Oral History

Women are best.

While director of the University of North Carolina Press, W. T. Couch also worked as a part-time official of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, serving as assistant and associate director for North Carolina (1936-1937) and as director for the southern region (1938-1939). The Federal Writers’ Project Papers are housed at U.N.C.’s Southern Historical Collection and include Couch’s correspondence and life histories of about 1,200 individuals collected by F.W.P. members. At least two African-American residents of Wilson, Georgia Crockett Aiken and William Batts, were memorialized in this way. 

Folder 324 contains the transcript of the interview with Georgia Crockett Aiken, titled “Women are best.”

The first page is a key to the pseudonyms used in the transcript.

Georgia Aiken is mistakenly described as white. She lived at 120 Pender Street in Wilson. When her interview began, she was in her kitchen directing the work of two children who were cleaning the house. She was born in 1872 into a family of ten children, all of whom were dead except her. [The family had lived in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Georgia’s brothers included Alexander and James Crockett.]

Georgia Aiken grew up near a school and, because both her parents were wage-earners, was able to attend through the ninth grade. She obtained a teaching certificate and started teaching in 1889 a one-room school “out in the country.” She made $25 a month for teaching seven grades and reminisced on the hardships — and reward — of serving the children of the community.

In 1908, Georgia Aiken arrived in Wilson. She started high school coursework [where? the Colored High School did not open until 1924] and received a big raise when she completed it. She taught for 48 years, all told.

She dated John Aiken for two years before they married. Aiken owned a prosperous livery stable, and the couple saved their money to build a house. When they bought the Pender Street lot, a widow lived with her children in a small house there. [A 1905 plat map shows John Aiken already owned a lot on Pender Street. Was it a different one?] John Aiken died before the house was completed [in 1914] and Georgia Aiken took over the business.

Though worried about finances, Georgia Aiken went ahead with plans to build. The livery business did well until “automobiles came in.” She sold the business at a loss and turned her attention to teaching and caring for her house.

The writer described Aiken’s kitchen in deep detail.

Her “cook stove … finished in blue porcelain” was probably much like this one, found in an on-line ad:

Aiken continued, speaking of training her helper, her standards for housekeeping and food preparation, and her preference for paying cash.

And then: “I might as well say that I voted in the last city elections and have voted ever since woman’s suffrage has come in, and I expect to as long as I can get to the polls. I would like to see some women run for some of the town offices. I think they’re just as capable as the men who set themselves up so high and mighty. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if women didn’t get more and more of the high positions in the near future. …”

And: churches and government are run by rings, and “if you don’t stand in well with these, you don’t stand a chance.”

“I believe the women do more in church work than men.”

Georgia Aiken took in boarders at her home on Pender Street and always tried to make her “guests feel at home.” “When times are good and business is stirring” — likely, she meant during tobacco market season — “I always have my house full.” In slow times, though, it was hard to meet expenses. Taxes were due and though she knew she would make the money to pay them in the fall, she hated to incur fees.

Aiken paid her helper in board and clothes only, though she wished she could pay wages. If she stayed long enough, Aiken would consider leaving her some interest in the property after her death, though her niece in New York might object. She lamented a long delay in repainting the exterior of the house, but had plans to do so.

The writer described the house’s rooms and furnishings, mentioning their wear and age. Aiken indicated her preference for “clean decent folks” as tenants. She had two baths in the house and hot water from the stove for both. She could not afford to install steam heat when the house was being built and rued the dustiness of coal.

“Helping anyone in need is being nice to anyone, and the one that helps me most during the few years that I’ve left in this life is the one I hope to remember with the most of what I leave when I’m called to the life to come.”

A summary:

Georgia Crockett Aikens died 17 August 1939 in Wilson, apparently just a few months after giving this interview. Per her death certificate, she was 67 years old, born in Wayne County to William Crockett and Rachel Powell, resided at 120 Pender Street in Wilson, and was married to John Aikens.

“Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Collection No. 03709.” The Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Johnny Thomas’ forefathers.

Some Black Families of Wilson County, North Carolina, a compilation of The Hugh B. Johnston Jr. Working Papers published in 1997 by Wilson County Genealogical Society, contains several typed worksheets that Johnston asked his subjects to complete (or filled in while interviewing them.)

Johnny Thomas‘ undated questionnaire is reproduced in the volume. It appears to have been completed by Thomas in his own handwriting. Hugh Johnston did not shy away from the public identification of the white fathers of African-American children, and Thomas was forthcoming.

In summary, Johnny Thomas wrote:

  • His father Alfred Thomas was born in 1863 in Wilson [County].
  • His mother Lula Ruffin Thomas was born in 1877 in Wilson [County].
  • He did not know for whom Alfred Thomas was named.
  • Was Alfred Thomas’ father Alfred Thomas or Hilliard Thomas? Hilliard Thomas [Most likely, Hilliard Thomas (1824-1884), son of Eason and Mary Eure Thomas and a maternal relative of Hugh Johnston.]
  • “What do you remember your father, Alfred Thomas, saying about his father or his father’s white family connections?” “I can rember my father having his farther picture, he was trully white.”
  • Was Lula Ruffin’s father “Little Jimmy” Woodard or “Coon” Farmer? Coon Farmer [William Thomas “Coon” Farmer (1858-1912), son of Isaac B. and Nancy Yelverton Farmer.]
  • “What do you remember your mother, Lula Ruffin Thomas, saying about her father or her father’s white family connections?” “She said that her farther also was white.”
  • “Your grandmother Adline Thomas was born in 1842 and died on March 20, 1926. Where did she die?” “On Tarboro Highway [now N.C. Highway 42].” Where buried? Rountree cemetery. “What do you remember about her appearance, personality, or unusual qualities?” “Well she was very fair long straight hair.”

——

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County; farmer Jordan Thomas, 52, who reported owning $175 in real property and $100 in personal. Next door: Eliza Thomas, 52, Henriet, 35, Hariet, 30, Alfred, 9, Jordan, 7, John, 11, Charity, 10, and Henry, 6.

In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Jordan Thomas, 68; daughters Henyeter, 42, and Harty [Adeline], 40; and grandchildren John, 21, Charity, 18, Henry, 15, Jordan, 17, and Alfread, 18.

On 2 January 1890, Alfred Thomas, 26, of Gardners township, son of Adaline Thomas, married Cornelia Whitehead, 31, daughter of Richard Hagans and Alley Hagans, in Wilson County in the presence of Jordan Thomas, Lawrence Hagans and James Kelley.

On 1 March 1899, Alfred Thomas, 39, of Wilson County, son of Adline Thomas, married Lou Ruffin, 21, of Wilson County, daughter of Liza Ruffin. Primitive Baptist minister James S. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of Peter Thomas, Charles Hagans and Joseph Hagans.

In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Alford Thomas, 36; wife Lou, 18; and children Sallie, 12, Florra, 9, and Mary T., 6 months; and servant Cora White, 17.

In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: on the Plank Road, farmer Alford Thomas, 42; wife Lula, 26; children Mary, 9, Martha, 8, Sudie, 6, Lula, 4, and Jordan, 3; and mother Adline Thomas, 57.

Wilson Daily Times, 18 March 1919. The runaways were likely Johnny Thomas’ sisters Sudie and Lula Thomas.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on “Stantion Burg Road,” Alford Thomas, 75; wife Lula, 50; children Lula, 26, Jordon, 22, Johnnie, 20, and Pattie, 16; and grandson James, 2.

On 26 July 1930, Johnnie Thomas, 21, of Wilson, son of Alf Thomas and Lula [no last name listed], married Thelma Ward, 20, daughter of Frank and Winnie Ward, in Wilson.

On 21 May 1931, Lula Thomas died in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 44 years old; was born in Wilson County to Coon Farmer and Eliza Ruffin; and was engaged in farming. Sudie Plant of Rocky Mount, N.C., was informant.

Alfred Thomas died 16 January 1933 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 70 years old; was born in Wilson County to Adline Thomas and “father unknown”; was a farmer; and was married to Lula Thomas. Jordan Thomas was informant.

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer John Thomas, 30; wife Thelma, 30; children Walter H., 11, James, 8, Rosa Lee, 13, and Willie F., 5; grandmother Rosa Harris, 86; and lodger Zebedee Ford, 19.

Johnny Thomas died 22 March 1986 in Wilson.

From the reproduction of the program for Johnny Thomas’ funeral service printed in Johnston’s Some Black Families.

Your history is still around you.

Periodically, I’ll run across a quotation that speaks to Black Wide-Awake‘s purpose. Yesterday, I found it in the words of Dorothy Thompson Bolden, co-founder of the National Domestic Workers Union of America, in a 1995 interview for Georgia State University’s Voices of Labor Oral History Project:

“If you think about it, and you live here and think about it at home when you’re in the bed, that your history is still around you, it don’t go nowhere. People may try to get rid of it, but it never gets out of you, and people don’t realize that. If we go back now and study some of these peoples, and look at it and listen to them talk, we can tell you a great deal …”  

An afternoon with Mr. Lathan.

Samuel Caswell Lathan sat in the front row during my presentation at Wilson County Public Library last week, making me a little nervous. This extraordinary musician, who once played drums for James Brown, was especially interested in the topic — he grew up on the 500 block of East Nash Street in the 1930s and ’40s. I visited with Mr. Lathan the next afternoon, soaking up his memories of the people and businesses of the block, whom he credits for setting him on his path as a drummer. He urged me to continue my documentation of East Wilson and expressed appreciation for and satisfaction with my work thus far.

Mr. Lathan also shared with me some extraordinary photographs of pre-World War II East Nash Street. Here he is as a toddler, circa 1931.

This stunning image depicts Neal’s Barbershop, with three of its barbers, circa 1935. Mr. Lathan is the boy leaning against the window, and Walter Sanders is seated in the chair awaiting a cut. “Billy Jr.” stands to his left in the photo, and an unidentified boy to the right.

African-American photographer John H. Baker took this family portrait of an adolescent Sam Lathan with his mother Christine Barnes Collins, grandmother Jeanette Barnes Plummer, and aunt Irene Plummer Dew in the late 1930s.

And this Baker portrait depicts Mr. Lathan’s beloved late wife, Mary Magdelene Knight Lathan.

Sam Lathan has graciously agreed to meet with me again to further explore his recollection of Black Wilson. I thank him for his interest, his time, and his generosity.

Photos courtesy of Samuel C. Lathan, please do not reproduce without permission.

Master Shoe Shine Parlor.

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Color was a monthly entertainment news magazine targeted to an African-American audience. Wilson Daily Times, 6 April 1946.

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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 1942, 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.

Fred Artis brings local history to life.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 June 1992.

On 9 October 1912, Fred Artis, 23, married Mattie Lewis, 18, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of Alonzo Phillips, Samuel Mercer and Tobe Beland.

In the 1920 census of Fountain township, Pitt County: Fred Artis, 33; wife Mattie, 23; and children Christine, 5, and Fred, 4.

Mattie Artis died 2 December 1927 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 32 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to Frank Lewis and Clarrisa Joyner; married to Fred Artis; and resided at 1013 Stantonsburg Street.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 101 Reid Street, school janitor Fred Artist, 56, widower; children Christine, 16, Fred, 14, and Mildred, 11; and lodger Luddie Brown, 22, private cook.

Fred Artis [Sr.] died 12 May 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 38 years old; was born in Wilson County to Edward Artis and Addie Artis; was married to Annie Artis; lived at 101 Reid Street. Fred Artis Jr. was informant.

In 1940, Fred Artis Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 17 March 1916 in Wilson; resided at 101 North Reid Street; his contact was mother Annie Artis; and he was unemployed.

Betty Ann Artis died 4 December 1960 in Wilson at her home at 501-A Hadley Street. Per her death certificate, she was born 9 September 1925 in Wilson County to Ben Guest and Fannie Harris; and was married to Fred Artis.

Nona Braswell Artis died 17 September 1996.

Fred Artis Jr. died 18 September 2000 in Wilson.

How Dew’s Rest Home got financed.

Naomi Elizabeth Morris (1921–1986), who grew up in Wilson, served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 1967 through 1982. She was Chief Judge of that court from 1978 through 1982. In an interview conducted in 1983, Judge Morris recollected her efforts to assist the establishment in the 1950s of Wilson’s first sanctioned nursing home for African-Americans. Though considered progressive for her time and place, Judge Morris’ notions of privilege and segregationist propriety (and that of the interviewer) peek through here.

——

PAT DEVINE: One story that I encountered which struck me with interest as something that I’d love to hear you talk more about was, you alluded to one experience you had in helping to do the legal background work for the founding of the first or only home for indigent blacks in Wilson.

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: Not indigent blacks. No, this was a nursing home for blacks. The office had had this woman as a client for many years. She ran a restaurant at one time. She was quite an aggressive, hardworking woman, and she came to me and said that the director of public welfare, Mr. Monroe Fordham [Fulghum], had asked her to open a nursing home for blacks. She had at that time taken in two or three aged people in her home to take care of, under the auspices of the welfare department, and Monroe Fordham had asked her if she would open a nursing home for blacks. She told him that she would if she could get the money, so she came to me to get the money. We went many places to borrow money, including from the black insurance company in Durham, and they would not let her have the money. Although she had sufficient property to secure the note, they would not let her have the money, and that made me perfectly furious. I came back to Wilson and called the Branch Bank and told them the situation. I said, “You will be missing a very good opportunity if you don’t let this woman have the money,” so they said they would. They required a lot of her that they might not have required of a white person in the same situation — I don’t know — but this was something new and untried. The man who did the electrical work took her note for the electrical work without any security. We worked it out to the point that she had her financing, and she paid everybody back ahead of time. One way she did it, in the summer when the crops would be coming in and the people would have gotten their crops harvested from the field, she would get permission to go out to that field and get what was left [gleaning], the small potatoes that they didn’t pick up, the beans on the bottom part of the vine. She would go get those, and that’s the way she fed her people and was able to feed them cheaper than a lot of people could run a home. Extremely well run.

PAT DEVINE: Is it still there?

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: Oh, yes, it’s still there. About five years after she borrowed the money, the Branch Bank called me and asked me if she would be interested in adding onto her home, that they would be glad to let her have the money. I always wanted to write the insurance company in Durham and say something to them, but I didn’t.

PAT DEVINE: That’s hard to understand.

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: It is hard. It was very difficult for me to understand, because they always talk about looking after their own and the fact that white people don’t do things they ought to for them.

PAT DEVINE: What is this woman’s name?

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: Geneva Dew.

PAT DEVINE: Is she alive?

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: Oh, yes, she’s alive and doing well. I hear from her at least twice a year. She attended my swearing-in ceremony and the party that was given afterward. I’m very fond of her. She’s a very fine person.

——

Nina Aldridge Faison Hardy at Dew’s Rest Home, circa mid 1960s.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer William Winn, 59; wife Jennie, 48; and children Charley, 21, John, 19, Dorch, 13, Pink, 10, and Jeneva, 8.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer Willie Winn, 62; wife Jennie, 60; children Roy, 23, and Pink, 20; and lodger Lula Ward, 45.

On 27 July 1935, Ernest Dew, 26, of Wilson County, son of Frank Dew, married Geneva Dew, 23, of Wilson County, daughter of Willie and Jennie Wynn, in Nashville, Nash County.

Willie Wynn Jr. died 11 February 1940. Per his death certificate, he died 11 February 1940 in Wilson; had been married to Jennie Wynn, but was a widower; resided at 1102 Atlantic Street, Wilson; worked as a laborer; was the son of Willie Wynn and Annie Williams. Geneva Dew, 1102 East Atlantic Street, was informant, and he was buried in Elm City.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Dew Geneva (c) beer 315 Stantonsburg h 203 Stantonsburg. (In the 1947 city directory, the address has shifted 319 Stantonsburg.) The 1950 city directory also shows Dew as owner of a beer establishment.

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Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1960).

Earnest Dew died 15 March 1969 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 May 1910 to Frank Dew and Cora Braswell; was married to Geneva Wynn; resided at 501 Spaulding Street, Wilson; and was a rest home operator.

Geneva Wynn Dew died 6 November 1984 in Wilson.

Dew’s celebrates a move to new quarters. Wilson Daily Times, 20 June 1964. 

Excerpt from oral history interview with Naomi Elizabeth Morris, November 11 and 16, 1982, and March 29, 1983. Interview B-0050. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; photo of N. Hardy in personal collection of Lisa Y. Henderson. Many thanks to Bob Martin for the correction of Monroe Fulghum’s surname.

Roscoe Harvey gets along with everybody.

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 August 1994.

  • Roscoe Lee Harvey — in the 1910 census of Lumberton, Roberson County: Lonnie L. Harvey, 31, wife Rosa L., 24, and son Rosco, 5.

In the 1920 census of Lumberton, Roberson County: Rosa Harvey, 32, cook, and son Roscoe, 14.

In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Harvey Love barber 114 E Barnes h 410 E Walnut; (also) Harvey Roscoe L barber Love Harvey 114 E Barnes h 410 E Walnut

In the 1926 Polk’s Tampa, Florida, city directory: Harvey Roscoe L barber Lee Davis r 301 Hillsborough

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Harvey Roscoe barber r 1112 Carolina

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Harvey Love L (c; Mollie) r 507 Banks; (also) Harvey Roscoe (c) barber r 507 Banks

On 27 June 1930, Roscoe Lee Harvey, 24, son of Lony Harvey of Wilson and Rosa L. Clark of Florida, married Helen McMillan, 20, daughter of Morris and Victoria McMillan, in Wilson. Rev. G.J. Branch of the United Holy Church of America performed the ceremony in the presence of Anderson Holden, Levi Godwin and Haywood Townsend.

In 1940, Roscoe Lee Harvey registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he resided at 724 East Green, Wilson; was born 5 July 1905 in Lumberton, N.C.; his contact was wife Helen McMillan Harvey; and was self-employed at 114 East Barnes.

On 7 July 1947, Roscoe Lee Harvey, 42, son of Lonnie Lovelace Harvey and Rosa Lee Harvey, married Rowena Stephenson, 26, daughter of Deans and Hattie Stephenson, in Wilson.

Roscoe Lee Harvey Sr. died 17 August 2003 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

  • Carolina Stompers
  • Cherry Apartments — in the mid-1980s, Wilson Housing Authority renovated the former Hotel Cherry to create 108 apartments for senior citizens. See Wilson Daily Times, 20 October 1994, page 3.
  • Fred Artis — “Fred Artis Jr., son of the late Fred and Mattie Artis, was born March 17, 1916. He and his sister, Christine Currie, who preceded him in death, lived all of their lives in Wilson, NC. Fred departed this life on Monday, September 18, 2000.” Wilson Daily Times, 21 September 2000.

Fred Artis Jr.

  • Louis Perrington — Louis Alexander Manuel Perrington. “March 14, 1914 Dec. 5, 2001 Louis Alexander Perrington, 87, of 702 Elvie St., died Wednesday at his residence. The funeral will be conducted by the Rev. William L. Neill at 2 p.m. on Sunday at St. John AME Zion Church, 119 N. Pender St. Burial will follow at Rest Haven Cemetery. Perrington was a member of St. John AME Zion Church and Mount Hebron Masonic Lodge No. 42. He was retired from the Cherry Hotel. He is survived by his wife, Pearlean Barnes Perrington; one daughter, Jean Perrington-Ballard of Raleigh; one sister, Wilhelmenia Smith of Portsmouth, Va.; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.” Wilson Daily Times, 8 December 2001.

Greater freedom.

My well-worn copy.

May I recommend Charles W. McKinney’s excellent Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina? Published in 2010, this fine-grained and meticulous monograph examines the many grassroots groups — including farmers, businessmen, union organizers, working class women — who worked together and separately to drag Wilson County into and through the civil rights movement.

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.