tobacco

We had farm labor as a natural resource back then.

The collection in Wilson County Public Library’s Local History Room includes the transcript of a 1986 interview with Clifton Tomlinson, a farmer who had grown up in the Black Creek-Lucama area.

These pages include recollections of the some of the African-Americans who had been his family’s tenants and neighbors.

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  • Sidney and Milbry Ramseur

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Sidney Johnson [sic], 56, and wife Millie, __, both laborers working out.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: on Black Creek and Lucama Road, farmer Sidney R. Ramseur, 69, and wife Milly, 60.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Sidney Ramsoo, 73, and wife Millie, 70.

Sidney Ramseur died 30 October 1941 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was born in Wilson County; lived on Viola Street; and was the widower of Milbry Ramseur. Informant was J. Clifton Tomlinson, Black Creek.

  • John and Robert Clay

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Clay, 45; wife Elizabeth, 46; and children Maggie, 21, Charlie, 20, Joseph, 17, Pearle, 15, Levi, 13, Johnnie, 10, Esrayson, 8, Bettie, 7, and Earl, 2; plus nephew Sam, 15, and widowed mother Mariah, 84.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Robert Clay, 24; wife Mary, 23; son James, 7 months; and sister-in-law Hattie Artis, 12.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John H. Clay, 54, wife Elizabeth, 54, and children Lary, 24, Bettie, 16, and Early, 12; next door, farmer Robert Clay, 33, wife Mary, 32, and children James, 10, Ollie,  6, and Lottie, 3; and next door to them Joseph Clay, 28, wife Essa, 22, and children Ethel, 2, and Joseph, 9 months.

  • John Edward Artis

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg & Wilson Road, John Ed Artis, 31, tenant farmer; wife Maggie, 32; and children Jessie, 9, Rosa, 7, Henry, 5, Claud, 2, Lyra, 2, and Ella, 6 months.

In the 1930 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: John E. Artis, 41, farmer, widower, and children Jesse, 19, Rosa, 18, Henry, 15, Claud, 13, Larry, 12, Mary, 10, Eddie, 8, Mamie, 6, Carry L., 4, and Maggie, 2.

  • Ruthie and Anderson Hunter

Anderson Hunter, 45, of Toisnot township, applied for a license to marry Lula Farmer, 23, of Toisnot township, on 7 May 1901.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Anderson Hunter, 50; wife Lula, 33; and children Chanie, 18, Sam, 16, Emma, 15, Robert, 11, Annie, 6, and Clyde, 2.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Anderson Hunter, 62; wife Lula, 39; and children Emma, 25, Robert, 21, Annie, 15, Clyde, 11, and Hazel, 4.

In the 1930 census of Town of Sharpsburg, Edgecombe County: cotton and tobacco farmer Anderson Hunter, 71; wife Lula, 47; and children Clyde, 22, Hazel, 14, and James C., 9.

I have not found record of Ruthie Hunter.

A producer of fine quality tobacco.

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Wilson Daily Times, 9 August 1946.

Floyd W. Farmer was not only a prosperous farmer, he was a force in the effort to get Wilson County to build rural high schools for African-Americans in the late 1940s.

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In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Cromwell Farmer, 57; wife Mary Jane, 48; and children James, 20, Ida, 20, Cromwell, 19, Ella, 17, Maggie, 16, Clara, 14, Floyd, 12, Viola, 9, Liola, 9, Esther, 8, Lee A., 7, and George, 6.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Mary Jane Farmer, 65, and children Floyd W., 21, Leola, 19, Viola, 19, Queen Esther, 17, and George, 15.

In 1940, Floyd Willie Farmer applied for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born in April 1919 in Wilson; lived on Route 1, Elm City; his contact was mother Mary Jane Farmer; and he worked as a tenant farmer for Mrs. M.A. Bryant.

On 14 November 1942, Floyd Farmer, 24, of Elm City, son of Crumel and Mary J. Farmer, married Odell Sharp, 20, of WIlson, daughter of Alvin and Carrie Sharp, in Wilson. C.E. Artis applied for the license, and a justice of the peace performed the ceremony in the presence of J.H. Forbes, J.E. Miles and B.E. Howard.

Floyd W. Farmer died 16 April 2014.

Where we worked: tobacco barn.

Over the last couple of decades, the once ubiquitous tobacco barn has largely disappeared from the rural Wilson County landscape. I was surprised to find this one, then, completely enclosed in a grove of trees near a Springhill township cemetery, but otherwise in remarkably good condition.

After tying freshly picked tobacco leaves to wooden sticks with twine, workers hung the sticks from racks inside the barn to be dried, or “cured,” in the heat delivered via flue from an external fire box. The grueling work of barning season ended around this time of year.

I invite anyone knowledgeable to estimate the age of this barn. Thank you!

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2019.

The stemmery.

This corbeled chimney is all that remains of the stemmery that stood at the corner of Railroad and Stemmery Streets. A stemmery was a factory in which stems were stripped from cured leaves prior to processing for shipment to companies that manufactured tobacco products.  Stemmeries provided seasonal employment to thousands of African-Americans, mostly women, an the small streets around it were lined with worker housing.

The original facility at this location, erected by Richmond Maury & Company in 1896, burned in 1920. It was replaced by a three-story building in 1922. This chimney vented smoke from the boiler room that powered the plant. A succession of tobacco companies operated this stemming and re-drying facility until 1973, when Montrose Hanger Company moved in.  Montrose Hander operated into the twenty-first century, but had long vacated the building when it was razed about 2012.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2018.

A tobacco thief is caught.

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Wilson Daily Times, 21 August 1933.

  • Robert Artis — in the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Robert Artis, 46; wife Malindy, 31; children Adam, 17, James, 28, Edgar L., 13, Luciea, 13, Christirene, 12, Georgia, 10, and Noah, 9; step-sons Hesicar, 8, and Eugenia, 6; children Lizzie, 4, Richard, 2, and Minnie B., 9 months; and mother-in-law Henrietta [Artis?], age illegible.
  • Walter Leach

Richard C. Artis and father Robert E. Artis, circa 1950s. Photo courtesy of Melissa Mack.

Negro ministers recruit colored workers.

To address the acute labor shortage created by World War II, the Wilson Colored Ministerial Association came to the aid of tobacco factories and volunteered to recruit workers. “Three meetings of the colored ministers have already been held at the Darden funeral home, and colored church workers are making a house to house canvass for workers as a result of this meeting.”

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1944.

Centre Brick auction.

Per Keith Barnes’ The World’s Greatest Tobacco Market: A Pictorial History of Tobacco in Wilson, North Carolina, this photograph depicts a tobacco auction at Centre Brick Warehouse in the 1920s. Several African-American farmers or warehouse workers can be seen standing behind the tobacconists who owned and operated the warehouse.

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Tobacco redrying work.

African-American women made up a sizeable percentage of seasonal workers who found employment in Wilson’s tobacco factories. This image, taken in the 1940s, shows women feeding tobacco bundles into a redrying machine at the James I. Miller Tobacco Company plant on Tarboro Street.

Photo courtesy of the archives of the James I. Miller Tobacco Company, reprinted in Keith Barnes’ The World’s Greatest Tobacco Market: A Pictorial History of Tobacco in Wilson, North Carolina (2007).