Vocation

We built this!

I’m proud to have contributed to this amazing exhibit celebrating North Carolina’s Black architects and builders. To celebrate the exhibit’s debut and to enable more people to see it during these pandemic times, Preservation North Carolina will be sharing a story every Wednesday highlighting a Black builder (or those, like Black Wide-Awake, who research in this area). 

Please follow Preservation North Carolina on Facebook or @presnc on Instagram, or see their website at www.presnc.org. I’m looking forward to #wbtwednesday!!

Save your money by seeing us.

Wilson Blade, 20 November 1897.

Ed Smith and Goodsey H. Holden ran this ad in the Blade, a late nineteenth-century African-American newspaper published in Wilson.

For more highlights of the single surviving issue of the Blade, the original of which is housed at Freeman Round House and Museum, see here and here and here and here.

The goose grease man.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 October 1914.

George Flack, the “goose grease man,” drove geese throughout the sales territory of the Goose Grease Company, hawking Mother’s Joy Croup and Pneumonia Salve. In 1914, he arrived in Wilson for a thirty-day stay with the W.H. Woodard & Company. In relaying Goose Grease Company’s history, the Daily Times listed Flack, two geese, and five hundred dollars as the company’s starting assets.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 October 1919.

1914 clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

The obituary of Eddie Lee Joyner, master plasterer.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 June 1989.

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In 1918, Ed Lee Joyner registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 26 February 1897 in Wilson County; his father’s birth place was Wilson County; he lived at Route 1, Elm City; he worked for G.A. Barnes, Elm City; and his contact was mother Fortney Bailey. He signed the card “Eddie Lee Joyner.”

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Ed Joyner, 22; [step]father Louis Bailey, 80; mother Fortiny, 56; niece Maggie, 16; and nephews Rogers, 14, and John E., 8.

On 8 January 1921, Eddie Joyner, 22, of Elm City, son of Fortning Bailey, married Annie Pearl Wynn, 19, of Elm City, daughter of Will and Jenny Wynn, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of Bettie Gaskell, Mattie M. Ford, and Mary Latham.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Joyner Edward L (c; Annie) plastr h 1205 Washington

In 1940, Roger Bailey registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 26 February 1897 in Wilson County; lived at 1205 Washington Street, Wilson; his contact was uncle Edd Lee Joyner, 1205 Washington Street; and he worked for T.A. Loving & Co., Goldsboro, at Cherry Point Marine Base.

In 1942, Eddie Lee Joyner registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 10 October 1905 in Wilson; lived at 539 Barnes  Street, Wilson; his contact was Annie Joyner; and he worked for Will Ray, Farmers Cotton Oil Company, Wilson.

Dr. A.S. Clark’s institute.

We did a little trip down to Cordele, Georgia, this weekend. Once there, I was a little hazy on the directions, but I spotted A.S. Clark Drive and knew we were good.

Augustus S. Clark was among the cohort of (mostly) young men who erupted from Wilson in the 1880s and ’90s,* determined to lead. Born in the final days of slavery, or just after, they drank in everything J.C. Price and Samuel H. Vick poured at Wilson Academy, went straight to university (often at Lincoln, their instructors’ alma mater), then set out, in Clark’s later words, to “… do what I can for the uplift of my people.”

Dr. Augustus S. Clark (1874-1959). (Photo courtesy of Frank T. Wilson, ed., “Living Witnesses: Black Presbyterians in Ministry II,” Journal of Presbyterian History, volume 53, number 3 (Fall 1985).)

For his part, in 1902 Clark founded, with his wife Annie, the Gillespie Normal School, later Gillespie-Selden Institute, in Cordele. In 1925, the institute added an hospital. (The closest Black medical facility was 142 miles away in Atlanta.) I’ve written of Gillespie-Selden here and finally went to see it.

Gillespie Institute Founded By Rev. and Mrs. Augustus Clark September 1, 1902 Served By Them Until October 1, 1941 Alumni 1942

The school complex forms the heart of Cordele’s Gillespie-Selden Historic District. Below, the school’s administration building, built in 1935.

The girls’ dormitory below, built in 1929, is the most imposing building in the neighborhood.

A rear addition has been largely torn down, and an open door grants access to the interior.

The building holds evidence of fairly recent use as a family resource and daycare center, as well as squatters. All things considered though, it is in pretty good condition.

This room runs the length of the back wall on the first floor.

At the front of the building, a series of small interconnected rooms flanks a central entry hall. I didn’t venture upstairs.

The cornerstone of the girls’ dormitory.

A marble plaque inlaid by the class of 1929.

The President’s House, also known as Dr. Clark’s house, which sits just to the west of the girls’ dormitory. The Clarks retired from active teaching and school leadership in 1941.

Below, Saint Paul Presbyterian, also founded by Rev. Clark. The tin-roofed section at right appears to be the original church, updated with brick.

Gillespie-Selden Institute, Class of 1947, in front of the girls’ dormitory. (Photo courtesy of St. Paul Gillespie-Selden Learning Center Facebook page.)

Gillespie-Selden Institute closed in 1956 when Cordele finally erected a high school for African-American students. Named in honor of A.S. Clark, the school eventually converted to an elementary school, but closed in 2014. The building is now under development as a non-profit biomedical institute.

For more about Gillespie-Selden Historic District, see the Gillespie-Selden Historic District National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, which contains this passage:

“Within the Gillespie-Selden Historic District, the outreach missionary role of Dr. Augustus S. Clark (1874-1959) and St. Paul Presbyterian Church is significant to the development of the neighborhood. Dr. Clark completed his theological training at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1897; he was sent by the Presbyterian National Board of Missions to Cordele in 1898 as a missionary to help the struggling Portis Memorial Presbyterian Church. During that same year, a loan was secured from the Board of the Church Erection Fund of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church for the construction of a new church building to be named St. Paul Presbyterian Church.

“In 1902, Dr. Clark and his wife, Anna, realized that there were less than adequate educational institutions for African-Americans to attend in Cordele as well as the entire southwest region of the state. Dr. Clark taught elementary-level and Sunday-school classes in the basement of St. Paul Presbyterian Church, but found he needed more space. … By 1904, enough money had been donated by white members of northern Presbyterian churches, especially the Gillespie family of Pittsburgh, that three buildings of the school complex were constructed. …”

See also, this 2009 design charrette prepared by University of Georgia’s Center for Community Design and Preservation and the 2103 Gillespie-Selden Historic District Design Guidelines.

Another memorial plaque, this one embedded in a brick pillar in front of the administration building.

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* This cohort included A.S. Clark’s brothers John H., William H., and Thomas G. Clark, Samuel H. Vick, his brother William H. Vick, and cousin Frank O. Blount, brothers Daniel C. and James T. Suggs, Henry C. Lassiter, Braswell R. Winstead, and Charles H. Bynum, all Lincoln University graduates; the Suggses’ sister Serena Suggs MooreJoseph H. Ward; Ardella Kersey; Mahala Williamson Reid; sisters Ada G. Battle and Geneva Battle Faver; and J. Arthur Cotton.

Photos of G.S.I. taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2020.

Billy Kaye comes home.

In 2018, North Carolina welcomed home a native son, renowned jazz drummer Billy Kaye. Born Willie King Seaberry in Wilson in 1932, Kaye performed with Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk and other luminaries, but had never played in Wilson. Not long after his June performance at Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Sandra Davidson interviewed Kaye for North Carolina Arts Council’s “50 for 50: Artists Celebrate North Carolina.”

Below, an excerpt from the interview.

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S.D.: Tell me what you remember about growing up in Wilson.

Kaye: I was born in ‘32 a couple blocks from the train station near the Cherry Hotel, one of the top hotels in Wilson. My grandparents’ home was 517 Church Street which was something like a two-block walk to the train station. It was a block off Nash Street. Most of the employment was done there. Nash Street had [a] drug store, dentist, doctor. There was a Ritz Theater on Nash Street. There were three churches in that area. That was basically it. I grew up running around the yard playing the Lone Ranger with a broomstick between my legs. I used to enjoy coming home in the summers when I was a youngster to play in the dirt, climb the trees, play under the house. That kind of stuff.

S.D.: … What is it like to for you to play your first hometown show?

Kaye: It’s hard to explain. It’s the biggest thing that ever happened. Playing at home was something I wasn’t even about when I left here. I had no history. I was just a guy that moved up [North]. I played in Greensboro some years back. It was okay. It was North Carolina, but it wasn’t Wilson. Goldsboro—that was great, but it still wasn’t Wilson. Home is where I was born. So, this thing here, it’s hard to explain. I’m playing at home. I’m seeing things that I didn’t see and appreciating things. I see these trees, the most magnificent things. There’s nothing there but trees. Man, they are the greatest trees I’ve ever seen. It’s like home.

Billy Kaye performs at Whirligig Park. (Photo: Astrid Rieckien for the Washington Post.) 

For the full transcript of Kaye’s interview and to watch videos of his performance in Wilson’s Whirligig Park, see here.

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