Oral History

Memories of William Hines.

I wrote here of the memoir of long-time Darden High School principal Edward M. Barnes. At the time, I believed the pink booklet to be a one-off tribute published by Darden High School Alumni Association. However, on a recent visit to Sallie B. Howard School, I was introduced to an entire library of these works spanning multiple literary genres — written, edited, and published in the 1980s and ’90s by Mrs. Howard for use in the Youth Enrichment Program.

I was particularly interested in this booklet, and Dr. JoAnne Woodard generously offered me a copy. William Hines seems scarcely remembered now, but was for nearly three-quarters of the twentieth century arguably Wilson’s most civically engaged African-American citizen.

The booklet is organized in a series of Mrs. Howard’s recollections. William Hines was her family’s landlord, and her earliest memories involve the house at 1011 Washington Street.

“… [W]hen we moved into his tenant house in 1935 or ’36, it was the first house we had ever lived in with electricity and an ‘inside’ toilet! We felt extremely fortunate as many of Wilson’s tenant houses did not have such accommodations.”

“How well I remember this neat little four-room house …. It sat so near the sidewalk there was hardly room to frow flowers in the front. In fact, the front porch steps were practically on the sidewalk itself! This, however, was not unusual as many houses were similarly situated during that time. I suppose the rationale of the builders was to leave room in the back so that the residents could plant gardens if they so desired. And in those lean days — nearly everyone desired!”  

“Mr. Hines owned many houses all over Wilson. He also owned his own barber shop where he employed as many as 12 barbers. The house we lived in sat right across the street from others who also owned their own homes. I remember my mother being highly impressed by the green striped awnings of some of these homeowner neighbors. Each summer they would lower these pretty awnings in order to shade their front porches. …”

“I also remember Mr. Hines as one of the donors of cash awards to students who excelled in various subjects at Darden High. Money was hard to come by in those days, and I for one worked hard to capture one of these cash prizes.”

“About 1942, I was a patient at Mercy Hospital on E. Green St. It was said that Mr. Hines was one of the persons who secured the funds from the Duke Endowment for the operations of this hospital. He was the Administrator at the time I was a patient. Practically every morning he would come into the war and say a little something to the patients.”

” … my high school days were filled with priceless memories: the parties, the basketball games held in heatless warehouses (I don’t remember feeling cold!); the football games played in the snow and slush in back of Darden High (I don’t remember feeling cold!); the Junior-Senior proms held on the 3rd floor of the old Vick casino (walk up!); the many concerts and dramas given by our school etc. …”

“Mr. Hines was one of the founders of the Men’s Civic Club. And it was this distinguished group of men who finally succeeded in getting a recreational facility for our community. Today, this facility is known as the Reid Street Center. Now the Black Community had a brand new place in which to house their various activities. How well I remember the Big Bands that played in our new facility. …”

William and Ethel Cornwell Hines in photo reproduced from booklet.

The life of William S. Hagans.

Back in February, I sat down (virtually) with Tyler Mink, Historic Interpreter at Wayne County, North Carolina’s Governor Charles B. Aycock Birthplace State Historic Site, to talk about William S. Hagans, an Aycock contemporary. William S. Hagans was not a Wilson County native, but his mother Apsilla Ward Hagans was, and he grew up on a farm on Aycock Swamp just below the Wayne-Wilson county line. I have published here a series of transcripts of testimony about a land dispute that directly involved Hagans and pulled in as witnesses several men with Wilson County links.

William S. Hagans, his brother Henry E. Hagans, and their father Napoleon Hagans were contemporaries of Daniel Vick, William H. Vick, and Samuel H. Vick and other African-American Wilsonians in late nineteenth-century Republican politics, and I share this video to illuminate the world in which they all lived.

The death of Blount Baker, supercentenarian.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 March 1941.

——

In the late 1930s, Blount Baker sat for an interview with a W.P.A. worker in which he spoke of his life in slavery. Baker was one of the last people in Wilson County who had been enslaved.

In the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Lee Woodard, 31; wife Mamie, 32; children Ella M., 10, David L., 7, James T., 5, Doris, 3, and Robert N., 1 month; mother Ella, 68, widow; Ester Barnes, 40, widow; uncle Blunt Baker, 109, widower; and nephew James R. Farmer, 21.

Blunt Baker died 3 March 1941 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 107 years old; was born in Wilson County to Anyka Baker; was a widower; was a retired farmer; resided near Lucama; and was buried in Eatmon cemetery, Wilson County. Informant was Dock Eatmon, Sims.

Home sweet homeland.

I’m very conscious that the Wilson that I regard as home is not really a place that exists any more. It’s an idea. It’s maybe even an idealization. And I have to be careful not to romanticize what Wilson is, or even what Wilson was. My name is Lisa Y. Henderson. As much as Wilson is home for me, I’ve wondered if I could live here now. But I feel really incredibly fortunate to have grown up when and where I did. My closest community had a little core of first-generation, middle-class, college-educated African-Americans. My parents’ generation. And they came together in this town in the early 1960’s, in an era when there was obviously a lot of promise for change for Black people. But that promise mostly was being realized on a remote level, on a national level, and I grew up in a very, very segregated Wilson. I was too young to understand segregation. I was shielded from it, and I certainly never thought of myself in any as inferior to white people. We were conscious of white people, but they weren’t really part of our world. That didn’t change much even when I attended integrated schools. These past six or seven years, I’ve been coming home to give a couple of talks in February. Black History Month. And as a result of those talks, people have sought me out to learn more. I appreciate that. That’s part of of what I’m trying to do — to make people conscious of, or to think about the role of Black people in Wilson’s history. I feel like I have this incredible responsibility in this town — to sort of help it be a better place for everybody who lives here. To expand the idea of to whom history belongs. I think people, especially young people, feel disconnected from the idea of history. They don’t see how it matters. But when you can look around you, and see now only what’s here, but what was here, it makes it easier to think about what could be here. Now that you know what people have done, it’s easier to imagine what you can do. 

The passage above was condensed from a much longer interview in which I talked to photojournalist Keith Dannemiller about the idea of “home.” I am honored to be included in his exhibition, Homesweet, Homeland, now on display at Wilson’s Barton College. Dannemiller, who has lived in Mexico for more than 30 years, first came to Wilson for Eyes on Main Street‘s artist residency. Says Dannemiller, “Comprised of 50 color prints and 16 tintype portraits with accompanying interviews, Homesweet, Homeland is a personal journey of rediscovery of America and its essential diversity, in a region burdened by the baggage of tradition, the vestiges of slavery, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few, but with the hope and potential to forge a new, more inclusive community out of the manifold Souths of today.”

The penny milk program.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 February 1943.

My father, Rederick C. Henderson, who attended Vick Elementary School from 1940 to 1944, recalled the half-pint milk program: “… they’d give you a little thing of milk [that] cost a penny. You shake it up. Shake it up. It’d be in a bottle. And then that much butter would come to the top. That’s what we used to get.” 

Interview with R.C. Henderson by Lisa Y. Henderson, 2001, all rights reserved. Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

An interesting heritage.

We have read here of Kingsberry and Charity Jones Taylor, who migrated to Indiana in the 1840s. The pages below are excerpted from “My Grandmother, Sarah Ann Taylor Maxwell,” a transcribed memoir by the Taylors’ great-granddaughter Bessie Chandler Van Dyke (1907-1994). As with many such recorded recollections, some of the details are off, but others provide incredibly rich insight into the lives of two free people of color with roots in what is now Wilson County.

Per Europe Ahmad Farmer, the principal historian and genealogist of the Locus/Lucas family and related free families of color of Nash and Wilson Counties, Kingsberry Taylor’s mother was Zelphia Taylor Brantley, who was white, and his father was a free man of color who was a Locus. Kingsberry was not enslaved, though he likely was indentured as an apprentice until he was 21. He did not live in Randolph County, but in Nash County, and he married Charity Jones (who lived in what is now Wilson County) prior to their migration to Indiana.

The Taylor family in the 1850 census of Madison County, Indiana.

Transcript courtesy of Ancestry.com user samjoyatk.

Family ties, no. 3: she said she wont going back.

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 those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the third in a series of excerpts and adaptations of interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)

——

Mamie Henderson Holt (1907-2000), taken not long after she married.

My grandmother arrived in Wilson as a baby in early 1911, shortly after her mother died. Her three-year-old sister Mamie remained in Dudley with their great-grandparents, Lewis and Margaret Balkcum Henderson, until their deaths. Mamie finally came to Wilson when she was about eight years old, but her adjustment was difficult. The sisters were delighted to be united, but Jesse Jacobs did not like Mamie and treated her badly.

My grandmother told the tale of her sister’s escape from Wilson often, and I recorded it several times. Here, a composite, using her own words, that sets out the story in all its heartbreaking emotional complexity.

In late 1922, Sarah H. Jacobs separated from Jesse Jacobs, taking Hattie and Mamie to Greensboro, N.C., where they moved in with Sarah’s aunt, Julia “Mollie” Henderson Hall Holt. Sarah’s health was poor, and she may also have been seeking better care and support. Jesse soon arrived, however, begging Sarah to return to Wilson. [He did not rely on his persuasive skills alone. To read about Jesse’s rootwork reinforcement, see here.]

“[Papa] come up to Greensboro and talked to Mama, and so she promised him she’d come back, [but] Mamie wouldn’t come home. She said Papa told her, said, ‘If your mammy ever leave here and take you with her, don’t you never come back here. Don’t never set foot in this door.’ He told Mamie that. But he told me, if I wanted to stay with him, I could stay, and if he didn’t have but one biscuit, he’d divide it and give me one half, and he’d have the other half.

“But I know Mama was sick, so she come up to Greensboro, and he asked her ‘bout coming back.  And she told him she would come back, but she got sick. Mama didn’t work all the time, she wasn’t able to work, and so staying with A’nt Molly and them always looking at her and talking — wasn’t half-talking to her, and so she knew she had to get out from there, she wont paying no rent. [So] we moved in this house, and we hadn’t been in there but ‘bout a week, and Mamie wouldn’t come [to this house.]  She stayed over there with A’nt Molly and Sadie [Hall Whitfield Farrar, Molly’s daughter.] And so that’s where I come on back to get Mamie and tell her about [going back to Wilson], and so Mamie said she wont going back.

“So [when I was] over there to Sadie’s house, I said to ‘em, I said, ‘What, y’all having a party tonight?’ And didn’t know Mamie was getting married that night. Mamie didn’t even tell me. And so they said, ‘Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we gon play some cards.’  And they wanted to get rid of me. Because they hadn’t told us nothing ‘bout it. And so the house was all clean, Sadie’s house was all cleaned up, and tables sitting all around the room. Well, they played cards all the time, so I didn’t think nothing ‘bout it, [but] they had to wait ‘til I left so Mamie and Bazel [Holt] could get married. And didn’t tell me a word about it. And they were getting married that night. Sadie went with Mamie to the courthouse to get the license and everything, and so Mamie didn’t want to come back to Wilson ‘cause Papa wasn’t good to her. He was always snapping at her or something, and he’d throw things and hit her or …. And so she said she marry a dog before she’d come back to Wilson. So Bazel, I don’t know how they got into it, but Bazel was staying with Sadie and A’nt Molly. We all was staying down A’nt Molly’s house ‘cause Molly married Bazel’s uncle [Walter Holt.] So Mamie married Bazel. To keep from coming back. But Mamie was 15 when she got married.  She told Bazel she wont coming back home.

“And so [the next] day, Mama didn’t feel like going to the restaurant where she had over there, and so I sat there looking out the window, and I said to Mama, ‘Mamie’s coming up, and she’s got a suitcase! I wonder where she’s going.’ So she came on in, and she told Mama that she had got married last night and was coming to get her clothes. And Mama told her she ought not to let her have them. ‘You didn’t tell me nothing ‘bout it. If you was gon get married, and you’d a told me, [you could have] got married and had a little social or something.’ And Mama was mad with her because she got married. Mama had told her that, ‘If you don’t go back, I’ll put the law on you and make you go back ‘cause you underage.’  And that’s how come Mamie didn’t let her know nothing ‘bout nothing. So Mamie just got her clothes. Some of ‘em. And crammed ‘em in a suitcase and went back over …. And, now, she … had just met [Bazel], and he told her, ‘Well, we’ll get married if you want to stay here. We’ll get married.’ And so he married her. That night. But I didn’t know they was getting married that night, and so I fussed her out and: ‘How come you didn’t let me know where I could have stayed to the wedding? I wanted to see you get married.’  ‘Well, it wont no wedding – we was just getting married! Getting that old piece of paper. [‘Cause] I’m not going back to Wilson, so – you know Uncle Jesse don’t like me nohow. And I don’t want to go back to Wilson.’ So that’s how come Mamie got married.”

“That old piece of paper.” Mamie told the registrar she was 19 years old (she was 15) and that her adoptive parents were dead (they were not.) A Baptist minister married the couple on Valentine’s Day 1923 at the home of Henry Farrar, the husband of Mamie’s cousin Sadie Hall Farrar. Sadie’s mother Julia “Mollie” Henderson Holt was a witness to the ceremony.

Hattie Henderson returned to Wilson with Sarah H. Jacobs, but she and her sister Mamie remained exceptionally close throughout their long lives. Mamie and Bazel had six children together and were together until his death in 1954. Trips to Greensboro to visit my great-aunt and cousins were a staple of my childhood and a testament to the sisters’ bond.

Hattie Henderson and daughter Hattie Margaret Henderson with Mamie Henderson Holt, center, late 1940s, probably during a visit to Greensboro.

Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson adapted and edited for clarity. Copyright 1994, 1996. All rights reserved. Photos in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Family ties, no. 2: starting school.

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 those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the second in a series of excerpts from interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)

——

Jesse Jacobs found good work in Wilson, first as a hand in Jefferson Farrior‘s livery stable and then as a janitor at a white public school (with side hustles as school superintendent Charles L. Coon‘s yard man and as janitor at First Baptist Church.) However, his wife Sarah had fewer opportunities, working seasonally in tobacco stemmeries and sometimes “taking in washing and ironing,” i.e. doing personal laundry for white families.

Though she seems never to have been seriously tempted to migrate permanently, Sarah H. Jacobs occasionally traveled North for short stretches to supplement her income by hiring out for housekeeping daywork. She generally took little Hattie to New York with her and parked her with her stepdaughter Carrie Jacobs Blackwell while she worked. (Carrie, who was Jesse Jacobs’ elder daughter, and her husband Toney H. Blackwell had migrated from North Carolina circa 1900-1905.)

Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled a visit to New York when she was perhaps six years old in which she grew homesick and lonely while staying with the Blackwells:

“… So I went to crying. I cried and I cried. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go where Mama was, but Mama wasn’t supposed to come over there ‘til the next day or a day or two after that. She was doing day’s work. ‘Cause day’s work was plentiful then.  People would clean up ….  So Mama wanted [to make money, so she] carried me with her …. So, anyway, I cried so, and … she come on over and got me, and I told her I didn’t want to stay there no more, I wanted to go home. I said I wanted to go where she was. She said, ‘Well, you can’t go right now,’ said, ‘I got a job to do.’ She said, ‘Well, I’ll take you over to Frances.’  So that’s when she took me over to Frances’ house, and Edward [her son]. And I stayed over there, and it was the first time I ever went to school.”

Frances Aldridge Cooper, also a Dudley native, was both Sarah and Hattie’s maternal cousin and Hattie’s paternal aunt. Frances and her husband George Cooper, also from Wayne County, married in New Jersey in 1908, then moved on to New York City, where their son, Edward Lee Cooper, was born in 1911.

“It was during school time and whatchamacallem took me and Edward down to the school, wherever it was….  And the first day I ever went to school, Frances took me and her son Edward. And the building — I don’t remember what the building looked like inside — but I know we went in, and they had little benches, at least it was built around in the room. And you could stand there by it and mark on your paper if you wanted to or whatever. I didn’t see no seats in there. You sit on the same thing you were writing on. It seem like, from what I remember, it was down in the basement. You had to go down there, and the benches was all the way ’round the room. And the teacher’s desk — and she had a desk in there. And the children sat on the desk, or you stand there by it, or kneel down if you want to mark on it. First grade, you ain’t know nothing bout no writing no how. And I went in, and I just looked. I just, I didn’t do nothing. I just sit there on top of the desk. And I was crying. I went back to Frances’ house, and I said, well, ‘Frances, I want to go home.’ Go where Mama was. So she said, ‘We’ll go tomorrow.’ I said, ‘How come we can’t go today?’ She said, ‘Well, it’s too far to go now.’ I said, ‘Well, can you call her?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know the phone number, and I don’t know the name it’s in.’ And so that kind of threw me; I finally went on bed. But, anyway, they all took me back to Brooklyn.”

Hattie and Sarah Henderson Jacobs returned to Wilson a few weeks later. When Hattie tried first grade again, it was at the Colored Graded School.

Sidenote: the 1915 New York state census lists George Cooper, 32, moulding mill fireman; wife Frances, 30, laundress; son Edward, 4; and sister-in-law Alberta Artis, 15, in school, at 1504 Prospect Place, Brooklyn (in the heart of the Weeksville neighborhood.) Alberta was the daughter of Adam T. Artis and Amanda Aldridge Artis and was not Frances’ birth sister, but was very close kin. (Her birth siblings, in fact, included Josephine Artis Sherrod, Columbus E. Artis, and June Scott Artis, as well as paternal half-siblings Cain ArtisWilliam M. Artis, Walter S. Artis, and Robert E. Artis.) This is complicated: Amanda Aldridge was the sister of Frances A. Cooper’s father John W. Aldridge. And Adam Artis was the father of Frances’ mother Louvicey Artis Aldridge. Amanda A. Artis died days after giving birth to Alberta in 1899, and Louvicey and John took the infant to rear in their own large family in Dudley. Alberta eventually followed her adopted sister Frances to New York, where she met and married George Cooper’s brother, James W. Cooper. The pair returned to Wilson County after World War I.

Detail from enumeration of inhabitants of Block No. 6, Election District No. 19, City of New York, Assembly District No. 23, Kings County, state census of New York, 1915. 

Adapted from interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1996 and 1998. All rights reserved. 

Family ties, no. 1: a shoebox full of food.

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.