Segregation

VOTE.

Black Wide-Awake‘s temporal cut-off is generally 1949, but 2020 calls for flexibility. If you are of voting age, but are not registered to vote, I don’t know what will stir you. Here’s a story for you though.

This receipt acknowledged the seven dollars my grandmother paid dentist George K. Butterfield for services on 17 September 1955. I’m not sure why she saved it, but perhaps the times felt historic. Just a few months before this office visit, Dr. Butterfield had thwarted the city’s voter suppression shenanigans to win a second term on Wilson’s Board of Aldermen. In 1957, to make sure this didn’t happen again, Wilson dynamited its ward system. 

Dr. Butterfield’s son George K., Jr. is, of course, the United States Congressman for the 1st District of North Carolina, which includes Wilson County. “That is the thing that has precipitated my whole interest in law and politics,” Butterfield Jr. told the Wilson Daily Times in a 3 February 2003 article, “I’ve learned how government can work for you and against you. And in this case, it worked against a significant portion of the community.”

The bullet-point version:

  • In 1928, Dr. Butterfield was one of 46 Black registered voters in Wilson.  
  • In the 1930s and ’40s, several organizations formed to support political and educational advancement of African-Americans, including voter registration.
  • By the early 1950s, about 500 Black voters were registered, almost all of whom lived in the city’s Third Ward, a long narrow precinct that crossed Wilson east to west.
  • In early 1953, Dr. Butterfield announced his candidacy for a seat on Wilson’s Board of Aldermen, the precursor to today’s city council. He drew immediate widespread support from unionized tobacco leafhouse workers (many of whom were women), churches, and the small African-American professional class.
  • A few days before the election, incumbent Herbert Harriss challenged the eligibility of 185 voters. Of 150 voters struck from the rolls as a result, all but three were Black. 
  • On election night, Dr. Butterfield and Harriss each received 382 votes, but Butterfield objected that the registrar had violated regulations requiring votes be counted where ballot boxes were opened. City Attorney W.A. Lucas conceded the count was irregular, but declared the point moot, as there were tie-breaker provisions. Over Dr. Butterfield’s expostulations, the City Clerk placed the two candidates’ names in a hat, blindfolded a three year-old girl, and asked her to draw a name.
  • Dr. Butterfield won!
  • Two years later, the City of Wilson rolled up its sleeves to get in front of Dr. Butterfield’s re-election. First, it threw out all the registration books, ostensibly to clear the rolls of dead or otherwise ineligible voters. It gave citizens one month to re-register by notifying their ward registrar at his house on a weekday, a difficult feat for factory workers and domestics working on the other side of town from their homes. Next, the city expanded Ward 3 on its western end to pull in hundreds more white voters. And the Wilson Daily Times did its part to highlight the peril by publishing running tallies of new registrations by race. 

Wilson Daily Times, 8 April 1955.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 April 1955.

  • On election day, 93% of all eligible Black voters voted — let me say that again, NINETY-THREE PERCENT OF ALL ELIGIBLE BLACK VOTERS VOTED — and Dr. Butterfield won again! (Won’t He do it?)
  • In 1957, faced with another Butterfield campaign, the City went for the nuclear option and chucked the whole ward system for “new and fair” city-wide, at-large seats. Further, to thwart bloc voting, voters would not be able to vote for just one candidate. Rather, they had to select six or their ballots would be invalidated. Jim Crow protocols prevented Dr. Butterfield from campaigning directly to white voters, and he was unable to counter when his white opponents sneered at his ties to “special interest groups” like the NAACP and cast him as a candidate solely interested in advancing Black issues. (One, oh, the hypocrisy! Two, doesn’t this all sound familiar?)
  • Unsurprisingly, Dr. Butterfield placed eighth of 16 candidates and was the sole incumbent to lose his seat. 

The story didn’t end there, of course. Butterfield’s final defeat coincided with the emergence of new grassroots civil rights organizing efforts to attack segregation and racism in every corner of Wilson life. I’m shining a timely light on Dr. Butterfield’s pioneering political career to remind you that there is nothing new under the sun; that voter suppression is the weapon of choice whenever you show your strength; and that, though you may not win every battle, you can do no less than the Black men and women of Wilson who defied their government and risked it all to vote over and over and over. 

“Victors in May 3 City Elections Are Given Oaths of Office Today,” Wilson Daily Times, 6 June 1955.

——

The deadline for registration in Georgia is October 5.

The deadline for registration in North Carolina is October 9.

For the full, fascinating source of my summary of Dr. Butterfield’s elections, please read Charles W. McKinney Jr., Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina (2010).

——

P.S. Right on time — today, the first in the New York Times’ video series, Stressed Election, focuses on voter suppression in Georgia, where I now live. 

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006810942

County schools, no. 18: Yelverton School.

The eighteenth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Yelverton School

Yelverton School is listed as a Rosenwald School in Survey File Materials Received from Volunteer Surveyors of Rosenwald Schools Since September 2002.

Location: A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows Yelverton School on present-day Aspen Grove Church Road near the Pitt County line.

Per notification of public sale in 1951: “YELVERTON COLORED SCHOOL in Saratoga Township, containing two acres, more or less, and more particularly described as follows: BEGINNING at a stake on the East side of Aspin Grove Road beside a white oak, runs thence South 55 1/2 [degrees] East 204 feet to a stake with a sourwood and 2 pine pointers, corners, runs thence 34 1/6 [degrees] West 420 feet to a stake, corners, runs thence North 55 1/2 [degrees] to a stake on the easterly side of said road, thence with said road to the beginning. Being the identical land described in a judgment recorded in Book 179, at page 155, in the Office of the Register of Deeds of Wilson County.”

Description: Per The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, Bynums School had two acres valued at $200, but “no house.” Yelverton School was built in 1925-16 with $700.00 from the Rosenwald Fund, $2025.00 from Wilson County, and $50.00 from local families.

Yelverton School building is one, and the better preserved, of two Rosenwald schools (officially) standing in Wilson County. Per 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), in 1926, State Rosenwald Supervisor William F. Credle gave this report on the newly built Yelverton School to the Wilson County Board of Education:

“This is good two-teacher school with cloak rooms and industrial room. It is properly located on a good site. I recommend that the following improvements be made:

“Put in at least 30 feet of blackboard to the room. This should be provided with a chalk rail.

“Put in terra cotta thimbles in all chimneys.

“Provide good stoves. Jacketed stoves are to be desired. We furnish blue prints for jackets and they can be made for about $20.00 a piece at an good tinner’s.

“Hooks for cloaks and shelves for lunch boxes should be provided in the cloak rooms.

“The seats now in the building should be reconditioned and a sufficient number of new ones provided to accommodate the enrollment. The old seats that are badly cut can be put in very good condition by planing off the rough tops and staining and varnishing.

“Finally the privies should be removed to the line of the school property. They should be provided with pits and the houses should be made fly proof.

“The patrons should be encouraged to clean off the lot so as to provide play ground for the children.”

The condition of Yelverton School has declined considerably in the 13 years since Plate 256, above, published in the research report.

A bank of nine-over-nine windows.

One of the two classrooms. Note the stove and original five-panel door.

The rear of the school.

Known faculty: teachers Otto E. Sanders, Esther B. Logan, Merle S. Turner, Izetta Green, Louise Delorme, Dorothy Eleen Jones.

Plate 256 published in the Research Report; other photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.

County schools, no. 17: Bynum School.

The seventeenth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Bynum School

Though commonly believed to be, it is not clear that Bynum School was a Rosenwald school. It is not listed as such in Survey File Materials Received from Volunteer Surveyors of Rosenwald Schools Since September 2002.It likely originally was a school for white students, turned over to educate black children after white schools consolidated. It closed circa 1949.

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“Rosenwald’s Ripples Continue to Spread,” Wilson Daily Times, 8 September 2001.

Location: A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows Bynum School on present-day Tartt’s Mill Road.

Per notification of public sale in 1951: “BYNUMS COLORED SCHOOL in Gardners Township, containing one-half acre, more or less, and more particularly described as follows: ALL that certain tract of land beginning at a stake near a Branch on the lands of Charles Bynum, thence in a northerly direction 70 yards to a stake, cornering, thence in an easterly direction 35 yards, cornering, thence in a Southerly direction 70 yards to a pine, thence West 35 yards to the beginning. Being the identical land described in a deed recorded in Book 14, at page 377, Wilson County Registry.”

Bynum School building is still standing, but was long ago converted to a dwelling. This may be it:

Description: Per The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, Bynums School was a one-room school seated on one acre and valued at $400.

Per a 8 September 2001 Daily Times article: the school was “a simple, two-room building that housed first through seventh grades.” “When [Simon Barnes Jr.] was 7 years old, [teacher Beatrice] Jones had paid him 25 cents to build a fire in the cast iron stove in the schoolhouse.” “‘I took a biscuit filled with preserves and ham in my back pocket everyday,’ [Simon Barnes Jr.] said, ‘I sat on it all morning. When I took it out, it was flat.’ After eating his lunch, he slaked his thirst with water from the big pump in the school yard.” “[Fannie] Corbett said by the time she was there, the parents had contributed lumber to partition off a lunch room and bought a little oil stove and some bowls. A nearby housewife baked biscuits fresh each day for the students.”

Known faculty: Principal Doris Freeman James; teachers Mrs. Dunstan, Lena Washington Hilliard, Beatrice Jones, Mamie PenderThelma Saunders Cooper.”In those days you made do with what you had, [Bennie Woodard] said. ‘The teachers did an outstanding job with what they had.’ And that set an example for the students. ‘That’s why none of us can forget Beatrice Jones,’ [Woodard] said. ‘I don’t think any of us would have made it had it not been for her.’

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.

It wasn’t just wages we wanted.

On this Labor Day, I bring you “It Wasn’t Just Wages We Wanted, But Freedom”: The 1946 Tobacco Leaf House Workers Organizing in Eastern North Carolina, a compilation of all known scholarship related to the Tobacco Workers International Union and Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers’ mass organizing campaign. The campaign secured union contracts at more than 30 leaf houses, and workers engaged in voter registrations and political action that presaged the civil rights movement a decade later. 

In an introduction to the first edition, Phoenix Historical Society’s Jim Wrenn noted, “This movement began as early as March 1946 when three workers at Export Leaf in Wilson — Aaron Best, Harvey Moore and Chester Newkirk — met with TWIU organizer Dr. R.A. Young … at Best’s home on East Nash Street in Wilson. This meeting led to the establishment of TWIU Local 259 at Export Leaf, the leading tobacco local in Wilson. Best became its first president, Moore its first secretary and Newark its first treasurer. Local 259 members reached out to workers at five other Wilson leaf houses, who were organized as Locals 260, 268, 270, 271, and 272. Today, Local 259 has been absorbed into local 270, the last surviving union local of the 1946 movement.”

The work was published by the Phoenix Historical Society, an organization devoted to the preservation of the African American history of Edgecombe County, and I purchased this copy directly from them.

Lane Street Project: in context.

Apropos of Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries, please see this article in National Geographic magazine on growing efforts to preserve African-American burial sites, including proposed legislation to establish within the National Park Service the African American Burial Grounds Network.

 

Barton College’s oral history project.

The introduction to Barton College’s Crossing the Tracks: An Oral History of East and West Wilson:

“Starting in the spring of 2013 and concluding in the fall of 2014, Barton College students began interviewing Wilson residents about social, cultural, political, and economic relations between residents of East and West Wilson, and how these relations have changed over the past sixty to seventy years. 

“In spite of the many significant achievements of the modern Civil Rights Movement, our nation, state, and community bear the scars and legacies of a deeply troubled racial history that continues to impact our relationships. While we might like to forget or gloss over the painful part of that history, its effect lingers, and denying it will not make it go away.  As the writer James Baldwin once said, ‘The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.’  One of the goals of Crossing the Tracks, then, is to bring these unconscious forces of history into our consciousness, so that we might begin to confront the historical effects of white supremacy and begin the process of healing.

“A history of segregation, built on a foundation of white supremacy, created a separate but unequal society.  And the traditional historical narrative is at best an incomplete history, written and preserved by those who hold political, social, and economic power.  It too often omits the strong voices and tremendous contributions of those on the margins of power.  Part of the mission of the Freeman Round House Museum is to fill this gap in the historical record by preserving and publicizing the contributions of African American Wilsonians to education, medicine, the arts, criminal justice, and entertainment.  Crossing the Tracks supports this mission.  It is an accessible collection of first-person accounts of life in Wilson that students, scholars, and the general public can use to study and write about this remarkable, underrepresented history.  In many ways, it builds on the work of Dr. Charles W. McKinney, Jr., whose book, Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina, documents decades of committed struggle by East Wilson residents to lay the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement.”

The project includes videotaped interviews with 22 residents of East Wilson. The recollections of many, including Samuel Lathan, Roderick Taylor Jr., and Mattie Bynum Jones, date to the 1930s and ’40s, the latter decades covered by the blog. Barton College partnered with the Freeman Roundhouse and Museum to obtain these invaluable stories and all are available online.

Boxcar.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 8 June 1913.

Joe Saunders was arrested for shooting Charles Coley at a house at 114 Wiggins Street. Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home (later known as Mercy) did not open until 1914. Other hospitals in town would not admit African-Americans, so Coley was carried to a boxcar to die or recuperate.

 

County schools, no. 15: Wilbanks School.

The fifteenth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Wilbanks School

Wilbanks School is not listed as a Rosenwald School in Survey File Materials Received from Volunteer Surveyors of Rosenwald Schools Since September 2002.” However, former students report that the original Wilbanks School, first a school for white students, was replaced by a Rosenwald building in the 1930s.

Location:  A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows Wilbanks School on present-day N.C. Highway 42, just east of its intersection with Town Creek Road in the former Wilbanks community.

Per sale advertised for several weeks in the Wilson Daily Times in the fall of 1951: “WILBANKS COLORED SCHOOL in Gardners Township, containing one acre more or less, and more particularly described as follows: BEGINNING at a ditch on the public road, J.J. Baker’s corner, thence North with the public road 70 yards to a stake, thence West 70 yards to a stake, thence South 70 yards to a stake on a ditch beside the public path, thence East 70 yards to the beginning. Being the identical land described in a deed recorded in Book 111, at page 353, Wilson County Registry.”

The 8 January 1952 Wilson Daily Times reported the transfer of the Wilbanks colored school lot from the Wilson County Board of Education to Floyd W. Farmer. The school burned down sometime after, and Farmer built a house on the site.

Description: Per The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, Wilbanks School was a one-room school seated on one acre.

The 23 May 1948 Wilson Daily Times mentioned the performance of the Wilbanks school rhythm band at a county-wide 4-H contest.

A February 1951 report on Wilson County schools, abstracted in the 16 February Wilson Daily Times, found: “Wilbanks Colored school needs coal buckets, shovels and waste baskets …”

On 12 May 2001, the Daily Times published an article on local Rosenwald schools. Several former students or teachers provided details about Wilbanks School, which was a two-room school in which one teacher taught first through third grades and another taught fourth through seventh. The rooms were divided by a partition and lit by electricity. Odell Farmer, then 79, attended first grade in the old school building and the remaining grades in the Rosenwald building. In the old building, children sat three to bench. “They had backs in which a few books could be stored, like a church pew.” “Each room at Wilbanks had a pot-bellied stove, which the older students would help keep fueled.” The older students’ room contained a raised stage. “‘Every morning in my classroom we would have out separate devotion,’ said Ada Sharpe. ‘We would sing “good morning to you” and say The Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge to the Flag.'” Children brought their own lunches to school, often molasses-filled biscuits. She recalled having 65 pupils one year and sometimes had to assign birthdates to children who parents had not filed birth certificates. Older children sometimes were held out of school to help with farm work. On those days, their younger siblings stayed home, too, because they were too young to walk to school by themselves. Wilbanks School closed when the twelve-grade Speight High School opened.

Known faculty: principal Annie Goins Sanders; teachers O. Nestus Freeman, Willie Hendley Freeman, Ada Reid Sharpe, Piccola M. Reid, Charity Drucilla Hussey.

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Wilson Daily Times, 14 February 1941. Rural schools served as community centers, housing the meetings of 4-H clubs, scout troops, and agricultural and home demonstration groups.

County schools, no. 11: Minshew School.

The eleventh in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Minshew School

Per a 10 January 1950 Wilson Daily Times article, “Black Creek Is Oldest Incorporated Town Between Wilmington, Weldon,” one of the early free schools for white children was “a Minshew school located near the Wayne County line.” When rural white schools consolidated circa 1920, Minshew school building was turned over to educate black children. Thus, it was not a Rosenwald school.

Location:  A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows “Minshew” school located on present-day Jaycross Road, just east of Frank Price Church Road. [There is a house standing at that location that resembles a converted school building. It warrants a closer look.]

Per sale advertised for several weeks in the Wilson Daily Times in the fall of 1951: “MINSHEWS COLORED SCHOOL in Black Creek Township, more particularly described as follows: BEGINNING at the junction of the New Road with the Goldsboro and Wilson Road, thence in a Northerly direction with the Goldsboro and Wilson Road 175 feet to a stake, thence at right angles with the road in an Easterly direction 210 feet to a stake, thence in a Southerly direction 268 feet to the New Road, thence in a Northwesterly direction with said New Road 210 feet to the beginning. Being the identical land described in a deed recorded in Book 49, at page 549, Wilson County Registry.”

Description: Per The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, Minshew School was a one-room school seated on one acre.

Known faculty: principal Maggie Walker Bryant; teacher Beatrice A. Jones.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 May 1949.

County schools, no. 10: Lofton School.

The tenth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Lofton School

Lofton School does not appear to have been a Rosenwald school.

Location: A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows “Lofton” school on present-day Downing Road, just below Contentnea Creek.

Per sale advertised in the Wilson Daily Times for several weeks in the fall of 1951: “LOFTON COLORED SCHOOL in Black Creek Township, containing 1 3/4 acres, more or less, and more particularly described as follows: BEING on the Southerly side of the Aycock Road and the Westerly side of Contentnea Creek, just below the bridge; BEGINNING in the center of the road at the bridge, runs thence with and along the road South 73 degrees 45′ West 175.13 feet to an iron pin, a bend in the road, thence South 44 degrees 10′ West 317.58 to an iron pin, leaves the road and runs thence South 81 degrees 19′ East about 619 feet to the center of Contentnea Creek, thence with and along and up the line of said Creek to the point of beginning. Being the identical land described in a deed recorded in Book 108, at page 109, Wilson County Registry.”

Description: This school is not listed in The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, unless it is “Lovers” School, described as having “no house.” In such case, the school would have met in another building, such as a church. Clearly, however, there was a Lofton school building.

Known faculty: Annie Cooke Farmer Battle Dickens, Eloise Reavis Peacock.

Aerial view courtesy of Bing.com.