I was delighted to find that the Daily Times regularly covered the 1932 season of the city’s semi-pro African-American baseball team, the Wilson Braves.
I’ve been able to discover very little about the team. They played home games in the “Vance Street ballpark,” a forerunner to Fleming Stadium that stood in the vicinity of modern-day Wells Elementary School. The articles highlight players generally by first or last name only, but I am working to identify them further. They included second baseman George Leach, centerfielder Monk Johnson, pitcher Jarvis Bank, Joe Harris, catcher Leroy, Wynn, Holden, Taylor, Hargroves, Fisher, pitcher Henry, and “Dummy.”
Here are the April games, in which the Braves played the Capital City Blue Aces (of Raleigh), the Kinston Royal Giants, the Rocky Mount Aces, the Statesville All-Stars, and a team from Suffolk, Virginia, and went 2-3-1.
I missed the cues, and at first could find no record of an African-American Russell Owings living in Wilson. But that was because Owings was not Black. He was instead a “faithful and courageous friend of [their] interest.” Owings, freshly graduated from Atlantic Christian [now Barton] College, was a white man who — much in the spirit of Rev. R.A.G. Foster’s outreach — crossed the color line to teach voice lessons and direct a choral group at Saint John A.M.E. Zion. He died in a car accident in late October 1938.
Acclaimed African-American tenor Emanuel Mansfield and Native American pianist Robert Evans appeared in concert at Reid Street Community Center in November 1946. Henry Ellis Post Number 17 of the American Legion sponsored the event. Tickets were available at Wade’s Shoe Shop, 533 East Nash Street, Wade M. Moore, proprietor.
Add Mary Church Terrell to the surprising list of nationally prominent African-Americans with speaking engagements in Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century.
Wilson Daily Times, 15 April 1925.
This notice of Terrell’s appearance is curious. “Half the proceeds for the benefit of the Kenan Street school”? The Kenan Street School, later known as Frederick A. Woodard School, was a white-only elementary school. Why would Terrell, an activist for civil rights and women’s causes (and, especially, their intersection), appear at such a benefit?
Wilson Daily Times, 15 April 1925.
A companion piece penned by J.D. Reid, principal of Wilson’s Colored Graded School, named a different beneficiary — the County Commencement of the Colored Schools, which were to be held at Banner Warehouse in downtown Wilson. “Prof. J.L. Cooke” — Jerry L. Cooke, who was not a professor at all, but a railway postal clerk — was in charge of the local entertainment, which included James Weldon Johnson’s poem “O Southland!” and a selection of Negro spirituals. The ever-popular Excelsior Band was also on the bill.
“From 1932 to 1964, Mrs. Bethel was employed in the Wilson city schools system where she furthered the use of her musical talents. For many years, she was the musical assistant for the Darden School Choir.
“In addition she has taught private classes in piano and organizing for a number of students in the Wilson community, while at the same time serving as organist for the St. Mark’s Mission. Mrs. Bethel’s contribution to music at St. Mark’s Mission will be recognized during the concert by the St. Augustine’s choir, which is said to be a tribute to all the makers of music to the greater glory of God.”
This excerpt from a news account of a commissioners’ meeting caught my eye. Barber Noah Tate‘s application for a pool room license was denied, and Alderman Lewis cried discrimination. What kind of discrimination was being decried by an elected official in Wilson in 1919?
Wilson Daily Times, 6 September 1919.
An article published nearly eighteen months before yields context. On 7 May 1918, the Times reported, “The city fathers last night refused to renew the license to the pool rooms and to the bowling alleys of the city, and the remarks regarding the places where cider is sold were also far from complimentary. … The meeting was opened by the reading of a resolution by … business men setting forth the fact that both white and colored frequent these places and thus remove from the busy marts of trade and industry labor that should be employed in producing something other than thriftless habits and viciousness.” Mayor Killette railed against the shiftless and bemoaned the legal victory that allowed a local man to sell cider made from his own apples. “The gist of the argument [against pool rooms] was that the colored pool room was full of men who should be at work producing something for their families and helping to make something rather than being consumers merely and drones upon the body politic. They were corrupting because it was almost impossible to prevent gambling in these places and in addition to shiftlessness it encouraged vice and vagrancy. A number of employers stated that their help could be found in the pool room below the railroad, and the bowling alley came in for equally critical remarks as a place to encourage loafing and bad habits.” The matter was put to vote, and no’s were unanimous. [The “colored pool room,” by the way, may have been Mack Bullock‘s establishment at 417 East Nash. See Sanborn map detail, below.]
In June 1919, Luther A. Barnes, the white proprietor of a pool hall at the New Briggs Hotel, and the subject of intense criticism during the May debate received his license over the objection of the mayor. Perhaps this turn of events sparked Commissioner Lewis’ objection to Tate’s rejection three months later?
Noah Tate finally got his pool room in 1921.
Wilson Daily Times, 8 July 1921.
“Over the railroad,” specifically, was 105-107 North Pettigrew Street.
The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map shows that Tate Pool Room was located in a brick building just north of Nash Street on the railroad side of the street.
A modern aerial view at Google Maps shows that the rear of present-day 419 East Nash Street consists of two extensions. The first, with the striated roof below, sits in the footprint of Tate’s pool room and may even be the same building.
At street level, two bricked-up windows are visible, as well as the original roofline. The building appears to have been cinderblock though, which was not commonly used in Wilson in the era of Tate’s business.
Noah J. Tate did not long enjoy his victory; he died in 1926.