City of Wilson

Elder Hattie Daniels conducts revival.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 October 1943.

Hattie Daniels not only preached the Gospel, but founded a daycare that continues to educate young children.

This photo depicts Mrs. Daniels with fellow members of Mary McLeod Bethune Women’s Civic Club (including Geneva Wynn Dew, Norma Duncan Darden, Bessie Sanders Satchell, Christine Armstrong, and Bertha Bryant Hawkins Carroll) probably in the mid-1970s. Source unknown.

Cemetery records request update, no. 5: the city’s response.

I have received the city’s response to my request for documents related to the removal and destruction of headstones from Vick cemetery, made under North Carolina’s Public Records Law.

My initial request to the Wilson Cemetery Commission was made 6 September 2019. (Thanks again to Heather Goff for her quick response.)

I followed up with letters to several city officials in October and November. The city clerk responded quickly to my first letter, providing copies of relevant city council minutes from 1990 to 1995. The city manager and city engineer did not respond at all, even to acknowledge receipt of my request.

On 30 December 2019, I sent a letter to the mayor of Wilson, the city manager, and all seven council members setting forth my concerns and my unanswered requests for information about Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries. At the behest of the city’s new mayor, Carlton Stevens, and council, city attorney James Cauley assumed responsibility for the search for responsive documents. I commend Mr. Cauley for his periodic updates on the status of the city’s response and for his candor concerning the paucity of records.

Here, in their entirety, are the documents I received.

(1) Purchase Order, dated 10 November 1994, for services by vendor PLT Construction, described in “Bid for improvements to S.H. Vick Cemetery.” The document’s right edge is cut off, but the amount the city paid was more than $139,000.

(2) A request for payment of balance due submitted by PLT Construction to the City of Wilson on 5 June 1995. Note the change item: “deduct for replacing headstones and portion of survey work.” PLT did not perform this work and thus credited the city $4500.

 

(3) A 21 June 1995 invoice for the amount set forth in PLT’s letter above.

(4) Page 1 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” Section 4A of this document is particularly interesting: “All existing graves whether marked by a grave marker or not shall be identified and located so as to be able to be re-located after completion of the work. A detailed survey may be needed in order to ensure that graves are marked in the correct location after completion of the work. A drawing showing all graves shall be prepared for future reference. All existing tombstones shall be removed, labeled, and stored until after all work is completed.” As we know, the grave markers were not relocated to the cemetery. They were stored for an indeterminate period of time, then destroyed.

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(5) Page 2 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” See particularly, Section E: “All graves identified and located prior to construction shall be re-located and marked. Graves shall be marked in one of two ways: (1) Tombstones removed from graves prior to construction shall be reset at the proper grave locations. (2) Any unmarked graves which were located shall be marked by means of a small metal marker as typically used in cemeteries. A map showing the locations of all graves shall be furnished to the City of Wilson.”

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(6) A plat map of the cemetery and surrounding properties, including Odd Fellows cemetery.

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(7) Another plat map prepared by F.T. Green and Associates [now Green Engineering]. Under the label “Odd Fellows Cemetery” is this note: “No deed on record. See D.B. 81, p. 196.”

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(8) This map, also prepared by F.T. Green, reveals with terrible clarity the reality of the smooth field that is now Vick cemetery. This map shows the location of every grave found on the site. You have to imagine the boundaries: Lane Street the top, woods to the right (concealing Odd Fellows cemetery) and bottom. The clear strip bisecting the map likely indicates an access lane. Contrary to claims made by public officials in the 1990s, Vick cemetery was laid out quite regularly. Graves were oriented parallel to the road (roughly northeast to southwest) in rows running perpendicular.

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Please look more closely. The resolution is awful, but these — hundreds, thousands of? — little marks are not just marks. They are numbers. Each grave was numbered as it surveyed, and the city cannot locate its copy of the key to these numbers. Nor, apparently, can Green Engineering.

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The takeaway: the city (or its contractors) surveyed and assigned each grave a number; prepared a map of those graves; removed the gravestones; graded the site; stored, then destroyed the gravestones; and lost the key that identified any of the graves that could be identified. 

I need to sit with this for a minute to process my sadness and anger and profound disappointment in the city’s handling of the “restoration and improvement” of a public cemetery founded during the darkest days of segregation and neglected through and after its fifty years as an active burial ground. The graves of the thousands of African-Americans buried in Vick cemetery remain in situ, the names of their dead lost.

Vick Cemetery, Christmas Eve 2019. 

A thank you, and an invitation.

During the Great Depression, writers contracted by the Works Progress Administration collected more than 2,300 oral histories from formerly enslaved people.  At least five women and men shared their recollections of slavery in Wilson County.  For the upcoming exhibit I curated documenting enslaved African-Americans in Wilson County, I asked four contemporary Wilsonians to lend their voices to bring to life the transcripts of four oral history interviews. Each person has roots that have been chronicled in Black Wide-Awake, and I am deeply grateful for their enthusiastic participation.

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Thank you, Mildred Hall Creech, whose Hall, Henderson and Artis families have appeared here.

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Thank you, Annie Finch Artis, shown here with husband Adam Freeman Artis. Their Artis and Finch lines have been featured in Black Wide-Awake.

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Thank you, Castonoble Hooks and Velma Hoskins Barnes. Mr. Hooks’ grandmother has been featured here, as has Mrs. Barnes’ Simms family

Say Their Names opens a week from today at Wilson’s Imagination Station Science and History Museum. I look forward to seeing you there, but if you’re unable to make it, I hope you’ll make your way to the museum this year.

Photographs courtesy of Brooke Bissette, Imagination Station.

1206 Queen Street.

The one hundred twenty-second in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1940; 1 story; gable-end bungalow with shed-roofed porch.”

In the 1941 Wilson, N.C., city directory: McKeithan Daniel (c; Naomi) notions 551 E Nash h 1206 Queen

Daniel McKeithan Jr. died 1 May 1942 at his home at 1206 Queen Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 October 1941 in Wilson to Daniel McKeithan of Vass, N.C., and Naomi Jones of LaGrange, N.C.

In 1942, Daniel McKeithan registered for the World War II draft. Per his draft card, he was born 8 April 1899 in Moore [County,] N.C.; lived at 1206 Queen; his mailing address was 551 East Nash; his contact was Randall R. James, 111 Pender Street; and he was employed at 551 East Nash.

In the 1947 Wilson, N.C., city directory: McKeithan Elmer (c) 1206 Queen

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2020.

The removal of graves from Oakdale cemetery.

Wilson really has not done right by its dead.

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Wilson Daily Times, 6 November 1941.

Some notes:

  • “the town had condemned the land to build several roads through it” — No mention of poor drainage conditions in the cemetery. Rather, a suggestion that the unnamed city alderman’s 1925 comment about the cemetery occupying valuable land had gained traction.
  • “the old negro Wilson cemetery over near Stantonsburg street” — Stantonsburg Street (now the lower section of Pender Street) ran just east of the cemetery.
  • “Dozens of graves” were moved to “the newer Rest Haven cemetery” — There were surely hundreds of people, not dozens, buried in Oakdale. Were unmarked graves left behind? Does the Cemetery Commission have records of this disinterment and reburial in Rest Haven?
  • “Most recent grave in the old cemetery that could be found was dated 1902” — This can only be true if they were not looking hard. The notice of removal of graves, published in 1940, stated that the last burials were in 1924.
  • “the cemetery is at least 50 years old.” — This roughly corroborates the founding of Oakdale as 1895, when county commissioners took up the question of a “suitable burying ground for the colored people.”

Another deed for Rountree cemetery.

I published here the deed for the purchase in 1906 of one acre of the land that now comprises the abandoned Rountree cemetery. I speculated that the remaining acre was purchased later. However, it appears that, in fact, Rountree Missionary Baptist Church trustees bought the first acre of the burial ground — the section west of Lane Street — almost ten years earlier, in 1897.

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North Carolina, Wilson County  }

This Deed, made this 2nd day of August, A.D., 1897, by F.W. Barnes and wife, Mattie B. Barnes, Parties of the first part, to George Harris, Charles Bullock and Arch Harris, Trustees, of the Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, Parties of the Second Part, all of County and State aforesaid, witnesseth:

That the Said Parties of the first part, for and in consideration of the sum of Twenty Five Dollars, to them in hand paid, (the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged), have bargained and sold, and do by these presents convey unto the Said Parties of the Second part, and their successors in office, that certain lot of land, lying and being situate in Wilson Township, county and state aforesaid, adjoining the lands of F.W. Barnes and Martin V. Barnes, and more particularly described as follows: Beginning at a stake on the path leading from the Plank road to the Stantonsburg road where a small branch crosses said path, thence westerly with said path, a fence row, 270 feet to a stake cornering thence northerly 250 feet to a stake in Said branch, thence down said branch or ditch to the beginning containing one acre, more or less. It is understood and agreed that the path above referred to Shall at no time be closed up and that the public shall have the enjoyment thereof without the interference or interruption from the said parties of the first part.

To have and to hold said real estate unto the said parties of the Second part and their successors in office in fee simple. And the said F.W. Barnes, for himself, his heirs, executors and administrators, doth covenant to and with the said parties of the Second part, and their successors in office, that he will forever warrant and defend the title to the Said land against the lawful claim or claims of all other persons whomsoever. In Testimony whereof the Said parties of the first part have hereunto  set their hands and seals, the day and year first above written.  /s/ F.W. Barnes, Mattie B. Barnes

——

Note this description: “beginning at a stake on the path leading from the Plank road to the Stantonsburg road where a small branch crosses said path.” The “small branch” is Sandy Creek. The plank road is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the continuation of East Nash Street beyond U.S. Highway 301. Stantonsburg road is still Stantonsburg Road. The path? That’s modern-day Lane Street, which no longer spans the entire stretch between MLK and Stantonsburg. Instead, just beyond Vick cemetery it makes an abrupt westward turn toward 301.

Here’s detail from the United States Geological Survey’s 1904 topographic map of North Carolina’s Wilson Quadrangle:

The rough area of the cemeteries is encircled. Lane Street clearly continued down to Stantonsburg Road at the time.

  • George Harris
  • Charles Bullock — Bullock was also one of the trustees who purchased the second parcel.
  • Arch Harris — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Arch Harris, 53; wife Rosa, 45; and children James, 22, Arch, 20, Mary Jane, 18, Nancy, 16, Lucy, 12, Minnie, 11, Maggie, 8, Jessie, 6, and Annie, 3.
  • Rountree Missionary Baptist Church

Deed book 45, page 153, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

The A.M.E. trustees buy a lot on Suggs Street.

On 25 July 1906, Norris Stevens, C.C. Goffney, Moses Bennett, J.M. Sanders and M.L. Phillips, trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, paid $200 for a 90′ by 110′ lot on Suggs Street.

The A.M.E. church as drawn in the 1922 Sanborn map of Wilson, N.C. 

The church was the first home of Saint Luke A.M.E. Church, which moved to its current location at Vick and Atlantic Streets in the 1930s. Saint Luke’s cornerstone describes its founding as 1910, however, which seems to indicate that a different, earlier congregation built this building.

——

  • Norris Stevens — Norris Stephens died 5 December 1909 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 35 years old; was married; lived on Darden Alley; was born in Duplin County to Joe Stephens of Sampson County and Emline Flowers of Wayne County. Lum C. Goffney was informant.
  • C.C. Goffney — In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Sugg Street, Christopher Gofney, 44, carpenter; his wife Fannie, 30; and son Clinton, 16; plus lodger Freeter Moseley, 19, insurance agent. Christopher Columbus Goffney died 3 September 1918 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 22 December 1858 in Ed[ge]combe County to Woodson Goffney and an unknown mother; and worked as a carpenter. Lucy Goffney was informant.
  • Moses Bennett — Moses Bennett died 27 April 1917 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 47 years old; was married; worked as a laborer; was born in Sampson County to Wright Bennett. Informant was Calline Bennett.
  • J.M. Sanders
  • M.L. Phillips

Deed book, page 361, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.