agriculture

Shelling corn.

In the summer of 1938, “Baker” photographed farming scenes across North Carolina for the state Department of Conservation and Development. In July, he captured in quick succession two images of a small group of white and African-American men and boys shelling corn on a farm “near Wilson.”

Close-ups of the two photographs: 

Shelling Corn near Wilson July 1938, Department of Conservation and Development, Travel Information Division Photographs 1937-1973, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh.

An abundance of good grazing.

202006041638552580.png

Wilson Daily Times, 27 July 1944.

——

  • Henry 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, 3.
  • Sugar Hill section — There is a Sugar Hill neighborhood on the western outskirts of the town of Simms and a Sugar Hill Road that runs just east of and parallel to Interstate 95 near the Nash County line. Neither is in Toisnot township. Henry Armstrong’s family’s land was east of Elm City near Edgecombe County. Can anyone pinpoint the location of Armstrong’s Sugar Hill? [Update, 7/28/2020: Jack Cherry identified Sugar Hill as a community along East Langley Road between Town Creek and Temperance Hall United Methodist Church (which is just across the line in Edgecombe County.) His great-grandfather operated a small general store and gas station at the heart of the community and lent his name to Cherry Chapel Baptist Church.]

Google Street View of the old Cherry’s Store.

Tornado blows off porch.

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 6.01.08 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 14 July 1911.

  • Reubin Ellis — probably, in the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, farmer Rheubin Ellis, 76; wife Clarkie Ellis, 72; daughters Henrietta, 23, Joemima, 22, and Cherrie Ellis, 19; and grandchildren Annie, 14, Ashley, 12, Rheubin, 11, and Lucy, 11 months. [Actually, grandchildren Ashley and Reuben’s surname was Simms.]

Fisher suggests a labor camp.

Screen Shot 2020-04-04 at 3.14.25 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 6 October 1942.

In the fall of 1942, farmers complained that, rather than spending their final weeks toiling to harvest crops, men waiting to be called up for military service were taking “vacations” and carousing instead. Edwin D. Fisher, ex-confirmed cabin steward, U.S. Navy, took pen in hand to suggest a solution. He was willing to join one hundred others to purchase ten acres of land in Wilson County for the establishment of a “federal migratory labor camp.” Fisher had been assured by his neighbor, “Nurse Raison,” that migrant workers were harvest specialists who did not seek “recreation or jaunts into surrounding towns,” being satisfied with the entertainment provided in the camp. Moreover, “sweat worn men, women and youth rest in their cots at night” in such camps. Fisher had seen it with his own eyes.

——

In the 1910 census of New Haven, Connecticut: at 30 Hazel Street, hardware merchant Edwin W. Fisher, 37; wife Daisy, 32; and children Edwin D., 16, Eugene L., 13, Clarence R., 10, Anna V., 6, Milton W., 3, and Susie A., 1.

Edwin Dortche Fisher registered for the World War I draft in New Haven, Connecticut. Per his registration card, he was born 1 February 1894 in Essex, Connecticut; resided at 26 Charles Street, New Haven; was a student and club car waiter; worked for the N.Y.N.H. & H. R.R., New York; and had a “weak back from injury.”

In the 1920 census of Westport, Fairfield County, Connecticut: William Dorsey, 64, master mason; son-in-law Edwin Fisher, 26, steward on [illegible]; daughter Edith Fisher, 26; and their daughter Mary, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: banker Judge D. Reid, 52, public school principal Elnora Reid, 50, sons Fredrick, 17, and Herbert, 14, and lodger Edwin D. Fisher, 36, a studio photographer. The house was owned free of mortgage and valued at $6000.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 302 Vick, widow Letitia Lovett, 62, born Georgia, dressmaker, and roomer Edwin D. Fisher, 46, “World War veteran.”

On 2 February 1941, Edwin D. Fisher, 47, son of Edwin W. Fisher and Nannie D. Fisher, married Letitia H. Lovett, 57, daughter of Frank and Sarah Jones, at Lovett’s residence. Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Milton W. Fisher, Mrs. Almira Fisher, Mrs. Rosa B. McCuller, and Mrs. Eva L. Brown.

Letitia Lovette Fisher died 1 November 1969 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 January 1876 in Georgia to Franklin Jones and an unknown mother; lived at 301 North Vick; was married Edwin Dortch Fisher; and was a seamstress and teacher.

Edwin Dortche Fisher died 15 November 1973 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 February 1893; lived at 301 North Vick Street; was a widower; and worked in photography. Harry J. Faison was informant.

An example worthy of following.

The Special Collections Research Center of North Carolina State Libraries has digitized several annual reports submitted to the state’s Cooperative Extension Service by Negro County Extension Agent Carter W. Foster. Below, part 1 of a series revealing the 1942 report.

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 9.20.42 PM.png

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 9.21.01 PM.png

“… I have attempted to give you an insight of the major activities carried on by Negro farmers in the county during the year.” Foster credited farm families, county officials, home economics extension agent Jane A. Boyd, the extension staffs at North Carolina State A.&T. and North Carolina State Universities, and members of the Negro school systems for the year’s successes.

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 9.21.33 PM.png

Foster named Mark Sharpe the Outstanding Man of the Year.

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 9.21.49 PM.png

Sharpe was born and reared on the farm he was buying. His father, a life-long tenant farmer, lived with him. Their landlord had made a standing offer to sell the farm for $6000 years before. “Not being satisfied with the manner in which his father was living,” Sharpe decided to buy. He happened upon an article about Farm Security Administration loans for low-income tenants. Within days he was approved. The farm was on Highway 42 on the Wilson-Edgecombe border, and about 40 of its 51 acres were suitable for farming.

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 9.22.46 PM.png

The house was in fairly good condition at purchase, but was upgraded with screens, paint and a pump on the back porch, and Sharpe constructed a laying house, a smokehouse and an outhouse.

Sharpe was a young man — just 29 years old. He was the father of five, a member of the Negro Farmers Advisory Committee, and a Neighborhood Lender. “He is an example worthy of following by many tillers of the soil.”

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 9.22.57 PM.png

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 9.22.31 PM.png

 

Seeking Wilson County’s black farmers.

In the 1870 census of Wilson County, 50 African-American men and women reported owning land. Forty-seven of the 50 reported their occupation as farming. I don’t have the statistics, but I imagine the number of black Wilson County farmers rose into the early 20th century.

Here is an excerpt from the most recent (2017) data from the United States Department of Agriculture’s farm census. (A “farm” is any place from which $1000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been produced and sold, during the census year.)  The first three columns — Farms, Black or African American Producers, Land in Farms (Acres) — are grouped under the heading “All Farms with a Black or African American Producer.” The second three columns have the same titles, but are grouped as “All Farms with a Black or African American Principal Producer.”

fdhdfsh

I’m not entirely sure of the difference between the two groups, but one number is consistent — as of three years ago, there are only 15 black-owned farms in all of Wilson County.

I’m curious. Do you know any of these 15 farmers? Are any of the 15 working land that has been passed down from generation to generation in their family, perhaps as far back as the 19th century? Please let me know if you know!