Tributes to Dr. L.V. Grady.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 February 1936.

After faltering in the 1920s, Wilson’s Black hospital reorganized and reopened as non-profit Mercy Hospital in 1930. Carolina General Hospital’s Dr. Leland V. Grady was instrumental in guiding Mercy’s administrators through the hospital’s earliest years, and William Hines and Camillus L. Darden penned tributes to him at his death.

Mary Sims jailed for house fires.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 December 1935.

I have no further information about Mary Sims. There were few treatments for mental illness in the 1930s, and even fewer effective ones. Given the danger her alleged actions posed, it is possible that she was sent to the Eastern North Carolina Insane Asylum in Goldsboro (later known as Cherry Hospital), the state’s only psychiatric facility for African-Americans. 

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.



An appeal for aid.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 December 1930.

After struggling financially for many years, in 1930 the African-American hospital on East Green Street reopened as non-profit Mercy Hospital, the name by which it is best known, with support from the Duke Foundation and the Julius Rosenwald Foundation. Though Mercy did not admit white patients, it had an integrated Board of Trustees. Its president and vice-president were white, but William Hines, secretary/treasurer, retained his duties as chief hospital administrator.

Bazaar to benefit the hospital.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 December 1916.

A few years after it opened, friends of the Wilson Colored Hospital (later known as Mercy) held a pop-up shop of sorts in the Odd Fellows Hall on East Nash Street to raise money for indigent tuberculosis patients. On offer, clothing, but mostly undoubtedly delicious food — barbecue, chicken salad, oysters, sausages, sandwiches, sweets and ice cream.

Runaway horse injures girl.


Sunday afternoon while James Daniel and Christine Forte, both young colored people were out driving late in the evening on the Lucama road about three miles from Wilson, the horse ran away and the young woman was badly hurt. She is suffering from concussion of the brain and is in a local hospital for treatment.

The father of the girl is named A.F. Forte of Franklinton and was called here to see his daughter, who was on a visit to her sister, Cornelius Sellars.

Forte says that the statement of the young man is to the effect that he stood up in the buggy to get a cigarette from his hop pocket when the horse sprang away, throwing Daniel who held the reins, to the ground. The horse ran further throwing the girl from the buggy and when Dr. Reid came along in his car, he found the man trying to hold up the girl, who was unable to stand. Dr. Reid brought both to the city.

Forte says the young man has expressed his deep sympathy for the girl and has offered to pay all of her expenses while in the hospital.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 August 1916


  • Christine Fort and Cornelius Sellars [actually, Cornelia Fort Artis]

In the 1880 census of Franklinton township, Franklin County, N.C.: Anderson F. Fort, 29, born in Alabama; wife Mary J., 22, born in Mississippi; and children Cornelia, 6, Florence, 4, James, 2, and Eva, 1 month. Cornelia was born in Mississippi; the other children in North Carolina.

On 30 November 1898, James M. Artis, 32, of Wilson County, married Cornelia Fort, 24, of Franklinton, in Franklin County.

In the 1900 census of Franklinton township, Franklin County, N.C.: farmer Anderson Fort, 50; wife Mary J., 43; and children James, 21, restaurant worker; Evie, 20; Henry, 15; Battle, 13; Luther, 8; Lola, 5; and Christine, 2.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer James Artis, 26; wife Cornelia, 22; son Solomon, 8 months; and brother-in-law Charlie B. Fort, 12.

In the 1910 census of Franklinton township, Franklin County, N.C.: Cornelia Fort, 31, cook, and children Mary E., 8, and Albert, 2.

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Artist Cornelia (c) cook 640 Viola

On 19 May 1923, Christine Fort married Nathaniel Kearney [also of Franklin County] in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Solomon Artis died 29 November 1927 in Washington, Beaufort County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was about 26 years old; was born in Wilson County to James M. Artis and Cornelius Fort; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Franklinton. Mary A. Daly was informant.

In the 1930 census of Bridgeport, Connecticut: Nathel Kearney, 50, bolt shop laborer; wife Christine, 28; and children Nathael, 5, and Louise, 3.

In the 1940 census of Bridgeport, Fairfield County, Connecticut: Nathaniel Kearney, 50, park maintenance project laborer; wife Christine, 38; and children Nathaniel, 15, and Louise, 13.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Though I disavow the false narrative that has been passed down to us about the first Thanksgiving, I embrace the setting aside of a day to give thanks. In these times more than ever, I’m grateful for the overwhelming bounty of my life. In all my years, I have never wanted for family, health, shelter, or wealth, and I understand the privilege that bestows upon me. Black Wide-Awake and Lane Street Project are ways I honor the people and place that nourished and encouraged and shaped me. 

Negroes to receive lifetime pension for amputated feet.

When I stumbled upon this article, I was not sure if the terrible incident it described involved African-Americans from Wilson County. (It turns out they were not.) I did know, however, that state legislator Troy T. Barnes of Wilson co-sponsored a bill to award the victims pensions, and I knew I wanted to know more.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 March 1935.

A review of the widespread state news coverage reveals:

  • In December 1934, Woodrow Wilson Shropshire, 19, was sentenced to 120 days on a chain gang for drunkenness and drunk driving. In January 1935, Robert Barnes, also 19, was sentenced to a year “on the road” for possession of a stolen camera. Both were sent to a Mecklenburg County labor camp.
  • In January 1935, Shropshire and Barnes were placed in solitary confinement for alleged insubordination and cursing at a guard. The men were chained in a standing position against a wall for eight hours a day for four days. During the cold nights, they slept in an unheated room with little covering. The camp doctor failed to check on them as required by law. Both suffered severe damage to their feet that led to gangrene.
  • In early March, Wilson and Barnes were taken to Central State Prison in Raleigh where their feet were amputated. The following week, the state legislature opened an investigation into the matter. 
  • Per testimony, the men originally been held at Mecklenburg County camp #411. When they attempted to warm themselves at a fire without permission during frigid January temperatures, a guard warned them away and Shropshire cursed him. Because camp #411 had no solitary confinement, they were moved to camp #413. Barnes, Shropshire, and a former prisoner named John Reid testified that a prison guard beat Barnes unconscious for spitting on the floor. The men were fed half a biscuit twice a day and a small amount of water. Prison officials claimed the men’s feet had been damaged by erysipelas, a strep bacterial infection. And/or their gangrene had been caused by the men stuffing rags too tightly between their skin and shackles. (“It is astonishing,” [testified prison physician] Coleman, “how some prisoners will mutilate themselves to escape work.”]
  • The investigation turned up an additional atrocity — the secret burials of Black convicts in a Watauga County cornfield during construction of the Boone Trail state highway in 1930. (The men had been reported as escapees.) Legislators had questions about the laws concerning prisoners in state camp, the limits (or lack thereof) on the kind of punishment guards could mete out, and the practice of transferring prisoners to camps with “little dark houses” used for solitary confinement. Three state representatives, including Barnes of Wilson, sponsored a bill providing a lifetime pension for Shropshire and Barnes.
  • In early April, the camp superintendent, camp physician, and three guards were arrested and charged with crimes including neglect, torture, maiming, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Shropshire was taken by ambulance from Raleigh to testify before a Mecklenburg County grand jury; Barnes was still too weak from his injuries.
  • The committee’s recommendation, issued in late April, was conservative. North Carolina penal camps could continue using whips and “dark cells” to punish prisoners. On the bright side, Shropshire and Barnes were to receive prosthetic feet and jobs in the highway or prison departments. 
  • By mid-May, the State had spent $500 for four sets of artificial limbs for the two men, but neither was strong enough to use them.
  • The trial got underway in mid-July. Surprise — all defendants were acquitted!
  • Shropshire made good progress adjusting to his prosthetics. He declined a job in Raleigh, preferring to return to Mecklenburg to be near family, and the State promised to find him a job there. Barnes continued to struggle. In 1940, when he registered for the World War II draft, he was described as unemployed. His card noted “both feet amputated below knees.”