“Underneath America lies an apartheid of the departed. Violence done to the living is usually done to their dead, who are dug up, mowed down, and built on. In the Jim Crow South, Black people paid taxes that went to building and erecting Confederate monuments. They buried their own dead with the help of mutual-aid societies, fraternal organizations, and insurance policies. Cemeteries work on something like a pyramid scheme: payments for new plots cover the cost of maintaining old ones. ‘Perpetual care’ is, everywhere, notional, but that notion relies on an accumulation of capital that decades of disenfranchisement and discrimination have made impossible in many Black communities, even as racial terror also drove millions of people from the South during the Great Migration, leaving their ancestors behind. It’s amazing that Geer survived. Durham’s other Black cemeteries were run right over. ‘Hickstown’s part of the freeway,’ Gonzalez-Garcia told me, counting them off. ‘Violet Park is a church parking lot.'”
I’m inspired — and encouraged — by Friends of Geer Cemetery and Friends of East End Cemetery and others doing this work for descendants. Please read.
“Whosoever live and believeth in me, though we be dead, yet, shall we live.”
Rebecca Daniel Pate‘s name is memorialized in family graveyard near Lucama known as “Becky Pate Cemetery.”
Richard Pate and Rebecca Daniel were married in Wayne County, N.C., on or about 12 June 1866.
In the 1870 census of Goldsboro township, Wilson County: farm laborer Richard Pate, 37; wife Beckey, 32; and Polly, 12.
In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Richard Pate, 36; wife Rebecca, 36; and daughter Trecinda, 3.
In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Richard Pate, 59, and wife Rebecca, 57.
In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Richard Pate, 74; wife Rebecca, 72; and grandchildren Louis Daniel, 30, and Roscoe, 12, and Leanna Barnes, 10.
In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Rebecca Pate, 81, widow, living alone.
In the 1930 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Rossie Barnes, 30, farmer; wife Mamie, 27; children William H., 9, Elbert, 7, Leena M., 2, and Johnnie L., 8 months; grandmother Rebecca Pate, 95, widow; sister Leeanna Barnes, 28; and niece Beatrice Barnes, 15.
Rebecca Pate died 31 March 1935 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 108 years old; was the widow of Richard Pate; lived on Pate Farm; was born in Wayne County to Arch Daniel and Leher Daniel; and was buried in Pate cemetery. Informant was William Daniel.
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.
Seated, William “Bill” Woodard and Zilphia May Adams Woodard. Standing, Eva Woodard, Wesley Woodard, Elvin Woodard and Lena Woodard, who were among their children.
William Woodard was the grandson of London Woodard, the famous preacher and founder of London’s Primitive Baptist Church, and his first wife, Venus.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Elvin Woodard, 47; wife Deber, 48; and children William, 21, Sylvia, 18, and Amanda, 16.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer William Woodard, 35; wife Zilpha, 27; and children Elvin, 8, James, 5, and Minnie, 2.
In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer William Woodard, 52; wife Zelpha, 44; children James, 22, sawmill laborer, Minnia, 20, Wesley, 17, Eaver, 14, Lenar, 11; and boarders Irvin Eatman, 18, and Art Edwards, 20.
In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer William Woodard, 64; wife Zilfa, 60; children Eva, 23, and Lena, 20; and grandchildren Bettie Williams, 6, and Arthur Woodard, 3 months. Next door: Westley Woodard, 27; wife Easter, 30; stepson Richard Poole, 10; mother-in-law Gracie Poole, 40; and sister-in-law Minnie Poole, 11.
In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: William Woodard, 70; wife Zilfie, 75; and daughter Lena Barnes, 27.
James Woodard died 1 May 1927 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 51 years old; was born in Wilson County to William Woodard and Zilphia Moye; was married to Mary Woodard; and was a tenant farmer for Bunyan Boyette
Zilphia Woodard died 22 April 1934 in Wilson township. Per her death certificate, she was 85 years old; worked in farming until two days before her death; was born in Wilson County to David Moye and Harriett Daniel; and was a widow. Minnie Williams was informant.
Elvin Woodard died 30 March 1941 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 February 1879 in Wilson County to William Woodard and Zilphia Moore; was a laborer; was the widower of Frances Woodard; and was buried in Ellis cemetery. Westley Woodard was informant.
Minnie Williams died 21 May 1941 in Taylor township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born in Wilson County in 1887 to William Woodard and Zelphia Adams; was a widow; and had been engaged in farming. Mamie Melton was informant.
Eva Thorne died 7 May 1948 in Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 October 1894 in Wilson County to William Woodard and Zilpha Adams; was a farmer; and was married to Bill Thorne. Informant was Gladys Hoskins.
Thanks to LeRoy Barnes for sharing this family photo.
In about 1861, the United States Coastal Survey issued a map showing the distribution of enslaved people throughout the South. As Susan Schulten noted in a 9 December 2010 piece called “Visualizing Slavery,” “[t]hough many Americans knew that dependence on slave labor varied throughout the South, these maps uniquely captured the complexity of the institution and struck a chord with a public hungry for information about the rebellion.”
Map Showing the Distribution of the Slave Population of the Southern States of the United StatesCompiled from the Census of 1860 —Sold for the Benefit of the Sick and Wounded Soldiers of the U. S. Army.
A close-up of eastern North Carolina shows that Wilson County, with a population 37% enslaved, lay at the western edge of the state’s heaviest band of slave-holding counties.
In the scheme of the cataclysm that was March 2020, the closing of Say Their Names just two weeks after it opened was a small matter. It was a disappointment though. Though Imagination Station reopened later in the year, the pandemic raged on through the end of the year, and the exhibit closed in January 2021. Around that time though, Bill Myers, Executive Director of Freeman Round House and African-American Museum, reached out to ask if Say Their Names could move permanently to the Round House. Imagination Station said yes, and I, of course, agreed. Betsey Peters Rascoe and her talented team at Design Dimension adapted the original exhibit for the new space, which opened in March. If you weren’t able to see Say Their Names before, please stop by when you’re finally out and about again.
Carolyn Maye, a generous contributor of photographs to Black Wide-Awake, made it to Imagination Station on closing day to see Say Their Names. The exhibit included among its displayed documents a copy of the obituary of her formerly enslaved great-great-grandmother, Jane Rountree Mobley.
She brought with her Skylar, the youngest of Jane Mobley’s great-great-great-great-granddaughters.
Thank you, Carolyn, for affirming the purpose of Black Wide-Awake. Your determination to get to Wilson, despite a pandemic, and to introduce Skylar to Jane Mobley, both humbles and inspires me. She will never believe, as so many of us have, that the lives of her ancestors passed unknown and unknowable.
Both George Washington Fields and Julia Moore Fields were probably somewhere closer to 80-90 years old at the times of their deaths.
George W. Fields married Julia Moore on 26 March 1869 in Pitt County, North Carolina.
In the 1870 census of California township, Pitt County: farmer Wash Fields, 35; wife Julia, 35; and children Haywood, 10, Mary, 4, and Jane, 1.
In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Washington Fields, 30; wife Julia, 35; and children Renda, 12, Penninah, 11, Jane, 9, Christany, 8, London, 6, William, 5, and twins Isaac and Jacob, 3.
In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Washington Fields, 60; wife Julia, 53; daughters Chrischanie, 25, Amanda, 15, and Lutory, 10; grandson Peter, 10; and granddaughters Julia, 5, and Lillie, 7 months.
In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Washington Fields, 68; wife Julia, 70; grandson Peter J., 18; and granddaughters Julia A., 14, and Mary Lilly, 9.
In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer George W. Fields, 65; wife Julia M., 70; daughter Christina, 48; and grandson Willie, 10.
Julia Fields died 20 June 1924 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 102 years old; was married to Wash Fields; was born in Greene County, N.C., to Peter Woodard and Renda Woodard; and was buried in a family cemetery. William Fields was informant.
Washington Fields died 7 February 1925 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 115 years old; was a widower; was born in Wilson County; and was buried in a family cemetery. Ira Barnes was informant.
Christchana Allen died 20 May 1944 near Lucama, Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 April 1876 in Wilson County to Washington Fields and Julia [maiden name unknown]; was the widow of William Allen; and was buried in Lamon cemetery near Lucama. Julia Fields Rountree was informant.
Amanda Lipscombe died 27 December 1967 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born October 1873 in Wilson County to Washington Field and Julia [maiden name unknown]; worked in farming; and was buried at Mary Grove cemetery. Lessie Lipscombe of Wilson was informant.
Below, Guy Cox’s late 1960’s photo of historic Barnes Church, a Primitive Baptist church a few miles north of Stantonsburg. The church is said to have been established by African-Americans enslaved by Edwin Barnes.
A search of current Wilson County’s on-line tax records shows a parcel nominally owned by “Barnes Church” on Old Stantonsburg Road.
Locating the parcel on a 1940 aerial view of the area reveals the church sitting at a slight angle to the road in an open sandy area within a grove.
Eighty years later, the little wooded thumb of land remains, but there are no signs of Barnes Church, which ceased meeting in the 1960s.
Photos courtesy of the Wilson County Tax Department; Wilson County Aerial Photographs (1940), U.S.D.A. Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina; and Google Maps.
Mystifyingly, I have not been able to locate Sallie Bynum‘s death certificate. “Dr. Herring” is probably Dr. Needham B. Herring (1839-1923). Dr. Herring was a native of Duplin County. In 1860, his father, Bryan W. Herring reported owning personal property in Duplin County valued at $29,143, most of which would have been in the form of enslaved people. Dr. Herring’s father-in-law, J.J.B. Vick of northern Nash County, reported $26,133 of personal property in 1860. It is not clear which “relatives of Dr. Herring” are referred to in this death notice.
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Sallie Bynum, 63, widow; daughters Lula, 21, and Burtha, 18; and boarder Rabeca Edwards, 22.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spring Street, Lue Williams, 34; boarder Sallie Bynum, 65, widow; and [Lue’s] daughter Lue B. Williams, 13, all factory laborers.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lodge Street, Sallie Bynum, 85, widow, and Marie, 6.