Protest

Mary Euell and Dr. Du Bois.

To my astonished delight, historian David Cecelski cited to my recent post on Mary C. Euell and the school boycott — and shouted out Black Wide-Awake — today.  In a piece dedicated to Glenda Gilmore on the occasion of her retirement, Cecelski describes a letter from Euell to W.E.B. Du Bois he found among Du Bois’ papers, collected at and digitized by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Researching the letter’s context led him to Black Wide-Awake,  and he penned a warm and gracious thanks for my research.

Euell wrote the letter from her home at 135 Pender Street on 22 April 1918, not two weeks after leading  her colleagues in a walkout. She made reference to Du Bois’ letter of the 18th and promised to send “full details of [her] trouble here in Wilson,” including newspaper clippings and photographs. Though no follow-up correspondence from Euell is found in the collection, there is a newspaper clipping sent April 12 by Dr. A.M. Rivera, a dentist and N.A.A.C.P. leader from Greensboro, North Carolina. (Coincidentally, Dr. Rivera’s office was in the Suggs Building.)

Greensboro Daily News, 12 April 1918.

(The collection also contains a brief letter from Mrs. O.N. Freeman [Willie Hendley Freeman] referring to an enclosed a 7 August 1920 Wilson Daily Times article and noting “this might interest you or be of some value to some one as I know your sentiments by reading the Crisis.” I have not been able to locate the article in online databases and do not know whether it related to the on-going boycott.)

“The colored people say they will not stand for it”: the 100th anniversary of the Wilson school boycott.

Today marks the 100th 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 school boycott is largely forgotten in Wilson, and its heroes go unsung. In their honor, today, and every April 9 henceforth, 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.

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2016/01/07/we-tender-our-resignation-and-east-wilson-followed/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2018/03/30/the-heroic-teachers-of-principal-reids-school/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2016/12/10/a-continuation-of-the-bad-feelings/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2017/04/02/what-happened-when-white-perverts-threatened-to-slap-colored-school-teachers/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2018/02/11/604-606-east-vance-street/

Who was Dr. F.O. Williston?

——

In the 1900 census of Cross Creek township, Cumberland County: on Grove Street, grocer Frank Williston, 65; wife Henrietta, 60; children Henrietta, 23, James, 20, and Oliver, 18; grandchildren Hattie, 13, and Edwin Perry, 15; and boarders Mary, 28, and James Pearce, 44.

The 15 November 1902 issue of the Wilmington Messenger announced that F.O. Williston had been granted a license by the state board of pharmacy.

Dr. Frank Oliver Williston married Doane Battle, daughter of Charles and Leah Hargrove Battle, in Wilson on 17 December 1905.

In the 1910 census of Salisbury, Rowan County: at 926 Horah Street, Frank O. Williston, 28, drugstore pharmacist; wife Doane B., 23, teacher; and daughter Leah H.E., 3.

On 22 March 1913, the Salisbury Evening Post published a report that a “Salisbury negro, Dr. F.O. Williston, is seeking the appointment as minister of the United States to Liberia ….” “Provided a colored man is to be named,” Williston had the endorsement of Navy Secretary Josephus Daniel, formerly of Wilson, and other leading state North Carolina Democrats, as well as the National Colored Democratic League. The article noted that Williston was recently returned from the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson in Washington, D.C., where he had been received in the West Wing by the president himself. Both Williston and David Bryant, another African-American who accompanied him, had been as children servants of Wilson’s father when the family lived in Wilmington, North Carolina. Williston, 32, was a native of Cumberland County; a graduate of “the A.&M. college” in Greensboro and Shaw University in Raleigh; was a chemistry professor at Livingstone; and operated a pharmacy in Salisbury.

Four days later, Williston’s hometown newspaper, the Fayetteville Weekly Observer, ran a piece on Williston’s bid for the Consul General position, noting that “Dr. Williston is born and bred in Fayetteville, and is well known and esteemed here. He is of a prominent family of colored people, being the youngest son of the late Frank P. Williston and the brother of J.T. Williston, druggist and F.D. Williston, grocer and farmer.” Pointedly, the article further noted that the “statement that Dr. Williston was a servant of President Wilson’s father, the Presbyterian minister, when he lived in Wilmington, is incorrect.”

Greensboro Daily News, 29 April 1916.

The following year, Williston offered to raise a regiment of African-American troops to aid the war effort.

Salisbury Evening Post, 22 March 1917.

Frank Oliver Williston registered for the World War I draft in Salisbury in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 22 May 1881; resided at 409 South Caldwell Street, Salisbury; worked as a janitor in the U.S. Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.; and his nearest relative was Mrs. Doane B. Williston. He was described as having dark gray eyes and dark brown hair, of medium height and stout.

In the 1920 census of Salisbury, Rowan County: at 419 South Caldwell, Frank O. Williston, 38, wife Doane, 33, and daughters Henrietta, 13, Inez, 8, and Dorothy, 6.

In the 1930 census of Washington, D.C.: at 1110 Fairmont Street, owned and valued at $11,000, drugstore pharmacist Frank O. Williston, 49; wife Doane, 41; daughters Inez, 18, and Fan, 16; and roomer Weldon Phillips,, 38, a contractor for a private company.

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1110 Fairmont Street N.E., Washington, D.C.

Baltimore Afro-American, 3 October 1936.

In the 1940 census of Washington, D.C.: at 1222 Jackson Street, owned and valued at $4000, Frank O. Williston, 58; wife Doane B., 54, file clerk at F.H.A. [this appears to be an erroneous entry meant for her husband]; and daughter Dorthy F., 26.

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1222 Jackson Street, N.E., Washington, D.C.

In 1942, Frank Oliver Williston registered for the World War II draft in Washington, D.C. Per his registration card, he was born 22 May 1881 in Fayetteville, North Carolina; resided at 1222 Jackson; worked for the U.S. government in the Federal Housing Administration; and his contact was Mrs. Doane Williston.

Excerpts from African Americans and the New Deal, http://www.fdrlibraryvirtualtour.org/graphics/05-20/5-20-NewDeal_confront_pdf.pdf.

This is the cause of the exodus.

THOMAS BYNUM.

I lived in Wilson County, North Carolina. I have a wife and eight children. It cost me one hundred and twenty-three dollars to get here. I never heard any thing about politics until I got to Indianapolis; then I was asked by a Democrat if some Republican did not go South and make fine promises to me, and did they not bring me here to vote? I told him, no, that I brought myself; I came on my own money; and that I came because I could not get any pay for my work, nor could I educate my children there; and now that I have seen the difference between the North and South I would not go back to North Carolina for anything, and I never expect to go back in life nor after death, except the buzzards carry me back. Mr. Turnbull, of Toisenot, N.C., a white Democrat, told me that I was coming out here to perish, but so far from perishing I am faring better than I ever fared before in my life. I wish to say that cases like the following is what brought about the exodus: A colored man rented a farm, for which he was to pay three bales of cotton, weighing 450 pounds each; he raised on that farm eleven bales of cotton, weighing 450 pounds each, and 25 barrels of corn, which left to the tenant eight bales of cotton, and 25 barrels of corn, pease, &c. The tenant bought nothing but a very small amount of very coarse food and clothing, using all the economy during the crop season to make no large account, thinking thereby to have something coming to him at settling day; but when settling day came the landlord had so enlarged his account as to cover everything — the eight bales of cotton, the 25 barrels of corn, pease, and all, and then said that the tenant lacked a little of paying out, although cotton sold at ten cents per pound. This and numerous other things is the cause of the exodus.

——

Probably, in the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Thomas Bynum, 32; wife Bethana, 28; and children James, 11, Oliver, 8, Mary, 6, Lavinia, 4, and “no name,” 2; and Lucy Pitt, 53. “Ages of this family are in doubt.”

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: merchant P.J. Turnbull, 29, and family.

In the 1900 census of Indianapolis, Howard County, Indiana: at 1622 Guffin Street, street laborer Albert Whitley, 36; Polly, 32; children Cicero, 13, Mamie, 12, Albert, 9, Leonard, 6, and Wilber, 3; and grandfather Thomas Bynum, 65. All the adults were born in North Carolina.

Senate Report 693, Part 2, 2nd Session, 46th Congress.  Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States (1880).  U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

The Knights of Labor and the Tobacco Workers union.

Founded in 1869, the Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the late 19th century. The Knights promoted the eight-hour day and supported efforts to end child and convict labor. After a rapid expansion in the mid-1880s — swelling to nearly 800,000 — the group quickly lost members after the Haymarket riot. The Knights of Labor had a mixed history of inclusiveness and exclusiveness, eventually accepting women and African-Americans as members and advocating the admission of blacks into local assemblies, but tolerating the segregated assemblies in the South and strongly supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act.

On the basis of local newspaper coverage, the Knights of Labor seem to have been most active in Wilson County about 1888. Though its strength was past peak elsewhere by that time, the organization boasted 100 locals in North Carolina, the most of any Southern state.

Wilson Advance, 21 June 1888.

Jane Bynum of Wilson was initiated into a Knights of Labor local in Wilson in the 1880s.

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Dues cards for Jane Bynum, a member of Wilson’s Knights of Labor lodge.

Many decades later, tobacco factory workers ushered into Wilson County a new era of labor organizing.

A North Carolina Highway Historical Marker in 18 miles north in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, reads: “Black leaf house workers in eastern N.C. unionized in 1946. First pro-union vote, at tobacco factory 1 block W., precursor to civil rights movement.”

Per the marker program’s essay: “In the summer of 1946, nearly 10,000 tobacco “leaf house” workers in eastern North Carolina, primarily African American women, joined unions in a mass organizing campaign (tagged ‘Operation Dixie’) headed by the Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU-AFL) and the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers of America (FTA-CIO). From South Boston, Virginia, to Lumberton, North Carolina, workers secured union contracts in nearly thirty tobacco leaf houses.”

“The labor protest and organization campaign followed the 1943 effort that took place at R. J. Reynolds factories in Winston-Salem. The 1946 campaign differed in that it not only focused on labor rights, but also resulted in important strides in civil rights for African Americans. Efforts were made by the union organizers to increase black voter registration and to instigate political action against segregation within the leaf houses. Nearly ten years before the Montgomery bus boycott, black workers in eastern North Carolina worked for civil rights through ‘unionism.’ As one participant recorded, ‘We’re not just an organizing campaign, we’re a social revolution.’ And another, ‘It wasn’t just wages we wanted, but freedom.’

“While the movement began with the TWIU-AFL organizing locals and securing contracts in six leaf houses in Wilson and one in Rocky Mount in the summer of 1946, the first official union election, which was won by the FTA-CIO in September 1946, took place at China American Tobacco Company in Rocky Mount. After that election the FTA-CIO won 22 of 24 elections in North Carolina. The consequence was that the organizers established a significant union presence in eastern North Carolina leaf houses, benefitting the tobacco workers of the area. Today only two union locals remain.”

One is in Wilson.

An early National Labor Relations Board decision, reported at 73 NLRB 207 (1947), offers a peek at the earliest days of this movement. Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers Union filed a petition to represent a unit of employees at a Liggett & Myers stemmery in Wilson. TWIU intervened, claiming to have beat FTA to the punch by securing voluntary recognition of its bargaining representative status a few weeks prior to FTA’s petition. The Board upheld the hearing officer’s rulings in the matter and dismissed FTA’s petition.

Per the decision: “The Wilson, North Carolina, plant, the only plant involved in this proceeding, is a subsidiary of the Durham, North Carolina, plant, which is the main factory of the Employer. The Wilson plant receives tobacco from various markets in North Carolina and engages in a process called redrying and tobacco stemming. A portion of the tobacco is stored in Wilson, and the remainder in Durham. All of the tobacco processed by the Wilson plant ultimately reaches the Durham plant, where it is  manufactured into cigarettes and pipe tobacco and shipped throughout the United States. The Wilson plant normally operates from 3 to 4 months a year, August to November, and processes from 8 to 12 million pounds of tobacco per season at an estimated value of $5,500,000. In 1946, during the off season, the plant employed 12 employees, and at its peak employed 217 employees.”

On 19 August 1946, when three of the facility’s five departments were operating, Liggett and TWIU conducted an informal card check that revealed that TWIU represented a majority of 123 employees then employed at Wilson. The same day, they entered into a one-year contract. The next day, all five departments were up and operated by the same 123 employees. FTA asserted that on 16 August 1946 it had written a letter to Liggett claiming to represent a majority of its employees. There was no evidence that the letter was mailed, and Liggett denied receipt. On 21 August, FTA sent Liggett a letter that made no claims of representation and did not reference the August 19 letter. On August 29, FTA sent another letter demanding recognition and claiming majority representation, and the Union filed a petition on September 3, at which time the Employer had reached its peak 217 employees. TWIU claimed its contract barred FTA’s claim, and the Board agreed.

BCTGM Local 270-T, 121 South Pettigrew Street, Wilson.

TWIU merged with Bakery & Confectionary Workers International Union in 1978 to form Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union. For the Union’s history in its own words, see here. For more on the Union’s involvement in early civil rights efforts in Wilson, see Charles W. McKinney’s Greater Freedoms: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina (2010).

Copies of union cards courtesy of Deborah Moore Vles; photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, 2016.

What happened when white perverts threatened to slap colored school teachers.

4 2 1921

New York Age, 2 April 1921.

In local lore, this incident has been conflated with the Charles Coon slapping incident of 1918. The teachers “Burns” and “Izell” were probably Georgia M. Burke and Mary C. Euell. Euell had been at the center of the Coon matter. Capable, courageous Mr. Bowser, “very much of a man,” was likely Burt L. Bowser, who owned a small restaurant. The Gay Brothers, Charles and Allen T., operated a dry goods store at 216-220 East Nash Street.

Now That He Is Safely Dead.

A Dead Man’s Dream

Now that he is safely dead,
Let us praise him.
Build monuments to his glory.
Sing Hosannas to his name.

Dead men make such convenient heroes.
For they cannot rise to challenge the images
That we might fashion from their lives.
It is easier to build monuments
Than to build a better world.

So now that he is safely dead,
We, with eased consciences will
Teach our children that he was a great man,
Knowing that the cause for which he
Lived is still a cause
And the dream for which he died is still a dream.
A dead man’s dream.

Carl Wendell Hines, Jr.

——

Carl W. Hines Jr. penned this devastating poem in 1965 on the occasion of the assassination of Malcolm X, but it is often, and perhaps more appropriately, associated with the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Hines was born in Wilson in 1940, son of Carl W. Hines and Ruth Johnson Hines and grandson of Walter Scott Hines and Sarah Dortch Hines.

A continuation of the bad feelings.

This article captures the apparent exasperation of Wilson school officials with the sizable “element” of the African-American community that refused to send its children to public school after Superintendent Charles Coon slapped a black teacher. The “Anti-Reidies” appointed local pastors Robert N. Perry and Spurgeon D. Davis to head their new schools at such time as they were able to open. (An occasion the health department was doing its part to thwart.) The basis of black opposition to J.D. Reid is sorely understated here, and the Reidites claim of public dislike of successor Clarissa Williams misses a larger problem with Reid himself. (Reid rebounded from this setback with a key role in the establishment of Wilson’s only black-owned bank, only to fall again spectacularly.) See here for a fuller account of the Mary Euell incident and its aftermath.

The Independent School (one, not two) in fact opened a week after this article ran and operated for the next ten years.

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News & Observer (Raleigh), 7 October 1918.

Moral laxity and lack of interest in race.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 10 October 1931.

William Henry Alexander Howard was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1872. He graduated from Georgia Industrial School (now Savannah State University) and taught there under the direction of Nathan B. Young. Later recruited by Young to teach at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical College in Tallahassee, Howard had a stellar 20-year career as professor of economics and sociology, Dean of Mechanical Arts, and innovator of FAMC’s military training program. In 1923, however, Young was ousted in the wake of suggestions that FAM diversify its curriculum by adding more academic courses, and Howard was appointed interim president with a mandate to crackdown on rebellious students.

It seems odd that less than five years later, Howard had fallen from the ranks of college teaching and administration and was working as a high school principal in Wilson. Perhaps his initial connection to the school was via Daniel C. Suggs, who was president of Georgia Industrial in the first decade of the 1900s.

In the 1880 census of Montgomery, Alabama: Rich. Howard, 35, domestic servant, wife Emma, 32, children Mary M., 12, Alberta E., 10, and Wm. Henry A., 8, and two other relatives.

In the 1920 census of Leon County, Florida: Wm. H.A. Howard, 47, college teacher, wife Frances, 36, and daughter Harriett, 8.

In the 1928 city directory of Wilson, William H.A. Howard is listed as principal at Wilson High School and living at 108 Pender Street.

In the 1930 census of Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina: William H. Howard, 58, public school teacher, wife Frances, 39, daughter Harriett, 19, and Samuel Gibson, 24. [Did William leave Wilson, then return? Did his wife and daughter ever live there? Or did they maintain a household in Raleigh of which William was nominally a member?]

William H.A. Howard died 16 December 1932. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 August 1871 in Columbus, Georgia, to Richard and Emma Howard; was married to Frances Howard; worked as a school teacher and high school principal; lived at 407 Reid Street; and was buried in Wilson. His daughter Harriett Howard of Raleigh was informant.

Rev. Foster flays white Methodism.

Rev. Richard A.G. Foster, a native of Whiteville, North Carolina, did not stay long at Wilson’s Saint John A.M.E. Zion, but he certainly made his mark there and elsewhere.

PC 11 5 1938

Pittsburgh Courier, 5 November 1938.

PC_1_21_1939_RA_Foster

Pittsburgh Courier, 21 January 1939.

PC 5 13 1939

Pittsburgh Courier, 13 May 1939.

NYA 10 19 1940

New York Age, 19 October 1940.

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Telegram from Negro Ministers of New Haven to W.E.B. DuBois, 21 April 1945; W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Pitt Cour 8 22 1964

Pittsburgh Courier, 22 August 1964.

(For more about The Men of Tomorrow, see here.)