Segregation

Lane Street Project: “There is no question … the city owns it.”

Thirty-one years ago this month, the City of Wilson acknowledged what a quick deed search could have told anyone — it owns Vick cemetery.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 February 1990.

The Cemetery Commission’s reaction, as reported here, was a long list of negatives focused on the expense of restoration and upkeep of Vick cemetery, with no comment recorded about duties owed (and neglected for decades) to the dead. 

(N.B.: The Cemetery Commission is not involved in the present upkeep of Vick Cemetery or the narrow strip at the front of Odd Fellows Cemetery. They are mowed, sprayed, etc., by the Public Works Department.)

“Just don’t have a whole lot of dealings”: The Talk in 1940’s Wilson.

Excerpt from my interview with my father, Rederick C. Henderson, who was born in Wilson in 1934:

My father with Darden classmates Helen Williams, Lillie Dixon and Eloise Parker in 1948-49.

——

What do you remember about race relations?  Or what were you told about dealing with white people?

Well. See, we never had a lot, the only white people that I saw had little stores in the black community. And you know, they said, you can’t, just don’t have a whole lot of dealings with white folks. And racism … things I saw about racism. I was, I remember I was maybe 12, 13, and I went downtown walking over to the stadium somewhere. I was walking over to one of my friend’s house stayed on Mercer Street, and they had these prisoners of war. Germans. And they had this “P.W.” on the back of their thing, and they were cleaning up ‘round the factory. And they had some MPs or something with them. And they were sitting down on a bench outside resting. One of them little regular benches. A wood bench that they used to advertise or something. And so I stopped – they had gone in – and I stopped, and I was sitting down, and a man came out, and he spit on my leg.

German or an American?

Naw, this was a white American. He said, “You can’t sit on that bench.” I don’t know if he called me a boy or whatever, but had that tobacco spit on me.  And he –

But the Germans were sitting on the bench.  Prisoners of war in this country.

Right. And I couldn’t sit on the bench.

Then I remember they had an incident at the theater where something had happened, and this girl [Marie Everett] slapped a white girl. And they took her and put her in jail. Took her and put her in prison. She went off and stayed. She must have stayed ‘bout a year. And Mama and all them said, “Don’t y’all go downtown.” So far as I got to go was to the [Ritz] theater and then come back home.  

And all over there behind Vick School [Academy, Crowell and Mayo Streets] was all white back in there. And they used to throw stuff at us on the [playground] — we’d be throwing rocks back and forth, back and forth. But the police didn’t ever come over there. Now the police would be downtown on Saturday afternoon ‘cause see in Wilson, like Friday and Saturday was when we’d go to the movie. And I’d go to the movies on Saturday and stay all day long. Stay in there ‘til it’d be almost dark. That’s how you’d know it was time to go home.  Come down there, walk down there, say, “Can I look outside and see…?” Lady’d just: “Yeah.” Walk down there; look out there; see. If it’s still light, you’d come back up and watch the movie again. Sit upstairs in the movie. And so they had all the white police. They would walk from uptown, I guess, down to Pender Street. And on the sidewalk. And black folk had to get out the way. I mean, they’d walk right up, push you right out in the street. Or whatever. And just walk right on down to the end and turn around and come back and all.

All rights reserved.

“Facts” about Wilson.

In 1934, Wilson Chamber of Commerce published this promotional guide extolling the virtues of Wilson County. 

The introduction to the town sets the perspective.

Wilson had a population of more than 12,000 in 1934, of whom about 40% were African-American. They were of little interest  to the Chamber of Commerce, however, and were not among the target audience for Facts About Wilson.

“The Mercy Hospital for colored people only was reorganized as a community basis in 1928. It is controlled by a board of trustees. All physicians of the town and county, both white and colored, are eligible for membership on the staff. This hospital is used by Wilson, Pitt, and Green[e]Counties, as it is the only hospital in three counties for colored people.”

There’s a lot to digest in the pages above, but it all boils down to the values in the columns for “white” and “colored.” For example, the ten white school buildings were valued at $800,131, and the 23 colored schools (more because so many were one- or two-rooms) at $48,592.

“The negroes of Wilson maintain separate churches, and the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian congregations are especially large, active and well organized. Six smaller negro churches here also serve this race in Wilson.”

The list of white organizations ran one full page into a second. Only two Black groups — the Odd Fellows and Masons — made the brochure’s cut, however.

Hat tip to Brooke Bissette Farmer for sharing this find, which is digitized here and held in the Rare Book Collection Archives of East Carolina University’s Joyner Library.

Charles S. Darden’s groundbreaking legal work against segregation.

In 2018, the City of Los Angeles nominated the Cordary Family Residence and Pacific Ready-Cut Cottage at 1828 South Gramercy Place, Los Angeles, California, for historic-cultural monument designation. 

Page 13 of the nomination form contains this arresting statement: “Until recently the case of Benjamin Jones and Fanny Guatier, Plaintiffs v. Berlin Realty Company, a corporation, Defendant, has been an obscure footnote to history. But observers are now not just rediscovering the case itself, but also reminding us that the legal arguments against racial covenants used by Plaintiffs’ attorney Charles S. Darden in this case — and adopted by the Los Angeles Superior Court judge in ruling favorably for the Plaintiffs — preceded and foresaw what became the notable winning argument of later precedent-setting “Sugar Hill” case that took place in Los Angeles in 1945.” That case, involving actors Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers‘ fight against racially restrictive covenants, is credited with being the first to cite the 14th Amendment as justification for overturning such covenants. That recognition, however, more properly belongs to Jones and Gautier — and the arguing attorney, Wilson’s own Charles S. Darden — which has been overlooked because it did not rise to California’s Court of Appeals. Read more about Darden’s innovative arguments below.

In Plain Sight.

Adam Rosenblatt of Friends of Geer Cemetery traveled to Wilson this past Saturday to help Lane Street Project in its first public cemetery clean-up. We appreciate both his physical labor and the opportunity to form alliances and learn from F.O.G.C. as we chart a path for our cemeteries. 

Please join Friends of Geer Cemetery on 23 January 2021 for the virtual grand opening of its outdoor exhibit, In Plain Sight: Reflections Past & Actions Present in Durham’s Geer Cemetery. Eventbrite link here.

In Plain Sight: Reflections Past & Actions Present in Durham’s Geer Cemetery

The Friends of Geer Cemetery are proud to introduce In Plain Sight — an outdoor educational exhibit in Durham’s historic African American burial ground — through this Virtual Grand Opening. For far too long, the graves of this city’s African American founders have been hidden from view, their stories underappreciated. Join us to learn more about their lives and ongoing efforts to ensure respect for their memory.

In Plain Sight is a journey through the history of Durham and the cemetery itself, the result of a collaborative effort with local students, scholars, volunteers, and descendants of those laid to rest here. In this Virtual Grand Opening, you will learn about both the space and this project, hear from the Friends of Geer Cemetery about their advocacy work, and be prepared for a visit to the outdoor exhibit — on your own any time through Sunday, March 7th, or with safely distanced guided tours (visit DurhamInPlainSight.com for details).

The Virtual Grand Opening will be followed by an open Q&A session.

In Plain Sight is made possible in part by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and through generous matching donations from more than 70 supporters.

Other suns: Connecticut.

Connecticut drew a share of the Great Migration, with Wilson County migrants settling mostly in greater Hartford or in cities along the Long Island Sound coastline.

  • Artis, Silas A., New Haven, bef. 1917
  • Dyson, Jake and Catherine Dyson and son James A., New Britain, ca. 1917
  • Batts, Frank, and Jennie Jones Batts, and children James, Ernest, and John, Portland, Middlesex and New Haven, bef. 1924
  • McDaniel, Fred A., Stratford, bef. 1930 (prior, in New York)
  • Coley, George, New Haven, bef. 1935
  • Artis, John L., Albert Artis and Isaac L. Sellars, brothers, Greenwich, bef. 1940
  • Gaston, John L., New Haven, bef. 1942
  • Norfleet, Samuel, Kensington, bef. 1942
  • Norfleet, James, New Britain, bef. 1942
  • Carter, M. Elmer, Hartford, bef. 1942 (prior, in Penna. and N.Y.)
  • Williams, Willie, Fairfield, bef. 1942
  • Jones, Raymond, New Haven, bef. 1942
  • Jones, John, New Haven, bef. 1942
  • Jones, Joseph G., New Haven, bef. 1942
  • Smith, James W., New London, bef. 1944
  • Hodge, James L., New Haven, bef. 1947

Attention, colored people!

Wilson Daily Times, 19 September 1944.

Though earlier in the century many of the largest developers of East Wilson real estate were Black, such as Samuel H. Vick and brothers Walter and William Hines, by World War II realtors and landlords increasingly operated from the other side of the tracks. Here, Cecil B. Lamm appealed to African-American buyers to invest their wartime earnings in narrow lots on Atlantic and Washington Streets.

Elm City schools consolidated.

Frederick Douglass High School in Elm City was the first high school for African-American students outside the city of Wilson. In 1949, the one- and two-room schools administered by the Elm City Schools were consolidated with Douglass (formerly called Elm City Colored School. When additional classroom space was completed, children who had attended Mitchell, Pender, and Turner Schools were bussed into Elm City to attend Douglass. (Like Darden, though called “high school,” Douglass had both elementary and secondary divisions.)


Wilson Daily Times, 29 December 1949.

 

Other suns: Indiana.

Indiana was an early destination for African-Americans leaving North Carolina for perceived greener pastures. Several hundred free people of color migrated to Indiana in the 1830s and 1840s, but only one family has been definitively linked to the area that is now Wilson County. Another large migration circa 1880 was the subject of a Congressional inquiry. During the Great Migration, Indianapolis was a popular focus of migration.