Institutions

In memoriam: Dr. Johnny Lee Greene.

When I woke up in the middle of the night Monday and read that Dr. J. Lee Greene had died, my heart broke a little. I don’t even know how to explain what this man did for my little provincial teen-aged mind. His lecture topics ranged from Toni Morrison to Richard Ellison to Eldzier Cortor to Hughie Lee-Smith and were jewels not just for the anointing he put on works of literature and art, but for the solid-gold aphorisms he dished in between.

During the years in which we lost touch after I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, both Dr. Greene and I discovered a ministry in the preservation of local African-American history and heritage. He offered early and much-valued encouragement of my mission with Black Wide-Awake, and today I made a donation in his honor and memory to Rutherford County’s African American Heritage Museum, which he found in 2012.

Rest in peace, Lee Greene.

Karl Fleming’s Wilson.

The Wilson Daily Times is the source of many of the newspaper articles posted at Black Wide-Awake. I am not unmindful of the racist over- and undertones of many of the clippings, especially those reporting alleged criminal activity. Nevertheless, they have value as imperfect documentation of the existence of so many African-Americans whose lives went otherwise unrecorded. Journalist Karl Fleming made his name covering the Civil Rights movement — most notably, Freedom Summer — for Newsweek magazine in the early 1960s. Fleming’s newspaper career began about 1947 at the Daily Times, which, in Son of the Rough South: An Uncivil Memoir (2005), he credits with introducing him to the brutal racist policies of his native state.

Fleming devotes several chapters to his time in Wilson. His behind-the-scenes explanation of the Times‘ race conventions is illuminating:

“The style of the Daily Times decreed that unmarried black women of whatever age be called ‘girl.’ A married ‘colored’ woman after being identified by her whole name, perhaps, perhaps Elsie Smith, in the first mention, would in succeeding graphs be called ‘the Smith woman.’ This avoided the honorifics ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ being applied to colored women. Colored men, of course, were never referred to as ‘Mr.,’ not even on the full page that ran ever Saturday headlined ‘News of the Colored Community,’ which catalogued the doings of the colored Charles L. Darden [sic] High School, church and Sunday school events, marriages, funerals, and social clubs. Darden ran the colored funeral home and a colored insurance agency and was the colored community’s most substantial citizen.”

His physical description of the town remains recognizable in many ways, even in the water fountains have been dismantled:

“Wilson and the surrounding county was half white and half colored. The town squatted in the sweltering heart of the table-flat and sandy North Carolina coastal plain, throughout which tobacco was the main cash crop. In the center of town, in front of a marble courthouse with six fluted Doric columns, two magnolia trees, and a confederate statue, were ‘White’ and ‘Colored’ water fountains.”

“The old train depot, the faded brick six-story Cherry Hotel alongside it, and the tracks of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad separated these black and white worlds.”

“What the colored people across the tracks may actually have felt about segregation in general and separate schools specifically no one in the white world knew. It was simply assumed that what they said to the white people was true — that they were content with the status quo. The pillars of the black community, the ministers and school teachers and the owners of the few colored businesses allowed to exist because whites wanted nothing to do with them — such as restaurant, beauty parlors, barber shops, funeral homes, pool halls, and juke joints patronized entirely by colored people — did not publicly protest or resist. There seemed to be among them a seeming general air of good-natured acceptance. When one of them excelled, or died, it was said that “he was a credit to his race,” suggesting that ordinary blackness was a debit somehow.”

Fleming exaggerates the uniform decrepitude of East Wilson’s building stock. As this blog has amply demonstrated, East Wilson was a lot more than shotgun rentals in need of whitewash. There were certainly a fair number of those though.

“The colored community was a close-packed warren of gray unpainted shotgun shacks rented from white landlords on dirt alleys across the railroad tracks. Its only paved roads were Nash Street, becoming Highway 41 [91] going east into the country towards the coast, and U.S. 301 going north and south, the principal highway from New York to Miami. Its inhabitants were for the most part menials of every sort, field hands on the surrounding tobacco farms, manual laborers for the city and county maintenance departments, and unskilled workers in the tobacco warehouses and wholesale packing houses.”

And then this observation, followed by a truism:

“Few white people ventured into ‘niggertown.’ … The arrival of a white man could mean nothing good. He was either ‘the law,’ a bill collector, or someone selling something — usually life of burial insurance.”

Fleming also offers a reporter’s assessment of (and white Wilson’s take on) the trial of Allen T. Reid, who was sentenced to death in 1949 for burglary.

 

The remains of Williamson High School.

The six-room Williamson High School, the second high school for African-American children in Wilson County, opened in 1942 near Lucama in Springhill township. Long-closed, its roof and cinderblock exterior remain intact, but its interior is a moldering shambles.

IMG_1614.JPG

IMG_1616.JPG

IMG_1620.JPG

IMG_1623.JPG

IMG_1626.JPG

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2017.

Smith Ques.

The Golden Bull (1948).

The Rho Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, based at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, included three men with Wilson ties.

Brothers Ellis Brown Jr. (1921-1989) and William Edward Brown (1922-1993) were the sons of Ellis Brown and Margaret Scarborough Brown. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 306 Elba Street, truck driver Ellis Brown, 37; wife Margaret, 36; sons Ellis Jr., 19, and William E., 17; and father-in-law Jerry Scarboro. Ellis Brown taught high school in Wilson for 37 years, much of that time at Darden, and served as president of the Men’s Civic Club.

Baker Thompson Howell (1925-1980) was a son of Harry and Annie Thompson Howell and brother of William H. Howell. After service in the Army during World War II and graduation from JCSU, he attended Howard University Medical School. Dr. Howell did a residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in Saint Louis, Missouri, and practiced medicine in Chicago, serving as chief of psychiatry at Cook County Department of Mental Health.

 

Cemeteries, no. 15: Living Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

This small cemetery, outside Lucama on Artis Road next to Living Hope Missionary Baptist Church, contains only eight marked graves.

IMG_9942

The earliest burial seems to be that of Rev. Clemon J. Phillips, one of the church’s pastors.

IMG_9941

Clement Phillips, 20, of Gardners township, son of Walter Phillips and Lizzie P. Edwards, married Estelle Farmer, 17, of Gardners, daughter of Jim Farmer and Mary F. Horne, on 4 December 1929 in Gardners. Elder Robert Edwards, a Primitive Baptist minister, performed the ceremony in the presence of Oscar Braswell, Jessie D. Pender and Elanzer Pender.

In the 1940 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: on Saratoga Macclesfield Road, farm laborer Clement Phillips, 28; wife Estelle, 27; and children Lula, 8, Mary L., 6, and Clement Jr., 5; plus uncle Ernest Blunt, 40.

In 1940, Clemant Phillips registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 2 February 1912 in Norfolk, Virginia; was married to Estelle Phillips, Route 3, Stantonsburg; and worked for Lonnie C. Worrell, Route 3, Stantonsburg.

Clemon Phillips died 8 October 1973 in a car accident near Lucama, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 2 February 1912 to Walter Phillips and Lizzie Blount; was married to Estelle Minerva Farmer; and was a Protestant clergyman. He was buried at Living Hope Church cemetery.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, November 2016.

Ground-breaking. 

A couple of weeks ago, the Freeman Round House African-American History Museum broke ground on its new exhibition hall. When I was in Wilson last weekend, workmen — the occupational descendants of Oliver and Julius Freeman — were pouring cement for the hall’s foundation. The addition is being developed by a professional design team, and I look forward to seeing the museum’s holdings displayed and interpreted in their brand-new facility!

img_1468

The Round House and Oliver Freeman’s famous concrete dinosaur, which once stood in his front yard.

 

Paul T. Williamson.

Paul Thomas Williamson (1879-1960).

Merchant-farmer Paul T. Williamson donated the land upon which the Wilson County School Board built a six-room high school to serve African-American students in southwestern Wilson County. Williamson High School, which opened in 1942, later became known as Springfield High School.

Wilson Daily Times, 18 January 1960.

Wilson Daily Times, 28 December 1960.

——

In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Elic Williamson, 44; wife Gracy, 29; and children John, 14, Lugen, 11, Joseph, 9, Jennie, 7, Mary, 6, Clem, 4, Sarah J., 2, and Pall, 1.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Alex Williamson, 63; wife Gracy, 50; children Genny Whitley, 26, and Sarah, 22, Paul, 21, Daniel, 19, Henietta, 15, Edna, 15, and Katie Williamson, 12; and grandchildren Nancy, 8, Della, 5, and Pearle Whitley, 4.

On 23 November 1904, Paul Williamson, 25, son of Alex and Grace Williamson of Springhill township, married Mary Hinnant, 23, daughter of Joe and Rhoda Hinnant of Spring Hill township. W.H. Horton of the Christian denomination performed the ceremony at Thom Hinnant‘s house in the presence of  J.T. Hinnant, L.H. Horton and W.H. Shaw.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson & Smithfield Branch Road, farmer Paul Williamson, 31; wife Mary, 28; and children Beatrice, 4, and James C., 3.

In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Old Clayton & Wilson Road, farmer Paul T. Williamson, 40; wife Mary, 38; and children Beatrice, 14, and James, 12.

In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Paul T. Williamson, 51; wife Mary, 48; daughter Beatrice, 24; son James C., 23; daughter-in-law Anna D., 22;  grandson James W., 6 months; and boarder Ozie Allen, 35, a farm laborer.

In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Paul Williamson, 61; wife Mary, 57; daughter Beatrice, 34; son James, 33, filling station operator; daughter-in-law Anna, 32; and grandchildren Jantice, 8, and Paul W., 6.

Paul Thomas Williamson died 27 December 1960 in Lucama, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 February 1879 in Wilson County to Alex Williamson and Grace Shaw; worked as a grocery store merchant; and was married to Mary Williamson.

Photo of Williamson courtesy of Wilson Daily Times.

Annie Weeks and the Federated Club.

In the 1880 census of Wake Forest, Wake County, North Carolina: farmer Henderson Cook, 37; wife Mariah, 30; and children Livelina, 12, Lidia J., 9, Bryant, 7, Bettie A., 5, Willie, 3. and Laura A., one month.

In the 1910 census of New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina: at 176 George Street, pastor Alfred L. Weeks, 34; wife Annie, 34, a teacher; daughter Marie E., 4; and sister Bessie, 20.

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 3.26.02 PM

Hill’s New Bern, N.C., City Directory (1911-1912).

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson township, Wilson County: Alfred Weeks, 44, a minister; wife Annie, 44; daughter Marie, 14, and sister Bessie, 26.

In the 1930 census of Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey: at 233 West Grand Street, minister Alfred L. Weeks, 54; wife Annie, 54; and seven boarders.

Annie Elizabeth Cook Weeks, then a resident of Elizabeth, New Jersey, died while visiting Wilson on 19 April 1943. Her death certificate noted that she was born in Wake Forest, North Carolina, on 4 December 1875 to Henderson B. and Mariah D. Batchlor Cook of Wake County, and was a teacher. [Annie Weeks died at 916 East Green Street, the home of her brother Jerry L. Cook. He acted as informant on the death certificate.]

——