Wilson Mirror, 5 October 1887.
Wilson Mirror, 5 October 1887.
This photograph of a classroom at Saint Alphonsus School, which was affiliated with the all-black (except for the priest) Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church, probably dates from the early 1940s. According to a history of the school, in 1948 the church purchased a surplus Army PX and transformed into a school building with classrooms, offices and an assembly hall. The school faced Carroll Street (and the rear of the church) between Faison and Academy Streets. With nuns of the Oblate Sisters of Providence teaching, Saint Alphonsus School remained open until it merged with Saint Therese School in the late 1960s. The building was then rented to Concerned Parents of Wilson, Inc., a non-profit organization that founded and funded Kiddie Kollege of Knowledge to provide quality private kindergarten education for African-American children.
[Personal note: I attended Kiddie Kollege of Knowledge 1968-70. The photo below was taken at my graduation in the school’s assembly hall; I’m on the right, holding my Bachelor of Rhymes “degree.” — LYH]
Photograph of Saint Alphonsus reprinted from Wilson Daily Times, 29 April 1999; kindergarten photo in private collection of B.A. Henderson.
Encyclopedia of African American Religions (1993), eds. Larry G. Murphy, J. Gordon Melton, and Gary L. Ward.
Horace Bowen, 23, of Wilson, son of Robert and Sarah Bowen of Wilmington, North Carolina, married Sallie Stevens, 15, daughter of Norris and A.J. Stevens, all of Wilson, on 18 May 1913 in Wilson. A.J. Stevens Pittmon gave permission for her minor daughter to marry. (Norris Stevens was deceased.) Pentecostal minister Isaac Lewis performed the ceremony in the presence of George Wilson, Henry McCray and William Davis.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 806 Lodge Street, Henry Boans, 28, oil mill laborer; wife Sallie, 21; and children Jessie, 4, Elma, 2, and Joseph, 1; plus boarder Evonie Weeks, 23, a tobacco factory worker, and her daughter Jennie, 1.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: cotton oil mill laborer Horace Bowen, 36; wife Sallie, 30, cook; and children Jesse D., 15, Joseph, 11, and Earlie, 0.
Horrace Bowens died 31 May 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he resided at 508 1/2 Church Street; was married to Sallie Bowens; was 57 years old; had been a preacher for 20 years; and was born in Wilmington to Robert and Sallie Bowens.
In the 1940 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 2331 Kedner Street, widow Sallie Bowens, 40, helper at tobacco factory; and children Joseph, 20, William, 40, and Earth, 9; and lodger Samuel Bowens, 28; all born in North Carolina but living in Pennsylvania before 1935.
On 30 July 1928, Presbyterian minister A.H. George conducted the marriage ceremony of George R. Murrain, 25, of New York, son of George R. and Elizabeth Murrain, and Della Mae Whitehead, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Henry and Victoria Whitehead, in Wilson. Witnesses were Elizabeth Brodie, H.M. Fitts, and Pennie A. Bynum. The license notes that Murrain’s father was dead, but his mother resided in Africa.
Immigration documents reveal that George Richard Murrain was the son of George Richard Murrain and Elizabeth Burnette Murrain, missionaries who traveled the world on behalf of the Church of the Brethren, one of the three historic peace churches. The elder Murrains moved for decades between South America, Africa, Europe and North America, a peripatetic international existence that George and Della Murrain also briefly carried out.
Digitized immigration records show some of the Murrain family’s travels.
“List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival” details passengers sailing from Liverpool, England, 31 July 1913, on the S.S. Adriatic, arriving at the Port of New York on 8 August 1913. The manifest included George Richard Murrain (the elder), 45, wife Elizabeth, 43, and their children Frederick, 15, Stanley, 13, Jeanie, 12, George, 10, Joseph, 8, Mona, 6, and Elliott, 5. The family’s last permanent residence was Hualondo, Africa, and their contact was Missionaries of Christian Brethren, Bile, West Central Africa.
This “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival” shows passengers sailing from Southampton, England, 10 January 1922, on the S.S. Olympic. The manifest lists missionary Mary Augusta Murrain, 29, and students George Richard, 20, and Mona Elizabeth Murrain, 18. All were citizens of Great Britain whose last residence was Hualondo, Africa. Their father was G.R. Murrain, Missan Ingleza Bie Angola, and their final destination was Enfield, North Carolina.
Mary, George and Mona Murrain apparently were detained upon arrival in the United States and appear on a “Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry.” The codes do not readily reveal the reason for their detention or how long they were held.
On 27 July 1924, the Murrains arrived at the Port of Southampton, England, on the Zeelandia. The ship sailed originally from Buenos Aires, and the family boarded in Lisbon. Below is a portion of the “Names and Descriptions of British Passengers” showing George R. Murrain, 55, wife Elizabeth Augusta, 53, and sons Joseph Nathaniel, 20, and Elliot Sydney, 16. Angola was listed as their country of last permanent residence.
On 29 August 1924, George R. Murrain the elder set sail to Canada on the S.S. Montclare. His “Declaration of Passenger to Canada” shows that he was married to Elizabeth Agusta; that he was a missionary; that he was born in the West Indies; was colored; was British; his religion was Brethren; was going to Canada for vacation; that he had visited the country before; that he first arrived in Canada via New York in 1914; and that his destination was Toronto.
The trip ended in tragedy.
There was no “British Guinea”; Murrain was likely from British Guiana, now Guyana, on the northeast Atlantic coast on South America. From “The Believers’ Magazine: For the Ministry of the Word and Tidings of the Work of the Lord,” John Ritchie, editor, volume 25, page 26 (February 1925).
Twenty years after George Murrain Jr. and Della Whitehead married, part of the family appeared on the “Manifest of In-Bound Passengers (Aliens)” arriving tourist class at the Port of New York, from Southampton, England, on the Queen Mary on 13 September 1948. The manifest shows Della Murrain, age 41, and her three children George, 11, Fitzgerald, 9, and Kenneth, 16. Della, George and Fitzgerald were United States citizens; Kenneth was British. The younger boys were born in West Africa.
Another manifest dated 18 months later shows British citizen George Richard Murrain, age 47, of Route 4, Box 35, Wilson, North Carolina, arriving first class at the Port of New York on the Washington on 24 January 1950. The ship had left Southampton, England, a week earlier.
George Richard Murrain died 31 August 1982 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 June 1902 in Silva Porto [now Kuito], Angola, West Africa, to George Richard Murrain and Elizabeth Burnette Murrain; was married; was a retired carpenter; and resided at 105 Tacoma Street. Della Whitehead Murrain was informant.
New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957; U.K. Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960; U.K. Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [databases on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
Charles H. Smith was born in Jones County, near New Berne, N. C., in 1853, and is the son of Thomas and Harriet Smith. At an early age he entered the Northern school at New Berne, remaining there till he obtained a normal education, and then attended St. Augustine College, Raleigh, N. C., for three years. He occupied the position of principal of the Wilson graded school, giving entire satisfaction, until, becoming desirous of entering the ministry, he was ordained deacon by Bishop J. W. Hood at Salisbury in November, 1877, and given charge of Snow Hill Circuit. Here he so rapidly increased the membership that Bishop Hood divided the work, making two circuits. In 1880 he was ordained an elder at Tarboro, N. C. When he entered upon his duties as pastor of the Whiteville Circuit he found the Methodists and Baptists worshiping in the same church edifice, and at once set to work and built a beautiful church for Zion. A strong man was needed at Henderson, the Baptists being about to absorb the Methodists. Elder Smith entered his field, published a pamphlet on the proper mode of baptism, which obtained a general circulation, and soon became master of the situation. Henderson is now one of the strongholds of Zion in the North Carolina Conference.
In 1887 Rev. Smith was appointed pastor of St. Peter’s Church at New Berne and grandly entertained the General Conference at that church in 1888. A large debt on the church was canceled during his pastorate. While at New Berne he married the accomplished Miss Mamie Stanley, a teacher in the graded school of that city. Mrs. Smith makes a model minister’s wife. While a member of the North Carolina Conference Rev. Smith won the first prize in gold for the largest collection of General Fund. He was a member of the General Conferences of 1884, 1888, and 1892. He was transferred to the West Alabama Conference, where he erected a fine parsonage at Jefferson and relieved the church of debt. At Selma, Ala., he saved the church, which was about to be sold, and greatly reduced its debt. He is a strong temperance advocate, is generous and sympathetic, and an able scholar and theologian.
Edward Moore was born on the 22d day of June, 1853, near the town known as Little Washington, in eastern North Carolina. He was the second of seven children born to James H. and Peggy A. Moore. The first eight years of his life were spent under the watchful care and protection of both parents, but the call to arms in our late unpleasantness deprived him for a time of a father’s attention, his father having enlisted in the United States army, and served with the prospect of freeing the slaves as well as the preservation of the Union.
These years of his absence, however, were attended with no unfavorable results in the development of young Moore, for he was under the training of a vigorous, energetic Christian mother, who appreciated the advantages made possible by the opening of the Freedmen’s schools, and Edward, with the other children, shared the benefits of the instruction given by those well-educated, painstaking New England young ladies who taught in the neighborhood immediately after the war. These self-denying Christian teachers aided him, as they did many others, in laying the foundation for an early education and a subsequent life of great usefulness.
He early gave proofs of a mind noted for vigor and acquisitiveness; through the training of these schools, by private study, and later by attending the school under the principalship of W. P. Mabson, of Tarboro, N. C., at one time having the honor of being the most distinguished teacher of eastern North Carolina, Mr. Moore was prepared for college.
It was while studying at Tarboro he met and made the acquaintance and became the stanch friend and classmate of J. C. Dancy, the distinguished layman of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the two have ever since been very sincere friends.
In the fall of 1874 he entered the freshman class of Lincoln University, Pa.; and ranked deservedly high in scholarship and manly deportment. He was here associated as classmate with the late J. C. Price, D.D.; Dr. N. F. Mossell, of the Philadelphia Medical Fraternity; Dr. Jamison, of York, Pa.; and as his college associates Rev. J. P. Williams, D.D., of the Protestant Episcopal Church; Dr. Goler, of our own Church; Dr. Weaver and Rev. W. C. Brown, of the Presbyterian, and Rev. S. P. Hood.
He graduated in 1879 with high honors. He came South and was employed as principal of the Wilson Academy, where he served successfully for two years, having in the meantime prepared for different colleges a number of young men, among whom are Professor D. C. Suggs, A.M., now vice president of the A. and M. College, Savannah, Ga.; Samuel N. Vick, Postmaster Wilson, N. C., Professor B. R. Winstead, principal of the Wilson graded school. He was also private instructor to S. A. Smith, now one of the most distinguished lawyers of the Wilson bar.
It was at Wilson that he met the accomplished Miss Serena L. Suggs, and after years of wooing succeeded in making her his wife in 1881. The result of this union has been a happy home and four healthy children, two boys and two girls, to cheer and bless his life.
In the establishment of Zion Wesley Institute, which has since become Livingstone College, Professor Moore yielded to the solicitations of his classmate, Dr. J. C. Price, and associated in the educational work of that institution. His services were of incalculable value to Dr. Price.
Professor Moore is a hard student, and possesses the ability of making the result of his study felt upon those he teaches. He is an earnest Christian, especially devoted to all that concerns Zion Church and the spread of the connection. He passed a successful examination and received the degree of Ph.D. from his alma mater in 1893. He is now spending his summer vacation in the study of medicine at San Francisco, Cal. W.H.G.
The Rev. Dr. Willie Oliver Wells Sr.–- pastor of Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, in Cocoa, Florida, for more than 50 years, well-known civil rights leader, and great servant of the Lord in church and civic affairs –- died on November 4, 2015. He was 84.
Rev. Wells was an inspiring leader who identified with the struggle for decency, justice and security for all people. The U.S. Army veteran served the church and his country with fearless courage and was a champion of all causes he believed to be right. His kind, friendly spirit will be missed, especially by those who worked closely with him.
Rev. Wells rendered faithful service and will long be remembered for his many contributions to the betterment of our community. Not the least of these is the part he played in the development of affordable housing for local residents, equal opportunity employment, and his leadership and courageous support of racial justice.
Rev. Wells was born on April 11, 1931, in Miami. He was the youngest of seven children born to Lillie and Rev. Oliver W. Wells Sr., pastor of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, Fort Lauderdale.
He graduated from Dillard High School in 1949 and attended Bethune Cookman College on a football scholarship. During his sophomore year, his father passed, and he entered the U.S. Army. He attended leadership school in Virginia, and was stationed in Germany for two years. Afterwards, he attended Fisk University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. Also, he attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, and graduated with a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1955.
In 1955, he married Annie Ruth Collins of Cocoa. The couple lived in Tennessee, and he was pastor of Westwood Baptist Church, Nashville, for two years.
In 1959, when there was a vacancy for a pastor at Greater St. Paul Baptist Church, Rev. Wells was selected to fill that position. Then, the couple moved to Cocoa.
At that time, blacks were barred from public beaches, parks, restrooms and restaurants, in Brevard County and elsewhere. Rev. Wells worked to change the oppressive “Jim Crow” laws. During the early 1960’s, Rev. Wells was a Freedom Rider who led non-violent civil protests. He was an original member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference -–along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–- and during his lifetime Rev. Wells spearheaded many projects to combat racism, poverty, drug abuse and crime. He was instrumental in bringing about desegregation in Brevard County, where he led anti-segregation campaigns and held various civic leadership positions.
He served as president of the Brevard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, vice-president of the Florida branch of the NAACP, and chairman of the Redevelopment Commission of the City of Cocoa.
Rev. Wells established the Community Action Agency of Brevard, which provided low-income day care centers; Project Uplift, a fund for interest free loans to the church’s members; and in 1968, he constructed two low-rent apartment complexes, Shull Manor in Melbourne and Tropical Manor in Merritt Island. In 1978, Dr. Wells led Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in building a $1.2 million complex.
Dr. Annie Ruth Wells passed in 2008. Rev. Wells retired as pastor of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in 2011. He leaves to mourn his passing his four children, Rev. Willie Oliver Wells Jr. (Jimmie Lee), Rev. Oliver W. Wells (Linda), and Annette O. Wells, all of Cocoa; and Dee Dee Wells (Michael) of Maryland; and 10 grandchildren.
Florida civil rights leader Rev. W.O. Wells had roots in Wilson County. His grandfather Burt Wells was born in Toisnot township circa 1872 to Alexander and Nancy Joyner Wells and migrated to south Georgia in the late 1800s. Burt Wells’ son Oliver W. Wells, born in 1895 in Willacoochee, Georgia, was Rev. W.O. Wells’ father.
On 28 May 1868, Ellick Wells, son of Kain and Milly Wells, married Nancy Joyner, daughter of Polly Joyner, at Harris Winstead’s in Wilson County.
On 19 December 1868, Isaac Wells, son of Cain and Milly Wells, married Clarky Farmer, daughter of Ben Dowley and Ellen Dowly, at C.C. Barnes’ in Wilson County.
In 1868, Cain Wells obtained a license to marry Sarah Braswell, daughter of Quincy Braswell. The license was not registered with the Wilson County clerk and, presumably, the couple never married.
Toney Wells, son of Cain and Milly Wells, married Laura Ethridge, daughter of Julia Ethridge, in Liberty township, Nash County, on 30 January 1869.
In the 1870 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: Ellick Wells, 26, Nancy, 18, Clara, 2, and Milly Batchelor, 70.
Nancy died in the early 1870s, and, on 3 August 1879, Alex Wells, 33, married Easter Parker, 22, in Wilson County.
In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Al’x Wells, 35, wife Easter, 19, and children Delpha, 10, Birt, 8, and Arnold, 7.
Delphia Wells married William Drake on 1 July 1888 at A.F. Williams’ in Toisnot township.
In perhaps the early 1890s, Burt Wells and perhaps his father Alex moved from Wilson County to south Georgia. The 1900 census of Pearson township, Coffee County, Georgia, shows: Alexander Wells, 60, born in North Carolina, with his wife of seven years, Mary Ann, 40. Burt is not found in the 1900 census, but the World War I draft registrations of his oldest sons Willie, Oliver and Dewey show that they were born in Coffee (now Atkinson) County, Georgia.
In the 1910 census of Pearson township, Coffee County, Georgia: farmer Burt Wells, 45, wife Susie, 34, and children Sindy, 15, Elisah, 14, Willie, 12, Oliver, 11, Duey, 10, Oscar, 8, Delphy, 7, Squire, 6, Arnold, 4, Felton, 2, boarder Solomon Street, 21.
In the 1920 census of Pearson township, Atkinson County, Georgia: on Columbine Road, Burt Wells, 50, wife Lela, 30, and children Dewey, 22, Arnel, 13, Felton, 10, Osie, 3½, and Odom, 1 1/2.
In the 1930 census of Military District 1026, Atkinson County, Georgia: North Carolina-born Bert Wells, 60, wife Lelia, 37, and children Ocie, 13, Odom, 11.
Photograph credit to and obituary adapted from www.blackchristiannews.com.
The negro girl-preacher, Cleretto Nora Avery, who has created so much interest in the city, left Monday. The crowds she attracted to her discourses were large — many white people attending Friday afternoon she preached to a large congregation in the white Methodist church here, and her sermon on that occasion elicited many favorable comments. She is a mulatto, claiming to be only eleven years old, yet can read fluently and speaks to her large audiences with no hesitation. Her father was a preacher and she claims that his mantle of inspiration has fallen upon her.
Wilson Times, 30 July 1897.
Cleveland Gazette, 20 March 1897.
From the introduction to Hugh Buckner Johnston’s The Woodard Confederate Letters of Wilson County (1977):
“’Uncle London’ Woodard (1792-November 15, 1870) was one of the most respectable black men of his area and time. Having been married about 1817 to James Bullock Woodard’s Venus, he was purchased by this planter on May 24, 1828, and became his overseer and distiller. London was baptized into the fellowship of the Tosneot Primitive Baptist Church on August 24, 1828, and Venus on August 4, 1838. This good woman died about the end of 1845, leaving several children to mourn her loss.
“In 1846, he married Penelope Lassiter, daughter of Hardy Lassiter. She had become an indispensable part of the James B. Woodard household after the death of his first wife in 1837. ‘Aunt Pennie,’ a free woman of light color, who worked hard, saved her money, and bought land. On September 18, 1854, she also bought ‘Uncle London’ and made him a free man. He was ‘liberated to preach’ on April 21, 1866, and in the following December Mrs. Elizabeth Farmer gave him one acres upon which he soon erected ‘London’s Primitive Baptist Church‘ which is still in existence.”
While London Woodard may have lived essentially as a free man after his purchase by Penny Lassiter, there is no evidence that he was in fact emancipated prior to the end of the Civil War. Thus, while Penny and their children appear as Lassiters in the 1860 census, he does not.
London’s Primitive Baptist Church was organized in 1870, weeks before London Woodard suffered burns that led to his death. Twenty-five years later, his congregation erected a simple wood-frame building on what is now Herring Avenue. That building was in use until 1992, when members moved into a new brick church. To save the landmark from demolition, descendants of Elizabeth Farmer donated a nearby site to which the structure was moved.
I took this photo of the 1895 church in May 2013, when the building, though compromised, was in relatively decent shape.
Since then, a tree smashed into the chancel during a storm, dragging the front gable backwards and plunging the beadboard ceiling to the floor. All but the very front of the nave was crushed, and London’s Church cannot be saved.