Work Life

Blaming the coons.

Wilson Advance, 20 June 1889.

Josephus DanielsWilson Advance advanced a racist theory to explain why the Mount Olive Telegram was not receiving its courtesy copies of “brethren” newspapers — the appointment of African-American postal route agents, “coons … turned loose among loads of mail matter.” Alfred Robinson was one such agent.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

You had better get them back here on Monday.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 June 1942.

The end of the Depression did not curtail the power of employment offices over the bodies of African-American laborers. We saw protests in the late 1930s against workers being sent to toil in deplorable conditions in Duplin County strawberry fields.  In 1942, even tobacco barons were crying foul as the employment office shipped nearly 200 men, women, and children to Delaware to work in fields, despite a severe  farmworker labor shortage in Wilson County. “Suggestions pointing to the ‘drafting’ of farm and tobacco labor if the work could not be done on a voluntary basis were made at the meeting.”

Chester Woodard participates in corn variety test.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 May 1940.


In the 1920 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County, N.C.: farmer Johnie Woodard, 28; wife Emma Line, 29; and children Marvin, 6, Chester, 4, and Mary Adell, 21 months.

In the 1930 census of Gardners, Wilson County: farmer Johnie Woodard, 47; wife Emma L., 45; children Marvin, 18, Chester, 16, Adell, 14, Vernell[Vernon] L., 12, Jounes [Junius], 10, and Sherman W., 6; and lodger John McCory, 28.

In the 1940 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: widow Emiline Woodard, 48, farmer, and children Marvin, 26, farmer, Chester, 24, farmer, Mary, 21, beautician, Vornal, 19, Junious, 15, Helen G., 9, Bennie J., 6, and Thurman, 12.

In 1940, Chester B. Woodard registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his draft registration, he was born 5 August 1915 in Greene County, N.C.; lived at R.F.D. #4, Wilson; his contact was Emiline Woodard, mother; and was employed by Emiline Woodard.

The Daily Times’ Negro news carriers.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 April 1944.

The news carrier “boys” included a girl, Susan Moody.

  • Teddy Jenkins
  • Robert Barnes
  • Willie Lee Smith
  • Navarro Artis
  • James Delaney — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: WPA bricklayer George Delany, 46; wife Marian, 39; and children Lewis, 18, Willie, 15, Joyce, 12, Ray, 9, James D., 8, Ruby, 4, and Fred, 2.
  • William Farmer
  • Willie Jones
  • Charles Moody — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 410 Daniel Street, Charlie Moody, 38, W.P.A. laborer; wife Martha, 36, laundress; and children Magnolia, 17, Susie G., 14, and Charlie Jr., 12; and mother-in-law Susan Lipscomb, 56.
  • Edward Harris — probably Edward K. Harris, son of Benjamin and Pauline Artis Harris.
  • Susan Moody — see above.
  • Evander Barnes
  • Winford Lee Morgan — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 611 Spring, James Morgan, 34; wife Addie May, 29; son Winford Lee, 9; mother-in-law Eunice Lara Fisher, 55, widow; and cousin Ruth Richard, 14.
  • Billie Dew
  • James Spivey
  • Willie Blue
  • Pete Bryant
  • Joseph Knight
  • Joseph Hunter

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

The obituary of Junius Peacock, barber.

Wilson Daily Times, April 1935.

“The cemetery here” was Odd Fellows. Lane Street Project volunteers found Junius W. Peacock‘s grave marker during Season 1 of our cleanups.

[Personal sidenote: Peacock worked for and with my grandfather Roderick Taylor Sr. at Coley & Taylor and Walter Hines barbershops.]

If the newspaper is going to attack these poor, helpless people …

Though strawberry picking is now regarded as a quaint pastime, suitable for Instagrammable photos of one’s toddlers, North Carolina’s strawberry fields were a labor battleground in the late 1930s.

We read here of three African-American Wilson women who were ruled in April 1938 to have committed fraud and misrepresentation for seeking unemployment benefits after refusing offers to pick strawberries.

A month later, the Daily Times reported a “mass strike” by potential pickers — more than 400 unemployed Black men and women who refused to accept job offers working in strawberry fields. When these workers filed for unemployment, they were charged with fraud and tried in mass hearings at which they faced fines and denial of benefits. “‘They seem to feel,’ said Herbert Petty, manager of the [employment] branch office [in Wilson], ‘that they would rather get $4 from us for not working than they would $10 a week by working for it.'” When asked what people would do without unemployment relief, Petty snapped: “‘They got along all right this time last year when they couldn’t get this insurance.”

The spring of 1939 saw the protest reemerge. Per the April 10 edition of the Daily Times, the Wilson employment office sent out a “hurry call” for strawberry pickers, who would be sent to fields near Warsaw and Wallace in Duplin County, 50 to 80 miles south of Wilson. The report noted that there was “nothing mandatory” about the first few calls for laborers, but later in the season the employment office might be “forced” to draft pickers from the ranks of applicants for unemployment. If this happened, and applicants refused to go, “official action would be taken against them.”

In response to Times columnist John G. Thomas’ dismissive takes on the motives and concerns of African-American laborers, Willis E. Prince submitted for publication this remarkable rebuke.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 April 1939.

Who was Willis Ephraim Prince? In 1939, he was a 53 year-old self-employed carpenter and bar owner who had spent a decade living in Philadelphia and New York City and whose financial independence allowed him to raise his voice in protest without fear of repercussion. Just as importantly, he was the son of Turner Prince.

In 1865, formerly enslaved men and women settled on the flats just across the Tar River from Tarboro; they called their community Freedom Hill. Pitt County-born freedman named Turner Prince (1842-1912) and his wife, Sarah Foreman Prince, soon arrived in the community. Prince, a carpenter, constructed houses and other buildings throughout Freedom Hill and involved himself in local Republican politics. In recognition of his leadership and literal community-building, Freedom Hill residents chose the name Princeville when the town was incorporated in 1885, the first town in North Carolina (and probably the United States) incorporated by African-Americans.


In the 1900 census of Tarboro township, Edgecombe County: carpenter Turner Prince, 58; wife Sarah, 54; children Laura, 18, Sarah J., 16, Willis E., 14, and Jonas A., 11; and granddaughter Lucy Lloyd, 9.

On 21 August 1907, William Prince married Gertrude Pittmon in Manhattan.

In the 1910 census of Manhattan, New York, New York: at 165 West 72nd, William P. Prince, 24, born in N.C., janitor at apartment house, and wife Gertrude P., 30, born in N.C., housekeeper at apartment house.

On 6 June 1912, shortly before he died, Turner Prince made out a will whose provisions included: “I give, devise and bequeath to Ephraim Prince my son & Susie Gray my grandchild the house in which we now live. Ephraim is to have full possession of said house during the minority of said Susie Gray and in return contribute to her support. If at any time he should discontinue to do so, then he shall forfeit ($50.00) Fifty Dollars to my estate, the amount forfeited to be used for the benefit of said Susie Gray. If Susie Gray should die before maturity then said property shall revert to Ephraim in full. Otherwise he is to pay Susie Gray $50.00 upon her becoming of age, and he come in full possession of said property.”

In 1918, Willis Ephraim Prince registered for the World War I draft in Manhattan County, New York. Per his registration card, he was born 22 January 1886; lived at 2470-7th Avenue, New York City; was an unemployed licensed engineer; and his nearest relative was wife Gertrude Prince.

On 22 November 1919, Willis E. Prince, 31, of Edgecombe County, son of Turner and Sarah Prince, married Marina White, 21, of Edgecombe County, daughter of Edgar and Marietta Wilkins, at the courthouse in Wilson.

In the 1920 census of Tarboro, Edgecombe County: on Tarboro Road, carpenter Willis Prince, 32; wife Marina, 21, teacher; and daughter Vivian, 8 months.

On 31 December 1920, Tarboro’s Daily Southerner reported the arrests of four men for stealing a safe from Willis Prince’s store in Tarboro.

On 21 November 1922, Willis Prince, 36, son of Turner and Sarah Prince, married Mary Gear, 36, daughter of Dan and Sarah Gear, in Wilson. A.M.E.Z. minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of Laura Peele, S.A. Coward, and Louise Cooper.

In the 1925 and 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories, Willis and Mary Prince are listed at addresses on Suggs Street.

Mary Prince died 14 November 1928 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 45 years old; was born in Wilson County to Daniel and Sarah Gier; was married to Willis Prince; and was buried in Rountree Cemetery. Alice Woodard was informant.

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at Chestnut Hill Hospital, Willis E. Prince, 49, boarder, porter at public hospital; born in North Carolina.

On 27 January 1934, Willis Prince, 47, son of Turner Prince and Sarah [maiden name not listed], married Alma Mae Hines, 29, daughter of Amos and Sarah Hines, in Wilson. C.E. Artis applied for the license, and A.M.E. Zion minister I. Albert Moore performed the ceremony in the presence of M.W. Hines, C.L. Darden, and A.M. Dupree.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Willis Prince, 54, carpenter/private contractor, and wife Allie, [blank].

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Prince Willis E (c; Ella M; Small Town Club) h 205 Stantonsburg

1941 Wilson, N.C., city directory.

The last will and testament of Willis E. Prince, 1947. Daniel McKeithen, Talmon Hunter, Dr. Kenneth Shade, S.P. Artis, and Daniel Carroll witnessed the document.

Willis Ephraim Prince died 2 October 1950 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 January 1889 in Edgecombe County to Turner Prince and Sarah [maiden name not listed]; was married to Allie Mae Prince; lived at 205 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; and worked as a merchant at his own business.

For more about Princeville, see here and here and here.

Where we worked: domestic service.

Through much of the 20th century, the overwhelming majority of African-American women in Wilson who worked outside their homes worked either as domestic servants or tobacco factory laborers. Mittie Clarke‘s death certificate identifies her employment precisely — she performed domestic work for Mrs. W.D. Adams.

Mittie Clark’s parents, Rhoden and Sarah Hill Clark, migrated to Wilson from Scotland Neck, Halifax County, North Carolina, circa the 1890s. Rhoden Clark was a mechanic; Sarah Clark, a laundress. Sarah Clark bought a lot on Green Street from Samuel H. Vick in 1898, and the family built a large house, signaling their ensconcement in East Wilson’s Black middle class. Maintaining their position required the contributions of all, however, and the 1900 census shows five of the seven Clark children, ranging from age 13 to 30, engaged in nursing (as in childcare — this was Mittie), dressmaking, laundry work, and work as waiters.

William D. Adams was president of Barnes-Harrell Company, Wilson’s Coca-Cola bottler. His wife, Bess Hackney Adams, was a granddaughter of Willis N. Hackney, founder of Hackney Brothers Body Company.

[Note that Mittie Clark was buried in Rountree Cemetery. This may indicate Rountree, in fact, but more likely Odd Fellows or Vick Cemeteries. No grave markers for her or her family members have been found to date.]

Snaps, no. 97: Carrie Walker Blackston.

Carrie Walker Blackston (1897-1972), standing in front of the Parker-Kerbo home at 104 Ash Street.

Jerilyn James Lee provided this photo of her maternal grandmother, Carrie Walker Blackston, who worked for decades at Lucille’s Bridal Shop in Wilson. Says Lee, Lucille’s “was the premier bridal shop for eastern North Carolina, and practically every white bride of social standing within a hundred miles bought their debutante and wedding dresses from Lucille’s. My grandmother Carrie was the head seamstress there for decades from the late ’40’s until the early ’70’s, not just for alterations and fittings, but she designed several dresses on her own. She had earned the right as an elder to be called Miss Carrie by young white customers in a time when that was uncommon. Sadly, it was also at a time in history when Black women could work there, but not shop there until the late 1960’s. She was always beautifully dressed herself, and sharp as nails….”
On 18 July 1909, James Blackston, 24, of Johnston County, son of Pleasant A. and Charity Blackston, married Katie [sic] Walker, 21, of Wayne County, daughter of Nelson and Jane Walker, at Nelson Walker’s residence in Brogden township, Wayne County, North Carolina.
In 1918, James William Blackston registered for the World War I draft in Sampson County, North Carolina. Per his registration card, he was born 21 March 1885; lived at R.F.D. 1, Duplin County, North Carolina; was farming for himself in Piney Grove township, Sampson County; and his nearest relative was Kattie [sic] Bell Blackston.
In the 1920 census of Brogden township, Wayne County: on Smith Chapel and Faison Road, farmer Jim Blackston, 35; wife Katie [sic], 30; and children Lee, 12, Pleasant N., 10, Wiam, 6, James H., 4, Alfonso, 2, Ila, 1, and Christine, 4 months.
In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Raleigh Road, James Blackston, 50; wife Katie B. [sic], 40; and children Pleasant N., 18, William J., 17, James H., 15, Alfonzer, 13, Ila M., 11, Christine, 9, Hilton [Hilda] R., 8, James Jr., 6, A.C., 4, and L.Z., 3.
In 1943, Albert Charles Blackston registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 20 February 1925 in Wilson; lived at 113 Narroway Street; his nearest relative was mother Carrie Walker Blackston, 113 Narroway; and he was unemployed.
In 1945, Louis Zebelon Blackston registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 1 December 1927 in Wilson; lived at 113 Narroway Street; his nearest relative was Carrie Blackston, 113 Narroway; and he worked for Mansfield Paper Company, Wilson.
Carrie Blackston died 9 October 1972 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 April 1897 to Nelson Walker and Jane Kornegay; was widowed; and lived at 406 South Daniel Street. Hilda B. Forbes was informant.

Thanks you, Jerilyn James Lee!