Holman reminisces.

Wilson Daily Times, 28 August 1937.

Among other things George H. Holman recalled about his early days in Wilson was disinterring Confederates from the old white Wilson cemetery for reburial in Maplewood.


In the 1870 census of Bushy Fork township, Person County, N.C., George Holeman, 22, is a farm laborer in the household of white farmer Thomas H. Briggs, 56.

On 6 September 1892, George Holman, 24, son of West and Nancy Jane Holman, of Person County, N.C., married Bell Noell, 18, daughter of Chas. and Chis. Noell, of Person County, in Roxboro, North Carolina.

In the 19o0 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer George Holdman, 46; wife Isibeller, 27, cooking; and sons Nathanial, 5, and Arther, 1.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: George Holden [sic], 57; wife Isabella, 35; and children Arthur, 11, and Thelma, 8.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow [sic] Belle Holeman, 40, private cook; son John, 21, oil mill laborer; and daughter-in-law Thelma, 2o,

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Holmon Geo (c; Hattie) lab Watson Whse  h 601 Wiggins

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Holmon Geo lab h 601 Wiggins

George Holman died 9 January 1940 at the State Hospital in Goldsboro, Wayne County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1856; was a widower; lived in Wilson County; and had worked as a laborer. He was buried at the State Hospital.

Handel’s Chorus performs at the Tobacco Festival.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 August 1940.

Hartford Bess’ Handel’s Chorus sang at the 1940 Tobacco Festival, performing scenes that we would today find cringey. In the spirit of “don’t hate the player, hate the game,” I try not to judge.

What passed for fun in the Tobacco Festival parade.

The City of Wilson commenced its annual Tobacco Festival parades in 1936. These appalling images were shot in July 1939 as the parade advanced up Nash Street. This is what passed for fun in Wilson as weeds shot toward the sky in Vick Cemetery.

A giant mammy.

The Junior King and Queen in a palanquin carried by shirtless black men. This mini-float, sponsored by the Lions Club, took a second-place prize.

Another Lions Club’s parade entry. White boys dressed as big game hunters lead bare-chested, barefooted black boys whose features have been exaggerated with white paint. They are dressed as “natives” and wear clown hats. (The top photo was taken after the parade at the Charles L. Coon High School athletic field. The bottom was shot as the boys approached Tarboro Street.) As described in the 18 July 1939 edition of the Wilson Daily Times, “the Frank Buck motif got in the parade again with an alligator in a cage and ‘Bring ’em back alive‘ painted on it.'”

My thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing these photos, which were likely taken for the Wilson Chamber of Commerce.

Renfrow struck by ax, bleeds to death.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 March 1917.

I can think of a few people who surely regretted “the occurrence” more than Dempsey Haynes.


In the 19o0 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer John Rentfrow, 40; wife Marguaratt, 37; and children Franklin, 19, John T., 15, Mattie H., 12, Fannie, 10, Clinton, 7, and Orie, 1.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: John Rentfrow, 50; wife Margarett, 48; children Clinton, 17, Ora, 11, and Ella, 8; and granddaughter Nancy Earp, 2.

Clinton Renfrow died 29 March 1917 in Old Fields township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was b0rn 14 October 1895 to John and Margrette Rentfrow; was single; worked as a farmer; and was buried in Wilson County. Cause of death: “Accidently cut with ax while cutting with father [partner?] and bled to death.” (This is curious phrasing. Dempsey Haynes was neither Renfrow’s father nor his partner.) The death certificate further indicates that no physician saw Renfrow (before or after he bled out); there was no inquest into the circumstances. In other words, there was only Haynes’ version of events.

Tobacco for sale.

This 1926 scene, shot in an unnamed Wilson warehouse in 1926, depicts dozens of men, several African-American, on a tobacco warehouse floor.

“Tobacco for sale in auction warehouse, Wilson, N.C.,” Scan 6, Series 1, Wilson County Tobacco Production, ca. 1926; Commercial Museum (Philadelphia, Pa.) Collection of North Carolina Photos, ca. 1923-1939; Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

A rare image of tobacco workers in the 1920s.

A rare image capturing workers on a Wilson County tobacco farm preparing to “barn” or “put in” green tobacco to begin the curing process. There is no information identifying the eighteen or so people, including five young children, depicted. Two — at far left, just visible behind the boy, and at far right, leaning against a fence — were African-American.

This photograph is part of the Commercial Museum Collection at U.N.C.’s Southern Historical Collection. Per the collection’s description, “the Commercial Museum, located in Philadelphia, Pa., was in operation from 1897 to 2010. Modeled after the great exhibition halls of the World’s Fairs (World Fair, Universal Exposition) of the late nineteenth century, the Museum offered a vast selection of displays and information related to commerce and trade in Pennsylvania, across the United Sates, and the international marketplace. The Museum maintained a large collection of photographs documenting a variety of industries, agriculture, and trade in many areas of the United States. These images were marketed for use in publications around the United States and the world. The images, circa 1923-1939, document agriculture and industry in Alamance, Anson, Cabarrus, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Halifax, Moore, Sampson, Wayne, and Wilson counties in North Carolina. A few towns are also identified. Subjects include cotton, farming, lumber, pottery, and tobacco. …”

Scan 4, Series 1, Wilson County Tobacco Production, ca. 1926; Commercial Museum (Philadelphia, Pa.) Collection of North Carolina Photos, ca. 1923-1939; Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

A nice and cozy place to rest.

The Globe Theatre

A nice and cozy place to rest and enjoy the pictures the night before or after selling your tobacco. The seating capacity is quite large enough to accommodate all our friends.

If you want to laugh and grow fat come see Fatty Arbuckle and Mack Sennett in their funny comedies. If you want excitement that will almost make your hair stand on your head, come and see Ruth Roland in Tigers Trail on Monday, Wm. Duncan in “Man of Might” on Tuesdays, Tom Mix’s Westeners and “Silent Mystery” on Wednesdays, Eddie Polo in “Lure of the Circus” and “Masked Raider” on Thursdays, and the great Wm. S. Hart features on Fridays and Fox Features on Saturday. Dispersed among these nights will be Pathe News, Pictorial Life, and regular and colored comedies. The program condensed is as follows:

MONDAYS: Fox Features, Pathe-News and Comedy.

TUESDAYS: “Man of Might”, Pictorial Life and Colored Comedy.

WEDNESDAYS: “Silent Mystery”, Pathe News, Tom Mix‘s Westener

THURSDAYS: Eddie Polo in “Lure of the Circus” begins September 25th and “Masked Raider” begins October 23rd. 

FRIDAYS: Wm. S. Hart pictures every Friday and good comedies.

SATURDAYS: A five reel features and good comedies.

The great advance in Pictures forces the General Admission to 25cts.

The show begins each evenings at 7:00 o’clock. Come early and see the first show.

The Williams Jubilee Singers, the Greatest Aggregation of Negro Singers in this Country will start at the Globe Wednesday, Oct. the 8th. Regular admission 50c. Reserve seats 75c.

TAKE NOTICE: Boys who are Boisterous and noisy are not wanted and we reserve the right to eject all such.

My thanks to a reader who shared this handbill for Samuel H. Vick‘s Globe Theatre, which likely dates to about 1920.

Thousands of tobacco factory workers laid off.

For much of the twentieth century, tobacco factories and stemmeries employed more African-American workers than any other industry in Wilson. The work was low-paid, mostly seasonal, and often performed by women.

In September 1939, shortly after the season began, Imperial Tobacco abruptly released hundreds of newly hired workers, sparking mass layoffs by other factories. The state employment office opened a temporary processing location at Reid Street Community Center, but officials warned that most workers had already maxed out their yearly unemployment eligibility. 

Wilson Daily Times, 13 September 1939.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.