Education

“Facts” about Wilson.

In 1934, Wilson Chamber of Commerce published this promotional guide extolling the virtues of Wilson County. 

The introduction to the town sets the perspective.

Wilson had a population of more than 12,000 in 1934, of whom about 40% were African-American. They were of little interest  to the Chamber of Commerce, however, and were not among the target audience for Facts About Wilson.

“The Mercy Hospital for colored people only was reorganized as a community basis in 1928. It is controlled by a board of trustees. All physicians of the town and county, both white and colored, are eligible for membership on the staff. This hospital is used by Wilson, Pitt, and Green[e]Counties, as it is the only hospital in three counties for colored people.”

There’s a lot to digest in the pages above, but it all boils down to the values in the columns for “white” and “colored.” For example, the ten white school buildings were valued at $800,131, and the 23 colored schools (more because so many were one- or two-rooms) at $48,592.

“The negroes of Wilson maintain separate churches, and the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian congregations are especially large, active and well organized. Six smaller negro churches here also serve this race in Wilson.”

The list of white organizations ran one full page into a second. Only two Black groups — the Odd Fellows and Masons — made the brochure’s cut, however.

Hat tip to Brooke Bissette Farmer for sharing this find, which is digitized here and held in the Rare Book Collection Archives of East Carolina University’s Joyner Library.

Lunch with GIG360.

Grateful for the opportunity to meet virtually over lunch with the young professionals of Wilson’s Gig360. Public historian, archivist, and museum professional Beth Nevarez and I chatted with moderator Betsy Peters Rascoe of Design Dimension Inc. and GIG360 members about the development and curation of the Freeman Round House Museum, including its new virtual exhibits; Oliver Nestus FreemanSay Their Names; the Lane Street Project; and the importance of amplifying the stories and histories of the whole of Wilson’s community.

Historical markers installed.

The pandemic has iced plans for formal unveilings, but Wilson County Historical Association carried through with the installation of four markers commemorating Black people, places, and events who left outsized impressions in Wilson’s history. Please look for the four — Dr. Frank S. HargraveCharles H. Darden, Operation Dixie, and the Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute — in East Wilson as part of your Black History Month activities.

I’m honored to have been asked to collaborate with W.C.H.A. on the selection of subjects for the 2020 markers, and I appreciate the Association’s commitment to telling the stories of all of Wilson.

Fred Green’s pupil sheet.

This “Individual Pupil Sheet” recorded the attendance of Fredrick Green during the twenty days he was enrolled at Samuel H. Vick Elementary School in the fall of 1938. The boy was born 4 November 1931 in Wilson; his mother was Lottie McGill [actually, Lottie McPhail Green]; and he resided at 218 Narroway Street. He was in Grade 1, Section 1, until he moved out of the district on 3 October 1938.

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In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Grace Street, public service laborer Henry Green, 47; wife Lottie, 40, cook; and children Cora, 12, Fred, 9, Henry Jr., 7, Edward, 2, and James, no age given.

Many thanks to Dr. Judy Rashid for sharing this document. Fred Green was her uncle.

“Freedom’s Plow” and the “apt little boys and girls” of Saint Alphonsus.

Last year’s Black History Month surprise was the discovery that Langston Hughes spoke at Darden High School on 10 February 1949. This year’s comes courtesy of a North Carolina State University grad student, who tipped me to Hughes’ other audience that day — the children of Saint Alphonsus Catholic School.

Hughes wrote about his “little trip down South” on his regular column in the Chicago Defender. He praised the Wilson County Negro Library, its librarian, and the itinerary she devised for him. Hughes was especially charmed by the “tiny youngsters” of Saint Alphonsus, who performed his poem “Freedom’s Plow” in its entirety. (Take a peek at Freedom’s Plow if you don’t know it. Not only does it tackle weighty subjects, it is long. I add my applause for the Saint Alphonsus scholars!)

Chicago Defender, 26 February 1946.

The final stanza of “Freedom’s Plow,” which brings a word for our time:

A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW! HOLD ON!

If you know anyone who attended Saint Alphonsus in 1949 and remembers Langton Hughes’ visit, please let me know!

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Suggs elected president of Livingstone College.

Greensboro Record, 23 January 1917.

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With Samuel H. Vick, Daniel C. Suggs was one of the first generation of Wilson County freedmen to attend college. A Lincoln University graduate, he was not only a college president, but a lay leader in the A.M.E. Zion church and a wealthy real estate developer.

Daniel C. Suggs’ family was the Suggs of Suggs Street. His “valuable holdings elsewhere in the state” included considerable property in Wilson south of present-day Hines Street.

Darden’s veterans club.

World War II interrupted high school for many veterans, and they returned to earn their diplomas at war’s end. The Veterans Accelerated Club took this photo standing on the front steps of Darden High School.

The Trojan (1948), the yearbook of C.H. Darden High School.

The veteran-students’ instructors were John E. Dixon, Cora M. Washington, Mamie E. Whitehead, and Frissell W. Jones. The veteran-students: Walter Roberts, Paul L. Stevens, Henry Tune Jr., Ernest Edwards, Robert L. Murphy, Jesse B. Barnes, Jimmy L. Woodard, George W. Hines, Bennie Atkinson, Carlton Baker, Leo M. Bowens, Wilbert Currie, Frank Durham, Nelson T. Farmer, Nathaniel Ferguson, Henry Green, Jimmie Hines, Cle Arthur Jones, Nevalon Mitchell, Jesse Reynolds, Willie Townsend, Leon Williams, and Daniel Wright.

Elm City schools consolidated.

Frederick Douglass High School in Elm City was the first high school for African-American students outside the city of Wilson. In 1949, the one- and two-room schools administered by the Elm City Schools were consolidated with Douglass (formerly called Elm City Colored School. When additional classroom space was completed, children who had attended Mitchell, Pender, and Turner Schools were bussed into Elm City to attend Douglass. (Like Darden, though called “high school,” Douglass had both elementary and secondary divisions.)


Wilson Daily Times, 29 December 1949.