Vanilla Beane celebrates 100!

Jeni Hansen has graciously allowed me to share plans for the observation of the 100th birthday of her grandmother, celebrated milliner Vanilla Powell Beane, who was born in Wilson County on 13 September 1919.

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Find more on Vanilla Beane here:

  • Articles

The Washington Post, Celebrating 3 sisters’ lives and longevity, Avis Thomas-Lester, 5 November  2011

The Washington Post, C​elebrated D.C. Milliner Marks 90th Birthday With Friends, Hats, Hamil R. Harris, 20 September 2009

Afro-American Newspapers, ​D.C. Woman Celebrates 100th Birthday with Sisters, 97, and 93, Avis Thomas-Lester and Teria Rogers, 14 November 2012

Associated Press,​Dr. Height’s Hat Immortalized in Metal, Sarah Karush and Teneille Gibson, 15 June 2010

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Hat Academy: “​Bene Millinery​
Museum of Fine Arts: ​Dorothy Height’s Hats 360

Press contact:

Jeni Hansen​

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.

Barbershop notices.

Barbershops serving white clients charged uniform prices and operated uniform hours in the 1930s and 1940s.

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Wilson Daily Times, 3 July 1935.

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Wilson Daily Times, 29 July 1941.

Per the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory:

  • Mullen’s Barber Shop (W Clarence Mullen) bsmt 113 E Nash
  • Red’s Barber Shop (John W Hawkins and O’Berry B Stevens) 113 S Goldsboro
  • Fields Nathan T barber 117 1/2 E Barnes h305 E Nash R7
  • Service Barber Shop (c; Clifton L Hardy) 113 S Tarboro
  • Taylor’s Barber Shop
  • Wm. Hines Barber Shop
  • Walter S. Hines Barber Shop
  • Cherry Hotel Barber Shop (Thos Williams; c) 317 E Nash


To have and hold the said land, no. 1.

Abstracts of deeds recording the purchase of real property by African-Americans in Wilson County during the first fifty years of freedom:

  • On 4 February 1867, Jacob Jones paid Thomas and Rhodey Williamson $100 for 36 acres of land on the west side of Sheperds Branch adjoining the lands of Stephen Boykin and R.H. Baker. The purchase was recorded in Deed Book 3, page 363, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Jacob Jones was freeborn. In the 1860 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Jacob Jones, 31, day laborer, with wife Milly, 31, and children Louisa, 11, Charity, 10, John, 6, Stephen, 4, and Joana, 2. Jacob reported $40 in personal property.

Shepard Branch is a tributary of Contentnea Creek. It branches off the creek just below N.C. Highway 42, then runs northerly between Lamm Road and Interstate 795 and behind James B. Hunt High School.

  • On 15 September 1867, Lemon Taborn paid K.H. and Martha Winstead $600 for a half-acre parcel on Tarboro Street. The purchase was recorded in Deed Book 2, page 413, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Lemon Taborn, also freeborn, operated a barber shop in Wilson as early as the 1850s.

  • On 10 April 1869, Jacob Jones paid Thomas and Rhodey Williamson $17 for 3 1/4 acres on Poplar Spring Branch. The purchase was recorded in Deed Book 3, page 364, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Poplar Spring Branch, like Shepard, runs in Old Fields township.

  • On 12 November 1869, Hilliard Ellis and Warren Rountree paid R.J. Taylor and wife $1225 for 245 acres on Little Swamp adjacent to Stephen Lipscomb. The purchase was recorded in Deed Book 3, page 467, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Hilliard Ellis and Warren Rountree were half-brothers, per local historian Hugh B. Johnston. I do not know the source of their wealth so soon after emancipation.

Little Swamp is also in Old Fields township. It branches off Contentnea Creek just east of present-day Saint Rose Church Road, then runs west, then north between Radio Tower Road and Flowers Road.

  • On 21 March 1870, “Henry Forbes col.” purchased 1 acre from Virginia C. Edwards near Clarisa Barnes and others. The purchase was recorded in Deed Book 2 (part 3), page 133, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Henry Forbes, 48, domestic servant; wife Louisa, 43; and children Charles, 15, farm laborer, and Georgiana, 9; plus John Forbes, 21, selling tobacco, and Patsey Forbes, 70.


An accounting.

A financial statement prepared by the state bank commissioner on 1 August 1933 concerning the Commercial Bank, which had closed 23 September 1929. The defendants listed appear to be the bank’s shareholders. (As account holders, they were also victims of the shady business practices that led to the bank’s collapse.)

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Wilson Daily Times, 5 August 1933.

B.C. Griffin, Judge Fleming, Edwin W. Fisher, Mayme B. Ford, Cora Farmer, Stattie Cannon, James H. Ford, Jasper Coley, John F. Battle, Lucrean Barnes, Ethel L. Barber, Sallie M. Barbour, J.W. Black, Columbus E. Artis, S.D. Artis, Georgia Crockett Aiken, Julia Burnette Harrell, Ed Humphrey, Ruth E. Hooker [Coppedge], Amos Johnson, Levi H. Jones, Tempsie Jones, Columbus Mitchell, Laura Wardill McPhail, Raiford J. McPhail, J.O. Plummer [likely John O. Plummer of Warren County, father of E. Courtney Plummer Fitts], William Hines, Eleanor [Elna] J. Farmer Hooker, Louis Thomas, Charles S. Thomas, Turner Stokes, Isaac A. Shade, D.B. Swinson, J.D. Reid, Eleanor P. Reid, Alfred F. Rector (white; listed in the 1930 city directory as a ticket agent for the A.C.L. Rail Road Company), Joe Rogers, Lyda Rountree, Levi H. Peacock, L.T. Lucas (probably white), Green Taylor, E.A. Taylor, Samuel H. Vick, Christine Venters, James Whitfield, Marie Williams.

Thirteenth violation.


Wilson Daily Times, 21 April 1939.

Like many who operated “cabarets” — Negro or not — Herbert Woodard supplied adult beverages to clients who sought them. Wilson was a dry county, however, and “liquor by the drink” was unlawful.

[Illegal or not, corrupt police “allowed” liquor sales by a handful of bootleggers who were expected to pay for the privilege. Herbert Woodard’s repeated arrests suggest that he was either unwilling to make payoffs or was not among the chosen few.]


The business of shoes.

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Shoeshine box, shoe horn, brush and polish. Oliver N. Freeman Round House and Museum, photograph at

Until recent decades, most people owned only one or two pairs of shoes, and keeping them clean and in good condition required the regular services of shoemakers, repairmen and bootblacks. Here are some of the many men who plied this trade in Wilson.

  • Henry Adkinson — in the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Adkinson is listed as the proprietor of H. Adkinson & Son, shoemakers and watchmakers, at 524 East Nash. He lived at 640 East Green. Later directories list Adkinson’s business at 521 and 522 East Nash. By 1925, Henry and Mary Adkinson lived at 115 Narroway.
  • Baltimore Shoe Repair Shop — as listed in the 1925 city directory, this business was at 420 East Nash and Cutt Davis and James Mack were its proprietors.
  • Barefoot, Herbert — in the 1925 city directory, Barefoot is listed as a shoe polisher at 512 East Nash, residing at Smith near Pettigrew.
  • Barnes, Douglass — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1013 East Nash Street, owned and valued at $3000, taxi chauffeur Jake Barnes, 56; wife Effie, 32; and children Douglass, 20, shoeshop cobbler, Waylone, 19, taxi chauffeur, Eva, 16, Mattie, 13, and Nellie, 10.
  • Barnes, Redmond, Jr. — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1116 East Nash Street, Mary Barnes, 33, who taught at Healthy Plains Grade School; her widowed mother Jenettie Barnes, 62; brothers Redman, 22, a shoe repairer at Rex Shoe Shop [a white-owned shop downtown], and John, 19, a tobacco factory laborer; brother-in-law Doll Speight, 26, apartment elevator operator; sister Lula, 23, and their daughters Letrice, 2, and Bettie, 8 months.
  • Battle, George — in the 1925 city directory, Battle is listed as a shoe polisher at 513 East Nash, residing at East Green near Pender.
  • Blue Ribbon Electric Repair Shop — in the 1920 city directory, Henry Adkinson was proprietor of this shoe repair shop at 522 East Nash.
  • Brooks, Leslie — Leslie Brooks died 12 October 1918 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1881 in Wilson County to Dave Brooks and Henrietta Peacock; worked as a shoemaker; was single; and was buried in Brooks cemetery. Jno. Williams was informant.
  • Bullard, John — in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Bullard is listed as the proprietor of the Hub Shoe Shine Parlor at 503 East Nash. Bullard lived at 703 East Vance.
  • Burnette, William E. — in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Burnette is listed as a shoemaker working at 420 East Nash Street and living at 406 Bank[s].
  • Bynum, Curley B. — proprietor of Master Shoe Shine Parlor, 1946.
  • Cox, Elijah — in the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: shoemaker Elijah Cox, 66; wife Patience, 65; and children (or grandchildren) Jerry, 11, Clara, 5, and Patience Cox, 3. Cox claimed $150 real estate.
  • Davis, Cutt — see Baltimore Shoe Shop.
  • Farmer, George, Jr. — in the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Farmer Geo jr. (c) shoe shiner h 1200 Queen.
  • Floyd, Ambrose — In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1214 Washington Street, owned and valued at $1800, shoe shop and taxi owner Ambrose Floyd, 39; wife Mattie, 39, cleaner; and children Mattelene, 17, James, 18, Ernest, 15, and Hattie, 12.
  • Fogg, Joseph –– in the 1860 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County, listed as a 50 year-old shoemaker in the household of Edwin Eatmon, bootmaker.
  • Gaddy, John — in the 1930 Wilson city directory, Moses is listed as a shoe repairer at 400 Stantonsburg Street.
  • Haskins, Thomas — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Haskins, 55, drug company salesman; wife Gertrude, 48; and children Mandy, 36; Elizabeth, 33, cook; Estelle, 29, beauty shop cleaner; Robert D. Jr., 29, hotel kitchen worker; Lossie, 24, N.Y.A. stenographer; and Thomas, 20, barbershop shoeblack; plus granddaughter Delores, 15, and lodger Henry Whitehead, 21.
  • Hill, Moses — shoemaker, 1890. See also.

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Wilson Mirror, 14 October 1891.

  • Hines, Shady — in the 1916 directory, Hines is listed as a bootblack at 416 East Nash Street.
  • Holley, Clarence V. — Clarence Holley died 4 May 1964 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 May 1919 in Bertie County to William Holley and Molly Smallwood; operated a shoeshine parlor; and lived at 300 North East Street. Informant was Elma Holley.
  • Johnson, Jake — in the 1922 city directory, listed as proprietor of the Busy Bee Shoe Shine Parlor at 513 East Nash.
  • Johnson, Leander A. — in the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Johnson is listed as a shoemaker working at 512 East Nash Street and living at 606 Robinson [Roberson] Street. In the 1920 city directory, he is a shoemaker at 518 East Nash and lived on East near Nash Street. In the 1922 directory, “Lee” Johnson is listed as working at 517 East Nash and living at 209 South East.
  • Jones, A. Wilson — in the 1880 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Street, Wilson Jones, 22, shoemaker.
  • Jones, Henry — in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: shoemaker Henry Jones, 55; wife Milly, 50; and sons Morris, 19, a bakery worker, and Wilson, 11.
  • Joyner, George H. — listed in the 1920 Wilson city directory as the proprietor of Southern Shoe Repair Shop at 532 East Nash.
  • Leach, Patrick — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: shoemaker Patrick Henry Leach, 61, and wife Lavinea, 56. Leach reported that he was born in Mississippi to North Carolina-born parents.
  • Lupe, Peter
  • Mack, James — See Baltimore Shoe Shop.
  • Merritt, Lee

Wilson Daily Times, 23 December 1921.

  • Moses, Oliver — in the 1928 Wilson city directory, Moses is listed as a shoe shiner at 515 East Nash. He lived at 524 East Nash, rear.
  • Moore, John H. — in the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Moore is listed as a shoemaker working at 420 East Nash Street and living at 406 Bank[s]. In the 1916 city directory, he is working at 513 East Nash and loving at 1007 East Nash. In the 1922 city directory, his business address was 511 East Nash.
  • Moore, Ozzie — In 1944, Ozzie Moore registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 1 September 1926 in Wilson; resided at 1113 Atlantic Street, Wilson; his contact was his father, J.H. Moore; and was employed by J.H. Moore at 517 East Nash Street, Wilson.
  • Moore, Starlon — in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Moore is listed as a shoemaker working at 526 East Nash Street and living at 701 South Spring Street.
  • Moore, Wade M. — in the 1947 city directory, Moore Wade M (c; Eliz O; Wade’s Shoe Shop) h 1001 Faison
  • Perry, Ruffin — in the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Perry is listed as a shoemaker at Stantonsburg Road near Rountree Avenue.
  • Reaves, Mack — in the 1930 Wilson city directory, Reaves is listed as a shoe shiner at 569 East Nash.
  • Rountree, Peter — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: shoemaker Peter Rountree, 76, wife Lucinda, 53, daughter Sarah Bowser, 32, son-in-law Burt L. Bowser, 36, grandsons Russell, 9, Astor B., 3, and Thomas F., 1, stepdaughters (?) Manda L., 18, and Rosa E. Rountree, 14.
  • Simms, Eddie B. — Simms died 17 July 1924. Per his death certificate,he was born 3 August 1904 in Wilson to Ed Mitchell and Frances Simms; was single; lived at 610 Manchester Street; worked as a shoeshiner; and “drowned while in the act of swimming accidentally.” Informant was Millie Simms.
  • Tabron, William — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 700 East Vance Street, rented for $16/month, barber Henry Tabron, 37; wife Mattie B., 39, laundress; and children William, 15, shoe shop laborer, Edmonia, 14, Bill S., 11, Berkly, 9, and Donald, 7.
  • Thompson, Edwin — in the 1928 Wilson city directory, Thompson is listed as a shoe shiner at 569 East Nash.
  • Wiley, Bud — in the 1912 city directory, Wiley is listed as a bootblack at 407 East Nash.
  • Word, Fleming — in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Word (Ward?) is listed as a shoemaker working at 407 East Nash Street and living at 108 Wiggins.

Hugh T. Ransom Sr. and John A. Gaston were briefly partners in a Nash Street barbershop that catered to a white clientele. Barbershops often offered shoeshine services. Wilson Advance, 30 January 1890.

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Shoe shops at 515, 519, 521 and 529 East Nash Street, as shown on the 1922 Sanborn insurance map of Wilson. City directories for the same year show cobblers at 511 and 513 East Nash Street as well.

Where we worked, 1922 — R.

City directories offer fine-grained looks at a city’s residents at short intervals. The 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., directory reveals the types of work available to African-Americans during the booming tobacco era. This post is the thirteenth in an alphabetical series listing all “colored” directory entries for whom an occupation was listed. The address is the resident’s home, unless a business address is noted.

  • Rawls, Lucy, domestic, rear 408 Whitley
  • Reavis, Etta, domestic, 505 Viola
  • Reed, Allen R., bricklayer, 415 South Goldsboro
  • Reed, John, tobacco worker, 808 Mercer
  • Reed, Elijah, drayman, 211 Sunshine Alley
  • Reed, William, tobacco worker, 212 East Jones
  • Reid, Brodie, tailor, 407 North Vick
  • Reid, J.D., active vice-president — The Commercial Bank of Wilson, 600 East Green, phone 577
  • Reid, Liston, carpenter, 316 Hackney
  • Reid, Lonnie L., tailor, 407 North Vick
  • Reid, Nora, domestic, 207 North Vick
  • Reid, Oscar, cleaner — Powell Cleaning Works, 207 North Vick
  • Reid, Sallie, domestic, 407 North Vick
  • Reid, William, barber — The Mayflower, 304 North Vick
  • Reid, William B., carpenter, 300 North Vick
  • Rice, George, barber — The Mayflower, 703 Viola
  • Rice, Visey, cook, 215 Manchester
  • Rich, George, carpenter, 902 East Vance
  • Rich, James, laborer, 502 Warren
  • Richards, Lucy, domestic, 123 Pender
  • Richardson, Cameron, laundress, 209 Stantonsburg Road
  • Richardson, Dock, laborer, 318 South Lodge
  • Richardson, George, laborer, 318 South Lodge
  • Richardson, Lee, laborer, 318 South Lodge
  • Richardson, Lena, domestic, 503 West Hines
  • Richardson, Richard, laborer, 503 West Hines
  • Richardson, Visie, laundress, 318 South Lodge
  • Richardson, Willard, porter, 209 Stantonsburg Road
  • Richardson, William, tobacco worker, 507 Hadley
  • Riggan, Marie, domestic, 626 East Vance
  • Rivington, Junius, laborer, 806 South Lodge
  • Robbins, Benjamin, barber — The Mayflower, 313 Pender
  • Robbins, Charity, grocer 600 South Lodge, 412 East Walnut
  • Robbins, John, horse shoer — J.Y. Buchanan, 418 South Lodge
  • Robbins, Louise, domestic, 917 Atlanta [Atlantic]
  • Robbins, Wilbert, laborer, 508 Banks
  • Roberts, Matilda, domestic, 802 East Vance
  • Robertson, Eugenia, laundress, 309 Hackney
  • Robertson, John, soft drinks 400 South Goldsboro, 212 East Jones
  • Robertson, Sue, cook, 508 South Goldsboro
  • Robinson, Gertrude, domestic, 526 Smith
  • Robinson, Golden, barber — W.S. Hines, 307 Pender
  • Rogers, Claude, plasterer, 1108 East Nash
  • Rogers, Early, grocer 401 Stantonsburg Road, 109 East
  • Rogers, J. Wesley, porter — Oettinger’s, 548 East Nash
  • Rogers, Mary L., grocer, 1108 East Nash
  • Rogers, Sallie, tobacco worker, 109 South East
  • Ross, William, fireman,105 West Walnut
  • Rountree, Jesse, driver, 200 Stantonsburg Road
  • Rountree, Lucy, laundress, 505 East Green
  • Rountree, Luetta, domestic, 400 East Hines
  • Rountree, Martha, cook, 907 1/2 Mercer
  • Rountree, Peggy, domestic, 907 1/2 Mercer
  • Rountree, Warren, presser, 907 1/2 Mercer
  • Rountree, Wiley, plasterer, 102 Manchester
  • Rountree, William R., barber, cleaner and presser South Tarboro near N-S Railroad track, Wiona [Winona]
  • Rowland, James, cook, 519 South Spring
  • Royster, Lewis, mill hand, 502 South Goldsboro
  • Ruffin, Easter, laundress, 546 East Nash
  • Ruffin, Eliza, laundress, 808 East Nash
  • Ruffin, Gertrude, laundress, 808 East Nash
  • Russell, Jeff E., bricklayer, 910 Atlanta [Atlantic]
  • Russell, Julia, domestic, 910 Atlantic
  • Ryan, Eugene, tobacco worker, 500 South Daniel
  • Ryan, Rosa, cook, 500 South Daniel