Segregation

The Green Book.

The Negro Motorist Green Book (later titled The Negro Travelers’ Green Book and called the Green Book) was an annual guidebook for African-American travelers. New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green published the volume during the Jim Crow era, from 1936 to 1966, when hotels, restaurants and other businesses openly discriminated against black motorists. To counter the inconveniences and dangers and inconveniences they faced along the road, Green created a guide to services and places relatively friendly to African-Americans.

Only a few of the many Wilson businesses catering to black clientele were listed in the Green Book. The 1941 edition of the guide is excerpted below.

Victor H. Green, The Negro Motorist Green-Book (1941).

  • Biltmore, East Washington Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory does not list a hotel on East Washington.
  • The Wilson Biltmore, 539 East Nash Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory lists Libby McPhatter‘s cafe at 539 East Nash. However, per the nomination form for Wilsons Central Business District Historic District, McPhatter’s cafe was at 541, in a one of two buildings erected after the Hotel Union, a three-story frame hotel, burned in the late 1940s. It seems much more likely that the Union was the Wilson Bitmo
  • M. Jones, 1209 East Queen Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory does not list an M. Jones at 1209 East Queen Street, nor an M. Jones who is a taxi driver.
  • The 1948 Green Book lists the same three businesses in Wilson. Odd.

Copy of Green Book courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Wilson’s own.

This historical marker stands in the same block as the Wilson County Courthouse. It honors Josephus Daniels, who was everything listed on this innocuous plaque. And quite a bit more. After cutting his teeth at the casually racist Wilson Advance, in 1894 Daniels acquired a controlling interest in the Raleigh News & Observer and turned the paper into a blaring trumpet for white supremacy. From his bully pulpit, Daniels lobbied for the passage in 1900 of laws disenfranchising most African-Americans, a move that effectively excised them from political power until deep into the Civil Rights era. And in 2006, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission‘s final report noted that Daniels’ involvement in the overthrow of the elected city government of Wilmington, North Carolina, by whipping white supremacists to a froth via The News and Observer‘s editorials and cartoons, was so significant that some consider him the “precipitator of the riot.” Nonetheless, Daniels is deemed worthy of prominent honor, and his marker elides his role in the oppression of a third of North Carolina’s population — and nearly half that of his home county.

On 11 January 2018, the Cox-Corbett Historical Society, Wilson County Historical Association, and other groups will sponsor a community viewing of “Wilmington on Fire,” a documentary film about the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, an event cited as the only instance in United States history of the organized seizure and overthrow of a democratically elected municipal government.  The showing is scheduled for 6:30 P.M. at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center in downtown Wilson. For a fuller understanding of Josephus Daniels’ shady legacy, please consider attending.

Lost ‘hoods, no. 2.

“The Atlantic Coastline Railroad tracks separated a black and a white world almost. And then there was Hines Street that wasn’t a connector in those days, but just a street. And there was Daniel Hill, where colored people lived. Then there were six houses between Lee and Gold Streets close to the city lot where black people lived. And Mercer Street in Five Points was all black. There were two ice companies near the railroad tracks and one area was called ‘Happy Hills’ where a few blacks lived. ‘Green Hill’ near the other ice company was a white neighborhood. Except for the above-mentioned, I don’t know of one black family that lived beyond the tracks. But I’m not saying there might not have been a few isolated cases. But Daniel Hill was where 99 percent of the black population lived anywhere on the west side of Wilson.” — Roy Taylor, My City, My Home (1991).

The 1930 edition of Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory reflects the full flower of segregated Wilson, with street after street east of the railroad occupied entirely by African-American households in patterns still easily recognized today. However, here and there clusters of houses appear at unfamiliar locations, either because the streets themselves have disappeared or because we have lost collective memory of these blocks as black neighborhoods.

Here are a few more:

  • Banks Alley

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I’ve been unable to locate this street.

  • West Lee Street

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An earlier post explored the small African-American settlement that coalesced around Lee and Pine Streets by the turn of the twentieth century. By 1930, this community had contracted to three small duplexes on Lee Street and half-a-dozen around the corner on Pine.

1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 202 Lee Street, paying $16/month rent, Willie Walter, 21, odd jobs laborer; wife Lulu, 15, servant; and roomer Novella Townsend, 25, laundress. Also [in the other half of the duplex], paying $16/month, cook Mamie Nord, 47, and her son Rufus J., 21, odd jobs laborer. At 204 Lee Street, paying $16/month: laundress Lizzie Larry, 49; Maude Lofty, 100; Lizzie’s daughter Anabel Larry, 28, and her sons John H., 12, and M.C., 13. Also, paying $16/month, Jasper Thigpen, 47, transfer truck driver; wife Dora, 33; and daughter Allie, 16.

  • North Pine Street

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 405 Pine Street, paying $10/month rent, Adele Matthews, 42, laundress, and Sarah McMullen, 23, laundress. Also [in the other half of the duplex], paying $10/month, odd jobs laborer David Sanders, 35, and wife Carry, 44, laundress. At 407 Pine Street, paying $12/month: servant Ella Pulley, 30. Also, paying $12/month, Egarber Barnes, 24, jail attendant, and wife Nanny, 25, laundress. At 409 Pine Street, paying $12/month, practical nurse Lizzie Bullock, 70; and children Ernest, 43, house painter, Obert, 33, hotel cook, and Gertrude, 35, laundress. Also, paying $12/month, truck gardener Charlie Moye, 29, and Edward Williams, 53, farm laborer. At 411 Pine Street, paying $10/month, greenhouse gardener Windsor Ellis, 41; wife Rachel, 34; and children dry goods store janitor Douglas, 20, John H., 10, and Elaine, 5; and lodger Fred Moye, 26, café cook.

  • South Street

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In 1930, the east and west ends of South Street were largely home to commercial and industrial outfits. The middle block, however, the 300s, housed in uncomfortably close quarters a stone cuttery, a couple of black families, the black Episcopal church, and a notorious whorehouse.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 304 East South Street, high school janitor Joseph Battle, 80; wife Gertrude, 42; and daughter Clara, 22; and five boarders, Earnest Heath, 24, cook; James Pettiford, 36, barber; Robert McNeal, 23, servant; Essie M. Anderson, 18, servant; and Viola McLean, 24, “sick.” At 306 East South: tobacco factory laborer William Barnes, 28; wife Loretta H., 23; and brother Charles Barnes, 22, servant. At 309 East South, widow Mattie H. Paul, no occupation.

Karl Fleming wrote of “veteran madams” Mallie Paul and Betty Powell, who operated Wilson’s “two twenty-dollar whorehouses,” “sexual emporia [that] had operated for at least thirty years [by the late 1940’s] … situated in similar two-story wood houses near each other just behind the tobacco warehouse district.” Though Fleming curled his lip, Roy Taylor fairly gushed about Paul: “One sight that got my attention, along with everyone else’s in the area when it occurred, was the march of Mallie Paul and her girls from their home on South Street, to women’s stores downtown to purchase clothing, cosmetics, and other necessities. And those women were beautiful! … There would be 10 or 12 of them walking leisurely toward the hotel from Douglas Street, then turning on Nash. …”

Most of Wilson’s tobacco warehouses succumbed to arson in the final decade and a half of the last century, and the 300 block of South Street is entirely industrial.

  • Taylor Street and Taylor’s Avenue

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 9.25.59 PMNeither exists today.

  • Wiggins Street

This entire street is gone, cleared for the extension of Hines Street over the railroad tracks (via Carl B. Renfro Bridge) to connect with Nash Street a few blocks west of highway 301 as roughly shown below.

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1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson.

William Hines shows up.

The 1926 Winoca, the yearbook of Wilson High School:

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This ad, placed by William Hines Barber Shop, is the sole evidence that there were any colored people at all in Wilson.

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[In the 1920s and early ’30s, Wilson’s two high schools were Wilson High School and Wilson Colored High School. By the end of the latter decade, they were Charles L. Coon High School — named for the teacher-slapping superintendent who spurred a school boycott by black parents — and Charles H. Darden High School.]

Yearbook courtesy of Wilson County Public Library.

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]