An article about the results of hearings for businesses charged with liquor law violations contains an interesting tidbit. Effie Boswell, a white woman who ran a roadhouse “just off the Wilson-Lucama Highway,” i.e. today’s U.S. Highway 301, was ordered to reduce her hours and pay a five hundred dollar bond to keep her place open pending her next hearing. The order also provided that “there was to be no more mixed dancing of white and negro persons at the place,” an allegation the judge considered was alone sufficient to shut the place down.
Wilson Daily Times, 12 April 1939.
An earlier article reported that Boswell’s place, described as a grocery store and filling station, had been closed initially, but the judge had amended his order after legions of upstanding citizens vouched for her good character. Nevertheless, by May 1939, Boswell had agreed to shut her doors permanently, and the State dropped its prosecution.
Effie Boswell — Per her death certificate, Effie Lamm Boswell was born 21 January 1889 in Wilson County to Edwin and Zillah Bass Boswell. She died 13 September 1970. She was the widow of Jesse Boswell.
Two of Walter S. and Sarah Dortch Hines‘ children migrated to Los Angeles, California, where they joined the city’s emerging mid-century Black high society. Elizabeth “Scottie” Hines Eason and her Texas-born husband Newell Eason were educators. Eason grew up in Los Angeles and attended UCLA and, after several years teaching at Shaw University in Raleigh, took his family back to California just after World War II. Scottie Eason’s brother Walter D. Hines and his wife Cadence Baker Hines, who met in Michigan, arrived in the late 1940s. Their friend, lawyer Walter Gordon, left a trove of photographs that captured the era, including this one:
On couch, left to right: Kenneth Levy, Honore Levy, Newell Eason, Scottie Hines Eason, Dr. Arthur Mitchell, Gloria Mitchell. Seated: Clara Gordon, unidentified girl, Cadence Hines, and Dr. Walter D. Hines.
The Shaw University Bulletin, July-August Edition, 1937.
Casual violence among young men is not new. Unsurprisingly, historically newspapers have sensationalized such violence when it involved black men, playing into the stereotypes and fear-mongering of the era.
I recognize the viciousness of this propaganda.* I also recognize articles reporting violent crime as invaluable, if distorted, glimpses into the lives of ordinary African-Americans during a period in which they were poorly documented. Beyond the basic facts of the terrible crime reported here, what can we learn?
News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 30 July 1907.
“on the Owens place” — This reference to the owner of the farm on which the events took place indicates the protagonists were likely sharecroppers or tenant farmers. The Saratoga Road is today’s U.S. Highway 264-A (formerly N.C. Highway 91.)
“a negro dance and barbecue supper was given by Robert Hilliard” — Hilliard, who was Black, hosted a Saturday night party on the farm, perhaps in a barn. He sold barbecue — surely Eastern North Carolina-style, with a vinegar-and-red pepper sauce — and sandwiches to patrons from a stand near the road.
“a wheezy fiddle” — the source of music for the dance. (Who was the fiddler? Was he locally renowned? Was there accompaniment? Was fiddling a common skill? I can’t name a single one from this era.)
“‘Hilliard is the n*gger I wanted to drap.” — The meaning and usage of this now-extreme pejorative has shifted over time. Here, it is almost, but not quite, neutral. More interesting, to me, is the now-archaic pronunciation “drap” for the verb “drop.”
On 29 January 1903, Will Scarborough, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ashley and Ellen Scarborough, married Lucy Anderson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Bob and Winnie Anderson, in Wilson County. Jack Bynum applied for the license.
Will Scarborough died 6 August 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was the son of Ashley Scarborough and Ellen [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived in Stantonsburg; and was buried at Saint Delight cemetery, Walstonburg. Informant was James E. Best, Stantonsburg.
On 1 November 1900, Robert Hilliard, 20, of Wilson County, son of Jack and Laura Hilliard, married Ailsy Bynum, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of West and Sopha Bynum, in Gardners township, Wilson County.
Robert George Hilliard Sr. died 27 February 1944 at his home at 211 Finch Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jack Hilliard and Laura [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; was engaged in farming; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mattie Moore, 211 Finch Street, was informant.
On 8 May 1902, Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, at “Mr. Frank Barnes Plantation.” A.M.E. Zion elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony in the presence of Mattie V. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.
Though chartered in Wilson, Omega Psi Phi (not Chi) fraternity’s local graduate chapter included members from several eastern North Carolina counties. Here, a brief announcement of their chapter officers.
The Odd Fellows were not the only African-American fraternal order that found toeholds in Wilson County in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An examination of deed books and other records yields these — some familiar, others much less so:
Prince Hall Masons, Rocky Blue Lodge #56, chartered before 1910.
Prince Hall Masons, Pride of Wilson Lodge #484, chartered before 1947.
Knights of King Solomon, Victoria #1, chartered in 1918. Per the Annual Report of the Insurance Commissioner of the State of North Carolina (1925), the home office of the Knights of King Solomon was in Wilson, the organization had been chartered in 1918, its president was William Pierce, and its secretary was C.F. Rich.
Wilson Daily Times, 30 December 1918.
Knights of King Solomon, Saint Luke Lodge #53, chartered before 1921.
Knights of King Solomon, Richardson Lodge #10, chartered before 1921.
Knights of King Solomon, Pride of Wilson Lodge #32, chartered before 1921.
Knights of King Solomon, Mount Zion Lodge #9, chartered before 1921.
Knights of King Solomon, Barnes Chapel Lodge #78, chartered before 1923.
Knights of King Solomon, Love Union Lodge #209, chartered before 1929.
Knights of Labor, Pine Level Assembly #10811, chartered before 1889.
Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Marshall Lodge #297, chartered in 1921.
Royal Fraternal Organization, organized in 1910. Per the Annual Report of the Insurance Commissioner of the State of North Carolina (1925), the home office of the Royal Fraternal Organization was in Wilson, the organization had been chartered in 1910, its president was J.W. Parker, and its secretary was Cora C. Lucas.
I’ve been operating under the assumption there was one Grand United Order of Odd Fellows lodge in Wilson County — Hannibal Lodge #1552. I was wrong. Deeds from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reveal these others, about which I’m seeking more information:
Lucama Lodge #3561
Per Charles H. Brooks’ The Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America (1902), Lucama Lodge was established in 1892:
Moyton Lodge #5101, established before 1903.
Moyton was a community adjacent and just south of Stantonsburg.
Fairview Lodge, established before 1909.
Lodge #5575, established before 1925.
Lodge #5785, established before 1912.
Zion Hall Lodge #5952, established as before 1903.
Black Creek Lodge #8754, established before 1915.
Per Brooks’, the Black Creek lodge established in 1891 was assigned #3446, but a . The higher number suggests that #8754 was a later lodge.
Hannibal, of course, was the oldest of all Wilson County G.U.O.O.F. lodges, founded in 1873:
I also found reference in Brooks’ work to the establishment in Wilson of a Household of Ruth, an order founded “to enlist the sympathies and assistance of women in behalf of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows and to unite the wives, daughters and other sisters more intimately with their fathers, husbands, and other brothers of the Order in working out the beauties of Oddfellowship. To encircle in one social band, the wives, daughters, widows of the Odd Fellowship and entwine around the mystic cord that each and all may be mutually benefited and more closely united in the noble work of relieving the needy, the sick and the distressed.”