Boone escapes to Wilson.

Newbern Daily Progress, 24 September 1859.

I have not found him in records, but Joseph Boone was likely a member of the small extended Boone family of free people of color who migrated into Nash County from adjoining counties to the north. After allegedly killing Uriah Ricks, he fled to Wilson, where he hopped a train south, most likely on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. Note Boone’s description — “about one-fourth free negro, but generally passes for white.” Race was more fluid in nineteenth-century North Carolina than we credit.

A first look at the Reid Street pool.

Every once in a while, we step outside Black Wide-Awake‘s period of focus to highlight an especially interesting document.

Reid Street Community Center opened in 1939 as, of course, a segregated facility. Long-time plans to build a state-of-the-art “community center building for the whites” (as it was called in a 11 August 1954 Daily Times editorial, and thus the moniker “White Rec,” as it was known for decades and maybe still is) screeched to a halt in early 1954 after the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” standards of racial segregation were unconstitutional.

Opined the Daily Times editorialist:

The exhortations worked, and voters (who were largely white) elected to fund both community centers. Architectural sketches of the proposed new (or renewed) buildings dropped in March 1955, and here’s the proposed updated facility at Reid Street with its big new pool.

A few features were pared away before final construction, but anyone, like me, who learned to swim at Reid Street as late as the 1980s will immediately recognize the high and low diving boards and the lifeguard’s chair. The overhang shown shading the exit from the locker rooms, where you turned in your wire clothes basket and received an enormous numbered safety pin, didn’t make the final cut. Nor did the tennis courts, the large wading pool, or the landscaping.

Courtesy of Google Maps, here’s an aerial rear view of Reid Street Community Center shot when the pool was closed during the pandemic. It’s looking a little worse for the 68 years of wear since 1955, and the $1.9 million overhaul recently announced is long overdue.

What passed for fun in the Tobacco Festival parade.

The City of Wilson commenced its annual Tobacco Festival parades in 1936. These appalling images were shot in July 1939 as the parade advanced up Nash Street. This is what passed for fun in Wilson as weeds shot toward the sky in Vick Cemetery.

A giant mammy.

The Junior King and Queen in a palanquin carried by shirtless black men. This mini-float, sponsored by the Lions Club, took a second-place prize.

Another Lions Club’s parade entry. White boys dressed as big game hunters lead bare-chested, barefooted black boys whose features have been exaggerated with white paint. They are dressed as “natives” and wear clown hats. (The top photo was taken after the parade at the Charles L. Coon High School athletic field. The bottom was shot as the boys approached Tarboro Street.) As described in the 18 July 1939 edition of the Wilson Daily Times, “the Frank Buck motif got in the parade again with an alligator in a cage and ‘Bring ’em back alive‘ painted on it.'”

My thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing these photos, which were likely taken for the Wilson Chamber of Commerce.

“Wake Up, Negro, and Secure Your Position in Tomorrow’s World.”

Though some decades past its peak popularity, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association still retained a fervent following in the 1940s when Solomon Fitzhue delivered two speeches in Wilson.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 April 1948.

Arkansas native Fitzhue was active in Ohio’s division of U.N.I.A. into the 1960s.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 April 1948.

The 105th anniversary of the school boycott.

Today marks the 105th 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 has been largely forgotten in Wilson, and its heroes have gone unsung. In their honor, today, and every April 9, 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.



The teachers.













And here, my Zoom lecture, “Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute: A Community Response to Injustice,” delivered in February 2022.

Recommended reading, no. 12: crossroads.

I am a champion of oral histories and memoirs as sources of information that adds texture and nuance to the dry data of documents. In Crossroads: Stories of the Rural South, Montress Greene has published her recollection of growing up in Pender’s Crossroads, a community anchored around Bridgers Grocery and Farm Supply, her family’s country store, in the 1940s and ’50s. Though Greene’s focuses her memories largely though the prism of family life, she offers invaluable granular detail for our imagining of the world through which the men and women of this blog moved. Though that world was legally segregated, whites and African-Americans interacted closely and regularly, and Greene addresses race relations forthrightly, if through the eyes of a child. “Much of this will revolve around the strength of women and especially black women,” she writes. Beyond these personal stories, however, Crossroads reveals the country store as public space vital to all in the community. 

Montress Greene in the early 1940s outside Bridgers Store. An older African-American man is seated on a box behind her.

Recommended reading, no. 11.

I’m overdue for a re-reading of Race and Politics in North Carolina 1872-1901, a 43 year-old classic.

Eric Anderson’s monograph focuses on North Carolina’s so-called “Black Second” Congressional district — one of the most remarkable centers of Black political influence in the post-Reconstruction, late nineteenth-century America. Though the work only touches lightly on Samuel H. Vick, it provides indispensable context for his life and work.

B&G Cafe, “All White–All American Service.”

“We now employ white people only, which we feel is just what the home people of Wilson want. Our motto stands for itself, …” Wilson Daily Times, 22 February 1928.

Mollie E. Farrell and Allie C. Lamm operated B&G Cafe at 112 East Nash Street, across the street from the Wilson County Courthouse. John D. Marsh was their cook. Their collective idea about what the home people wanted seems to have been off the mark. B&G was gone before 1930.

Lane Street Project: Zoom Q. and A. tonight.

Please join me tonight for a little history of Wilson’s African-American cemeteries and of Lane Street Project. The Season 3 opening clean-up is in just a few days, and this will be an opportunity to ask anything you want to know about us!


Lisa Y. Henderson is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Lane Street Project Q&A
Time: Jan 10, 2023 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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