Protest

Tony Robbins’ side: “Please send me a paper so as I can get them.”

In August 1867, John J. Pender complained to the Freedmen’s Bureau that Toney Robbins was harassing him about Pender’s apprenticeship of three children who Robbins claimed were his grandchildren. Pender asserted that Robbins had no children, much less grandchildren. The Bureau apparently sided with Pender, as the children were with him in 1870 when the census taker passed through.

Here is one of Robbins’ letters pleading for the Bureau to intercede on his behalf.

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Joyners Depot Wilison Co NC   August 5th 1867

Freedmen Bureau

I ha [written] 2 or 3 letter to Maj Crompto a Bout 3 of my grand Children nor [illegible] Eny Anser then wrote to General Every at Raleigh he said go to the Freedmen Bureau at Rockey Mount in Edgecone County the children is in Wilison County he told me to write to you it was out of his Power as it was in Wilison County

Thy or not Bound By law, So Plese Send me a Paper So as I can get them thy ar living With John J. Pender of Wilison Co

I wait an Anser [illegible] with Respets Tony Robins

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (assistant subassistant commissioner), Roll 17, Letters received, Jul-Sep 1867, http://www.familysearch.org 

Lucas delivers retribution.

The facts are little muddled, but the message is clear. James Lucas was sentenced to 30 days of roadwork after assaulting principal J.D. Reid (not C.L. Reed) for failing to defend Mary Euell from Charles L. Coon’s abuse.

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The Union (Wilmington, N.C.) Labor Record, 25 May 1918.

The 1920 census records two African-Americans named James Lucas in Wilson. One was a 16 year-old boy, the other was, at 610 Lodge Street, lumber company laborer James Lucas, 27, with wife Mattie, 30, and children Jack, 13, and Georgia Belle, 11.

Sankofa: remembering Marie Everett.

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For hundreds of years, the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and aphorisms. Sankofa is often illustrated as a bird looking over its back. Sankofa means, literally, “go back and get it.” Black Wide Awake exists to do just that.

I had never heard of Marie Everett until I read Charles W. McKinney’s excellent Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. I’m not sure how it is possible that her struggle was so quickly forgotten in Wilson. However, it is never too late to reclaim one’s history. To go back and get it.  So, here is the story of the fight for justice for Everett — a small victory that sent a big message to Wilson’s black community and likely a shudder of premonition through its white one:

On 6 October 1945, 15 year-old Marie Everett took in a movie at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Wilson. (The Carolina admitted black patrons to its balcony.) As Everett stood with friend Julia Armstrong at the concession stand, a cashier yelled at her to get in line. Everett responded that she was not in line and, on the way back to her seat, stuck out her tongue. According to a witness, the cashier grabbed Everett, slapped her and began to choke her. Everett fought back. Somebody called the police, and Everett was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The next day in court, Everett’s charge was upgraded to simple assault. Though this misdemeanor carried a maximum thirty-day sentence and fifty-dollar fine, finding her guilty, the judge upped Everett’s time to three months in county jail. As Wilson’s black elite fretted and dragged their feet, the town’s tiny NAACP chapter swung into action, securing a white lawyer from nearby Tarboro and notifying the national office. In the meantime, Everett was remanded to jail to await a hearing on her appeal. There she sat for four months (though her original sentence had expired) until a court date. Wilson County appointed two attorneys to the prosecution, and one opened with a statement to the jury that the case would “show the niggers that the war is over.” Everett was convicted anew, and Judge C.W. Harris, astonishingly, increased her sentence from three to six months, to be served — even more astonishingly — at the women’s prison in Raleigh. (In other words, hard time.) Everett was a minor, though, and the prison refused to admit her. Branch secretary Argie Evans Allen of the Wilson NAACP jumped in again to send word to Thurgood Marshall, head of the organization’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall engaged M. Hugh Thompson, a black lawyer in Durham, who alerted state officials to the shenanigans playing out in Wilson. After intervention by the State Commissioner of Paroles and Governor R. Gregg Cherry, Everett walked out of jail on March 18. She had missed nearly five months of her freshman year of high school.

The Wilson Daily Times, as was its wont, gave Everett’s story short-shrift. However, the Norfolk Journal & Guide, an African-American newspaper serving Tidewater Virginia, stood in the gap. (Contrary to the article’s speculation, there was already a NAACP branch on the ground in Wilson, and it should have been credited with taking bold action to free Everett.)

Norfolk Journal & Guide, 23 March 1946.

Sankofa bird, brass goldweight, 19th century, British Museum.org. For more about the Carolina Theatre, including blueprints showing its separate entrance and ticket booth for African-Americans, see here.

A little paint does not help a situation like that.

Richard A.G. Foster made the most of his brief time as pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church, as chronicled here and here. In the letter to the editor below, he called to task Wilson County Commissioners for failing to heed the pleas of African-American residents for adequate schooling, including serious repairs for the Stantonsburg Street School (also known as Sallie Barbour School).

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Wilson Daily Times, 3 August 1938.

Taxi war.

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Wilson Daily Times, 28 November 1938.

Eighty years ago today, Richard Sheridan and Ed Nicholson were fined for trespassing after protesting the exclusion of taxi drivers from Wilson’s bus station.

In a nutshell:

Miley Glover and Dr. Mallory A. Pittman leased a building to various bus companies for use as a bus station. Glover and Pittman also leased “taxi rights” to the building to J.D. Peacock of Goldsboro, who barred any other taxi drivers from seeking fares on the premises. When Sheridan and Nicholson attempted to pick up fares at the station, they were arrested and charged with trespassing. Their lawyer argued that the station owners had created a taxi monopoly in contravention of state law, but the recorder (magistrate) did not agree. Each man was assessed a five-dollar fine.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory reveals two taxicab companies in Wilson. J. Clifford Peacock and George B. Patrick owned Oak Cab Company, based at the bus station. Hugh T. Foster owned Taxi-Cab Service at 508 East Nash. Oak Cab’s arrangement with Glover and Peacock meant that, effectively, black drivers had no access to white patrons arriving in Wilson by bus. It also meant that black riders had to leave the station’s premises to hail a cab.

Per the nomination form for Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse District, the taxi stand and bus station at 307 East Green Street were built for Miley Glover in 1937 and 1938. The bus station was one of Wilson’s few Art Deco buildings. It operated into the 1990s and was demolished after the city built a public transportation hub on Nash Street.

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  • Richard Sheridan — Richard Sheridan, 26, son of Richard and Fannie Sheridan, married Beatrice Bullock, 19, daughter of Alice Bullock, on 1 September 1935 in Wilson. Sheridan registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 20 September 1910 in Maxton, N.C.; resided at 1115 Atlantic Street, Wilson; his contact was mother, Fannie Sheridan, 1115 Atlantic; and he worked for traveling salesman John Whelan.

Photo of bus station and taxi stand courtesy of Dean Jeffrey at Flickr, 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.

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?

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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.

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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.