Charles, 7, Joan, 3, and Jacqueline, 1. Marie reported that she was born in Mount Olive, North Carolina.

In 1942, Johnie William Jones registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he resided at 1107 Queen Street; was born 18 September 1903 in Wilson; his contact person was Mrs. Marie Jones, 1107 Queen Street; and he was employed by Noy 4750 Housing Project, New River, Onslow County, North Carolina.


The Jones family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1944. This photo likely was taken there. Marie Lofton Jones died in 1954.

Photographs from the personal collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks, now in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Florence Hooks Hussey.

f hussey 12 21 46

Wilson Daily Times, 21 December 1946.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: 634 East Nash Street, widow Florence Hussey, 34, with daughters Rosa J., 13, and Elizabeth, 11.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 707 East Nash Street, Florence Hussey, 46, and daughter Rosa, 23, both laundry workers.

On 21 December 1930, Alex Simmons, 40, son of Will and Mary Simmons, married Rosa Hussey, 36, daughter of Florence Hussey, in Wilson. John P. Battle applied for the license, and A.M.E. Zion minister J.E. Kennedy performed the ceremony in the presence of L.A. Moore, F.W. Woods, and Flora Clarke Bethel.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 707 East Nash Street, Florence Hussey, 58, laundress at Carolina Laundry, and daughter Rosa, 33. Both were described as widowed.

Florence Hussey died 20 December 1946 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she resided at 707 East Nash; was born 3 December 1877 in Goldsboro, Wayne County, North Carolina; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Informant was Rosa Hussey.

Rosa Hussey executed a will on 18 May 1947, leaving her home and lot to Mary Francis and Thad Dennis Lane and her furniture and fixtures to Mrs. Frances Lane. She died just six months after her mother, on 13 June 1947. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 July 1904 in Wilson to Willie Hussey and Florence Hooks, both of Mount Olive, North Carolina, and worked as a tobacco factory laborer. Informant was Frances Wynn Lane of Mount Olive.

The Knights of Labor and the Tobacco Workers union.

The Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the late 19th century. The Knights promoted the social and cultural uplift of the working man, rejected socialism and anarchism, demanded the eight-hour day, and supported efforts to end child and convict labor. After a rapid expansion in the mid-1880s — ballooning to nearly 800,000 — it quickly lost new members and became a small operation again. The Knights of Labor had a mixed history of inclusiveness and exclusiveness, accepting women and African-Americans (after 1878) and their employers as members and advocating the admission of blacks into local assemblies, but tolerating the segregation of assemblies in the South and strongly supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act.

On the basis of local newspaper coverage, the Knights of Labor seem to have been most active in Wilson County in about 1888. Though its strength had peaked elsewhere by that time, the organization boasted 100 locals in North Carolina, the most of any Southern state.

Wilson Advance, 21 June 1888.



Dues cards for Jane Bynum, a member of Wilson’s Knights of Labor lodge.

Many decades later, tobacco factory workers ushered into Wilson County a new era of labor organizing.

A North Carolina Highway Historical Marker in 18 miles north in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, reads: “Black leaf house workers in eastern N.C. unionized in 1946. First pro-union vote, at tobacco factory 1 block W., precursor to civil rights movement.”

Per the marker program’s essay: “In the summer of 1946, nearly 10,000 tobacco “leaf house” workers in eastern North Carolina, primarily African American women, joined unions in a mass organizing campaign (tagged ‘Operation Dixie’) headed by the Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU-AFL) and the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers of America (FTA-CIO). From South Boston, Virginia, to Lumberton, North Carolina, workers secured union contracts in nearly thirty tobacco leaf houses.”

“The labor protest and organization campaign followed the 1943 effort that took place at R. J. Reynolds factories in Winston-Salem. The 1946 campaign differed in that it not only focused on labor rights, but also resulted in important strides in civil rights for African Americans. Efforts were made by the union organizers to increase black voter registration and to instigate political action against segregation within the leaf houses. Nearly ten years before the Montgomery bus boycott, black workers in eastern North Carolina worked for civil rights through ‘unionism.’ As one participant recorded, ‘We’re not just an organizing campaign, we’re a social revolution.’ And another, ‘It wasn’t just wages we wanted, but freedom.’

“While the movement began with the TWIU-AFL organizing locals and securing contracts in six leaf houses in Wilson and one in Rocky Mount in the summer of 1946, the first official union election, which was won by the FTA-CIO in September 1946, took place at China American Tobacco Company in Rocky Mount. After that election the FTA-CIO won 22 of 24 elections in North Carolina. The consequence was that the organizers established a significant union presence in eastern North Carolina leaf houses, benefitting the tobacco workers of the area. Today only two union locals remain.”

One is in Wilson.

This early National Labor Relations Board decision, reported at 73 NLRB 207 (1947), offers a peek at the earliest days of this movement. Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers Union filed a petition to represent a unit of employees at a Liggett & Myers stemmery in Wilson. TWIU intervened, claiming to have beat FTA to the punch by securing voluntary recognition of its bargaining representative status a few weeks prior to FTA’s petition. The Board upheld the hearing officer’s rulings in the matter and dismissed FTA’s petition.

Per the decision: “The Wilson, North Carolina, plant, the only plant involved in this proceeding, is a subsidiary of the Durham, North Carolina, plant, which is the main factory of the Employer. The Wilson plant receives tobacco from various markets in North Carolina and engages in a process called redrying and tobacco stemming. A portion of the tobacco is stored in Wilson, and the remainder in Durham. All of the tobacco processed by the Wilson plant ultimately reaches the Durham plant, where it is  manufactured into cigarettes and pipe tobacco and shipped throughout the United States. The Wilson plant normally operates from 3 to 4 months a year, August to November, and processes from 8 to 12 million pounds of tobacco per season at an estimated value of $5,500,000. In 1946, during the off season, the plant employed 12 employees, and at its peak employed 217 employees.”

On 19 August 1946, when three of the facility’s five departments were operating, Liggett and TWIU conducted an informal card check that revealed that TWIU represented a majority of 123 employees then employed at Wilson. The same day, they entered into a one-year contract. The next day, all five departments were up and operated by the same 123 employees. FTA asserted that on 16 August 1946 it had written a letter to Liggett claiming to represent a majority of its employees. There was no evidence that the letter was mailed, and Liggett denied receipt. On 21 August, FTA sent Liggett a letter that made no claims of representation and did not reference the August 19 letter. On August 29, FTA sent another letter demanding recognition and claiming majority representation, and the Union filed a petition on September 3, at which time the Employer had reached its peak 217 employees. TWIU claimed its contract barred FTA’s claim, and the Board agreed.

BCTGM Local 270-T, 121 South Pettigrew Street.

TWIU merged with Bakery & Confectionary Workers International Union in 1978 to form Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union. For the Union’s history in its own words, see here. For more on the Union’s involvement in early civil rights efforts in Wilson, see Charles W. McKinney’s Greater Freedoms: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina (2010).

 Copies of union cards courtesy of Deborah Moore Vles; photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, 2016.

Studio shots, no. 9: Mary E. Leach.

This photograph of Mary Edwards Leach (1910-1992) probably taken in the 1940s, is stamped “Baker’s Pictures. 520 E. Nash Street, Wilson, N.C.” and thus reveals the location of this shot and these. Leach was the daughter of Stephen and Charity Bullock Edwards of Wilson and Greene Counties.

The location of the studio on East Nash suggests that Baker was African-American, but no one by that name — black or white — is listed in Wilson in Stephen E. Massingill’s Photographers of North Carolina: The First Century, 1842-1941.

Photograph in the collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks, now in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Hangouts and hospitals.

In 1991, front desk clerk turned newspaper man Roy G. Taylor (1918-1995) self-published a memoir of his years working in Wilson. Though tinged with the casual racism of the time, My City, My Home offers fascinating glimpses of Wilson in the World War II era.

Here are excerpts:

“And Negroes congregated en masse on Barnes Street in the block in which P.L. Woodard Company is located. It wasn’t that they had to gather there, for they had the privilege of meeting at any place in town, just as did the whites. They liked that area, and too, it was in close proximity to several hot dog joints and other eating places. Few white people were seen in that block on Saturday, and few Negroes were seen on Nash Street. It was a matter of the two races choosing to be with their own kind.” p. 44. [Editorial note: This is revisionism of the worst stripe. Wilson in the 1940s was as rigidly segregated by law as any other Southern town. — LYH]

“In the mid-1940s there were three hospitals in Wilson — the Woodard-Herring, the Carolina General, and Mercy. … Mercy Hospital was for the citizens of color. And it didn’t boast many, if any, doctors in those days. Doctors from both hospitals treated Negroes and performed surgery on them, but the surgeons went to Mercy and took their own nurses, did the operations and left the patients in the care of black nurses and attendants.

“If there was an emergency at either hospital and surgery was required, it was performed  at the hospital, and the patient kept there until they came out of the anesthetic. Then they were transported back to Mercy Hospital.

“Mercy Hospital was established in 1913 and had a 40-bed capacity.” pp. 45-46.


[Sidenote: P.L. Woodard Company, founded as an agricultural supply store in 1898, is the oldest established business still operating in Wilson. It’s in the 100 block of Barnes Street between Goldsboro and Tarboro Streets.]

Elnora Williams Armstrong.

elnora armstrong

Wilson Daily Times, 27 October 1945.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Alnora Armstrong, 37, widow, with son Allen, 10.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer James Daniel, 50; wife Louise, 53, laundress; daughters Minnie, 21, Louise, 19, and Lillie, 17, all cooks; daughter Debie Black, 30, and her children Jessie, 9, Moses, 6, Minnie, 2, and Gertie Black, 1 month; plus Ellen Armstrong, 50, widowed house servant, and her son Allen, 18, a railroad laborer.

On 25 November 1915, Allen Armstrong, 26, son of Allen and Elenora Armstrong, married Annie Lewis, 23, daughter of Ed and Sophia Lewis. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at Ed Lewis’ home in Wilson in the presence of Bessie Woodard, Nathaniel Williams, and Isum Harris.

On 5 June 1917, Allen Armstrong registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 15 November 1887 in Wilson;  resided at 532 Church Street; worked as a machinist for W.T. Clark; and supported his mother and wife.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 407 Viola Street, Allen Armstrong, 35, laborer, and mother Ellen Armstrong, 70, widowed family cook. [Both are erroneously reported as Texas natives.]

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 311 North Hackney Street, Sarah Mursley, 45, widowed laundress; son George, 15, tobacco factory laborer; and lodgers Doc Battle, 50, and Elnora Armstrong, 67, a widowed family cook.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 415 East Green Street, insurance collector N. Andrew Pierce, 61; wife Ada W., 58, a seamstress; nephew Otha R. Davis, 28, a beer parlor owner; his wife Lillie, 23, a nurse; their son Otha R., Jr., 6 months; and mother Ella Davis, 52; plus lodgers Elnora Armstrong, 90; Thomas Williams, 35, and Johnie Sarvis, 33.

Elnora Armstrong died 22 October 1945 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born in 1869 in Halifax County, North Carolina, to Monroe and Susie Williams; was widowed; had worked as a domestic; and resided at 608 East Green Street.

[Armstrong’s long-time employer was William T. Clark (1868-1939), a wealthy tobacconist.]

Tobias Dew.

tobie dew 4 30 1947

Wilson Daily Times, 30 April 1947.

In the 1880 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer Isaac Dew, 30; wife Esther, 24; children Annie, 12, Willie, 9, Tobias, 8, Martha, 4, Lesie, 3, and Laura, 2; plus farmer Burden Barnes, 28, and his wife Delphina, 19, who were white.

On 20 May 1918, Tobe Dew, 45, of Crossroads township, son of Isaac and Easter Dew, married Ardella Scarboro, 25, of Crossroads township, daughter of John and Ardella Scarboro of Oxford, North Carolina, at the courthouse in Wilson.

Toby Dew registered for the World War I draft on 12 September 1918:


In the 1920 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer Tobey Dew, 40; wife Ardella S., 26; and children Anna, 9, and Easter, 6; sisters Martha, 30, and Georgia, 28; and widowed mother Easter, 60.

In the 1930 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Tobie Dew, 52, farmer; wife Ardella, 36; and daughter Eva, 14.

On 3 January 1933, James Arthur Bynum, 25, of Crossroads township, son of Ora Bell Bynum, married Eva Dew, 18, of Crossroads, daughter of Tobie and Ardella Dew in Wilson. Elder Arthur Fuller of the Holiness church performed the ceremony in the presence of L.L. Harvey, Stephen Coleman, and Andrew Rountree.

In the 1940 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Tobey Dew, 67; wife Ardella, 46; granddaughter Thelma, 9; and widower cousin Gabriel Hooks, 75.

Tobie Dew died 28 April 1947 in Crossroads township Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was married to Ardella Dew; born 10 May 1874 in Wilson County to Isaac Dew and Easter Barnes; and had been engaged in farming. Della Dew was informant.


Friendship Primitive Baptist Church today, just west of Lucama. The church was among those lead by Elder Fate Melton.