Wilson Times, 22 January 1938.
By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Times, 8 February 2019.
Shirley Pitt climbed up the steps of the old Farmers School and stepped into the past.
“My mother went here,” Pitt said. “This is our history.”
Farmers School was a two-room school north of Silver Lake in the Cliftonville community at the Wilson-Nash county line. It was one of 21 early 20th-century schools attended by members of the African-American community prior to integration.
Pitt, of Wilson, led a group of former students, children of students, neighbors and other interested people through the woods Jan. 29 to pay a visit to the school site.
Past rusty old farm implements, the group beat a new path through the woods to the building.
In the days before the visit, Pitt had gathered pictures of former students and placed them in a frame to display at the wooded pathway leading to the school.
Using hoes, men in the group chopped through years of overgrowth to clear a slender path on the cement steps leading up to the front doors.
Almost every pane in every window was broken out. Thick vines climbed up and around to a holey roof covered with years of leaves and pine straw.
Pitt organized a return to the two-room school to reconnect with an important part of Wilson County’s bygone days.
“I got on the phone and called cousins and the ones that had family here and friends that knew about Farmers School, and they all came out to celebrate today,” Pitt said.
FARMERS MILL COLORED SCHOOL
Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute and Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist and president of Sears and Roebuck, led an effort to build more than 5,000 schools across the South between 1917 and 1932 for the purpose of providing education facilities for the African-American population. According to the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, Farmers School was not one of the 15 Rosenwald schools to be built in Wilson County but might have benefited from some Rosenwald funds.
It isn’t clear when the Farmers Mill Colored School first opened, but county records show that John S. Thompson sold the land for the school to the Wilson County Board of Education for $1 on Oct. 16, 1926. That land was held by Wilson County until Nov. 19, 1951, when it was sold to Alfred Barker, then resold Dec. 17, 1951, to William Johnson, highest bidder in a public auction, for $1,550.
The Farmers Mill Colored School was part of an offering the Wilson County Board of Education made at public auction of 19 African-American schools including New Vester, Jones Hill, Sims, Calvin Level, Wilbanks, Howards, Brooks, Minshews, Ruffin, Lofton, Lucama, Rocky Branch, Williamson, Bynums, Saratoga, Yelverton, Stantonsburg and Evansdale.
The property’s current owner is Cary resident Mary Lynn Thompson Whitley.
TWO TEACHERS, TWO ROOMS
Farmers School was a two-room structure with first- through third-graders taught in one room and fourth- through seventh-graders taught in the other.
Raymond Lucas, 77, of Wilson, went to the school in 1947. Lucas grew up to become the first black deputy in the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked for more than 30 years.
“We had an old wood stove that they heated with,” Lucas said. “We lived right across the street from the school. When I was there I could get to school in about five minutes.”
Lucas remembers being one of about 15 or 20 students who attended the school at the time.
“It was real nice when we went there. Mostly everybody in the neighborhood went,” Lucas said. “It brings back a lot of memories and everything there at that school. I was really young at that time.
“A nurse would come there, one of the county nurses, Mable Ellis, and when everybody would see her coming, they would know she was coming to give a shot.”
Rhonnie Mae Arrington Jackson, 87, speaking by phone from her home in San Antonio, Texas, remembers that her room in the school didn’t have desks.
“We had a long table with some on one side and some on the other and some on the end,” Jackson said. “We didn’t have chairs. We had a long bench, and you stepped across the bench and sat down at the table.
Thelma Dorris Winstead Hall of Snow Hill and Annie Morris Winstead Woodard of Rocky Mount were twins born June 6, 1944. They went to Farmers School as 6-year-olds. They learned their ABCs, how to spell their names, how to color pictures and how to play with others.
“We learned how to give respect, manners and to love, be friendly and have friends,” Woodard said. “We couldn’t answer older people with, ‘What?’ It was ‘Yes ma’am.’ ‘No ma’am.’ ‘Sir.’ ‘Yes sir.’ ‘No sir.’ We had to be respectful to older people and use good manners.”
TIME ON THE PLAYGROUND
Jackson and her little sister, Sadie Arrington Sessoms, 85, remember all the students gathering together to wrap the maypole.
“We would have a pole standing up, and we would have some ribbons from the top of the pole coming down to reach where the children were. And there were different color ribbons, and we would walk around that pole and go under one and come out, and the other one would go under us, and we did that all the way down the pole, which made a very beautiful pole,” Sessoms said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Hall and Woodard remember that after a lesson, the children would use a little stage on one side of a classroom for skits, plays and tap dances.
As soon as the twins got into the school on the recent visit, the first place they went was up two steps onto a stage.
“We just had fun back here, and we learned,” Woodard said.
“Then we would go out in the yard and wrap the maypole. A lot of children don’t even know what that is now,” Woodard said. “We had an old pump out there. If we got thirsty, we would go down there and crank up that old pump and drink some cold water and go back to playing.”
PATHS THROUGH THE WOODS
An aerial photograph from 1936 supplied by Will Corbett, GIS coordinator for Wilson County, shows a myriad of paths in the woods leading to the school from the west and north. A large clearing adjacent to the building suggests much activity around the school.
Modern photographs enhanced by light detection and ranging, or LiDAR, technology, clearly show the walking paths and driveways leading to the school and through the adjacent cemetery.
Woodard and Hall said Farmers School had no school bus. The sisters walked with the older students to and from school every school day through a path, a shortcut through the woods that came through the cemetery. Jackson recalls the children walking through the woods eating the berries, the orange fruit of the persimmon tree and the pulp from dangling pods of the locust tree.
“I don’t know if we carried lunch to school or not,” Jackson said. “We would be real hungry and we had to go by a locust tree, and we would pull the locusts off of the tree and eat them. It was a little path where we walked going to school. They were almost like a long corn stalk. They were purple. You would pull them off the tree and break them open and eat what was inside. A lot of times that was all we had to eat, so the locusts were just like we were eating food.”
“All I know is the long walk we walked going to school,” Sessoms recalled last week. “I do remember walking around the edge of somebody’s field.”
The school had no cafeteria.
“Memories, memories, memories,” Hall said. “We had to take our lunch in a brown paper bag every day. Our friends carried sweet potatoes and fatback biscuit, peanut butter and crackers and whatever Mother fixed for us.”
Lucas said the school was named for the Farmer family members who lived in the area.
Sessoms and Jackson came from a family with 14 children.
“My daddy moved every year. All my daddy acted like he knew was farming,” Sessoms said. “As we got old enough to work, he had each one of us working in tobacco.”
The sisters said when they went into the school last week, it was as exciting as the first day they started at Farmers School in 1950.
“It is a wonderful, exciting feeling for me to even come back here where I started at school,” Woodard said. “It’s an excitement for me to be here just with the ones that are here, and I know it will be an excitement for me to see a lot of them I haven’t seen in years and years.”
There are many Farmers buried in a cemetery a short walk north of the school.
“I have a lot of relatives that are there now — grandmother, grandfather, cousins and all buried over there,” Raymond Lucas said. “It is a family grave spot.”
Paul Lucas, a New Jersey resident, drove down to take the tour of the school his family members attended.
“My brother did. My dad did. My brothers was in the last class,” Paul Lucas said. “We lived on the farm here, the Thompson farm here.” He also came to North Carolina to see the grave of his father, William Hulen Lucas. Pitt led Lucas to his father’s resting place near the school.
Jimmie Arrington of Wilson said it was an adventure seeing the school again.
“The last time I was over here was when we had a funeral,” said Arrington. “I don’t know how long it has been. It is nice to get back to where everything was started out and see what’s going on now with it. It would be nice if we could have it cleaned up and possibly do something to the school so it could be in better shape for other people to see it in the future.”
Robert Vick of the New Hope community agreed.
“I remember this school being here. When I saw someone had posted something on Facebook about coming to the school, I knew Shirley and all of the Arrington family and several of these folks. I knew their grandparents and all growing up in the community. It is interesting to see someone taking an interest in it. This ought to be preserved because it is a part of the history of this area.”
Pitt said she is planning a large reunion at the school in April.
Photo of Farmer’s School by Drew C. Wilson, courtesy of Wilson Times. For additional photos of the school, please visit Wilson’s article via the link above.
Wilson Times, 11 February 1919.
Messenger “boy” Dempsey Lassiter was in fact more than 40 years old in 1919.
Wilson Daily Times, 5 November 1941.
Colored patrons of the “white” Drake Theatre were seated in the balcony only.
Color was a monthly entertainment news magazine targeted to an African-American audience. Wilson Daily Times, 6 April 1946.
Wilson Daily Times, 8 March 1949.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Gay Street, plumbing shop laborer Cooper Bynum, 47; wife Annie, 33; and children Ruth, 12, house servant, Joe, 9, Curley, 8, Lucy, 5, Phebia, 3, and Floyd, 9 months.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 511 Narroway, widow Annie Bynum, 47, and children Ruth, 23, Joseph, 17, Curley C., 16, Feedy, 14, Lucy, 15, and Lizzie M., 7.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 East Street, rented for $20/month, widow Annie Bynum, 48, cook; children Joseph, 21, grocery store delivery boy, Curley, plumber, 20, Lucy, 19, cook, Feba, 18, cook, and Lizzie, 16; and granddaughter Annie, 4.
Lizzie Bynum died 16 April 1932 of pulmonary tuberculosis. Per her death certificate, she was born about 1909 to Cooper and Emma Woodard Bynum, both born in Edgecombe County; was a student; and the family resided at 208 North East Street. Curley Bynum was informant.
On 25 January 1933, Curley Bynum, 22, son of Cooper and Wen Ann Bynum, married Pearl Emanuel, 20, daughter of M.P. and Pattie Emanuel, in Wilson.
In , Curley Bynum registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was 25 December 1902 in Wilson; resided at 109 North East Street; his contact was Febie Bynum, 109 North East; and he worked as a plumbers helper for Mr. Singletary, Gov. Camp, Holiridge [Holly Ridge], N.C.
Pearl Bynum died 21 November 1949 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 May 1910 in South Carolina to Pertis and Pattie Emanuel; was married; lived at 102 North Pender; and worked as a domestic and clerk. Informant was Curly Bynum.
On 27 June 1955, Curley Bynum, 54, of 511 East Green Street, son of Cooper Bynum and Annie Woodard Bynum, married Martha Dawes, 48, of 508 Smith Street, daughter of Arthur Grooms and Minnie Skeeters Grooms, in Wilson.
Curly Bynum died 9 January 1965 in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 December 1901 in Wilson County to Cooper Bynum and Annie Woodard; lived at 810 East Vance Street; and had worked as a laborer.
In an interview in February 2019, Samuel C. Lathan, who grew up in the 500 block of East Nash Street, recalled that Curley Bynum’s shoeshine parlor had twenty “legs,” i.e. ten stands. In the 1930s, seven or eight boys worked for Bynum, charging 15 cents a shine. The boys turned over their earnings to Pearl Bynum, who issued them a ticket for each shine. On Saturday evening, they cashed out, taking home seven cents for each ticket.
Wilson Daily Times, 22 July 1960.
For at least 15 years, Mary Jane Bynum Lassiter placed an annual ad in the Daily Times to commemorate her husband Dempsey Lassiter‘s life.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: lumber sawyer Charley Bynum, 41; wife Julia Ann, 43; and children Calvin, 21, Mary Jane, 18, Ameta, 16, Annie, 13, John C., 9, and Abraham, 1.
Dempsy Lester, 38, of Wilson, son of Green and Mary Lester, and Mary Jane Bynum, 28, of Wilson, daughter of Charlie and Julie Bynum. Primitive Baptist minister Jonah Williams performed the ceremony on 2 October 1912 at the bride’s residence. Witnesses were A.R. Phillips, Roscoe Barnes, and C.L. Coppedge.
Rufus Lassiter died 10 October 1914 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 11 July 1913 in Wilson to Dempsey Lassiter and Mary J. Bynum.
In 1918, Dempsey Lassiter registered for the World War I draft. Per his registration card, he lived at 103 East Street; was born 28 October 1874; was a blacksmith for Hackney Wagon Company; and his nearest relative was Mary Jane Lassiter.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on East Street, wagon factory laborer Dempsey Lassiter, 35, and wife Mary, 25.
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Lassiter Dempsey (c: Mary J) farmer h 106 S East
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 106 East Street, owned and valued at $1250, Dempsey Lassiter, 55, wife Mary J., 44; nephew Charles Bynum, 16; and nieces Katie Powell, 10, and Willie M. Leonard, 6.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm laborer Dempsey Lassiter, 65; county school teacher Mary, 55; and widowed sister-in-law Carrie Bynum, 30, a housekeeper.
Dempsey Lassiter died 16 July 1946 at his home at 106 South East Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he he was married; was 68 years old; was born in Wilson County to Green Lassiter and Mary Powell; was a farmer; and his informant was Mary J. Lassiter. He was buried in Rountree cemetery.
Mary Jane Lassiter died 21 August 1966 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 84 years old; was born in Wilson County to Charles Bynum and Julia Ann Davis; was a school teacher; and was a widow. James Bynum was informant.
An anonymous patron placed an ad requesting that the person who picked up his Hart Shaffner & Marx overcoat at Walter Hines‘ barber shop return it.
Wilson Daily Times, 24 January 1922.
In late fall of 1948, Dr. Julian Brown Rosemond, a South Carolina native, announced the opening of dental office at 527 1/2 East Nash Street, above Isaac and Kenneth Shade‘s pharmacy. He later built a small office building at 548 East Nash.
Wilson Daily Times, 3 November 1948.
Dr. Rosemond during his World War II service, a few years before arriving in Wilson.
Photo courtesy of Maria Rosemond Logan.