Biography

Artist, lawyer, preacher.

On 15 September 1939, Cora L. Bennett, a writer employed by the Works Project Administration interviewed William Arthur Cooper for the Folklore Project. The transcript of the interview is housed at the Library of Congress. Here is an excerpt:

William A. Cooper, artist and preacher gives the story of his life as follows:

“My work has been my life. Whatever degree of success I have had has come about, I believe, as a result of my dogged determination to do something tangible for my race.

“I was born in the country near Hillsboro, N.C. As a small boy I worked on the farm. I worked in the tobacco fields, worming and stemming tobacco as well as in the cotton fields. For about four months in the winter I attended a Mission school in Hillsboro for negros. In summer time I worked as a janitor and some times as a cook or house boy.

“When I was about fourteen I began to support myself, and soon there after went to the Industrial Institute at High Point, N.C. as a work student. I worked on the school farm,
got up at five o’clock in the morning to milk the cows, plow and hoe cotton and corn, and anything else that needed to be done. While I was at this school I also took up brick laying along with my other studies.

“From High Point I went to the National Religious Training School at Durham, N.C. There I took the four year Theological Course. Still working my way through school, I received the Bachelor of Theology Degree from that institution.

“As soon as I had finished I went to Wilson, N.C. where I started out as an insurance man, and at the same time preaching at a small church on Sunday.

“I went from there to Burlington, N.C. where I was elected Principal of a high school. I also served as Principal of the high school at Graham, N.C. and taught at various other places. All this time I was studying law at night and passed the State Bar examination in 1922.

“I became interested in art for the first time a few years before this. I was in bed with a severe cold and while lying idle I thought I would try to do two pictures illustrating the Biblical quotation: ‘Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, but straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be who
find it.’ The members of my church were quite pleased with the pictures. Their pleasure encouraged me a great deal, and from that time on I began to paint other things. It was then I started painting the members of my race, anybody I could get 3 to sit— field hands, teachers, children, cooks or washerwomen. I had taken no formal lessons at the time but I kept right on trying to see what I might do.

“I have attempted to show the real negro through art. I believe that unless we have some record of the negro that is neither burlesqued with black face nor idealized with senmentality, the younger generation of negroes will be deprived of inspiration from their own race. …”

——

William Arthur Cooper (1895-1974), preacher, lawyer, and artist, painted the portraits of Negro field hands, domestic servants, children, religious and civic leaders and business executives. As a member of the North Carolina Interracial Commission, Cooper made a “good will” tour to colleges and universities in North Carolina where he exhibited his portraits and lectures on art and black culture.

Cooper’s papers, housed at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, include: “Biographical materials; correspondence, concerning portrait commisions, lectures on art, and exhibitions of his work; two account books containing expenditures; receipts; a journal, 1935, containing expenditures and notes concerning his “good will” tour; a report on the tour; Cooper’s publication Educating Through Fine Arts; his book A Portrayal of Negro Life, 1936, which contains reproductions of his portraits acompanied by his explanatory text, and documents related to the book including proposed plans, sales records, and a typescript of the book which contains portraits not included in the published version; price lists for Cooper’s paintings; exhibition catalogs, clippings, miscellany, and a book by Charles C. Dawson, ABCs of Great Negroes; and 36 photographs of Cooper, of his friends and church members, and his portrait paintings.”

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 9.02.59 PM

The Bathing Girl (1932).

Lafayette “Fate” Melton.

13509013_10204947867016420_8522647012730599685_n

On 3 December 1907, Mack Melton, 55, of Gardners township, son of Lenzy and Eliza Melton, married Sarah Wootten, 40, of Greene County, in Wilson County. Moses Dew applied for the marriage license, and he, Carrie Melton and Marry Thomas witnessed.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Mack Melton, 60, wife Sarah, 45, and children Lafyette, 14, Lillie, 12, Gilber, 10, and Warren Melton, 8. Both Mack and Sarah reported that this was a second marriage for each. Sarah reported that seven of her nine children were living.

Fate Milton registered for the World War I draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he resided in Wilson County, was born in Pitt County on 21 December 1895, and worked a farmer.

On 29 December 1921, Fate Melton, 26, of Wilson County, son of Mack and Sarah Melton, married Annie Brooks, 21, of Wilson County, daughter of Grant and Sallie Brooks. Primitive Baptist minister Thomas Bunch officiated at the ceremony, and David Bynum, Leander Harriss and Leander Sauls were witnesses.

Fate Melton was appointed as an elder in the Union Primitive Baptist Association as a young man and served as pastor of at least four Wilson County churches, Oaky Grove, Friendship, Union Grove and Jerusalem Grove. He led Jerusalem Grove from 1924 until his death in 1961; the church is now helmed by a grandson.

unuin hill

uh2

uh3

uh4

uh5

uh6

uh7

uh8

Fate Melton died 4 September 1961 at a Veterans Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was a farmer and Primitive Baptist minister; was born 21 December 1896 in Wilson County to Tony Sharp Melton and Sarah Ellis; and was a World War I veteran. Annie Brooks Melton was informant.

40050_647661_0431-00423

Proceedings of the 58th Annual Session of the Union Primitive Baptist Association found at www.archive.org; military headstone application found at U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Many thanks to Anthony J. Edwards for permission to feature this photograph.

William Hines, making good.

In March 1913, the Indianapolis Recorder, a nationally focused African-American newspaper, ran a front-page feature on William Hines, a “native of [Wilson] and a forceful character for the intellectual, moral, spiritual, social and economic development of young North Carolinians.”

Citing Samuel H. Vick and Biddle University as Hines’ influences, the article detailed his entry into the real estate business after establishing a successful barber shop. In just five years, Hines had accumulated 11 houses and “a number of very desirable lots.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 9.23.21 AM

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 9.23.44 AM

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 9.29.17 AM

Indy Recorder 3 1 1913

Indianapolis Recorder, 1 March 1913.

Hines’ real estate investments eventually made him one of the largest builder-owners of rental property in east Wilson. His barber shop operated for many decades, and his varied civic involvement included work as leader in the World War I Liberty Loan Campaign, charter investor in the Commercial Bank of Wilson, founding member of the Men’s Civic Clubboard of trustees of the Negro Library, board of directors of the Reid Street Community Center, and administrator of Mercy Hospital.

screen-shot-2016-08-16-at-8-35-26-pm

William Hines, a little later in life.

William Hines was born 29 October 1883 in Edgecombe County and died 17 October 1981 in Wilson. He is buried in Rest Haven cemetery.

Photo of Hines courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

John M. and Annie D. Barnes.

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 3.38.38 PM

John M. and Annie D. Barnes. The building behind them appears to be Mercy Hospital. They lived next door at 500 East Green Street.

John Mack Barnes is one of a handful of African-Americans whose bio briefs were submitted for publication in History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985). “Father John Barnes was a real down to earth person. Never a hint of show off, or put on trying to impress you. Every one that knew him had to respect him.”

Per the article, John Barnes was born 26 December 1870 in Edgecombe County to Charles and Rebecca Barnes. (Benjamin Frank Barnes was one of his brothers.) He married Annie Darden and fathered four children, Leonard Elroy, Artelia, Thelma, and a boy who died early. Annie Darden Barnes taught at the Sallie Barbour School.

Barnes was a master builder, carpenter and brickmason whose finest works included Saint John A.M.E. Zion church and parsonage, Camillus L. Darden‘s stately Colonial Revival home on Pender Street, and the Tudor Revival Darden Funeral Home on Nash. He was devoted to Saint John and served as violin soloist, steward and trustee during his 69 years of membership. In his spare time, he raised Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock chickens at his home at 500 East Green Street.

When Annie Barnes died, Barnes built a brick and cement mausoleum for her remains. John M. Barnes died 27 April 1958 and was buried in an extension of the mausoleum built by his friend George Coppedge.

IMG_0749

Barnes mausoleum in Darden family plot, Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson, February 2017.

——

In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Charley Barnes, 50, wife Beckey, 36, and children John, 10, Frank, 6, Ann, 4, William C., 3, Thomas, 1, and Corah H., 1 month.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmhand Charley Barnes, 50; wife Rebecca, 57, washing; and children John, 26, drayman, William, 23, drayman, Annie, 17, cooking, Tom, 18, day laborer, and Corrah, 12, nursing.

On 22 December 1903, John M. Barnes, 33, son of Chas. and Rebecca Barnes of Wilson, married Annie Lee Darden, 24, daughter of Chas. and Dianah Darden of Wilson. Samuel H. Vick applied for the license, and Methodist Episcopal minister B.D. McIver performed the service in the presence of C.R. Cannon, Walter Hines, and O.L.W. Smith.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason John M. Barnes, 44, wife Annie L., 32, Leonard E., 5, Lee J. [Leo Artelia], 4, Selma [Thelma] F., 2, and John W., 3 months.

In the 1912 Hill’s city directory, John M. Barnes, bricklayer, is listed at 121 Pender Street (adjacent to Saint John A.M.E. Zion.) In the 1922 and 1930 city directories, he is listed at 500 East Green. His occupation was given as plasterer in 1922.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 500 East Green, bricklayer John M. Barnes, 69, and wife Annie L., 61.

Annie Lee Barnes died 3 May 1943 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 February 1879 in Wilson to Charles Henry Darden of Greene County and Dianna Scarborough of Wilson County; was married to John M. Barnes; and taught at the Sallie Barbour School. John M. Barnes was informant.

John M. Barnes died 27 April 1958 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1870 in Wayne County to Charles and Rebecca Pope Barnes; worked as a brickmason; was married to Cora Sherrod Barnes [daughter of Jack and Cassie Sherrod]; and was buried at Rest Haven. Thelma B. Byers was informant.

Photo of John and Annie Barnes courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985); cemetery photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2017.

Benjamin Frank Barnes.

IMG_9266

Cornerstone, Mount Hebron Lodge.

In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Charley Barnes, 50, wife Beckey, 36, and children John, 10, Frank, 6, Ann, 4, William C., 3, Thomas, 1, and Corah H., 1 month.

On 3 May 1899, Benjamin F. Barnes, 25, son of Charles and Rebecca Barnes of Wilson County, married Prudy Miller, 20, daughter of Prissy Miller, in Wilson. Rev. S.B. Hunter performed the ceremony at Saint John’s A.M. E. Zion in the presence of L.A. Moore, Charlotte Aycock and Annie V.C. Hunt.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: house mover Frank Barnes, 28, wife Prudence, 21, mother-in-law Priscillia Miller, 45, and her son John, 14.

On 14 September 1904, B.F. Barnes, 31, of Wilson County, son of Charles and Rebecca Barnes, married Nicey A. Harper, 30, daughter of John and Edna Harper of Greene County, in Snow Hill township, Greene County.

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Benj. F. Barnes, bricklayer, is listed residing at 221 Pender Street.

In the 1910 census of Snow Hill, Greene County: in the household of John and Edna Harper, son-in-law Frank Barnes, 37, married twice, brickmason, and daughter Nicie A., 38.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 418 Green Street, brickmason Frank Barnes, and wife Nicey, 47.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason Frank Barnes, 68, wife Nicey, 69, and brother-in-law Will Harper, 62.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2016.

Bishop of the United Holy Church.

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-7-59-25-pm

Encyclopedia of African American Religions (1993), eds. Larry G. Murphy, J. Gordon Melton, and Gary L. Ward.

——

Horace Bowen, 23, of Wilson, son of Robert and Sarah Bowen of Wilmington, North Carolina, married Sallie Stevens, 15, daughter of Norris and A.J. Stevens, all of Wilson, on 18 May 1913 in Wilson. A.J. Stevens Pittmon gave permission for her minor daughter to marry. (Norris Stevens was deceased.) Pentecostal minister Isaac Lewis performed the ceremony in the presence of George Wilson, Henry McCray and William Davis.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 806 Lodge Street, Henry Boans, 28, oil mill laborer; wife Sallie, 21; and children Jessie, 4, Elma, 2, and Joseph, 1; plus boarder Evonie Weeks, 23, a tobacco factory worker, and her daughter Jennie, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: cotton oil mill laborer Horace Bowen, 36; wife Sallie, 30, cook; and children Jesse D., 15, Joseph, 11, and Earlie, 0.

Horrace Bowens died 31 May 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he resided at 508 1/2 Church Street; was married to Sallie Bowens; was 57 years old; had been a preacher for 20 years; and was born in Wilmington to Robert and Sallie Bowens.

In the 1940 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 2331 Kedner Street, widow Sallie Bowens, 40, helper at tobacco factory; and children Joseph, 20, William, 40, and Earth, 9; and lodger Samuel Bowens, 28; all born in North Carolina but living in Pennsylvania before 1935.


Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson, February 2017.

He learned the English alphabet in about twenty minutes.

Jethro, Nimrod, the Queen of Sheba, Saint Catherine, Hannibal, Phillis Wheatley, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Denmark Vesey … and Rev. Robert S. Rives. Rives was pastor of Saint John’s A.M.E. Zion in Wilson around 1900 and testified at the coroner’s inquest over the shooting death of James A. Hunt. His selection as one of the Negro stars of the ages is as curious as author W.H. Quick’s contrived (and occasionally opaque) prose.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-9-18-58-pm

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-9-17-42-pm

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-9-18-03-pm

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-9-18-16-pm

Rev. William J. Moore.

Toward the end of his life, Rev. William John Moore served as pastor of Saint John’s A.M.E. Zion Church in Wilson and Presiding Elder of the Wilmington District, Cape Fear Conference, of the A.M.E.Z. Church. In younger years, however, he had been a vital force in establishing the denomination throughout the region, as this entry in J.W. Hood’s One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; or, the Centennial of African Methodism makes clear:

wjm-1

wjm-2

wjm-3

Rev. W.H. Davenport’s The Anthology of Zion Methodism, published in 1925, notes: “The Autobiography of Rev. William J. Moore, D.D., is interesting from cover to cover. Zion Methodism had its inception in the South in New Bern, N. C. Eliza Gardner, Mary Anderson and others of the Daughters of Conference of New England raised money to send Rev. J. W. Hood to the South. Shortly after his arrival he and Moore met and there began a friendship between them which was beautiful in its sincerity and purity. The early struggles of Moore’s life are intimately connected with the early struggles of Zion Methodism in North Carolina. The book is not cast in a high literary mold, but is a rugged and straightforward statement of a religious frontiersman and pioneer.”

——

Moore was in Wilson as early as 1892, when his wife Sarah is listed among gift-givers celebrating the marriage of Samuel Vick and Annie Washington.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: minister William J. Moore, 64; wife Sarah J., 60; daughter Mary E., 29; and grandsons Alfred Hill, 12, and Wilbur, 3.

On 6 December 1906, Mary E. Moore, 29, daughter of W.J. and Sallie Moore, married Willie Mitchell, 24, son of Wiley and Betsy Mitchell, in Wilson. Judge Mitchell applied for the license, and Rev. N.D. King performed the ceremony in the presence of L.A. Moore, Isaac Stone, W.J. Moore and Mrs. Burtie Farmer.

On 2 January 1908, Alex Moore, 38, and Mary Magett, 26, were married in Wilson by Methodist minister G.A. Wood in the presence of Martha Wood, Joseph Sutton and C.G. Lewis.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-8-59-30-pm

Hill’s Wilson, N.C, Directory (1908).

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, Willy Mitchell, 34, odd jobs laborer, wife Mary, 39, and son Wilton, 13.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Grace Street, Alex Moore, 46, factory laborer, wife Mary, 28, and son Charlie, 3.

Rev. Moore drafted and executed a will on 15 November 1913.

007640343_01225-2

In it, he gave his children Mary and Alex a house and five lots in Wilson (which later revoked) and “all the endowment money ” coming from the Masonic Lodge, the Eastern Star Chapter, and the Brotherhood of the A.M.E. Zion Church. He further passed to Mary his interest in the mortgage held on property in Pamlico County, North Carolina, and named her his executrix. One of the witnesses, New Bern native Rev. Clinton D. Hazel, also served as Presiding Elder of Wilmington District.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 314 Stantonsburg Street, widowed cook Mary Mitchell, 46; barber Alex Moore, 43, his wife Mary, 38, a laundress, and their son Charles, 44. [The 1920 Wilson city directory lists Alex as an employee of M.D. Cannon‘s barber shop.]

On 9 November 1920, Mary E. Mitchell drafted a will with very terms. She had three insurance policies and specified that from the policy for $121.00 on the Durham Company [North Carolina Mutual] $50 be paid to Dr. W.A. Mitchner and $50 to Fannie Simpson “who nursed me last winter.” She owned “a house and some lots on Stantonsburg Street in the town of Wilson.” They were to go to Sylvia Best on the condition that she live in or rent out the house for ten years. “If at the time of the expiration of said ten years my son Alfred Hill, whom I have not heard from in a number of years, has not returned to Wilson,” the land would pass in fee to Best. If Alfred returned, he would receive the lot on which the house was located, and Sylvia the best. If he returned earlier than ten years, he was to allow Sylvia and her family to live with him until the ten years expired. W.A. Mitchner was named executor.

Mary E. Mitchell died 5 February 1921 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was divorced; resided on Stantonsburg Street; worked as a laundress; and was born 10 May 1865 in Beaufort County, North Carolina, to W. John Moore of Washington, North Carolina, and Sarah Moore. Informant was Alex Moore.

Mary Moore Mitchell’s will entered probate on 14 February 1921.

Alex Moore died 28 December 1928 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he resided at 108 Manchester Street; was a widower; worked as a common laborer; was 60 years old; and was born in Wilson to John and Sallie Ann Moore, both of New Bern, North Carolina. Charles Moore was informant.

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Wilson’s hidden figure.

On 15 January 2017, the Wilson Times published an article about a Wilson-born woman with ties to “Hidden Figures,” the Hollywood blockbuster shining the spotlight on three black women who worked as “human computers” in NASA’s space program. 

Though Christine Barnes Richie is not a title character in the film, she was among the mathematicians Margot Lee Shetterly interviewed for the book upon which the movie is based. Richie is the daughter of McKinley and Hagar Hagans Barnes.

——

McKinley Barnes, 21, of Taylor township, son of Lovett Barnes and Lucy Wells married Hagar Hagans, 17, daughter of James and Hannah Hagans, on 11 January 1930 in Wilson, Wilson County.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 319 North Hackney, lumber mill laborer Frank Harris, 35, wife Mamie, 33, and son Frank Jr., 2, with farm laborer McKinley Barnes, 21, and wife Hagar, 16.

In the 1940 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: McKinley Barnes, 32, wife Heggar, 26, and children Christine, 8, Katherine, 7, and Ruby, 1, niece Lizzy Mae Barnes, 20, and mother Lucy Barnes, 59.