Entertainment

The odyssey of Tate’s pool room.

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.

A program honoring the Great Emancipator.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 February 1941.

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  • Ruffin 4-H Club — the club affiliated with Ruffin School in Black Creek township.
  • Beatrice Rogers — perhaps, in the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer James Rogers, 35; wife Agnes, 30; and children James Joe, 12, Beatrice, 9, Leslie, 7, and Josephine, 6.
  • Maggie Herring
  • Lucretia Rogers
  • Eloise Rogers
  • Clinton Williams
  • Alma Wards — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer James D. Worthy, 71; wife Flora Jane, 65; son Essex, 23; daughter Dora Ward, 40, widow; granddaughter Alma Ruth Ward, 10; and granddaughter Celesta Harden, 22.
  • Vernell Pleasant — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widower George Pleasant, 55, farmer; daughters Mittie, 27, and Nancy, 22; and granddaughter Vernell, 10.
  • Magdelene Parker — perhaps the Mary M. Parker below.
  • Beatrice Newton — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Newton, 42; wife Bessie, 32; and children Bennie, 16, James, 12, Beatrice, 10, Charles, 8, and Harvey Lee, 1.
  • Sallie Parker — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Toney Parker, 45; wife Sallie, 44; and children Willie Lee, 21, Levi, 20, Eli, 18, Walter Lee, 16, Mary M., 13, Sallie M., 11, and Lillie M., 8.
  • Gerlean Farmer — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widow Addie Farmer, 32, farm laborer; children Geraldine, 10, Marcellus, 7, Addie I., 6, Elijah, 4, and Charles, 3; and brother-in-law Earnest, 19.

Georgia Burke cheered on Broadway.

Jet magazine, 10 April 1952.

Though a native of Georgia, Georgia Burke spent at least ten years in Wilson, teaching third and fourth grade (and coaching basketball and tennis) to the children of the Colored Graded School and the Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute. She was one of the eleven teachers who walked off the job in support of Mary C. Euell in 1918 and, in 1921, was involved in another incident in which “a race riot was narrowly averted.” Burke auditioned for a Broadway on a lark in 1928, got the role, and never returned to teaching.

Parker drowns while fishing.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 June 1930.

Matthew Parker’s death certificate told a less nuanced story of his death with a slightly judgey undertone: “Drowned Supposed accidental getting in water over his head and could not swim.”

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Roxy Parker, 24, and children Joseph, 14, Minnie, 13, Elenn, 12, Armena, 11, Mathew, 10, and Defatie, 2.

Matthew Parker registered for the World War I draft in 1918 in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 March 1899; lived on Harper Street, Wilson; worked as a laborer for W.T. Clark; and his nearest relative was Roxy Parker.

On 9 October 1918, Matthew Parker, 18, married Emma Knight, 17, in Wilson.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lipscomb Road, William H. Knight, 32, truck driver; wife Minnie, 24; brothers-in-law Cephus, 29, Menus, 22, and Matthew Parker, 18, all farm laborers; and lodgers Mary, 25, cook, Lebis, 10, and Lovie Saunders, 8. Next door: widow Roxie Parker, 50, and daughter Ellen, 21.

Roxie Parker died 2 October 1925 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 May 1919 in Wilson to Matthew Parker and Emma Knight. She died of diphtheria

[Matthew Parker’s older brother Cephus Parker came to his own tragic end in 1944.]

Employee of the Robinson minstrel show.

In 1940, 29 year-old Langstard Miller registered for the Word War II draft in Wilson County. A native of Saint Louis, Missouri, Miller listed his address as 700 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson, the home of his friend Betsy Freeman. [Was this actually his permanent address or just a mailing address?] Miller listed his employer as Dr. C.S. Robinson Minstrel Show, based on Wilmington, North Carolina.

I have found very little on Miller and nothing else to link him to Wilson. However, on 11 July 1932, Gurnie Langstard Miller, 25, son of Joe Miller and Mattie Langstard, married Annie Amelia Evans, 21, daughter of John Evans and Ida Ash, on 11 July 1932 in Northampton County, Virginia.

Betsy Freeman was not living at 700 Stantonsburg Street when the census enumerator arrived in 1940. Rather, the censustaker found City of Wilson laborer George Freeman, 56; wife Effie, 45, tobacco factory laborer; son James, 26, tobacco factory laborer; and grandchildren Edward, 13, and Doris Evans, 11. The latter were the children of Bessie [sic] Freeman and James Evans, whom she had married in Wilson on 23 June 1925. [Was Betsy/Bessie Freeman also a minstrel show employee?]

Robinson’s Silver Minstrels were a white-owned tent show that featured African-American performers. The “Repertoire-Tent Shows” section of the 21 November 1942 issue of The Billboard magazine featured this short piece:

A few months later, in the 27 February 1943 Billboard, Robinson’s Silver Minstrels advertised for “colored performers and musicians, girl musicians OK; trumpets, saxophones, piano player, chorus girls, novelty acts.” The company promised the “highest salaries on road today” and a “long, sure season.” “All performers who have worked for me in past, write” to the show’s Clinton, N.C., address.

Minstrels with a well-earned reputation.

Year-end entertainment in Wilson in 1897 featured a nationally popular minstrel show, Gorton’s — “strictly refined” and “entirely fit from start to finish for a lady audience.” Most importantly, Gorton’s was a white minstrel outfit, not one of the Black companies offering weak knock-offs off Gorton’s reputation. (That boast is so rich it needs to be read slowly. And repeatedly. Yes, Gorton’s did Black music better than Black people did.)

Wilson Advance, 30 December 1897.

Gorton’s Original New Orleans Minstrels, Minstrel Poster Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Posters Division, Washington, D.C.

Letters to Santa.

Thomas A. and Mary Ida Bagley Jones‘ children did not leave anything to chance with Santa Claus at Christmas of 1924.

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Wilson Mirror, 10 December 1924.

Nor did their cousins, the children of John A. and Bettie Hinnant Jones:

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Wilson Daily Times, 17 December 1924.

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In the 1920 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas A. Jones, 51; wife Mary I., 45; children Milbry, 28, Andrew, 19, Leonia, 17, James H., 14, Ollie T., 9, Ida May, 7, Paul H., 5, and Jim Lawrence, 3; and granddaughter Bettie Lee, 4.

In the 1920 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer J.A. Jones, 42; wife Bettie, 28; and children Johnnie W., 16, Grover, 7, Susie, 5, Maomie [Naomi], 4, and Ruth, 1.

In the 1920 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: widowed farmer George Gaston, 69, and children [and grandchildren] Ada, 33, Nina, 31, August, 27, George J., 6, Lucile, 2, and Ernest, 9 months. (Also, in Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Garfield Perkins, 36; wife Laura, 36; children Ethel, 15, and G. William, 12; and boarder P. Ada Gaston, 34, a teacher.

(More about Jones Hill School to come.)

Negro weddings.

Who knew that “negro wedding” was a whole subgenre of blackface?

… Me either.

But it was, and quite popular in Wilson County as late as the 1940s.

In 1927, Mrs. R.H. Llewellyn, clever and entertaining, entertained the Rotary Club with a negro wedding and a negro sermon. 

Wilson Daily Times, 14 December 1927.

In 1938, Stantonsburg High School’s senior class’ evening of “good clean fun and amusement” included a negro wedding.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 March 1938.

In 1941, Saratoga High School’s Beta Club presented a negro wedding whose finale was a stirring “Dark Town Strutter’s Ball.”

Wilson Daily Times, 26 February 1941.

Participants did not need to make up their own mockeries. Titles of negro wedding plays include “Henpeck at the Hitching Post,” “My Wild Days are Over,” and “The Coontown Wedding.” Characters in Mary Bonham’s “The Kink in Kizzie’s Wedding: A Mock Negro Wedding,” published in 1921, include Lizzie Straight, Pinky Black, Sunshine Franklin, Necessary Dolittle, George Washington Goot, and Uncle Remus. The opening lines: “CAPT. COTTON — ‘Bein’ as Ise de Knight ob de Hoss-shoe, an’ while we’s waitin’ fo’ de bridal paih, we will practice de riding’ gaits.’ ALL GROOMSMEN — ‘Thank-u-doo, obleeged-to-you!’ (They salute the Captain.)” Charming.