Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as in the Great Migration north. This post is the first in a series of excerpts from interviews with Hattie Henderson Ricks, their adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, born in 1872, was the eighth of nine children. By time she moved to Wilson, only her brothers James Lucian Henderson, born 1859, and Caswell C. Henderson, born 1865, were living. (Hattie was her sister Loudie Henderson’s grandchild.) Caswell had migrated to New York City by about 1890, but Lucian remained in Dudley to farm. He and his wife, Susan McCollum Henderson, had only one child, who died in early adulthood without a spouse or children.
Susie Henderson had long been sickly and, by the late 1920s, Lucian Henderson’s health had begun to fail. Jesse Jacobs’ nephew, John Wesley Carter, lived nearby. He had developed a close relation with the Hendersons, but could not be expected to assume complete responsibility for their care.
The family turned to the Atlantic Coast Line Rail Road for a solution:
“Mama Sarah [would] fix dinner and send it down to Dudley on the train. The man that run the whatchacallit — engine? Up there, where stokes the fire or whatever is on the train. He would take it. But she would tell what day she was gon send it. And so somebody’d be up there to the train station to get it. And the train, ‘cause a lot of time the train didn’t stop in Dudley. But anyway, the man, the conductor, he would pull the thing, whatever, for the train to stop long enough for him to drop off this package. … Somebody she’d have be out there when the train come through, and then the porter on the train — Mama knew him — and so then Johnnie and them or somebody be out there to take the package. It’d be a shoebox full of food, already cooked and ready to eat. So that’s the way they helped Uncle Lucian and A’nt Susie, like that. Until they died, and so that was the end of trying to feed them and take care of them.”
Look closely at this snippet of a 1936 map of the Atlantic Coast Line’s routes. Wilson is just above the center point. Lucian and Susie Henderson’s care packages traveled south through Goldsboro to the whistle stop at Dudley’s platform, nine miles below and just above Mount Olive.
Adapted from interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1996 and 1998. All rights reserved.
In 1889, the Wilson Mirror reprinted this article, originally published in the Goldsboro News-Argus, to urge? cajole? shame? convince? insult? to stay put African-Americans who were migrating in droves to Arkansas and Indiana.
The victim, in fact, was named Cora Lee Carr. I have not found more about her terrible death.
Cora Lee Carr died 21 April 1924 in Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was about 24 years old; was married to Earnest Carr; and was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Willie Williams was informant. Cause of death: “Crushed scull with axe Homicide Instant death.”
Charles Augusta Bynum (1885-1969) and wife Earle Gilmore Bynum.
Charles A. Bynum was the brother of Rachel Bynum Scarborough. They, their eldest siblings, and parents migrated from Wilson County to Lonoke County, Arkansas, in the early 1890s.
In the 1900 census of Richwoods township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: Lawrence Bynum, 55; wife Edna, 39; children Ed, 25, Mary, 19, Charlie, 17, Hattie, 16, Rachel, 9, Lewis, 6, Cora, 3, and Lawrence, 11 months; grandsons Mack and Romie Notsie(?), 3 months; and son-in-law Ed Notsie(?), 25, farm laborer. The four oldest children were born in North Carolina.
Chas. Bynum, 24, married Earl Woods, 19, on 22 December 1908 in Lonoke County, Arkansas.
In 1918, Charlie Bynum registered for the World War I draft in Lonoke County, Arkansas. Per his registration card, he was born 16 January 1882; lived in Scott, Lonoke County; farmed for Edna Bynum; and his nearest relative was Earl Bynum.
In the 1920 census of Walls township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: farmer C.A. Binam, 37; wife Earl, 27; and cons Collie, 4, and Ollie, 23 months.
In the 1930 census of Walls township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: farmer Charley Bynum, 48; wife Earle, 38; and children Collie, 14, Ollie, 11, Nettie, 9, and Freddie, 3.
In the 1940 census of Walls township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: farmer Charlie A. Bynum, 55; wife Pearl, 50; and children Collie, 24, Ollie, 22, Freddie, 12, and Minnie, 8.
In 1942, Charley Augusta Bynum registered for the World War II draft in Lonoke County, Arkansas. Per his registration card, he was born 16 January 1885 in Saratoga, North Carolina; lived in Scott, Lonoke County, Arkansas; his contact was Earl Bynum; and was a self-employed farmer in Keo, Lonoke County.
Charles Bynum died 28 June 1969 in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 January 1882 in North Carolina to Lawrence Bynum and Edna [unknown]; was a retired farmer; lived at 904 G St., Dixie Addition; and was buried in Sullivan cemetery, Lonoke, Arkansas. Collie Bynum was informant.
I find myself with an unexpected day off, so what better way to kick off the real holiday than chopping it up with Zella Palmer about family, Black history, and Wide-Awake Wilson?
Zella is chair and director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture and renowned for her innovative work to preserve African-American food culture. Find out what she and I have in common — besides everything Black — this afternoon at 3:00 PM Eastern in our Instagram Live conversation @maisonzella!
George and Rachel Bynum Scarborough, perhaps around the time of their marriage in 1906.
Rachel Bynum Scarborough and her children, probably circa 1940s.
The Bynums were among the dozens of Wilson County families who migrated to Lonoke County, Arkansas, in the late 19th century.
On 30 January 1878, Lawrence Bynum, 23, married Edney Bynum, 16, in Wilson County. Lydia Bynum, James Ellis, and Millie Corbett were witnesses.
In the 1880 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: laborer Larence Bynum, 24; wife Edney, 19; children James, 1, and Mary J., 1 month; mother-in-law Liddie, 55; brother Isac, 22, and sister-in-law Anna, 17.
In the 1900 census of Richwoods township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: Lawrence Bynum, 55; wife Edna, 39; children Ed, 25, Mary, 19, Charlie, 17, Hattie, 16, Rachel, 9, Lewis, 6, Cora, 3, and Lawrence, 11 months; grandsons Mack and Romie Notsie(?), 3 months; and son-in-law Ed Notsie(?), 25, farm laborer. The four oldest children were born in North Carolina. [Next door: Haywood and Agness Armstrong, who also migrated from Wilson County.]
In the 1900 census of Richwoods township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: George Scarborough, 47; wife Millie, 37; and children Walter, 16, George, 15, Martin, 11, Charity, 8, Council, 8, Ava Mariah, 6, Jessie, 4, Fannie, 2, and Joseph, 11 months. The oldest four children were born in North Carolina. [The Scarboroughs were listed two households from the Bynums.]
On 26 November 1906, George Scarborough, 24, of Cobbs, Lonoke County, married Rachel Scarborough, 17, of Cobbs, Lonoke County, in Lonoke County, Arkansas.
George Orange Scarborough registered for the World War I draft in 1918 in Lonoke County. Per his registration card, he was born 25 January 1884; lived on Route 2, Scott township, Lonoke County; farmed for Smith Daniels; and his contact was Rachel Scarborough.
In the 1920 census of Walls township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: on Community Road, George Scarborough, 36; wife Rachel, 30; and children James, 11, Berthrie, 9. Other, 5, Elsie, 3, and Ugine, 21 months.
In the 1930 census of Richwoods township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: widowed farmer Rachel Scarborough, 40, and children James, 20, Arthur Lee, 12, Eugene, 10, Mable, 9, Maude, 7, Flora Bell, 5, George, 3, and Rosetta,
In the 1940 census of Richwoods township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: Jon Highway 31, ames Scarborough, 31; wife Louise, 18; mother Rachel, 51, widow; and siblings Eugene, 22, Mable T., 19, Modessa, 17, Flora Bell, 15, George Jr., 13, and Rosetta, 9.
Photos courtesy of Ancestry user LesBynum, who credits “Debra Jones’ personal collection.”
We did a little trip down to Cordele, Georgia, this weekend. Once there, I was a little hazy on the directions, but I spotted A.S. Clark Drive and knew we were good.
Augustus S. Clark was among the cohort of (mostly) young men who erupted from Wilson in the 1880s and ’90s,* determined to lead. Born in the final days of slavery, or just after, they drank in everything J.C. Price and Samuel H. Vick poured at Wilson Academy, went straight to university (often at Lincoln, their instructors’ alma mater), then set out, in Clark’s later words, to “… do what I can for the uplift of my people.”
Dr. Augustus S. Clark (1874-1959). (Photo courtesy of Frank T. Wilson, ed., “Living Witnesses: Black Presbyterians in Ministry II,” Journal of Presbyterian History, volume 53, number 3 (Fall 1985).)
For his part, in 1902 Clark founded, with his wife Annie, the Gillespie Normal School, later Gillespie-Selden Institute, in Cordele. In 1925, the institute added an hospital. (The closest Black medical facility was 142 miles away in Atlanta.) I’ve written of Gillespie-Selden here and finally went to see it.
Gillespie Institute Founded By Rev. and Mrs. Augustus Clark September 1, 1902 Served By Them Until October 1, 1941 Alumni 1942
The school complex forms the heart of Cordele’s Gillespie-Selden Historic District. Below, the school’s administration building, built in 1935.
The girls’ dormitory below, built in 1929, is the most imposing building in the neighborhood.
A rear addition has been largely torn down, and an open door grants access to the interior.
The building holds evidence of fairly recent use as a family resource and daycare center, as well as squatters. All things considered though, it is in pretty good condition.
This room runs the length of the back wall on the first floor.
At the front of the building, a series of small interconnected rooms flanks a central entry hall. I didn’t venture upstairs.
The cornerstone of the girls’ dormitory.
A marble plaque inlaid by the class of 1929.
The President’s House, also known as Dr. Clark’s house, which sits just to the west of the girls’ dormitory. The Clarks retired from active teaching and school leadership in 1941.
Below, Saint Paul Presbyterian, also founded by Rev. Clark. The tin-roofed section at right appears to be the original church, updated with brick.
Gillespie-Selden Institute closed in 1956 when Cordele finally erected a high school for African-American students. Named in honor of A.S. Clark, the school eventually converted to an elementary school, but closed in 2014. The building is now under development as a non-profit biomedical institute.
For more about Gillespie-Selden Historic District, see the Gillespie-Selden Historic District National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, which contains this passage:
“Within the Gillespie-Selden Historic District, the outreach missionary role of Dr. Augustus S. Clark (1874-1959) and St. Paul Presbyterian Church is significant to the development of the neighborhood. Dr. Clark completed his theological training at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1897; he was sent by the Presbyterian National Board of Missions to Cordele in 1898 as a missionary to help the struggling Portis Memorial Presbyterian Church. During that same year, a loan was secured from the Board of the Church Erection Fund of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church for the construction of a new church building to be named St. Paul Presbyterian Church.
“In 1902, Dr. Clark and his wife, Anna, realized that there were less than adequate educational institutions for African-Americans to attend in Cordele as well as the entire southwest region of the state. Dr. Clark taught elementary-level and Sunday-school classes in the basement of St. Paul Presbyterian Church, but found he needed more space. … By 1904, enough money had been donated by white members of northern Presbyterian churches, especially the Gillespie family of Pittsburgh, that three buildings of the school complex were constructed. …”
Just when I thought I could not be further surprised about Black Wilson came this glorious ad for Gordon’s Glory Hair Dressing Parlor.
Wilson Daily Times, 10 August 1920.
Yes, for a while, Wilson had its own entrant in the early 20th-century battle for Black hair care supremacy.
Before Wilson, Oscar Gordon was in Winston-Salem, N.C. It’s not clear when he developed his hair care formula or when he opened his laboratory, but in September 1916, there was this:
Twin-City Daily Sentinel, 12 September 1916.
Gordon registered for the World War I draft in Winston-Salem in 1917. His card notes that he was born 29 June 1888 in Kittrell Springs, N.C.; lived at 209 Fogle; was single; and worked as a self-employed laborer. Later that year, he placed this modest ad for for his Glory Hair grower.
Winston-Salem Journal, 27 October 1917.
By 1918, Gordon had relocated to Wilson and was placing ads in newspapers across the country touting his “course in hair dressing” (which included a certificate of qualification and a “hair dresser’s outfit” of tools and creams) and various products developed by “O.C. Gordon’s Laboratory” and for order from his manufacturing company at 512 East Nash Street.
The illustration shows the “Hair Dressers’ Oil Stoves for heating two combs.” Birmingham Reporter, 17 August 1918.
Gordon placed this testimonial ad close to home:
Gordon’s Glory in its tin box. Wilson Daily Times, 25 June 1919.
Gordon also placed an ad for a “lady bookkeeper”:
Wilson Daily Times, 3 October 1919.
The 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists O.C. Gordon Manufacturing Company, a maker of toilet preparations, at 512 East Nash Street. Oscar C. Gordon, its proprietor, lived at 521 East Nash.
By late 1920, Gordon had expanded his product line to include face powders (in “good brown,” pink and white) and hair pullers (“unnecessary to wrap rags around the handle” — something like a flat iron?)
Birmingham Reporter, 11 December 1920.
As first seen in 1917 in Winston-Salem advertising, a la Madam C.J. Walker, Gordon occasionally intensified his branding to include a photograph of himself in a tie and high detachable collar — and a magnificent head of flowing hair.
He has restored hair on thousands of bald heads. Wilson Daily Times, 1 July 1921.
In the 1922 directory, Gordon is listed as a hairdresser at 511 East Nash. His factory is not listed. The 1922 Sanborn map of Wilson shows a hairdresser at 513, and at 511 a presser, which generally meant a clothes presser. The site is now a parking lot.
1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C.
Soon after, Oscar Gordon took his talents to New York City, where he set up shop in Harlem at 267 West 144th Street.
“Use Gordon’s Glory Hair Grower for that bald spot and be convinced.” Wilson Daily Times, 21 January 1926.
He was still in business in 1930, advertising face bleach and black hair dye in addition to creams and combs. An ad placed in 1933 in the New York Age shows Gordon weathered the early years of the Great Depression.
Wilson Daily Times, 29 March 1930.
In 1942, Oscar Caroline Gordon registered for the World War II draft in New York City. Per his registration card, he was born 29 June 1888 in Kittrell Springs, N.C.; lived at 147 West 143rd Street, Apartment 1; his contact was Mrs. Brown at the same address; and he was a hairdresser with his own business at that location.
It’s not entirely clear, but it appears that Oscar C. Gordon died in New York City in 1983.
I’ve found much less about Gordon’s assistants. Madame Bell Malone left no trace in Wilson at all. Madame Alma Pouncey’s time there is also difficult to trace. An Alma Pouncey, 24, married Will Hemmingway in Wilson in 1915 (well before Gordon’s ad called her by her maiden name). Their marriage license provides no other personal details. Lucin Hemingway was born 31 August 1918 in Tanner Creek district, Norfolk County, Virginia, to Wm. Hemingway, 41, laborer, of South Carolina and Alma Pouncey, 20, laundress, of South Carolina. Alexander Dudley Hemingway was born (and died) 12 August 1919 in Bennettsville, Marlboro County, South Carolina, to William Hemingway of Richmond, Virginia, and Alma Pouncey of Marlboro County. In the 1920 census, Will and Alma Hemmingway and their son Will Jr. were working as farm laborers in Clio, Marlboro County, South Carolina. (Did the Hemingways move to Wilson later that year?) On an unknown date, Alma Holmes applied for a delayed birth certificate in Marlboro County, S.C. Per the application, she was born Alma Pouncey on 17 November 1900 in Bennettsville, S.C., to Lucien Pouncey and Ida Swinney, both now dead, and resided in New York City. Alma P. Holmes died 16 June 1952 in Bennettsville, S.C. Per her death certificate, she was about 52 years old; was born in Marlboro County, S.C., to Lucious Pouncey and Ida Swiney; was the widow of Roudalph Holmes; and worked as a seamstress. Ethel L. Grace was informant.