Land

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.

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Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2020.

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, probably in the early 1920s, 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: 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. It appears to be a two-room school with a central door under a 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.

The estate of George W. Thompson.

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Wilson Advance, 19 June 1890.

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In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer George Thompson, 57; wife Rilda, 43; son Rufus, 8; with Cherry Bailey, 42, and Bitha, 25, and Mittie Bailey, 16.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer George Thompson, 62; wife Marilda, 52; son Rufus, 20; and granddaughter Hattie Thompson, 6.

Apparently on his deathbed, George W. Thompson made out his will 16 December 1885.

He left all his property to his wife Rilda during her lifetime, then his land to son Rufus, and, if Rufus had no heirs, to granddaughter Cora Thompson. After Rilda’s death, his personal property was to be sold and the money equally divided between son Rufus Thompson, Courtney Peacock, and Cora Thompson. Solomon Lamm was appointed executor.

George Thompson died within days. His executor filed to open his estate and prepared this inventory of his property. Though relatively meager, the list represents a laudable achievement for a man who had spent the bulk of his life enslaved.

Unfortunately, George Thompson’s debts outweighed the value of his estate, forcing the sale advertised in the notice above of a ten-acre parcel adjoining the property of M.V. Peele, Isaac Rich, and Henry Peacock. Marilda and Rufus Thompson had left the area, however, and could not be found in the county for service.

George Thompson Will, George Thompson Estate Records, North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

650 choice lots for sale.

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The Colored American (Washington, D.C.), 18 January 1902.

As noted here and here, Samuel H. Vick was an investor in former United States Congressman George H. White’s real estate development venture in southern New Jersey. (Vick named his third son George White Vick in the congressman’s honor.)

Hart Island Project.

I knew, of course, that New York City has a potter’s field. That knowledge, however, did not blunt the impact of drone footage of laborers burying in long trenches the plain wooden coffins of coronavirus victims. The pine boxes, startlingly pale against the dark slash of subsoil, stacked edge to edge, two deep.

More than one million New Yorkers have been buried on Hart Island since the late 1860s. In early April 2020, as hundreds, then thousands, died a day from Covid-19, the city began to bury unclaimed bodies, at least temporarily, on the island.

Hart Island Project, a nonprofit group that has pushed for more public access and awareness regarding the island, published the drone video. The Project has created database (with map) of burials on Hart Island since 1980 and Traveling Cloud Museum, an interactive storytelling platform that provides information about each person, including “a clock that measures the period of time they have been buried in anonymity until someone adds a story, image, epitaph, sound or video.

Hart Island Project’s work and website are powerful models for what might be done to restore to memory the dead of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick Cemeteries.

For more regarding initial efforts to identify Hart Island’s dead, please see “Finding Names for Hart Island’s Forgotten,” a story by Cara Buckley published 24 March 2008 in the New York Times:

“For her part, Ms. [Melinda] Hunt believes that Hart Island should allow public visits, at least once a year, though Stephen Morello, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said security would be a concern because inmates work there. Ms. Hunt also said the need was urgent for Hart Island’s burial records to be available in a centralized database, an expense that Mr. Morello said the Correction Department did not have the resources to cover. Thousands of records, handwritten in ledgers, were lost in a fire in the 1970s. Ms. Hunt said she would be applying to a state arts foundation for money to post the records online, and to collect the stories behind them.

‘People have the right to know where their family members are buried in the city,’ she said. ‘I’m trying to show a hidden part of American culture that I think is important, that I think is overlooked. These are public records. They belong to the people of New York.’”

Hat tip to Renee Lapyerolerie.

Unmarked.

https://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/3040506231/

During this pandemic, my work for the recovery of East Wilson’s black cemeteries is a banked fire, but it still burns. Please watch this timely mini-documentary for a deeper understanding of what is at stake on Lane Street and why I care.

Hat tip to Debbie Price Gouldin. Thank you!

Vick has piled up a fortune.

In June 1916, a Laurinburg newspaper reprinted the Wilson Dispatch‘s tally of Samuel H. Vick‘s wealth.

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Laurinburg Exchange, 1 June 1916.

Some minor corrections:

  • Vick was neither born nor bred in Wilson, though he moved to town as a small child. He and his parents were from Nash County, North Carolina.
  • In 1916, 98 town lots represented a sizable minority of all the lots in East Wilson. (Though not all Vick’s property was east of the tracks.) By time his empire collapsed in 1935, he owned much more.
  • It is not clear why Vick — who had living siblings — would be considered the practical owner of his father Daniel Vick‘s estate.
  • Vick’s holdings were in Whitesboro, New Jersey, not North Carolina.

Property of Judge Fleming heirs.

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As detailed here, Judge Fleming and his son Johnnie died in an automobile accident in 1934. This plat map of Fleming’s Gardners township property was drawn in December 1947. Fleming’s youngest child had reached the age of majority, and the land likely was divided to be distributed among his heirs.

Plat book 4, page 82, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.