1940s

On this Veteran’s Day…

Family lore has it that Lucian Jacob Henderson attempted to join the Army at 15 or 16 as World War II was in full rage.  He was finally able to enlist on 28 October 1944, his 18th birthday. Though his home address was 1109 Queen Street, Wilson, he was working as a deckhand for the Norfolk & Washington Steamboat Company at the time and signed up at a draft office in Washington, D.C.

The following year, Henderson qualified as an infantry rifleman after spending four months in basic and advanced training at the Infantry Replacement Training Center in Fort McClellan, Alabama.

Lucian J. Henderson, probably 1945-46. His shoulder patch bears the insignia of the Sixth United States Army, with whom he served occupation duty in Japan at the end of 1945.

Lucian J. Henderson, at left.

U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com; photographs from the collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks.

Charm and talent at Hampton Institute.

Pittsburgh Courier, 7 November 1942.

Hampton Institute’s 1942 freshman class included Parthenia Robinson of Wilson, right, a member of the Kampus Kamera Klub.

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In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 202 Vick Street, barber Golden Robinson, 30; wife Bertie, 23; and children Parthenia, 5, Gold M., 3, and Glean, 1.

On 7 June 1951 in Nottoway County, Virginia, Anne Parthenia Robinson, 25, daughter of Goldwyn Robinson and Bertie Parks, born in Wilson, resident of Washington, D.C., married Berkeley Graham Burrell, 31, son of Hayward G. Burrell and Fannie Mae Miles, born in Washington, D.C., and a soldier at Camp Pickett, Virginia.

Pioneer for Zion.

PC 2 12 1944

Pittsburgh Courier, 12 February 1944.

This second obituary of Susan Pyatt, mother of Hannah Pyatt Peacock, made special mention of her role in organizing Pyatt’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion, just inside Edgecombe County. The congregation still meets in a tiny edifice on Temperance Hall Road, a few miles east of Elm City.

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Photograph courtesy of Google Map.

Fine tea and program.

Pittsburgh Courier, 8 January 1949.

Willie Wynn.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 February 1940.

On 23 September 1886, Willie Winn, 27, and Jennie Hussey, 19, were married in Wayne County, North Carolina.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Willie Winn, 50; wife Jennie, 23; and children Bessie, 18, Cora, 14, Charlie, 11, Annie, 10, John, 9, Ray, 7, Dortch, 4, Pinkie, 1, and Jessie, 17.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer William Winn, 59; wife Jennie, 48; and children Charley, 21, John, 19, Dorch, 13, Pink, 10, and Jeneva, 8.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer Willie Winn, 62; wife Jennie, 60; and children Roy, 23, and Pink, 20; and lodger Lula Ward, 45.

Willie Wynn Jr. died 11 February 1940. Per his death certificate, he died 11 February 1940 in Wilson; had been married to Jennie Wynn, but was a widower; resided at 1102 Atlantic Street, Wilson; worked as a laborer; was the son of Willie Wynn and Annie Williams. Geneva Dew, 1102 East Atlantic Street, was informant, and he was buried in Elm City.

  • Wynn’s Chapel
  • McKinley Whitley — in the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: church minister McKinley Whitley, 28, and wife Ruth, 28.

Rosetta Whitley Ellis.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 April 1949.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Counsel Whitley, 27; wife Annis, 24; and children Alice Ida, 4, Matha J., 2, and Rosa Ella, 6 months.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Concil Whitley, 42; wife Annis, 37; and children Ida, 14, Jane M., 12, Rosetta, 10, Isaca, 8, Dortha, 6, Council Jr., 4, and Mina, 2, plus widower brother William Haskins, 34.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Council Whitley, 50; wife Annis, 44; and children Ida, 24, Jane, 23, Rosetta, 20, Hezekiah, 18, Dorothy, 16, Council Jr., 14, Mimy, 13, Mandy L., 9, Mary M., 6, and Ruth L., 3, plus widowed mother Mimy Whitley, 70, and lodger John H. Dean, 20.

Rosetta Ellis died 29 March 1949 in Spring Hill township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 October 1910 in Wilson to Council Whitley and Anis Batts; was married; and worked in farming. She was buried in Bethel cemetery. Informant was Eddie Ellis.

 

Karl Fleming’s Wilson.

The Wilson Daily Times is the source of many of the newspaper articles posted at Black Wide-Awake. I am not unmindful of the racist over- and undertones of many of the clippings, especially those reporting alleged criminal activity. Nevertheless, they have value as imperfect documentation of the existence of so many African-Americans whose lives went otherwise unrecorded. Journalist Karl Fleming made his name covering the Civil Rights movement — most notably, Freedom Summer — for Newsweek magazine in the early 1960s. Fleming’s newspaper career began about 1947 at the Daily Times, which, in Son of the Rough South: An Uncivil Memoir (2005), he credits with introducing him to the brutal racist policies of his native state.

Fleming devotes several chapters to his time in Wilson. His behind-the-scenes explanation of the Times‘ race conventions is illuminating:

“The style of the Daily Times decreed that unmarried black women of whatever age be called ‘girl.’ A married ‘colored’ woman after being identified by her whole name, perhaps, perhaps Elsie Smith, in the first mention, would in succeeding graphs be called ‘the Smith woman.’ This avoided the honorifics ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ being applied to colored women. Colored men, of course, were never referred to as ‘Mr.,’ not even on the full page that ran ever Saturday headlined ‘News of the Colored Community,’ which catalogued the doings of the colored Charles L. Darden [sic] High School, church and Sunday school events, marriages, funerals, and social clubs. Darden ran the colored funeral home and a colored insurance agency and was the colored community’s most substantial citizen.”

His physical description of the town remains recognizable in many ways, even in the water fountains have been dismantled:

“Wilson and the surrounding county was half white and half colored. The town squatted in the sweltering heart of the table-flat and sandy North Carolina coastal plain, throughout which tobacco was the main cash crop. In the center of town, in front of a marble courthouse with six fluted Doric columns, two magnolia trees, and a confederate statue, were ‘White’ and ‘Colored’ water fountains.”

“The old train depot, the faded brick six-story Cherry Hotel alongside it, and the tracks of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad separated these black and white worlds.”

“What the colored people across the tracks may actually have felt about segregation in general and separate schools specifically no one in the white world knew. It was simply assumed that what they said to the white people was true — that they were content with the status quo. The pillars of the black community, the ministers and school teachers and the owners of the few colored businesses allowed to exist because whites wanted nothing to do with them — such as restaurant, beauty parlors, barber shops, funeral homes, pool halls, and juke joints patronized entirely by colored people — did not publicly protest or resist. There seemed to be among them a seeming general air of good-natured acceptance. When one of them excelled, or died, it was said that “he was a credit to his race,” suggesting that ordinary blackness was a debit somehow.”

Fleming exaggerates the uniform decrepitude of East Wilson’s building stock. As this blog has amply demonstrated, East Wilson was a lot more than shotgun rentals in need of whitewash. There were certainly a fair number of those though.

“The colored community was a close-packed warren of gray unpainted shotgun shacks rented from white landlords on dirt alleys across the railroad tracks. Its only paved roads were Nash Street, becoming Highway 41 [91] going east into the country towards the coast, and U.S. 301 going north and south, the principal highway from New York to Miami. Its inhabitants were for the most part menials of every sort, field hands on the surrounding tobacco farms, manual laborers for the city and county maintenance departments, and unskilled workers in the tobacco warehouses and wholesale packing houses.”

And then this observation, followed by a truism:

“Few white people ventured into ‘niggertown.’ … The arrival of a white man could mean nothing good. He was either ‘the law,’ a bill collector, or someone selling something — usually life of burial insurance.”

Fleming also offers a reporter’s assessment of (and white Wilson’s take on) the trial of Allen T. Reid, who was sentenced to death in 1949 for burglary.