A recent post revealed pharmacist D’Arcey C. Yancey‘s April 1947 declaration of candidacy for a seat on Wilson’s Board of Aldermen, today’s equivalent of City Council. I had not been aware of Yancey’s political career, and his campaign is not covered in Charles McKinney’s Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina.
The Daily Times made sure, of course, to highlight Yancey’s race, but otherwise made no comment about his extraordinary bid for elected office.
Wilson Daily Times, 4 April 1947.
The campaign season was only weeks long, and the Times wasted little ink covering it. May 6 saw a record turnout at the polls, and the Daily Times announced the results the next day. Yancey had been badly defeated, garnering only 75 votes to incumbent Ed W. Davis’ 348.
My thanks to Matthew Langston for following up on the initial post.
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.
Three or four years ago, during a visit home, I got a call from Congressman G.K. Butterfield Jr. to come by his former office on East Nash Street. There, he opened doors to several rooms filled with neat, labeled stacks of documents and photographs and rows of boxes — his astonishing archives.
I was excited to learn yesterday that Congressman Butterfield has donated his trove of personal and professional papers to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Library. This material documents not only his long political and civil rights life, but the history of his family and of Wilson’s African-American community as well.
Throughout his life as civil rights activist, lawyer, judge and legislator, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield has always been interested in history. He’s also a self-described “novice archivist” who has accumulated — and carefully labeled — boxes of materials from each chapter of his life.
“I’ve always been history-minded,” Butterfield said. “I’ve accumulated boxes, and I’ve labeled each box.” The result is a wide-ranging collection of papers and photographs from his family in Wilson, North Carolina, and his own career.
Butterfield has donated the collection to the University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They will become part of the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library.
“I’m 74 years old, approaching 75 years old, and I know it’s time for me to release this valuable trove of information to somebody who can appreciate it, who can preserve it and share it,” Butterfield said.
Butterfield has represented North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District for nearly two decades and is a past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He announced on Nov. 18 that he will retire from Congress at the end of the current term.
“We’re honored to welcome Congressman Butterfield’s materials to Wilson Library,” said Chaitra Powell, curator of the Southern Historical Collection. “Students, faculty and researchers will benefit greatly from his carefully kept memories of an encyclopedic life.”
Butterfield’s father, G.K. Butterfield Sr., emigrated from Bermuda in 1917, at age 17; later volunteered to serve the United States in World War I as a non-citizen; and then graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville, Tennessee. He practiced dentistry in Wilson, North Carolina for 50 years; helped found many organizations including the Wilson branch of the NAACP, Men’s Civic Club, and the Old North State Dental Society; and was the first Black person elected to the Wilson City Council.
Butterfield’s mother, Addie Davis, was a native of Wilson County who met Butterfield Sr. while she attended high school, also at Shaw. She was a classroom teacher for 48 years.
Butterfield grew up watching his parents advocate for voting rights for African Americans. In high school and college, he helped lead civil rights protests.
After earning his undergraduate and law degrees at North Carolina Central University and serving in the U.S. Army, Butterfield returned to Wilson to open a law practice with his friend Milton F. “Toby” Fitch Jr. and later with James A. Wynn Jr. In the 1980s, Butterfield litigated voting rights cases as cooperating counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He was elected superior court judge in November 1988. In 2001, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley appointed Butterfield to the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Then, in 2004, he was elected to Congress to represent the first congressional district.
Butterfield began taking his own photographs and collecting memorabilia during congressional business, including diplomatic trips abroad. “I’m known in Congress as the photographer, particularly in the Congressional Black Caucus,” he said. “I’ve taken over 20,000 pictures. After all of these years, I just had a whole mountain of information.”
Butterfield’s years in Washington allowed him to witness the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. His collection of memorabilia from Obama’s presidency is unique, Powell said.
“Butterfield had the idea to get President Obama’s autograph whenever they were together at important events, including State of the Union addresses, and funerals of important figures such as the Rev. Clementa Pinckney,” said Powell. “It may be too early to examine President Obama’s legacy, but G.K. Butterfield chose to document it, taking his own photographs and collecting materials. It’s fascinating to see this perspective on a historic presidency, all eight years of it.”
Butterfield’s materials add to the already-rich collections at Wilson Library, said Nicholas Graham, University archivist.
“The material that Rep. Butterfield is donating includes the history of Wilson, North Carolina, especially the evolution of Wilson’s Black community,” Graham said. “He has materials from his legal career where he worked on important voting rights cases in North Carolina.”
Butterfield’s materials will join other congressional papers collected at Wilson Library, Graham continued. “Documenting and preserving North Carolina and national politics is an area of focus for our collection. Congressman Butterfield’s materials lend a distinctive viewpoint, a distinctive perspective. I think that they’ll find a research community and students and faculty who are eager to dive into them from Day One.”
Butterfield said he is pleased to know that his collection will be well taken care of and will be made available to anyone who might benefit from it. His physical and digital assets will contribute to the African American Family Documentation Initiative at the Southern Historical Collection and will complement oral traditions in the community.
“History in the African American community is very rich, but it needs to be preserved,” he said. “Those of us who possess these nuggets of history will be silenced one day, and unless we pass it along, and in an appropriate medium, it will be forever lost. We won’t be able to preserve all of them, but we can certainly preserve as many as we can capture.”
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the passing of Robert D. Haskins, the named plaintiff in a landmark 1982 civil rights lawsuit filed against Wilson County over its at-large system for electing county commissioner.
Wilson Daily Times, 31 October 1986.
Attorneys G.K. Butterfield Jr. (now a U.S. Congressman) and Milton “Toby” Fitch Jr. (now a North Carolina State Senator) with Robert D. Haskins. In the early 1980s, on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, photographer Jim Peppler documented Black Wilson County citizens’ efforts to secure representation on the county’s Board of County Commissioners. The series of photographs are housed at Alabama Department of Archives and History.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Haskins, 37, insurance agent; wife Gertrude, 28; and children Mandy, 14; Elizabeth, 12; Estelle, 10; Robert, 7; Lossie, 5; Laurence, 4, and Thomas, 11.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Haskins, 44, insurance agent; wife Gertrude, 39; and children Mandy, 22, private family cook; Elizabeth, 20; Estell, 18; Robert, 17; Lossie, 14; Larence, 12, and Tommie, 11.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Haskins, 55, drug company salesman; wife Gertrude, 48; and children Mandy, 36; Elizabeth, 33, cook; Estelle, 29, beauty shop cleaner; Robert D. Jr., 29, hotel kitchen worker; Lossie, 24, N.Y.A. stenographer; and Thomas, 20, barbershop shoeblack; plus granddaughter Delores Haskins, 15, and lodger Henry Whitehead, 21.
In 1940, Robert Douglas Haskins registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 1 June 1913 in Wilson; lived at 1300 Atlantic Street, Wilson; his contact was father Robert Haskins; and he worked for Robert Haskins as a salesman.
Hat tip to LaMonique Hamilton for the link to these photos.
“Underneath America lies an apartheid of the departed. Violence done to the living is usually done to their dead, who are dug up, mowed down, and built on. In the Jim Crow South, Black people paid taxes that went to building and erecting Confederate monuments. They buried their own dead with the help of mutual-aid societies, fraternal organizations, and insurance policies. Cemeteries work on something like a pyramid scheme: payments for new plots cover the cost of maintaining old ones. ‘Perpetual care’ is, everywhere, notional, but that notion relies on an accumulation of capital that decades of disenfranchisement and discrimination have made impossible in many Black communities, even as racial terror also drove millions of people from the South during the Great Migration, leaving their ancestors behind. It’s amazing that Geer survived. Durham’s other Black cemeteries were run right over. ‘Hickstown’s part of the freeway,’ Gonzalez-Garcia told me, counting them off. ‘Violet Park is a church parking lot.'”
I’m inspired — and encouraged — by Friends of Geer Cemetery and Friends of East End Cemetery and others doing this work for descendants. Please read.
“Whosoever live and believeth in me, though we be dead, yet, shall we live.”
The Republican Party’s 1920 convention in Chicago nominated Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge for president and vice-president. Samuel H. Vick, long active in Republican politics and well-known from the battles over his appointment as Wilson’s postmaster, formerly registered his protest against North Carolina’s exclusion of African-Americans from its deliberations.