Land

Historic cemetery registration.

Last week, I registered Rountree, Odd Fellows, Vick, and Oakdale Cemeteries as historic cemeteries with North Carolina’s Office of State Archaeology, Division of Archives and History. Registration does not offer protection per se, but does guarantee their placement on state maps of sites of archaeological interest.

As an example, the form for Vick Cemetery:

The map showing state archaelogical sites is not yet available on-line. 

The streets of East Wilson, part 2.

Many of East Wilson’s streets were laid out on parcels of land owned by African-Americans and still bear the names they chose.

  • Suggs and Moore Streets

G. Washington Suggs — and later his children, especially Daniel C. Suggs — owned large parcels of land south of present-day Hines Street as early as 1870. Suggs Street is named for the family. Moore Street is likely named for Serena Suggs Moore or her husband Edward Moore. Edward Moore was an early principal of Wilson Academy, the private school that educated African-American children in the decades after Emancipation.

  • Blount Street

Calvin Blount owned land adjacent to Washington Suggs and purchased his property even earlier than Suggs did.

  • Cemetery Street

In 1870, Washington Suggs purchased a lot adjacent to “the grave yard lot” and the African church, south of downtown between the railroad and what is now Pender Street. In the 1890s, the town of Wilson formally established a public cemetery for African-Americans in this area and called it Oakdale. The cemetery was active until the 1920s, though decreasingly so after Vick Cemetery was established in 1913 further from the center of town. In 1941, Wilson disinterred the graves at Oakdale and reburied them in Rest Haven Cemetery. Per Wilson’s Cemetery Commission, no records exist of the names of those whose remains were moved.

The streets of East Wilson, part 1.

Many of East Wilson’s streets were laid out on parcels of land owned by African-Americans and still bear the names they chose.

  • Vick Street

Samuel H. Vick built his Queen Anne mansion on Green Street, but developed the neighborhood around it. He named several streets for his daughters, others for family friends and his personal hero, Booker T. Washington.

  • Elba Street

Vick named this three-block street after his eldest daughter Elba Louise Vick, born in 1893.

  • Viola and Reid Streets

Viola Street was named for Viola Leroy Vick, who was born in 1894 and died as a toddler. Reid Street was named for either (or both) veterinarian Elijah L. Vick or J.D. Reid, school principal and banker.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.

East Wilson aerial view, 1940.

North Carolina State Archives’ Flickr account contains a folder holding more than one hundred aerial photographs of Wilson County shot in 1940.

Here, East Wilson more or less entirely. (The dark curve superimposed on the image marks the future path of Ward Boulevard. Though this road was plotted largely through open land, it did require the obliteration of a stretch of houses on East Nash Street.)

Below, a close-up look at the bottom left quadrant of this image. South of Nash Street, the road now known as Pender Street was then called Stantonsburg Street. At (1), the Sallie Barbour School, formerly known as the Colored Graded or Stantonsburg Street School. At (2), a tightly packed block of endway (shotgun) houses, which were form of choice for developers of rental housing for Wilson’s African-American working poor. Clusters of these narrow dwellings can be seen across the map. This block, on Railroad Street between Elvie and Lincoln Streets, is still intact.

The blocks south of Wiggins and Wainwright Street were still relatively sparsely settled, but several churches had set up in the area, including (3) Mount Zion Free Will Baptist Church, (4) Union Grove Primitive Baptist Church, and (5) Branch Memorial Tabernacle United Holy Church.

Around Cemetery Street, the open space attests to the location of Wilson’s earliest Black cemetery (cemeteries?). The following year, the city disinterred Oakdale cemetery and moved its graves to Rest Haven.

The northern half of East Wilson, below. At (1) Reid Street Community Center; (2) Samuel H. Vick Elementary School; (3) Charles H. Darden High School; (4) endway houses on Queen Street; (5) William Hines’ two-story rental houses; (6) C.H. Darden Funeral Home; (7) Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church; (8) Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church; (9) Mercy Hospital; (10) Calvary Presbyterian Church; (11) Wilson Normal and Industrial School (also known as the Independent School); and (12) the Samuel and Annie Vick house.

The elbow of Lane Street, below. The Harry Clark family farm, later Rest Haven cemetery, at (1), and a relatively clear view of (2) Vick, (3) Odd Fellows, and (4) Rountree cemeteries.

Wilson_CSP_6B_12, U.S.D.A. Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

Lane Street Project: in context.

Apropos of Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries, please see this article in National Geographic magazine on growing efforts to preserve African-American burial sites, including proposed legislation to establish within the National Park Service the African American Burial Grounds Network.

 

Lane Street Project: aerial views, part 2.

In an earlier post, we saw aerial photographs depicting the decline of the Lane Street cemeteries from 1937 to 1948 to 1954 and 1964. An additional image, taken in 1971, completes the arc of ruin of these sacred spaces.

Vick Cemetery was completely forested, as was Rountree Cemetery. Odd Fellows appears marginally better kept, with a path still visible at its eastern edge. Five or so years later, when I discovered these cemeteries as a child riding a bicycle from her home in Bel Air Forrest, the vegetation was even thicker.

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Thanks again to  Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department, for sharing these images.

#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.

Lane Street Project: aerial views.

A refresher:

  • The eastern end of Lane Street, in southeast Wilson, is home to three historic African-American cemeteries: Rountree (established about 1906), Odd Fellows (established circa 1900), and Vick (established 1913).
  • Rountree and Odd Fellows are privately owned. Vick is owned by the City of Wilson.
  • All three have been abandoned.
  • Rountree is completely overgrown with mature trees and heavy underbrush.
  • Odd Fellows is also overgrown, except for a narrow strip along the road that the city maintains.
  • In 1996, the city clear-cut Vick cemetery, removed its remaining headstones, graded the entire parcel, and erected a single marker in memory of the dead.

A series of aerial photographs of the cemeteries over time shows in astonishing detail the forgotten features of these cemeteries and the terrible march of neglect across all three. Each photograph has been overlaid with the present-day boundaries of tax parcels. The rectangle at left is Vick, then Odd Fellows and Rountree.

  • 1937

This blurry photograph shows the interconnectedness of the three cemeteries, with narrow dirt paths winding across property lines and no visible boundary markers. The light areas are too large to be individual stones and more likely are family plots of varying sizes. The back edge of Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries — marshy land along Sandy Creek — was wooded.

  • 1948

Though hundreds were buried between 1937 and 1948, Vick is still almost completely open field, with some trees at its western and southern edges and numerous plots visible.  A large cleared trapezoid straddles the Vick and Odd Fellows boundaries — what is this?

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  • 1954

Six years later, the change is shocking. Vick has clearly fallen into disuse, its paths allowed to fill with weeds. Rountree and Odd Fellows, too, are overgrown, but their major paths remain clear. The mystery trapezoid, however, is gone.

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  • 1964

Another ten years and all three cemeteries are well on their way to complete abandonment. Only one path is clear, a new passage cut to join an old one in Odd Fellows.

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  • Today

A contemporary aerial view of the three cemeteries shows the empty expanse of Vick; its lone city-sponsored monument; the paved path leading from the monument to a small parking lot located at the boundary of Vick and Odd Fellows; the cleared bit of Odd Fellows; and the jungle that is Rountree. There is no trace of the trapezoid.

I am indebted to Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department, for responding to my inquiry re the availability of Wilson County maps, answering a million questions, and providing these remarkable images.

Follow-up: the roots of Rest Haven cemetery.

Here we explored an early family graveyard on the land now covered by Rest Haven cemetery, and here viewed a charcoal portrait of Jesse and Sarah Barnes, who established it.

Below, a closer look at Barnes cemetery. The large headstone visible is that of the Dixon family.

IMG_4469

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2020.

County schools, no. 2: 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.

——

  • 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.