Religion

“We are commanded by Jesus … and we refuse to budge.”

When Holy Rollers were thrown in jail in 1918, it was not the first time a Wilson mayor cracked down on traveling African-American pentecostals. In 1907, a town official encountered three Texans — two women and a man — “preaching to an immense crowd” near the dispensary, a pharmacy on South Goldsboro Street. The mayor asked the group to move. The women refused, exclaiming, “We are commanded by Jesus to go in the highways and byways and preach, and we refuse to budge.” They were locked up. When the man continued to preach, he was locked up, too. “Angry mutterings are to be heard by the negroes, but little importance is attached to it.”

Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 1 September 1907.

Rev. Edward C. Simms, Presiding Elder.

This brief bio of Rev. Edward C. Simms is found in souvenir volume issued for an A.M.E. Zion General Conference. I do not have the access to the full volume, its title, or its date of publication.

REV. EDWARD CUTHBERT SIMMS, P.E., Tampa, Fla.

Rev. Simms hails from Wilson, North Carolina, and of the year 1862; he graduated from the Wilson Academy in 1883; was converted there in 1875; joining the Farmer A.M.E. Zion Church at the same time. He became a preacher in 1896 at Norfolk, Va., and joined the Virginia Conference. Later on, he was ordained deacon at Hickory, N.C., in 1897, and ordained elder at Franklin, Va., in 1899.

His pastoral labors were exerted at Mosley Street A.M. E. Zion Church, Norfolk, Newport News, Va., and Mount Sinai Church, Tampa, Fla. He built the Centreville Chapel in Norfolk County, and Zion Chapel at Bear Quarter, Va. Rev Simms is a prominent member of the South Florida Conference, and a preacher who draws and holds an audience. As a pastor his success reaches the best average. This will be his first official appearance in the General Conference. He makes a highly acceptable administrator and his constituency love, honor and revere him. 

Biographical Souvenir Volume of General Conference A.M.E. Zion Church

Norfolk Virginian, 9 May 1897.

In its coverage on the Philadelphia Conference of the A.M.E. Zion Church, the 30 May 1908 edition of the Washington Bee noted that “Rev. E.C. Simms, a delegate from Florida, died suddenly from heart disease; a sum of one hundred dollars was raised by Conference for his funeral, and a Florida delegate was sent to accompany the remains home.”

——

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Esther Simms, 45, and Ned Simms, 19, both farmworkers.

On 8 May 1879, Ned Simms, 25, married Nicy Best, 26, in Wilson. Benjamin S. Brunson performed the ceremony at the A.M.E. Zion Church in the presence of Hayes Best, Jas. Harriss, and S.A. Smith.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: school teacher Edward C. Simms, 33; wife Nicy, 26; and Edward, 7 months.

In the 1900 census of Norfolk, Virginia: at 62 Moseley, teacher Edward C. Simms, 44; wife Nicy, 43, nurse; and children Edward, 20, porter, Theodocia, 18, teacher, Sacona, 16, errand boy, Adonis, 14, Cicero, 12, Henny, 10, and Hattie, 6. All were born in North Carolina, except the youngest two, who were born in Virginia.

In the 1906 Tampa, Florida, city directory: Simms Edward C (m) pastor A M E Zion Church, h 952 Harrison 

In the 1908 Tampa, Florida, city directory: Simms Edward C Rev (m) pastor A M E Zion Church, h 952 Harrison

E.C. Simms died 14 May 1908 of diabetes at 313 North 38th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his death certificate, he was 55 years old and was born in Virginia to E.C. Simms of North Carolina and an unnamed mother born in Virginia. Informant was J.B. Harris [who apparently knew little about Simms.] He was buried in Norfolk, Virginia.

In the 1910 census of Tanner Creek, Norfolk County, Virginia: at 4 Byrd Street, widow Nicey Simms, 50, and children Adonis, 22, candy maker in factory, Henrietta, 18, and Hattie, 15.

Nicy Simms died 6 January 1922 in Norfolk, Virginia. Per her death certificate, she was 60 years old; was a widow; lived at 914 Dunbar; and was born in Wilson, N.C., to Daniel Bass [Best] and Jane [last name unknown]. Theadesia Simms of Norfolk was informant.

Adonis Simms died 9 July 1930 in Norfolk, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1887 in North Carolina to Edward Simms; worked as a laborer; and was married to Vessie Simms.

John H. Skinner, pastor, educator and journalist.

SKINNER, JOHN HENRY — Clergyman — b. Sept. 13, 1867, Wilson, N.C.; s. A. and Mary (Barnes) Skinner; educ St. Augustine Normal Sch., Raleigh, N.C.; A.B. State Normal Sch., Fayetteville, N.C., 1881; A.B. Tuskegee Institute, Ala., 1922; D.D. Baptist Coll., 1922; A.M. Am. Correspondence Coll., South Daniel, N.Y., 1896; m. J.H. Lane, Dec. 30, 1895 (deceased 1902); four children, Lena, b. Nov. 11, 1896; Lillie May, b. Oct. 5, 1897; Claude, b. Sept. 10, 1898; Flossie Pearl, b. Nov. 11, 1899; second marriage, Nelissa Peterson (deceased); one child, Mary V., b. 1910; third marriage, Mrs. Florence Dew; taught, Pub. Sch. Wilson County, for four years; established The Fremont Enterprise; taught in Wayne County, N.C., for fourteen years; taught in Green[e] County, N.C., for eighteen years; founded the Baptist College, Kenly, N.C., 1920; President of same, 1920-present; Associate Editor, City Paper, Kenly, N.C., 1926-present; Principal, Graded Schools, Kenly, N.C., 1926-present; General Moderator of two conferences for the sixth term, mem A.F. & A.M. Knights of Pythias; Pol. Republican; Relig. F.W. Baptist; Address, Kenly, N.C.

He began teaching when fourteen years of age and has been a teacher since 1881. He managed a newspaper in Freemont, N.C., for two years, teaching at the same time in Wayne County, holding then a First Grade Certificate. Was Dean of teachers in Greene County for ten years, resigning to found the Baptist College, of which he has been President since 1920.

The Baptist College began its work in 1909 in Fremont, N.C., and later was moved to Kenly, N.C. It held two months’ sessions each summer until 1920 when under the supervision of Rev. Skinner it began its eight months’ sessions.

The purpose of the school is to train young men and women in the elements of an English education, to prepare them for teaching and provide a Theological course. There are a number of buildings and a dormitory for boys and girls.

Joseph J. Boris, ed., Who’s Who in Colored America, vol. 1 (1927).

——

Teachers and students of the Original Free Will Baptist School, also known as Skinner’s College, circa 1923. John H. Skinner is at far right. Skinner was also principal of Kenly Colored Graded School, a Rosenwald school. Photo courtesy of Johnston County Heritage Center.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Aaron Skinner, 37, carpenter; wife Mary, 25; and son John, 9; domestic servant Esther Barnes, 21; and Willie Battle, 2.

J.H. Skinner, 24, of Wayne County, son of Aaron and Mary Skinner of Virginia, married J.A. Lane, 23, of Wayne County, daughter of Amos and Penny Lane, on 30 December 1885 in Nahunta township, Wayne County.

In the 1900 census of Fremont, Wayne County, N.C.: school teacher John H. Skinner, 37; wife Jackan, 36; and children Adie L., 12, Lillie M., 10, Claud, 8, and Clasie, 4.

On Christmas Day 1904, J.H. Skinner, 41, married Ida Artice, 25, in Greene County, N.C.

In the 1910 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County, N.C.: public school teacher John H. Skinner, 49; wife Ida, 38; and children Lillie, 20, Claudie, 17, and Flosey, 14.

On 7 September 1913, J.H. Skinner, 45, of Johnston County, married Melisa Peterson, 20, of Johnston County, in Beulah township, Johnston County.

On 17 May 1919, Richard Swinson applied for a marriage license in Greene County for J.H. Skinner, 51, of Greene County, and Rosa L. Ellison, 27, of Greene County, daughter of Harvey and Laura Ellison. The license was not returned.

In the 1930 census of Beulah township Johnston County, N.C.: on Matthew Donal Street, widower John H. Skinner, 60, teacher at Brower(?) School.

On 10 May 1930, J.H. Skinner, 60, of Kenly, son of Adam and Mary Skinner, married Elizabeth Williams, 45, of Kenly, daughter of Dock and Mary Parker, in Kenly, Johnston County, N.C.

J.H. Skinner died 16 November 1937 in Kenly, Beulah township, Johnston County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1851 in Wilson to Aaron Skinner and Mary Barnes; was married to Elizabeth Williams Skinner; and worked as a teacher and minister.

I have not been able to find more about Skinner’s Fremont Enterprise or City Paper. Excerpts from columns Skinner contributed to the Kenly Observer in 1926 are quoted in Research Report: Tools for Assessing the Significance and Integrity of North Carolina’s Rosenwald Schools and Comprehensive Investigation of Rosenwald Schools In Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Wayne and Wilson Counties (2007) and will be examined in detail in another post, as will a former student’s memories of the school published in the Kenly News in 1985.

T. Johnson and D. Barbour, Images of America: Johnston County (1997); hat tip to J. Robert Boykin III for the lead.

 

Rev. T.G. Clark, who helped make the A.M.E. church what it is.

CLARK, Rev. Thomas Garrett, one of 9 children of Harry and Flora Clark, was born in Wilson county, N.C., July 10, 1876; grew up on the farm and attended the country and also public school; Lincoln University, Pennsylvania; converted May 22, 1899, and connected with the Presbyterian Church; entered Howard University, 1902, graduating May, 1905; joined the AME Church in 1906; was licensed in February at Bethel AME Church, Philadelphia; ordained deacon at the Philadelphia Annual Conference, June 14, 1908, at Carlisle, Pa., by Bishop [Wesley J.] Gaines, and also transferred to the Liberian Annual Conference, West Africa, June 15; sailed for Africa with Bishop [William H.] Heard and other missionaries December 5, 1908. He preached in Africa January 1, 1909, and met the first annual conference January 27; was ordained elder January 31, 1909, and appointed to the Eliza Turner Memorial Church, Monrovia; reappointed January 26, 1919, and made principal of the Mission School, with 130 students; he rebuilt the church; was appointed to Bethel AME Church, Lower Buchanan, Grand Bassa, March 20, 1911, and established a mission station among the Kroo Tribe at Kroo Town, November 26th. He baptized 76 persons; was appointed general missionary at the Annual Conference held at Monrovia, March 15, 1912, and returned to the U.S. with a native boy “Ulch” from the mission station, for the purpose of educating him; he arrived in America April 10 and was married to Miss Sarah B. Wainwright April 21. He was pastor of Victor’s Chapel AME Church, Montclair, 1912-1913; St. John’s AME Church, Catskill, N.Y., 1913-1914; Elmira, N.Y., 1914-1917; Jamaica, N.Y., 1917-1923; raised nearly $20,000 mortgage of long standing was burned; Flushing, N.Y., 1923-1924; Glen Cove, N.Y., 1924-1925; Stamford, Conn., 1925-1926; Middletown, N.Y., 1926-1928; Arverne, L.I.N.Y., 1928; purchased building at cost of $1500, all of which he paid. In the recent history of the Goshen Presbyterian Church of more than 225 years standing, it is set forth therein that the branch if that denomination, founded among the Colored race near half-century ago, and supervised by the Caucasian members interview the Rev. T.G. Clark, a number of times for the purpose of serving the latter Branch which he eventually agreed and did for a number of years.

Richard R. Wright Jr., Centennial Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Containing principally the Biographies of the Men and Women, both Ministers and Laymen, whose Labors during a Hundred Years, helped make the A.M.E. Church What It Is; also Short Historical Sketches of Annual Conferences, Educational Institutions,General Departments, Missionary Societies of the A.M.E. Church, and General Information about African Methodism and the Christian Church in General Being a Literary Contribution to the Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Denomination by Richard Allen and others, at Philadelphia, Penna., in 18162nd ed. (1947); postcard image of Eliza Turner Memorial A.M.E. Chapel, commons.wikimedia.org.

Rev. John W. Perry, Episcopal priest.

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Educated at Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina, John W. Perry was a deacon when appointed in 1882 to serve Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Tarboro. Perry was ordained a priest in 1887 and two years later was assigned to lead the congregation at Saint Mark’s in Wilson in addition to Saint Luke’s. He shared these posts for the next twelve years.

See Rev. Dr. Brooks Graebner, “Historically Black Episcopalian Congregations in the Diocese of North Carolina: 1865-1959” (2018), for more on Rev. Perry.

 

Colored Presbyterians.

Several black Presbyterians with Wilson ties participated in a Sunday School convention in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1899.

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Goldsboro Daily Argus, 12 August 1899.

  • C. Dillard — Clarence Dillard.
  • Mamie Parker — In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: carpenter Daniel Vick, 52; wife Fannie, 52; and granddaughters Annie, 8, and Nettie B. Vick, 6, and Mamie Parker, 20, laundress. Vick reported that both his parents were born in Virginia.
  • S.H. Vick — Samuel H. Vick. Mamie Parker was his niece.

The stake of life.

While director of the University of North Carolina Press, W.T. Couch also worked as a part-time official of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, serving as assistant and associate director for North Carolina (1936-1937) and as director for the southern region (1938-1939). The Federal Writers’ Project Papers are housed at U.N.C.’s Southern Historical Collection and include Couch’s correspondence and life histories of about 1,200 individuals collected by F.W.P. members. At least two African-American residents of Wilson, Georgia Crockett Aiken and William Batts, were memorialized in this way. 

Folder 550 contains the transcript of the interview with William Batts, titled “The stake of life.” Batts, a tobacco packer, lived at 804 Stronach Avenue. [The 1940 city directory described Stronach Alley as “(formerly Young’s Line) — from a point east of North Av at Adams, north to Tilghman rd.”]

Batts had worked as a packer for ten seasons and enjoyed the work. He was six feet tall and muscular and had farmed on rented land before working in the warehouse.

Batts’ family were sharecroppers, working to keep half the crop they produced. As he reached adulthood and realized how little money his parents received for their toil, he determined to find different work. Batts had wanted an education, but his father did not believe in the value of schooling needed him to work. “He learned us how to treat white folks and let our education stop at dat.” In response to his father’s view that literacy was for white people, Batts said, “… if de nigger could do his own figuring de white folks ‘ud have to figure harder, too.” His first job was as a section hand for Norfolk & Southern Railroad, which he quit to drive a dray.

From there, Batts went to work at a wagon company. (Almost certainly Hackney Wagon.) After he was laid off, he got a job at a tobacco warehouse. The work was seasonal — August to November — and he had been paid $11.88 a week for the ten years he had worked there as a packer, unloading tobacco from farmer’s wagons and placing it in baskets in the warehouse. The odor of tobacco sickened him at first, but he could not quit because his wife was not working and the dollar-a-day he made doing farmwork during the summer did not go far.

Batts worked 7 o’clock A.M. to 6 P.M. five days a week and a half-day on Sunday. When the season ended, he hustled to find more work to supplement his wife’s work washing clothes, “cooking when company come to de white folks” and other occasional work. “when the spring opened up,” there was farm work — setting our tobacco plants, chopping cotton, barning tobacco, and picking cotton kept him “in a regular strut.” In winter, he dug ditches, sawed wood in a sawmill, and cleared land.

“I reckon you’d say I ain’t got no regular job, but I work pretty regular, ‘specially all de months besides December and January.” His wife worked stemming tobacco for about $8 a week. Still, they had trouble saving money. “We had to buy some furniture and clothes and keep up our life insurance and our rent and lights.” The couple was fortunate that their water was included in their rent — “We can take a bath every day if we want it …”

Their son and daughter no longer lived with them. Batts missed them, especially for help when his wife felt poorly because of high blood pressure.

He was seldom seriously ill and felt bad for her and tried to help. She would probably have to quit working. “I reckon I can support us ’cause we don’t owe no debts.” They bought their furniture for cash, and paid groceries ($15/month) and rent ($10/month) in cash. They had life insurance and had set aside a “little,” but feared running into bad luck. Batts dreamed of buying a small farm and a mule. “I think dat is the de stake of life.” A farm could provide security, something he had not thought much of until the stock market crash of 1929.

Batts’ wife was a Christian when they married, but it took her five years to convert him. When she “made [him] see the point,” he joined a Disciples Church. It brought him great comfort.

Batts introduced the interviewer to his wife, who was in the kitchen peeling potatoes. The room contained newly painted furniture, a four-burner oil stove, a linoleum rug, and “snowy white” linens. Mrs. Batts explained that Batts had gotten the idea to paint the furniture green from an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. He had wanted to paint the walls after the owner of the house refused, but she counseled him to paint the things they could take with them if they had to leave the house.

Nursey Batts longed for her own house that she could “fix and mess over” and believed the Lord would provide. She came from a large family with hard-working parents who denied their own needs in their struggle to provide for their children. Only six of their 14 lived to adulthood.

Nursey Batts believed few white folks believed in ghosties or witches or conjuring, and black people were “outgrowing” it. She opined on the origins of conjure. She also had this opinion: “Most niggers feels like dey is imposed on just ’cause dey is niggers, but lemme tell you, a good honest nigger needn’t be skeered of living. De white folks has always been good to me and [William.]”

While waiting for an  iron to heat, Nursey Batts showed the interviewer her parlor, which was neatly furnished and decorated.

“A body never knows when a important person will drop in on him and everything will most likely be like de devil’s had a fit on it. I hate for company to catch me, as de saying is, with my breeches down.” Still, she downplayed the appearance of the room. She had crocheted the bedspread from tobacco twine in a pattern she got from a woman who lived out in the country. She was proud of the chifforobe her husband had bought her for Christmas.

Nursey Batts was hopeful that she and William Batts would get their farm and thought another term for Franklin Roosevelt would be helpful. “I wish dat we could vote for him, but [William] can’t read or write so he can’t vote. I can read a little, but I don’t know nothing ’bout de Constitution of the United States.”

——

On 7 July 1915, Will Batts, 23, of Wilson, son of Morris and Nancy Batts of Taylor township, married Nurcy Hill, 22, of Wilson, daughter of Robert Hill, at Graham Woodard‘s in Wilson township. Missionary Baptist minister Jeremiah Scarboro performed the ceremony in the presence of Jason Farmer, Bessie Farmer, and Mena Littlejohn.

In 1917, Will Batts registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 15 December 1889 in Wilson County; lived on Vance Street; and was a butler for N.L. Finch.

In the 1920 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Batts Nursey (c) dom 601 Warren; Batts William (c) drayman h 601 Warren

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: a 804 Stronach Alley, Will Batts, 46, public school janitor; wife Nursey, 36, tobacco factory stemmer; and brother-in-law Freeman Hill, 29, tobacco factory office boy.

In 1942, Freeman Hill registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 25 November 1900 in Wilson; lived in 623 East Viola; his contact was Nursey Batts, 722 Stronach Avenue; and worked for Wilson Tobacco Company, South Railroad Street.

Will Batts died 24 February 1947 in Wilson of congestive heart failure. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 December 1890 in Wilson County to Morris Batts and Nancy Bynum; was married to Nursey Batts; was the janitor at Charles L. Coon High; and lived at 722 Stronach Avenue.