Podcast recommendation: Sugar Land.

An impassioned, but disrespected, community advocate; an abandoned cemetery filled with unmarked graves of African-Americans; historic racism; frustratingly opaque government response.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

“In 2018, construction crews building a new school in Sugar Land, Texas, discovered a long-forgotten cemetery containing 95 graves. Two years ago, we set out to tell the story of these 95 people – who were they? What happened to them? In the process, we learned that theirs is a story about power – who gets it and how they wield it.”

Sound familiar?

Listen to and follow Sugar Land on NPR or wherever you get your podcasts.

Recommended reading, no. 14: Miles Lassiter: An Early African-American Quaker.

Miles Lassiter did not live in Wilson County, but I recommend Margo Lee Williams’ book as a detailed chronicle of an African-American family history research journey and because Miles Lassiter may have been linked to Wilson County’s Hardy Lassiter through common roots in Gates County, North Carolina.

Recommended reading, no. 13: the long emancipation.

Priscilla Joyner was born in Nash County, not Wilson, but close enough for her life story — and the context in which it unfolded — to be of particular interest to Black Wide-Awake readers.

“Priscilla Joyner was born into the world of slavery in 1858 North Carolina and came of age at the dawn of emancipation. Raised by a white slaveholding woman, Joyner never knew the truth about her parentage. She grew up isolated and unsure of who she was and where she belonged—feelings that no emancipation proclamation could assuage.

“Her life story—candidly recounted in an oral history for the Federal Writers’ Project—captures the intimate nature of freedom. Using Joyner’s interview and the interviews of other formerly enslaved people, historian Carole Emberton uncovers the deeply personal, emotional journeys of freedom’s charter generation—the people born into slavery who walked into a new world of freedom during the Civil War. From the seemingly mundane to the most vital, emancipation opened up a myriad of new possibilities ….

“… Uncertainty about her parentage haunted her life, and as Jim Crow took hold throughout the South, segregation, disfranchisement, and racial violence threatened the loving home she made for her family. But through it all, she found beauty in the world and added to it where she could.”

Priscilla Joyner’s family in the 1860 census of Dortches township, Nash County, N.C. She is believed to have been the daughter of Ann Liza Joyner and an unknown African-American man.

Review at

It wasn’t just wages we wanted.

On this Labor Day, I bring you “It Wasn’t Just Wages We Wanted, But Freedom”: The 1946 Tobacco Leaf House Workers Organizing in Eastern North Carolina, a compilation of all known scholarship related to the Tobacco Workers International Union and Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers’ mass organizing campaign. The campaign secured union contracts at more than 30 leaf houses, and workers engaged in voter registrations and political action that presaged the civil rights movement a decade later. 

In an introduction to the first edition, Phoenix Historical Society’s Jim Wrenn noted, “This movement began as early as March 1946 when three workers at Export Leaf in Wilson — Aaron Best, Harvey Moore and Chester Newkirk — met with TWIU organizer Dr. R.A. Young … at Best’s home on East Nash Street in Wilson. This meeting led to the establishment of TWIU Local 259 at Export Leaf, the leading tobacco local in Wilson. Best became its first president, Moore its first secretary and Newark its first treasurer. Local 259 members reached out to workers at five other Wilson leaf houses, who were organized as Locals 260, 268, 270, 271, and 272. Today, Local 259 has been absorbed into local 270, the last surviving union local of the 1946 movement.”

The work was published by the Phoenix Historical Society, an organization devoted to the preservation of the African American history of Edgecombe County, and I purchased this copy directly from them.

Recommended reading, no. 6.

I’m always on the lookout for kindred spirits. In today’s New York Times, a delightful piece on Sola Olusunde, a history and archival image enthusiast, who posts on Twitter photographs, video footage, and news clippings of all things “New York, Black, and urban.” Olusunde caught his hometown paper’s attention after a video he posted of a racist attack on Black children by white residents of Rosedale, Queens, in 1975 racked up 4.5 million views.

New York Times, 12 August 2020.

Segregation Chronicles.

Okay, Wide-Awake. I need testimony.

I’m starting a side project (working name: Segregation Chronicles) that will document the physical legacy of racial injustice in Wilson County. I was born in the waning days of legal segregation, and I haven’t lived here in almost 40 years, but I can reel off two dozen-plus sites that stand as mute testimony to trauma that continues to haunt us. I know y’all know more than I do, though, so I’m asking for your help. (Or your mama’s. Or your granddaddy’s.)

At which restaurants did we have to go around back for food? (Like Parker’s.) What theatres had separate entrances and black balconies? (Like the Drake.) What businesses had partitions in their sitting rooms — or whole separate sitting areas? (Like the train station.) Who wouldn’t let you eat at the lunch counter? Who had a colored water fountain (other than the county courthouse)? Where did the Klan rally? Where were German POWs allowed to rest, but your father was told to get his black ass up? Where was the black liquor house that had to pay off a white cop to sell white people liquor after midnight?

Please post here. Or email me at Or let me know if you’d rather call. All responses from any source, black or white, appreciated. Thank you, and stay tuned. (Especially if you want to know what this photograph shows.)

UPDATE: Check out Segregation Chronicles here,

The why of Black Wide-Awake. (And a recommended reading.)

“Every place writes its own elegy before it is founded. Each beginning is an end to what has preceded it; something has always come before. So excavate your own cellar, then the ruins on top of which it was laid, and the bones beneath the ruins. Then dig some more. I may be a sentimental fool, but I can’t deny this particular truth, that it is not so simple as I would like it: paradise is ending on our watch. Then again, it is possible that this is finally true; we shall see, soon. Anyway, I am not fool enough that I would cede my right to complain loudly about what has been stolen from me and no one but me. I take my role as custodian of my nostalgia with a mortal seriousness. Life has supplied me with only these eyes, only this bizarre sensibility composed solely of this accretion of embarrassingly personal, minor events that has solidified into the unshapely mass called ‘me.’ None of us lives in the same world. Seven billion planets, not one, currently revolve around the sun in the third place of the solar system. They told you wrong in school. …”

“… These things that happened years ago and don’t matter to anyone are long-gone wind and rain. Ephemeral, meaningless. But they amount to forces that shaped the rocky earth and waterways (the buildings and institutions and beliefs and histories) that made me.  Guard against its theft, the past of the place that made you. At least notice it, if you cannot save it.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson, The Place You Love Is Gone: Progress Hits Home (2006).


I happened upon my old Tumblr account this morning, which I basically abandoned about five years ago. I posted the passage above in maybe 2011, years before I created Black Wide-Awake, and it just kind of waited for me to step into my purpose.

Recommended reading, no. 5.

I am always looking for ways to improve Black Wide-Awake, to hone its mission, to reach its people, to expand its reach. I am inspired by the work of others pursuing similar projects with similar focus and will highlight them periodically here.

First up, Cierra Chenier’s Noir ‘N Nola, a multi-faceted blog focusing on a city that I know well and fiercely love.

In her own words:

“NOIR ‘N NOLA is a brand highlighting the history, politics, lagniappe, & soul of Black New Orleans. It promotes the unity and self-reliance of our community. It connects our history to our present, while laying the foundation for a better future. It is not politically correct. It is not a plea of help from others, but rather a call to action amongst ourselves.

“NOIR ‘N NOLA illuminates our rich history, highlights our local gems, unifies through cultural events, emphasizes issues relative to our community, and most importantly: commemorates the exclusivity that is BLACK NEW ORLEANS.”

Chenier goes on in a message to her people:

“To be Black in New Orleans is something that cannot be understood, bought or imitated. It is the way we pronounce ‘baab-ay’ in that thick accent, to the smell of Creole cuisine coming from your maw maw’s kitchen. It is the need to always represent the ward, neighborhood, or housing project you grew up in, and knowing what to do when you hear: ‘Cash Money takin’ over for the ’99 and the 2000.’ From holding the late, great Soulja Slim in high regard, to our laid-back attitude mixed with Southern charm. It is the tradition of bringing out the brass band to properly send home a loved one. It is second nature that once you hear second-line music at a party, ‘y’all ain’t gotta go home, but y’all gotta get the hell up outta here!’ It it the usage of ‘before the storm’ and ‘after the storm’ as a legitimate timestamp. It is the common knowledge that Manchu has the best chicken and Gene’s has the best hot sausage po’ boy. From knowing the difference between being from ‘across the river’ and from ‘cross the canal,’ to the endless debate of whether that frozen treat is called a ‘huckaback’ or ‘frozen cup.’ It is the ability to turn every situation into a laughing matter and making lemonade out of every lemon that was thrown at us. No wonder Bey used us as inspiration. We dodge bullets like we dodge beads and the murder rate is just as high as the heat index, but it’s home, and there ain’t NOTHING like home.

“As NOIR ‘N NOLA, or Black in New Orleans, we are built different.

“We possess a resilience and charm that cannot be found anywhere else.

“It must be something in the water.”