Civil servants.

This massive volume, dense with charts and tables and lists, illuminates the fierce struggle over political appointment/patronage jobs in the late 19th century and the intense sense of envy and entitlement that shaped attitudes toward award of such jobs to African-Americans. Essentially, this book lists all military officers and federal government employees on the payroll in 1891.

Here is Alfred Robinson, railway postal clerk on the Rocky Mount, N.C., to Norfolk, Virginia, line, earning $1000 per year.

And here is Samuel H.Vick, postmaster of Wilson, pulling down a $1500 annual salary.

Measured in 2016 dollars, the relative economic status value of a $1000/year salary is $239,000. A $1500/year salary is valued at $358,000. (Economic status value measures the relative “prestige value” of an amount of income or wealth measured between two periods using the income index of the per capita gross domestic product.) This kind of wealth awarded to African-Americans set blood boiling.

“Official Register of the United States, Containing a List of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service,” Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, digitized by Oregon State Library, Salem, Oregon; available online at

Parker reports progress.

age 12 14 1911.jpg

New York Age, 14 December 1911.

Henry Clay Parker, born 1875, was native of Stony Creek township, Nash County, North Carolina. The real estate firm Nail and Parker, founded in 1907, was instrumental in the development of Harlem as America’s most storied African-American neighborhood.

“In Wilson, N.C., a short car ride from Rocky Mount, one colored family has the transportation privileges and the concern uses automobiles and carriages which it owns,” Parker reported. Presumably, this is a reference to Charles H. Darden and family.

They unlawfully hired their time of their master.

An enslaver could, and often did, rent the services of an enslaved person to others for specific tasks or under long-term leases. Under North Carolina law, however, enslavers were prohibited from allowing their slaves to rent their own time. That is, to come to their own terms and arrangements for working for others for wages that they either kept for themselves or split with their masters. Slaves who hired their own time created their own wealth, a dangerous circumstance. There was a wide gulf between law and reality, however.

Dennis, a man over whom white Wilson County carpenter John Farmer claimed ownership, was indicted on misdemeanor charges of hiring his time at July term, 1859, of the Wilson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions.  Five years later, at July 1864, jurors indicted Farmer himself for allowing the entrepreneurial activities of enslaved women named Mary, Lucy and Silvia.

The jurors for the State on their oath present, that Dennis, a Slave the property of John Farmer (Carpt) at and in the County of Wilson on the first day of January 1859 and on divers other days and times as well before as afterwards up to the taking of this inquisition by the permission of the said John Farmer his master, unlawfully did go at large, the said Salve having then and there unlawfully hired his own time of his said master, contrary to the form of the Stature in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the State.


John Farmer may have been the John W. Farmer of Wilson township, Wilson County, who is listed in the 1860 slave schedule as the owner of ten enslaved men and women.

Court Cases Involving Slaves, Slave Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Uptown, 1930.

As detailed here and here, the blocks of East Nash Street between the railroad and Pender Street were home to Wilson’s black commercial district. Pages 285-336 of 1930 edition of the Wilson, N.C. City Directory offers a detailed listing of the businesses on these blocks. (There were a baker’s dozen residences, too — all save one black-owned or -occupied. One was a boarding house, and half the others included unrelated lodgers.) Though primarily owned by African-Americans, white businesses — several run by immigrant Syrians or Greeks — and a Chinese laundry also operated in the district.

Though they could not buy a dress or deposit a check* or consult a lawyer on their side of town, East Wilson did not have to cross the tracks to see a movie, get their shoes shined or repaired, get a haircut (four barbers), buy eggs and butter (eight groceries, including a corporate chain), grab a cup of coffee and a slice of pie (six cafes and restaurants), select fresh fish, get a suit altered or pressed, play billiards, straighten a bicycle frame, buy or repair furniture, consult a doctor or dentist (two of each), get a prescription filled (two pharmacies), have their hair straightened, sample fresh-made candy, attend a lodge meeting (three), book a hotel room, replace a watch band, pay on insurance policy, fill a gas tank, or bury their dead.

Though this entry suggests otherwise, the theatre’s building was actually east of the tracks. In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, George C. Woller is listed as the proprietor of the Lincoln.

A C L R R intersects

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Cutt Davis and James Mack are listed as proprietors of the Baltimore Shoe Shop.

  • 420 1/2 McNeill & Hargrove (c) barbers

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Angus A. McNeill and John Hargrove are listed as the proprietor of the Lincoln. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1202 Wainright, Angus McNeil, 40, barber; wife Maggie, 25; and daughter Agnes E., 6.

  • 421 Kannan Thos S gro

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 Pine Street, Syrian-born widow Shely Kannan, 48, saleslady in a dry goods store, with children Ellis, 28, dry goods store manager, Albert, 22, dry goods store salesman, Thomas, 18, fruit stand salesman, and Rosa Lee, 16. The older two children were also born in Syria.

  • 423 Star Cafe

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Gost Glearmis is listed as the proprietor of the Star.

Pettigrew intersects

  • 500 Gatlin Amos J & Co gro

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 220 Railroad Street, grocery merchant James P. Gatlin, 66; wife Patty, 68, saleslady; son Amos J., 29, salesman; daughter-in-law Edna, 24; grandchildren Amos Jr., 6, Constance, 4, Patricia, 3, and Dorthy, 9 months.

  • 501 Maynard’s Mkt gro

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, George W. Maynard is listed as the proprietor of this grocery and another at 401 Stantonsburg.

  • 503 Barnes Rachel G (c) restr

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1118 East Nash Street, Johnie Barnes, 33, cafe proprietor; wife Rachel G., 35, cafe cook; cousin Leotha Clark, 22, cafe waitress; and roomer Henrietta Walker, 28, cafe waitress.

  • 504 Verser Jesse W

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 504 East Nash Street, grocery store proprietor Jessie W. Verser; with Annie, 36; daughters Ethel, 10, and Thelma, 7; and mother Bertha, 71.

  • 505 Barnes John (c) barber

John Barnes was husband of Rachel G. Barnes, above.

  • 506 Wah Jung lndy

Wah Jung Laundry appears in Wilson city directories as early as 1912. In the 1930 residential listing, its proprietor was listed as Yee G. Wah.

  • 507 Ziady Jos gro

Per the 1928 Wilson city directory, Ziady’s establishment was called Nash Candy Kitchen. He resided nearby at 107 South Pettigrew Street.

  • 508 Service Barber Shop (c) Artis Ernest A (c)

In the 1930 residential listing: Artis Ernest L (c) (Louise) (Service Barber Shop) h 404 N Vick

  • 509 1/2 Stokes Thos (c) fish

In the residential listing of the 1930 directory: Stokes Thos (c) (Babe) fish 509 1/2 Nash h 615 W Wiggins

  • 511 Lupe Peter (c) shoe shiner
  • 512 Braswell Ezekiel (c) rest

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1120 East Nash Street, Ezekiel Braswell, 38, cafe proprietor; wife Mary, 29, public school teacher; daughters Mary E., 5, and Parthenia, 3; and roomer Matilda Cherry, 26, teacher.

  • 514 Lesley Saml G (c) tailor

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 802 Manchester Street, Ohio-born tailor Samuel G. Lesley, 28; Virginia-born wife Lillian, 24; and children Denis, 8, Robert, 6, Samuel Jr., 4, and John W., 3.

  • 517 Moore John H (c) shoe repr

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1113 Atlantic Street, cobbler John H. Moore, 45; wife Annie, 31; and children Lena, 13, Carl, 11, John, 9, Anna G., 7, Odessia B., 3, and Ruth, 1.

  • 519 Phillips Chas P bicycle repr

In the residential listing of the 1930 directory: Phillips Chas P (Minnie A) bicycle repr 519 E Nash h 410 Herring Ave

  • 520 Dixon Lenora (c) billiards

Though Lenora Dixon appears in the 1930 city directory under her maiden name, living at 611 Nash, on 9 December 1929, she married Daniel Carroll in Wilson. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Daniel Carroll, 27, barber in Hines shop; wife Lenora, 27, no occupation; and adopted daughter Hattie L., 9.

  • 521 Smith Preston (c) clothes clnr

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 314 Stantonsburg Street, tailor Preston Smith, 42; wife Minnie, 30; sons Henry, 17, and Vernon, 10; and roomers Henry Edwards, 40, and Anna B. Edwards, 18, both tobacco factory laborers.

  • 522 Atkinson Henry (c) shoe repr
  • 523 Wooten W L Co furn

In the residential listing of the 1930 directory: W L Wooten Co Inc, H Paul Yelverton pres, Jesse W Thomas v-pres, Wm L Wooten sec-treas, furn 523 E Nash.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 805 East Nash, physician Matthew S. Gilliam, 45; wife Annie L., 42; and children Charles A., 17, Matthew, 15, Emily, 13, George T., 12, and Herman, 10. In the 1930 residential listing of the city directory: Howard Mary (c) lndrs h 524 E Nash.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 719 East Green Street, barber Charles S. Thomas, 48; wife Blanch, 48; nephew-in-law George W., 22; adopted daughter Cora, 22; and adopted son Lee Roy, 11.

  • 526 Coleman Mattie B (c)

Mattie B. Coleman managed a boarding house at 526 East Nash. At that address in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: paying $12/month in rent, widow Carrie Shaw, 48; and children Robert, 21, dry cleaning plant laborer, Cornie, 20, laundress, Louise, 18, private nurse, Jovester, 17, Aline, 15, and Nettie R., 12. Also paying $12/month, Dave Harris, 32, guano plant laborer; wife Bessie S., 27, laundress; and children Timothy, 12, Roy, 10, Ardria M., 8, Roland, 5, Odessa, 3, and Herman, 1. Also paying $12/month, boarding house keeper Mattie B. Coleman, 25; tobacco factory stemmer Enemicha Kent, 20; tobacco factory stemmer Carrie M. Shine, 22, and Callonia Shine, 15; wholesale grocery delivery boy Mitchel Hamon, 24, and wife Ella, 17; restaurant dishwasher James Nelson, 21; laundry ironer Irene Rountree, 27; and cook Maggie Downing, 26.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 528 East Nash, widowed seamstress Sarah L. Bowden, 59; divorced restaurant cook George Lee, 24; and widower barber George Sledge, 51.

  • 529 Coppedge Sarah (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Sarah Coppedge, 36, laundress; lodgers James Ellec, 27, cook, and Mary Taylor, 30; son-in-law James Barnes, 26, coal company truck driver; daughter Verlie L., 20; and relative Frank, 21, tea room cook.

  • 530 Stokes Turner (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: building carpenter Turner Stokes, 60; wife Mattie, 38, laundress; and roomers Mary Barnes, 16, and Lillian Dedman, 17.

  • 531 Swindell Deborah (c) hair drsr

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 630 East Suggs Street, beauty parlor helper Debbie Swindell, 40; widow Effie Lewis, 35, servant, and children Essie M., 10, Mathew, 8, and William J., 4; and daughter Deborah Swindell, 6.

  • 532 Uzzell Henry (c) furn repr

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 503 Viola Street, cafe cook Henry Uzzell, 48; wife Almira, 43; and children Eliza, 20, servant, Corine, 17, Mable, 16, Eva May, 11, James, 9, and Corrie, 6.

  • 533 Taylor Bertha (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: divorced laundress Bertha Taylor, 33.

  • 534 Bynum Mack (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 534 East Nash, tobacco factory machinist Mack Bynum, 48; and children Mildred, 20, school lunchroom cook, and Mary, 17; son-in-law Richard Saunders, 25; daughter Catherine, 23; and grandson Walter, 6 months. Also, South Carolina-born odd jobs laborer Anthony Ashley, 48; wife Sarah D., 30, a tobacco factory stemmer; and children Willie G., 10, Leo, 8, Eugenia, 6, and Joseph D., 2 months; restaurant cook Marshal McCommick, 23; hardware delivery man Fletcher Lassiter, 25; and embalmer Daniel McKeathan, 30.

  • 535 Najim Geo candy mfr

Najim resided at 107 South Pettigrew. See Joseph Ziady, above.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Methodist minister Russell B. Taylor, 48, widower; and children Laura, 14, Sarah, 11, Christopher, 7, and William, 4; daughter Beatrice Barnes, 18, teacher, and her son Elroy Barnes Jr., 1; Cora Speight, 49; laundress Mamie Williams, 30; and Roscoe McCoy, 32.

  • 537 Lucas Wm T gro

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 216 Railroad Street, Will T. Lucas, 56, grocery store merchant; wife Sallie, 42; son Leon, 22; daughter-in-law Dorthy, 22; children Will Jr., 7, and Sarah F., 3; and granddaughter Betsy G., 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Virginia-born druggist Darcey C. Yancey, 46; wife Lelia B., 40; and daughter Maude, 9.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Albert Mitchel, 52; brother Floyd Mitchel, 47; and roomers Settie Hardy, 56, housekeeper, and Jaunita Nevells, 23.

  • 541 Whitley Hotel; Marshall Lodge, No 297, IBPOE

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Maggie A. Whitley is listed as the proprietor of this hotel.

  • 542 Brewington Edward C (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: transfer driver Eddie Brewington, 32; wife Mary, 32, laundress; and hospital nurse Alice Tyler, 69.

  • 543 Jones Luther J (c) restr

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Mason Street, seamstress Lula Herring, 25, and boarder Luther Jones, 38, cafe manager.

  • 544 Baker Easter (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed laundress Esther Baker, 64; son Jim, 24, tobacco factory laborer; cafe dish washer George Coley, 32; and Fred Hancock, 43.

  • 545 Ford clnrs; Best John (c) clothes presser

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Herbert H. and Alf J. Ford are listed as the proprietors of Ford cleaners. Also, Best John (c) (Sylvia) clothes presser h 106 Ashe.

  • 546 Rogers John W (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: dry goods store janitor John W. Rogers, 57; wife Mary R., 47; adopted son Leonard G., 7; and niece Ernestine Atkinson, a teacher.

  • 547 Am Legion, Henry Ellis Post (c); IOOF, Hannibal Lodge, No 552 (c)
  • 548 Barbour Nannie (c) clo presser

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Barbour Nannie (c) clothes presser 548 e Nash h 1005 Atlantic.

  • 549 Fahad Kattar billiards

Census and other records indicate that Fahad, born in Syria or Lebanon, was primarily a resident of New Bern, North Carolina.

  • 551 Rutherford Geo (c) restr

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 104 [sic; 804] Green Street, Georgia-born cafe proprietor George Rutherford, 45, and wife Maggie, 31, waitress.

  • 552 Alston Robert T (c) watch repr

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory: Alston Robet T (c) watch repr 552 E Nash h do

  • 552 1/2 Wilson Dye Works (br)

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Luther W. High is listed as the proprietor of this branch of the dye works.

  • 553 Peacock & Locus undtkrs

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Levi H. Peacock Jr. and Luther Locus are listed as the proprietors of this undertaking establishment. However, in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1108 Wainwright, cook Luther Locus, 37, wife Eula, 37, also a cook, and son Robert, 16. And at 204 Vick Street, hotel bellboy Levi Peacock, 30; wife Elouise, 28, a public school teacher; children Jewel D., 4, and Thomas L., 14; and mother-in-law Etta Reaves, 50, post office maid.

  • 554 Baxter & Co gros

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, Herman W. Baxter and James F. Downing are listed as the proprietors of this grocery.

Stantonsburg intersects

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 900 Atlantic Street, cafe proprietor Jim Allen, 45; wife Rachel, 32, a private nurse; and children Elouise, 10, and Fred, 8; and lodgers Floyd Baker, 26, farm laborer, Gertrude Kannary, 27, cook, and Katherine, 10, Dortha, 7, and Elouise Baker, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 604 East Green, Baptist minister Fred M. Davis, 60; wife Minie, 49; daughter Addie, 25, teacher; and Bermuda-born son-in-law George Butterfield, 27, dentist.

Darcy C. Yancey, above, was proprietor of Ideal Pharmacy.

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory: Mitchner Wm A (c) phys 565 E Nash h 604 E Green.  Winston Mutual Life Insurance Company was established in 1906 by African-American business and civic leaders to provide health and accident insurance for Winston-Salem’s African-American tobacco workers.

  • 567 Battle Harry (c) restr

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory: Battle Harry (c) restr 567 E Nash r 902 do.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Columbus Artis, a merchant/undertaker, wife Ida [Ada], and niece Gladys Adams. Artis owned the house at 308 Pender Street, valued at $4000.

Pender intersects

  • 600 Triangle Filling Sta

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory, William H. Taylor is listed as the proprietor of this gas station.

  • 601 Boykin Dorsey G filling sta

In the residential listing of the 1930 Wilson city directory: Boykin Dorsey G (Virginia L) filling sta 601 E Nash h 208 W Green.

  • 603 Simpson Fannie (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Fannie Simpson 60, widow.

  • 605 Parker Eli (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 605 East Nash, fertilizer plant laborer Bob Snow, 29; wife Elberta, 27; and children Beulah, 11, John, 8, Albert, 6, and Edgar, 1. Also, oil mill laborer Elye Parker, 29, and wife Pearl, 27, cook.

  • 607 Smith Wm (c)

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: bakery laborer Willie Smith, 27; wife Ada, 24; and brother Oscar, 18, bakery laborer; widow Mary Williams, 45, cook, and son Robert, 28, tobacco factory stemmer.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 111 Pender Street, Charles H. Darden, 76, undertaking proprietor; wife Mary E.; and Cora Brown, 22, drugstore clerk.

*Black-owned Commercial Bank closed abruptly amid scandal in 1929.


Loafers are not wanted here.


I am from Wilson, N.C.; I have been here three weeks. I found employment readily, and a good home. I live and work with Mr. F.B. Gardner, a good farmer in Russell township, Putnam county. He pays me $13 per month until spring, and then he will give me more. I find him a very kind and good man to me in the way of accommodations. Mr. Gardner could not get possession of his own house for me until the first of March, but he procured from his brother-in-law, Mr. D. Evans, a good and comfortable house for us until he can get the use of his. I am well pleased with my situation, and like this country finely. I would not go back to North Carolina for any consideration, and I would advise all my friends in that State to come to this county, as they can better their condition. But they should not come unless they expect to do good work, as loafers are not wanted here.


In the 1880 census of Russell township, Putnam County, Indiana: laborer Joseph Ellis, 27, and wife Prissa, 23, both born in North Carolina.

In the 1900 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: widowed day laborer Joseph Ellis, 48; son Theodore, 16, and daughters Margaret, 10, and Vera, 8.

Senate Report 693, Part 2, 2nd Session, 46th Congress.  Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States (1880).  U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

Nadal’s neighbors.


This plat, drawn in September 1905, shows an irregular plot of land near Nash and Pended Streets. Part of the Anthony Nadal estate, the tract measured just under three acres. Wilson’s African-American community had begun to coalesce east of Pender, across from First Baptist Church, Saint John’s A.M.E. Zion and Calvary Presbyterian, and a close look at the plat shows some of Nadal’s neighbors.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 8.14.21 PM.png

  1. John Mack Barnes, master builder, carpenter and brickmason, who would soon built Saint John, among other fine brick buildings.
  2. John W. Aiken, a horse dealer and liveryman.
  3. Rev. Owen L.W. Smith, just returned from his stint as consul to Liberia.
  4. John S. Spell, carpenter and contractor.
  5. Darden Alley, named for the Charles H. Darden family and called so to this day.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 8.30.51 PM.png

Plat Book 1, page 17, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

As different as chalk and cheese.


The man is working for Daniel Evans, near Russellville, Putnam County. He has a nice brick house to live in, has a nice garden spot, fire-wood, and a team to haul it, a milch-cow and food to feed her, and $15 in cash each month; in all, equivalent to about $24 a month. He is delighted with Indiana, and urges that all his people come to our State as soon as they can get there. In an interview with me, he said: “Neither you nor any other Republican in Greencastle ever said a word to me about voting, nor asked me how I was gaining to vote; nor have I known of your asking any of our people how they were going to vote. All that has been said to us was about finding us homes and work, and taking care of us. They have done all for us they could, and our people are grateful to them for it. None of us want to go back to North Carolina; neither does any man who is honest and has sound judgment. I would take my oath on that. Most of our people who have come here are religious. I belong to the Missionary Baptist church, and am a licensed preacher. I came here to better the condition of myself and family, and to raise them respectably. I have found it better than I expected. Indeed, I don’t think that I hardly deserve as good treatment as I have received and am still receiving. From my own experience, I know that my people in North Carolina could greatly better their condition by coming here, and if they knew the facts they would come.

In a subsequent interview Croom said:

“I came from Wilson County, North Carolina. Have been here several weeks. I came because I had heard that colored men could do better here than in North Carolina, and I find that it was a true statement. There is as much difference between there and here as there is between chalk and cheese. It is altogether different. Here we are men just like the whites, get good wages, have good homes, and there are good schools for our children. The climate is no worse for us here than there. I have not yet seen as cold weather in Indiana as I have seen in North Carolina. And then the people are so different. They are just as kind to us as they can be. It seems as though they can’t do enough for us.”


Possibly: William Croom died 17 July 1910 in Indianapolis, Center township, Marion County, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was 57 years old; was born in North Carolina to Sam Croom and Cherry Latta; was married to Diana Croom; and was a farmer. He was buried in Mount Jackson cemetery.

Cora Allen died 9 November 1925 at Provident Sanitarium in Indianapolis, Center township, Marion County, Indiana. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 May 1884 in Indiana to William Croom and Diana Ellis, both of North Carolina and was married to James Allen. She was buried in Floral Park cemetery.

Senate Report 693, Part 2, 2nd Session, 46th Congress.  Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States (1880).  U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

The Knights of Labor and the Tobacco Workers union.

Founded in 1869, the Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the late 19th century. The Knights promoted the eight-hour day and supported efforts to end child and convict labor. After a rapid expansion in the mid-1880s — swelling to nearly 800,000 — the group quickly lost members after the Haymarket riot. The Knights of Labor had a mixed history of inclusiveness and exclusiveness, eventually accepting women and African-Americans as members and advocating the admission of blacks into local assemblies, but tolerating the segregated assemblies in the South and strongly supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act.

On the basis of local newspaper coverage, the Knights of Labor seem to have been most active in Wilson County about 1888. Though its strength was past peak elsewhere by that time, the organization boasted 100 locals in North Carolina, the most of any Southern state.

Wilson Advance, 21 June 1888.

Jane Bynum of Wilson was initiated into a Knights of Labor local in Wilson in the 1880s.



Dues cards for Jane Bynum, a member of Wilson’s Knights of Labor lodge.

Many decades later, tobacco factory workers ushered into Wilson County a new era of labor organizing.

A North Carolina Highway Historical Marker in 18 miles north in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, reads: “Black leaf house workers in eastern N.C. unionized in 1946. First pro-union vote, at tobacco factory 1 block W., precursor to civil rights movement.”

Per the marker program’s essay: “In the summer of 1946, nearly 10,000 tobacco “leaf house” workers in eastern North Carolina, primarily African American women, joined unions in a mass organizing campaign (tagged ‘Operation Dixie’) headed by the Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU-AFL) and the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers of America (FTA-CIO). From South Boston, Virginia, to Lumberton, North Carolina, workers secured union contracts in nearly thirty tobacco leaf houses.”

“The labor protest and organization campaign followed the 1943 effort that took place at R. J. Reynolds factories in Winston-Salem. The 1946 campaign differed in that it not only focused on labor rights, but also resulted in important strides in civil rights for African Americans. Efforts were made by the union organizers to increase black voter registration and to instigate political action against segregation within the leaf houses. Nearly ten years before the Montgomery bus boycott, black workers in eastern North Carolina worked for civil rights through ‘unionism.’ As one participant recorded, ‘We’re not just an organizing campaign, we’re a social revolution.’ And another, ‘It wasn’t just wages we wanted, but freedom.’

“While the movement began with the TWIU-AFL organizing locals and securing contracts in six leaf houses in Wilson and one in Rocky Mount in the summer of 1946, the first official union election, which was won by the FTA-CIO in September 1946, took place at China American Tobacco Company in Rocky Mount. After that election the FTA-CIO won 22 of 24 elections in North Carolina. The consequence was that the organizers established a significant union presence in eastern North Carolina leaf houses, benefitting the tobacco workers of the area. Today only two union locals remain.”

One is in Wilson.

An early National Labor Relations Board decision, reported at 73 NLRB 207 (1947), offers a peek at the earliest days of this movement. Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers Union filed a petition to represent a unit of employees at a Liggett & Myers stemmery in Wilson. TWIU intervened, claiming to have beat FTA to the punch by securing voluntary recognition of its bargaining representative status a few weeks prior to FTA’s petition. The Board upheld the hearing officer’s rulings in the matter and dismissed FTA’s petition.

Per the decision: “The Wilson, North Carolina, plant, the only plant involved in this proceeding, is a subsidiary of the Durham, North Carolina, plant, which is the main factory of the Employer. The Wilson plant receives tobacco from various markets in North Carolina and engages in a process called redrying and tobacco stemming. A portion of the tobacco is stored in Wilson, and the remainder in Durham. All of the tobacco processed by the Wilson plant ultimately reaches the Durham plant, where it is  manufactured into cigarettes and pipe tobacco and shipped throughout the United States. The Wilson plant normally operates from 3 to 4 months a year, August to November, and processes from 8 to 12 million pounds of tobacco per season at an estimated value of $5,500,000. In 1946, during the off season, the plant employed 12 employees, and at its peak employed 217 employees.”

On 19 August 1946, when three of the facility’s five departments were operating, Liggett and TWIU conducted an informal card check that revealed that TWIU represented a majority of 123 employees then employed at Wilson. The same day, they entered into a one-year contract. The next day, all five departments were up and operated by the same 123 employees. FTA asserted that on 16 August 1946 it had written a letter to Liggett claiming to represent a majority of its employees. There was no evidence that the letter was mailed, and Liggett denied receipt. On 21 August, FTA sent Liggett a letter that made no claims of representation and did not reference the August 19 letter. On August 29, FTA sent another letter demanding recognition and claiming majority representation, and the Union filed a petition on September 3, at which time the Employer had reached its peak 217 employees. TWIU claimed its contract barred FTA’s claim, and the Board agreed.

BCTGM Local 270-T, 121 South Pettigrew Street, Wilson.

TWIU merged with Bakery & Confectionary Workers International Union in 1978 to form Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union. For the Union’s history in its own words, see here. For more on the Union’s involvement in early civil rights efforts in Wilson, see Charles W. McKinney’s Greater Freedoms: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina (2010).

Copies of union cards courtesy of Deborah Moore Vles; photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, 2016.

Insolvent tax list.

A taxpayer is insolvent when his or her total liabilities exceed his or her total assets. Not surprisingly, less than twenty years into freedom, African-American farmers struggled disproportionately to meet their tax obligations.

wa 9 5 1884

Wilson Advance, 5 September 1884.

Wilson township: Frank Allen, James Armstrong, Windsor Brian, Johnson Blew, Patterson Brewer, Jerome Barden, Jack Battle, Joseph Best, Frank Edwards, Reddick Edwards, Luke Fleming, Thomas Gay, Willey Gay, James Horn, Simon Jordan, Richard Johnson, Burton Locus, James H. Lawrence, Wright Lamm, William Melton, Dock Owens, Mack Proctor, Albert Renfrew, Abram Smith, Harry Spicer, Vines Thompson, Robert Vick, Shade Woodard, James Williams, Henry Waters, Gray Washington, and George Washington.

Toisnot township: Austin Barnes, Amos Bynum, Dallis Bowser, Burd Bunting, Joseph Battle, Alfred Batts, Richard Bryant, George Bynum, Hyman Bunn, Tom Butler, John Brown, Jack Bullock, William Collins, John Cox, Amos Dew, Grey Dodson, Alfred Drake, Daniel Davis, John Ellis, Titus Farmer, Esseck Farmer, Esseck Farmer Jr., William Hill Jr., Charley Hardy, W.T. Jones, Haywood Joyner, Ben Jones, Henry Rice, Warren Staton, Isaac Taylor, Charles Taymor, Hardy Winstead, William Wells, Haywood Winstead, Isaac Winstead.

Gardners township: Red Barnes, Ben Barnes, Blount Bennett, Prim Boddie, John Brown, Jack Boyett, Grey Braswell, Jospeh Davis, Aaron Edwards, Holloway Ethridge, Handy Gulley, William Hussy, Alex Harrison, Frank Johnson, Peter Williams, Ruffin Walker.

Saratoga township: James E. Barnes, Grey Davis, William Edwards, Sand Mitchell, Calvin Tate.

Stantonsburg township: Henry Applewhite, Saml. Jones, John Perry.

Black Creek township: Robt. Anderson, Telfair Baker, Jackson Barnes, Raiford Daniel Jr., James Edmonson, John Hubbard, David Heath, George Mercer, Ben Rountree, W.R. Williams Jr.

Cross Roads township: William Dew, W.R. Riggs.

Spring Hill township: Henderson Deans, Cain Hocutt.

Old Fields township: Kinchen Flowers, Isham Gay, David Jones, James Locus Sr.

Taylors township: Esau Freeman, Macajah Lucas, Isham Latham, Deat Locus, Alex Parker, Joseph Royal, Joseph Taylor, Nathan Jones.