James H. Adams of Gary, Indiana (by way of Wilson and Mississippi).

Most African-American migrants to the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, came from the Middle and Deep South. James H. Adams was born in Wilson County, but his family migrated to Mississippi in the 1890s. More than 20 years later, he joined the Great Migration stream north.


On 4 January 1880, Arnley Adams, 23, married Sarah Atkinson, 18, at Handy Atkinson‘s in Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Arnol Adams, 24, and wife Sarho, 18. [Next door: Arnold Adamswidowed mother and siblings, farmer Spicy Adams, 39, and children Frank, 19, Carline, 15,  James, 12, Calvin, 8, Albert, 6, and Dora, 1.

In the 1900 census of Beat #3, Coahoma County, Mississippi: farmer Arnold Adams, 42, and children James, 21, Bettie, 16, John, 13, and Rosa, 7. All were born in North Carolina except Rosa.

In the 1910 census of Beat #3, Bolivar County, Mississippi: farmer Arnold Adams, 54, and sons James, 30, and John, 22. All were described as widowers.

In 1918, James Adams registered for the World War I draft in Bolivar County, Mississippi. Per his registration card, he was born 15 September 1876; lived in Boyle, Bolivar County; was a farmer; and his nearest relative was Ida Adams.

In the 1930 census of Gary, Lake County, Indiana: at 2201 Madison, steel plant laborer James Adams, 48, born in N.C.; wife Ida, 46, born in Mississippi; and grandchildren Ida, 12, born in Mississippi, and Raymond, 5, born in Indiana.

In the 1940 census of Gary, Lake County, Indiana: on West 22nd Avenue, steel mill laborer James Adams, 59, born in N.C.; wife Ida, 46, born in Mississippi; and grandson Raymond, 15, born in Indiana.

In 1942, James Henry Adams registered for the World War II draft in Gary, Indiana. Per his registration card, he was born 15 September 1881 in Wilson, North Carolina; lived at 320 West 22nd Avenue; his contact was John Mason; and he worked for C.I.S. Mill, Gary.

James H. Adams died 18 April 1953 in Gary, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 September 1881 in North Carolina to Arnold Adams and Sarah Atkinson; was a widower; lived at 320 West 22nd Avenue; and was retired. [Sister] Rosie Bentley of Chicago was informant.

The death of Julius Finch of Whitaker, Pennsylvania.

In the 1940 census of Whitaker township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: Julius Finch, 34, W.P.A. worker, born in North Carolina, and wife Emily, 28, born in Georgia.

In 1942, Julius Finch registered for the World War II draft in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Per his registration card, he was born in Wilson, North Carolina; his contact was Emily Finch; and he worked for the Eighth Street Foundry in Braddock, Pennsylvania.

In the 1950 census of Whitaker, Allegheny township, Pennsylvania: at 1214 River Road, upstairs, Julius Finch, 55, supplyman at electrical appliance manufacturer, and wife Emily C., 39.

Pittsburgh Press, 10 December 1974.

Per his application for military headstone, Julius Finch was buried in Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was born in 1895 and died in 1974 and served as a private in the United States Army during World War I.

How the Hendersons came to Wilson.

My paternal grandmother’s family arrived in Wilson circa 1905 from southern Wayne County, North Carolina. Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs came first, and Sarah’s teenaged nephew Jesse “Jack” Henderson arrived a few years later. My grandmother Hattie Mae Henderson was born in Dudley in June 1910. In six months or so, her 19 year-old mother Bessie Henderson was dead.

Said my grandmother:

“I thought of many times I wondered what my mama looked like. Bessie. And how old was she, or whatever. Looked at Jack, and I said, they say he was 17 years old when he come to Wilson. From down there in Dudley, down there in Wayne County.

“My mama was helping Grandpa, Grandpa Lewis [Henderson.]  The pig got out of the pasture and, instead of going all the way down to where the gate opened, she run him back in there, to try to coax him in there. They picked him up. They picked him up and put him over the fence. And when they picked him up, and put him over the fence, she had the heavy part, I reckon, or something, and she felt a pain, a sharp pain, and so then she started spitting blood. Down in the country, they ain’t had no doctor or nothing, they just thought she was gon be all right. And I don’t think they even took her to the doctor. Well, she would have had to go to Goldsboro or Mount Olive, one, and doctors was scarce at that time, too, even if it was where you had to go a long ways to get them. Or go to a hospital and stay. And so she died. She didn’t never get over it. You never know what you’ll come to.

“But I don’t remember ever staying down there. ‘Cause they brought me up to Wilson to live with Mama and Papa [Sarah and Jesse Jacobs]. I stayed with them after Bessie died. I don’t remember Bessie. But my sister Mamie says she remembers her.”

At left, the only known photograph of Bessie Henderson (1891-1911). At right, a colorized version, which highlights surprising details of the backdrop. Does anyone recognize these trees and white ducks from an early twentieth-century Goldsboro or Mount Olive photography studio?

Adapted from interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1996 and 1998, all rights reserved; photo in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

The homegoing of William G. Bynum.

Like many in eastern North Carolina, William G. Bynum migrated to Tidewater Virginia. At the time of his death in 1984, none of his closest relatives remained in Wilson County.


In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Isaac Bynum, 36; wife Dorsey, 36; and children Martha, 17, Mammie, 16, Daisy, 15, Hagar, 13, Mary, 11, William, 8, Essie M., 6, Hula G., 4, and Mavis G., 1.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm operator Isaac Bynum, 48; wife Dossie Ann, 45; children William G., 17, Essie Mae, 16, Hulla Gray, 14, and Mavis Greer, 11; and grandsons Ernest Burner Farmer, 5, and Dorsey E. Blackstone, 3.

In 1942, William Bynum registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 17 November 1921 in Wilson County; resided at Route 2, Elm City; his nearest relative was mother Dorsey Bynum; and he worked for John L. Bailey, Elm City.

On 10 October 1950, William Bynum, 28, barber, born in Wilson County, N.C., to Isaac Bynum and Dorsey Farmer, married Leila Ruth Reavis, 26, born in Brunswick County, Virginia, to George Reavis and Carrie Green, in Newport News, Virginia.

William G. Bynum died 30 January 1930 in Hampton, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 November 1921 in North Carolina to James Isaac Bynum and Dorsie Farmer; was a retired barber; and was married to Lelia Ruth Bynum.

Funeral program courtesy of Levolyre Farmer Pitt from the collection of her mother Savannah Powell Farmer.

The resting place of the Prince A. Aldridge family.

We’ve met Prince Albert Aldridge here, He was a native of Fremont, in northern Wayne County, and was buried in Fremont’s African American cemetery.

This unusual gray granite triple headstone marks the graves of Aldridge, his wife Annie Aldridge, and her mother Bettie Edmundson Baker.  At the foot, another narrow block inscribed with first initials — P. A. B.

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Ann E. Aldridge, 60, tobacco factory feeding machine; husband Prince A., 63; and mother Betty Baker, 78.

Prince Albert Aldridge died 15 May 1953 at his home at 303 North Reid Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 11 January 1902 in Wayne County to George Aldridge and Dora Green; was married to Annie Aldridge; and worked as a plasterer. Oddly, his place of burial is listed as “family cemetery” in Wilson County.

Bettie Baker died 29 April 1960 at her home at 1313 Atlantic Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 June 1889 in Greene County, N.C., to Jack Edmundson and Rena Sauls and was a widow. She was buried in Fremont Cemetery, Wayne County. Annie Aldridge was informant. 

Annie Edmondson Aldridge died 27 February 1981 in Goldsboro, Wayne County. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 July 1888 to Bettie Edmondson; was widowed; worked as a laborer; and lived in Kinston, Lenoir County, N.C.

It is likely that Annie Aldridge purchased this set of grave markers from Clarence B. Best after her husband and mother died, and no relative stepped forward after her death to get the headstone updated. 

Look at the little town of Fremont putting everybody to shame in its care of its historically African-American cemetery. (Its historically white cemetery is Elmwood, which is in town. Fremont Cemetery lies down Highway 222, across Interstate 795 from the town proper.) There are likely more Wilson County residents here; I’ll check.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2023.

Dr. Ward pays a visit.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 21 July 1931.

I found this odd article while searching for a digital version of the article re Rev. J.P. Stanley’s funeral. It purports to highlight Col. Joseph H. Ward, but mangles the facts of his life — starting with his name, which was not John D.

As a reminder, Joseph H. Ward’s mother, Mittie R. Ward, was the daughter of Dr. David G.W. Ward and Sarah Ward, an enslaved woman. So, Mittie was born enslaved, but her son Joseph, was not born until 1872, decidedly was not. And he didn’t “take” his own name, it was given to him by his mother at birth. Misinformation aside, what caught my eye here was Dr. Ward’s visit to his half-uncle, Judge David L. Ward — who was an unvarnished white supremacist in the mold of Josephus Daniels, Charles B. Aycock, and Furnifold M. Simmons.

Exodus to Mississippi.

A lesser studied migration took African-American farm families from North Carolina to Mississippi in the last decade of the nineteenth century. A recent post about Sharpsburg Cemetery evoked a reader response that revealed one such family. Robert Cooper, his wife, and children set out for the Delta around 1890, settling in Sunflower County, about 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee (and home of Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Pop Staples.)


In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Samuel Cooper, 40, farm laborer, and children Trecy, 23, Jordan, 18, Nancy, 17, Robert, 8, Silas, 7, Ellis, 4, and Robbin, 3.

In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: farmer Sam Cooper, 51; wife Frona, 40; and children Robert, 20, Silas, 19, Robin, 13, Polly, 8, Amey, 7, and Tempey, 3.

On 10 November 1885, Robert Cooper, 24, married Rutha Ann Lassiter, 18, at Silas Lassiter‘s, Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: day laborer Robert Cooper, age unknown, widower; children S.P., 11,  and David B. Hill Cooper, 7; and “part” [partner?] Richard Dodd, 36, and Lizzie Reed, age unknown. Robert and S.P. were born in North Carolina; David in Mississippi.

In the 1910 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer Robert Cooper, 44, widower, and sons S.P., 20, and Robert, 17.

Jordan Cooper died 21 November 1914 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was about 60 years old; was the son of Sam Cooper and Fronie [no maiden name given]; was a widower; and a tenant farmer. He was buried in Sharpsburg Cemetery, and Josh Armstrong was informant.

Robert Cooper registered for the World War I in Sunflower County, Mississippi, in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born in November 1874; lived in Lombardy, Sunflower County; farmed for W.L. May; and his nearest relative was Della Cooper.

In the 1920 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer S.P. Cooper, 30, widower.

Silas Cooper died 11 September 1920 in [illegible], Halifax County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was 60 years old; was born in Elm City to Sam Cooper and Frony Jones; was a farmer; and was buried in Enfield, N.C.

Nancy Lucas died 6 February 1922 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 65 years old; was the daughter of Samuel and Flona Cooper; was the widow of Offie Lucas; and was buried in Elm City. George Cooper was informant.

Ammie Winstead died 17 October 1928 in Coopers township, Nash County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was 55 years old; was born in Nash County to Samuel Cooper and Froanie Coley; was married; and worked as a farmer. Samuel Winstead was informant.

In the 1930 census of Bolivar County, Mississippi: farmer Samuel P. Cooper, 40; wife Savanna, 26; children Arthur, 7, T.K., 6, Willie, 4, and Cornelius, 1; and stepdaughter Callie Cay, 9.

In the 1930 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer David Cooper, 36; wife Genora, 20; children Percy, 6, and Willie M., 3; and mother-in-law Mary Williams, 47, widow.

In the 1940 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer Dave Cooper, 40; wife Genora, 31; Mary Williams, 50; and stepson Percy J. Stewart, 15.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

Lane Street Project: Johnston County reclaims its past.

This past weekend, Johnston County Heritage Center and Johnston County Heritage Commission put on a fantastic series of events focused on preserving the county’s African-American history and culture. Beth Nevarez, founder and principal of Beth Nevarez Historical Consulting, took notes for those of us who couldn’t be there:

“This past weekend I sponsored & attended @johnstoncountyheritage’s event: Reclaiming the Black Past: An Artifactual Journey. The event highlighted the importance of preserving spaces/places, artifacts and songs & stories that relate to African American history.
Friday evening we had a campfire conversation at the Boyette Slave House led by Joseph McGill of the @slavedwellingproject. Our gathering of about 25 discussed everything from those who lived in the Boyette Slave House & family history to issues of book bans and curriculums in schools today. We reflected on the importance of bringing awareness to the built environment that stands as a primary source of slavery’s past, as well as the importance of learning about that past in the present. Many thanks to Joseph McGill for leading this conversation & to the Stancil family who owns the property the Boyette Slave House sits on for hosting us.

“Saturday’s program included hearing more from Joe McGill on how he started the Slave Dwelling Project and the many ways in which it has evolved over the years. He spoke of the myths he works against including that slavery was only a southern institution.

“Then we heard from @philip_j_merrill of @nanny_jack_and_co about the importance and power of physical artifacts to preserve and share Black history. He brought along a number of interesting artifacts and spoke about ‘peeling back the onion layers’ of meaning and the many different ways artifacts, even some you wouldn’t expect, can be used to talk about Black history.

“We also heard both songs and history from @maryd.w who sang spirituals throughout her powerful presentation about the historical context of these songs and how they were used by enslaved people and later in the civil rights movement with coded messages hidden in their lyrics. These songs were passed down orally rather than in writing and contained messages of freedom and resistance.

“We concluded the day with a visit to the Sanders-Smith cemetery where descendants spoke the names of their ancestors buried there.”

WRAL News covered the gathering at Sanders-Smith Cemetery:

“Why is a cemetery hidden [in] a wooded stretch of land running alongside the highway – and directly adjacent to a modern day parking lot for the Johnston County Agricultural Center?

“According to [Todd] Johnson[, Executive Director for Johnston County Heritage Center], the land was all once part of the Sanders plantation.

“‘Ashley Sanders owned this land, which was roughly a 1,500 acre plantation,’ said Johnson. ‘His father was one of the largest landowners, who owned probably around 10,000 acres total. He left plots of land to his children.'”

“After the families enslaved here were emancipated after the Civil War, one of the men that had been enslaved on the property bought 25 acres of the plantation — including the cemetery.

“‘His name was Adam Sanders,’ said Johnson.

“By purchasing the cemetery land, Adam Sanders helped preserve the burial ground for future generations of his family – and help protect those who were already interred there.

“‘His parents were likely buried here,’ said Johnson.”

Many descendants of those enslaved by Ashley Sanders and family later migrated into Wilson County, such as Rodger Creech Jr., who attended Saturday’s observance at the cemetery. Future posts in Black Wide-Awake will attempt to make some of these connections.

Kudos to Johnston County for recognizing the importance of African-American history outside of Black History Month, for bringing Joseph McGill’s groundbreaking work to eastern North Carolina, and for recognizing Sanders-Smith Cemetery as an historic sacred space.

The beautiful, yet impressive, wedding of Lucile Dawson and Dr. Simon F. Frazier.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 December 1919.

  • Lucille P. Dawson Frazier

On 1 November 1882, A.D. Dawson, 25, of Wilson, son of Robert and Rachel Dawson, married Lucy Gatlin, 24, of Wilson County, daughter of Joseph and Sally Hill, at Gatlin’s residence in Wilson County. Methodist minister P.M. Hilliard performed the ceremony in the presence of Sam Collins, Lewis Battle, and Martha Tyson.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: dealer in fish Edd [Alexander D.] Dawson, 40; wife Lucy, 40, dressmaking; and children Mattie, 14, Virginia, 9, Lucy, 8, Edd, 5, Clarence, 3, and Augusta, 1.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: restaurant cook Alexander Dawson, 50; wife Lucy, 49; and children Sophie,  25, school teacher, Mattie, 23, stenographer, Virginia, 19, school teacher, Lucile, 17, Alexander, 15, Clarence, 13, Augusta, 11, and Arlander, 1.

On 10 December 1919, Simon Frazier, 24, of Georgia, married Lucille P. Dawson, 24, of Wilson, in Wilson.

In the 1920 census of Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia: medical doctor Simon F. Frazier, 30; wife Lucile, 24; and lodger Martha Daniels, 39, public school teacher.

In the 1930 census of Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia: at 222 East Park Avenue, physician Simon F. Frazier, 40; wife Lucille P., 33; and children Muriel E., 9, Ouida, 6, and Wahwee A., 3 months.

In the 1940 census of Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia: at 222 Park Avenue East, physician Samuel Frazier, 50; wife Lucille, 47; and daughters Muriel, 19, Ouida, 16, and Wahwee, 13.

In the 1950 census of Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia: at 222 Park Avenue, physician S.F. Frazier, 56, and wife Lucille D., 54.

Macon News, 15 May 1952.

Charles J. Elmore, Black America Series: Savannah Georgia (2001).

See this Coastal Courier article about the demolition of the small house Dr. Frazier built to house his rural medical practice. Dr. Frazier had deep roots in Georgia’s Sea Islands and was born in 1890 in the Gullah-Geechee community of Freedmen’s Grove, near present-day Midway, Georgia.


  • Calvary’s Presbyterian Church — Calvary Presbyterian.
  • Almira Frazier
  • Virginia Dawson
  • Clarence C. Dawson — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Clarence Dawson, 23, barber; wife Elizabeth, 22; and daughter Eris, 2; widower father-in-law Charley Thomas, 59; brother-in-law Clifton Venters, 24, his wife Hattie, 20; and in-laws Elton, 29, Marie, 15, Sarah, 10, and Beatrice Thomas, 8.
  • Dr. Cassell
  • Dr. C.C. Dillard — Clarence Dillard.
  • Mrs. Frazier
  • Olivia Peacock — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: post office clerk Livia H. Peacock, 60; wife Annie, 31; children Olvia, 23, Annie L., 21, Livia H. Jr.; Sudie 14, Rubie, 12, Vivian, 9, Bennie, 5, and John, 3; boarders Mary S. Roberson, 32, and Mary Brodie, 20; plus widow Susan Byatt, 62.
  • Eva Speight
  • Arlando Dawson — in 1918, Arlando Richard Dawson registered for the World War I in New York, New York. Per his registration card, he was born 26 August 1900; lived at 121 Pender Street, Wilson; was employed as a waiter at Girard Hotel, 44th Street, New York City; and his nearest relative was A.D. Dawson.
  • Esther Bowser — Astor Bowser?
  • Delores Hines — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 614 East Green, barber William Hines, 35, wife Ethel, 25, and children Delores, 4, and William, 2.
  • Bettie Silver Taylor
  • Mary Jane Tate — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 Pender, barber Noah Tate, 42; wife Hattie, 34; boarder Mary Jennings, 28, a public school teacher; and children Helen, 13, Mary Jane, 8, Andrew, 11, and Noah Jr., 3.
  • Inez Tate — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 610 Green Street, Hardey Tate, 50, brickmason; wife Annie, 40; children Inez, 8, and Daisy, 6; and lodgers Rome Bagley, 44, and John Boykin, 28.
  • Dr. and Mrs. F.S. Hargrave — Frank S. Hargrave and Bessie Parker Hargrave.

Will trade land for young Negroes.

Tarboro Free Press, 2 August 1831.

In 1831, William Knight prepared to join the exodus of white farmers from the tired soil of North Carolina to the newly opened lands of the Deep South. He offered his 800-acre plantation on White Oak, in what is now eastern Wilson County, for sale for cash, credit, or “young Negroes.”