Economics

Ministers turn labor recruiters.

When tobacco processing plants could not convince or coerce or otherwise attract sufficient workers, Wilson’s office of the U.S. Employment Service of the War Manpower Commission turned to the Negro Ministerial Alliance. With a hiring center set up at Saint John A.M.E.Z. — the article says First Baptist, but that photo is Saint John — African-American ministers fanned out across Wilson with a basic message: “the harvest is ready and the workers are few.” (Delivered occasionally with a little of the Good Word.) In a week, they spoke with about 1500 people and signed up 700. [For perspective — Wilson’s total population in 1944 was about 20,000, of whom about 40%, or 8000, were Black.]

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 September 1944.

Float makers inspire.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 July 1939.

Citing the example of two skilled craftsmen who came to Wilson to decorate floats in the annual Tobacco Festival parade, Rev. Richard A.G. Foster encouraged African-American youth to gain employment skills. “There is work for you to do, if not in Wilson, in some place if you are prepared to do that work.”

You had better get them back here on Monday.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 June 1942.

The end of the Depression did not curtail the power of employment offices over the bodies of African-American laborers. We saw protests in the late 1930s against workers being sent to toil in deplorable conditions in Duplin County strawberry fields.  In 1942, even tobacco barons were crying foul as the employment office shipped nearly 200 men, women, and children to Delaware to work in fields, despite a severe  farmworker labor shortage in Wilson County. “Suggestions pointing to the ‘drafting’ of farm and tobacco labor if the work could not be done on a voluntary basis were made at the meeting.”

Town turns down request for recreation funding.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 September 1937.

The path to building Reid Street Community Center was a rocky one. As reported in September 1937, African-American community leaders, headed by William Hines, appeared repeatedly before Wilson’s Board of Aldermen (the precursor to City Council) seeking help.  To match federal funds, the group requested $7500 to add to another $7500 they hoped to receive from the county. When the county declined to approve the funds, the group returned to the city to ask for the $7500 outright to build a scaled-down building. “The request was voted down by the Aldermen last night on the grounds that the appropriation the town had made was contingent on the county’s appropriation and that there seemed to be some doubt anyway whether the town even could appropriate the money.”

The Center was finally funded in the spring of 1938 and opened at the end of the year.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

If you are out of work.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 February 1932.

As the Great Depression deepened, Henry Ellis Post No. 17, American Legion, collected names of unemployed workers and sought employers willing to hire.

  • Thomas Cook — Per his World War I service card, Thomas Cook, 619 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson, was born 18 May 1894 in Wilson and inducted into military service on 19 July 1918. He served in Companies A and B of the 147th Labor Battalion and was discharged on 31 May 1919.
  • Nathan Haskins
  • J.W. Pitt — John W. Pitt (or Pitts) registered for the World War I draft in 1917 in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 4 August 1891 in Newberry, South Carolina; lived on Vance Street, Wilson; and worked as a carpenter in Wilson for “Mr. Lassiter of Rocky Mount.”
  • Dr. G.S. Butterfield — Dr. George K. Butterfield.
  • H.M. Fitts — Howard M. Fitts.
  • A.N. Darden — Arthur N. Darden.
  • Henry Ellis Post No. 17

North Carolina World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919, http://www.ancestry.com

It wasn’t just wages we wanted.

On this Labor Day, I bring you “It Wasn’t Just Wages We Wanted, But Freedom”: The 1946 Tobacco Leaf House Workers Organizing in Eastern North Carolina, a compilation of all known scholarship related to the Tobacco Workers International Union and Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers’ mass organizing campaign. The campaign secured union contracts at more than 30 leaf houses, and workers engaged in voter registrations and political action that presaged the civil rights movement a decade later. 

In an introduction to the first edition, Phoenix Historical Society’s Jim Wrenn noted, “This movement began as early as March 1946 when three workers at Export Leaf in Wilson — Aaron Best, Harvey Moore and Chester Newkirk — met with TWIU organizer Dr. R.A. Young … at Best’s home on East Nash Street in Wilson. This meeting led to the establishment of TWIU Local 259 at Export Leaf, the leading tobacco local in Wilson. Best became its first president, Moore its first secretary and Newark its first treasurer. Local 259 members reached out to workers at five other Wilson leaf houses, who were organized as Locals 260, 268, 270, 271, and 272. Today, Local 259 has been absorbed into local 270, the last surviving union local of the 1946 movement.”

The work was published by the Phoenix Historical Society, an organization devoted to the preservation of the African American history of Edgecombe County, and I purchased this copy directly from them.

Barton College’s oral history project.

The introduction to Barton College’s Crossing the Tracks: An Oral History of East and West Wilson:

“Starting in the spring of 2013 and concluding in the fall of 2014, Barton College students began interviewing Wilson residents about social, cultural, political, and economic relations between residents of East and West Wilson, and how these relations have changed over the past sixty to seventy years. 

“In spite of the many significant achievements of the modern Civil Rights Movement, our nation, state, and community bear the scars and legacies of a deeply troubled racial history that continues to impact our relationships. While we might like to forget or gloss over the painful part of that history, its effect lingers, and denying it will not make it go away.  As the writer James Baldwin once said, ‘The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.’  One of the goals of Crossing the Tracks, then, is to bring these unconscious forces of history into our consciousness, so that we might begin to confront the historical effects of white supremacy and begin the process of healing.

“A history of segregation, built on a foundation of white supremacy, created a separate but unequal society.  And the traditional historical narrative is at best an incomplete history, written and preserved by those who hold political, social, and economic power.  It too often omits the strong voices and tremendous contributions of those on the margins of power.  Part of the mission of the Freeman Round House Museum is to fill this gap in the historical record by preserving and publicizing the contributions of African American Wilsonians to education, medicine, the arts, criminal justice, and entertainment.  Crossing the Tracks supports this mission.  It is an accessible collection of first-person accounts of life in Wilson that students, scholars, and the general public can use to study and write about this remarkable, underrepresented history.  In many ways, it builds on the work of Dr. Charles W. McKinney, Jr., whose book, Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina, documents decades of committed struggle by East Wilson residents to lay the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement.”

The project includes videotaped interviews with 22 residents of East Wilson. The recollections of many, including Samuel Lathan, Roderick Taylor Jr., and Mattie Bynum Jones, date to the 1930s and ’40s, the latter decades covered by the blog. Barton College partnered with the Freeman Roundhouse and Museum to obtain these invaluable stories and all are available online.

Henry Joyner, whose credit is good.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1929.

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In the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Simon Joyner, 38; wife Venus, 36; and children Mary A.F., 14, William H., 11, Dossy, 9, Jacen, 7, and Charley, 2.

On 5 January 1895, Henry Joyner, 26, of Taylors township, son of Simon and Venus Winstead, married Margaret Winstead, 27, of Taylors township, daughter of Berry and Luenda Winstead, in Taylors township.

In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Henry Jones, 31; wife Margret, 31; and children James, 14, Lou, 10, William H., 6, Herbert, 4, Maggie, 3, and Anna, 1 month.

In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: on Thompson Road, farmer Henry Joyner, 42; wife Margaret, 42; and children Lula, 18, William, 17, Hubbert, 15, Maggie, 13, Annie, 10, Obie, 8, Bettie, 4, Luther, 2, Theodore, 3 months, and James, 24.

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Henry Joyner, 52; wife Margaret, 51; and children Annie, 20, Obie, 18, Bettie, 13, Luther, 11, Theodore, 9, and Lizzie, 6; and grandson Nathan, 6 months.

In the 1930 census of Jackson township, Nash County, North Carolina: farmer Henry Joyner, 60; wife Margaret, 60; children Anne, 26, Obie, 25, Bettie, 24, Luther, 21, Lizzie, 16, and Nathan, 10; and grandchildren Josephine, 14, Rosella, 12, Edward, 10, and Elmus Eatmon, 8.

In the 1940 census of Jackson township, Nash County: Obie Joyner, 38; wife Gladys, 20; father Henry Joyner, 71; mother Margret Joyner, 70; sister Annie, 40; brother Luther, 30; nephew Curtis, 7; niece Leona Eatmon, 28; nephew Nathan Eatmon, 28; and lodger Elmus Eatmon, 19.

Henry Joyner died 13 June 1944 in Jackson township, Nash County. Per his death certificate, he was 78 years old; was born in Wilson County to Simon and Venus Joyner of Wilson County; was a farmer; was married to Margaret Joyner; and was buried in Granite Point cemetery, Wilson County. Obie Joyner was informant.

Margaret Joyner died 18 October 1944 in Jackson township, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was 77 years old; was a widow; was born in Nash County to Berry and Lurenda Winstead of Nash County; and was buried in Granite Point cemetery, Wilson County. Obie Joyner was informant.

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for the clipping.