Civic Life

Congratulations, Mayor Stevens!

Black Wide-Awake is focused on historical people, places and events, but:

Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 8.32.10 AM.png

The whole of my politically conscious life, Wilson has had two mayors. Ralph El Ramey from 1979-1992, and Bruce Rose from 1992 to date. Last night, Carlton Stevens Jr., 44, having campaigned under the slogan “One Wilson,” defeated Rose to be elected the city’s first African American mayor.

The support of East Wilson’s residents, many of whom feel forgotten amidst efforts to rebrand and revitalize other parts of town, was critical to his victory. The work begins.

A great question affecting their welfare.

On 1 September 1887, John H. Williamson of the North Carolina Industrial Association wrote Samuel H. Vick seeking his assistance. Vick was head of the Wilson County chapter of the association, and this letter is found at the Freeman Round House and Museum:

My Dear Sir:

I shall be present in your city and address the people Sept. 8, 1887, on the Fair and progress of the race.

Will you please aid in securing a place for speaking and see that a large audience is obtained as I desire to talk to them on what I consider a great question effecting their welfare. I have sent hand bills.

Yours most truly,

Jno. H. Williamson, Sect.

Round 2: the search for Rountree’s lost gravestones.

Round 2 in the quest to locate the gravestones removed from Rountree Cemetery in 1995 included letters sent on October 2 and 3 to the City Manager, the City Clerk, the City Engineer, and PLT Construction, the company who cleared the property.

I received a response via email today from the City Clerk. It was disappointing. (Though I appreciate her prompt attention.) She attached copies of all “the information the City has in its records for Roundtree [sic] Cemetery,” which consists of passages in a handful of city council minutes between 1990 and 1995. The City, apparently, has not retained a copy of the survey or other record of grave locations at Rountree. Nor, it seems, was there any official discussion of the storage and/or disposal of the surviving gravestones in 1995 or any time since.

The most interesting (if not enlightening) discussions about the cemetery occurred in the minutes of 2 June and 25 July 1994.

On 2 June, in pertinent part:

“The mayor [Bruce Rose] called on the audience for anyone wishing to address Council, and recognized former mayor Ralph El Ramey, 904 West Lee Street. … Mr. El Ramey said $200,000 for the restoration of the Vick cemetery, and he was certainly in favor of getting it in first class shape, seemed to be an exorbitant amount of money; and he would like to make an offer that the City give him $100,000 and he would get it cleaned up.”

“Councilmember [Gwendolyn] Burton stated that Earl Bradbury was on the Cemetery Commission at the time when Council and he argued back and forth about the ownership of the Vick cemetery; and it was concurred at that time the City did in fact own the cemetery. She reminded Mr. El Ramey that he and she were serving on Council when the bids came in at $276,000 for the restoration of that cemetery; and that, at Council’s direction, staff sprayed herbicides to reduce potential restoration costs.”

“Mr. El Ramey asked whether convicted people with community service time could be used to clean up the cemetery.”

“Deputy City Manager [Charles W.] Pittman said $200,000 was an estimate based on a more recent proposal; that $168,000 was the low bid about three and one-half years ago; that it was a lot more involved than just going in and clearing eight acres of grass and covering it with grass; that the graves should be properly marked; that certain rights goes along with cemeteries; the City must ensure those rights are protected; and that bids received must be brought back to Council for action.”

“Councilmember [C. Jerry] Williams said some of the cost for the restoration of the Vick cemetery involved work without the use of heavy equipment which might disturb the graves, and making sure headstones and markings are placed/replaced in their correct locations. He noted the actual cutting of trees and mowing of grass is only part of the entire process, and it was hard to find people who are interested in taking the project.”

“Councilmember [Avant P.] Coleman questioned when the Vick Cemetery was acquired by the City. The City Manager indicated it was in the early 1900s. Councilmember Coleman should be committed to fulfilling its obligations to all cemeteries; Council should consider what it would have cost if it had been maintained since its acquisition; that a lot of money was saved by forgetting the City owned it; and the City should be concerned about it and proud of all its cemeteries.”

On 25 July:

Vick Cemetery Restoration. Councilmember [Steven A.] Stancil said he would like to restore the cemetery, but that Council allow staff to look at it and only use $50,000 this year by using the unemployed for manual labor the first year.”

“Councilmember Coleman stated Council should not limit the staff to $50,000; that it would have cost the City a lot more money if the City had acknowledged the fact that it owned the cemetery and had maintained it all these years; and that it was a disgrace to not have restored it sooner.”

“Deputy City Manager Pittman stressed the importance of the work that needed to be done; that a responsible person or persons be employed to locate and properly mark the graves; that staff had no intentions of spending any more money than necessary to properly restore the cemetery; that it would be difficult to find someone willing to volunteer to do the work; and that, because of the scope of the work involved, it was necessary to request and receive bids before the City could give Council a cost figure. He said the $200,000 appropriated in the budget was an estimated based on bids received several years ago, which was in the vicinity of $190,000 to $200,000.”

And finally, on 3 November 1994, City Council awarded the job to PLT Construction:

“Councilmember [Robert L.] Thaxton moved that the bid be awarded to PLT Construction Company, low bidder meeting specifications, for the total project cost of $139,750. He stated that a lot of people do not know what is going on with the Vick Cemetery; that this is an old cemetery which was deeded to the city many years ago; and that plans are underway to improve this cemetery so that it can be maintained in the future. Motion was seconded by Councilmember Burton.”

“The City Manager said $200,000 was budgeted for this project; that he was pleased to see bids come in under the budgeted amount; that the next low bid was $48,750 higher than PLT’s; and that city staff is satisfied the contractor will do what is required to bring the Vick Cemetery up to par.”

“Councilmember [James M.] Johnson said that he had a problem with relatives letting their families’ graves being left in as shoddy a condition as they are now; that he was in favor of getting the Vick Cemetery improved, but, morally, he was going to vote against it, as a message to those family members who had loved ones buried there.”

“Councilmember Burton stated several family members did come before City Council and begged and pleaded for 15 years or more that the city restore and maintain the cemetery; that a man tried to maintain it by himself but could not continue to do so; and that the city was asked repeatedly to do something about its condition.”

“The mayor called for a vote on the motion to award the bid to PLT Construction Company for the restoration of the S.H. Vick Cemetery. Councilmembers Burton, [Willie J.] Pitt, Thaxton and Williams voted aye. Councilmembers Johnson and Stancil voted nay. The motion carried by a vote of four to two.”

And that, pretty much, was it.

I await, with low expectations, responses from the City Manager and City Engineer. In the meantime, it’s on to phase 3, in which I contact elected city officials in office during and since the 1990s concerning their recollections of the storage and/or disposal of the cemetery’s headstones.

Roadwork.

Henry Stott was overseer of “the new road” running from “the old conty line road to the Tarborough road near Alsey Boykins.” Stott had summoned men to fulfill two days of road building and maintenance duty on May 21 and 22, 1857. However, Wiley Deans and Jack, an enslaved man belonging to Deans, failed to show either day, and Stott complained to justice of the peace Josee Peele. Peele issued a warrant ordering Deans to appear before him or another justice of the peace to pay a four-dollar fine (a dollar a day for each man for two days’ work) if convicted.

A note on the back of the warrant indicates that justice of the peace L.S. Boykin found against Stott, and “The plantiff craves an appeal to the next county court to be held in the town of Wilson on the forth Monday of October next.”

Road Records-1857, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Registrars and judges of election.

In August and September 1896, the Chairman of the Republican State Executive Committee submitted lists of  Registrars and Judges of Election for elections to be held in November 1896.

Wilson County was divided into 14 precincts — four in Wilson, two in Toisnot township, and one each in Taylors, Old Fields, Springhill, Cross Roads, Black Creek, Stantonsburg, Saratoga and Gardners townships. Braswell R. Winstead was appointed Judge of Election for Wilson Precinct No. 1 and Toisnot Precinct No. 1 and Elijah L. Reid was appointed Judge of Election for Stantonsburg Precinct. William H. Vick was appointed Registrar for Wilson No. 2; Alexander D. Dawson for Wilson No. 3; and Jeremiah Scarboro for Wilson No. 4. Jessie Howard was appointed Taylors registrar and Gray Newsome, Cross Roads.

Election Records 1896, Officials’ Bonds and Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.

The colored firemen’s convention.

The Red Hot Hose Company of Wilson hosted the 1904 convention and tournament of North Carolina Volunteer Firemen’s Association (Colored). Southern Railway ran this notice of special round-trip rates for firemen and brass bands making the trip from various points across the state.

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 6.22.04 PM.png

The Morning Post (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 July 1904.

Dr. Price speaks upon the rebuilding of the race.

img-21

Greensboro North State, 27 May 1886.

One hundred thirty-three years ago, a Greensboro newspaper ran an article from the Wilson Mirror covering the visit to Wilson of “justly celebrated negro orator” Joseph C. Price. Price, a founder and first president of Livingstone College (in 1886 still known as Zion Wesley Institute), had taught in Wilson for four years at the start of his career. Regarded as one of great orators of his day — grudging recognition in this article notwithstanding — Price’s early death cut short a trajectory that might have vied with Booker T. Washington’s to lead African-Americans.

Samuel H. Vick read an essay to open the program. The writer of the article noted that his speech as “well-written” and “couched in good English,” as well it should have been given that the 23 year-old had a degree from Lincoln University and was principal of the colored graded school.

Daniel C. Suggs, like Vick a former pupil of Price, then gave a tribute recognized by an educated white listener as “most excellent.” Suggs, too, had a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln and was a year away from receiving a master’s.

Randall James’ many hats.

In the early 1940s, Randall Roland James Jr., grandson of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden, supplemented his duties as an undertaker in the family business with gigs as a federal censustaker and registrar for Local Draft Board 1. (James’ uncle, Arthur N. Darden, had been appointed an enumerator for the 1920 census.)

John G. Thomas’ quasi-gossip column, “Wilsonia,” noted the appointment of Robert E. Vick and James:

Wilson Daily Times, 2 April 1940.

Reverse side of the registration card of Luther Jones, Wilson, N.C., signed by James as registrar on 16 February 1942.

——

In the 1920 census of Newark, Essex County, New Jersey: at 188 McWhorter Street, Randall James, 30, born in Texas; wife Elizabeth, 31, born in North Carolina; and sons Charles, 5, born in Alabama, and Randall, 3, born in North Carolina.

In 1940, Randall Roland James registered for the World War II in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 10 June 1916 In Wilson; resided at 111 Pender Street; his contact was wife Ruth Vashti James; and he worked for C.H. Darden & Sons, 608 East Nash.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 111 Pender Street, Elizabeth James, 45, nursery school cook; son Randle James, 23, assistant undertaker at Darden Funeral, his wife Ruth, 22, and their daughter Dianne, 1; son Charles, 26, undertaker at Darden Funeral; cousin Eugene Tennessee, 22, field agent for Darden Funeral; and brother Arthur Darden, 40, [occupation illegible.]

Randall R. James Jr. died 9 June 1981 in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Randall R. James Jr., Wilson Daily Times, 15 August 1952.

U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.