Civic Life

The Knights of Gideon meet.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 August 1919.

Founded about 1900, the Knights of Gideon were headquartered in Goldsboro, N.C., twenty-five miles south of Wilson. The group seems not to have been nearly as popular in Wilson County as similar fraternal organizations.

  • W.H. Green
  • Mrs. A.M. Whitley — perhaps, Sylvia Yancy Whitley, wife of Amos Whitley?
  • J.H. Palmer — in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Palmer John H (c) farmer h Elliott nr Hackney

Filling in the gaps.

Last week in Wilson.

My thanks to Wilson County Historical Association, Wilson County Tourism Development Authority, Drew C. Wilson of Wilson Times (where you can read the accompanying article), Reginald Speight of Congressman G.K. Butterfield Jr.‘s office, and local elected officials and members of the public who took time to show interest and support.


For fifty or so years after the Civil War, Wilson’s African-American community celebrated Emancipation Day on January 1. The day marked the issuance in 1863 of the Emancipation Proclamation and was decidedly symbolic, as that executive order could not be enforced on behalf of most of North Carolina’s enslaved. Instead, they were freed, as a practical matter, only after the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.

In Texas, freedom did not arrive until June 19 of that year, when a Union Army commander read General Order No. 3 upon arrival in Galveston. African-American Texans have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1866, and, after slowly gaining traction across the country over the last few decades, the holiday is now widely observed. (This very day, in fact, it’s on the verge of becoming a national holiday, which feels performative, if not downright gaslight-y, given where this country is on any and every substantive thing around Black history.)

Juneteenth is a new celebration in Wilson, but it picks up where an old one left off, and I love to see it. Starting June 18, The Spot, an after-school youth center in what was once the New Grabneck neighborhood, is presenting Walk In Their Shoes — “this project will reimagine our existing walking trail into an immersive storytelling experience. Students and families can attend during open walking times and use technology to hear real stories from real people in our community. Around the trail art installments created by SPOT students will give a visual insight to the story and bring it to life.”

On June 26, Mount Hebron Masonic Lodge No. 42 — chartered in Wilson in 1881 — is throwing a party in the iconic 500 block of East Nash Street featuring food, music, art, and dollops of history throughout. (Can you identify the five titans of East Wilson depicted at the top of their flyer?)

A Memorial Day parade to the cemetery.

Memorial Day services at “the cemetery” — which might have been Rest Haven, but was probably what we now know as Vick and Odd Fellows Cemeteries — were a regular event in the early 20th century.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 May 1940.

American Legion Post 17’s memorial services.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1921.

The Omegas’ last chapter meeting of the year.

Though chartered in Wilson, Omega Psi Phi (not Chi) fraternity’s local graduate chapter included members from several eastern North Carolina counties. Here, a brief announcement of their chapter officers.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 May 1940.

Poppy Day.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 May 1930.

The park should be named in his honor.

In 1980, the Mary McLeod Bethune Women’s Civic Club petitioned Wilson Parks and Recreation Director Burt Gillette to name a new city park for Oliver Nestus Freeman. Their letter contains interesting details of Freeman’s life, including more about his amusement park and the focus of his real estate development.

The petition was successful.

Fraternal and benevolent orders.

The Odd Fellows were not the only African-American fraternal order that found toeholds in Wilson County in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An examination of deed books and other records yields these — some familiar, others much less so:

  • Prince Hall Masons, Mount Hebron Lodge #42, chartered in 1881.
  • Prince Hall Masons, Rocky Blue Lodge #56, chartered before 1910.
  • Prince Hall Masons, Pride of Wilson Lodge #484, chartered before 1947.
  • Knights of King Solomon, Victoria #1, chartered in 1918. Per the Annual Report of the Insurance Commissioner of the State of North Carolina (1925), the home office of the Knights of King Solomon was in Wilson, the organization had been chartered in 1918, its president was William Pierce, and its secretary was C.F. Rich.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 December 1918.

  • Knights of King Solomon, Saint Luke Lodge #53, chartered before 1921.
  • Knights of King Solomon, Richardson Lodge #10, chartered before 1921.
  • Knights of King Solomon, Pride of Wilson Lodge #32, chartered before 1921.
  • Knights of King Solomon, Mount Zion Lodge #9, chartered before 1921.
  • Knights of King Solomon, Barnes Chapel Lodge #78, chartered before 1923.
  • Knights of King Solomon, Love Union Lodge #209, chartered before 1929.
  • Knights of Labor, Assembly #734, chartered before 1888.
  • Knights of Labor, Wilson Light Assembly #10699, chartered before 1887.
  • Knights of Labor, Saratoga Assembly #8221, chartered before 1888.
  • Knights of Labor, Pine Level Assembly #10811, chartered before 1889.
  • Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Marshall Lodge #297, chartered in 1921.
  • Royal Fraternal Organization, organized in 1910. Per the Annual Report of the Insurance Commissioner of the State of North Carolina (1925), the home office of the Royal Fraternal Organization was in Wilson, the organization had been chartered in 1910, its president was J.W. Parker, and its secretary was Cora C. Lucas.
  • Knights of Pythias, Peaceful Valley Lodge #272
  • Order of Eastern Star, Silver Star Chapter #26

More to come as I research these organizations.