Biography

Madam Walker and Doctor Ward.

The Netflix limited series Self Made is refocusing attention on Madam C.J. Walker, the millionaire entrepreneur and empowerer of women best known for her haircare empire. The series is honest about being more “inspired by” Madam Walker’s life than true to it. Chockablock with B-list black star power (plus Octavia Spencer), Self Made is entertaining if you don’t think about it too hard. Ultimately, however, its heavy-handed resort to tropes and types and its soap opera style do a disservice to her story. Anyone wanting a closer truth should turn to A’Lelia Bundles’ On Her Own Ground, or my fave, Beverly Lowry’s Her Dream of Dreams: The Rise and Triumph of Madam C.J. Walker. Among other things, you’ll find an important part of Walker’s story completely omitted from Self-Made — her relationship with Dr. Joseph H. Ward, an African-American physician born in Wilson about 1872.

When she first arrived in Indianapolis in 1910, Walker boarded with Joseph and Zella Locklear Ward and gave beauty culture demonstrations in their parlor.

Indianapolis Recorder, 12 February 1910.

Indianapolis Recorder, 5 March 1910.

Walker and her daughter Lelia Robinson grew close to the Wards, and Dr. Ward was Madam’s personal physician the remainder of her life. He was at her bedside when she died.

The Wards accompanied Madam Walker on a drive to Kansas City, Missouri, where she addressed the National Educational Congress on “How the Negro Woman May Success in Business.” Indianapolis Star, 13 July 1913.

On a drive from Saint Louis to Kansas City, the automobile in which the Wards and Walker were traveling was jumped by a wild animal. Indianapolis Star, 28 September 1913.

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Also in 1913, on the steps of the newly dedicated Y.M.C.A., Madam Walker with Booker T. Washington and, behind them, her lawyer Freeman Ransom and Dr. Joseph H. Ward.  

From Lowry’s Her Dream of Dreams:

“By Friday, Ward informs the household that Madame Walker cannot last longer than Sunday. On Saturday night, about midnight, she slips into unconsciousness. And her faithful friends and doctors and family gather around her bed; they are religious people who also believe in love and company, and that no one should pass from this life into the next alone. And so they wait, hushed, whispering, watching her, waiting.

“Sunday dawns warms and clear, and early rays of the sun crack through the drawn damask curtains and perhaps fall in splinters across the rose silk coverlet on Madame’s bed. At seven o’clock her people are still there, but no one feels her go and no one knows when she dies until Ward turns and says, ‘It’s over.’

“And if they weep it is with relief, for the end of her suffering. Her dying words, Ward later reports, were ‘I want to live to help my race.'”

Photo courtesy of Madam Walker Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Remembering Mrs. Johnson, honoring Mrs. Richie.

Pioneering mathematician Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson passed away today at the age of 101. Mrs. Johnson’s calculations of orbital mechanics were vital to the success of the United States’ first manned space flights.

Wilson County’s own Christine Barnes Richie also worked as a “human computer” for NASA’s predecessor in the 1950s. In 2019, Mrs. Richie was selected as one of two inaugural recipients of the Salem College Trailblazer Award. Her taped acceptance speech was aired at Salem College’s 2019 commencement ceremony.

Many thanks to Patricia Freeman for sharing.

Update: James Woodard’s father, Amos.

A few days ago, the blog of the North Carolina Civil War and Reconstruction History Center posted an article on James Woodard, whose Wilson County connection I shared here. This article explores the identity of James Woodard’s father Amos, who is recorded in family lore as having been sold away. Identifying two Amos Woodards from Wilson County who enlisted in regiments of the United States Colored Troops, researcher Cheri Todd Molter speculates that Amos’ sudden departure was due to his having run away to join the Army, rather than being sold away.

The records below offer descriptions of both men. Further research is required to determine which, if either, was James Woodard’s father, and if either were related to London Woodard.

Amos Woodard enlisted in Company M, 14 Regiment U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, on 24 April 1865 in New Bern, North Carolina. He was 18 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, with black eyes, hair and complexion. He deserted on 13 July 1865 at Fort Macon, N.C.

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Amos Woodard enlisted in Company I, 14 Regiment U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, on 4 April 1865 in New Bern, North Carolina. He was 18 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall, with black eyes and hair and yellow complexion. He deserted on 10 June 1865 at Morehead City, N.C., and returned to duty in August.

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Porch talk.

I’m deeply grateful to Harry B. Harris for allowing me to share the first episode of “Porch Talk,” his series of interviews with the elders of East Wilson. Harris here is talking with Romaine Ellis Blackston, Samuel C. Lathan, and Sterling Corbett on the porch of the East Nash Street house in which 94 year-old Mrs. Blackston has lived all her life. Her recollection of the residents and businesses of East Nash Street is like a walk through the posts of Black Wide-Awake. Enjoy!

 

The Hilliard family in Toisnot township.

Thomas Hilliard and daughter Marie.

“Our late father and mother were Thomas and Mamie Armstrong Hilliard. Members of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church in Rocky Mount in 1914, they moved to Wilson Co. in or around 1917 when their two daughters, Cornelia and Magnolia, were eight and nine years old. Our grandparents were Tom and Fortant Hilliard and Nelson and Mary B. Armstrong.

“We farmed and attended Parker and Turners Elementary School in Wilson Co. Our social activities were concerts and in-school spelling matches every Friday evening. After growing up and marrying we still farmed and kept house. Our pleasures were fireplace reading and church and Sunday school.

“Our most sorrowful experience was when we lost our mother at an early age in 1932. Often we picked cotton in the late fall; the weather was so cold that icicles were hanging on the bolls of cotton. We helped clear new ground by removing stumps and roots by hand after school in the evening.

“We had a 1919 Model T Ford our father drove often. We drove a mule and buggy to Sunday school and church. The family was missionary Baptist. Our father, Tom, was the Sunday school superintendent. Today Cornelia, Magnolia and Marie are mission workers around our community, if we can help somebody along life’s way. Our children are all grown and have their own families.

“After marriage I, Magnolia H. Joyner, went to Baltimore, Md. reared six children and worked for 30 years. I bought a home and retired; then I came back to my old house in Toisnot township to live the rest of my life in 1978. My husband expired, but I’m not alone; God is still by my side.”

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In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Hilliard, 53; wife Fortine, 58;  children Olive, 24, Becky, 21, and Thomas, 16; and adopted son Thadeous Battle, 12.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Armstrong, 45, wife Mary Ann, 40, and children Mamie, 15, Hattie, 13, and Henry, 12.

On 7 February 1906, Thos. Hilliard, 22, son of Tom and F. Hilliard, married Mamie Armstrong, 21, daughter of Nelson and Mary Armstrong. Missionary Baptist minister N.H. Arrington performed the ceremony at Thomas Hilliard’s in Toisnot township.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot, Wilson County, on Wells Daws Avenue, Nelson Armstrong, 58, Mary, 45, daughter Hattie Armstrong, 22, son Henry Armstrong, 20, son-in-law Thomas Hilliard, 25, daughter Mamie, 24, and their children Carnelia, 3, and Magnora Hilliard, 2.

In 1918, Thomas Hilliard registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 2 September 1883; resided on R.F.D. 1, Elm City; was a self-employed farmer; and his nearest relative was Mamie Hilliard. He was literate.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson & Tarboro Road, farmer Thomas Hilliard, 36; wife Mamie, 35; and children Cornelia, 12, Magnolia, 11, and Luther Thomas, 1.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Tom Hilliard, 45; wife Mamie, 40; and children Maggnolia, 22, Luther, 11, Marie, 7, and Robert, 7.

Mamie Hilliard died 23 May 1932 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 December 1885 in Wilson County to Nelson Armstrong and Mary Bulluck and was married to Tom Hilliard.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Hilliard, 56; wife Rena, 41; and children Robert, 17, and Marie, 17; and Lucille, 15, Bettie Ruth, 14, and Helen Earles, 11.

Thomas Hilliard died 24 August 1966 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 2 November 1886 in Wilson County to Thomas Hilliard and Fortney Killebrew; resided in Elm City; was a farm laborer; and was married to Rena B. Hilliard. He was buried in Sharpesburg cemetery, Nash County.

Text and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

Dr. John Clemon Williamson.

Winston-Salem Journal, 7 June 1914.

Winston-Salem Journal, 7 June 1914.

Born near Lucama in 1876 to Alex and Gracie Shaw Williamson, John Clemons Williamson attended Slater Industrial (the precursor to Winston-Salem State University), then Leonard Medical School. He returned to Winston-Salem to practice medicine and founded a private sanitarium in 1914.

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In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Elic Williamson, 44; wife Gracy, 29; and children John, 14, Lugen, 11, Joseph, 9, Jennie, 7, Mary, 6, Clem, 4, Sarah J., 2, and Pall, 1.

In the 1900 census of Salem, Forsyth County, North Carolina, John C. Williamson, 24, is listed as a pupil at Slater Industrial and State Normal School.

On 14 January 1905, John C. Williamson, 28, of Winston-Salem, son of Alexander and Gracie Williamson of Wilson, married Callie S. Hairston, 22, of Winston-Salem, daughter of Robert and Catherine Hairston of Winston-Salem.

In the 1906 Winston-Salem, N.C., city directory: Williamson John C (Callie) tchr Slater Sch r[esidence] Columbian Hts

In the 1910 Winston-Salem, N.C., city directory: Williamson Callie S tchr Graded Schl [boards at] 605 Chestnut. Also, Williamson J C (Callie) student h 930 Ida Bell av, Columbian Heights

In 1918, John Clemon Williamson registered for the World War I draft in Winston-Salem. Per his registration card, he was born 19 May 1876; resided at 1326 East Bank Street; was a physician at 408 Church Street; and was married to Callie S. Williamson.

In the 1920 census of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, North Carolina: Dr. J.C. Williamson, 43, physician; wife Callie S., 38; and daughter Plummer M., 7; niece Pearl Whitley, 22, office assistant to Dr. Williamson; and boarders John J. Green, 34, merchant; Rev. C.A. Nero, 38, of Nevis, West Indies, clergyman at Saint Stephens Episcopal Church; and nieces Liggitt Hairston, 15, of Saint Kitts, West Indies, and Catherine Hairston, 11.

The Twin City Daily Sentinel, 25 June 1920.

In the 1923 Winston-Salem, N.C., city directory: Williamson Jno C (Callie) pres Eureka Drug Co and Phys 800 N Ridge av h 1326 E Bank

John Clemon Williamson died 17 April 1927 in Winston-Salem. Per his death certificate, he was born 19 May 1876 in Wilson County to Alexander Williamson of Nash County and Grace Shaw of Wilson County, and he was a physician.

Undated and unattributed news clipping.

John C. Williamson left a straightforward will leaving all his property to his wife. Probate but anything but smooth though, as creditors disputed Callie Williamson’s handling of her husband’s estate and petitioned for her removal as executrix for mismanagement. The doctor’s $12000 estate was illusory, as his real property was encumbered by deeds of trust and his accounts receivable proved uncollectible. In 1929, Callie Williamson pulled up stakes and moved to Harlem with her daughter and infant granddaughter.

In the 1930 census of Manhattan, New York County, New York: at 196 Edgecombe Avenue, rented for $150/month, Callie Williamson, 48, widow; daughter Plummer, 17, domestic; and grandchild Jacqueline, 11 months, born in North Carolina; plus 13 roomers.

Callie Williamson died 27 May 1930 in Manhattan.

Signature from Williamson’s World War I draft registration card.

Women are best.

While director of the University of North Carolina Press, W. T. Couch also worked as a part-time official of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, serving as assistant and associate director for North Carolina (1936-1937) and as director for the southern region (1938-1939). The Federal Writers’ Project Papers are housed at U.N.C.’s Southern Historical Collection and include Couch’s correspondence and life histories of about 1,200 individuals collected by F.W.P. members. At least two African-American residents of Wilson, Georgia Crockett Aiken and William Batts, were memorialized in this way. 

Folder 324 contains the transcript of the interview with Georgia Crockett Aiken, titled “Women are best.”

The first page is a key to the pseudonyms used in the transcript.

Georgia Aiken is mistakenly described as white. She lived at 120 Pender Street in Wilson. When her interview began, she was in her kitchen directing the work of two children who were cleaning the house. She was born in 1872 into a family of ten children, all of whom were dead except her. [The family had lived in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Georgia’s brothers included Alexander and James Crockett.]

Georgia Aiken grew up near a school and, because both her parents were wage-earners, was able to attend through the ninth grade. She obtained a teaching certificate and started teaching in 1889 a one-room school “out in the country.” She made $25 a month for teaching seven grades and reminisced on the hardships — and reward — of serving the children of the community.

In 1908, Georgia Aiken arrived in Wilson. She started high school coursework [where? the Colored High School did not open until 1924] and received a big raise when she completed it. She taught for 48 years, all told.

She dated John Aiken for two years before they married. Aiken owned a prosperous livery stable, and the couple saved their money to build a house. When they bought the Pender Street lot, a widow lived with her children in a small house there. [A 1905 plat map shows John Aiken already owned a lot on Pender Street. Was it a different one?] John Aiken died before the house was completed [in 1914] and Georgia Aiken took over the business.

Though worried about finances, Georgia Aiken went ahead with plans to build. The livery business did well until “automobiles came in.” She sold the business at a loss and turned her attention to teaching and caring for her house.

The writer described Aiken’s kitchen in deep detail.

Her “cook stove … finished in blue porcelain” was probably much like this one, found in an on-line ad:

Aiken continued, speaking of training her helper, her standards for housekeeping and food preparation, and her preference for paying cash.

And then: “I might as well say that I voted in the last city elections and have voted ever since woman’s suffrage has come in, and I expect to as long as I can get to the polls. I would like to see some women run for some of the town offices. I think they’re just as capable as the men who set themselves up so high and mighty. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if women didn’t get more and more of the high positions in the near future. …”

And: churches and government are run by rings, and “if you don’t stand in well with these, you don’t stand a chance.”

“I believe the women do more in church work than men.”

Georgia Aiken took in boarders at her home on Pender Street and always tried to make her “guests feel at home.” “When times are good and business is stirring” — likely, she meant during tobacco market season — “I always have my house full.” In slow times, though, it was hard to meet expenses. Taxes were due and though she knew she would make the money to pay them in the fall, she hated to incur fees.

Aiken paid her helper in board and clothes only, though she wished she could pay wages. If she stayed long enough, Aiken would consider leaving her some interest in the property after her death, though her niece in New York might object. She lamented a long delay in repainting the exterior of the house, but had plans to do so.

The writer described the house’s rooms and furnishings, mentioning their wear and age. Aiken indicated her preference for “clean decent folks” as tenants. She had two baths in the house and hot water from the stove for both. She could not afford to install steam heat when the house was being built and rued the dustiness of coal.

“Helping anyone in need is being nice to anyone, and the one that helps me most during the few years that I’ve left in this life is the one I hope to remember with the most of what I leave when I’m called to the life to come.”

A summary:

Georgia Crockett Aikens died 17 August 1939 in Wilson, apparently just a few months after giving this interview. Per her death certificate, she was 67 years old, born in Wayne County to William Crockett and Rachel Powell, resided at 120 Pender Street in Wilson, and was married to John Aikens.

“Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Collection No. 03709.” The Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Tobe Bellamy, centenarian.

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 August 1986.

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer Henry Bellamy, 30; wife Emma, 28; and children Arthur [Tobe], 11, Joseph, 7, Roscoe, 6, and Harry, 4.

In 1930, Tobe Bellamy led the Elk Club’s efforts to find families to receive gifts of food and candy during the Christmas season.

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Wilson Daily Times, 26 December 1930.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: fertilizer plant laborer Tobe Bellamy, 51; wife Mary, 41; adopted son Jessie, 7; and mother Emma, 75.

Emmaline Bellamy died 22 September 1947 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 January 1874 in Wilson County to Archie Amie and Sylvia Taylor, both of Wilson County and lived at 718 Stantonsburg Street. Tobie Bellamy was informant.

On 24 December 1954, Jesse Bellamy, 25, of Wilson, son of Tobe Bellamy and Mary Barnes, and Queen Esther Thomas, 25, of Rocky Mount, daughter of Ben Thomas and Etta Hilton. Holiness minister W.H. Holiday performed the ceremony in the presence of Allen Barnes, Walter Whitted and Mary Bellamy.

Mary Bellamy died 19 April 1967 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 September 1903 in Wilson County to Allen Barnes and Caroline Woodard; was a retired laborer at Watson Tobacco; was married to Tobie Bellamy; and lived at 718 South Pender Street.

Jesse Bellamy died 19 December 1972 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 October 1932 to Tobie Bellamy and Mary Barnes; was married to Zelma Bellamy; worked as a laborer for Export Tobacco Company; and lived at 907 Phillips Street.

In the summer of 1980, Tobe Bellamy shared his thoughts on a heatwave then baking Wilson:

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Wilson Daily Times, 13 August 1980.

Tobe Bellamy died 5 August 1988 in Wilson, aged 104.

There was something unusual in that green-looking country boy.

In which the Indianapolis Freeman enlightens us regarding Joseph H. Ward‘s journey from Wilson to Naptown:

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Indianapolis Freeman, 22 July 1899.

A few notes:

  • Joseph Ward’s mother was Mittie Ward Vaughn. His father Napoleon Hagans was a prosperous free-born farmer in Wayne County near Fremont.
  • The school in LaGrange at which Ward worked was most likely Davis Military Academy:  “By 1880 a second school for boys … Davis Military Academy, was founded by Colonel Adam C. Davis. “School Town” became La Grange’s nickname as the military school would eventually have an enrollment of 300 students from every state and even some foreign countries. The school also had a band, the only cadet orchestra in the country during that time. The school prospered, but an outbreak of meningitis closed it in 1889.”
  • Dr. George Hasty was a founder of the Physio-Medical College of Indianapolis, which Joseph Ward later attended.

Physio-Medical College of Indiana, undated. IUPUI Image Collection.