Photograph courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh.
Wilson Advance, 7 May 1891.
In 1891, the Advance and the Tarboro Southerner ran a contest for longest name. In this round, the Advance proffered that of an eight year-old girl living on James Woodard’s large farm — Nina Ann Elizabeth Sarah Eliza Jane Monora Carrie Mabel Virginia Bethella Woodard.
Perhaps: on 3 June 1917, Nina Woodard, 30, of Saratoga, daughter of Louis Brooks and Sue Woodard, married Adam Carter, 21, of Saratoga, son of Stephen and Hattie Carter. H.H. Sanders, Missionary Baptist minister performed the ceremony at “the church in Saratoga” in the presence of Ernest May and Jessie Darden of Saratoga and William Pierce of Wilson.
In January 1915, members of the Wilson County School Board considered a petition signed by 24 (ostensibly) white men and one white woman. “We the undersigned,” they wrote, “wish to protest against the attendance of any child or children in our school with negro blood in their veins as the law directs and would further ask that this matter be attended to at once.”
This is not a new issue for the Board, having lost a battle in 1909 to keep James and Jane Carter Lamm‘s children out of white schools, but won an effort in late 1914 to bar Josephus and Minnie Taylor Johnson‘s offspring.
Charles L. Coon and the Board refused to hear the petition, but agreed to rule on specific charges against specific families accused of being too black to attend white schools. Immediately, several petitioners pointed fingers at Luke Tedder’s children. The Board directed counsel for the Tedders and for the petitioners to present their cases. Instead, Tedder sent word that he would withdraw his children from Renfrow School. The matter having resolved itself, the Board adjourned.
Tedder no doubt wished to spare his family the ordeal (and humiliation) of a public dissection of his wife’s genealogy. I have written here of the Hawleys, the family into which Sally Ann Hawley Tedder was born. They and the related Rose, Ayers and Taylor families of Springhill township moved back and forth across the color line in the late 1880s. By the turn of the century, most claimed and were accorded a white identity. However, memory was long, and not all in their community were willing to overlook their remote African ancestry.
Renfrow School, circa 1920s.
On 26 June 1867, William Hawley, son of Joseph Hair and Patsey Hawley, married Nancy Rose, daughter of Sarah Rose, at Sarah Rose’s house in Wilson County.
In the 1870 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farmer William Hawley, 28, wife Nancy, 20, son Joseph, 1, and Aquilla Hawley, 17. William, Joseph and Aquilla were classified as mulatto; Nancy, as white.
In the 1880 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farmer William Hawley, 39, wife Nancy, 32, and children Joseph, 10, Sally An, 7, and John, 3; all described as mulatto.
Luke Tedder, 23, son of Stephen and Betsy Tedder, married Sallie Hawley, 18, daughter of William and Nancy Hawley, on Christmas Day 1888 in Springhill township, Wilson County. Both were classified as white. Their children were Joseph S., Victoria, William T., John H., Luke C. Jr., Lizzie, Minnie L., Eddie G., Nancy C., and James F. Tedder.
Copies of minutes in “Education 1910-1919” folder of hanging files, Local History Room, Wilson County Public Library, Wilson; photo of school courtesy of Images of Historic Wilson County, Images of North Carolina, digitalnc.org.
This chart is simultaneously heart-breaking and awe-inspiring.
Three thousand African-American children in Wilson County were enrolled in eight grades during the 1923-1924 school year. They ranged from six to twenty years of age. The 1689 first graders ranged from six to seventeen years old, and nearly two-thirds were classified as “over age.” There were three nineteen year-old second graders, and a full fifth of all third graders were thirteen years old. One was twenty. Only 17 of 269 fourth graders were age-appropriate. The eighth grade class — the highest grade offered to black children — tallied a single pupil.
Why? Pick a reason. Or several, as years passed. “Mama is sick.” “I am sick.” “I need to mind the baby.” “I don’t have school clothes.” “I can’t see the board, and my daddy can’t get me no glasses.” “It’s too far to walk.” “I missed too much time last year.” “I got to work.” “I’m too old.”
My grandmother‘s schooling was repeatedly interrupted. Two life-threatening bouts with pneumonia. Temporary moves to new towns as her guardian great-aunt sought work with better pay than Wilson offered black women. A great-uncle with dementia who’d begun to wander from home and needed to be watched. She left school for good when she was about 13, just before the school year captured in this chart.
“The first day I went down to Graded School, that day it rained. I come back – there was a hole in my shoe, and I slopped in all the water and got my feet wet. That’s what Mama said, anyhow, and I taken with a fever. And I was sick that whole rest of the year. I mean, wasn’t strong enough to go down to Graded School – she wouldn’t let me go down there. So I stayed home, and Mama put all them old rags … that old flannel cloth, and she’d put it in red onions and hog lard.”
“[F]irst of the year I went to school, and [then I got sick and] I didn’t go back no more to the Graded School. They opened the Wilson Training School on Vance Street, with that old long stairway up that old building down there, well, I went over there. Then when Mama … went to Greensboro, then I went to Greensboro to Ashe Street School. Then we moved from over Ashe Street over to Washington Street, over there, then I went to Washington Street School. So then I went over there. And so we come on back [to Wilson], and then they wanted to put me back in the same grade I was in before I left, and I cried. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to go back to that school anymore. So I just stopped school.”
Imagine teenagers crammed into desks alongside seven year-olds, sounding out words in blue-back spellers, carefully practicing the shapes of letters, and ticking off numbers on their fingers. The perseverance of these children and their families, the determination to get an education, is palpable.
Imagine also the children who fell from the ranks each year, who were bright and eager and wanted just as badly to learn, but whose obstacles won the day. In 1924, only one black child who had started the race finished the course.
For statistics from 1913-1914, see here.
Wilson City colored schools educated 1225 children in eleven grades in 1923-1924. Almost 28% were normal age for their grades, a slight improvement over the county schools. The oldest child attending city schools was a 20 year-old eighth grader.
Chart from Coon, Charles L., The Public Schools of Wilson County North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-1914 to 1923-1924, published by Board of Education of Wilson County; interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.
The Wilson Daily Times printed this photo of Addie Davis Butterfield‘s 1945 first grade class at Samuel H. Vick Elementary. Mrs. Butterfield is top right, and the children include her nephew William Bayard Davis Jr. (front row in white shirt and tie), Rudolph Kersey Bullock (laughing beside Davis), Jessie Gertrude Baldwin Pouncey, Patricia Ann Tabron Bates, Alton Ray Kirk, Robert Eugene Dew, Earline Blount, Callie Joyce Bowens, Sarah Frances Greene, Reuben Hammonds, Luther Mincey and Raymond Bell. The caption attributes the photo to the collection of Diane Davis Myers, Butterfield’s niece.
Wilson Daily Times, 15 August 1980.
Notes and comments:
Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C. (1922).
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: wheelwright Mack Wells, 40; wife Cherry, 38; and children Bertha, 11, Willie, 9, Clifton, 6, Lillie, 4, and Marry, 2.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 624 Viola, blacksmith Mack Wells. 57; wife Cherry, 55, washing and ironing; children Clifton, 25, blacksmith, and Marie, 22, washing and ironing; and granddaughter Minnie Green, 8.
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory; Wells C Malachi (c; Cherry) gunsmith h 615 Viola. Also, Wells, Marie school tchr h 615 Viola
On 25 December 1934, Joe Lucas, 20, of Nash County, son of John Lucas, married Marie Wells, 30, of Wilson, daughter of Mack and Cherry Wells, at Mack Wells’ on Viola Street.
Charles Malacih [Malachi] Wells died 22 August 1939 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 October 1862 in Nash County to Dennis Wells of Nash and Nellie Adams of Nash; was married; resided at 615 Viola; and was a self-employed machinist at Wells Machinery. Informant was Clifton Wells, 700 Warren Street, Wilson.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 615 Viola Street, owned and valued at $1500, Cherry Wells, 74; machine shop blacksmith William, 47; lumber mill laborer Joseph Lucas, 43; Marie W., 42, teacher; and John D. Lucas, age illegible.
Cherry Wells died 22 September 1951 at 615 Viola Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was a widow; was about 86 years old; and was born in Edgecombe County to Jones Williams and Olive [no last name given]. Informant was Marie Lucas, 615 Viola.
Clifton Wells died 6 August 1971 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 19 July 1894 to Charles M. Wells and Cherrie Hines; resided at 501 North Carroll Street; was self-employed at C.M. Wells General Repair; and was married to Maggie Young. Informant was Marguerite Wells Murrain, Goldsboro.
Marie Wells Lucas died 6 October 1997 in Wilson, aged 99.
South and Lodge Streets, today, per Google Maps.
Photo of church and school courtesy of Patrick M. Valentine’s The Episcopalians of Wilson County: A History of St. Timothy’s and St. Mark’s Churches in Wilson, North Carolina 1856-1995 (1996).
This photo depicts Hannah Malinda Smith Simms, her daughter Jeanette Simms Bonner, and grandson Claude L. Bonner Jr., circa early 1940s. A family portrait of Hannah and John Simms and their children is found here.
On 7 February 1894, John L. Smith [alias Simms] married Lyndy Smith in Wayne County.
In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Simms, 33, wife Malinda, 23, and son Ashley, 1.
In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Simms, 43, wife Melinda, 37, and children Ashley, 10, Marcellus, 8, Frank, 7, Gertrude, 6, Jennette, 4, and Rosettie, 1.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: John Simms, 63, wife Milindy, 54, and children Jenette, 23, Rosetta, 20, Johnnie, 18, Paul, 16, Julia, 13, and Mary, 12.
Claude Bonner, 30, son of Richard and Maggie Bonner, married Jeanette Simms, 23, daughter of John and Melinda Simms, on 3 August 1931 in Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia.
In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: John Simms, 78, wife Melanie, 65, and children and grandchildren John Simms, 29, Paul Simms, 26, Mary L. Simms, 21, Cleo Bonner, 8, and Jesse, 6, Willie, 5, and Else Simms, 5.
John Simms died 15 December 1942 in Wilson township, Wilson County. His death certificate indicates that he was born 9 October 1867 in Wilson County to Curtis Simms and Caroline (last name unknown), that he was married to Malinda Simms; and that he was buried in Rountree cemetery near Wilson. Marcellus Simms was the informant.
Claude Leonard Bonner Jr., 22, son of Claude L. Bonner and Jennatta Simms Bonner, married Jean Williams, 19, daughter of Jim and Josephine Batts Williams, on 12 October 1957 in Wilson.
Hannah Malinda Simms died 28 March 1961 in Wilson, North Carolina. Her death certificate indicates that she was born 15 August 1880 in Wayne County to Minerva Smith and an unknown father. She was buried in Rest Haven cemetery. Jeanette Bonner was informant.
Jeanette S. Bonner died 1 December 1999 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 21 January 1907 in Wilson County.
Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user brianandrewbonner.
It’s Opening Day of the 2018 Major League Baseball season. Wilson has hosted minor league teams since 1908; most called Tobs (for Tobacconists). In 1939, the year Fleming Stadium opened, Wilson was a member of the Class D Coastal Plain League.
Wilson Daily Times, 17 August 1939.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: hospital orderly Calvin Swinson, 41; wife Alice, 35; and children Jessie, 15, Calvin, 12, Earlean, 11, Horace, 9, Soisetta, 6, and Charles, 2.
[Note that, like many newspapers of the era, the Daily Times exaggerated the speech of African-Americans no matter that Southern whites also spoke a heavily accented dialect.]