Vocation

The business of shoes.

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Shoeshine box, shoe horn, brush and polish. Oliver N. Freeman Round House and Museum, photograph at digitalnc.com.

Until recent decades, most people owned only one or two pairs of shoes, and keeping them clean and in good condition required the regular services of shoemakers, repairmen and bootblacks. Here are some of the many men who plied this trade in Wilson.

  • Henry Adkinson — in the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Adkinson is listed as the proprietor of H. Adkinson & Son, shoemakers and watchmakers, at 524 East Nash. He lived at 640 East Green. Later directories list Adkinson’s business at 521 and 522 East Nash. By 1925, Henry and Mary Adkinson lived at 115 Narroway.
  • Baltimore Shoe Repair Shop — as listed in the 1925 city directory, this business was at 420 East Nash and Cutt Davis and James Mack were its proprietors.
  • Barefoot, Herbert — in the 1925 city directory, Barefoot is listed as a shoe polisher at 512 East Nash, residing at Smith near Pettigrew.
  • Barnes, Douglass — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1013 East Nash Street, owned and valued at $3000, taxi chauffeur Jake Barnes, 56; wife Effie, 32; and children Douglass, 20, shoeshop cobbler, Waylone, 19, taxi chauffeur, Eva, 16, Mattie, 13, and Nellie, 10.
  • Barnes, Redmond, Jr. — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1116 East Nash Street, Mary Barnes, 33, who taught at Healthy Plains Grade School; her widowed mother Jenettie Barnes, 62; brothers Redman, 22, a shoe repairer at Rex Shoe Shop [a white-owned shop downtown], and John, 19, a tobacco factory laborer; brother-in-law Doll Speight, 26, apartment elevator operator; sister Lula, 23, and their daughters Letrice, 2, and Bettie, 8 months.
  • Battle, George — in the 1925 city directory, Battle is listed as a shoe polisher at 513 East Nash, residing at East Green near Pender.
  • Blue Ribbon Electric Repair Shop — in the 1920 city directory, Henry Adkinson was proprietor of this shoe repair shop at 522 East Nash.
  • Brooks, Leslie — Leslie Brooks died 12 October 1918 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1881 in Wilson County to Dave Brooks and Henrietta Peacock; worked as a shoemaker; was single; and was buried in Brooks cemetery. Jno. Williams was informant.
  • Bullard, John — in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Bullard is listed as the proprietor of the Hub Shoe Shine Parlor at 503 East Nash. Bullard lived at 703 East Vance.
  • Burnette, William E. — in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Burnette is listed as a shoemaker working at 420 East Nash Street and living at 406 Bank[s].
  • Bynum, Curley B. — proprietor of Master Shoe Shine Parlor, 1946.
  • Cox, Elijah — in the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: shoemaker Elijah Cox, 66; wife Patience, 65; and children (or grandchildren) Jerry, 11, Clara, 5, and Patience Cox, 3. Cox claimed $150 real estate.
  • Davis, Cutt — see Baltimore Shoe Shop.
  • Farmer, George, Jr. — in the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Farmer Geo jr. (c) shoe shiner h 1200 Queen.
  • Floyd, Ambrose — In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1214 Washington Street, owned and valued at $1800, shoe shop and taxi owner Ambrose Floyd, 39; wife Mattie, 39, cleaner; and children Mattelene, 17, James, 18, Ernest, 15, and Hattie, 12.
  • Fogg, Joseph –– in the 1860 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County, listed as a 50 year-old shoemaker in the household of Edwin Eatmon, bootmaker.
  • Gaddy, John — in the 1930 Wilson city directory, Moses is listed as a shoe repairer at 400 Stantonsburg Street.
  • Haskins, Thomas — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Haskins, 55, drug company salesman; wife Gertrude, 48; and children Mandy, 36; Elizabeth, 33, cook; Estelle, 29, beauty shop cleaner; Robert D. Jr., 29, hotel kitchen worker; Lossie, 24, N.Y.A. stenographer; and Thomas, 20, barbershop shoeblack; plus granddaughter Delores, 15, and lodger Henry Whitehead, 21.
  • Hill, Moses — shoemaker, 1890. See also.

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Wilson Mirror, 14 October 1891.

  • Hines, Shady — in the 1916 directory, Hines is listed as a bootblack at 416 East Nash Street.
  • Holley, Clarence V. — Clarence Holley died 4 May 1964 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 May 1919 in Bertie County to William Holley and Molly Smallwood; operated a shoeshine parlor; and lived at 300 North East Street. Informant was Elma Holley.
  • Johnson, Jake — in the 1922 city directory, listed as proprietor of the Busy Bee Shoe Shine Parlor at 513 East Nash.
  • Johnson, Leander A. — in the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Johnson is listed as a shoemaker working at 512 East Nash Street and living at 606 Robinson [Roberson] Street. In the 1920 city directory, he is a shoemaker at 518 East Nash and lived on East near Nash Street. In the 1922 directory, “Lee” Johnson is listed as working at 517 East Nash and living at 209 South East.
  • Jones, A. Wilson — in the 1880 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Street, Wilson Jones, 22, shoemaker.
  • Jones, Henry — in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: shoemaker Henry Jones, 55; wife Milly, 50; and sons Morris, 19, a bakery worker, and Wilson, 11.
  • Joyner, George H. — listed in the 1920 Wilson city directory as the proprietor of Southern Shoe Repair Shop at 532 East Nash.
  • Leach, Patrick — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: shoemaker Patrick Henry Leach, 61, and wife Lavinea, 56. Leach reported that he was born in Mississippi to North Carolina-born parents.
  • Lupe, Peter
  • Mack, James — See Baltimore Shoe Shop.
  • Merritt, Lee

Wilson Daily Times, 23 December 1921.

  • Moses, Oliver — in the 1928 Wilson city directory, Moses is listed as a shoe shiner at 515 East Nash. He lived at 524 East Nash, rear.
  • Moore, John H. — in the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Moore is listed as a shoemaker working at 420 East Nash Street and living at 406 Bank[s]. In the 1916 city directory, he is working at 513 East Nash and loving at 1007 East Nash. In the 1922 city directory, his business address was 511 East Nash.
  • Moore, Ozzie — In 1944, Ozzie Moore registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 1 September 1926 in Wilson; resided at 1113 Atlantic Street, Wilson; his contact was his father, J.H. Moore; and was employed by J.H. Moore at 517 East Nash Street, Wilson.
  • Moore, Starlon — in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Moore is listed as a shoemaker working at 526 East Nash Street and living at 701 South Spring Street.
  • Moore, Wade M. — in the 1947 city directory, Moore Wade M (c; Eliz O; Wade’s Shoe Shop) h 1001 Faison
  • Perry, Ruffin — in the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Perry is listed as a shoemaker at Stantonsburg Road near Rountree Avenue.
  • Reaves, Mack — in the 1930 Wilson city directory, Reaves is listed as a shoe shiner at 569 East Nash.
  • Rountree, Peter — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: shoemaker Peter Rountree, 76, wife Lucinda, 53, daughter Sarah Bowser, 32, son-in-law Burt L. Bowser, 36, grandsons Russell, 9, Astor B., 3, and Thomas F., 1, stepdaughters (?) Manda L., 18, and Rosa E. Rountree, 14.
  • Simms, Eddie B. — Simms died 17 July 1924. Per his death certificate,he was born 3 August 1904 in Wilson to Ed Mitchell and Frances Simms; was single; lived at 610 Manchester Street; worked as a shoeshiner; and “drowned while in the act of swimming accidentally.” Informant was Millie Simms.
  • Tabron, William — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 700 East Vance Street, rented for $16/month, barber Henry Tabron, 37; wife Mattie B., 39, laundress; and children William, 15, shoe shop laborer, Edmonia, 14, Bill S., 11, Berkly, 9, and Donald, 7.
  • Thompson, Edwin — in the 1928 Wilson city directory, Thompson is listed as a shoe shiner at 569 East Nash.
  • Wiley, Bud — in the 1912 city directory, Wiley is listed as a bootblack at 407 East Nash.
  • Word, Fleming — in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Word (Ward?) is listed as a shoemaker working at 407 East Nash Street and living at 108 Wiggins.

Hugh T. Ransom Sr. and John A. Gaston were briefly partners in a Nash Street barbershop that catered to a white clientele. Barbershops often offered shoeshine services. Wilson Advance, 30 January 1890.

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Shoe shops at 515, 519, 521 and 529 East Nash Street, as shown on the 1922 Sanborn insurance map of Wilson. City directories for the same year show cobblers at 511 and 513 East Nash Street as well.

Midwives and granny women.

Forty-three Wilson County midwives (41 black) met with state health officials to receive training. Wilson Daily Times, 17 June 1921.

Well into the 20th century, most babies in Wilson County were delivered by midwives, whose ranks were overwhelmingly comprised of African-American women. Here is a running list of them:

  • Rachel Armstrong Allen
  • Phereby Barnes Artis
  • Violet Barnes Barnes — in the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farm laborer Benjamen Barnes, 52; wife Vilet, 54, midwife; and Elvy, 10, Ailcey, 7, and Spicey, 6.
  • Nannie Best — in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Best Nannie midwife, h 332 S Lodge
  • Nancy Staton Boykin
  • Sarah Dawes Bunn
  • Charlotte Bynum — in the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bynum Charlotte, midwife 553 E Nash
  • Bertha Cade — in the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Cade Bertha midwife, h 412 E Walnut
  • Lucy Sorsby Dail — Lucy Dail died 15 March 1928 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 63 years old; was born in Nash County to Nelson Salisbury and Carolina Cooper; was the widow of Jos. Dail; lived at 519 South Spring; and had been a midwife. Mary Proctor was informant.
  • Viney Drake
  • Mary Fuller
  • Mariah Battle Gaston
  • Maria Hicks — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Owens Smith, 49, minister; wife Adora, 30; son Jesse, 19; daughter Flossie, 4; widowed mother Maria Hicks, 78, a midwife; and boarder Carry Pettiford, a widowed teacher.
  • Fortune Hilliard
  • Nannie Kirby — Per death certificate, Kirby attended the stillbirth of Joseph Kent, son of Charlie and Victory Kent, on 6 October 1930 in Springhill township.
  • Anna Johnson — Per death certificate, Johnson attended the premature birth of Olive Frances Hannah, daughter of Lemore Hannah and Almeda Morgan, who was born 21 November 1930 and died 28 December 1930 in Wilson.

  • Olive Lindsey — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, Richard Lindsey, 51, mechanic; Olive, 42, midwife; and sons Richard, 14, Henry, 11, and Austin, 23, a drayman.
  • Mary Miller — in the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Miller Mary, midwife h 405 N Pine
  • Charlotte Minor — in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Minor Charlotte midwife, h 121 Manchester
  • Susan Mitchell — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Susiana Mitchel, 65, a “grannie,” and son Edd, 33, a barber. [A “granny-woman” was a midwife.]
  • Etta Plummer — in the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Plummer Etta midwife, h 1104 Wainwright Av
  • Bettie Pree — listed as midwife on the death certificate of the infant of James H. and Lillie Taylor, who was stillborn on 24 December 1917.
  • Cherry Rogers — in the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Watson Stanton, 65, wife Rosa, 53, children Richard, 15, Adeline, 13, Feribee, 8, and Louisa, 21; midwife Cherry Rogers, 80; and Hardy Barnes, 20.
  • Isabella Samuel — in the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Samuel Isabella midwife, 509 Church [residence ditto]
  • Caroline Williamson Vick
  • Mittie Wood — in the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Wood Mittie midwife, h 701 Railroad
  • Eliza Woodard — in the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Woodard Eliza midwife, h 1109 Woodard Av

1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, page 65.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 October 1921.

Where we worked, 1922 — R.

City directories offer fine-grained looks at a city’s residents at short intervals. The 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., directory reveals the types of work available to African-Americans during the booming tobacco era. This post is the thirteenth in an alphabetical series listing all “colored” directory entries for whom an occupation was listed. The address is the resident’s home, unless a business address is noted.

  • Rawls, Lucy, domestic, rear 408 Whitley
  • Reavis, Etta, domestic, 505 Viola
  • Reed, Allen R., bricklayer, 415 South Goldsboro
  • Reed, John, tobacco worker, 808 Mercer
  • Reed, Elijah, drayman, 211 Sunshine Alley
  • Reed, William, tobacco worker, 212 East Jones
  • Reid, Brodie, tailor, 407 North Vick
  • Reid, J.D., active vice-president — The Commercial Bank of Wilson, 600 East Green, phone 577
  • Reid, Liston, carpenter, 316 Hackney
  • Reid, Lonnie L., tailor, 407 North Vick
  • Reid, Nora, domestic, 207 North Vick
  • Reid, Oscar, cleaner — Powell Cleaning Works, 207 North Vick
  • Reid, Sallie, domestic, 407 North Vick
  • Reid, William, barber — The Mayflower, 304 North Vick
  • Reid, William B., carpenter, 300 North Vick
  • Rice, George, barber — The Mayflower, 703 Viola
  • Rice, Visey, cook, 215 Manchester
  • Rich, George, carpenter, 902 East Vance
  • Rich, James, laborer, 502 Warren
  • Richards, Lucy, domestic, 123 Pender
  • Richardson, Cameron, laundress, 209 Stantonsburg Road
  • Richardson, Dock, laborer, 318 South Lodge
  • Richardson, George, laborer, 318 South Lodge
  • Richardson, Lee, laborer, 318 South Lodge
  • Richardson, Lena, domestic, 503 West Hines
  • Richardson, Richard, laborer, 503 West Hines
  • Richardson, Visie, laundress, 318 South Lodge
  • Richardson, Willard, porter, 209 Stantonsburg Road
  • Richardson, William, tobacco worker, 507 Hadley
  • Riggan, Marie, domestic, 626 East Vance
  • Rivington, Junius, laborer, 806 South Lodge
  • Robbins, Benjamin, barber — The Mayflower, 313 Pender
  • Robbins, Charity, grocer 600 South Lodge, 412 East Walnut
  • Robbins, John, horse shoer — J.Y. Buchanan, 418 South Lodge
  • Robbins, Louise, domestic, 917 Atlanta [Atlantic]
  • Robbins, Wilbert, laborer, 508 Banks
  • Roberts, Matilda, domestic, 802 East Vance
  • Robertson, Eugenia, laundress, 309 Hackney
  • Robertson, John, soft drinks 400 South Goldsboro, 212 East Jones
  • Robertson, Sue, cook, 508 South Goldsboro
  • Robinson, Gertrude, domestic, 526 Smith
  • Robinson, Golden, barber — W.S. Hines, 307 Pender
  • Rogers, Claude, plasterer, 1108 East Nash
  • Rogers, Early, grocer 401 Stantonsburg Road, 109 East
  • Rogers, J. Wesley, porter — Oettinger’s, 548 East Nash
  • Rogers, Mary L., grocer, 1108 East Nash
  • Rogers, Sallie, tobacco worker, 109 South East
  • Ross, William, fireman,105 West Walnut
  • Rountree, Jesse, driver, 200 Stantonsburg Road
  • Rountree, Lucy, laundress, 505 East Green
  • Rountree, Luetta, domestic, 400 East Hines
  • Rountree, Martha, cook, 907 1/2 Mercer
  • Rountree, Peggy, domestic, 907 1/2 Mercer
  • Rountree, Warren, presser, 907 1/2 Mercer
  • Rountree, Wiley, plasterer, 102 Manchester
  • Rountree, William R., barber, cleaner and presser South Tarboro near N-S Railroad track, Wiona [Winona]
  • Rowland, James, cook, 519 South Spring
  • Royster, Lewis, mill hand, 502 South Goldsboro
  • Ruffin, Easter, laundress, 546 East Nash
  • Ruffin, Eliza, laundress, 808 East Nash
  • Ruffin, Gertrude, laundress, 808 East Nash
  • Russell, Jeff E., bricklayer, 910 Atlanta [Atlantic]
  • Russell, Julia, domestic, 910 Atlantic
  • Ryan, Eugene, tobacco worker, 500 South Daniel
  • Ryan, Rosa, cook, 500 South Daniel

 

There was something unusual in that green-looking country boy.

In which the Indianapolis Freeman enlightens us regarding Joseph H. Ward‘s journey from Wilson to Naptown:

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Indianapolis Freeman, 22 July 1899.

A few notes:

  • Joseph Ward’s mother was Mittie Ward Vaughn. His father Napoleon Hagans was a prosperous free-born farmer in Wayne County near Fremont.
  • The school in LaGrange at which Ward worked was most likely Davis Military Academy:  “By 1880 a second school for boys … Davis Military Academy, was founded by Colonel Adam C. Davis. “School Town” became La Grange’s nickname as the military school would eventually have an enrollment of 300 students from every state and even some foreign countries. The school also had a band, the only cadet orchestra in the country during that time. The school prospered, but an outbreak of meningitis closed it in 1889.”
  • Dr. George Hasty was a founder of the Physio-Medical College of Indianapolis, which Joseph Ward later attended.

Physio-Medical College of Indiana, undated. IUPUI Image Collection.

We clean clothes cleaner than the cleaner that cleans clothes clean.

York Pressing Club, East Nash Street. Wilson Daily Times, [no date], 1914.

“At a time when grooming and fashion counted for a lot, when most domestic chores such as keeping one’s skirts and suits sharply creased were handled at home, those who could afford it chipped in to join ‘clubs’ that had no clubhouse, no sporting activities, no board games, no meetings. They offered simple ‘pressing’ services. As their membership swelled throughout the South, ‘club’ operations moved from homes into modest stores. … Over time as technology advanced, simple cleaning and pressing turned to dry cleaning.” “Pressing Business,” Dora Mekouar, Ted Landphair’s America.

For a small monthly or yearly fee, members of pressing clubs could have their good clothes cleaned, pressed and repaired regularly, insuring a well-groomed appearance. This was no small matter in a place and time in which most men owned only one suit. African-Americans did not dominate the pressing club business as overwhelmingly they did barbering, but they were well-represented in the number.

Wilson Times, 21 October 1921.

The list below comprises those businesses that advertised or were otherwise described as operating pressing clubs or other types of cleaning and pressing businesses.

  • Barefoot Pressing Works — Lenwood Barefoot, proprietor. Listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson city directory at 510 1/2 East Nash and in the 1922 city directory at 507 East Nash. Barefoot also worked as a tailor.
  • Brewington Pressing Works — Edward C. Brewington, proprietor. Listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson city directory at 510 1/2 East Nash and in the 1922 directory at 561 East Nash.

1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory.

  • Carter & Walker — per the 1916 city directory, Clarence Carter and Charles Walker operated a cleaning and pressing business at 503 East Nash.
  • Citizens Pressing Club — in the 1912 city directory at 124 South Goldsboro.
  • Cox’s Pressing Club — Eddie H. Cox, proprietor. In the 1925 Wilson city directory, the pressing club is listed at 529 East Nash.
  • Down Town Pressing Club — Lenwood Barefoot, proprietor. Advertised in the same 1914 supplement as York Pressing, above. In the 1916 city directory, the address of Down Town Pressing Club is 532 East Nash.
  • Home Pressing Club — in the 1916 city directory, the address of Home Pressing Club is 217 South Goldsboro.
  • Moses Pressing Works — in the 1925 city directory at 514 East Nash.
  • No. 1 Pressing Club — Preston Smith, proprietor. This business is listed in the 1922 city directory at 515 East Nash.

An incident stemming from an altercation at Preston Smith’s pressing club. Wilson Daily Times, 27 November 1923.

  • Quick Service Pressing Club — John B. Barnes, proprietor. 1941.
  • Service Cleaning Works — Lenwood Barefoot, proprietor. Listed in the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory.
  • Wardrobe Pressing Club — James Barbour, Nannie Barbour and Willie R. Barnes, proprietors. Listed in the 1920 city directory at 600 East Nash Street and in 1922, at 601 East Nash. Per the 1930 Hill’s Wilson city directory, the business was at 548 East Nash.
  • York Pressing Shop — Reed and Whitty, proprietors. I have not been able to identify Whitty, but Reed seems to have been Lonnie Reid (a cousin of Elijah Reid, J.D. Reid and Willie G. Reid), who is listed in the 1912 Hill’s city directory of Wilson operating a clothes cleaning shop at 603 East Nash Street. York was short-lived, as in the 1916 directory Reid was in business with Dunn, North Carolina, resident William Bates. Their tailor shop, Bates & Reid, also operated at 603 East Nash.
  • Whitted & Moser — listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson city directory at 516 East Nash, which was also William C. Whitted‘s home address. Oliver L. Moser lived on East Nash Extended. [Was Whitted the “Whitty” above?]

This list includes other African-Americans known to have operated such businesses or worked in the trade.

  • Lemon Barnes — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Saratoga Road, farmer Jesse Barnes, 46; wife Sarah, 47; and children Ned, 23, farm laborer; Nancy, 22, college student; Lemon, 20, pressing club laborer; Jessie Belle, 18, high school student; Maggie, 15; Ardenia, 13; Frank, 11; James, 6; and Mildred, 3.
  • William Ichabod Barnes — in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, William I. Barnes was listed as proprietor of a cleaning and pressing business at 508 East Nash.
  • John Best — in the 1930 Wilson city directory, Best John (c) (Sylvia) clothes presser h 106 Ashe. Herbert H. and Alf J. Ford are listed as the proprietors of Ford cleaners.
  • James Hardy — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 311 Pender, Lawrence Hardy, 39, pantry(?) servant at college; brother James Hardy, 39, presser at cleaning works; and George Brodie, 33, barber.
  • Grover Jackson — in business listings in the 1925 city directory at 407 Stantonsburg Road.
  • Hosea McMillan — listed in the 1922 city director as a presser.
  • Mack McMillan — listed in the 1922 city directory as a presser.
  • Leonard Moore — in business listings in the 1925 city directory at South Goldsboro, corner of Hines.
  • Charles Nelson — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 113 Pender Street, (1) paying $12/month, Ethel Cain, 32, elementary school teacher, and mother Delia Jones, 66, cook; (2) paying $4, Charles Nelson, 36, pressing club presser, and wife Mamie, 34; and (3) paying $4, Hubert McFail, 35, tobacco factory truck driver, and wife Viola, 20, school teacher.
  • James Powell — in business listings in the 1922 city directory as the operator of a business in Five Points Settlement.
  • Oscar Reid — in the 1922 Wilson city directory: Reid, Oscar, cleaner — Powell Cleaning Works, 207 North Vick; in the 1928 city directory: Reid Oscar (c; Nora) clnr and presser 567 E Nash h 207 N Vick
  • Warren Rountree — listed in the 1922 Wilson city directory as a presser.
  • William R. Rountree — in business listings in the 1922 city directory at South Tarboro near Norfolk Southern Railroad.
  • William Solomon — in business listings in the 1922 Hill’s Wilson city directory at 111 North Pettigrew.
  • Alonzo Taylor — in business listings in the 1916 city directory of Wilson, Taylor is listed as a 213 South Goldsboro.
  • Noble Wade — business listings in the the 1922 Hill’s Wilson city directory at 510 East Nash.

 A fire broke out in William I. Barnes’ pressing club. Wilson Daily Times, 3 November 1911.

 

The twin Gastons.

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Wilson Advance, 21 April 1892.

The Gaston twins were John A. Gaston and George A. Gaston. George established perhaps the leading barber shop in Elm City, seven miles north of Wilson. Though John was sometimes referred to as “Twin Gaston,” this ad, with Gastons plural, suggests that the brothers were in business together in Wilson at least briefly.

——

In the 1870 census of Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina: brickmason George Gaston, 53, wife Matilda, 30, and 13 year-old sons George and John, both farm laborers.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason George Gaston, 60, wife Matilda, 44, and son John, 23, a farm laborer. John’s twin George Gaston, 23, barber, is listed by himself in the 1880 census of Town of Toisnot, Wilson County.

The brickmasons’ strike(s).

Newspaper reports reveal a strike (or series of strikes) by African-American brick masons in Wilson in the first decade of the 20th century. Though the record is sparse, these articles offer rare glimpses of black workers flexing their economic muscle, and surprising hints of the reach of organized labor during a time and place well-known for hostility toward unionization.

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Wilmington Messenger, 21 October 1902.

Brickmasons led by Goodsey Holden struck for a nine-hour work day consistent with that required by “the International union.” The protest, at least temporarily, resulted in concessions from the contractors for whom they worked.

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News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 2 April 1903.

Six months later, bricklayers struck again, crippling progress on the construction of several large brick commercial buildings, including Imperial Tobacco’s new stemmery. Contractors brought in nearly 20 masons from Raleigh and Durham to pick up the work. The sub-headline suggests that the men refused to cross picket lines once they arrived in Wilson, but the article does not address the matter. Masons in those cities were also engaged in strike activity.

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Greensboro Daily News, 18 March 1906.

Three years later, Will Kittrell was arrested and charged with conspiracy and blackmail for allegedly warning a Henderson brickmason to leave town. Contractors continued to import masons from across North Carolina to fill the gap created by Wilson workers’ refusal to work without limits on long workdays.

——

The legacy of O. Nestus Freeman.

Beating me to the punch, Preservation of Wilson has compiled an inventory of the known surviving work of stonemason Oliver Nestus Freeman. Here you’ll find a photograph and brief description of each building or object, including the Round House and several residences across Wilson. Some have been highlighted in Black Wide-Awake here: 204 North Vick Street, 1115 East Nash Street, 1117 East Nash Street, 1209 East Nash Street, and 1300 East Nash Street.

Freeman constructed the stone exterior of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 612 Vance Street NE, circa 1941.

Preservation of Wilson is an organization dedicated to the revitalization of Wilson’s architectural heritage.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2019.

923 Washington Street.

The one hundredth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1930; 1 story; Alonzo Coley house; bungalow with unusual hip and side-gable roof configuration and shed dormer; aluminum-sided; Coley was a carpenter.”

Coley also built the houses at 914 and 918 Washington Street. Per the “Statement of Significance” section of the East Wilson nomination form: “A colleague of [O. Nestus] Freeman‘s, Alonzo Coley constructed bungalows for black clients, as well as worked in a barber shop. He advertised himself as a “licensed architect” after completing a drafting course at the local black high school.”

In 1917, Alonzo Coley registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his draft registration card, he was born 8 September 1890 in Pikeville, Wayne County; resided at 105 East Street; worked as a carpenter for Barney Reid “in the Town of Wilson;” and was single.

Alonzo Coley, 26, of Wilson, son of Christopher and Sarah E. Coley of Wayne County, married Pauline McQueen, 23, of Wilson, daughter of Anthony and Jenny McQueen of Roland, North Carolina, on 14 March 1918. Presbyterian minister H.B. Taylor performed the ceremony in the presence of Maud Battle, Laura Coley and Lula Lewis.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Washington Street, house carpenter Lonzo Coley, 29; wife Paulean, 26; daughter Elma, 6 months; sister Edith, 16; and boarder Bula Thompson, 17.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 923 Washington Street, owned and valued at $2000, building carpenter Lonie Coley, 35; wife Pauline, 34; and children Elmer, 10, Mary E., 8, Richard L., 7, Robert J., 4, and Pauline, 2.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 923 Washington Street, owned and valued at $800, carpenter Alonzo Coley, 50; wife Pauline, 46, cleaner at post office; mother Sarah, 71; and children Elma, 20, beauty parlor operator, Maratta, 18, Robert J., 14, and Pauline, 12.

Alonzo Coley died 2 November 1967 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 September 1890 to Christopher and Sarah Coley; lived at 923 Washington Street; and was a laborer. Informant was Pauline Coley.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2019.