Cora Barnes Melton, centenarian.


Wilson Daily Times, 4 May 1993.

Wilson Daily Times, 4 May 1995.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 May 1997.


On 29 October 1917, John Melton, 26, married Cora Barnes, 25, at Zena Barnes’ in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Linnie Wilson, M.H. Wilson and Lorene E. Griggs.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Washington Street, carpenter John Melton, 28; wife Cora, 26; son Robert O., 1; and cousin Della Griswell, 24.

John Melton died 17 August 1933 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 July 1889 in Wilson County to John and Lucy Melton; was married to Cora Melton; lived at 1206 Washington Street; and worked as a carpenter.

In 1944, John Melton registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 11 September 1926 in Wilson County; lived at 1206 East Washington Street; his contact was his mother Cora Melton; and he worked at Imperial Tobacco Company.

In 1946, William Thomas Melton registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 11 October 1928 in Wilson County; lived at 1206 East Washington Street; his contact was his mother Cora Melton; and was a student.

Cora Barnes Melton passed away 4 May 1997, two days after the Daily Times featured her birth celebration.

Snaps, no. 66: Minnie Bell Barnes Barnes.

Minnie Belle Barnes Barnes (1905-1985).


In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Redman Barnes, 47; wife Genette, 43; children Dora, 20, Fred, 19, Mary E., 17, Minie B., 15, Eddie Bell, 13, Petcandy, 11, Nora Lee, 9, Alice, 7, Lula Mae, 4, and Redman Jr., 1.

On 29 November 1923, Thomas Barnes, 21, son of Wiley and Sarah Barnes, married Minnie Belle Barnes, 19, daughter of Redmond and Jenette Barnes, at Redmond Barnes’ house in Stantonsburg. Methodist minister J.F. Ward performed the ceremony in the presence of O.M. Ellis of Wilson and Willie Ellis and Isaac Winstead of Stantonsburg.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County: on Railroad Street, rented for $8/month, farm laborer Thomas Barnes, 23; wife Minnie, 22; and children Daisy B., 5, Thomas, 3, Ruby M., 2, and Jeanette, 10 months.

In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Barnes, 34; wife Minnie, 33; and children Daisie B., 15, Thomas Jr., 13, Ruby M., 11, Jeannette, 9, Inez, 7, Robert, 5, Sammy, 3, Moses, 2, and Minnie Mae, 2 months.

In 1940, Thomas Barnes registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 27 February 1905 in Wilson County; lived at Route 1, Stantonsburg; his contact was wife Mrs. Minnie Barnes; and worked for Lonnie Harrell, Stantonsburg.

Minnie B. Barnes died 14 December 1985.

Photograph courtesy of Ancestry.com user Jerry Smith.

Princess Batoula?

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Indianapolis Recorder, 22 July 1939.

The Recorder was rather late to Harriett Mercer‘s remarkable story. A month earlier, the New York Daily News had cast Mercer as latter-day Cinderella in a piece whose mockery was only thinly veiled.

A few basics about Mercer: she was born in Wilson about 1913; lived in Philadelphia with her uncle and family; graduated Simon Gratz High School; briefly attended Cheyney State; worked as a teacher in a W.P.A. project; moved to New York after a layoff; and found work as a laundress. (Note that the African-American Recorder — choosing to focus on the uplifting aspects of Mercer’s life — omitted this last detail. The Daily News, on the other hand, blared it in its headline.)

New York Daily News, 27 June 1939.

There was, unfortunately, more.  Reportedly, a Pullman porter named Carson C. Rollins Jr. glanced at a newspaper on a train to find that his estranged wife, Harriett Mercer Rollins, was about to marry Prince Batoula of Senegal. Rollins claimed that the two had married in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1931 and separated ten months later when she walked out on him.

New York Daily News, 29 July 1939.

Things got worse.

Baltimore Afro-American, 22 July 1939.

Perhaps needless to say, Prince Batoula was no prince at all. But here’s what the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had to say about him when he arrived in New York:

7 May 1939.

The New York Age, another African-American paper, ran a full article six days later. Batoula had arrived at the World’s Fair to find that he was not welcome in the best New York hotels and was forced to seek lodging in Harlem at the Braddock, which adjoined the Apollo Theater and catered mostly to the theatrical trade. In addition to touting his own religion, Batoula, a self-professed World War I hero, expressed in meeting Father Divine and Franklin D. Roosevelt and hoped to “make a tour of the Negro educational institutions of the South.”

In fact, per historian Katherine Keller, who is working on a scholarly treatment of his life, Prince Batoula was Mamadou Alioune Kane, a Senegalese immigrant to France who worked as a taxi driver and fruit seller in Paris before transforming himself into African royalty.

Prince Batoula, Pittsburgh Courier, 20 May 1939.

As for Harriett Mercer, there’s relatively little.

Pittsburgh Courier, 1 July 1939.

I have found no references to her birth family or life in North Carolina. Nor have I found her 1931 marriage license to Carson Rollins.

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: at 1910 North 21st Street, John Highsmith, 45, grocery store keeper; wife Katie, 42; uncle William Mercer, 18; nieces Cary, 14, and Harritt Mercer, 17; and roomers Winnie Robinson, 25, maid, and Elizabeth Cart, 35, cook, all born in North Carolina.

And here, the manifest for the ship that returned Harriett Mercer to New York.

She apparently made the best of her situation, spending six weeks in France. On 10 August 1939, she boarded the S.S. Champlain at Le Havre, bound for New York City. On 17 August, she was back at home.

New York New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957, www. familysearch.org.

Madam Walker and Doctor Ward.

The Netflix limited series Self Made is refocusing attention on Madam C.J. Walker, the millionaire entrepreneur and empowerer of women best known for her haircare empire. The series is honest about being more “inspired by” Madam Walker’s life than true to it. Chockablock with B-list black star power (plus Octavia Spencer), Self Made is entertaining if you don’t think about it too hard. Ultimately, however, its heavy-handed resort to tropes and types and its soap opera style do a disservice to her story. Anyone wanting a closer truth should turn to A’Lelia Bundles’ On Her Own Ground, or my fave, Beverly Lowry’s Her Dream of Dreams: The Rise and Triumph of Madam C.J. Walker. Among other things, you’ll find an important part of Walker’s story completely omitted from Self-Made — her relationship with Dr. Joseph H. Ward, an African-American physician born in Wilson about 1872.

When she first arrived in Indianapolis in 1910, Walker boarded with Joseph and Zella Locklear Ward and gave beauty culture demonstrations in their parlor.

Indianapolis Recorder, 12 February 1910.

Indianapolis Recorder, 5 March 1910.

Walker and her daughter Lelia Robinson grew close to the Wards, and Dr. Ward was Madam’s personal physician the remainder of her life. He was at her bedside when she died.

The Wards accompanied Madam Walker on a drive to Kansas City, Missouri, where she addressed the National Educational Congress on “How the Negro Woman May Success in Business.” Indianapolis Star, 13 July 1913.

On a drive from Saint Louis to Kansas City, the automobile in which the Wards and Walker were traveling was jumped by a wild animal. Indianapolis Star, 28 September 1913.

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Also in 1913, on the steps of the newly dedicated Y.M.C.A., Madam Walker with Booker T. Washington and, behind them, her lawyer Freeman Ransom and Dr. Joseph H. Ward.  

From Lowry’s Her Dream of Dreams:

“By Friday, Ward informs the household that Madame Walker cannot last longer than Sunday. On Saturday night, about midnight, she slips into unconsciousness. And her faithful friends and doctors and family gather around her bed; they are religious people who also believe in love and company, and that no one should pass from this life into the next alone. And so they wait, hushed, whispering, watching her, waiting.

“Sunday dawns warms and clear, and early rays of the sun crack through the drawn damask curtains and perhaps fall in splinters across the rose silk coverlet on Madame’s bed. At seven o’clock her people are still there, but no one feels her go and no one knows when she dies until Ward turns and says, ‘It’s over.’

“And if they weep it is with relief, for the end of her suffering. Her dying words, Ward later reports, were ‘I want to live to help my race.'”

Photo courtesy of Madam Walker Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Property of the heirs of Cecelia Norwood (deceased).

In September 1952, L.M. Phelps prepared a survey of the five lots on East Green and Pender Streets owned by the estate of Cecelia Norwood.


Norwood’s two-story wooden house faced East Green Street on a lot that joined two others to ran all the way back to Darden’s Alley (now Darden Lane). Around the corner and across Pender, she owned two lots that adjoined Calvary Presbyterian Church, which then stood right at the corner of Green and Pender.

In 1957, Calvary Presbyterian Church purchased lots 4 and 5 from Cecilia Norwood’s estate. In 1970-71, the church constructed a new sanctuary on the Norwood property.

 A Google Maps aerial view shows the former location of Norwood’s house and lots.

On 28 February 1895, Celia A. Hill, 22, daughter of H. and H. Hill, married Richard Norwood, 21, son of B. Norwood of Chatham County, in Wilson. Episcopal minister J.W. Perry performed the ceremony at Saint Marks in the presence of John H. Clark, B.R. Winstead and S.A. Smith.

In 1918, Richard Norwood registered for the World War I draft in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Per his registration card, he was born 31 March 1897 in Wilson; resided at 134 Pender Street, Wilson (and also 935 Baltic Avenue, Atlantic City; was employed by John Moore, North Carolina and Atlantic Avenues, Atlantic City; and his nearest relative of Cecilia Norwood, 134 Pender Street.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 134 Pender Street, Heneretta Hill, 70, A.C.L. railroad matron; Celia W. Hill, 40, teacher; Cora A. Hill, 27, teacher; Hazell Hill, 16; Christina Hill, 19; Barlee Hill, 22, laborer; Rosa Hicks, 22; and Archer Martin, 14.

In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Norwood Cecelia tchr h 205 Pender

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 205 Pender Street, valued at $5000, widowed teacher Cecelia Norwood, 60; granddaughter Cecelia Norwood, 5; grandson Edgear Norwood, 3; Ruth Cobb, 31, public school teacher; Lucie Richards, 50; and lodgers John, 38, carpenter at body plant, and Elizabeth Douglas, 35.

Cecilia Anna Norwood died 27 June 1944 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 February 1879 in Washington, North Carolina to Edward Hill and Henrietta Cherry; resided at 205 Pender, Wilson; was widowed; and was a teacher. Informant was Hazel Covington of Wilson.

Plat map 5, page 78, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Homegoing Service for Christine “Candy” Pittman.

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In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 404 Mercer Street, Noel Jones, 50, servant; wife Caroline, 51; and children (the first three tobacco factory laborers) Noel Jr., 20, Sarah, 18, Christine, 16, Elmer, 14, and Francis, 9.

In the 1925 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jones Christine, laundress h 1009 Mercer

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1009 South Mercer Street, owned and valued at $15,000 [sic], farm helper Noel Jones, 60; wife Caroline, 60; children Sarah Hines, 29, and Christine, 26, and Frances Jones, 18; and granddaughter Mildred P. Jones, 7.

Christine Jones, 45, married Morris Pittman, 44, on 1 October 1950 in Wilson.

Funeral program courtesy of Lisa R.W. Sloan. Thank you.

A Service of Memory for Mrs. Edith Winstead Ward.

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Joe Ward, 23, of Stantonsburg, son of P.W. and Cherry Ward, married Edith B. Winstead, 18, of Stantonsburg, daughter of William Heath and Amanda W. Williams, on 13 May 1924 at Edith B. Winstead’s house in Stantonsburg. Witnesses were Willie F, W.H. Jones and Lavenia Jones, all of Stantonsburg.

James Herman Ward died 25 August 1928 in Stantonsburg township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 June 1927 in Wilson County to Joe Ward of Greene County and Edith Winstead or Wilson County. he was buried in Bethel graveyard.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Joe Ward, 30, lumber company planer; wife Edith B., 22; and children Marie, 4, and Mildred, 2 months.

In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Amanda Williams, 63, widow, domestic, and grandchildren William, 15, and Edward Jones, 11, and Marie, 14, Mildred, 10, Braxton, 9, and Preston Ward, 6.

Amanda Williams died 24 December 1955 in Stantonsburg township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 May 1883 in Pitt County to Isaac Winstead and Jane Winstead and was a widow. Informant was Edith Ward, Stantonsburg.

Joseph Ward died 19 September 1971 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 5 May 1896 to Perry Ward and Cherry Speight; was married to Edith Ward; lived at 919 Poplar Street, Wilson; and his informant was Mildred Kirby, 125 Powell Street, Wilson.

Funeral program courtesy of Lisa R.W. Sloan. 

Larceny by negresses?

As usual, the 15 January 1924 Wilson Times mined the police blotter to publish titillating filler stories of alleged criminal activity by African-Americans. Here, two black women were arrested and charged with robbing “a Greek” of seventeen dollars. The women had proclaimed innocence, but a search netted $4.30 “concealed in the hair of Naoma.”

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Just below this clip, in the same column, another article — whose title and subtitle consumed as many column inches as the body of the piece — detailed the heavy penalty Mayor Silas R. Lucas imposed upon Norman Roberson for nearly running over a police officer and then cursing the officer out. And then, bizarrely, a paragraph setting out the follow-up to the charge above: “Mamie Roberson and Naomi Bryant, two negro women, charged with robbing Mike Greek were found not guilty and dismissed.”


Wilson Times, 15 January 1924.

  • Mamie Roberson — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 506 Smith Street, widow Grace Roberson, 32; her cousin Mamie Roberson, 16; and roomer Annie M. Barnes, 16, tobacco factory laborer; all born in South Carolina.
  • Naomi Bryant
  • Norman Roberson — possibly the Norman Robertson, 24, son of Edward and Cherry Robertson of Suffolk, Virginia, who married Dora Hines, 20, daughter of James and Mary Hines, on 10 August 1914. Free Will Baptist minister Robert Dickins performed the ceremony at a Green Street location in the presence of Dock Barnes, Martin Cofield, and John Williams.

Mortality schedule, no. 5: Taylors township, 1870.

Each of the United States federal censuses from 1850 to 1880 included a mortality schedule enumerating individuals who had died in the previous year previous. Each entry noted the decedent’s family number in the population schedule, name, age, sex, color, marital status, place of birth, month of death, occupation, and cause of death.

Here is a detail from the 1870 mortality schedule for Taylor township, Wilson County:

  • Taylor, Milbry. Age 29, farm laborer, died in November, [illegible] fever.

In the 1870 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farm laborer James Taylor, 56; wife Charity, 61; and Delphia Taylor, 21; Jeremiah, 9, and Cornelious Person, 5; and Wesley, 4, and Henry Taylor, 4 months.

Studio shots, no. 142: Minnie Locus Winstead.

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Minnie Locus Winstead (1895-1985).


In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Henry Locus, 36; wife Ida, 30; and children Minnie, 13, Joseph, 11, Lou, 9, Davis, 7, and Willie, 5.

Clarence Winstead, 20, of Nash County, son of Will and Mattie Winstead, married Minnie Locus, 18, daughter of Henry and Ida Locus, on 3 December 1914 in Taylors township. Baptist minister William Rodgers performed the ceremony in the presence of J.T. White, Eddie Farmer and Rosa B. White.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Clance Winstead, 22; wife Minnie, 23; and children William, 4, and Madie, 1.

In the 1930 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farm laborer Clarence Winstead, 35; wife Minnie, 38; and children William, 15, and Madie, 11.

In the 1940 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Clarence Winstead, 42; wife Minnie, 44; and adopted son Robert Featherson, 14.

Photo courtesy of Ancestry user cclemmiles.