Segregation

Homestead Grays play the New York Black Yankees in Wilson.

On 4 August 1942, the Daily Times printed two short pieces on the extraordinary match-up at Wilson’s Municipal (now Fleming) Stadium — the Homestead Grays vs. the New York Black Yankees!

Grays’ catcher and power hitter Josh Gibson in an undated photograph. AP.

Wilson Daily Times, 4 August 1942.

Buck Leonard at bat, 1945. He and Gibson were known as the Thunder Twins. Now regarded as among the best ever to play the game, neither played Major League baseball. Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

The Homestead Grays in 1942, the year they visited Wilson. Getty Images.

Black Yankees Leslie “Chin” Green and Jimmy Ford, 1942. Detail, Getty Images.

An explanation.

In January 1917, the Daily Times published an explanation cum apology to its white readers. The night before, its social column had led with announcement of a dance given by the Carnation Club at the Odd Fellows Hall. However, the Club was for “colored people” and the hall was “below the railroad.” (In other words, it was the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows’ hall, not the whites-only hall belonging to the  International Order of Odd Fellows Enterprise Lodge No. 44.) After making this clear, the paper claimed: “of course the notice should not have been placed in the social column for the reason that it was a paid notice and belongs in the advertising columns ….”

Of course. 

Wilson Daily Times, 5 January 1917.

I have not found anything further about the Carnation Club.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Lane Street Project: a road trip to South Asheville Cemetery.

My maternal grandmother was from Iredell County, on the western edge of North Carolina’s Piedmont. Her grandfather John Walker Colvert’s sister, Elvira Colvert Morgan, last appears in records in 1880, when she and her husband shared a household with Squire Gray, a 20 year-old who likely was her close relative. By 1900, Squire Gray, his wife Rachel, and their daughters had moved 100 miles west and were living in the Kenilworth neighborhood of South Asheville. Squire Gray died 21 June 1921. His death certificate noted that he was 61 years old, was married to Rachel Gray, and worked as a common laborer. He had been born in Rowan County to Orange Gray and Rachel Colbert, and was buried in South Asheville Cemetery.

I visited Asheville this past weekend to celebrate my birthday. As we headed home yesterday morning, I pointed the car first at South Asheville Cemetery. Though relatively large, the cemetery is not easy to find. Its address is that of 1920s’ era Saint John “A” Baptist church, now inactive and tucked deep in the middle of a neighborhood that is clearly well-to-do and no longer predominantly African-American. Skirt the gates to the church’s little parking lot, however, and South Asheville Cemetery opens up before you.

It is billed as the oldest and largest public African-American cemetery in North Carolina, and began in the 1840s as a cemetery for the enslaved laborers of the family of William Wallace McDowell. It was active until the 1940s and fell into disrepair thereafter. In the 1980s, church members began working to restore the cemetery and bring it back to the public’s attention. South Asheville Cemetery Association’s website details the cemetery’s history, links to an enviable set of maps of the locations of the cemetery’s two thousand burials, and displays photographs of the site in the early 1990s that make me dare to dream about what is possible at Odd Fellows and Rountree. 

Only 98 headstones have been found in the cemetery, though the large undressed fieldstones scattered about most likely once marked graves. 

A small weathered marker. 

The new neighbors.

The grave of George Avery, the freedman and U.S. Colored Infantry soldier who was caretaker for the cemetery until his death in the 1930s. Avery kept mental, not written, records of the locations of burials in South Asheville.

The fine headstone of barber and Prince Hall mason Tecumseh C. Hamilton.

A cluster of headstones among the oaks, tulip poplars, and maples that tower over South Asheville Cemetery.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2021.

Vick presents a notice to the Republican convention.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 June 1920.

The Republican Party’s 1920 convention in Chicago nominated Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge for president and vice-president. Samuel H. Vick, long active in Republican politics and well-known from the battles over his appointment as Wilson’s postmaster, formerly registered his protest against North Carolina’s exclusion of African-Americans from its deliberations.

Dedication of historical markers.

At last, the official dedications of four historical markers installed in Wilson in 2020-21.

——

“Colored Citizens” published a note to mark the end of the second year of the Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute. Wilson Daily Times, 1 June 1920.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

No Negroes on the jitney.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 May 1920.

First, “jitney” — a vehicle providing inexpensive shared transportation over a set route. In this case, round-trip travel between Wilson and Goldsboro, some 25 miles south. Second, the jitney was integrated in 1920?

Now the story: an African-American passenger aboard the jitney “made himself  obnoxious” — which could have been anything from refusing to yield to seat to whistling loudly to … anything, short of actual criminal behavior, which would have been dealt with swiftly. White people threatened to boycott the service if they had to share space with “colored” people any longer. The jitney proprietor quickly acceded to their wishes and barred Black passengers. An unnamed “worthy colored man” of Wilson requested that the Daily Times post a notice of the change to “save [African-Americans] from worry,” i.e. humiliation, inconvenience, and dangerous annoyance. He himself had been denied passage when he attempted to board for a return from Goldsboro. To reassure any who questioned his motives, perhaps, the anonymous man asserted that he was not complaining of the jitney company’s action, that, in fact, he thought it just under the circumstances. 

[Note: Jim Crow, among other things, required a constant soft-shoe, relentless squaring, rapid-fire calculation, a perpetual mask. Consider this as you judge. — LYH]

Negroes punish white man.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 December 1920.

The Baltimore Afro-American‘s rather more detailed version of this incident is here. The “negro woman” was Melissa Wilkins. I have not been able to identify her father, who allegedly owned a blind tiger.

  • James Dickerson
  • Henry Elons
  • Bill Artis
  • Edgar Artis

Balcony entrance.

Carolina Theatre, perhaps circa its opening about 1930.

The Carolina (later Drake) Theatre was one of several theaters operating west of the tracks that either did not admit Black patrons or relegated them to the balcony until the mid-1960s. The balcony entrance is plainly visible at left.

Below, the old theatre in 2020.

Top photo courtesy of Steve Brown; original credit unknown. Bottom photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.