I missed the cues, and at first could find no record of an African-American Russell Owings living in Wilson. But that was because Owings was not Black. He was instead a “faithful and courageous friend of [their] interest.” Owings, freshly graduated from Atlantic Christian [now Barton] College, was a white man who — much in the spirit of Rev. R.A.G. Foster’s outreach — crossed the color line to teach voice lessons and direct a choral group at Saint John A.M.E. Zion. He died in a car accident in late October 1938.
As pointed out by a descendant, an early 1900’s photograph of early leaders of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church misidentified its rector, the Rev. Robert N. Perry. Charlotte, N.C., native Perry, who served in Wilson from 1905 to 1919, is depicted in the portrait above. He was married to Mary Ada Jackson Perry, and their children William M., Robert Nathaniel II, Alice L., John L., and Frank Hargrave Perry were born in Wilson.
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, provides a detailed account of Rev. Perry’s tenure, including this opening summary: “… Perry ‘found things some what neglected and the congregation scattered but hopeful. The work began to take on new life and enthusiasm was created for anything [that] might be suggested.’ During his fourteen years in Wilson, Perry married thirty-four parishioners, baptized forty-three, presented thirty-three for confirmation, and buried eight. Membership rose rapidly from eighteen in 1906 to twenty-five in 1907, thirty-three in 1909, forty-seven in 1917, and sixty-seven the very next year. The congregation remained at that level during the rest of his tenure.”
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lodge Street, Robert Perry, 28, public school teacher; wife Mary A., 26; and son William, 5 months. [“Public school”? Was Rev. Perry actually a teacher at Saint Mark’s private elementary school?]
Robert Nathaniel Perry registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 6 December 1881; lived at 315 South Street, Wilson; was minister of the Colored Episcopal Church; and his nearest relative was wife Mary Ada Perry.
During Rev. Perry’s tenure, Saint Mark’s church and school were located at the corner of South and Lodge Streets. 315 South Street was the school’s address, as well, and suggests that its building did double-duty as a parsonage.
“From 1932 to 1964, Mrs. Bethel was employed in the Wilson city schools system where she furthered the use of her musical talents. For many years, she was the musical assistant for the Darden School Choir.
“In addition she has taught private classes in piano and organizing for a number of students in the Wilson community, while at the same time serving as organist for the St. Mark’s Mission. Mrs. Bethel’s contribution to music at St. Mark’s Mission will be recognized during the concert by the St. Augustine’s choir, which is said to be a tribute to all the makers of music to the greater glory of God.”
Below, Guy Cox’s late 1960’s photo of historic Barnes Church, a Primitive Baptist church a few miles north of Stantonsburg. The church is said to have been established by African-Americans enslaved by Edwin Barnes.
A search of current Wilson County’s on-line tax records shows a parcel nominally owned by “Barnes Church” on Old Stantonsburg Road.
Locating the parcel on a 1940 aerial view of the area reveals the church sitting at a slight angle to the road in an open sandy area within a grove.
Eighty years later, the little wooded thumb of land remains, but there are no signs of Barnes Church, which ceased meeting in the 1960s.
Photos courtesy of the Wilson County Tax Department; Wilson County Aerial Photographs (1940), U.S.D.A. Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina; and Google Maps.
How have I missed this church tucked away at the edge of page 12 of the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance maps of Wilson? And which “Christian church” was it, exactly?
The 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory is not helpful. It lists two “colored” churches under the denomination “Christian”: Christian Church — Ashe nr Nash, and Christ’s Disciples — 707 S Spring. The latter is now known as Saint Rose Church of Christ.)
The 1922 city directory also lists a Christian Church on Ashe Street, but the Sanborn map issued the same year shows the property as vacant.
First: Saint Luke is an A.M.E., not an A.M.E. Zion church. A.M.E. Zion is a much larger denomination than A.M.E. in North Carolina and has had several churches in Wilson, including Saint John and Trinity.
In 1906, a group of A.M.E. trustees bought a lot on Suggs Street and built a church there. The church was not organized as Saint Luke until 1910. In the 1930s, the congregation moved to a storefront at the corner of Vick and Atlantic Streets and erected its current edifice in 1948. The church had early struggles. In 1953, the Times carried a notice of sale for the property; the trustees had defaulted on a loan.
(I belonged to this church as a child, by the way. Thirty years after its construction, it was little changed, down to its handbuilt pews and wall-mounted gas heaters.)
The cornerstone of Saint Luke A.M.E. Church: “Erected to the glory of God.”
P.J. McIntyre — Rev. McIntyre was pastor of Saint Luke from 1944 to 1952.
Dan Jones — Dan Henry Jones Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his draft registration card, he was born 7 November 1907 in Pender County, N.C.; his contact was father Dan Henry Jones, Rose Hill, Duplin County; and worked at Wilson Tobacco Company, Stemmery Street.
F.V. Worley — Frank Void Worley. Frank Worley died 30 January 1963 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 22 February 1888 in Robeson County, N.C.; was a tobacco factory laborer; and loved at 408 Grace Street. Informant was Robert Murphy, 716 Hooks Street, Wilson.
Wilbert Williams — Wilbert Williams registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his registration card, he was 27 years old; was born in Robeson County, N.C.; lived at 703 Walnut Street, Wilson; and his contact was mother Mary Blanch Williams, same address.
A.L. Walden — Alfred Lee Walden died 9 January 1964 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 3 March 1893 in Northampton County, N.C., to John Walden and Martha Jane Roberson; lived at 1301 Washington Street; and was a World War I veteran. Nannie Walden was informant.
In 1934, Wilson Chamber of Commerce published this promotional guide extolling the virtues of Wilson County.
The introduction to the town sets the perspective.
Wilson had a population of more than 12,000 in 1934, of whom about 40% were African-American. They were of little interest to the Chamber of Commerce, however, and were not among the target audience for Facts About Wilson.
“The Mercy Hospital for colored people only was reorganized as a community basis in 1928. It is controlled by a board of trustees. All physicians of the town and county, both white and colored, are eligible for membership on the staff. This hospital is used by Wilson, Pitt, and Green[e]Counties, as it is the only hospital in three counties for colored people.”
There’s a lot to digest in the pages above, but it all boils down to the values in the columns for “white” and “colored.” For example, the ten white school buildings were valued at $800,131, and the 23 colored schools (more because so many were one- or two-rooms) at $48,592.
“The negroes of Wilson maintain separate churches, and the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian congregations are especially large, active and well organized. Six smaller negro churches here also serve this race in Wilson.”
The list of white organizations ran one full page into a second. Only two Black groups — the Odd Fellows and Masons — made the brochure’s cut, however.
Hat tip to Brooke Bissette Farmer for sharing this find, which is digitized here and held in the Rare Book Collection Archives of East Carolina University’s Joyner Library.