On 7 August 1897, Jordan Taylor Jr., 21, and Eliza Taylor, 21, were married in Wilson by Baptist minister W.H.W. Woodard. Prince Smith, Annie Barnes, and Michiel Taylor were witnesses.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Jordan Taylor, 24, wife Eliza, 25, and son Greemond, 2, shared a household with Sallie Taylor 27, and her son Rufus Taylor, 13, and boarder Mary Jones, 17.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer Jordan Taylor Jr., 31, wife Eliza, 30, laundress, and son Greeman, 12, with Mary Parker, 69, widow, whose relationship to Jordan was described as “proctor.”
Jordan Taylor registered for the World War I draft on 12 September 1917. He reported his address as RFD#6, Wilson, and his birthday as 15 December 1875. He worked as a ditcher for Sid Clark, his nearest relative was Eliza Taylor, and he signed his card with an X.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 304 Stantonsburg Street, Jordan Taylor, 48, wife Eliza, 37, son Greeman, 22, and son Dave, 13. [Where did Dave come from?] Jordan worked as a warehouse tobacco worker, Eliza as a tobacco factory worker, and Greeman as a street boot black.
On 24 March 1922, Greeman Taylor of Stantonsburg Street, Wilson, died of consumption. He was born 2 June 1898 in Wilson to Jordan and Eliza Taylor. He was single.
I have not found the family in the 1930 census.
Eliza Taylor died 25 May 1934 in Rose Hill township, Duplin County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was 47 years old [actually, more than ten years older]; was born in Wilson County to Green Taylor and Kenzie Taylor; and was married to Jordan Taylor.
Jordan Taylor, widower, died 29 April 1957 near Dunn, Johnston County, N.C. His informant Ethel Sanders reported his birthday as 15 March 1874, and his parents as Jordan Taylor and Frances Smith. He was buried in Wilson.
“Underneath America lies an apartheid of the departed. Violence done to the living is usually done to their dead, who are dug up, mowed down, and built on. In the Jim Crow South, Black people paid taxes that went to building and erecting Confederate monuments. They buried their own dead with the help of mutual-aid societies, fraternal organizations, and insurance policies. Cemeteries work on something like a pyramid scheme: payments for new plots cover the cost of maintaining old ones. ‘Perpetual care’ is, everywhere, notional, but that notion relies on an accumulation of capital that decades of disenfranchisement and discrimination have made impossible in many Black communities, even as racial terror also drove millions of people from the South during the Great Migration, leaving their ancestors behind. It’s amazing that Geer survived. Durham’s other Black cemeteries were run right over. ‘Hickstown’s part of the freeway,’ Gonzalez-Garcia told me, counting them off. ‘Violet Park is a church parking lot.'”
I’m inspired — and encouraged — by Friends of Geer Cemetery and Friends of East End Cemetery and others doing this work for descendants. Please read.
“Whosoever live and believeth in me, though we be dead, yet, shall we live.”
Just as last night’s Wilson City Council meeting closed, Mayor Carlton Stevens posed a question. Lane Street Project volunteers have put a lot of work into Odd Fellows Cemetery, he said. Could the Deputy City Manager shed any light on why the city has stopped cutting the grass?
Said Harry Tyson in response: City crews have never maintained Vick Cemetery. Rather, the City pays a private company to cut the grass and, every once in a while, throw down a little topsoil. “If” anything beyond Vick — like Odd Fellows for 25 years — has ever been cut, it was due to the benevolence of that company. The City doesn’t know anything about it. And doesn’t know anything about why it’s stopped.
A moment of silence to acknowledge my shock at this revelation. The City has not even been doing the little bit at Odd Fellows that I had been giving it credit for.
I think it is safe to say that neither the City nor the contractor (that it has been paying for 25 years to do something it would seem Public Works could do a lot more cheaply) plan to pass another blade over the weeds of Odd Fellows Cemetery.
We press on.
LSP Fam, please start talking to your people. Get them lined up and ready. We have work to do.
Remember, every setback is a set-up for a comeback.
It’s not oversight. It’s deliberate. After 25 years, the city of Wilson has stopped mowing the front section of Odd Fellows Cemetery. The vague reason proffered: the Cemetery Commission only covers Rest Haven and Maplewood Cemeteries, and Odd Fellows is privately owned.
Let’s talk about the Cemetery Commission part for a minute.
For the purpose of this chapter, the word “cemetery” shall mean the Maplewood and Rest Haven Cemeteries and any other cemeteries owned and/or operated by the city.
(Code 1969, § 8-1) [emphasis added]
The Wilson Cemetery Commission was established per North Carolina General Statutes, specifically Chapter 160A — Cities and Towns, which states in pertinent part:
§ 160A-349.3. Property vested.
Upon the creation of such board the title to all property held by the town or city and used for cemetery purposes shall pass to and vest in said board, subject to the same limitations, conditions and restrictions as it was held by the town or city; provided, that the governing body of the town or city may at any time by resolution direct that title to such property shall pass to and vest in the town or city itself, and in such event it shall be the duty of the board and its officers to execute all necessary documents to effect such transfer and vesting. (Pub. Loc. 1923, c. 583, s. 3; 1979, 2nd Sess., c. 1247, s. 30.)
§ 160A-349.4. Control and management; superintendent and assistants; enumeration of powers.
The said board shall have the exclusive control and management of such cemetery; shall have the power to employ a superintendent and such assistants as may be needed, and may do any and all things pertaining to the control, maintenance, management and upkeep of the cemetery which the governing body of the town or city could have done, or which by law the governing body of the town or city shall hereafter be authorized to do. (Pub. Loc. 1923, c. 583, s. 4.)
The City of Wilson established Vick Cemetery in 1913. It was a cemetery owned and operated by the City. State statute requirements notwithstanding, the Cemetery Commission has never taken title to Vick Cemetery. To this day, the Commission neither controls, maintains, manages, nor keeps up Vick Cemetery. The Commission has failed its obligation even to publicly-owned Vick Cemetery. And to the point, the Commission is irrelevant to the City’s withdrawal of Public Works support from Odd Fellows.
(As a sidenote, the statute also states:
§ 160A-349.8. Commissioners to obtain maps, plats and deeds; list of lots sold and owners; surveys and plats to be made; additional lots, streets, walks and parkways; price of lots; regulation of sale of lots.
The board of trustees shall obtain from the governing body all maps, plats, deeds and other evidences relating to the lands, lots and property of the cemetery; they shall also obtain from the governing body of the town or city, as nearly as possible, an accurate list of the lots theretofore sold, together with the names of the owners thereof. The said board of trustees shall from time to time cause surveys to be made, maps and plats prepared, laying out additional lots, streets, paths, walks and parkways; shall fix a price at which such lots shall be sold, which price may from time to time, in the discretion of the board, be changed; shall adopt rules and regulations as to the sale of said lots and deliver to the purchaser or purchasers deed or evidences of title thereto. (Pub. Loc. 1923, c. 583, s. 8.)
Per the City’s responses to my Public Records Act requests, the Cemetery Commission has NO records of Vick Cemetery [or its publicly-owned predecessor Oakdale.] No maps, no plats, no deeds, no lists of lots or owners. The Cemetery Commission does not even have records of the graves disinterred from Oakdale/Oaklawn Cemetery in 1941 and reburied in Rest Haven Cemetery, the current “Black” cemetery. Nor does the Commission have early records of Rest Haven, which the City established in the early 1930s to replace Vick.
But I digress.)
Again: the City of Wilson owns Vick Cemetery. It established the cemetery in 1913 as a resting place for African-Americans, who were forbidden to purchase lots in Maplewood Cemetery. The City collected fees from lot sales and grave openings for 45 years, but lifted not a hand to maintain the cemetery’s eight acres. In the 1950s, the City condemned Vick and closed it, shifting burials to another segregated public cemetery, Rest Haven. From the 1950s to the mid-1990s, Vick Cemetery, along with adjacent Odd Fellows and Rountree Cemeteries, devolved to woodland and dumping ground.
I repeat: the Cemetery Commission has never cared for Vick Cemetery. Rather, the City of Wilson, however, spent decades ignoring (and, alternately, abusing) its property. While the City was erecting a massive blond-brick Mission Style entrance and carefully manicuring the shady paths of Maplewood’s park-like landscape, the families of Vick’s dead were pleading for help navigating the muddy roads that led to that graveyard. In the 1980s and early ’90s, when citizens demanded that the City clear Vick of decades of trash, some councilmen blamed descendant families for letting the cemetery — the city’s own property — fall into disrepair. In the end, the City pulled up the Vick’s remaining headstones and, within the past 20 years, destroyed them.
Vick Cemetery today. More than 1500 graves lie under this field. Every Black Wilsonian whose family has been here more than 50 years has people under this grass.
A closer look at the memorial site, which is shrouded by overgrown hollies and dead cherry trees and is in itself a testament to City neglect.
Now to the “Odd Fellows is privately owned” piece. In 1900, African-Americans were barred from Maplewood, the lovely public cemetery their taxes supported. The “colored” city cemetery was crowded and flood-prone and ill-maintained. Seeking better options, Hannibal Lodge #1552, Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, established its own burial ground. The cemetery is the resting place of Samuel H. Vick and his family and two to three generations of the African-American men and women who built East Wilson and its institutions during the darkest days of Jim Crow.
Within 15 years, the City purchased eight acres adjacent to Odd Fellows to establish a new Black cemetery. However, both it and Odd Fellows Cemetery fell from use around 1950 and by the 1960s were trash heaps. The Odd Fellows Lodge went defunct in the 1980s, leaving its Cemetery with no real owner.
In January 2021, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-religious group of volunteers came together to reclaim the vine-strangled rear of Odd Fellows Cemetery. Twice a month for the next four months, dozens donated time and muscle to restore honor and dignity to Odd Fellows’ forgotten dead. In the wake of Lane Street Project’s powerful display of collective purpose, the City abruptly halted its 25-year practice of mowing the strip of graveyard nearest the road.
THIS ISN’T ABOUT OWNERSHIP. IT’S ABOUT EQUITY.
Having disinvested in East Wilson for so long, having forsaken its institutions, having desecrated its public burial grounds, having watered the west side while leaving the east to wither on the vine, will the City continue to withhold even this minor gesture of acknowledgement of and respect for Black bodies?
Deed Book 179, page 403, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.
On 31 January 1929, John and Cora Melton sold a parcel of land in Black Creek township for $100 to James M. Barnes, W.M. Forsythe, and J.A. Artis, trustees of Love Union Lodge #209, Knights of King Solomon. The parcel adjoined lands of John Melton and John Mercer on “the Ruffin Lane Road” near the Colored School Building and measured about one-half acre.
[Where was Ruffin Lane Road? Where was the Black Creek Colored School?]
Sarah Jacobs, who moved to Wilson about 1905, supported her parents in their final years, sending them food via train and building a small house in Dudley proper closer to neighbors and family. My grandfather recalled:
Mama had the lot where the house was, where Grandma Mag [Margaret Balkcum Henderson (1836-1915)] lived. Had that house built for her. The house they was staying in was up by the railroad, was just about to fall down. Somewhere down up there by where the Congregational Church is. And she built that house down there next to Babe Winn. I don’t think it was but one room. The porch, one room, and a little shed kitchen, a little, small, like a closet almost, and had the stove in it. Then had a stove in the room where she was, one of them round-bellied stoves where you take the top off and put wood in it. I remember that.
Just recently, we discovered documents related to the purchase of these lots. They were in this envelope from the Wayne County Register of Deeds, postmarked 11 August 1941 and addressed to my grandmother at 1109 Queen Street in Wilson. (She penciled in updated addresses as she moved in the 1940s and ’50s.) Sarah Jacobs Silver died in 1938, and I imagine my grandmother received this letter pursuant to the settlement of her estate.
There was this promissory note for the purchase for $20 of lots 15 and 16 of block number 2. It is signed “Sary Jackobs” by someone other than Sarah Jacobs.
And then another, dated 16 October 1911 at Dudley, that she did sign. (Her address was given as 106 Elba Street, Wilson, which was an early designation for 303 Elba.) A notation scribbled in pencil across it confirms that she timely paid off the purchase price.
“All lots are splendidly located, naturally drained building locations suitable for business or residential property. Only 3-4 mile from the business section of the city and the same distance from the railroad stations. All lots approximately 25×110 feet in size, furnished with city electric lights. Colored graded school just across the street, many large manufacturing establishments nearby.
“Select the lots which you desire to purchase of those that remain in the old Washington Suggs Property. There were originally 109 lots in this subdivision and so great has been the demand for them that since June 10th all have been disposed of with the exception of 44. This is an opportunity well worth taking advantage of and an opportunity which will be lost after this sale on Saturday, October 30th. The terms have been arranged very easy, in fact, so easy that anyone who desires can purchase and hardly miss the payments as they become due monthly.
“THE BEAUTIFUL VICTROLA NO. 6 IS ON DISPLAY IN GRAHAM WINSTEAD’S MUSIC STORE WINDOW. THIS IS A MAHOGANY MACHINE AND HAS A GOOD TONE. IT WILL BE GIVEN AWAY SATURDAY OCT. 30, AT OUR SALE.”