I find myself with an unexpected day off, so what better way to kick off the real holiday than chopping it up with Zella Palmer about family, Black history, and Wide-Awake Wilson?
Zella is chair and director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture and renowned for her innovative work to preserve African-American food culture. Find out what she and I have in common — besides everything Black — this afternoon at 3:00 PM Eastern in our Instagram Live conversation @maisonzella!
For fifty or so years after the Civil War, Wilson’s African-American community celebrated Emancipation Day on January 1. The day marked the issuance in 1863 of the Emancipation Proclamation and was decidedly symbolic, as that executive order could not be enforced on behalf of most of North Carolina’s enslaved. Instead, they were freed, as a practical matter, only after the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.
In Texas, freedom did not arrive until June 19 of that year, when a Union Army commander read General Order No. 3 upon arrival in Galveston. African-American Texans have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1866, and, after slowly gaining traction across the country over the last few decades, the holiday is now widely observed. (This very day, in fact, it’s on the verge of becoming a national holiday, which feels performative, if not downright gaslight-y, given where this country is on any and every substantive thing around Black history.)
Juneteenth is a new celebration in Wilson, but it picks up where an old one left off, and I love to see it. Starting June 18, The Spot, an after-school youth center in what was once the New Grabneck neighborhood, is presenting Walk In Their Shoes — “this project will reimagine our existing walking trail into an immersive storytelling experience. Students and families can attend during open walking times and use technology to hear real stories from real people in our community. Around the trail art installments created by SPOT students will give a visual insight to the story and bring it to life.”
An anonymous writer submitted this tribute to Henrietta Hill for publication in the 27 April 1928 Wilson Daily Times. It contains a rare detail of Hill’s early life — that she “escaped” to Wilson with her unnamed owners during the Civil War when the Union army captured Washington, N.C. The daughter mentioned was Cecilia Hill Norwood, and the A.C.L. railroad station was the precursor to the 1924 Flemish-style building that stands today.
In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Henry Hill, 35, blacksmith; wife Henrietta, 29; and children Celicia [Cecilia], 9, Robert, 4, and James H., 1.
On 28 February 1895, Celia A. Hill, 22, daughter of H. and H. Hill, married Richard Norwood, 21, son of B. Norwood of Chatham County, in Wilson. Episcopal minister J.W. Perry performed the ceremony at Saint Marks in the presence of John H. Clark, B.R. Winstead and S.A. Smith.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer Richard Norward, 36; wife Celia, 34, public school teacher; Robert T., 14, Richard V., 15, Christine, 11, and Henry E., 8; mother Henry E. [Henrietta] Hill, 65, depot janitoress; Mack Peacock, 17, doctor’s office servant; and Joe Burnett, 17, hotel servant.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 134 Pender Street, Heneretta Hill, 70, A.C.L. railroad matron; Celia W. Hill, 40, teacher; Cora A. Hill, 27, teacher; Hazell Hill, 16; Christina Hill, 19; Barlee Hill, 22, laborer; Rosa Hicks, 22; and Archer Martin, 14.
On 19 July 1922, Hill drafted a will in which she passed all her property to her daughter Ceciia Norwood after payment of debts for “drugs and medical attention” and other expenses.
Henrietta Hill died 21 April 1928 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 78 years old; was a widow; lived at 205 Pender; was a retired maid for A.C.L. station; and was born in Washington, N.C., to Robert Cherry and Martha Goodyear of Washington, N.C. Cecilia Norwood was informant.
Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing the clipping.