Institutions

Photos of the Colored Graded and Independent Schools.

Circa 1992, the C.H. Darden High School Alumni Association published a pamphlet featuring a short memoir of the school’s long-time principal Edward M. Barnes (1905-2002). Among other things, Mr. Barnes spoke of the school boycott that led to the opening of Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute. Accompanying the text are these remarkable images.

First, another group photograph of the Colored Graded School’s teachers. Eleven teachers walked off the job to protest the superintendent’s assault on Mary C. Euell. Presumably, these are the eleven.

“The Staff of Wilson Graded School c. 1918. Ms. Uzell, the teacher whom the Superintendent slapped. Back Row: 3rd from right.” [The teacher’s name, in fact, was Euell.]

Second, a group photograph of students standing in front of the familiar bay windows and entry door of the Colored Graded School on Stantonsburg Street. The school’s highest grade level was eighth, and this may have been a group of graduating students.

“Our only public school was emptied of all the students” “The Colored Graded School”

Third, and most astonishingly, a photograph of the two-story building that housed Wilson Normal and Industrial School, also known as the Independent School, its lawn and balconies brimming with students and, it appears, parents.

“The Independent School was housed in one of Mr. Sam Vick’s houses on E. Vance Street.”

I am trying to track down the originals of these photographs to share with you. As I have testified repeatedly, the school boycott and creation of the W.N.I.A. were the most revolutionary collective strikes against white supremacy (and, to use a thoroughly modern term: misogynoir) in the history of Wilson County.

In the meantime, here’s W.N.I.A. on East Vance Street in the 1922 Sanborn map of Wilson. The shotgun (endway) house at 602 is clearly visible above.

The school building was still standing in 1964, as shown in this close-up of an aerial image of part of Wilson.

However, by time the city was next photographed in 1971, the Independent School building had been demolished.

This apartment building occupies the site today.

Aerial photos courtesy of Wilson County Technology Services Department; photo of 604-606 East Vance Street by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2020.

#PreserveBlackSpace

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“As protesters demand a national reckoning on America’s whitewashed history, activists are rallying around a former abolitionists’ home in downtown Brooklyn with ties to the Underground Railroad as a chance to diversify historic preservation. High-profile endorsements to designate the building with landmark status, including by Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Attorney General Letitia James, have bolstered a campaign by activists that goes back 16 years. …”

“Of course Black lives matter,” said [preservation activist Michael Henry] Adams. “Of course Black landmarks matter. Black people are not just Black people. We are Americans. We are the people who built this nation, so our history is second to none.

“Landmark designations in marginalized and low-income communities are rare, fueled by the corrosive effects of time and lack of sustaining endowments. Just last year, the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a museum at the site of one of America’s first free black communities, had to launch a crowdfunding campaign to stave off closure. In a city of over 37,000 sites designated for landmark status, just 17 of New York’s landmarks are dedicated to abolitionist and Underground Railroad history, remnants of a resistance that helped over 3,000 fugitive enslaved people find freedom. Nationally, only 2% of the 95,000 entries on the National Register of Historic Places focus on the experience of Black Americans, according to The New Yorker (a figure the NRHP is now working to change).”

The East Wilson Historic District has been on the Register since 1988.  Read the full article here.

BB&T considers its past.

These are the opening paragraphs of a statement issued a few days ago by Kelly King, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Truist Bank, acknowledging the institution’s ties to slavery. Truist was formed in December 2019 from the merger of banking giants SunTrust and BB&T. BB&T — Branch Banking and Trust — was born in Wilson in 1872.

The tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and too many others before them have caused our nation to come face-to-face with its history of systemic racism. The structural racial injustices that have been levied against African Americans were born from a terrible national legacy – slavery. We’ll never be able to adequately right the wrongs of the past, but it’s our obligation as leaders in the business community to publicly and passionately condemn these injustices with greater commitment, focus and energy.

This national discussion also has created a great deal of introspection here at Truist. As we work toward building a more equitable society, we must consider our own past and acknowledge the role our heritage companies played over 100 years ago to perpetuate the atrocity of slavery and the repression of enslaved people, leading to systemic disadvantages their descendants have endured for generations. This includes our early institutions, which had close ties to industries of that era that profited from slavery. We deeply regret and denounce these shameful aspects of our history, both known and unknown.

King’s gesture on behalf of Truist is nice one but, in focusing on the bank’s actions “over 100 years ago,” he stops short of laying bare and claiming ownership of the role BB&T played throughout the whole of the twentieth century in creating and supporting “systemic disadvantages” for African-Americans. In other words, profiting on the backs of black people and shutting them out of places and positions of power started with slavery, but did not end there.

Instead, the mea culpa moves on to back-patting:

While this acknowledgement of our early history is difficult, our organization has also demonstrated a sincere commitment through the years to affect positive change and stand for equity in the communities where we live and work. 

Cue bullet points.

King’s memo is light on what he is actually apologizing for. BB&T corporate publication “Our account: A history of BB&T” — last updated in 2012 and in desperate need of a hard, new look — offers clues to the company’s official framing of its roots: “when hostilities ended in 1865 and the South was forced to accept defeat, the farmers-turned-soldiers returned home and found their property destroyed, livestock gone, tools and equipment either ruined or lost, and their money worthless.” “The world that they had left their homes to defend existed no longer. The world to which they returned was chaotic and was to remain so for several years.” “… [T]he state faced a broken economy with corruption in government, and when help seemed to come from no quarter, North Carolinians turned to each other for aid.”  Into the breach of Radical Reconstruction, the story goes, stepped Alpheus Branch and Thomas J. Hadley, both Confederate veterans and the sons of wealthy former slaveowners.

You can read the rest of “Our Account” for yourself, but don’t expect to find anything in it about structural racism. Branch and Hadley lent money to struggling farmers and merchants in Wilson County. Able to borrow money at reasonable interest rates, farmers moved into the cash economy, planting cotton and, beginning in the 1880s, bright-leaf tobacco, a crop that would pour money into pockets across the county. An acknowledgment — beyond the performative — of the “shameful aspects” of BB&T’s history would require an admission that “farmers and merchants” did not include African-Americans, and an examination of the ways that BB&T served, or did not serve, this group embodied and perpetuated injustice. However, per the 3 July 2020 Charlotte Observer, Chairman “King said … a full inquiry of the bank’s past was unlikely.”

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  • Alpheus P. Branch (1843-1893) — Branch’s father Samuel W. Branch listed 38 enslaved African-Americans in the 1860 slave schedule of Halifax County, North Carolina. Branch fought for the Confederacy as a member of the Scotland Neck Mounted Riflemen, 3rd N.C. Cavalry. In 1865, Branch married Nannie Barnes, daughter of Joshua Barnes (who would become a charter member of an early iteration of BB&T.) Barnes is styled the “Father of Wilson County.” He was also a committed owner of one of the largest groups of enslaved African-Americans in Wilson County.
  • Thomas J. Hadley (1838-1917) — Hadley’s father Thomas Hadley listed 37 enslaved African-Americans in the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County. Hadley rose to captain in Company A, 55th N.C. Infantry.

Many thanks to Brian D. Dalton and Linda Clark Parks for bringing Truist’s statement to my attention.

Brooks School.

The seventh in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Brooks School

Brooks School dates prior to 1881, making it the earliest documented rural African-American school in Wilson County. Brooks was not a Rosenwald school. It was consolidated with other small schools in 1951, and its students then attended Speight High School.

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Wilson Advance, 11 February 1881.

Dr. Alexander G. Brooks had been a wealthy slaveowner and may have donated the land upon which the school was built.

Location: Per a 1936 state road map of Wilson County, the approximate location was just east of Black Creek on present-day Woodbridge Road, in the vicinity of Bunches Church.

Description: Per The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, Brooks School was a one-room school seated on one acre.

A February 1951 report on Wilson County schools found: “The Brooks Colored … building is in ‘fair condition’ and has only two teachers for seven grades ….” Wilson Daily Times, 16 February 1951.

Known faculty: Principal Alice B. Mitchell; teacher Nora Allen Mitchell Jones.

Take them down, too.

Here are Wilson’s two Confederate monuments. The clock is ticking.

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“Although Confederate monuments are sometimes designated as historic, and while many were erected more than a century ago, the National Trust [for Historic Preservation] supports their removal from our public spaces when they continue to serve the purposes for which many were built—to glorify, promote, and reinforce white supremacy, overtly or implicitly.

“While some have suggested that removal may result in erasing history, we believe that removal may be necessary to achieve the greater good of ensuring racial justice and equality. And their history needs not end with their removal: we support relocation of these monuments to museums or other places where they may be preserved so that their history as elements of Jim Crow and racial injustice can be recognized and interpreted.”

Read National Trust’s full Statement on Confederate Monuments: http://ow.ly/JMUD50AbAuR

Photos, Wilson, June 2020.

Take it down.

From The News and Observer, today’s headline: “Daniels family removes statue of racist ancestor in Raleigh“:

“Frank Daniels Jr. of Raleigh, retired president and publisher of The News & Observer, said in a statement Tuesday that his grandfather’s bigoted beliefs overshadowed his other accomplishments, including, Daniels said, ‘creating one of the nation’s leading newspapers.’”

“’Josephus Daniels’s legacy of service to North Carolina and our country does not transcend his reprehensible stand on race and his active support of racist activities,’ Daniels said. ‘In the 75 years since his death, The N&O and our family have been a progressive voice for equality for all North Carolinians, and we recognize this statue undermines those efforts.’”

The article glancingly mentions Daniels’ ownership of the Wilson Advance. It was in this newspaper that he cut his teeth as an unabashed white supremacist, using the paper as a platform for his relentless drumbeat for the suppression of civil rights for African-Americans.
In two columns of the same issue, published 31 October 1884, Daniels published editorial comment ranging from the snide:

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… to the unvarnished:

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… to the grotesque:

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Wilson Advance, 31 October 1884.

The Wilson County Historical Association erected a marker for Josephus Daniels near the county courthouse. It makes no mention of his most efficacious role — spearhead of the disenfranchisement and general subjugation of North Carolina’s African-American citizenry. Despite repeated calls for its removal, notably led by the indefatigable Castonoble Hooks, the marker stands.

I amplify Mr. Hooks’ voice here: TAKE IT DOWN.

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Update, 18 June 2020: Today, the city of Wilson quietly removed the historical marker honoring Josephus Daniels today and returned it to the Wilson County Historical Association.

“Wilson removed Josephus Daniels marker: Family cited his ‘indefensible positions on race,” Wilson Daily Times, 18 June 2020.

Barnes School.

The fourth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Barnes School

[Please note that there appear to have been two “colored” Barnes Schools in the early 20th century, one under the jurisdiction of Wilson city schools, and one near Stantonsburg (perhaps affiliated with Barnes Church) under in the county school system. The post concerns the former.]

Barnes School was erected with Rosenwald funds in 1920.

Location: “3 1/2 miles west of Wilson on the Municipal Airport Road.”

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“This building can be torn down and the lumber salvaged to be used for other purposes. This building is located in one of the best farming sections in eastern North Carolina and only a 10 minute ride from the center of the city.” Wilson Daily Times, 26 March 1951.

A 1925 soil map of Wilson County shows a school on what is now Airport Boulevard near a branch of Hominy Swamp and the present-day YMCA pool. This accords with the recollection of D.W. Saulter, whose grandfather purchased a school building on Airport Boulevard and converted it into a residence. She reports that the building has been demolished.

In May 1942, an article in the Wilson Daily Times announced locations for sugar ration registration, including “Barnes school, all colored people in Wilson Township west of Wilson living within Wilson township.”

Description: From Research Report:Tools for Assessing the Significance and Integrity North Carolina’s Rosenwald Schools and Comprehensive Investigation of Rosenwald Schools in Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Wayne and Wilson Counties, “[Superintendent Charles L.] Coon notes that a five-room Barnes school, valued with its land at $9,300, was erected in 1920 in the city of Wilson …. Further, the school that the [Rosenwald] Fund supported was a three-teacher type that cost $6,000, with $700 in Fund support, $1,000 in public funds, and a whopping $4,300 contribution from the black community.”

D.W. Saulter recalls that the building was faced with windows and had a central inset front door.

Known faculty: principal Ruth Jones Palmer; teachers Dora GodwinCora Farmer, and Margaret L. Morrison.

Wilson Daily Times, 5 April 1935.

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Wilson Daily Times, 18 December 1946.

Lane School.

The third in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Lane School

Lane School was one of two known schools for African-American children outside town limits (but inside Wilson township) that were administered by town of Wilson’s public school system. The date of construction is not known, but white children attended school there until school consolidation circa 1920.

Location: In May 1942, an article in the Wilson Daily Times announced locations for sugar ration registration, including “Lane school, all colored people living within Wilson Township but east of Wilson.”

Seven years later, Wilson City Schools offered Lane Colored School for sale. The metes and bounds are somewhat difficult to decipher: “Beginning at a small water-oak on the North side of the public cart path leading from H.B. Lane’s to A.P. Moore’s (said pathway leading from Moyton and Stantonsburg roads) thence in a Northerly direction, at right angles to said public cart path, eighty yards to a stake, cornering, thence in a Westerly direction parallel with said public cart path sixty-one and one-fourth yards to a stake, cornering, thence in a Southern direction eighty yards to a stake in said public cart path, thence in an Easterly direction along with said public cart path sixty-one and one-fourths yards to the beginning.”

I’d thought “the cart path” was one that ran between what are now Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and Stantonsburg Road. However, Will Corbett of Wilson County’s GIS Office steered me in the right direction by locating the general area in which H.B. Lane and A.P. Moore’s properties were adjacent or nearly so. This area is just above what is now Wedgewood Gold Club. (And about a mile due south of the neighborhood in which I grew up.)

A 1925 soil map indicates a church or school on one of a maze of dirt paths meandering between what are now Old Stantonsburg Road and N.C. Highway 58. This is likely Lane School. There are few houses in the area now, and except for a single road leading in from 58, the paths are gone.

A 1937 aerial map shows the land and its use more clearly. Most of the paths shown in 1925 had been plowed up by then, though some are visible through the trees. I have encircled a cluster of buildings that appears to approximate the location of Lane School.

Here, per Google Maps, is my best approximation of the area today. A section of Wedgewood’s golf course is visible at lower right:

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 September 1949.

Description: one-room school.

Known faculty: teachers Blanche ThomasClara R. Cooke.

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Update, 14 June 2020: I found a photograph of Lane School in Charles L. Coon’s report The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24!

My deepest thanks to Will Corbett.

Mitchell School.

The second in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Mitchell School

Mitchell School was built in 1919 near Dunn’s Crossroads on land donated by James Gray Mitchell. It was not a Rosenwald school.

The front, shot from the western end of the building.

Location: Astonishingly, this school is still standing and is remarkably intact. It is hidden in a nearly impenetrable grove of pine and sweetgum saplings in a residential stretch of Lake Wilson Road.

Description: Per The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, Mitchell School was a three-room school seated on two acres. I could not observe the building head-on or from all sides. Its windows and doors are boarded up, but its hipped tin roof is solid, as is the observable siding. Its entry door is under a central gable. There are two windows in the easternmost room, and a bank of windows on the southern facade.

A February 1951 report on Wilson County schools found: “The jury expressed the opinion that more instructors are needed to tutor pupils at Mitchell school …. Mitchell, a one-teacher school with an enrollment of 41 pupils, needs replacement of window panes and a grate in the stove, the group said.” Wilson Daily Times, 16 February 1951.

Banks of windows on the south-facing side.

The siding, weathered but in surprisingly good shape.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 January 1940.

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  • James Gray Mitchell

In the 1880 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Wilson Sharp, 52, and wife Cherry, 45; Jerry Bynum, 6; farmer James Mitchel, 47, wife Rosa, 33, and son James G. Mitchel, 11.

On 24 December 1889, James Mitchell and Amanda Edwards, both 20, applied for a marriage license in Nash County, North Carolina.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer James G. Mitchel, 31; wife Armanda, 30; and children Chister [Kester], 9, Regenia, 8, Henretta, 6, William R., 4, and Dewey, 2; and mother Rose, 50.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer James G. Mitchell, 38; mother Rosa, 58; and children Kester R., 18, Cynthia, 14, Robert L., 12, Jimmie D., 10, and Lelia B., 8.

Jimmie Dee Mitchell registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born in 1898; lived on R.F.D. #4, Elm City; and worked as a farm laborer for Jas. Grey Mitchell.

James Mitchell Jr. died 19 May 1953 in Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 May 1869 in Wilson to James Mitchell Sr. and Rosa Parker; was a farmer; Informant was Robert L. Mitchell, Elm City. He was buried at William’s Chapel cemetery, Saratoga [sic; Elm City].

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2020. Many thanks to Agnes Green for pinpointing the school’s location.

For sale, the following public schools, pt. 3.

In the fall of 1951, having opened several modern — or modernized — brick buildings across the county, the Wilson County Board of Education moved to auction off its old colored school houses, some of which had been built with Rosenwald funds. For several weeks, the Wilson Daily Times ran lengthy notices identifying the properties by name and metes and bounds. Schools set for sale included Bynums, Saratoga, Yelverton, Stantonsburg, and Evansdale Colored Schools in Gardners, Saratoga, and Stantonsburg townships.

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Wilson Daily Times, 23 October 1951.