Sports

Rest in power, Fred Valentine.

My chosen family lost yet another patriarch in the closing days of 2022. Fred L. Valentine Sr. passed away in Washington, D.C., on December 26, surrounded by family. An outfielder for the Washington Senators and Baltimore Orioles, “Uncle Fred” spent a stand-out summer with the Wilson Tobs in 1958, where he met his future wife, Helena Smith, and demanded desegregation of the whites-only section of Fleming Stadium after the “colored section” collapsed under an overflow crowd of African-American fans.

The Valentines became close friends of my parents and, as I wrote here, their children were “play cousins” of my sister and me. I honor Fred Valentine’s memory, and send love to his beloved wife, daughters, son, and grandson.

Fred Valentine as a Tob. Photo detail courtesy of North Carolina Baseball Museum, Wilson.

The Stantonsburg Hawks.

Wilson was not the only county town to field an African-American semi-pro baseball team. From 1945 into the late 1970s, the Stantonsburg Hawks successfully traveled neighboring counties for play.

John Lee Woodard (1917-1995) was the team founder, and players throughout its history included his son Willie Woodard, Ernest Hall and son Ernest D. Hall, Frederick Brown, Johnnie Streeter, Roy Lee Pender, Marvin R. Artis, George Artis, Tommy Rogers, Nathaniel Green Jr., William Sutton, Henry Revelle, Carter Knight, Raymond Mackey, Marvin Sessoms, Levy Daniel Jr., Melvin Hodges, Cleveland Leach, Joseph Green, Julius Green, Theodore Ward, Douglas Artis, Melvin Artis Jr., George Atkinson, and Ronnie Diggs.

I am trying to identify the Hawks’ earliest players, teammates of John L. Woodard. Do you know of anyone who played baseball with them in the 1940s?

I recognize three men in this photo — Ernest D. Hall seated at front left; Willie Lee Woodard (son of John L. Woodard, front row with glove on ground); and George Artis, second in second row. Who do you see?

[Update: Marvin Sessoms is in the middle of the front row; Johnnie Streeter is at far right in that row; and Ernest Hall Jr. (father of Ernest D. Hall) is standing third from left.]

Thanks to Tiyatti Speight for bringing this team to my attention and for the copy of this wonderful photo. Thanks as well to all the people of Stantonsburg who helped identify the players!

Trojan players ready for Homecoming game.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 October 1950.

  • David Smith — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: redrying plant laborer Bertha Smith, 36, widow, and son David, 8.
  • Leo Dancy — in the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: John Dancy, 44; wife Pennie, 39; children Evangline, 20; Lovie, 18; R.J., 15; Olie, 11; and Mildred, 8; and [grandson] Leo, 5.
  • Harold Darden — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John H. Darden, 44, hotel bellhop; wife Estelle N., 43, laundry presser; and children William M., 20, cook and butler, Mildred, 18, receptionist at photography studio, and Harold C., 16.
  • Henry Simms
  • Eddie Best — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 406 Walnut, rented for $12/month, Aaron Best, 39; wife Estelle, 39; and children Rudolph, 14, Royce, 10, Harper and Gerald, 8, Eddie, 7, and Nannie Jean, 5.

Tickets available for interstate classic football game.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1941.

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Would-be attendees of the football match-up between N.C. College (now North Carolina Central University) and South Carolina State could purchases tickets at several outlets, including these Black-owned businesses — Mack’s Place (owned by Daniel McKeithan), Yancey‘s Drug Store, Shade’s Drug Store, and the Small Town Club. [What was the “Small Town Club,” and who owned it?]

Heavyweight boxer Harrison rolls up victories.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 May 1946.

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Benjamin Harrison, 21, son of Luther and Elnora Harrison, married Lillie Mae Reaves, 23, daughter of Monroe and Fannie Reaves, in Nashville, North Carolina, on 15 October 1938.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 614 Spruce, paying $7/month rent, Benjamin Harrison, 22, cook in private home; wife Lillie Mae, 23; and son B. Frank, 1.

In 1940, Benjamin B. Harrison registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 20 August 1917 in Nash County, North Carolina; lived at 614 West Spruce Street, Wilson; his contact was wife Lillie Mae R. Harrison; he worked for R.T. Smith, 902 Broad Street, Wilson; and he was six foot six inches tall, 185 pounds [30 pounds less than his fighting weight].

In the 1950 census of Washington, D.C.: at 215 1/2 C Street, SW, Benjamin Harrison, 31, train repairman for railroad yard; wife Lillie May, 32; and children Benjamin F., 11, and Mary Ann, 6.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Boxing tomorrow nite!

Wilson Daily Times, 7 March 1928.

For Chapel Hill, N.C.-native Addison “Kayo” Warren and Joe “Biff” Bennett’s ten-round boxing match at Wilson’s Farmers Warehouse, African-American fans could purchase tickets for seats in the “section reserved for colored people.” McNeil’s Barber Shop was likely a business operated by barber Angus A. McNeill and John Hargrove at 420 1/2 East Nash Street.