Your father probably taught you to do this.

In 1924, “White Barbers of Wilson” placed an ad in the Daily Times complaining of white customers — women, even — patronizing African-American barber shops. Hair-cutting had  long been dominated by black men, and white barbers keenly felt the loss of caste that their trade entailed. After chastising “the public” for going to “dark skin shops,” they shook a challenging finger: “Ladies and gentlemen, we believe when you see the thing the way we do you will be a full blooded Southerner, and join the ranks of a true born American citizen.”


Wilson Daily Times, 5 September 1924.

Carolina Posse Kills Ex-GI.

The lynchings of two Wilson County men are recorded at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The name of the first, killed in 1887, is unknown. The second man, shot to death in 1946, was J.C. Farmer, a 19 year-old veteran of World War II.

Farmer and some friends were in Sims, a village in the western part of the county, playing around while waiting for a bus to take them into Wilson for a Saturday night out. Constable Fes Bissette confronted the group, ordering Farmer to get into his squad car. When Farmer refused, Bissette him in the back of the head with a blackjack, drew his gun and tried to force Farmer into the car. The two scuffled. Seizing control of the gun, Farmer shot Bissette through the hand and fled. An hour later, 20 to 25 white men, including Alcoholic Beverage Control agents armed with submachine guns, cornered Farmer near his mother Mattie Barnes Farmer‘s house and opened fire.

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New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, Va.), 17 August 1946.

Though the scant news accounts available are silent, it appears that Farmer was driven ten miles to Wilson to Mercy Hospital, where Dr. Batie T. Clark pronounced him dead from a “gun shot wound chest” about 30 minutes after arrival. Clark also noted on Farmer’s death certificate, by way of explanation: “shot by officer of law in gun duel” though it is not at all clear which member of the posse’s shot hit Farmer, and there had been no “duel.” (Also, who transported Farmer to town — his family or law enforcement? Why was he seen by Badie Clark, a white doctor, rather than, say, Joseph Cowan?)

In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress issued We Charge Genocide: An Historic Appeal to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People, a “record of mass slayings on the basis of race.” Among the litany of such state-sanctioned crimes committed from 1945 to 1951 was the killing of J.C. Farmer.

Equal Justice Initiative’s 2015 Lynching in America report mentioned J.C. Farmer’s murder in the chapter described racial terror directed at African-American veterans: “No one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. Thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service.” Farmer’s death was just one of a wave of such lynchings in 1946.


In the 1930 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Josh Farmer, 51; wife Mattie, 46; and children William A., 21, Josh W., 17, Waneta, 14, Lonnie D., 12, Robert, 10, Albert H., 6, and J.C., 3.

In the 1940 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Jack Farmer, 59; wife Mattie, 55; and children Authur, 24, Jack Jr., 23, Robert, 20, Harry, 16, J.C., 13, and Juanita Barnes, 22, and her children Mattie Lee, 3, and Marjorie, 1.

J.C. Farmer registered for the World War II draft on 21 October 1944, was honorably discharged on 16 August 1945, and was dead 13 days’ shy of a year later.


For the hanged and beaten. For the shot, drowned and burned. The tortured, tormented and terrorized. For those abandoned by the rule of law.

We will remember.

With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. With courage because peace requires bravery. With persistence because justice is a constant struggle. With faith because we shall overcome.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Mary Jane Stancil and family.

As shown here and here and here, the interrelated Ayers, Hawley, Rose and Taylor families shifted back and forth across the color line for decades. Despite highly publicized legal challenges to their status, most were accepted as white by about 1920.

Mary Jane Taylor Stancil (1867-1921), upper left. The infant is her son Oscar Stancil, who died in 1904. This may be a death portrait, a type of memento mori. The women at right at are unknown.

In the 1880 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Sallie Taylor, about 45; and her children William, 19, Jacob, 17, Jane, 14, Robert L., 12, Thomas, 10, and Luretta, 8, all mulatto.

On 12 September 1899, J.H. Stancil, 23, white, of Wilson County, son of Andrew and Nancy Stancil, married Mary Jane Hawley, 28, white, of Johnston County, daughter of Sally Ann Hawley, in Johnston County.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer James H. Stancill, 23, and wife Mary J., 20, both white.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Red Hill Road, farmer James H. Stansil, 32; wife Mary J., 41; and children Frederick, 9, and Viola, 8. James was described as white. The “W” beside Mary Jane and their children was marked through and replaced with “M” [mulatto]. [Similarly, on nearby Kenly Road, the racial designation of Elender F., 46, William M., 19, Mary L., 16, Maggie P., 13, Henry L., 11, Betsey P., 8, and Mamie G. Hawley, 4, were changed to match that of their husband and father John D. Hawley, 54, mulatto. John Hawley was Mary Jane Stancil’s brother.]

In the 1920 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer James H. Stancil, 42, wife Mary J., 50, and daughter Viola, 17, all white.

Mary Jane Stancil died 5 July 1921 in Oldfields township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 October 1867 in Wilson County to John Clark of Johnston County and an unknown mother; was married to John [sic] H. Stancil; and was white.

Josephus and Minnie Taylor Johnson and their oldest children Arthur, Fannie and Carl.

Josephus and Minnie Johnson took their fight to have their children admitted to white Wilson County schools to the North Carolina Supreme Court, and lost. Minnie T. Johnson was Mary Jane Stancil’s niece.

Viola Stancil Lucas (1902-1989).

Viola Stancil Lucas was the daughter of James H. and Mary Jane Taylor Stancil.

Many thanks to Linda Lucas Martin for sharing these family photographs.


She slapped him. He slapped back and kicked, too.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 January 1943.

The story is not only astounding for the audacity of Henry Barefoot‘s stand in his own defense, but also for the even-handedness of justice meted out to the juvenile, even if it left the judge indignant.

(Meanwhile, undertaker Columbus E. Artis and Lemore Hannah appeared before the bench on charges of operating an unlicensed taxi.)

  • Henry Barefoot — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 308 Lane Street, presser Linwood Barefoot, 43; wife Bertha, 38, laundress; and sons John, 18, hospital kitchen helper, Stanley, 15, Norris, 13, Henry, 12, Curtis, 12, Jerome, 8, and Marvin, 5. (It is worthwhile to note that Henry left Wilson sometime after this incident. When he registered for the World War II draft at age 18, he was living in Baltimore, Maryland.)
  • Columbus E. Artis
  • Lemore Hannah — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 709 Vance Street, Lemore Hannah, 30, furniture store worker; sister Ruth, 20, factory worker; daughter Ollie, 7, and Camilla Hannah, 2.


Wilson’s own.

This historical marker stands in the same block as the Wilson County Courthouse. It honors Josephus Daniels, who was everything listed on this innocuous plaque. And quite a bit more. After cutting his teeth at the casually racist Wilson Advance, in 1894 Daniels acquired a controlling interest in the Raleigh News & Observer and turned the paper into a blaring trumpet for white supremacy. From his bully pulpit, Daniels lobbied for the passage in 1900 of laws disenfranchising most African-Americans, a move that effectively excised them from political power until deep into the Civil Rights era. And in 2006, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission‘s final report noted that Daniels’ involvement in the overthrow of the elected city government of Wilmington, North Carolina, by whipping white supremacists to a froth via The News and Observer‘s editorials and cartoons, was so significant that some consider him the “precipitator of the riot.” Nonetheless, Daniels is deemed worthy of prominent honor, and his marker elides his role in the oppression of a third of North Carolina’s population — and nearly half that of his home county.

On 11 January 2018, the Cox-Corbett Historical Society, Wilson County Historical Association, and other groups will sponsor a community viewing of “Wilmington on Fire,” a documentary film about the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, an event cited as the only instance in United States history of the organized seizure and overthrow of a democratically elected municipal government.  The showing is scheduled for 6:30 P.M. at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center in downtown Wilson. For a fuller understanding of Josephus Daniels’ shady legacy, please consider attending.

The Hawleys, the Roses and the color line.

The families of William and Nancy Rose Hawley illustrate the fluidity of identity along the color line and the complexity of Southern race relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their families lived among a cluster of families in the Lucama area — Hawleys, Roses, Ayerses and Taylors — whose members’ racial classifications shifted back and forth over time. Both William and Nancy were regarded as mixed-race for much of their lives, but died white.

In the 1850 census of District 9, Johnston County: John Sillivant, 53, farmer; Sally Hawley, 60; and Martha Hawley, 35, and her children Nancy, 12, William, 9, Mary, and Elizabeth, 3. All were described as white.

Also in the 1850 census of District 9, Johnston County: Sarah Rose, 44, and children Piety, 22, William 11, Nancy, 3, and James, 0. All were described as white.

Piety Rose married Noah Lynch on 2 March 1853 in Edgecombe County. [Lynch was probably a brother of Wyatt Lynch.]

In the 1860 census of Kirbys district, Wilson County: Sallie Hawley, 75; daughter Patsey [nickname for Martha], 35; and grandchildren William, 17, Mary, 14, Cerenia, 10, Willey, 4, Saffira, 4, and John D., 1. Patsey, Cerenia and John were described as mulatto; the others, white. [Kirby’s district had been the north-most part of Johnston County before Wilson County was created in 1855.]

Also in the 1860 census of Kirbys district, Wilson County: Sarah Rose, 50; Richard Odom, 21, cooper; Willis Taylor, 45, turpentine worker; Nancy Rose, 11, and Alice Rose, 7. Taylor and the Rose girls were described as mulatto. Sarah reported owning $500 real estate and $300 personal.

In the 1860 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County: plasterer Noah Lynch, 30; wife Piety, 33, washerwoman; domestic Julia Higgins, 20; John James, 10; and Martha Taylor, 7; all mulatto. Noah reported owning $700 in real property.

On 26 June 1867, William Hawley, son of Joseph Hair and Patsey Hawley, married Nancy Rose, daughter of Sarah Rose, at Sarah Rose’s house in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farmer William Hawley, 28, wife Nancy, 20, son Joseph, 1, and Aquilla Hawley, 17. William, Joseph and Aquilla were classified as mulatto; Nancy, as white.

In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Patsey Hawley, 40; and children Betsey, 18, Rena, 17, Willie, 16, Quilly, 16, and John D., 10; all white. Next door: Sarah Rose, 59, and daughter Alice, 15, both described as white. Next door to them: Willis Taylor, 51, farm laborer, white.

On 26 February 1874, Piety Lynch, 40, and Raiford Edwards, 52, both colored, both of Smithfield, were married in Johnston County. The ceremony was performed at J.B. Alford’s in the presence of Daniel Alford, Bettie Alford, and Daniel Freeman.

In the 1880 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farmer William Hawley, 39, wife Nancy, 32, and children Joseph, 10, Sally An, 7, and John, 3; all described as mulatto.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Patsey Hawley, 60, and grandson Charles Anderson Hawley, 11, both mulatto. Willis Taylor, 70, farmer, mulatto — who had lived with the Roses in 1860 — lived next door. Next door to him: farmer Leonidas Adams, 38, his wife Alice, 25, and children Willis, 8, Junius, 7, Mary Ann, 5, and John, 2; plus Piety Lynch, 54, and John E. Denson, 30, a fruit tree seller. All were mulatto except Denson, who was white. (Alice Adams and Piety Lynch were Nancy Rose Hawley’s sisters.) Also in Cross Roads, widow Sarah Rose, 72, living alone, described as white.

[Also in the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, this cluster of families: #162. Sylvia Hawley, 22, with children Paul, 3, and Minnie, 2; #163. Martha Ann Hawley, 25, with children Chalmus, 5, and Maud, 2 months; #164. Quillie Hawley, 25, with children William, 5, and Victoria, 2; #165. Patrick Hawley, 35, wife Polly, 29, and children Mary Jane, 9, and Penelope, 5; and #166. John Dancy Adams, 54, Martha Ann Hawley, 45, Pharo Rowe, 30, and Dudley Hawley, 22. All were classified mulatto except John D. Adams and Pharo Rowe. Quillie appears to be Patsey Hawley’s daughter Aquilla. Dudley was Patsey’s son John Dudley Hawley. John D. Adams was the father of Alice Rose Adams’ husband Oleander Adams. In the 1860 census of Kirby’s, Patrick Hawley and the elder Martha Ann Hawley were listed as Patrick and Martha Taylor in John D. Adams’ household, and Sylvia Hawley and the younger Martha Ann Hawley were Taylors in the household of William Taylor, 22, and Sallie Taylor, 30 (who were probably siblings.) All were mulatto in this census, but race-fluid as demonstrated in other records. Who were these people? Were they related to Sally and Patsey Hawley? To the Roses? To Willis Taylor?]

Sarah Rose executed her will in early 1888:

I Sarah Rose of the County of Wilson and state of North Carolina being of sound mind and memory, but considering the uncertainty of my earthly existence, do make and declare this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following that is to say: —

First – That my executor (hereinafter named) shall provide for my body a decent burial, suitable to the wishes of my relations and friend, and pay all funeral expenses together with my just debts howsoever and to whomsoever owing out of the moneys that may first come in to his hands as a part or parcel of my estate.

Second I want my land sold to the highest bidder for cash and pay the same to my last will & testament here after mentioned. Also my personal property All that may be found at my death sold as above written and apply the same to all my heirs.

3rd I give to my son John Rose twenty dollars to be paied to him and his personal representative for ever. 4th I give to my Daughter Pity Linch five dollars to be paied to her. My daughter Allice Adams I want to give her twenty five dollars to be paied to her or her personal representative.

After those above mention received what I have given them my will is to equally divide the balance among William Rose, Mary Alford, and Nancy Holley.

And lastly, I do hereby constitute and appoint my trusty son in law William Holley my lawful executor to all intents and purposes, to execute this my last Will and Testament according to the true intent and meaning of the same and every part and clause thereof hereby revoking and declaring utterly void all others wills and testaments by me heretofore made in witness whereof I the said Sarah Rose do hereunto set my hand and seal. This the 14th day of March A.D. 1888  Sarah (X) Rose

Signed sealed published and declared by the saied Sarah Rose to be her last Will and Testament in the presence of us who at her request and in her presence do subscribe our names as witness thereunto  /s/ J.T Renfrow, A.G. Price

In the 1900 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: William R. Hawley Sr., 60, wife Nancy, 52, and children Willie, 15, and Patience, 13. All were described as black.

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Leander Adams, 46, and wife Alice, 46, both black.

In the 1900 census of Smithfield, Johnston County: widow Piety Lynch, 72, black, living alone.

In the 1910 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: on Lucama Branch Road, William M. Hawley, 69, wife Nancy, 62, and daughter Patience, 22; all described as mulatto.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: railroad laborer Arnold Adams, 67, wife Alice, 57, and widower son John, 35, a brickyard laborer; all mulatto.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Ainley Adams, 711, and wife Alice R. Adams, both white.

William Hawley executed his will in 1913:

In the name of God, Amen, I, William Hawley of the county of Wilson and state of North Carolina being of sound mind and memory do hereby make, publish and declare this my last will and testament hereby revoking all former Wills by me at any time heretofore made, and as to my worldly estate and all the property real or personal which I may die seized and possessed I devise, bequeath and dispose thereof in the following manner, that is to say –

First – My will is that all of my just debts and funeral expenses shall be paid out of my estate by my executor hereinafter named as soon after my decease as by him shall be found convenient.

Item 1st. I give devise and bequeath to my beloved wife Nancy Hawley all of my real estate for and during her lifetime or widowhood, the said lands being situated in the county and state aforesaid in two tracts – the first tract being the land whereon I now low bounded on the west by the lands of Luke Tedder, on the north by Arch Atkinson and M.B. Hinnant, on the east by the lands of B.A. Scott and on the south by Jethro Moore containing Eighty Eight acres more or less, also one other tract of land adjoining the lands of J.T. Rentfrow, Seth W. Scott, B.A. Scott and others containing Seventy five acres more of less and known as the Sarah Rose tract – all of which I hereby give to my said wife Nancy Hawley for and during her lifetime or widowhood as aforesaid. I also give devise and bequeath to her all of my person al property not otherwise herein disposed of to-wit – all of my household and kitchen furniture, all of my live stock and all farming tools and all other personal property except such personal property as I may herein dispose of otherwise. 

Item 2. I give, devise, and bequeath to my beloved daughter Sallie Tedder all of the following land by and after the decease of my said wife Nancy Hawley, bounded as follows: Beginning at a stake at the crook of the ditch in Bull Pond Branch and runs north to a corner to be made in Arch Atkinson’s line, thence southwesterly with Atkinson’s line to Luke Tedder and Jethro Moore’s corner, thence easterly with Jethro Moore’s line to the head of the ditch in Bull Pond branch thence north with the ditch about 100 yeards to the beginning, containing thirty acres more or less, to her the said Sallie Tedder and her heirs by and after the decease of the said Nancy Hawley as aforesaid, provided however that one eight of an acre of this land be reserved to my family as a Graveyard for myself and family.

Item 3rd. I give, devise, and bequeath unto my son J.G. Hawley one hundred and fifty Dollars in money to be paid to him by my executor hereinafter named out of my estate. I also give to him the said J.G. Hawley one feather bed, bedstead and furniture.

Item 4th. I give, devise, and bequeath unto my son John Hawley One Hundred and fifty Dollars in money to be paid to him by my executor hereinafter named out of my estate. I also give to him one feather bed, bedstead and furniture.

Item 5th. I give, devise, and bequeath unto my son Willie Hawley the following described tract of land by and after the decease of his mother the said Nancy Hawley, bounded on the West by the lands of Benajah Scott, and on the north by Isaac W. Lamm and on the East by the lands of Haywood Lamm and on the south by J.T. Rentfrow containing Seventy five acres more or less, the same being known as the Sarah Rose place, to him the said Willie Hawley and his heirs in fee simple forever. I also give to him the said Willie Hawley one feather bed, Bedstead and furniture.

Item 6. I lend to my daughter Patience Taylor for and during her lifetime only the following described tract of land. Beginning at a stake in the Bull Pond Branch in Joseph Tedder and Adolph Taylor’s line and runs thence westerly to Sallie Tedder’s corner, thence northerly with her line to Arch Atkinson line thence a northeasterly course with Atkinson’s line to Mary Ann Hinnant’s deed line thence with said Hinnant’s line easterly to the Road thence south with the Road to creak below the Tobacco Barn thence a south line to the beginning containing twenty-five acres more or less to her the said Patience Taylor for and during her lifetime only and after her decease I hereby give  the same to such children as she may have born of her body if any living and if no children living then to her Brothers and sisters then living. I also give to her the said Patience Taylor, one feather Bed, Bedstead and furniture.

Item 7. All of the property which I may die seized and possessed not herein disposed of or any personal property herein bequeathed to my wife Nancy Hawley, and not disposed of by her during her lifetime, I desire the same to be sold by my executor hereinafter named, and after my said sons J.G. Hawley and John Hawley receive the sums of one hundred and fifty Dollars each as herein provided in the third and fourth Items of this my last will, I desire that the remainder of the proceeds of said sale be equally divided between my daughter Sallie Tedder and my daughter Patience Hawley and my son Willie Hawley share and share alike, and lastly I do hereby nominate and appoint my friend John T. Revell to be sole executor to this my last will and testament to all intents and purposes thereof. In testimony whereof I the said William Hawley have hereunto set my hand and seal this 13th day of January 1913.  /s/ Wm. Hawley.

Signed, sealed, published and declared by the said William Hawley to be his last will and testament in the presence of us as witnesses hereto.  /s/  John T. Revell, Sarah Revell

In the 1920 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: on Aycocks Crossing Road, William M. Hawley, 77, and wife Nancy, 73, both mulatto.

William Hawley died 22 March 1920 in Spring Hill township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in Wilson County to unnamed parents; was married to Nancy Hawley; was a farmer; was buried at the home place; and was declared white. J.S. Tedder was informant. [Per Findagrave.com, he was buried in the J.D. Hawley cemetery near Rock Ridge, North Carolina. Others buried there are Nancy Rose Hawley, William A. Hawley, Sarah Rose and Sally Hawley Tedder.]

Alice Adams died 1 June 1927 in Cross Roads township. Per her death certificate, she was about 70 years old; was born in Wilson County to Sarah Rose and Willis Taylor; was married to Onley Adams; and worked for Ambrose Loucas. She was colored. Informant was John Adams, Lucama. [Alice Adams’ death record reveals the relationship between Sarah Rose and her close neighbor, Willis Taylor, who presumably was also the father of Rose’s other mixed-race children.]

Nancy Hawley died 14 February 1935 in Spring Hill township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of the late W.M. Hawley, was born 8 December 1837 in Wilson County to an unknown father and Sarah Rose, and was white. J.S. Tedder was informant.

John Dudley Hawley [brother of William Hawley] died 27 September 1948 at his home at 407 Factory Street in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was a widower; was born in Wilson County to unnamed parents; and was white. Informant was Miss Maggie Hawley.

In death, William and Nancy Rose Hawley’s children, like their parents, achieved the permanent crossing of the color line that had eluded them in life:

Sally Ann Hawley Tedder died 11 June 1945 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 November 1872 in Wilson County to William Hawley and Nancy Rose and was a resident of Lucama. Informant Mrs. Berry Lewis certified that Sally Ann was white.

William A. Hawley died 14 March 1948 in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was a 64 year-old barber; resided in Lucama; was born in Wilson County to William Hawley and Nancy Rose; and was white. J.S. Tedder was informant, and William was buried in Hawley cemetery.

Pattie Hawley Taylor died 14 May 1972 in Monroe, Union County, North Carolina. Per her death certificate, she was 85 years old, white, widowed, and the daughter of William Wilson Hawley and Nancy Rose. Informant was Grace Sasser, Monroe.

On the other hand, Alice Rose Adams’ children died classified as “colored,” like their mother:

Junious Adams died 25 September 1926 in Wilson township, Wilson County. His address was a rural route near Lucama. Per his death certificate, he was born about 1871 in Wilson County to Leander Adams and Alice Rose; worked as a tenant farmer for Josiah Hinnant; was married to Susan Adams; and was colored. Informant was Willis Adams, Black Creek.

Willis D. Adams died 4 July 1942 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was about 68 years old; was born in Wilson County to Leander Adams and Alice Rose; was a farmer; was married to Eva Adams; and was colored. Informant was Eva Adams.

John Q. Adams died 23 September 1964 at Dew’s Rest Home in Wilson. Per his death certificate, his regular residence was Lucama; he was born 20 May 1879 in Wilson County to Onley Adams and Alice Rose; had worked as a farmer; was a widower; and was Negro. Informant was Ollie Adams Sr., Norfolk, Virginia.



No Negro blood allowed.

Though James Lamm emerged victorious in his fight to educate his children in white schools, others were not as fortunate.

JOHNSON -- WDT 9 16 1914 No Negro Blood Allowed

Wilson Daily Times, 16 September 1914.

The whole matter was decided in seven months.

At the February Term of Wilson County Superior Court in 1914, J.S. Johnson filed suit against the Board of Education of Wilson County. He resided in School District No. 6 of Spring Hill township, he asserted, and was a white man and the father of four school-age children — Arthur, about 13 years old, Fannie, about 11, Carr, about 9, and Andrew, about 7. Johnson had sent Arthur to the local white public school, where a teacher sent him home after two days. The Complaint does not specify the reason for his expulsion. (And notes that Johnson did not attempt to enroll the younger children.) Johnson’s complaint demanded that the children be allowed to attend the district’s white school.

The Board of Education filed an Answer setting forth one devastating affirmative defense: “… the defense alleges that the children of the plaintiff are not entitled under the statute of North Carolina to attend the school for the white race for that they have negro blood in their veins.”

Judge George W. Connor scheduled a hearing for 4 February 1914, which was postponed by mutual consent until the 10th. In the meantime, an additional fact was admitted (presumably by Johnson): “each of the said four minor children have a slight mixture of negro blood, the same being less in each child than one-sixteenth …” Nonetheless, the Superior Court ruled a victory for the Johnsons. Judge W.M. Bond reasoned thus: the state constitution provides that the legislature shall provide separate white and colored schools and also makes valid a marriage between a white man and a woman with less than one-eighth “admixture of colored blood.” In Bond’s opinion, the legislature overstepped when it attempted to bar from white schools the child of a valid marriage involving a white person.  “In other words, the status of the child is fixed by the Constitutional recognition of the marriage.”

The Board of Education appealed.

The Supreme Court overturned.

At the outset, Justice Walker stated plainly that J.S. Johnson was a white man of a “pure strain” of blood, and his unnamed wife had less than one-eighth Negro admixture. He then homed in on a key passage of the state constitution: “no child with negro blood in his veins, however remote the strain, shall attend a school for the white race; and no such child shall be considered a white child.” “Should it be conceded … that the marriage J.S. Johnson and the woman who is the mother of his children, is a valid one, it does not, by any means, settle the important and delicate question, [presented here, in Johnson’s favor.]” The law allowing marriage between a white person and one of remote African ancestry might legitimate their children, “but by no subtle alchemy known to the laboratory of logic can it be claimed to have extracted the negro element from the blood of such offspring and made it pure.” In fact, the Court reasoned, the law does not even declare marriage between a white person and one with “negro blood” within the prescribed limit to be valid, but only that marriage between a white person and one over the limit is void. In any case, certainly the legislature has the right to lay down an absolute — no children with any African ancestry at all, period — as a matter of public policy. (That policy being the “peace, harmony and welfare of the two races, according to each race equal privileges and advantages of education and mental and moral training with the other, but keeping them apart in the schoolroom, where, by reason of racial instincts and characteristics peculiar to each, unpleasant antagonism would arise, which would prove fatal to proper school regulation and discipline …”) The justice turned to the definition of “colored,” which was not explicitly delineated in the law. What is common usage?, he asks. Is “colored” considered to include Arthur Johnson? The term is never applied to red Indians, yellow Mongolians or brown Malays, colored as they may be. “To those of Negro blood alone is [the term] ever found to be suited” and d0es not depend upon “a shade of particular blackness ….” “Whether complexions appear distinctly black or approaching toward the fair by gradations of shading is all one.” After touching approvingly upon the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, the court reiterated the justness and wisdom of maintaining harmony through segregation. Judgment: reversed. The Johnson children were too black to go to a white school.


No matter the views of school teachers and Supreme Court justices, the Johnsons’ community regarded them as white. In the 1920 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County, on the Keely Branch of the Smithfield and Red Hill Road, Arthur Johnson, 20, and his wife Bertha, 25, lived next to his parents and siblings — Josephus, 42, Minnie, 38, Fannie, 17, Carl, 15, Andrew, 12, Luther, 10, Clintard, 8, Ransom, 4, Flossie L., 2, and Leonard, 6 months. All were described as white, just as they had in the 1910 census.

Cephus Johnson, 22, son of Emma Johnson, married Minnie Taylor, 18, daughter of Silvira Taylor, at the residence of William Taylor on 25 January 1898. Both were described as white. Further, Minnie Etta Johnson of Springhill township, Wilson County, died 20 March 1937, as a white woman. J.S. Johnson was listed as her husband, and he informed the undertaker that Minnie had been born in Wilson County to Silvina Taylor and an unknown father. She was buried in a family cemetery by Joyner’s Funeral Home, a white-only business.

I have been unable to locate Silvina or Minnie Etta Taylor prior to 1898.

School Records (1914), Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives; Johnson v. Board of Education of Wilson County, 82 S.E. 832 (1914).

[UPDATE, 4 May 2018: in the 1860 census of Kirbys district, Wilson County: William Taylor, 22, mulatto, turpentine laborer, Sallie, 30, mulatto, day laborer, Jane, 23, white(?), day laborer, and Elizabeth, 10, Martha, 8, Cilvira, 5, and George Taylor, 1, all mulatto.  And in the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, Sylvia Hawley, 22, with children Paul, 3, and Minnie, 2.]

A rumor of mixed blood.

“It being rumored and gossiped that two members had mixed blood in them; the confusion was called to the attention of the church. On September 13, 1916, conference Supt. A.H.Butler came to settle the trouble existing in the church concerning segregation. Four members withdrew on this date.”

Per membership rolls, the four who withdrew on that date were Lucinda Lucas, C.T. Barnes, Elsie Barnes and Annie Whitley.

From “Lamm’s Grove Pentecostal Holiness Church History,” by Mae Pittman, contributed by Cora Nevitt to “Trees of Wilson: Chronicles of the Wilson County Genealogical Society,”  volume 17, number 4, April 2008.

[Founded in 1914, Lamm’s Grove, near Lucama, remains in existence.]

They are entitled to attend the white schools.

In November 1909, James Lamm sued Wilson’s Black Creek school district, claiming his children had been barred from admission “without just cause.” They were listed on pupil censuses as white children, said Lamm, and were entitled to attend white schools as they always had.

LAMM -- Lamm v Bd of Educ 1909_Page_1

LAMM -- Lamm v Bd of Educ 1909_Page_2

The suit prompted a detailed examination of the ancestry of Lamm’s wife, Jane Carter (also known as Jane Locus.) In due course, Wilson County Superior Court issued a short decision finding that Lamm was a “pure blooded white man” with six children; that the children’s maternal great-grandmother was 5/8 white and had a white father; that the great-grandmother had a daughter (the children’s grandmother) who had a white father; and that the children’s mother also had a white father. The children being white enough, judgment for the plaintiff. The children must be enrolled.

LAMM -- Lamm v Bd of Educ 1909_Page_5

The case file in the matter still includes notes from the testimony of two witnesses concerning the children’s lineage. Their grandmother was Equit Locus, whose father was believed to be white. (Her surname places her as a member of one of the largest free families of color in antebellum eastern North Carolina, the Locus/Locusts.) With Dallas Taylor, a white man, Ezrit had Wealthy Locus, who was described as “practically white.” Wealthy, in turn, gave birth to Jane — James Lamm’s wife — whose father was “said to be Van B. Carter,” a white man.LAMM -- Lamm v Bd of Educ 1909_Page_3

LAMM -- Lamm v Bd of Educ 1909_Page_4

Records related to “bastardy” actions in Wilson County support Joe Horne’s identification of Jane’s father. In September 1870, Wealthy Locus was summoned to court to answer charges that she “is with child whitch child when Bornd will Be a Basterd.” Wealthy named Van Carter as the father of the child, but he could not be found within county limits. It is not clear whether he ever posted a bond or otherwise supported the child. (Van Buren Carter, born about 1850, was a Nash County native. He died in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1933.)

Weltha Locus Bastardy Papers_Page_2

Weltha Locus Bastardy Papers_Page_3

In the 1860 census of Bailey township, Nash County: John Locus, 60, wife Nancy, 51, and children and grandchildren Thomas, 30, Equitta, 28, Jno., 21, Neverson, 19, Cytha, 15, Sparling, 13, Nancy E., 12, Wealtha, 9, James S., 4, Polly, 2, and Eliza Locus, 2 months. All were classified as mulatto. (If John and Nancy Locus were Equitta’s parents, witnesses were incorrect in their testimony that Wealthy’s mother, too, had a white father.)

In the 1870 census of Springfield township, Nash County: John Locus, 65, with Sparling, 20 and  James Locus, 17, plus Equit, 35, Murnivia, 10, Elizia, 12, Wethia, 20, Malinda, 2 months, and Dotsey, 14; all mulatto.

Wealthy Locust, 23 [she was actually closer to 30], appeared in the 1880 census of Black Creek, Wilson County, in the household of farmer J.C. Rice. She had five children — Jane, 9, Mary, 5, James G., 3, and Bryant, 7 months — and her mother Equit lived with them. All are described as mulatto. Wealthy worked as a cook, and the relationship to her of each of her family members is oddly phrased in this context — “daughter of cook,” “mother of cook,” etc. (As we will see below, this is not an entirely accurate description of the familial ties within this household.)

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The 1880 census was the last time Wealthy’s family as a whole is classified as  mulatto. (And the last time but one that her older children bear the name Locus.) Though they remained in the community in which everyone knew them and their mother, all of Wealthy’s children transitioned to white identities as they entered adulthood.

On 15 December 1889, James Lamm, 27, married Jane Carter, 20, at Amos Hays’ in Black Creek township. Both were described as white.

Daughter Mary Locus, 18, married Robert Barnes, 23, in Black Creek on 27 July 1893. Robert is described as white; the space for Mary’s race was left blank.

Wealthy’s daughter Bettie married James Bass in 1897, and her marriage license sheds new light on that census entry. Bettie’s last name was Rice and, at 16, she was a minor. “J.C. Rice & Weltha Locas the Father & Mother” of Bettie Rice had to give written permission for her to marry. Bettie was described as white, and her sister Jane Lamm was an official witness to the ceremony.

The 1900 census of Black Creek, however, shows that the family’s social identity remained fluid, at least in the eyes of the community. At household #106, [Wealthy’s son] James G. Rice, 23, wife Lou, 21, and son Lee, 1, all white. At #108, Wealthy Locus, 50, son Zacariah, 13, and daughter Fannie, 10, all black. At #109, Pennsylvania-born James C. Rice, 55, white [father of Wealthy’s younger children.] At #113, James Lamm, 42, wife Jane, 30, and children Robert L., 9, James C., 7, Mamie, 4, and Leona, 2, all white.

In December 1909, just after he filed suit against the school board, James Lamm filed for a marriage license on behalf of Lester Lucas, 21, and his sister-in-law Fannie Rice, 19. Fannie, now white, gave her parents as J.C. Rice and Wealthy Joyner.

James C. Rice died about 1917. Under the terms of his will, executed 23 October 1915, James left (1) Welthy Joyner six five-hundred dollar promissory notes in trust, with her to have use of the interest at her discretion and to be distributed after her death to J.G. Rice, Zack Rice, Mary Barnes, Bettie Bass and Fannie Lucas, and (2) a $1000 note to be divided among the same five. (The will does not refer to them as his children.)

In the 1920 census of Black Creek: James G. Rice, 43, wife Louetta, 42, sons Lee, 21, Henry, 19, and Frank, 11, widowed mother Welthy Joyner, 70, and his in-laws. All were white.

Wealthy Locus died 18 June 1922. Her surname was recorded as “Joyner,” and her son James provided information about her life. She was again described as a widow (no marriage license has been found), William Joyner was listed as her father (James Rice supposedly had no information about his grandmother, Ezrit Locus), and she was white. (That Thomas Yelverton & Company handled her burial signals community acceptance of that identity. Undertakers were segregated in that era.)


Zack Rice, Wealthy’s youngest son, died 8 March 1934 in Black Creek. His death certificate lists his parents as Jim Rice and Wilthy Rice. James Gaston Rice died 25 February 1940. His death certificate lists his parents as James C. Rice, born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Welthy Joyner. Jane Carter Lamm died 21 February 1945 in Wilson, Wilson County.  Her death certificate lists her parents as Van Carter and Wealthy Joyner, and she is classified as white.

School Records (1909), Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives; Bastardy Bonds, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.