Entertainment

The first drowning at Contentnea Park.

I posted here about the accidental drowning of Samuel H. Vick Jr.‘s friend Eugene Fisher. The Daily Times noted that Fisher’s death was the second at Contentnea Park in a little over a week. Eddie Simms was first:

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 July 1924.

  • Eddie Simms — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Manchester Street, tobacco factory worker Frances Simms, 34, and children Milton, 22, Eddie, 18, Raymond, 10, Maggie, 8, Ava, 5, Richard, 2, and Bay, 3 months. Eddie B. Simms died 17 July 1924. Per his death certificate,he was born 3 August 1904 in Wilson to Ed Mitchell and Frances Simms; was single; lived at 610 Manchester Street; worked as a shoeshiner; and “drowned while in the act of swimming accidentally.” Informant was Millie Simms.

Details of a drowning.

The day after Eugene Fisher drowned while swimming in the lake at Contentnea Park, the Daily Times printed an article suggesting that “Sam Vick,” i.e. Samuel H. Vick Jr., bore some responsibility for the accident.

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Wilson Daily Times, 29 July 1924.

Vick immediately fired back. His grief, he stated sharply, had “been still more aggravated by the misstatement of facts concerning my part in the matter, for the facts were badly twisted and really just the opposite what really happened.” Georgia Aiken also contributed a corrective, milder in tone, but just as firm.

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 July 1924.

And where was Contentnea Park? References in contemporaneous news articles reveal that (1) it was not an African-American-only park — the Kiwanis met there regularly — but rather seems to have had a section reserved for black patrons, “the negro park”; (2) it was privately owned and operated; (3) it was located above the dam on Contentnea Creek; and (4) entrance was gained via a road marked by two stone pillars. A dam spans Contentnea Creek just above U.S. Highway 301 to form what is now known as Wiggins Mill Reservoir, still a popular recreational area. With a hat tip to Janelle Booth Clevinger, here is my best guest at the park’s location:

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  • Eugene Fisher — Connecticut-born Eugene Leonard Fisher was newly arrived to Wilson at the time of his tragic death. His father Edwin W. Fisher was a manager with North Carolina Mutual and moved his wife and remaining children to Wilson between 1926, when Edwin is listed in the 1926 Durham, N.C., city directory, and 1928, when he appears in the Wilson directory. They settled into 624 East Nash Street, the house built for Dr. Frank S. Hargrave next door to Samuel Vick’s family home at 622. The Fishers appear in Wilson in the 1930 census, and Daisy Virginia Fisher (Eugene’s stepmother) died there on 25 April 1935. Per her death certificate, she and her husband were living at 539 East Nash at the time. Eugene Fisher’s younger brother Milton W. Fisher remained in Wilson into the 1940s, and his older brother Edwin D. Fisher lived there the remainder of his life.

Eugene Fisher’s death certificate reveals that he was an insurance agent for North Carolina Mutual. Fisher was living at an unspecified address on Nash Street. His father Edwin, then a Durham resident, was informant.

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Eugene L. Fisher served in the United States Naval Reserve Force during World War I as a mess attendant. The Messman Branch of the Navy, which was restricted to non-white sailors, was responsible for feeding and serving officers. Fisher was assigned to U.S.S. Black Hawk, a destroyer depot ship. After his death, his brother Edwin D. Fisher of 600 East Green Street applied for a military headstone to be shipped to the “Negro Cemetery (Fayetteville Street)” in Durham. [Edwin Fisher, himself a veteran of World War I, signed as “Liaison Officer, [illegible] A.V. of World War, Sumter S.C. chap. #2.” (What does this signify?)]

Aerial images courtesy of Google Maps.

UPDATE, 9 April 2019:

The “stone” pillars I identified above are actually brick. Until a better guess arrives though, I will stick with hypothesis that they mark the entrance to Contentnea Park. Many thanks to Janelle Booth Clevinger for this photo. — LYH

UPDATE, 11 April 2019: Per additional intel, the pillars shown above were erected in the 1960s. Thus, the location of Contentnea Park remains a mystery.

Seven fights on tonight’s card.

Open just months, the Reid Street Community Center hosted bouts between Wilson County boxers eighty years ago today.

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 March 1939.

  • Charlie Farris — Charles Patrick Farris (1907-1958), son of Joseph and Rosa Selim Farris.
  • Walter Parker
  • Baby Ray
  • Jimmy Knight
  • Henry Mills
  • Emanuel Hill — in the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Henry Hill, 54, farm laborer; wife Rosa, tobacco factory laborer; daughter Mamie Autry, 28, tobacco factory laborer; sons William, 22, oil mill laborer, Jessie, tobacco factory laborer, Emanuel, 17, “new worker, and Benjamin Hill, 14; daughter Mertina Hill, 12; and grandchildren Deloris, 6, Dorthy, 4, and Timothy Autry, 2. Emanuel Hill registered for the World War II draft in 1942 in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 15 July 1922 in Wilson; lived at 104 Carroll Street, Wilson; his contact was Mrs. Evelina Carr, 1308 East Nash; and he worked at Norfolk Naval Base, Norfolk, Virginia. (He was described as 5’10”, 166 pounds.)
  • James Hardy
  • David Cox — possibly: in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 Pender Street, Leslie H. Cox, 58; wife Mary J., 53; children Nancy, 26, servant, Flossie, 20, servant, Leslie Jr., 18, hotel bellhop, David, 16, “new worker,” and Ardelia, 13; and grandson June Lee Cox, 9. David Cox registered for the World War I draft in Richmond, Virginia. Per his registration card, he was born 17 September 1923 in Wilson; he resided at 1216 West Moore Street, Richmond (later, 269 West 153rd Street #5, New York, New York); his contact was Flossie K. Cox; and he worked for Nagoo Sanyons, 904 North Boulevard. (This David was 5’2″, 202 pounds — could it really be the same man?)
  • Belton McGirt
  • Harvey Ford — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 409 Carroll Street, carpenter Curtis Ford, 52; sons Quincey, 20, and Harvey G., 19, tobacco factory laborers; wife Mayme, 48, teacher; son-in-law Liston Sellers, 22, tobacco factory laborer; daughter Leah, 22, and granddaughter Yvette, 2. Harvey Gray Ford registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in February 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 8 January 1921 in Wilson; lived at 910 East Green Street; was unemployed; and his contact was mother Mamie Ford. (He was listed at 5’9″, 150 pounds.) Harvey Gray Ford died in a drowning accident on 4 June 1942 in Falling Creek, Lenoir County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 January 1921 in Wilson to Curtis Ford of Dillon, S.C., and Mamie Battle of Wayne County, N.C.; was a single student; and resided at 910 East Green, Wilson.
  • Bruce Bynum — in the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Josh Bynum, 43; wife Mamie, 28; and children Robert, 16, Bertie, 6, Belva, 4, Bruce, 2, and Beulah, 5 months. In the 1940 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Belvar Bynum, 23, farm laborer; brother Bruce, 22, WPA hospital laborer; sister Beulah, 21; and nephew George, 7. Bruce Bynum registered for the World War II draft in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 2 February 1918; resided at Route 2, Walstonburg, Wilson County; his contact was friend Willie Robert Owens; and he worked for Edd Gay. (Bynum was still at fighting weight. His card shows he was 5’8″, 165 pounds.)
  • Bennie Griffin
  • Howard Pepper — probably: Willie Howard Peppers registered for the World War II draft in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 16 February 1914 in Durham, N.C.; lived at 508 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; worked for the Town of Wilson at its city lot; and his contact was wife Mary Edna Peppers. (The card lists him as 5’6″, 150 pounds, but the registrar noted: “believe 5’8″ weight 170.”)

The passing of Old Joe.

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The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 16 March 1920.

It’s hard to know what to say about this racist tribute other than “wow, Charlie Chaplin came to Wilson?”

Joe Mercer was also known as Joseph Battle. In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Battle, 40; wife Rose, 35; and children Joe, 15, Frank, 13, John H., 10, Amie, 8, Mattie, 6, and Lou T., 8 months. Thomas and Rose reported having been married 5 years, and Rose as the mother of one child (presumably, the baby Lou.) [Marriage records show that Tom Battle married Rose Mercer on 23 May 1896 in Wilson County.]

Joe Mercer, 24, married Ida Colley, 22, on 7 December 1908 in Wilson County.

Joe Mercer registered for the World War I draft in Wilson in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born April 1881; lived at 136 Roberson; worked as a janitor. His nearest relative was Rose Battle, and he was described as “rheumatic & apparently paralytic.”

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 613 Robinson Street, bank janitor Joe Mercer, 39, and wife Ida, 40.

Joe Mercer died 11 March 1920 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 37 years old; was married; lived on Roberson Street; was engaged in butler service; and was born in Black Creek to Thomas Battle and Rosa Battle. F.F. Battle was informant.

Vote for your favorite group.

Reid Street Community Center hosted a gospel group contest in the spring of 1946. Tickets were available at Shade’s Pharmacy and C.E. Artis Funeral Home.

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Wilson Daily Times, 19 April 1948.

Per an unsourced inventory compiled by Freeman Round House and Museum, the Wilson Chapel Four performed for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration and were the first African-American gospel quartet to sing on WGTM, a Wilson radio station.

The Wilson Chapel Four performed on Sunday at 10:30 A.M. Wilson Daily Times, 17 July 1943.

Presumably, the quartet was affiliated with Wilson Chapel Free Will Baptist Church at 513 East Barnes Street. If anyone can identify members of the Wilson Chapel Four, I’d appreciate hearing from you.