Oral History

The 103rd anniversary of the school boycott.

Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the resignation of 11 African-American teachers in Wilson, North Carolina, in rebuke of their “high-handed” black principal and the white school superintendent who slapped one of them. In their wake, black parents pulled their children out of the public school en masse and established a private alternative in a building owned by a prominent black businessman.  Financed with 25¢-a-week tuition payments and elaborate student musical performances, the Independent School operated for nearly ten years. The school boycott, sparked by African-American women standing at the very intersection of perceived powerless in the Jim Crow South, was an astonishing act of prolonged resistance that unified Wilson’s black toilers and strivers.

The teachers.

The school boycott is largely forgotten in Wilson, and its heroes go unsung. In their honor, today, and every April 9, I publish links to these Black Wide-Awake posts chronicling the walk-out and its aftermath. Please read and share and speak the names of Mary C. Euell and the revolutionary teachers of the Colored Graded School.

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Getting milk from the Vicks.

Excerpt from my interview with my grandmother, Hattie Henderson Ricks, about where her family bought food during her childhood on Elba Street:

“But when I was a little girl, the only place you could get milk was from the Vicks. It was a quarter.  That was the only place we had to get the milk, if you got any. Unless you used canned milk. She had a back porch. Closed-in back porch. Screened in. Anyway, glass in it all around, there on the back porch, and tables out there. One of them things you churn, what I mean, a great, old big urn out there where the milk get too old, and then she’d have buttermilk. And she had a ‘frigerator sitting out there, where she’d taken the shelves out, look like where she’d made a big thing to put it in there. But she would get fresh milk everyday. The cows was somewhere out there, I don’t know where, I didn’t see ‘em in the yard. They wont nowhere up there. But somebody was working for them would go out and get the milk and bring it in these cans where you have, where got the churn in the top of it. And she would put them out there on the porch. Miz Annie seemed to be pretty clean, and the house was clean. Didn’t nobody get sick. Yeah, and they had the two daughters, and I don’t know how many boys it was. Robert was the youngest boy, and I went to school with him, and Doris and I was in the same class in school. And — I didn’t know whether she was a sister to the man, or whether she was sister to the lady, I never did find out which way — but that house, they built that two-story house right next to the Vicks, and they didn’t stay in it, they went to Washington or somewhere. And they rented the house out. And I think somebody else bought it.”

My grandmother, right, and her sister Mamie Henderson Holt, around the time their family was buying milk from the Vicks.

All rights reserved.

“Just don’t have a whole lot of dealings”: The Talk in 1940’s Wilson.

Excerpt from my interview with my father, Rederick C. Henderson, who was born in Wilson in 1934:

My father with Darden classmates Helen Williams, Lillie Dixon and Eloise Parker in 1948-49.

——

What do you remember about race relations?  Or what were you told about dealing with white people?

Well. See, we never had a lot, the only white people that I saw had little stores in the black community. And you know, they said, you can’t, just don’t have a whole lot of dealings with white folks. And racism … things I saw about racism. I was, I remember I was maybe 12, 13, and I went downtown walking over to the stadium somewhere. I was walking over to one of my friend’s house stayed on Mercer Street, and they had these prisoners of war. Germans. And they had this “P.W.” on the back of their thing, and they were cleaning up ‘round the factory. And they had some MPs or something with them. And they were sitting down on a bench outside resting. One of them little regular benches. A wood bench that they used to advertise or something. And so I stopped – they had gone in – and I stopped, and I was sitting down, and a man came out, and he spit on my leg.

German or an American?

Naw, this was a white American. He said, “You can’t sit on that bench.” I don’t know if he called me a boy or whatever, but had that tobacco spit on me.  And he –

But the Germans were sitting on the bench.  Prisoners of war in this country.

Right. And I couldn’t sit on the bench.

Then I remember they had an incident at the theater where something had happened, and this girl [Marie Everett] slapped a white girl. And they took her and put her in jail. Took her and put her in prison. She went off and stayed. She must have stayed ‘bout a year. And Mama and all them said, “Don’t y’all go downtown.” So far as I got to go was to the [Ritz] theater and then come back home.  

And all over there behind Vick School [Academy, Crowell and Mayo Streets] was all white back in there. And they used to throw stuff at us on the [playground] — we’d be throwing rocks back and forth, back and forth. But the police didn’t ever come over there. Now the police would be downtown on Saturday afternoon ‘cause see in Wilson, like Friday and Saturday was when we’d go to the movie. And I’d go to the movies on Saturday and stay all day long. Stay in there ‘til it’d be almost dark. That’s how you’d know it was time to go home.  Come down there, walk down there, say, “Can I look outside and see…?” Lady’d just: “Yeah.” Walk down there; look out there; see. If it’s still light, you’d come back up and watch the movie again. Sit upstairs in the movie. And so they had all the white police. They would walk from uptown, I guess, down to Pender Street. And on the sidewalk. And black folk had to get out the way. I mean, they’d walk right up, push you right out in the street. Or whatever. And just walk right on down to the end and turn around and come back and all.

All rights reserved.

Memories of Hattie Daniels’ Golden Rule kindergarten.

Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid shares this excerpt, adapted for Black Wide-Awake, from her My Neighborhood Legacy Series: A Salute to the Educational Leadership of Rev. Hattie Louvenia Owens Daniels, Founder and Director of the Golden Rule Kindergarten 1944-1972 Wilson, NC.” Though it recalls a period after BWA’s focus, it offers a close look at the warm, rich experience that would have been familiar to children who attended Golden Rule earlier.

Dr. Rashid’s parents, Levi and Cora Greene Wellington, lived on Manchester Street from 1946 to 1978. Between 1957 and 1966, she and two of her siblings attended Rev. Hattie Daniels‘ Golden Rule Kindergarten at 908 Wainwright Street, just a block from their home. 

Each morning, a family member dropped the children off at the front door of the house. As they entered the living room, Rev. Daniels and her daughter Deborah Ruth Daniels, greeted each child by name with a warm and welcoming “Good morning!” Once all the children had arrived, they stood together and responded in song — “Good morning to you!, Good morning to you!, We’re all in our places, with bright shiny faces, and how do you do? How do you do?” The Danielses asked each child how they were doing and if they had eaten breakfast. If they had not eaten at home, they were fed at no charge. The children then lined up as a group and marched out the back door to the school, a long building located to the left rear of the backyard. The remaining yard was the playground. Everything they learned was recited in song and rhyme — the alphabet, numbers, sight words, etc.  Rev. Daniels rang a big hand bell to begin their daily recitations of the lessons they learned, to get their attention,  or to signal a change in activity.

Throughout the school day, children formed a neat line for everything, including forays into the public. They marched everywhere, always staying in a neat line and looking straight ahead. Golden Rule’s children took field trips to sing on a local radio program, to the county fair, and the Wilson Christmas parade. Each year, they walked from the school to downtown Wilson to sing Christmas carols on the county courthouse steps.  Rev. Daniels led the line of students while her daughter walked behind. Rev. Daniels’ students were known to have manners.

Judy Wellington Rashid graduated from Wilson’s R.L. Fike High School in 1970, completed college, and became a teacher. During her first few years teaching, she began to reflect on the invaluable academic lessons, respect for education, and order and discipline she received at the Golden Rule kindergarten. Shortly becoming a principal in 1977, she visited Rev. Daniels in her home. The old school building was still standing but not usable. Dr. Rashid went to thank Rev. Daniels for the great foundation that she had provided her in kindergarten. She also wanted to know if Rev. Daniels still had a book that she had used to teach her students, and indeed she did.

Rev. Hattie Daniels with a copy of Lillian Moore’s A Child’s First Picture Dictionary, first published in 1948.

On a 2004 visit to Wilson, Dr. Rashid noticed Deborah Daniels and another woman sitting on the porch of 908 Wainwright. Daniels recognized her, and they shared laughter over seeing each other again after so many years. Lillian Francis Lucas introduced herself and said she moved from Wiggins Street to the house next door to 908 Wainwright “when the highway came through.” She said she had come over to clean house and “wait on” Rev. Daniels. She remembered that “there were 60 students at the school at one time or the other,” aged three to five years.  She also remembered that the school day would start around 5 or 6 A.M. and last until 5 or 6 P.M. 

Rev. Daniels’ Wainwright Street home at left, a rental property she owned at middle, and the church she pastored at right.

Deborah Daniels’ chimed in: “my mother housed, clothed, fed, and took care of me from Elvie School, Catholic School, Sallie Barbour School, to Darden High School”.  Dr. Rashid closes: “May God forever bless the educational legacy of Rev. Hattie Daniels and her daughter Deborah Ruth Daniels.”

Golden Rule kindergarten in 1964. The Wilson Daily Times printed the photo, submitted by James Boyette, in its 9 July 2002 edition.

Photos courtesy of Judy Wellington Rashid.

Wood stoves.

Castonoble Hooks shared this memory of winters in Wilson. Though he was born just after the close of the period covered in Black Wide-Awake, his recollection would have rung true for generations before him.

“I remember the wood stove this time of year. Wilson streets were covered with clouds of smoke — each house contributed its own stream of exhaust! Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s Wilson, you “learned” the wood stove. The first chore I remember as a child was to carry out cold ashes, the residue of burned wood. I was maybe five years old. Later that year, I could clean the stove of hot or cold ashes. The next year I was cutting wood, stacking wood, starting a fire in morning and banking the stove at night! At the age of ten, I was working for woodmen, Mr. Turner Jenkins and Mr. Columbus Ham, who rode around our hood delivering wood and coal. Almost every house had at least one stove! Wood heat is so warming and completely satisfying. Many a cold day was, the wood stove stood tall!”

  • Turner Jenkins — 

In the 1920 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Gray Jenkins, 46; wife Mary Jane, 35; children Joseph, 17, William, 15, Lucinda, 12, Mada, 11, Mark, 9, Turner, 7, Rosa, 5, Rachel, 4, and (adopted) Lester, 7; servant Frank Braswell, 18.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Turner Williamson, 30; wife Mary, 21; children Mary B., 5, Sarah P., 4, and Paul, 2; sister-in-law Lucinda Jenkins, 23, and brother-in-law Turner Jenkins, 17, farm laborer.

Turner Jenkins, 21, of Gardners township, son of Gray and Mary Jane Jenkins, married Lossie Applewhite, 21, of Gardners township, daughter of Tom and Diana Applewhite, on 15 November 1933 in Wilson. Gray Jenkins, Stantonsburg; Lonnie Applewhite, Wilson, and B.E. Howard, Wilson, were witnesses.

Turner Jenkins registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 17 April 1912 in Edgecombe County; lived at 911 Carolina Street, Wilson; his contact was wife Lossie Applewhite Jenkins; and he worked for Independent Ice Company.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Turner Jenkins, 29; wife Lossie, 29; daughter Annie M., 12; sister [in-law] Minnie Applewhite, 19; and [her?] son Roy William Applewhite, 11 months. 

Turner Jenkins died 11 January 1967 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 April 1912 in Edgecombe County to Gray Jenkins and Mary Jane Bridgers; was married to Lossie Jenkins; lived at 128 Narroway Street; and worked as a laborer.

  • Columbus Ham

Caleb Columbus Hamm Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County in 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 16 August 1920 in Greene County; lived at 913 East Nash Street, Wilson; his contact was Annie Hodges, 110 Ashe Street, Wilson; and he worked for Stephenson Lumber Company.

Thank you for sharing, Castonoble Hooks!

Memories of Samuel and Catherine Clark.

The recent post about the 500 block of Nash Street sparked memories from Cora Ruth Greene Wellington Dawson, who earlier shared her recollections of attending the Sallie Barbour School.

In the 1930s, Mrs. Dawson’s grandparents Samuel and Catherine Frison McFadden Clark lived on Smith Street, which ran parallel to Nash for one block. They were members of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church and owned a horse and buggy. Catherine Clark was a cook at Woodard-Herring Hospital on West Green Street and also cooked for Camillus L. and Norma D. Darden at their Pender Street home.

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In 1918, Sam Smith registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 18 April 1874; lived at 118 Smith Street; worked as a laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company; and his nearest relative was wife Katherine Clark.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 607 Viola, rented for $16/month, hospital cook Catherine Clark, 42; husband Sam, 52; grandchildren Martha Clark, 15, and Willie McGill, 6; and roomers Talmage Smith, 21, and Roy Maze, 26, both orchestra musicians.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Clark Samuel (c; Cath) h 607 Viola

Samuel Clark died 21 January 1935 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 53 years old; was born in Macon, Georgia; was a laborer; was married to Katherine Clark; and lived at 513 Smith Street.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: boarding house keeper Floyd Mitchell, 56, and lodgers Rosa Taylor, 39, laborer; Catherine Clark, 51, cook, Willie Cook, 14, and David Cook, 9; Alice Cutts, 34; Irvin Cutts, 39; George K. Cutts, 9, and Charles Cutts, 7.

Catherine Frison Clark died 9 November 1944 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 20 February 1875 in Charleston, South Carolina, to David Frison and Easter [last name unknown]; she was a widow; and she lived at 401 Grace Street. She was buried in Rountree cemetery, and Lottie Cohen, 401 Grace, was informant.

Thanks to Judy Wellington Rashid for sharing.

This is why.

Karole Turner Campbell shared this photograph of her maternal grandparents, Wesley and Martha Taylor Jones, sitting on the stoop of their Stantonsburg Street house in Wilson. In 1954, when she was nine years old, Turner Campbell spent the summer with them. It was her first “sleep-away camp,” and her grandfather Wesley gave her a job. She was to help her grandmother Martha, then 64 years old, learn to read so she could register to vote for the first time in her life. This was the Jim Crow era, and North Carolina still imposed literacy tests and poll taxes to disenfranchise its Black citizens. Martha Taylor had achieved only a third grade education when she had to leave school and go to work. Writes Turner Campbell, “I CANNOT EXPLAIN HOW THAT EXPERIENCE TOUCHED, MOVED AND INSPIRED ME! Nine years old, and I helped teach my grandma to read and vote. This is one reason I became an educator. This is why I ALWAYS vote.” 

——

I woke up this morning disappointed and apprehensive and angry. But, ever inspired by those whose shoulders I stand on, resolute. 

Many thanks to Karole Turner Campbell and to the many political pioneers of Wilson County’s Jones family.

Iredell County Chronicles, no. 2.

Harriet Nicholson Tomlin Hart (1861-1924).

Me: How did she work that? How did Harriet get to be the first black woman to vote [in Statesville, North Carolina]?

Margaret Colvert Allen, my maternal grandmother: Well, because her husband [Thomas Alonzo Hart] was a lawyer.

Me: Right.

Grandma: He was a, whatchacall – a real estate lawyer. And he taught her how to read and write and do everything after he married her. Or while he was marrying her. Or something. And when time came for women to vote, she was the first black – he carried her down to the polls, and she was the first black woman to vote. And then at that time, you know, they gave you a quiz.

Me: Right. Right. Right. For black people to vote. Yeah. ‘Cause did your parents – well, did your father [Lon W. Colvert] vote?

Lon Walker Colvert (1875-1930).

Grandma: Oh, yeah. Papa voted. He voted. And the people in my home, Lisa, fought in the streets. It was dange – I mean, we could not go outside the house on election night. The people — “Who’d you vote for?” “I’m a Democrat.” “I’m a Republican.” Pam-a-lam-a-lam! [Swings fists, and I break into laughter.] People acted like they were crazy! Papa didn’t allow us out the house. “You better be getting on home!” ‘Cause they were terrible.

Me: And now you got to drag people out to vote. And then you hear people going: “I’m not gon vote now. What’s the point? I blah-blah-blah.”

Grandma: Yeah. When I came here [Newport News, Virginia] you had to pay poll tax.

Me: Yeah.

Grandma: It wasn’t a whole lot, but it was ridiculous.

Me: Yep.

[Harriet Hart was my great-great-grandmother. My grandmother cast her last ballot for Barack Obama in 2008 — at age 100.]

——

Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

It wasn’t just wages we wanted.

On this Labor Day, I bring you “It Wasn’t Just Wages We Wanted, But Freedom”: The 1946 Tobacco Leaf House Workers Organizing in Eastern North Carolina, a compilation of all known scholarship related to the Tobacco Workers International Union and Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers’ mass organizing campaign. The campaign secured union contracts at more than 30 leaf houses, and workers engaged in voter registrations and political action that presaged the civil rights movement a decade later. 

In an introduction to the first edition, Phoenix Historical Society’s Jim Wrenn noted, “This movement began as early as March 1946 when three workers at Export Leaf in Wilson — Aaron Best, Harvey Moore and Chester Newkirk — met with TWIU organizer Dr. R.A. Young … at Best’s home on East Nash Street in Wilson. This meeting led to the establishment of TWIU Local 259 at Export Leaf, the leading tobacco local in Wilson. Best became its first president, Moore its first secretary and Newark its first treasurer. Local 259 members reached out to workers at five other Wilson leaf houses, who were organized as Locals 260, 268, 270, 271, and 272. Today, Local 259 has been absorbed into local 270, the last surviving union local of the 1946 movement.”

The work was published by the Phoenix Historical Society, an organization devoted to the preservation of the African American history of Edgecombe County, and I purchased this copy directly from them.

Nestus Freeman’s crew at work. (But where?)

This copy of a photograph is said to show O. Nestus Freeman‘s workmen building Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on West Vance Street, Wilson. Does it though?

Freeman came out of retirement to direct the stonework at Our Redeemer, which was completed after World War II. The photo above is undated, but appears to date from earlier in the twentieth century. Moreover, this crew is clearly building an addition to a pre-existing church.

Here’s a photo of Our Redeemer published at the church’s 25th anniversary at the Vance and Rountree Streets site. (The building itself was not completed until after 1941.) This does not appear to be the same church as the one above. The men above are laying brick, not stone. The buttresses between the windows below do not appear in the image above. And the windows themselves are much taller in the image above. The church’s raised stone rake is also missing from the gable end above.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 May 1966.

On 1 September 2001, the Daily Times featured a long piece contributed by Robert B. Lineberger, whose father was pastor at Our Redeemer in the early 1940s. In pertinent part, here is Lineberger’s recollection: 

“Oliver Nestus Freeman was the stone mason for the church. The stone was delivered to the lot in 1942. It was supposed to be 4 inches thick, and the supplier brought half to it from the quarry at Roleville [Rolesville, in Wake County, N.C.] and dumped it on the lot when no one was there. It was 8 inches thick. When the quarry realized its mistake, they said Dad could have it at half price if he would accept it where it was.

“He asked what he could do with it that thick. They indicated it could be split just like a cake of ice … except you would use a sledge hammer with a pointed side to it instead of an ice pick. Tap it on one side, roll it, tap it on the second side, roll it, tap it on the third side, roll it … and when you tap it on the fourth side, it would split in half. That meant the church got the stone for 25 percent of the original price!

“[My father] acted as general contractor for the church. During the early war years contractors and builders were doing all the work they could at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune. He hired Mr. Freeman, who came out of retirement to build the church.

“Mr. Freeman then lived in a stone house off of East Nash …. I mixed mortar for him and placed the stones at his directions on the scaffold on which he worked. He chose each stone for a particular place as he worked. I worked with him for a long time during the summer and after school of the year the church was built.

“Mr. Freeman was a fine man, and I learned a lot about stone masonry, mixing mortar and life from him. …”

Lineberger provided some photographs of construction, including these:

Wilson Daily Times, 1 September 2001.

These images further strengthen my belief that the first photograph depicts Freeman’s crew working on some church other than Our Redeemer.

Any thoughts?

Our Redeemer Lutheran today.

Top photo courtesy of Freeman Round House and Museum, Wilson, N.C., digitized at Images of North Carolina, digitalnc.org; bottom photo by Lisa Y. Henderson.