Segregation

Bell hops at the Hotel Cherry.

In 1991, front desk clerk turned newspaper man Roy G. Taylor (1918-1995) self-published a memoir of his years working in Wilson. Though tinged with the casual racism of the time, My City, My Home offers fascinating glimpses of Wilson in the World War II era.

Here are excerpts:

“Anyway, [hotel owner J.T. Barnes] had a suite on the mezzanine floor, 221 and 223. And Jesse Knight was his personal servant and also a bell hop. Lessie, Jesse’s wife, had worked for the Barnes family.” p. 9

“The roster of bell hops at the Cherry in the 1940s included Jesse Knight, whom I mentioned earlier; Ruel Bullock; Henry Potter, Robert Haskins, Clarence Holly, Fred Artis, Peacock (the only name he was called by), Louis Hines and “Rent” Gay, Uncle Charlie’s son. Uncle Charlie was old and had a stiff leg and he went around with a feather mop, dusting off things, and he loved whisky better than most men love women.

“… Henry was a large man and rather lazy acting. When he wasn’t busy he would sit in the lobby in a rather slouchy position, but jumped up hurriedly when the bell sounded. And he was the best one about going for the mail. But I’d have to say Henry was the ‘densest’ one of the crowd.

“Ruel was of light skin, and a rather handsome man. He was a family man and had 10 children. He worked during the day, as did Henry.

“Robert was dark-skinned and a rather tall, large man and he was a little more serious than most of the men. Robert worked mostly the day shift also but would work at night if it became necessary.

“Clarence was a night man. And talk about sly! He was something else. Of course, all the boys were sly, although all of them were always courteous to the desk people and all were ready to do whatever was asked of them. I never remember any of the bell hops being disrespectfuil while I was there.

“Fred Artis was a tall, thin man and he could swing from day to night duty. And Fred is still around. He is employed by the Arts Council of Wilson.

“Peacock always worked nights. He was the head night man. Peacock was nice too, and he looked after the guests. But he was a sly one too.

“Louis was a tall, well-built man that had a lot of charisma. ‘Rent’ was also thin and tall and very neat in appearance and as I recall, he worked mostly at night also.” pp. 29-30

——

  • Jesse Knight — Jessie Knight was an Edgecombe County native. When he registered for the World War II draft, he listed his employer as J.T. Barnes.

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  • Lessie Knight — Lessie Locus Knight.
  • Ruel Bullock — Ruel Bulluck was an Edgecombe County native. He married Louise Missouri Jones, daughter of Charles T. and Gertrude Johnson Jones, on 10 December 1930 in Wilson. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 412 Viola, owned and valued at $2000; Charles Jones, 61, janitor at Vick School; wife Gertrude, 59, a tobacco factory stemmer; daughter Ruth Plater, 35, divorced, teacher; grandsons Torrey S., 12, and Charles S. Plater, 11; son-in-law Ruel Bullock, 35, a hotel bellboy; daughter Louise, 30; grandsons Jacobia, 7, Robert, 6, Harold, 4, and Rudolph, 7 months; and granddaughter Barbara Jones, 6.

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  • Henry Potter — John Henry Potter was a native of Aurora, Beaufort County. In the 1925 city directory, Henry Potter, bellman, is listed at 719 East Green. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1210 Atlanta [Atlantic] Street, hotel bellboy John Potter, 40; wife Ruth, 28; and daughter Ruth, 9 months.
  • Robert Haskins — Robert Douglas Haskins was the son of Robert and Gertrude Haskins. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Haskins, 55, drug company salesman; wife Gertrude, 48; and children Mandy, 36; Elizabeth, 33, cook; Estelle, 29, beauty shop cleaner; Robert D. Jr., 29, hotel kitchen worker; Lossie, 24, N.Y.A. stenographer; and Thomas, 20, barbershop shoeblack; plus granddaughter Delores, 15, and lodger Henry Whitehead, 21.
  • Clarence Holly — Clarence Virgo Holley was a Bertie County native. He registered for the World War II in 1940 in Wilson. Clarence Holley died 4 May 1964 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 May 1919 in Bertie County to William Holley and Molly Smallwood; operated a shoeshine parlor; and lived at 300 North East Street. Informant was Elma Holley.

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  • Fred Artis — Probably Fred Artis Jr., who was the son of Fred and Mattie Lewis Artis.
  • “Peacock” — Levi Harry Peacock was the son of Levi H. and Hannah Polk Peacock. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 204 Vick Street, hotel bellboy Levi Peacock, 30; wife Elouise, 28, a public school teacher; children Jewel D., 4, and Thomas L., 14; and mother-in-law Etta Reaves, 50, post office maid.

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  • Louis Hines — Probably Louis Hines Jr. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 303 Elba Street, Eva Hines, 50, household servant; son Charlie, 21, yard boy; and daughter Henrietta, 13, shared a household with Louis Hines Jr., 21, whiskey storage loader; wife Dolly M., 19, tobacco stemmer; and daughter Martha L., 6 months.
  • “Rent” Gay — Edgar Reynold Gay was the son of Charles B. and Ella Tate Gay.

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[Sidenote: perhaps someone can clarify what “sly” meant in the usage of the day? — LYH]

False, unscientific belief in racial superiority.

In March 1945, the Torchlight, a student journal at Atlantic Christian College — a small college founded in Wilson in 1902 — published this surprisingly progressive review of Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit:

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“True, the affair between Tracy and Nonnie is disturbing; but an illicit affair should be disturbing, regardless of a situation of mixed races. No, the love affair is not Lillian Smith’s problem; the thing she points out with capital letters is the question: What are we going to do about the Negroes in our country, the Negroes who are thinking and desiring a new life? And that question is one we must answer soon. If Lillian Smith has awakened one person to the cruelty involved in a false, unscientific belief in racial superiority and to a consciousness of the white people whose misused power has produced a spiritual degeneracy, her purpose has been accomplished. …Revolting, shocking book? Yes, for those who cling to the past!”

Cemeteries, no. 5: Elm City Colored Cemetery.

  • Winnie Rice Latham

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On 15 March 1875, Isham Latham, 19, married Winnie Rice, 20, at the home of W.W. Farmer, justice of the peace. Mundy Hardy, Lewis Hardy and Red Winsted witnessed the ceremony.

On 24 May 1890, Winnie Latham, 30, and James Gray Locus, 23, applied for a marriage license in Wilson County. They did not return it.

However, in the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: wagoneer James Locus, 35; wife Winnie, 42, cook; her children Corra, 22, cook, Wiley, 17, carriage driver, Roser, 16, cook, and John, 14, waiting boy; and their son Wiley G., 2. [Though listed as Locuses, Winnie’s children were Lathams.]

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on East Main Street, widow Winnie Locus, 47, laundress, with sons Johnie, 24, railroad laborer, and Willie, 14.

  • Charlie Armstrong

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In the 1870 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Wright Barnes, 54, Lucinda Armstrong, 31, and Charles, 7, Ann, 5, Shade, 16, and Goddin Armstrong, 7.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Lizette Armstrong, 51, Lucinda, 41, Charley L., 16, Gray Anna, 13, and Shadrick, 10.

On 24 June 1886, in Toisnot township, Charles Armstrong, 23, married Marie Mitchell, 19, in the presence of Lula Johnson, Hattie Credle, and T. Blackley.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: railroad laborer Charles Armstrong, 37, wife Alice, 30, and children Maggie, 14, Lena, 11, William, 5, and Paul, 2.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Elm City Lane, Charlie Armstrong, 45, a laborer at a railroad water station; wife Alice, 43, laundress; children Maggie, 23, Walter, 15, Gaston, 11, Earnest, 8, Harvey, 6, Sissie, 4, Buster, 2, and baby, 3 months, as well as sister-in-law Lina Saunders, 21, and grandson Jasper Armstrong, 8 months.

In the 1920 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Tailor Street, Charlie Armstrong, 68, wife Allice, 50, and children and grandchildren Maggie, 30, Walter, 24, Gaston, 21, Harvey, 18, Annie, 13, Buster, 11, Gray, 8, Fred, 6, Lucie, 5, and Clifton, 3.

In the 1930 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: Charlie Armstrong, 70, wife Alice, 60, children and grandchildren Gaston, 27, Lawrence, 20, Gray, 23, Annie, 18, and Fred Armstrong, 16, and Lucille, 16, and Clifton McFadden, 15.

  • Thomas & Venus Drake

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In late December 1867 or very early January 1868, Thomas Drake, son of Thomas Avent and Lucinda Drake, applied for a marriage in Wilson to marry Venis Armstrong, daughter of Mary Armstrong. The license was not returned.

In the 1880 census of Town of Toisnot, Wilson County: railroad worker Thomas Drake, 34, wife Venus, 28, and children Jane, 9, Isaac, 7, John T., 3, and an unnamed infant, 1 month.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Tom Drake, 65, wife Venus, 62, and  daughter Pearl, 10.

Though her marriage license reported her surname as Armstrong, Venus’ death certificate lists her parents as Amos and Mary Braswell of Edgecombe County.

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  • Fortune Farmer Jones Joyner Bailey

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In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Washington Farmer, 43, wife Wady, 44, children Edith, 14, Fortin, 13, Gimsey, 11, John W., 8, Nancy, 6, and Orgius, 6, and farm laborer Nelson Thomas, 21.

On 3 December 1874, Stephen T. Jones, 21, married Fortune Farmer, 19, at Wash Farmer’s in Wilson County. Witnesses were Alex Jones, John H. Jones, and Eli Mercer.

In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Stephen T. Jones, 25, wife Fortune, 22, and children Susan, 4, and Tempy A., 2.

On 13 April 1884, Henry Joyner, 20, married Fortune Jones, 21, at Washington Farmer’s. Witnesses were G.D. Vick, Isial Williamson and Joseph Ricks. (Marriage and death records reveal that Henry and Fortune had at least one child, William Thomas Joyner, about 1884.)

The death certificate of widow Susie Dawes, who died in Toisnot township, Wilson County, on 26 July 1929, lists Stephen Jones and Fortnea Bailey as her parents. Dawes was born about 1874 in Jones Hill, Nash County. Fortnea Bailey was informant.

  • Isaac Rodgers

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In the 1880 census of Jackson township, Nash County: farmer Isaac Rodgers, 28, wife Alice, 28, and children Mary E., 6, Cinda E., 4, William A., 4, and Della, 1 month.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Gooch and Parkers School House Road, farmer Isaac Rodgers, 53, wife Alice, 50, and children Bettie, 21, Nat, 19, Henry, 16, Willie, 13, and Susie, 13.

Isaac Rodgers died 9 December 1916 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. His death certificate lists his birthplace as Johnston County, and his father as Ace Rogers.

  • Emily Shaffer

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In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: house carpenter Quincey Shaffer, 45, wife Jennie, 43, and mother Emma, 78.

Emily (or Emma) Shaffer’s death certificate lists her birthplace as Edgecombe County and her parents as Abram Mears and Bekie Sharp.

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  • Arch Stallings

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In the 1870 census of Cedar Rock township, Franklin County: Gray Stallings, 28, wife Fanny, 25, children Arch, 19, Cas, 7, Amanda, 5, Sidney, 2, and mother Matilda Stallings, 60.

On 25 February 1875, in Nash County, Arch Stallings, 30, married Phillis Evans, 18, at Lewis Evans’.

In the 1900 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County: Arch Stallings, 42, wife Phillys, 38, and daughter Fannie, 12.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Arch Stallings, 59, and wife Phillis, 53.

Arch Stallings died 2 April 1918 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Informant Dossie Lucas gave Arch’s birthplace as Wayne County.

  • Ned Winstead

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In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: domestic servant Anna Oats, 28, and Milly, 18, Ned, 13, and Clara Batts, 12, plus John Batts, 22, a white liquor dealer.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Fannie Parker, 51, her daughter Martha, 28, grandchildren Julius S., 10, and Joseph W., 4, and nephew Ned Winstead, 22.

On 29 December 1889, Ned Winstead, 28, married Ann Edwards, 23, at Jim Chisel’s in Wilson County. W.W. Flowers, justice of the peace, performed the ceremony in the presence of J.M. Joyner and James Chisel.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: farmer Ned Winstead, 42, wife Annie, 38, and children Hubbard, 12, James H., 10, Maggie N., 8, Lizzie V., 4, and William N.D., 2.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: on State Highway, farmer Ned Winstead, 52, wife Annie, 47, and children Maggie, 18, Lizzie, 14, Daniel, 12, John, 9, Lee, 6, and Bryant, 4.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: on State Highway, farmer Ned Winstead, 58, wife Annie, 50, and children Maggie, 23, John, 18, and Bryant, 13, plus granddaughter Annie Bell, 9.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: widowed farmer Ned Winstead, 60, son-in-law Tom Wilcher, 48 (a Georgia-born railroad laborer), daughter Maggie Wilcher, 37, son-in-law Carl Fenner, 23, daughter Lizzie Fenner, 33, and granddaughter Annie B. Fenner, 19.

Ned Winstead’s death certificate lists his parents as Iseley Winstead of Nash County and George Hardy (or Handy).

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  • Rev. Junius R. Rosser   

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On 8 September 1888, in Edgecombe County, Julius Rosser, 22, applied for a license to marry Mary Dunn, 16. The license was not returned.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: brick molder Junius Rosser, 35, Mary, 29, children Willie, 10, and Blanch, 3, father Daniel, 70, and [step?]mother Clarry, 40.

On 20 May 1903, Elm City resident Junius R. Rosser, 37, married Toisnot township resident Elizabeth Farmer, 32. Baptist minister Isaac Barnes performed the ceremony in the presence of William T. Armstrong, John R. Barnes and J. Staton.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Church Street, servant Junius Roser, 47, second wife Lizzie, 36, and children Danile, 4, Annie, 2, and Bennie, 7 months.

In 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Elm City & Wilson Road, farmer Junius Rosser, 59, Lizzie, 46, and children Daniel, 14, Annie, 12, Bennie, 10, and Lizzie, 8, plus boarder Mary Howard, 19.

In the 1940 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson Street, Bennie Rosser, 30, farmer, wife Cleo, 30, cook, father Junius, 79, mother Elizabeth, 69, and niece Florence A., 7.

——

From the Minutes of the 9 September 2014 Elm City Town Commissioners’ Meeting, item 5:

  • Shirley Robinson, mother of Shelley Knight, presented the Board with her concern over the cemetery located behind Nexans. She is interested in knowing who the property belongs to, and who is the responsible party.  Mayor Smith told Ms. Knight that although the Town mows the property, that it doesn’t belong to the Town. Wilson County has the owners as the Elm City Colored Cemetery Commission; therefore ownership belongs to the heirs of the Commission. He suggested that letters be sent to the heirs of previous Commission owners, in an effort to reform the Commission. He offered help from Admin. Russell regarding genealogical research.

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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).

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.]

White water.

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This is the war memorial in front of the Wilson County Courthouse. It honors Revolutionary and Civil War dead. Until 1960, segregated water fountains topped the two small plinths. The “colored” fountain was on the left. You can tell because the chiseled-out section is longer.