Harper’s Weekly: at the country store.

Harper’s Weekly was famed for its lithographs. Though none are known to depict Wilson County scenes, several feature tableaux that would have been typical of the area. This engraving from a sketch by Mary L. Stone, published 20 April 1872, shows two African-American women at the counter of North Carolina country store. One wears a head wrap and large gold hoop earrings and a short jacket over layers of skirt. She is barefoot. The other woman, who appears to be handling cloth or some other merchandise, is bare-headed and wears a long, full dress and boots.

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing this image.

What passed for fun in the Tobacco Festival parade.

The City of Wilson commenced its annual Tobacco Festival parades in 1936. These appalling images were shot in July 1939 as the parade advanced up Nash Street. This is what passed for fun in Wilson as weeds shot toward the sky in Vick Cemetery.

A giant mammy.

The Junior King and Queen in a palanquin carried by shirtless black men. This mini-float, sponsored by the Lions Club, took a second-place prize.

Another Lions Club’s parade entry. White boys dressed as big game hunters lead bare-chested, barefooted black boys whose features have been exaggerated with white paint. They are dressed as “natives” and wear clown hats. (The top photo was taken after the parade at the Charles L. Coon High School athletic field. The bottom was shot as the boys approached Tarboro Street.) As described in the 18 July 1939 edition of the Wilson Daily Times, “the Frank Buck motif got in the parade again with an alligator in a cage and ‘Bring ’em back alive‘ painted on it.'”

My thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing these photos, which were likely taken for the Wilson Chamber of Commerce.

Darden Funeral Home’s new building.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1949.

The grand opening of the Tudor-style Darden Funeral Home building many remember near the intersection of Nash and Pender Streets.

  • “the wife of C.L. Darden” — Norma Duncan Darden. I had not seen Norma Darden before credited as a designer of this building with architect C.C. Benton.
  • C.H. Darden — Charles H. Darden.
  • C.L. Darden — Camillus L. Darden.
  • Charles Arthur Darden — son of Arthur N. Darden. Born and raised in New York City, Charles A. Darden apparently worked briefly for family business, perhaps stepping in after his father’s death in 1948.
  • Charles James — son of Elizabeth Darden James.
  • Rosalyn Whitehead
  • Dora Dickerson
  • Frank Davis — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Frank Davis, 42, assistant manager of funeral home; wife Beulah, 46; and son Frank Jr., 10.
  • Burnice Renfrow — in the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Johnie Renfrow, 50; wife Mary Ellen, 49; and children Burniss, 21, David, 18, Minnie, 16, and Ree, 13. The same year, Burnice Elwood Renfrow registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 3 March 1918 in Wilson County; lived at R.F.D. #3, Kenly, Wilson County; his contact was his mother Mary Ellen Renfrow; and he worked for Johnnie Renfrow. 
  • Joe N. Williams
  • Louis Hines
  • Velma Carroll — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 907 Washington, Walter Carroll, 44, machinist helper at local oil plant, and wife Velma, 36, practical nurse at local funeral home.
  • Elizabeth Morgan — Elizabeth Darden James Morgan.
  • David Hines
  • E.D. Fisher — Edwin D. Fisher.
  • Henry Speight
  • Oscar Ellis

The new Darden Memorial Funeral Home, circa 1950.

Photo provided by Lu-Ann Monson, original in Wilson City Archives.

Where we worked: Wilson Furniture Company.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1941.

Wilson Furniture Company’s large newspaper ad included its deliveryman, James “Gates” Johnson. The business was located at 125-127 South Goldsboro Street.


In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, farmer James Johnson, 50; wife Carrie, 38; and children Mamie, 17, Roxanna, 12, Victoria, 9, James, 7, Lendsy, 5, Katie B., 3, and Clyde, 1.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 503 Viola, house carpenter James H. Johnson, 50; wife Carrie, 45; children Mamie, 25, Roxanna, 22, Victoria, 18, all domestic servants, James, 16, retail feed store delivery boy, Lancey, 13, Katie, 12, Clyde, 9, Herman, 7, and Stella M., 5; and foster son Thurman Land, 14.

In 1942, James Arthur Johnson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 27 November 1923 in Wilson; lived at 503 Viola Street, Wilson; his contact was William Henry Johnson, 611 Warren Street, Wilson; and he worked for E.H. Barnes of Wilson Furniture Company. He was described as 6 feet 10 inches tall and 165 pounds. 

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 907 Stantonsburg, Henry Johnson, 60; wife Carrie, 55; and children Roxanne, 31, James, 28, Lansey, 24, Katie B., 21, Herman, 16, Helen, 10, and Jo Ann, 8.

Soft drink bottling company in East Wilson.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 January 1948.

Wilson Bottling Company stood at the corner of East Nash and South Vick Streets in a building originally occupied by a grocery. This stretch of East Nash Street was a small commercial district featuring several groceries and the Elks Club’s lodge building.

Here’s the area in the 1930 Sanborn map, before the Elks Club was built:

In 1930, the businesses were:

  • at 909, Wade H. Humphrey Grocery
  • at 911, vacant
  • at 913, barber Oscar Williams
  • at 915, vacant
  • at 917, vacant
  • at 1000, Babe Pridgen Grocery
  • at 1001 [921], Edward Nicholson Grocery
  • at 1004A, vacant
  • at 1005, Marcellus Forbes Grocery
  • at 1006, Moses Parker Grocery

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory:

  • at 909, vacant
  • at 911, Farm & Home Curb Market
  • at 913, Mattie G. Hines beer shop
  • at 915 and 917, Gill’s Grocery
  • at 1000, Wilson Bottling Company
  • at 1001 [921], Elks Home, Marshall Lodge #297
  • at 1004A, vacant
  • at 1005, Forbes Grocery
  • at 1006, Forbes Grocery storage

W.C. Coleman’s worthy enterprise.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 May 1897.

Coleman Manufacturing Company was organized in 1897 by Warren C. Coleman and others in Concord, North Carolina. It was the first African-American-owned textile mill and operated seven years before collapsing financially. I have not been able to identify its Wilson investors.

Coleman Manufacturing Company, circa 1899. “Coleman Manufacturing Co., a Negro operated cotton mill, Concord, N.C.,” African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Tobacco for sale.

This 1926 scene, shot in an unnamed Wilson warehouse in 1926, depicts dozens of men, several African-American, on a tobacco warehouse floor.

“Tobacco for sale in auction warehouse, Wilson, N.C.,” Scan 6, Series 1, Wilson County Tobacco Production, ca. 1926; Commercial Museum (Philadelphia, Pa.) Collection of North Carolina Photos, ca. 1923-1939; Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.