Funeral directors argue over girl’s body.

The competition between rival undertakers was ferocious. Martha Lucas died two days after her twelfth birthday. Unbeknownst to the family, a nurse at the “local colored hospital” (later known as Mercy Hospital) called Batts Brothers and Artis undertaking firm to prepare the girl’s body for burial. Later, the Lucas family asked C.H. Darden & Sons to perform the service. When Darden discovered the body missing, they showed up at Batts and Artis demanding possession. Batts and Artis refused to hand her over unless Darden paid transportation expenses. Darden went to court.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 August 1921.

Three days later, Martha’s father Wiley Lucas and Camillus L. Darden also appealed to the court of public opinion. Lucas stated that he, not Darden, had caused the sheriff’s department to file a claim and delivery action on the advice of police when Amos Batts dramatically claimed he would rather die than surrender Martha’s body. (Replevin, or claim and delivery, is a legal remedy that enables a person to recover personal property taken unlawfully and to obtain compensation for resulting losses.) Lucas “emphatically [denied] that any undertakers but C.H. Darden & Sons were instructed to attend to the funeral arrangements, as I knew of no other colored funeral directors in Wilson at the time ….”

C.L. Darden chimed in to direct readers to the magistrate’s record for the facts, noting that Batts had been told he could sue the hospital if he felt aggrieved. “But Batts knows as the public knows — as I can prove if it comes to a showdown — that Artis’ wife, who is head nurse in the institution, solicits in the hospital for the firm of Batts Bros. & Artis, of which her husband is a member of the firm.” “Artis” was Columbus E. Artis, and his wife was registered nurse Ada Artis.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 August 1921.

Batts Brothers and Artis responded three days after that, “that the public may not be misled.”  They denied having refused to give up the girl’s body, contending that they only sought to be paid for services rendered. The firm claimed the trial justice agreed they were entitled to a “small fee,” but, perhaps taking the temperature of public sentiment, they agreed to drop their claim and pay court costs.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 August 1921.

Martha Lucas’ death certificate.

In memoriam: Libby McDonald McPhatter, restaurateur.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 November 1997.

Near the end of the Great Depression, Libby McPhatter opened a cafe in the 500 block of East Nash Street that served barbecue dinners for three decades.


In the 1910 census of Lumber Bridge township, Robeson County, North Carolina: farm laborer Archie G. McDonald, 28; wife Lucy J., 35; and children Suda, 14, Augusta, 8, Hetta, 6, Sandy, 5, Libby, 4, and Pibel, 1.

In the 1920 census of Lumber Bridge township, Robeson County: farmer A.G. McDonald,  42; wife Elam, 42; and children Samuel, 15, Libie, 14, Manilie, 8, William, 7, and Susie R., 3.

On 11 April 1926, Nathaniel McPhatter of Robeson County, son of Fred and Maggie McPhatter, married Libby S. McDonald, 20, of Robeson County, daughter of A.G. and Ella McDonald, in Lumber Bridge township, Robeson County.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: McPhatter Nathan (c; Libbie) truck driver h 113 Pender

James Arthur McPhatter died 23 March 1932 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 September 1931 in Wilson to Nathaniel McPhatter and Libbie McDonald, both of Robeson County, and he lived at 113 Pender Street.

In 1940, Elmond Henry McKeithan registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 5 July 1914 in Cumberland County, North Carolina; resided at 539 East Nash Street, Wilson; his contact was cousin Libby McPhatter, 539 East Nash; and he worked for Woodard-Herring Hospital, Green and Douglas Streets, Wilson.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: McPhatter Libby (c; Libby’s Cafe) h 539 E Nash. Also: McPhatter Nathaniel (c; Libby) driver h 539 E Nash.

In 1942, Nathaniel Green McPhatter registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 7 November 1902 in Robeson County, North Carolina; resided at 539 East Nash Street, Wilson; his contact was Pinkey Townsed, Red Springs, N.C.; and he was unemployed.

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 539 East Nash (“over Libby’s Cafe”), restaurant proprietor Lillie McPhatter, 44, widow; Louise C. McPhatter, 8; and roomers Doll Brown Jr., 30; Mabel Brown, 45; J.C. White, 38, tobacco factory laborer; Wilbert Signal, 35, construction company building helper; Alfonso Hodge, 40, restaurant cook; and Ozy Allen, 50, restaurant cook. [In fact, McPhatter was separated. She and Nathaniel McPhatter did not divorce until 1953.]

Wilson Daily Times, 12 May 1981.

Follow-up: Where was the Silver Boot Grill?

In a recent post, I asked if anyone knew the location of Ola and Georgia Dupree‘s Silver Boot Grill, and reader D.C. came through.

Ads described the restaurant’s address only as Highway 301-A South, which once cut through East Wilson following the path of what is now Pender Street. D.C. forwarded me this detail from a 1945 plat with two lots highlighted. 301-A Highway shows a center median that I suspect was aspirational. At top center is a proposed new highway — today’s four lane U.S. 301/Ward Boulevard. The street cutting downward at top right is Black Creek Road and, off it at an angle, is what was then Stantonsburg Road. 

Detail from Subdivision of the Farrior-Fleming Farm Near Wilson, N.C., Plat Book 4, Page 19, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

A little searching on the Wilson County Register of Deeds website revealed that Ola and Georgia Anna Dupree bought lots 40 and 43 from Annie V. Farrior on 26 January 1945. Five years later, to secure a $3500 loan, the Duprees mortgaged both lots, as well as two electric refrigerators (a Jordan Drink Box Model 40-6 and a Hussman Reach-In Refrigerator); a gas cooking stove; a Marston Steam Table Model #90; all tables, chairs, and counters; and all other stock and equipment “used in the operation of their restaurant business now known as Silver Boot Grill.”

Lots 40 and 43 of the Farrior-Fleming tract are now 915 Pender Street South and are the site of a defunct used tire dealership. I am pretty sure that this side building at Rolling Tires started life as the Silver Boot. Painted brick appears to have been applied over the original cladding, and the stepped side walls were leveled off to support a fairly recent gabled roof.

June 2022.

Thanks, D.C.!

Wilson’s only Green Book hotel.

Though several hotels opened and closed on East Nash Street in the first half of the twentieth century, only one, the Wilson Biltmore, made it into the famous Negro Motorist Green Book. (Other listings for Wilson include a taxi service and an ambiguous reference to a residential address on Washington Street.)

North Carolina African American Heritage Commission’s Green Book Project is an interactive web portal compiling in-depth information about more than 300 Green Book sites across the state. The project also includes a traveling and virtual exhibition that highlights the experiences of African American travelers in North Carolina during the Jim Crow era.

The Project’s entry on the Wilson Biltmore Hotel cites to research in Black Wide-Awake, and I’m happy and honored to be able to contribute to the documentation of this era in African-American history.

Image courtesy of Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center.

The obituary of Haywood W. Baker, barber and restaurateur.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1946.

Per records, Haywood Baker was born in Greene County, North Carolina, and lived in Pitt, Nash, and Wilson Counties as well. In addition to Wilson, he owned barber shops in Stantonsburg and Farmville. Presumably, “first white restaurant in Stantonsburg” meant the first to cater to a white clientele. I have not identified the location of his tailor shop.


On 5 November 1898, Haywood Baker, 20, son of Richard and Almira Baker, married Ora Harper, 19, daughter of Thomas and Leah Harper, in Greene County.

In the 1900 census of Carrs township, Greene County: farmer Haywood Baker, 22; wife Orra, 20; daughter Lula, 6 months; and widowed mother-in-law Laurer Harper, 54.

In the 1910 census of Farmville township, Pitt County: self-employed barber Haywood W. Baker, 30; wife Ora, 29; daughter Lular, 10; and adopted son Stiner, 9.

On 13 November 1912, Haywood Baker, 33, of Nash County, son of Richard and Milie Baker, married Mollie Vines, 26, of Nash County, daughter of Charles and Mahala Vines, in Nash County.

Doris M. Baker died 22 April 1917 in Stantonsburg, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 October 1916 in Wilson County to H.W. Baker and Mollie Vines and buried in David graveyard. H.W. Baker was informant.

In 1918, Haywood William Baker registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he resided in Stantonsburg; was 24 February 1870; worked as a barber; and his nearest relative was Mollie Baker.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Railroad Street, Haden [Haywood] W. Baker, 40, barber; wife Mollie, 33; and children Hilda R., 6, Jasper, 4, Harold, 2, Mary C., 2 months; and Haywood, 12; plus Exum Joyner, 25, barber, and wife Bertha, 24.

An unnamed child died 17 June 1922 in Stantonsburg, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 20 days old and was born in Wilson County to Hawood W. Baker and Mollie Vines. Informant was H.W. Baker. 

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Haywood W. Baker, 52; wife Mollie, 43; and children Charles, 17, Hildarene, 16, Jasper, 14, Harold, 13, Mary P., 11, Richard T., 7, and Carlton Baker, 5.

In the 1940 census of Farmville township, Pitt County: farmer Haywood W. Baker, 62, and children Jasper, 22, Tensley James, 26, Richard Thomas, 16, and Carlton Baker, 14, and Mary Joyner, 20. All reported living in Greene County in 1935 except Tensley, who had lived in Goldsboro, Wayne County.

On 21 October 1941, W.H. Baker, 63, of Farmville, Pitt County, son of Richard and Miley Baker, married Blanche Thomas, 47, of Wilson, in Snow Hill, Greene County, N.C.

In 1942, Richard Thomas Baker registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 24 August 1923 in Stantonsburg; resided at 719 East Green Street, Wilson; his contact was Haywood Baker of the same address; and he worked at G.H.T.M. in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

In 1943, Carlton Baker registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 26 May 1925 in Stantonsburg; resided at 718 East Green Street, Wilson; his contact was H.W. Baker; and he worked for J.E. Gregory, Southern Dairies, 200 Railroad Street, Wilson.

Haywood Baker died 17 August 1946 at Duke Hospital in Durham. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 February 1883 in Greene County; was married to Blanch Baker; resided at 719 East Green Street, Wilson; was a barber; and was buried in Marlboro cemetery, Farmville, Pitt County.

Jasper Bruce Baker died 25 August 1963 in Kinston, Lenoir County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 December 1915 in Pitt County, N.C., to Haywood Baker and Mollie Vines; was married to Naomi Baker; lived at 1119 Oak Street, Kinston; and worked as a janitor at F.W. Woolworth.

Tensley James Baker died 3 May 1974 In Goldsboro, Wayne County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 7 May 1911 to Haywood Baker and Ora Harper; was single; and was retired. Dock Baker was informant.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Computing scales, a massage machine, and a release: miscellaneous transactions, no. 3.

Most “deed” books stacked in the search room of the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office contain just deeds, but others, like Volume 72, contain miscellaneous records of sales agreements, leases, contracts, chattel mortgages, and other transactions. These documents offer rare glimpses of the commercial and farming lives of Black Wilsonians.

  • On 19 December 1908, Charity Robbins rented a heater pipe and fire board for $11.65 from Dildy & Agnew. Deed Book 72, page 414.
  • On 1 October 1907, George W. Suggs rented a range and fixtures for $23 from Dildy & Agnew. Though the full price was to be paid by 1 January 1908, the contract was not recorded until 11 March 1909, when Beatrice Suggs signed instead of G.W. Suggs. Deed Book 72, page 416. [This would seem to be Washington Suggs, but if so, who is Beatrice Suggs? She was not one of his daughters.]
  • On 9 April 1909, Oscar Best, “owner of store,” agreed to pay Strubler Computing Scale Company, Elkhart, Indiana, $85.00 for a Number Two “computing scales green finish.” Deed Book 72, page 443.
  • On 23 July 1909, Levi Jones gave a mortgage to The Eugene Berninghaus Company for a Birkman massage machine to secure a $28 debt. Deed Book, page 472.
  • On 19 August 1909, D.C. Suggs granted Sidney A. Woodard an option to purchase for $3600 a nine-acre parcel of land bounded in part by the intersection of the Norfolk & Southern and Wilmington & Weldon railroads. The option included this provision: “I also agree to allow a Rail Road siding beginning at the 2 or 3 third telegraph pole from Floyd Bynum’s house to enter said plot of land passing through my land and to sign such papers as are necessary for a right of way.” Deed Book 72, page 475.
  • On 16 November 1909, for $300, O.L.W. Smith released Norfolk & Southern Railway Company from any damage to him or his property at Goldsboro and Banks Streets resulting from the building and construction of a railroad, railbed, roadways, bankments, and excavations adjacent to Smith’s property. Deed Book 72, page 505.

A mule named Rody, twelve acres of cotton, and a Hackney-made buggy: miscellaneous transactions, no. 2.

Most “deed” books stacked in the search room of the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office contain just deeds, but others, like Volume 72, contain miscellaneous records of sales agreements, leases, contracts, chattel mortgages, and other transactions. These documents offer rare glimpses of the commercial and farming lives of Black Wilsonians.

  • On 2 February 1907, John Artis and A.P. Branch agreed that Branch would advance Artis forty (up to fifty) dollars in supplies in order for Artis to make a crop on  in exchange for a lien on land in Black Creek township owned by and rented from Nathan Bass and on which Artis resided. In return, Artis agreed to cultivate and harvest twelve acres in cotton, nine in corn, and four in tobacco, and gave a lien not only on those crops, but on a seven year-old black mare mule named Rody; a buggy and harness; an iron axle cart; and all his farm implements. Deed Book 72, page 191.
  • On 25 February 1907, R.E. Hagan leased to Richard Renfrow, Charles S. Thomas, and Andrew Pierce for $8.00 per week “One Certain Outfit for Barber’s Shop,” consisting of five hydraulic barber’s chairs, twelve sitting chairs, one table, one bootblack stand, one barber’s pole, one mug case, five chairs, combination cabinet with mirrors, five towel jars, one complete wash stand, window curtains, and other furniture and furnishings in Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce’s shop on Nash Street in a building owned by Hagan. Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce further agreed to pay all taxes on the property and insure it against fire to the value of $700. After 215 weeks of payments, Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce had the option to purchase the property for $912. Deed Book 72, page 195.
  • On 24 December 1906, Neverson Green agreed to purchase a #10 Computing Scale from The J.H. Parker Co. of Richmond, Virginia, for $57.50 payable in installments. Deed Book 72, page 205.
  • On 6 December 1907, to secure a debt of $3500, James White and George W. Suggs gave Samuel H. Vick a mortgage on 13 sets of single harnesses; three sets of double harnesses; five winter buggy robes; ten summer robes; one clipping machine; one roomer top desk; one iron safe; one saddle; one roan horse; four gray horses; two black horses; one bay horse named George; three bay mares; one brown horse; one sorrel horse; two double surries; one double carriage; four steel tire buggies; five rubber tire buggies; one drummers wagon; two runabout buggies; one single wagon; and one spring wagon. The loan was satisfied and discharged on 19 February 1908. Deed Book 72, page 249.
  • On 6 November 1907, H.G. Whitehead agreed to sell to Samuel H. Vick “an outlet through the lands of Silas Lucas and the said H.G. Whitehead” near Wilson’s corporate limits on both sides of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad at the extension of Warren Street, as well as another outlet at a place to be determined. Deed Book 72, page 249.
  • On 1 December 1907, to secure a debt of $712, James Hardy gave Samuel H. Vick a mortgage on one set of wagon harnesses; one wagon; one gray horse; one horse named George; one sorrel horse; one surrey horse; one surrey; one top buggy, Hackney make; three sets of harnesses; two buggy robes; one wagon pole; one set of double harnesses; and one buggy pole. Vick had sold this property to Hardy for use in a livery stable in the Town of Wilson. Deed Book 72, page 250.