Skilled Trades

Stepney Buck, a faithful newspaper worker.

In an undated manuscript titled “Early Wilson Newpapers,” James H. Evans reminisced about working for various Wilson journals between 1865 and 1882.

As he recalled his hire by Josephus Daniels at the Wilson Advance, Evans noted: “… and by the way, I have been overlooking one very faithful worker on every newspaper in town — Stepny Bush[sic], a colored man, he pulled every Washington hand press on every newspaper in the town, and it kept him very busy; he had press work every day except Sunday.”

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Street, Martha Vick, 30, servant; her children Thomas, 13, Lucy, 8, Peter, 3, and John, 10 months; and Stepney Buck, 50.

In the summer of 1881, a pseudonymous writer contributing news of Elm City happenings praised Buck’s work while the Advance‘s editors were away:

Wilson Advance, 1 July 1881.

A year later, Buck’s name appeared in this incomprehensible jab at future United States Congressman James E. O’Hara published in the Wilson Siftings, which Evans described as “a semi-news and humorous newspaper”:

Wilmington Weekly Star, 4 August 1882.

Eight months later, Buck was dead. On 20 April 1883, horse dealer T.H. Selby, newspaper owner/editor Josephus Daniels, bookkeeper H.R. Strong, printer J.C. Rhodes, James Lucas, and lawyer (and later United States Congressman) F.A. Woodard posted a seventy-dollar bond for the appointment of Selby as administrator of Stepney Buck’s estate. I have found nothing further about this.

Rest in peace, Vanilla P. Beane.

Black Wide-Awake mourns the passing of Vanilla Powell Beane, Wilson native, Washington, D.C., legend, and milliner extraordinaire. Her 103 years of life were exceptionally well-lived, and the world so much richer for her talents.


Vanilla Beane, the District’s ‘Hat Lady,’ dies at 103.

By Michael Rosenwald, The Washington Times, 25 October 2022.

Vanilla Beane, whose radiant hats topped the heads of legions of African American women at church, weddings and funerals in the District for half a century, earning her the title of “D.C.’s Hat Lady,” died Oct. 23 at a hospital in Washington. She was 103.

The cause was complications following an aortic tear, said her grandson Craig Seymour.

Mrs. Beane’s hats, which she had designed and fabricated at the Bené Millinery and Bridal Supplies shop on Third Street NW, were featured on postage stamps and in collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Every hat was one-of-a-kind.

“Nobody wants to walk into a church and see someone else wearing their hat,” she once said.

Poet Maya Angelou wore one of Mrs. Beane’s millinery creations. Civil rights activist Dorothy I. Height donned them for meetings with presidents and other officials. “Hats give me a lift and make me feel real special,” Height explained — a sentiment shared by the countless others who shopped at Mrs. Beane’s store.

Mrs. Beane worked six days a week into her 100th year.

“Some people like real fussy hats,” she told The Washington Post in 2009. “Others like sophisticated hats, and a lot of people like simple hats. I try to please people regardless of their race or background.”

Mrs. Beane made her hats the old-fashioned way, wetting buckram — a stiff cotton — into molds decorated with all manner of fabrics. Keeping her fingernails cut short, Mr. Beane made tams, turbans, panamas, sailors and cloches. Decades of the repetitive fashioning turned her fingers stiff and rough.

“They look like I have been digging potatoes,” she said.

Vanilla Powell was born in Wilson, N.C., on Sept. 13, 1919, the second youngest of nine siblings. Her father was a carpenter and farmer, and her mother was a seamstress who also worked in White people’s homes washing their clothes.

Growing up during the Depression instilled a robust work ethic in the Powell children, who worked in the fields picking tobacco and cotton. On Sundays, they rested and walked to Sandy Point Baptist Church, where women sat in the pews wearing fancy hats.

“In the past, when most Blacks had blue-collar jobs, dressing up on Sundays was a cherished ritual,” Craig Marberry, co-author of “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats,” said in a 2019 story about Mrs. Beane in The Post. “The hat tradition grew out of the idea that you were expressing how God has blessed you. The more flamboyant a hat, the more God has blessed you.”

After graduating from [C.H. Darden] high school in 1940, Vanilla Powell moved to Washington and two years later married Willie Beane Sr., producing the name that endlessly charmed her customers and friends, though it took her a little bit to realize its novelty.

“I was in the drugstore and the pharmacy said, ‘Do you know there is a Vanilla Beane?’” she recalled in a television interview in 2020. “I said I guess it was meant to be.”

In Washington, Mrs. Beane worked as an elevator operator in a downtown building with a hat store called Washington Millinery Supply. She was enamored by the intricate hats and the craft of making them, so she bought some supplies and began making them herself.

Eventually she showed her hats to the store’s owner, Richard Dietrick Sr. “She had very much talent, but she didn’t have the design know-how in those days,” Dietrick recalled later. “She picked it up very quickly.”

Mrs. Beane eventually began working for him, and when he moved his shop to Gaithersburg, Md., she bought his supplies and, in 1979, opened her own store. She was a shrewd businesswoman, convincing Ethel Sanders, the owner of Lovely Lady Boutique in Bethesda, Md., to move her store near Bené Millinery.

“People knew us as a team,” Sanders recalled in 2019. “Women would come in for a dress and I’d send them to Vanilla for a hat. Or they’d go for a hat and she’d send them to me for an outfit.”

Mrs. Beane’s shop had White customers, as well. One of them was Sherry Watkins, who founded the Rogue Hatters, a group of women who collected Mrs. Beane’s hats. Watkins owned 75.

Mrs. Beane taught them the rules of hat wearing.

“Don’t match the hat to the outfit,” Watkins recalled. “Just buy a hat you like and the outfit will come. Never wear your hat more than one inch above your eyebrows. Slant it to look more interesting and possibly even risque.”

Mrs. Beane seemed to never get designer’s block. Her designs constantly evolved.

At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, one of Mrs. Beane’s hats is green velveteen.

“The hat is circular with a rounded peak and constructed by layering a strip of fabric over itself in a wrapped design,” the museum’s description says. “The base of the fabric is a light green while the pile is a darker green, giving the hat a two-tone appearance.”

Another is a red felt bicorn style.

“The hat is composed of a single piece of stiff felt that has been folded up at the center front,” the museum notes. “The dome of the hat is cylindrical, with the raised brim attached at the top of the crown. There are red felt bows affixed at the attachment points.”

Mrs. Beane’s husband died in 1993. Their son, Willie G. Beane Jr., died in 1980. Ms. Beane is survived by two daughters, Margaret L. Seymour of Charleston, S.C., and Linda R. Jefferson of the District; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Beane was such a fixture of Washington that then-Fox News host Chris Wallace named her “Power Player of the Week” in the summer of 2020.

Wallace asked her what made a proper church hat.

“Well,” she answered, “any hat that’s not too fancy, not too wide.”

The host marveled at her longevity.

“In these challenging times,” Wallace said, “it’s nice to know there are still some constants in the world, like Vanilla Beane.”

Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post.

Graduates of Sales Beauty College.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 July 1950.

In 1950, Sales Beauty College graduated 12 new beauticians in a ceremony held at Saint John A.M.E. Zion church.

  • Jennie M. Alston
  • Columbus Hannah — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 725 Lincoln Street, Clara Pritchett, 58, tobacco factory stemmer; son-in-law George Gay, 25, filling station attendant; daughter Mary L. Gay, 26, tobacco factory feeder; and grandchildren Nathaniel, 9, William D., 8, and Columbus Hannah, 5.
  • Lillie M. Sales — beauty school founder Sales lived in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Mary L. Flemming    
  • Mary L. Gay — see above.  
  • Carrie L. Hopkins — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: in the duplex at 511 East Green, (right side) Pauline Knight, 30, widow, saleslady at grocery store; (left side) Luke Hopkins, 32; wife Berline, 22; daughter Pecolie Maxine, born in September; and sister Carrie Lee Hopkins, 19.
  • Rebecca McRae — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1110 Atlantic Street, Julia Green, 68, widow; Rebecca McRae, 35, widow, cook in domestic service; and Mary Harris, 38, teacher in primary grade at city elementary school.
  • Rosa Arrington — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 Reid Street, carpenter Levi Arrington, 62; wife Rosa, 67, beauty parlor proprietor; and foster daughter Margaret Kenny, 9.
  • Dorethea Lewis
  • Evelyn H. Moore
  • Lucille Goram — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 320 Finch Street, farmworker Earnest Goram, 53; wife Mary, 46, maid; and daughter Lucille, 30.
  • Katie Sewell — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 813 East Green, James W. Sewell, 49, cook in cafe; wife Katie, 37; and daughter Marian, 14.
  • Hattie Battle 
  • Elsie Hobbs — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1205 Atlantic, carpenter Hadie Hobbs, 47, and wife Elsie, 41. 
  • Inez Holmes — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 713 Robeson, Arthur C. Holmes, 32, hauling coal for ice and ice company; wife Inez, 33, maid at local bank; boarder Edward Barber, 67, father-in-law.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

The colored painters meet.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 March 1936.

Who were “the colored painters of Wilson” during this period?

I’ve been able to identify James Ashley Whitfield, David Dupree, Butler E. Jones, Alexander Obery, and Samuel Swinney as painters active in the 1930s. (Commercial painter Ramon Martinez was in Wilson by 1940, but probably had not yet arrived in 1936.)

Barbershop ratings.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 August 1935.


The paper carried a ranking of 13 barber shops in Wilson, ten of which exclusively served white customers. The shops known to be African-American-owned were William Hines, Briggs Hotel (the location of Walter Hines‘ shop), Hargroves, Neal’s, and Sanitary, and perhaps. 

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

The death of Junius Woodard, another victim of the Contentnea Guano collapse.

We’ve read of the death of Rev. Basil B. Tyler, crushed under a cascade of fallen timber. Two other men, Junius Woodard and Tobe Bellamy, were seriously injured.  Bellamy recovered and lived to see 104 years. Junius Woodard, on the other hand, was dead within weeks from septicemia arising from a compound fracture of his lower leg.


In the 1880 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County: laborer Jesse Woodard, 36; wife Pennie, 28; and children Caroline, 14, Junius, 6, Margarett, 4, Mary, 3, Willie, 2, and Minnie, 11 months.

On 24 April 1901, Junius Woodard, 26, married Ella Barnes, 20, in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of G.H. Holden, W.M. Foster, and J.S. Jackson.

This version of the accident offers slightly different details, but is not entirely accurate. Woodard, not “Woodward,” was not white. The Times-Mercury (Hickory, N.C.), 24 November 1909.

710, 712, and 714 Viola Street.

The one hundred-seventy-fifth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

710 Viola Street.

714 Viola Street.

Three houses are under simultaneous renovation in the 700 block of Viola Street. They have been filleted wide open, offering a close look at the construction methods for inexpensive rental housing in the early 20th century.

Lathing covering the interior wall of the right-hand side of the duplex at 714. Though many houses in this era had beadboard walls, the laths suggest these were plaster. Brick pillars support the sill that ran down the duplex’s centerline. 

The beadboard ceiling.

The right-hand side of 712 Viola Street with exposed floor joists in the front half of the house. The brick box at center supported a central chimney through which an oil or wood-burning stove vented.

The single endway house at 714 Viola has completely new sills and joists. 

  • 710 Viola Street

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1930; 1 story; gable-end double shotgun with shed-roofed porch.”

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pender Henry (c; Mollie) farm hd h 710 Viola

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 710 Viola, paying $12/month, grocery store delivery man Earnest McCray, 22; wife Lizzie, 19; and son Levaughn, 3; plus roomers Mollie Pender, 48, servant, and Henry Pender, 45, farm laborer.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 710 Viola, rented for $9/month, Mamie Lassiter, 51, widow, household servant, and sons John D., 33, highway project laborer, and Samuel, 27, tobacco factory laborer; also, for $9/month, William H. Pender, 59, carpenter helper; wife Mollie, 52, tobacco factory stemmer; and lodgers Eva Reid, 25, and Mary J. Pitt, 27, public school teachers.

In 1940, Charles Bryant Lassiter registered for the World War II draft in Richmond, Virginia. Per his registration card, he was born 8 November 1917 in Smithfield, N.C.; his contact was mother Mamie Lassiter, 710 Viola Street, Wilson; and he worked for R.G. Booker at Hotel John Marshall, 5th and Franklin, Richmond.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pender W Henry (c; Mollie) carp h 710 Viola. Also: Pender Sudie (c) tob wkr h 710 Viola

In 1942, John Daniel Lassiter registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 26 October 1902 in Johnston County, N.C.; lived at 710 Viola; his contact was Mamie Lassiter; and he worked for Wilson Floral Company, 307 Hill Street, Wilson.

Charles B. Lassiter died 8 March 1946 at the Veterans Administration hospital in Kecoughtan, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 November 1917 in North Carolina to John D. Lassiter of Johnston County and Mamie Sanders of Harnett County; his regular address was 710 East Viola Street, Wilson; he was single; he was a World War II veteran; and he worked as an insurance agent.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 March 1946.

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pender Mollie Mrs (c; wid W Henry) tob wkr h 710 Viola. Also: Lassiter John D (c; Lillie) hlpr Wilson Floral Co h 710 Viola

  • 712 Viola Street

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1930; 1 story; gable-end double shotgun; identical to #710.”

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: at 712 Viola, rented for $12/month, Marrion Mercer, 32, tobacco factory laborer; wife Sarah, 28; brother Leslie Mercer, 50, tobacco factory laborer; and children Isear, 10, Marjorie, 8, and Florence Mercer, 5.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 712 Viola, rented for $9/month, John Johnson, 29, cotton oil mill laborer; wife Nellie, 25, tobacco factory hanger; daughters Gertie B., 8, and Daisey Lee, 4; sister-in-law Lula M. Hunter, 23, and niece-in-law Bernice, 3. Also, renting for $9, Frank Harris, 45; wife Mamie, 40; and children Frank Jr., 12, Mildred, 9, Raymond, 7, James L., 4, and Mary L., 1.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Johnson John (c; Nellie; 2) hlpr Colonial Ice Co h 712 Viola. Also: Harris Frank (c; Nannie) lab Stephenson Lbr Co h 712 1/2 Viola

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Vines Jack (c; Hazel M) tob wkr h 712 Viola. Also: Harris Benj F (c; Mamie) lab Williams Lbr h 712 1/2 Viola

  • 714 Viola Street

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1922; 1 story; shotgun; shed-roofed porch.”

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: at 714 Viola, tobacco factory laborer Annie Gunn, 56; daughter Mattie, 18; father Charles Barnes, 80; niece Annie Barnes, 26, cook; and roomer Hellen Brewer, 17, servant.

Charles Barnes died 18 June 1930 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 77 years old; lived on East Viola Street; was born in Wilson County in Alex Barnes. John M. Barnes was informant.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 714 Viola, rented for $9/month, Madison Mincey, 25, hospital orderly; wife Lallo R., 22; and children Elizabeth E. and Robert E., 3, Johnnie M., 1, and Luther, 5 months.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Mincey Madison (c; Lottie; 4) orderly h 714 Viola

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jorda Wm J (c; Rosa) agrl wkr h 714 Viola

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2022.

The pitmasters of Dixie Inn.

From “Facts … About Wilson North Carolina: The City of Beautiful Trees,” a 1934 publication of the Wilson Chamber of Commerce.

The Dixie Inn opened in 1930 just south of Wilson and quickly established itself as the go-to spot for nights out, civic group meetings, company banquets, and rehearsal dinners. Its painted roof proclaimed its specialties, barbecue and oysters. Like every restaurant of its time and place, Dixie Inn was strictly segregated — at least, in terms of its dining tables. The Inn’s cooks and wait staff were Black, as were their so-called “pitboys,” the men who produced the barbecue for which the Inn was renowned. The photo above shows several African-American men shoveling charcoal under a long row of halved hogs and others tending to the fire that produced the coals while a boy in a cap looks on.


The obituary of Haywood W. Baker, barber and restaurateur.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1946.

Per records, Haywood Baker was born in Greene County, North Carolina, and lived in Pitt, Nash, and Wilson Counties as well. In addition to Wilson, he owned barber shops in Stantonsburg and Farmville. Presumably, “first white restaurant in Stantonsburg” meant the first to cater to a white clientele. I have not identified the location of his tailor shop.


On 5 November 1898, Haywood Baker, 20, son of Richard and Almira Baker, married Ora Harper, 19, daughter of Thomas and Leah Harper, in Greene County.

In the 1900 census of Carrs township, Greene County: farmer Haywood Baker, 22; wife Orra, 20; daughter Lula, 6 months; and widowed mother-in-law Laurer Harper, 54.

In the 1910 census of Farmville township, Pitt County: self-employed barber Haywood W. Baker, 30; wife Ora, 29; daughter Lular, 10; and adopted son Stiner, 9.

On 13 November 1912, Haywood Baker, 33, of Nash County, son of Richard and Milie Baker, married Mollie Vines, 26, of Nash County, daughter of Charles and Mahala Vines, in Nash County.

Doris M. Baker died 22 April 1917 in Stantonsburg, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 October 1916 in Wilson County to H.W. Baker and Mollie Vines and buried in David graveyard. H.W. Baker was informant.

In 1918, Haywood William Baker registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he resided in Stantonsburg; was 24 February 1870; worked as a barber; and his nearest relative was Mollie Baker.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Railroad Street, Haden [Haywood] W. Baker, 40, barber; wife Mollie, 33; and children Hilda R., 6, Jasper, 4, Harold, 2, Mary C., 2 months; and Haywood, 12; plus Exum Joyner, 25, barber, and wife Bertha, 24.

An unnamed child died 17 June 1922 in Stantonsburg, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 20 days old and was born in Wilson County to Hawood W. Baker and Mollie Vines. Informant was H.W. Baker. 

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Haywood W. Baker, 52; wife Mollie, 43; and children Charles, 17, Hildarene, 16, Jasper, 14, Harold, 13, Mary P., 11, Richard T., 7, and Carlton Baker, 5.

In the 1940 census of Farmville township, Pitt County: farmer Haywood W. Baker, 62, and children Jasper, 22, Tensley James, 26, Richard Thomas, 16, and Carlton Baker, 14, and Mary Joyner, 20. All reported living in Greene County in 1935 except Tensley, who had lived in Goldsboro, Wayne County.

On 21 October 1941, W.H. Baker, 63, of Farmville, Pitt County, son of Richard and Miley Baker, married Blanche Thomas, 47, of Wilson, in Snow Hill, Greene County, N.C.

In 1942, Richard Thomas Baker registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 24 August 1923 in Stantonsburg; resided at 719 East Green Street, Wilson; his contact was Haywood Baker of the same address; and he worked at G.H.T.M. in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

In 1943, Carlton Baker registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 26 May 1925 in Stantonsburg; resided at 718 East Green Street, Wilson; his contact was H.W. Baker; and he worked for J.E. Gregory, Southern Dairies, 200 Railroad Street, Wilson.

Haywood Baker died 17 August 1946 at Duke Hospital in Durham. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 February 1883 in Greene County; was married to Blanch Baker; resided at 719 East Green Street, Wilson; was a barber; and was buried in Marlboro cemetery, Farmville, Pitt County.

Jasper Bruce Baker died 25 August 1963 in Kinston, Lenoir County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 December 1915 in Pitt County, N.C., to Haywood Baker and Mollie Vines; was married to Naomi Baker; lived at 1119 Oak Street, Kinston; and worked as a janitor at F.W. Woolworth.

Tensley James Baker died 3 May 1974 In Goldsboro, Wayne County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 7 May 1911 to Haywood Baker and Ora Harper; was single; and was retired. Dock Baker was informant.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.