Segregation

The Oleanders Quartette performs.

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 December 1937.

This was probably the Oleander Quartet, comprised of George Boyd, Cecil Murray, Howard Scott, George Hall, and pianist Elijah Lamar, which performed blues and spirituals on radio, mostly as a backup to Leadbelly, the legendary folk and blues singer. (Notably, the group backed him on a recording of “Pick a Bale of Cotton” circa 1935.)

Dr. Ward challenged Jim Crow.

Indiana History Blog published Nicole Poletika’s detailed look at Dr. Joseph H. Ward‘s role in challenging segregation as the head of Tuskegee, Alabama’s Veterans Hospital No. 91 in the 1920s and ’30s.

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Dr. Ward is on the front row, center (next to the nurse) in this 1933 photograph of Veterans Hospital staff.  Photo courtesy of VA History Highlights, “First African American Hospital Director in VA History,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

For more on Dr. Ward, who was born in Wilson about 1869, see here and here and here and here and here.

[Sidenote: Dr. Ward was not born to “impoverished parents” per the article, though it is possible that he himself gave this gloss on his early life. Rather, his father was Napoleon Hagans, a prosperous freeborn farmer in nearby Wayne County, and his mother was Mittie Ward, a young freedwoman whose family moved into town after Emancipation from the plantation of Dr. David G.W. Ward near Stantonsburg.]

Hat tip to Zella Palmer for pointing me to this article. She is Dr. Ward’s great-granddaughter, and they are my cousins.

A public library for black citizens.

Wilson County Public Library’s Local History Room holds a copy of “A History of Public Library Service to Blacks in Wilson, N.C.,” the master’s thesis Doretta Davis Anderson submitted to the University of North Carolina’s School of Library Science in 1976. Here are early excerpts :

“The honor of first suggesting a public library for the black citizens of Wilson, North Carolina belonged to a Mrs. Argie Evans Allen. Mrs. Allen suggested the idea of establishing a library for the black community as a project for her club, the Mary McLeod Bethune Civic Club. Accepting the idea, the club then authorized Mrs. Allen to carry our the project as she saw fit.

“The first actual recorded interest in the establishment of the library appeared in a letter, written by Mrs. Allen to Mrs. Mollie Huston Lee on June 7, 1943. Mrs. Lee, at that time was supervisor of North Carolina’s Negro Public Libraries.  …

“Subsequently, Dr. D.C. Yancey donated a room over his drugstore to the club for the establishment of a library. …

“… Volunteers were solicited to man the library. The first official ‘librarian’ was Evangeline Royal, a local high school student employed to operate the library after school.”

“The following persons were appointed to become members of the library’s first board of trustees: Mrs. W.M. Freeman (Chairman); E. Hilliard (Secretary); James Whitfield (Treasurer); E.F. Battle; William Hines; Dr. D.C. Yancey; and C.W. Foster.

“Considering its relative obscurity, the library was to circulate 108 volumes during its first year of operations and collect $539.40 in donations for operating expenses.

“The following year showed a marked improvement. Aside from acquiring a new librarian, the board of trustees was able to solicit appropriations from the local city and county officials for the financing of the library. … Under the direction of Miss Pauleze Coley (Bryant), the college graduate employed by the library, circulation for the year ending June 30, 1945 totaled 3,172 volumes. …”

Proposed floor plan of Wilson County Negro Library’s location on Pender Street.

  • Argie Evans Allen
  • D.C. Yancey — D’arcey C. Yancey.
  • Evangeline Royal — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 203 Pender Street, widow Ossie M. Royall, 33, an elevator girl at the courthouse; her mother Tossie Jenkins, 53, stemmer at a tobacco factory; daughters LaForest, 16, and Evauline Royall, 14; and a roomer named Ed Hart, 45, a laborer employed by the town of Wilson. Ossie and LaForest were born in Wilson; Evaline in Battleboro [Nash County]; and Tossie and Ed in Nash County.
  • W.M. Freeman — Willie Mae Hendley Freeman.
  • E. Hilliard
  • James Whitfield
  • E.F. Battle
  • William Hines
  • C.W. Foster — Carter W. Foster.
  • Pauleze Coley (Bryant) — Elizabeth Pauleze Coley Bryant.

115 Pender Street East today. The library was housed in the storefront at left until the early 1970s, when it moved to a location on Pender south of Nash Street. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

Saint Alphonsus graduates.

November is Black Catholic History Month. Accordingly, I offer these images of a 1949 kindergarten graduation celebration at Saint Alphonsus Catholic School captured by Wilson’s preeminent 20th century photographers Charles Raines and Guy Cox. Do you recognize any of the children?

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Daniel McClain.

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Joyce Ellis.

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Many thanks to John Teel for sharing these images from the Raines & Cox collection of photographs at the North Carolina State Archives. They are catalogued as PhC_196_CW_1211H _StAlphonsusGraduation1 through 10.

Gratitude to Safiya Bandele for identifying the children in photos 5 and 8.

Minutes of the school board.

The Wilson County Public Library’s Local History Collection contains a bound transcription of the Minutes of the Wilson Graded School 1881-1887, 1891-1902, compiled by school superintendent Charles L. Coon. Here, with annotations in brackets, are extracts from those minutes.

——

July 14th 1891

The Board met in the offices of F.A. Woodard.

The first order of business was the election of teachers. The following was selected with the salary of each (for colored school). P.O. [F.O.] Blount salary $30.00, Prof. Winstead $25.00, Levi Peacock $25.00, Addie Battle $20.00, Lucy Thompson 20.00

——

Sept 29th 1891

The Board met in office of F.A. Woodard.

The object of the meeting was to hear complaints against some of the Col teachers in Col Graded School viz Levi Peacock and Ida Thompson.

Several Col men were present & urge their dismissal.

The Board discussed the matter & decided unanimous that the charges were not sufficient cause for removal. Nothing further appearing the Board adjourned.

[There are no further clues to the complaints lodged or the reasons “several colored men” urged the dismissals of Levi H. Peacock and Ida Thompson.]

——

Dec. 30th 1891

The Board met in the office of Dr. Albert Anderson.

The first business was the resignation of F.O. Blount, principal of Col. School. On motion resignation was accepted.

B.R. Winstead was elected principal to fill the unexpired term of F.O. Blount.

Annie Washington was elected as teacher in col school to commence on Jany 6th 1892 at $20.00 per month if qualified for the position after examination by supt. Foust. No other business the board adjourned.

——

May 9th 1892

The Board met in office of F.A. Woodard, President.

The first order in business was the election of Supt. & Teachers for the white & colored schools.

Teachers for col. school

B.R. Winstead Principal $30.00, L.H. Peacock $25.00, Annie Washington Vick $25.00, Annie Blake $20.00, Sudie Harris $20.00

——

May 30th 1896

The Board in office at Branch & Co.’s bank, with Gen. Hackney ch’m in chair.

It was stated that the object of the meeting was to elect the teachers of the Colored School. The election resulted as follows:

Principal of building S.A. Smith $30.00 per month

Teachers L.H. Peacock $25.00, G.H. Towe $25.00, Miss Ida Rountree $20.00, Mrs. S.H. Vick $20.00

[Though among the best-educated members of their community, African-American teachers struggled to make ends meet on their salaries. As shown in this 1899 notice of sheriff’s sale, several waited until their property was at risk to pay taxes — or lost it to public auction.]

——

Feb. 10th 97

The Board met in the office of Mr. A.B. Deans, Dr. Moore absent.

Mr. Oettinger moved that the position of Primary Teacher in the Colored School, held by Mrs. S.H. Vick, be declared vacant, owing to her physical inability to fill the place the remainder of the spring. Carried.

Mr. Oettinger moved that Mrs. R.C. Melton be employed to fill out the unexpired term. Carried.

The Committee appointed to arrange for the rental of an additional home for the Colored School, reported that they had investigated the matter & decided not to rent for this spring.

[“Physical inability” appears to have been a euphemism for Annie Washington Vick’s pregnancy with son Daniel, born in 1897.

The crowded conditions of Wilson’s only public school for black children had become acute by 1897, when the school board considered, but rejected, a suggestion to rent a house as an overflow classroom.]

——

Mar 13th, 97

School Board met in office of Mr. A.B. Deans, Mr. Oettinger, Dr. Anderson & Mr. Wootten absent.

Prof. Smith, Prin. of Col. Sch., made a statement as to his understanding of the conditions upon which he took the sch. census of the col. race last year.

After discussion, Dr. Moore moved to reconsider the motion made at a previous meeting, to deduct $16.22 from am’t p’d Prof. Smith for his work) from the last month’s salary, & to deduct only $6.22 thus paying him $10.00 for his services. Carried.

[Each year, a school board representative conducted a survey of school-aged children in its district to determine the need for teachers at each grade level. Occasionally, as noted elsewhere in the minutes, the board would scrap an upper grade for want of students. The root of Simeon Smith’s pay question is not clear.]

——

Feb. 18th, 1898

School Board met in the office of Mr. J. Oettinger, Mr. A.B. Deans absent.

Supt stated that he had called the meeting to consider the crowded condition of affairs at the colored school, and to make arrangements for securing more room.

It was agreed to build at once, a two room addition, 24×50 ft. and place sufficient piazza space for the entire building.

Mr. Oettinger moved that Mr. W.P. Wootten, Dr. C.E. Moore and the Supt. be appointed a committee to have building put up at once. Carried.

[The board finally moved to address the crowding, authorized the building to two new classrooms and a porch.]

——

Mar. 2nd, 98

Called meeting of School Board at office of Mr. A.B. Deans. All present.

Supt. was ordered to purchase desks necessary to properly seat the new building at colored school.

Building comm. reported new building about ready for use.

[It’s hard to imagine that the rooms were thrown up in less than two weeks, but if they were, this seems a testament to poor quality.

——

Aug. 31, 98.

Board met at call of Supt. to elect a teacher for 5th & 6th Grades, Colored School. All present.

Supt. reported that he had held an examination on the 29th inst. at which all applicants were examined.

Mrs. A.V.C. Hunt had stood the best examination, and was duly elected to fill the vacancy at salary of $20.00 per month.

….

[Two months after her hire as a teacher, erstwhile grocer Annie V.C. Hunt was embroiled in a conflict that led to the shooting death of her husband James Hunt in 1900.]

——

Sept. 27, 00.

Board met in extra session, at office of W.P. Wootten. All present except Mr. Oettinger.

Sec’y stated that meeting had been called at request of S.A. Smith, Prin. Col. School, for the purpose of investigating the charges against him, as per rumors being circulated regarding his character by Chas. Barbour.

Chas. Barbour, being called, stated that he had no charges to make against Smith, that he merely wanted Board to discharge his wife, Sallie Barbour, from her position as teacher in Col. School. She had not requested to be allowed to  resign, but he desired her discharged. He gave no valid reason for his wish. Supt. stated that he had no complaints to make against Mrs. Barbour.

Charges against Smith were dismissed, & Barbour was told that Board could not discharge his wife without cause.

[Shortly after this humiliating attempt by Charles Barbour to have his wife discharged from her teaching position, Sallie Barbour filed for divorce. Her petition cited a litany of abuses, including physical violence, and she sought custody of their sons.

——

Nov. 10, 00.

Called meeting of Board held in office of Drs. Moore & Anderson, Mr. Wootten and & Mr. Simms absent.

Sec’y stated that he had been enjoined by S.A. Woodard, Att’y for Chas. Barbour, against paying Mrs. Barbour any further salary.

Upon motion, the Sec’y was instructed to inform Mrs. Barbour that her salary was withheld till she obtained legal order, giving full authority to Board to pay her salary to her alone.

[Failing to get her fired, Barbour secured an injunction prohibiting the school board from paying his wife. The board determined to advise Sallie Barbour that her salary would be withheld until she got a court order making it payable to her alone.]

——

Feb. 2, /01

Meeting of the Board, all present. Sec’y stated that he received the resignation of Mrs. Hunt as teacher of 5th Grade, Col. School.

Resignation accepted to take effect at once.

Motion made that Clarrissy Williams be elected to fill the unexpired term of Mrs. Hunt. Carried.

[The board hired Clarissa Williams to fill the position vacated by Annie Hunt when she left Wilson. Williams would prove to be a loyal employee, declining to resign in the wake of the Coon-Euell slapping incident and serving briefly as colored school principal when J.D. Reid was forced out.]

——

Mar. 30, 1901.

At a called meeting of the Board, the Sec’y presented the resignation of G.H. Towe, as teacher of 3rd and 4th Grades, in Colored.

The resignation was accepted to take effect at once.

The Supt. reported the result of an examination he had held to fill this vacancy, and, upon motion, Cora Miller was elected to fill out the unexpired term of G.H. Towe.

[Five months later, Cora Miller married George Washington, brother of Annie Washington Vick.]

——

MINUTES OF BOARD SESSION OF 1901-1902.

[No date.]

Board met in the office of Dr. Moore, Mr. Simms absent.

The resignation of S.A. Smith as Principal of the Colored School was accepted, as he had been elected to a similar position in the Schools of Winston. To fill this vacancy the Board elected J.D. Reid, Wilson, N.C.

To fill the other vacancies in the Colored School, the Board elected Cora Miller, and Mrs. S.A. Smith, both of Wilson, N.C.

[Simeon Smith took a position at a large African-American graded school in Winston-Salem. His wife soon joined him there.]

——

  • F.O. Blount — Frank Oscar Blount.
  • Prof. Winstead/B.R. Winstead — Braswell R. Winstead.
  • Levi Peacock/L.H. Peacock — Levi H. Peacock.
  • Addie Battle
  • Lucy Thompson — Lucy A. Thompson died 24 July 1946 at her home at 310 Singletary Street. Per her death certificate, she was 71 years old; was born in Wilson County to Ennis Thompson of Greene County and Hellen A. Ruffin of Louisburg, N.C.; was single; and was a teacher. Virginia D. Humphrey was informant. Thompson was buried in Rountree cemetery.
  • Ida Thompson
  • Annie Washington/Annie Washington Vick/Mrs. S.H. Vick — Annie Washington Vick.
  • Annie Blake — Annie Blake Rodgers.
  • Sudie Harris
  • S.A. Smith — Simeon A. Smith.
  • Mrs. S.A. Smith — Minnie Joyner Smith.
  • G.H. Towe — Granville H. Towe.
  • Ida Rountree — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: carpenter Henry Rountree, 52; wife Emma, 55; and children Charley, 34, drayman, and Ida, 27, schoolteacher.
  • Mrs. R.C. Melton — Rebecca Canty Melton.
  • Mrs. A.V.C. Hunt — Annie V. Collins Hunt.
  • Clarrissy Williams — Clarissa Williams.
  • J.D. Reid — Judge James D. Reid.

Plans for Elm City Colored Cemetery.

ELM CITY — Descendants and family members have reestablished the commission that oversees the black cemetery located at 4979 Elm City Road S.

The commission will meet at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9 in the Wilson County Public Library assembly room, 249 Nash St. N. Members will discuss renaming the cemetery, electing 2019-20 commission members and potentially soliciting bids for lawn care. All members of the public are invited to attend.

Organizers say the acting commission has succeeded in removing the chain blocking access to the cemetery, obtaining an address for the property, hiring landscaping crews to remove fallen trees and debris and spearheading a community cleanup day. The commission plans to install a flagpole to honor veterans interred there just in time for Veterans Day.

For more information, call Marie Knight at 801-390-8017.

Frederick Douglass resurrected.

“We have a righted a wrong”: Board votes to name elementary school for Frederick Douglass

By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Daily Times, 19 February 2018.

The Wilson County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to rename Elm City Elementary School after abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

All six board members supported the proposal. Board member Robin Flinn was absent from the meeting.

“I am just proud of them for understanding and knowing that it was time,” said Alice Freeman, a 1964 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and a former president of the Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association.

The effort to rename the school was led by alumni association members who have made multiple requests to adopt the Douglass name going back to the early 1970s.

“I am very happy and I am just so proud of our organization and the hard work that it took,” Freeman said. “I am just really proud of the school board because they realized the importance of it. They realized our contributions. They realized that after 40 years, almost 50 years, we have remained active. We’ve got good folks and we are going to move forward with this. We’re just excited.”

Bill Myers, a former teacher at Frederick Douglass High School, said after the decision that it was hard to put his feelings at the moment into words.

“I can’t even express it really. We have righted a wrong,” Myers said.

“The question should have been ‘Why change the name in the first place?’ So to do it now is just electrifying,” Myers said.

Elm City Elementary has been named after the community in which it is located since 1970, when integration began in Wilson County. The school was named Frederick Douglass High School from 1939 to 1969. During that time it was attended by members of the African-American population in Wilson County. In 1970, former Frederick Douglass students joined students at Elm City High School to form an integrated school.

Though Elm City Elementary has undergone multiple renovations since 1970, two major portions of the school, the auditorium and the gymnasium, were originally part of Frederick Douglass High School.

The original Douglass auditorium.

The Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association has a long history of financial support of Elm City Elementary and Elm City Middle.

“I’m just tickled to death, particularly for all those kids that were here tonight and the association that has been doing so much to promote and keep the thing going,” Myers said. “They have been giving away money, scholarships, everything, every year and this is why I wanted to be here to do this, for them.”

Myers said he felt a major part of this effort to rename the school and regain the 30-year legacy of the high school.

“This was my first teaching job over here and I feel very much still a part of it,” Myers said. “I am happy for them. I am happy that this board could see through that and try to rectify something that happened that was definitely wrong.”

According to Lane Mills, superintendent of Wilson County Schools, costs associated with changing the name of Elm City Elementary School would be about $11,353.

The costs would include $4,317 for staff long-sleeve and short-sleeve T-shirts, $2,500 for a new school marquee, $800 for a new school sign, $704 to replace the rugs at the entrances, $450 for new checks, receipts, a deposit stamp, $450 for new PTO checks and deposit slips, $250 for school pencils, $200 for school stamps and $200 for ink pens, plus other miscellaneous items.

The original Douglass gymnasium.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2019.

Hominy Swamp.

Hominy Swamp arises in western Wilson County, flows southeast of downtown and empties into Contentnea Creek near the Evansdale community. Prone to severe flooding, the creek has been channeled at several points along its length; from just above Tarboro Street south its plain is largely industrial. Hominy Swamp traditionally served as a boundary between certain black and white neighborhoods — Daniel Hill and Hominy Heights, and Happy Hill and Five Points, for example.

Per the Wilson Daily Times, in December 1924, the city contracted with a Raleigh contractor to build bridges spanning Hominy Swamp at Lodge Street, Goldsboro Street, Mercer Street, Tarboro Street and Park Avenue at a cost of $65,000.

I crossed over the Lodge Street bridge Saturday. It would seem to be $15,000 well-spent.

Here, Hominy Swamp Canal looking east from the Lodge Street bridge. North of the creek (to the left here) for most of the 20th century was a largely African-American neighborhood centered at Lodge and Banks Streets. South, Five Points, which was a white neighborhood until late in the 20th century.

Three years later, Hominy Swamp jumped its banks, climbing high enough to nearly overtop the walls of the bridge. Homes at Lodge and Mercer Streets flooded, requiring the rescue of a disabled 80 year-old African American woman.

Wilson Daily Times, 18 September 1928.

Sankofa: remembering Marie Everett.

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For hundreds of years, the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and aphorisms. Sankofa is often illustrated as a bird looking over its back. Sankofa means, literally, “go back and get it.” Black Wide Awake exists to do just that.

I had never heard of Marie Everett until I read Charles W. McKinney’s excellent Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. I’m not sure how it is possible that her struggle was so quickly forgotten in Wilson. However, it is never too late to reclaim one’s history. To go back and get it.  So, here is the story of the fight for justice for Everett — a small victory that sent a big message to Wilson’s black community and likely a shudder of premonition through its white one:

On 6 October 1945, 15 year-old Marie Everett took in a movie at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Wilson. (The Carolina admitted black patrons to its balcony.) As Everett stood with friend Julia Armstrong at the concession stand, a cashier yelled at her to get in line. Everett responded that she was not in line and, on the way back to her seat, stuck out her tongue. According to a witness, the cashier grabbed Everett, slapped her and began to choke her. Everett fought back. Somebody called the police, and Everett was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The next day in court, Everett’s charge was upgraded to simple assault. Though this misdemeanor carried a maximum thirty-day sentence and fifty-dollar fine, finding her guilty, the judge upped Everett’s time to three months in county jail. As Wilson’s black elite fretted and dragged their feet, the town’s tiny NAACP chapter swung into action, securing a white lawyer from nearby Tarboro and notifying the national office. In the meantime, Everett was remanded to jail to await a hearing on her appeal. There she sat for four months (though her original sentence had expired) until a court date. Wilson County appointed two attorneys to the prosecution, and one opened with a statement to the jury that the case would “show the niggers that the war is over.” Everett was convicted anew, and Judge C.W. Harris, astonishingly, increased her sentence from three to six months, to be served — even more astonishingly — at the women’s prison in Raleigh. (In other words, hard time.) Everett was a minor, though, and the prison refused to admit her. Branch secretary Argie Evans Allen of the Wilson NAACP jumped in again to send word to Thurgood Marshall, head of the organization’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall engaged M. Hugh Thompson, a black lawyer in Durham, who alerted state officials to the shenanigans playing out in Wilson. After intervention by the State Commissioner of Paroles and Governor R. Gregg Cherry, Everett walked out of jail on March 18. She had missed nearly five months of her freshman year of high school.

The Wilson Daily Times, as was its wont, gave Everett’s story short-shrift. However, the Norfolk Journal & Guide, an African-American newspaper serving Tidewater Virginia, stood in the gap. (Contrary to the article’s speculation, there was already a NAACP branch on the ground in Wilson, and it should have been credited with taking bold action to free Everett.)

Norfolk Journal & Guide, 23 March 1946.

Sankofa bird, brass goldweight, 19th century, British Museum.org. For more about the Carolina Theatre, including blueprints showing its separate entrance and ticket booth for African-Americans, see here.