City of Wilson

528 and 530 Stemmery Street.

Rear view, December 2011.

This unique set of L-shaped houses, arranged in mirror formation, was among a few dozen shanties and duplexes built in the shadow of the stemmeries, fertilizer plants and cotton oil mills that dominated the blocks between Barnes, Pender, Gay and Railroad Streets, immediately south of Wilson’s black Nash Street business district. Built between 1913 and 1922, one of the houses has been demolished in the years since I took the photo above. Its twin remains, bereft of context.

Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C., 1922.

Aerial view of 530 Stemmery Street in 2017, courtesy of Google Maps.


In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Wright William (c; Esther) lab h 528 Stemmery

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Wright William (c; Esther) lab h 528 Stemmery

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 528 Stemmery, rented for $8/month, laundress Nettie Ward, 46, widow, and her cousins Sarah Harrington, 62, widowed laundress, and Elizabeth Harrington, 22, tobacco factory laborer.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists Elizabeth Harrington, Sarah Harrington and Nettie Ward, all tobacco workers, at 528 Stemmery.

Sarah Harrington died 29 October 1945 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 April 1878 in Cumberland County to Marsh Evans and Rebecca Lomax; was the widow of Robert Harrington; had worked as a factory worker; and lived at 528 Stemmery. Elizabeth Harrington was informant.


In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Barnes Geo  (c; Ethel) lab h 530 Stemmery

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Barnes Geo  (c; Ethel) fireman h 530 Stemmery

Ethel Barnes died 19 July 1931 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 1888 in Portsmouth, Virginia, to Granville Towe of Hampton, Virginia, and Margret Corprew of Deepcreek, Virginia; resided at 530 Stemmery; was married to George Barnes; and worked  a day laborer at a tobacco manufacturing company.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 530 Stemmery, rented for $8/month, Blannie Bostic, 25, log cutting laborer; Dallas Bostic, 18, new worker; Ide Bostic, 15; Esque Bostic, 17, farm laborer; and their mother Issabell Bostic, 58, widow, tobacco factory laborer.

In 1940, four of Isabell Bostick’s sons registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per their registration cards, Askue [Askew] Bostick was born 11 October 1921 in Lake City, South Carolina; his address was Bailey, Nash County; his contact was mother Isabelle Bostick, 530 Stemmery Street; and he was employed by farmer Sam Privette of Bailey. Blannie Bostick was born 12 March 1909 in Florence County, South Carolina; resided at 604 Vance Street; his contact was Isabelle Bostick, 530 Stemmery; and he was employed by Dan King, Tillman Road, Wilson. Clifton Bostick was born 15 March 1916 in Lake City , South Carolina; his address was 604 East Vance; his contact was Isobell Bostick, 530 Stemmery; and he worked for Imperial Tobacco, Lodge and South Streets. Mayhue Bostic was born 7 March 1914 in Florence County, South Carolina; resided at 530 Stemmery; his contact was wife Elizabeth Bostic; and he was not employed.

In 1941, Dallas Bostick registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 2 January 1920 in Lake City, South Carolina; lived at 530 Stemmery; his contact was Isabell Bostick, 530 Stemmery; and was unemployed.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists at 530 Stemmery tobacco worker Blanie Bostick, tobacco worker Dallas Bostick, dishwasher I.D. Bostick, and Isabel Bostick.

In 1942, Ide Bostick registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 2 August 1922 in Wilson; he resided at 530 Stemmery Street; his mailing address was 609 North 7th Street, Wilmington, N.C.; his contact was Isabell Bostick, 530 Stemmery; and he worked for N.C. Shipbuilding Company, Wilmington.

Askew Bostic died 13 June 1953 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 August 1918 in South Carolina to L.H. Bostick and Isabella Hickson; had worked as a laborer; and resided at 530 Stemmery.

Willis Bostic died 3 March 1964 at his home at 530 Stemmery Street. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 March 1905 in Williamsburg, South Carolina, to Lawyer Bostic and Isabella Hickson; he was the widower of Mariah Bostic; and he worked as a laborer. Informant was Isabella Bostic, 530 Stemmery.

Photograph of houses by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2011.

The Klan comes to Wilson.

“Crossing the railroad tracks, the Klansmen went down Green into the colored section of the city. Quite a few colored people were crowded on the sidewalks. For the most part, they remained silent and regarded the parade with passive interest. The booted men went as far as Pender Street, then turned up to Nash, and came down Nash through the central part of the business district.”


Wilson Mirror, 14 November 1924.

The Klan’s second-to-last march in Wilson, in June 1988, ended in a hail of rocks and ignominy. Jeered and vilified as they stomped toward the courthouse, their intended display of force and intimidation ended in a pell-mell scurry away from a decidedly nonpassive crowd of angry African-Americans throwing hands. The Christian Knights returned  September 4 to finish their march, but their show of defiance was undercut by the phalanx of law enforcement officers mustered to usher them along the parade route. Drawn both by curiosity and the police chief’s earnest, but borderline unconstitutional, warnings about searching spectators, I witnessed a cautious procession of perhaps two dozen chanting Klansmen, sweating in rainbow-bright satin robes. Under the watchful eye of a rooftop sniper, they shouted half-heartedly from the courthouse steps before beating a retreat back down Tarboro Street.

Here’s the Daily Times‘ brief coverage:

And here are photos I took that day:



Wilson Mirror, 7 November 1924.

20 beds for white patients; as many for Negroes.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1941.

This hospital was not Eastern North Carolina Sanatorium (now Longleaf Neuro-Medical Treatment Center), which was under construction when the above facility opened and admitted its first patients in January 1943. It seems a curious duplication of scarce resources to build two TB hospitals essentially simultaneously in one small city.

The Wilson County Tuberculosis Hospital building now houses the Wilson County Senior Activity Center, 1808 South Goldsboro Street.

Photo courtesy of Wilson County Senior Activity Center Facebook page.

The demise of Grabneck.

These stories appeared in early and late editions of the Wilson Daily Times on 8 January 1924 and paint an unsurprising picture of the erasure of Wilson’s African-American Grabneck community.

One paragraph unabashedly spells it out, emphasis added: “The history of this Grab Neck property is interesting. Four years ago there were in this locality a number of small houses, that stood in the way of the progress of the city, and Mr. Roscoe Briggs put up the money in order to remove this obstacle.” Obstacle cleared; a “fashionable residence section” emerges.

The lots sold like gangbusters. Atlantic Coast Realty Company handled the auction, which pulled in $21.935. “The property, which was formerly owned by Mr. R.G. Briggs, and others, was divided into 26 lots, all of which faced on Nash Street. This property was purchased by Mrs. Cora M. Dupree, Mrs. Sarah E. Griffin and Messrs. Troy T. Barnes, J.C. Eagles and H.P. Yelverton.”

[Sidenote: Wilson Best held for almost two more years. Pressure from “the people of Wilson” to remove obstacles to the gentrification of West Nash Street must have reached fearsome intensity by time he sold to Harry Abbitt in October 1925.]

Wilsonian Ward appointed Chief Surgeon at Tuskegee.

Wilson Daily Times, 28 January 1924.

More than 40 years after he left, the link between Dr. Joseph H. Ward and Wilson was well-enough known that the Daily Times printed an article about his appointment as Chief Surgeon at Tuskegee’s veterans hospital.

Studio shots, no. 35: Virginia Sharp Pendergrass.

Virginia Sharp Pendergrass (1915-1948).

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 417 Railroad Street, widowed tobacco factory worker Mary Watson, 36, and children Willie, 12, Virginia, 6, Charlie, 4, and Martha, 16.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1113 Woodard Street, tobacco factory stemmer Mary Watson 34, divorced; with children Willie, 18, tobacco factory laborer, Virginia, 17, Charlie, 14, and granddaughter Dorothy, 22 months.

On 17 February 1934, Virginia Watson, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Herbert Watson and Mary Pool, married Leland Pendergrass, 24, of Lake City, South Carolina, son of Rodis Pendergrass and Ella Fulton, in Greensville County, Virginia.

In the 1940 census of Sharpsburg, Rocky Mount township, Nash County: on ACL railroad, Leland Pendergrass, 24, section laborer for railroad company; wife Virginia, 27, hand stemmer at tobacco factory; and children Dorothy, 11, and Robert, 2.

In 1940, Leland Pendergrass registered for the World War II draft in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Per his registration card, he was born 127 March 1905 in Kingstree, South Carolina; was married to Virginia Pendergrass; lived in Sharpsburg; and worked at the Atlantic Coastline Shops, Sharpsburg.

Virginia Sharp Pendergrass died 5 November 1948 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was born 13 June 1915 in Wilson to Walter Sharp and Mary Poole of Wilson County; was married to Leland Pendergrass; and was buried in Rountree cemetery, Wilson.

Photograph courtesy of user scottywms60.

The life and times of Nathan W. Boyette.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 November 1921.

In a nutshell: Nathan W. Boyette lived at 210 Pender Street. He was born 18 September 1850 and was enslaved in Old Fields township by Jimmy Boyette. He was the second oldest of 11, eight boys and three girls. His mother Julie was literate and taught her children to read and write. In October 1865, Boyette purchased a Blueback Speller from Moses Rountree’s store at Tarboro and Broad Streets in Wilson. In 1871, he began subscribing to the Wilmington Post. Before he was 20, he became Sunday school superintendent at New Vester Baptist Church. Shortly after, he moved to Goldsboro and went to work for “Old Man” John Robinson. After seven years, he became a carpenter and continued to work into his 70s. In 1920 Boyette married his sixth wife. All but one — Roscoe Boyette — of his 14 children were dead. However, Roscoe’s whereabouts since his discharge from the military after World War I were unknown. Boyette was hardworking and thrifty and gave up his sole vice, smoking, as a condition of his last marriage. He had only been inside a courtroom to serve as a juror three times. He was a member of the Missionary Baptist Church on East Nash Street. “Never had a doctor but once in my life and then I could have done without him. The Lord has been good to me.”


The 1860 slave schedule of Old Fields township, Wilson County, lists James Boyett as the owner of eight enslaved people: a 28 year-old woman [Julia?]; six boys aged 19, 12, 9 [Nathan?], 7, 4 and 2; and a girl aged 8. They were housed in two dwellings.

On 23 February 1882, Nathan Boyett, 31, of Wayne County, son of Moses Bayley and Julia Bayley of Wilson County, married Charity Crow, 27, of Wayne County, daughter of Jorden and Jane Crow of Wayne County, in Mount Olive, Brogden township, Wayne County, North Carolina.

On 2 March 1904, Nathan Boyette, 53, married Louisa Fowler, 38, daughter of Suckey Wiggins, in Goldsboro, Wayne County.

In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Boyette Nathan carp h 210 Pender; Boyette Emma dom h 210 Pender.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Boyett Nathan W (c, Emma) carp h 210 Pender

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 115 West Walnut Street, rented for $20/month,  Nathan Boyette, 79, and Emma Boyette, 56, cook for private family.

Nathan Boyett died 2 June 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 February 1850 in Wilson County to Moses Bailey and Julia Boyett of Wilson County; had worked as a laborer until three months prior to his death; was married to Emma Boyett; and lived at 115 West Walnut. [Note that Nathan Boyette adopted his mother (and former owner’s) surname upon Emancipation. Julia Boyette apparently died before 1870. In that census Moses Bailey is listed as the single parent of several children, and on 5 January 1871, he married Isabella Renfrow in Wilson County. Per their marriage license, Bailey was the son of Benja Bryant and Juda Jones.]

Wanted: colored girl to …

Wilson Daily Times, 29 November 1933.

In the 1928 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Earp Norma (c) student r 106 S East.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 November 1936.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 October 1940.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 July 1943.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 June 1946.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 September 1946.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 September 1949.