Oral History

Cherry Hotel and the color line.

Wayne County native Caswell C. Henderson (1865-1927) migrated to New York City in the 1890s, but returned South to Wilson to visit his sister Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver. Their great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled the elaborate steps he took to carry out his daily ritual. First, Henderson would leave their house on Elba Street and walk west on Green Street. He crossed the railroad tracks and walked a few more blocks before turning left on a cross street, then left to walk east on Nash Street to the Hotel Cherry. He entered the hotel through its front doors — as any white guest would — bought a newspaper, shot the breeze for a while with other white guests and staff, then exited right to walk back up Nash Street. After a few blocks, he turned right, then right again on Green and crossed the tracks back into the African-American world.

——

“Uncle Caswell had been home, he’d been to Wilson.  He come down there visiting Mama …. He passed for white.  He would go and get a paper every morning down there to Cherry Hotel.  Walk down there for the exercise and get that paper.  And they all thought he was white.  He’d go in the hotel there and ask for a paper and come in there and talk to the people.  And he’d leave the hotel and walk the other direction, then walk back down Green Street and come on home.”

Cherry Hotel in an undated postcard issued by the Asheville Post Card Company.

Interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

It’s got a little twang to it.

Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. worked as a janitor at Five Points (later Winstead) School and did gardening odd jobs at the home of school superintendent Charles L. Coon. His great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks, whom he adopted, told this story:

“Papa was up there cutting grass. ‘Go in the house, and ask ‘em for some water, a pitcher.’  Talking ‘bout my daddy wanted some water. And the first time I ever seen a grapefruit was there.  I said I’d never forget that.  ‘Cause I went in that house and asked for some water, and I said ‘Daddy said’ – I called him Papa.  Anyway, ‘he wanted to know if he could have some water.’  And the lady said, ‘Yeah,’ and she got a pitcher and a glass.  And I took it on out there, and then I just sit on the steps.  So Papa stopped and drinked him some water. But I was just standing there while they was fixing the water, and I looked on that table, and all ‘round the table there by the plate they had a salt cellar and half a grapefruit and a cherry sitting in the middle.  And that thing just looked so pretty, looked so good.  And I said, ‘Unh, that’s a big orange!’ I said, ‘Well, next time I go to the store I’m gon get me one, too.’  And sho’ nuff, I asked Papa, when we left – I don’t remember whether it was, it wont that particular time, but we come out and were on our way to Edmundson’s store in Five Points, and he wanted me to go in and get a plug of tobacco. Part of a plug.  And tell Old Man Edmundson to put it on the bill. So he waited, he was out there on a wagon, he had a little horse, and I went in and told Mr. Edmundson Papa wanted a, whatever amount it was, he didn’t get a whole plug, ‘cause I think it was three or four sections to a plug of tobacco, and for him to put it on the bill, and I said, ‘He said I could have a orange.  And put that on the bill.’  And it was boxes sitting up – I’ll never forget it – the boxes sitting up with all the oranges sitting up in there.  And I got the biggest one out of the group.  The one that wasn’t even orange.  I made sure I was gon get me a big orange!  I got that and come on back out there and got on the wagon and coming from Five Points to almost home, I was peeling that thing and peeling it ‘til I got it off, and it was sour, ‘Ugh, that’s a sour orange!’  I never seen a orange that sour. And I said, ‘Now, that didn’t look like, that’s a light-complected … yellow.’ But it was still like a orange, and it was so big.

“From then on I didn’t want no big orange. Now I always get little oranges. Today I don’t buy no big orange.  ‘Cause the little ones is sweeter than the big ones.  But, honey, that was a grapefruit, and that was the first I’d ever known it was a grapefruit.  We ain’t never had no grapefruit.  And so, I told Mama that was a, ugh, sour orange.  And I told her ‘bout what the Coons had on their table when I went up there.  And she said, ‘Well, that was a grapefruit.’  ‘A grapefruit?,’  I said, ‘well, what’s a grapefruit?’  And she said, ‘It’s like a big orange.  But you have to put sugar on it most time.  It’s a little sour.  It’s got a little twang to it.’  She said, ‘But your daddy didn’t never like none, so I don’t care that much about it.’  And I said, ‘A grapefruit?  I got myself a grapefruit.’  I said, ‘The cherries, where they get the cherries?,’ I said. ‘That little red thing where was on there.’  She said, ‘Well, you buy ‘em in bottles from the store.’ But, anyway, it was sour, but I learned the taste, you put a little sugar on it, makes a little bit sweeter.  I swear, Lord, I think about those things that I did when I was little.”

——

The house with the grapefruit was at 109 North Rountree Street in Wilson’s College Park neighborhood. Charles L. Coon’s house has been demolished, but was catalogued in Bainbridge and Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey (1980):

“This house was built c.1915 for Wilson’s foremost educator, Charles L. Coon. He served as superintendent of the Wilson Graded School from 1907 until his death in 1927 and was County School superintendent for the last fifteen years of this period. Coon, credited with the creation of a model school system in Wilson, also served on the North Carolina Child Labor Committee, the State Teachers Assembly, the editorial board of the North Carolina Historical Review and was the author of North Carolina Schools and Academies 1790-1840 and Public Schools of Wilson County. His house is sturdy and simple. The tile roof is unusual in a house of this vintage, and it enriches the texture of the facade. The front porch was constructed in typical Bungalow style, with square flared columns supporting the overhanging hipped roof.”

——

Hattie H. Ricks, circa 1920, probably a few years after she first tasted grapefruit.

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1916).

  • Plug tobacco is made by pressing cured tobacco in a sweet (often molasses-based) syrup. The resulting sheet of pressed tobacco was cut into “plugs.” Edmundson likely carried locally manufactured product.

Adapted from interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

From cathouse to White House.

Chef Jesse David Pender published his memoirs in 2007 at the age of 92. Pender’s life has been singularly interesting in many ways, but I am most drawn to the book’s first 75 pages, in which he offers a richly detailed account of life in Wilson and Wilson County in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Below, I highlight the people and places he mentions from that era.

  • mother and father — On 11 January 1899, Joe Pender, 21, son of Ed and Caroline Pender, married Ella Hinnant, 19, daughter of Eliza Barnes, at Dred Barnes’ house in Black Creek.  In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Joseph Pender, 21, wife Ella, 22, and daughter Mamie, 8 months. In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: on Plank Road, Joe Pender, 28, wife Ella, 20, and children Mamie 11, Dred, 5, and Ernest, 1. In the 1920 census of Goldsboro township, Wayne County: farmer Joseph Pender, 49; wife Ella L., 42; and children Edward D., 14, Maggie, 9, Ernest, 12, Alonzi, 7, Jesse, 4, Georgiana, 3, and Josephine, 1. Ella Hinnant Faulkland died 8 October 1967 at her home at 718 Viola Street. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 April 1886 in Wilson County to Deed Barnes and Luzannie Hinnant. Informant was Georgia Harris.
  • “my brother Elonzie” [also spelled Alonzie and Alonzo] — Alonzo Pender.
  • “my sister Maggie” — Maggie Pender Brooks Blocker (1910-2000).
  • “my niece Abby”
  • “my baby sister Josephine,” — Josephine Pender Thompson Williams, the youngest of Jesse Pender’s 13 siblings, died in Wilson in 2014, aged 96. This photo accompanies her obituary.

  • “my sister Georgia” — Georgia Anna Pender Jenkins Harris (1917-1990).
  • “We lived on a plantation owned by Mr. Frank Hooks which was way out from a little town called Fremont, North Carolina.”
  • “my father’s brother, Uncle Tiko” and his children “HB, Sug, Buddy, Pete and Bessie Mae”
  • moved to Black Creek to “Mr. Johnson Daniels’s farm” from 1923-1926, then to Dudley [in southern Wayne County] from 1927-1928
  • in 1929 “moved back to Wilson County between Wilson and Willsbanks [sic; Wilbanks] on Mr. Dick Cozart’s farm”
  • “my older brother Dred” — Edgar Dred Pender.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 May 1929.

  • a couple named Clyde and Eva; Eva’s brother John — Eva Strickland Roberson died 27 February 1929.

  • family moved into Wilson in 1930, and father took a job in a tobacco factory
  • Zeb Whitley’s grocery and fish market on Nash Street — in the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Whitley Zebediah (c; Mazie) pdlr [peddler] h 202 Manchester. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 702 East Nash, rented for $8/month, Zeb Whitley, 37, wood yard proprietor, and wife Mazie, 38.
  • “Blacks didn’t live on the west side of town. If you were up there, you were working there. We had everything we needed on the east side of town — theater, drugstores, grocery stores and everything else you could think of.”
  • mother went to work cooking and cleaning for Duncan Savage, who owned a outdoor advertising agency
  • “cousin James Robins” who lived in Elm City with his wife Flory and her son Frank, whom he adopted — in the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Elm City-Wilson Road, James Robbins, 26, wife Flora L., 23, and son Frank, 12.
  • stayed with grandparents Dred and Louzanna near Black Creek just before grandfather died in September 1931 — Dred Barnes, 33, of Black Creek township, son of Nelson Barnes, married Luzana Hinnant, 30, of Black Creek township, daughter of Hardy Hinnant, at her home on 14 March 1893.  In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Dred Barnes, 42; wife Lou J., 37; son Johnnie, 4; and boarder Alex Johnson, 29. In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Dred Barnes, 54, and wife Louzanie, 48. In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Dred Barnes, 69, and wife Louiza, 67. Dred Barnes died 29 September 1930 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 70 years old; was born in Wilson County to Nelson Barnes and Annie Daniel; was a farmer; and was married to Luzina Barnes.
  • grandparents’ neighbors James Caper and John Barnes — near Dred and Louzania Barnes in the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer James Caple, 36, wife Mary, 37, and children Willie, 16, and Augusta, 12.
  • C.E. Artis Funeral Home
  • mother’s sister Aunt Maggie and her son John, who lived in Kenly — Supercentenarian Maggie Hinnant Barnes (1882-1998) was the daughter of Louzanie Hinnant.
  • cousins Buddy and Nell — children of Maggie and Orangie Barnes.
  • Flory Robins’ brother, who lived at 411 East Jones Street
  • friend Jimmy D. Barns
  • hired out on the farm of the Batts family near Elm City (Mr. Batts, wife Lula and sons Douglas and J.D.) — in the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Elm City-Wilson Road [next door to the James Robbins family, above], farmer Leroy Batts, 26; wife Lula, 23; son Armour, 9 months; uncle Stephen B. Strickland, 61; and boarder James E. Pender, 22, farm laborer. [Is this, in fact, Jesse Pender?]
  • Clyde Batts, the tailor in Wilson — in the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory:

  • siblings Margaret and George Pipos, cafe owners — in the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pappas Geo (Elite Cafe) h 404 E Nash and Pappas Margaret waitress Elite Cafe h 404 E Nash.
  • cooks James and “Jelly Butt”
  • the Dixie Inn, a “seafood and barbecue place”
  • “Aunt Maggie’s husband, Uncle Orangie Barnes, had a sister living in Wilson on Pettigrew Street named Mittie Barnes
  • Martha Coverton, a cook for Betty Powell — possibly, in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 408 South Lodge Street, rented for $18/month, widow Annie Covington, 54, laundress, and children Martha, 20, servant, and James, 9. In the 1930 city directory, Martha Covington was listed as a cook.
  • Betty Powell, a downtown madam who employed Pender from 1934 to 1946
  • Powell’s husband, Mr. Taylor, who raised chickens and ran a cafe on Tarboro Street
  • Mr. Benny, a retired teacher
  • Mr. Howard, a high school principal — William H.A. Howard, principal of the Wilson Colored High School.
  • Dardens High School — Wilson Colored High School was renamed C.H. Darden High School in 1937.
  • Mallie Paul of Wilson and Katie King of Goldsboro, madams in nearby towns
  • Effie Mae Dean, a cook, and her mother Rosie Battle
  • Charles Barnes, houseman and butler for Dick Cozart; Elks Club member; struck by a car and killed in 1937
  • Herbert Woodard‘s place, a motel and cafe on the outskirts of WIlson
  • Shade’s Drugstore — pharmacy owned by Isaac A. Shade at 527 East Nash Street.
  • John D. and his sister Irma Dean [Hines], whom Pender married — in the 1930 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Lewis Hines, 42; wife Martha, 41; and children William D., 15, John D., 11, Lewis Jr., 8, Annie E., 7, Etta E., 6, and Debora, 2,  plus mother-in-law Jack A. Barnes, 74. On 29 December 1937, Jesse Pender, 23, of Wilson County, son of Joe and Ella Pender of Wilson County married Erma Dean Hines, 18, daughter of Louis and Martha Hines of Wilson County, in Nashville, Nash County.
  • daughter Betty Lou Pender, born in 1938
  • house on Carole Street up by Darden’s High School — Carroll Street.
  • parents moved to a house on Vance Street
  • Pa Faulkland, his mother’s second husband, who died in 1956 — Willie Faulkland died 1  November 1955 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 November 1883 in Wilson County to Phillip Faulkland and Jannie Farmer and was a laborer. Informant was Ella Faulkland, 718 Viola Street. [He was buried by Hunter’s Funeral Home, 900 East Nash Street — who?]
  • mother’s house on Viola Street — 718 Viola Street.
  • Watson Tobacco Warehouse on Lodge Street
  • Pender, Milton Fitch, Albert Wingate, Cris [Chrisdell] Leach and Albert Gay got taxi licenses and opened Veteran Cab Company in a “little office shack in the backyard of Hamilton Funeral Home” —
  • cousin Frank Durham — Son of James and Flora Robbins, above. On 12 November 1938, at Nashville, Nash County, Frank Durham, 23, son of James Durham and Flora Durham Robbins, married Annie Gray Finch, 23, daughter of Alonzo Finch and Annie Hall Finch in the presence of W.R. Lucas of Elm City and Louis Hines and Dollie Mae Williams Hines of Wilson.

I do like they done.

Martha Ann Tyson Dixon of DeValls Bluff, Arkansas, sat for an interview with a Federal Writers Project worker in the late 1930s. Dixon had spent her childhood enslaved near Saratoga, Wilson County, and she and her husband Luke D. Dixon had migrated west in the late 1880s. More than 50 years after Emancipation, she vividly described the hardships of life during and after slavery.

“I am eighty-one years old. I was born close to Saratoga, North Carolina. My mother died before I can recollect and my grandmother raised me. They said my father was a white man. They said Jim Beckton [Becton]. I don’t recollect him. My mother was named Mariah Tyson.

“I recollect how things was. My grandmother was Miss Nancy Tyson’s cook. She had one son named Mr. Seth Tyson. He run her farm. They et in the dining room, we et in the kitchen. Clothes and somethng to eat was scarce. I worked at whatever I was told to do. Grandma told me things to do and Miss Nancy told me what to do. I went to the field when I was pretty little. Once my uncle left the mule standing out in the field and went off to do something else. It come up a hard shower. I crawled under the mule. If I had been still it would have been all right but my hair stood up and tickled the mule’s stomach. The mule jumped and the plough hit me in my hip here at the side. It is a wonder I didn’t get killed.

“After the Civil War was times like now. Money scarce and prices high, and you had to start all over new. Pigs was hard to start, mules and horses was mighty scarce. Seed was scarce. Everything had to be started from the stump. Something to eat was mighty plain and scarce and one or two dresses a year had to do. Folks didn’t study about going so much.”

“I had to rake up leaves and fetch em to the barn to make beds for the little pigs in cold weather. The rake was made out of wood. It had hickory wood teeth and about a foot long. It was heavy. I put my leaves in a basket bout so high [three or four feet high.] I couldn’t tote it — I drug it. I had to get leaves in to do a long time and wait till the snow got off before I could get more. It seem like it snowed a lot. The pigs rooted the leaves all about in day and back up in the corners at night. It was ditched all around. It didn’t get very muddy. Rattle snakes was bad in the mountains. I used to tote water — one bucketful on my head and one bucketful in each hand. We used wooden buckets. It was a lot of fun to hunt guinea nests and turkey nests. When other little children come visiting that is what we would do. We didn’t set around and listen at the grown folks. We toted up rocks and then they made rows [terraces] and rock fences about the yard and garden. They looked so pretty. Some of them would be white, some gray, sometimes it would be mixed. They walled wells with rocks too. All we done or knowed was work. When we got tired there was places to set and rest. The men made plough stocks and hoe handles and worked at the blacksmith shop in snowy weather. I used to pick up literd [lightwood] knots and pile them in piles along the road so they could take them to the house to burn. They made a good light and kindling wood.

“They didn’t whoop Grandma but she whooped me a plenty.

“After the war some white folks would tell Grandma one thing and some others tell her something else.  She kept me and”

“cooked right on. I didn’t know what freedom was. Seemed like most of them I knowed didn’t know what to do. Most of the slaves left the white folks where I was raised. It took a long time to ever get fixed. Some of them died, some went to the cities, some up North, some come to the country. I married and come to Fredonia, Arkansas in 1889. I had been married since I was a young girl. But as I was saying the slaves still hunting a better place and more freedom. Grandma learnt me to set down and be content. We have done better out here than we could done in North Carolina but I don’t believe in so much rambling.

“We come on the passenger train and paid our own way to Arkansas. It was a wild and sickly country and has changed. Not like living in the same country. I try to live like the white folks and Grandma raised me. I do like they done. I think is the reason we have saved and have good a living as we got. We do on as little as we can and save a little for the rainy day.”

——

In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Nancy Scarborough, 47; Victoria, 10, Susan, 6, and Laurina Scarborough, 3; farm manager Seth Tyson, 23; and Julia, 18, Nancy, 17, Aaron, 15, and Abner Tyson, 13.

In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Mary Tyson, 62, with Edith, 23, John, 21, Abraham, 16, and Martha Tyson, 11.

In the 1880 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: Martha Tyson, 20, was a cook in the household of white marchant/farmer Mark Atkinson.

Martha Tyson, 26, married Luke Dixon, 26, in Wilson County on 12 February 1885. Minister E.H. Ward performed the ceremony in the presence of Charles Batts, Tempey Cotton and Green Taylor.

In the 1910 census of Watensaw township, Prairie County, Arkansas: Luke Dixon, 49, saw filer at Bar factory, and wife Martha M., 52.

In the 1920 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cedar Street, farmer Luke Dixon, 58; wife Martha, 59; and cousins Margaret Tyson, 14, and Oleo McClarin, 9.

In the 1930 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cypress Street, owned and valued at $2000, Luke D. Dixon, 70, born in Virginia, and wife Martha, 70, born in North Carolina, with cousin Allen Reaves, 8.

In the 1940 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cypress Street, owned and valued at $2000, Luke Dixon, 84, born in Virginia, and wife Martha A., 84, born in North Carolina.

Federal Writers’ Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 2, Arkansas, Part 2, Cannon-Evans, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mesn.022.

I joined to be with my husband.

On 25 October 2009, Wilson native Kay C. Westray sat for an interview with a member of Washington, D.C.’s Zion Baptist Church Historical and Preservation Commission’s Oral History Committee. Here is an excerpt:

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

BRISCOE: What is your name?
K. WESTRAY: My name is Kay C. Westray.
BRISCOE: When and when were you born?
K. WESTRAY: I was born on March 6, 1918 in Wilson, North Carolina.
BRISCOE: What were your parents’ names?
K. WESTRAY: My mother’s name was Melissa Hill and my father was named Lovet Hill.
BRISCOE: What is your educational background?
K. WESTRAY: I was educated in the Wilson, North Carolina public schools, and I graduated from Fayetteville State Secondary College in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
BRISCOE: What were the main jobs you have held?
K. WESTRAY: I worked as a clerk at the Veteran’s Administration. I quit that job in 1951. I am now retired.

BRISCOE: Tell me about your marital status and your family.
K. WESTRAY: Since September 6, 1947, I have been married to Lynwood C. Westray. We have been married for 62 years. We have one daughter, Gloria Westray Nuckles, who lives in Fort Stockton, Texas. She teaches at the prison school. We have no grandchildren.
BRISCOE: Where else have you lived?
K. WESTRAY: I lived in Wilson, North Carolina and in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I went to college. I came to Washington, DC in 1939.
BRISCOE: Thank you for telling me about your life up to now. Our next set of questions will ask about your Faith Life.

FAITH LIFE

BRISCOE: When and where did you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior? What was the name of that church?
K. WESTRAY: I accepted Christ as my Savior and got baptized at 8 or 9 years of age. My father took me to St. Johns AME Zion Church in Wilson, North Carolina. Rev. B. P. Coward was the pastor.
BRISCOE: Why did you join Zion?
K. WESTRAY: I joined Zion in 1947 to be with my husband.

——

In the 1920 census of Township 9, Craven County, North Carolina — farmer Hugh L. Hill, 34; wife Malissie, 32; and children Mamie, 8, Katie, 6, Evolena, 4, and William, 2.

Malissa Hill died 21 March 1929 in childbirth in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 38 years old and was born in Greene County, North Carolina, to Frank Jenkins of Pitt County and Allie Mae Fonville of Greene County. Henry L. Hill was informant.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 232 Manchester Street, rented for $18/month, widower Henry L. Hill, 44, sawmill laborer, and children Mamie E., 18; Evenlyne, 15, Katie B., 17, William, 2, Jessie M., 9, Emaniel, 7, Benjamin, 5, and Myrtina, 3.

Henry Lovet Hill died 25 August 1957 of a heart attack at Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church. Per his death certificate, he was born 31 [sic] November 1871 in Craven County to William Jackson Hill and Emma Jane Hill; resided at 507 Hadley Street, Wilson; was married; worked as a preacher and laborer; and “as a lay preacher he had just finished his sermon, turned to sit down, when he slumped over.”

Katie C. Westray, age 100, died “[o]n Monday, May 13, 2013; loving and devoted wife of Lynwood C. Westray; beloved mother of Gloria J. Nuckles. She is also survived by her sister Mertina H. Hill; and a host of other relatives and friends. A Memorial Service will be held at Zion Baptist Church, 4850 Blagden Avenue NW on Tuesday, May 21 at 12 noon. Interment private. Services by Stewart.”

Studio shots, nos. 75 and 76: Hattie Henderson Ricks.

Shortly after World War II, Hattie Mae Henderson found work at Wilson Awning & Tent Company’s factory on South Douglas Street.

Hattie Factory 01

As recalled here, handling fabric and sewing the oversized tents was challenging work. The dresses and skirts women commonly wore in the 1940s were not suitable for maneuvering atop the long tables on which the tents were stitched, so Henderson and other female workers donned full-legged dungarees on the factory floor. These photos were taken in unnamed Wilson studios during this period.

Hattie Henderson in trousers

Photograph in the collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks, now in the possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Marvin Jones: “We were just making the day.”

As noted in NCPedia.org, “[h]istorian David Cecelski wrote a popular oral history series called “Listening to History” for the Raleigh News & Observer from 1998 to 2008. With the support of the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Cecelski traveled across the state listening to, recording and preserving stories that spoke to the state’s history throughout the 20th century. ‘Listening to History’ appeared monthly in the newspaper’s ‘Sunday Journal,’ a special section of the Sunday edition of the newspaper that focused on the state’s cultural life.”

In 2004, as part of his series, Dr. Cecelski interviewed Marvin Jones, who began working for the Export Leaf Tobacco Company in Wilson in 1946. An excerpt from that interview, in which Jones “recalled the strong, and sometimes irreverent, camaraderie that enlivened tobacco factory life and laid a foundation for” the historic tobacco workers’ labor movement, is found here.

Marvin Jones died ten years after his “Listening to History” interview. Per his obituary:

“Mr. Marvin Jones, age 90, of 1020 SE Hines Street, Wilson, NC died Sunday, June 1, 2014 at his residence. Funeral arrangements are scheduled for Saturday, June 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm at Tabernacle of Prayer, 1601 Lane Street, SE, Wilson, North Carolina.

“Mr. Jones was preceded in death by: his wife, Johnnie Mae Brevard Jones; his parents, Rufus Haney and Gladys Jones Barnes; two sons, Bobby Julian Batts, Sr. and Tony Lewis; six sisters, Jessie Haney Locus, Thelma Roundtree, Annie Mae Barnes, Bessie Lee Davis, Rosa Barnes and Louise B. Johnson; four brothers, Rufus Haney, Jr., Joe Bonnie Haney, Issac Barnes and Jasper Barnes.

“He leaves cherished memories to one son, Walter Jones Jr. of the home; three daughters, Evelyn Wade (Donald) of the home, Gale Artis (James) of Wilson and Gwendolyn Fisher of Wilson; twelve grandchildren; thirty-one great grandchildren and nineteen great-great-grandchildren; one sister, Louise Reynolds of Philadelphia, PA; one sister-in-law, Ruth Barnes of Wilson; two special care givers, his great granddaughter, Tamara Richardson and Hattie Batts; and  a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives and friends.

“A public viewing will be held on Friday, June 6, 2014 from 3:00 pm until 8:00 pm with the family receiving friends from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Stevens Funeral Home, 1820 Martin Luther King Jr., Parkway, Wilson, North Carolina.”

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——

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: in Happy Hill, road construction laborer Jesse Barnes, 41; wife Gladys A., 38; and children Marvin J., 16, Mary, 18, Rosa, 15, Isaac, 11, Bessie, 10, and Jasper Lee, 7.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 912 East Vance Street, South Carolina-born tobacco factory cooper Rufus Haney, 38, and children Rufus Jr., 13, and Jiosa Lee, 10, and mother Minder, 74.

In 1942, Marvin Jones registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 18 November 1923 in Wilson; resided at 612 Wiggins Street; his contact was Mrs. Julia Barnes, Wainright [sic], Wilson; and he worked for N.L. Baker, Route 1, Wilson.

The life and times of Nathan W. Boyette.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 November 1921.

In a nutshell: Nathan W. Boyette lived at 210 Pender Street. He was born 18 September 1850 and was enslaved in Old Fields township by Jimmy Boyette. He was the second oldest of 11, eight boys and three girls. His mother Julie was literate and taught her children to read and write. In October 1865, Boyette purchased a Blueback Speller from Moses Rountree’s store at Tarboro and Broad Streets in Wilson. In 1871, he began subscribing to the Wilmington Post. Before he was 20, he became Sunday school superintendent at New Vester Baptist Church. Shortly after, he moved to Goldsboro and went to work for “Old Man” John Robinson. After seven years, he became a carpenter and continued to work into his 70s. In 1920 Boyette married his sixth wife. All but one — Roscoe Boyette — of his 14 children were dead. However, Roscoe’s whereabouts since his discharge from the military after World War I were unknown. Boyette was hardworking and thrifty and gave up his sole vice, smoking, as a condition of his last marriage. He had only been inside a courtroom to serve as a juror three times. He was a member of the Missionary Baptist Church on East Nash Street. “Never had a doctor but once in my life and then I could have done without him. The Lord has been good to me.”

——

The 1860 slave schedule of Old Fields township, Wilson County, lists James Boyett as the owner of eight enslaved people: a 28 year-old woman [Julia?]; six boys aged 19, 12, 9 [Nathan?], 7, 4 and 2; and a girl aged 8. They were housed in two dwellings.

On 23 February 1882, Nathan Boyett, 31, of Wayne County, son of Moses Bayley and Julia Bayley of Wilson County, married Charity Crow, 27, of Wayne County, daughter of Jorden and Jane Crow of Wayne County, in Mount Olive, Brogden township, Wayne County, North Carolina.

On 2 March 1904, Nathan Boyette, 53, married Louisa Fowler, 38, daughter of Suckey Wiggins, in Goldsboro, Wayne County.

In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Boyette Nathan carp h 210 Pender; Boyette Emma dom h 210 Pender.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Boyett Nathan W (c, Emma) carp h 210 Pender

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 115 West Walnut Street, rented for $20/month,  Nathan Boyette, 79, and Emma Boyette, 56, cook for private family.

Nathan Boyett died 2 June 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 February 1850 in Wilson County to Moses Bailey and Julia Boyett of Wilson County; had worked as a laborer until three months prior to his death; was married to Emma Boyett; and lived at 115 West Walnut. [Note that Nathan Boyette adopted his mother (and former owner’s) surname upon Emancipation. Julia Boyette apparently died before 1870. In that census Moses Bailey is listed as the single parent of several children, and on 5 January 1871, he married Isabella Renfrow in Wilson County. Per their marriage license, Bailey was the son of Benja Bryant and Juda Jones.]

Buried in a white cemetery.

Tracing Their Wilson Roots: Towering Tree Marks African-American Couple’s Grave in White Cemetery

By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Daily Times, 1 October 2017.

Paul Sherrod and his nephew spent a day last month cleaning brush off their ancestors’ graves.

“Every time I come here to Wilson I come here to visit this cemetery because it is so special to me,” Sherrod said as he walked up to the resting place for his grandparents, Joseph Tobe Smith, 1871-1956, and Martha Elizabeth Wheeler Smith, 1875-1932.

A massive pine tree stands over the top of the gravesite, which is in the Winstead family cemetery, also referred to as the Parkwood Cemetery, surrounded by the parking lot of the now-closed Wilson Mall.

“I remember as a kid this being farmland,” Sherrod said. “My grandfather was a sharecropper on land owned by the Winstead family. My grandfather was allowed to plant this tallest tree here, we believe, sometime between 1918 and 1922, and he was promised that he could be buried there right along with my grandmother. So proud of this, to know that my grandfather planted that tree.”

Sherrod is not sure who it was in the Winstead family who offered and then kept that promise, but he suspects it might have been Charles Winstead Sr.

“They owned land from here all the way down to Raleigh Road. I had two uncles who sharecropped almost all the way down to the parkway,” Sherrod said.

It is remarkable to Sherrod that early in the 20th century, a black couple would be permitted to have a final resting place in a white cemetery.

“That is really truly amazing because here we are in 1929, in the middle of the Depression and some oppression, you have this act of compassion and courage from this Winstead family to allow this to happen,” Sherrod said. “Looking back on it, I think they must have had, what you call it now, some flack about that, but they were courageous enough to see it through because they made a promise to my grandfather and they held to their promise. And moving forward to the mall being here, as the developers were putting it together, I understand that the Winstead family made a stipulation when they sold them the land that the graves and the bodies will not be exhumed, so here they are. I don’t know which family members it was, but they, again, had the same courage as their forefathers. So that’s remarkable, in 1929, having an African-American buried in a white cemetery.”

Sherrod never knew his grandmother, as she died before Sherrod was born.

“I only know about my grandfather,” Sherrod said. “I remember so much about him because he was actually both a father and a grandfather to me because my father died when I was quite young. He died in 1945. Right after that I started to live with my grandfather, and he mentored me in so, so many ways. He would take me with him as he would take his wagon and his mule and cultivate gardens. He was a farmer, but he was not farming anymore, so he was cultivating people’s gardens, and I learned so much from him about agriculture, how to grow things. I had my own garden. He would help me take care of the tomatoes and the okra. He was a wonderful person.”

They lived together from about 1944 to 1950 when Sherrod was 13 to 18 years old.

“It was a pleasure living with him because I learned so much,” Sherrod said. “He was so patient with me. I understand now, that he could see that I was different. I loved the books, and he wanted to give me the opportunity to do my homework, so he had to always make sure there was enough kerosene in the lamp. A little step up from Lincoln and the candle, but a similar situation.”

Sherrod laughed.

“The house was about a mile and half from here, east of here in New Grab Neck,” Sherrod said. “Later it was called Jefferson Street, and now it’s called Forest Hills. They have changed the name a couple of times.”

Sherrod, who is now 84, said growing up in Wilson in the 1940s wasn’t as bad as it might have seemed that it could have been.

“Our neighborhood was partially integrated. About a quarter of a mile up the street from where we lived, there was a white family. As a matter of fact, my grandfather had lived in that very house back in the early ’40s,” Sherrod said. “The only real signs of segregation were more the public places. We had a colored and white drinking fountain in front of the courthouse. Now it is a memorial to veterans, I believe. You could not sit in a restaurant. You had to go back to the back to get your food handed out the back door to you. And when buses came along, we had to ride in the back of the bus. So those were outward signs of the segregation, but there was never really any brutality. You weren’t afraid to walk around. You knew your place. You understood that. It wasn’t really as bad as it could have been because I have heard some real horror stories from other cities around the country later on. Not then. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

The pine tree that Joseph Smith planted is at least 4 feet thick and the most prominent tree in the graveyard. There is a crack up its middle, perhaps made by a lightning strike many years ago.

When his grandfather died in 1956, Sherrod was overseas serving in the Air Force and could not attend the funeral.

“Before, they just had a simple marker,” Sherrod said.

Family members placed a granite marker at the site several years ago, and Sherrod recently purchased an additional stone marker to note the couple’s birth and death dates.

When Sherrod and his nephew, Bradley Sherrod of Wilson, spent the day clearing the brush around the gravesite, they left one little sapling.

“We toyed with the idea of taking it out, but my nephew and I decided no. Let that grow and see what happens. It’s obviously from the seed of this tree, so we left that one alone, that little baby pine, and over the years I’ll see what happens,” Sherrod said. “I hope the Lord allows me to be on this Earth long enough to see it be a pretty big tree. It’s growing nicely.”

Sherrod, who now resides in California, recently held a large family reunion on the site of the Sherrod family homeplace near Stantonsburg. He had spent the whole summer preparing for the event.

That is from his father’s side of the family. The Smiths are from his mother’s side of the family in Wilson.

“I firmly believe that if more people explored the roots from which they came, there would probably be a better world,” Sherrod said. “There is so much rich history on all sides on all ethnic groups, and if we had that history, we would have an opportunity to have a better understanding. It would be wonderful if people would do that on a large scale.”

——

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, farmer James Smith, 34, born in Virginia; wife Adline, 30; and children John, 14, Joseph, 9, Windsor, 12, Kate, 6, Allace, 5, and Julious, 2.

On 19 October 1892, Joe Smith, 21, of Wilson, son of Jim and Adeline Smith, married Martha Wheeler, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Amy Wheeler, at Amy Wheeler’s home. Free Will Baptist minister Crockett Bess performed the ceremony in the presence of Noah Wood, John Wheeler and Jno. Artis.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 29, farmer; wife Martha, 25; and children Addie, 5, Fenner, 4, and Mark, 2, and widowed mother Amma, 55.

In the 1910 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 39; wife Martha, 36; and children Addie, 15, Fenner, 13, Mark, 11, James, 9, Lillie, 7, Mary F., 5, and Martha, 15 months.

In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 49; wife Martha, 41; and children Mark, 21, Lillie, 19, Mary Ford, 13, Martha, 10, Margaret Earls, 4 months, and Josie Brow, newborn.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Tobe Smith, 59, farmer; wife Martha, 54; and children Frenner, 35, farm laborer, Mark G., 32, farm laborer, James, 30, schoolhouse janitor, Josephine, 14, and Beulah, 11.

Martha Smith died 21 March 1932 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born born in Nash County to Dick Wheeler and Amy Rice; was married to Tobe Smith; and worked as a tenant farmer.

Joseph Tobe Smith died 20 January 1956 at his home at 315 Jefferson Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 20 August 1884 in Wilson County to James Smith and Adline Darden; was a retired farmer; resided at 315 Jefferson Street; and was buried in Winstead cemetery. Mrs. Martha Sherrod, 315 Jefferson, was informant.

Aerial view of Winstead cemetery behind Wilson (former Parkwood) Mall, Wilson. Courtesy Google Maps.

Evildoers.

News & Observer, 18 December 1907.

  • R.G. Wynn
  • Albert Ward
  • Oliver Brown
  • Sylvia Barnes — in the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Harry Barnes, 67; wife Sylva, 66; son Harry, 20; daughter-in-law Rena, 17; and granddaughter Henrietta, 14. Silvia Barnes died 8 September 1925 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 83 years old; married to Harry Barnes; was the daughter of Peter and Rosa Barnes; and worked as a tenant farmer for Billie Sims. Harry Barnes Jr. was informant.
  • Willie Moore
  • Moses Smith — in the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: day laborer Dudley Smith, 53; wife Mittie, 32; and children Polly, 13, Moses, 6, and Herbert, 4.
  • Tom Faison