Work Life

Looping.

In this undated photograph, probably taken in the 1930s or ’40s, shows children and adults — four African-American — looping, or tying green tobacco leaves to sticks for drying.

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, reprinted in Keith Barnes’ The World’s Greatest Tobacco Market: A Pictorial History of Tobacco in Wilson, North Carolina (2007).

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).

“Work’s never hurt me”: The life of Willie R. Barnes.

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Wilson Daily Times, 24 April 1995.

In the spring of 1995, the Daily Times profiled Willie Roscoe Barnes, 84, long-time proprietor of Wardrobe Cleaners. He passed away the following year.

Highlights:

  • Willie R. Barnes began working at Wardrobe in 1923, when he was 13 years old.
  • He was an only child whose mother died when he was 6. His paternal grandmother reared him.
  • He attended Wilson Colored Graded School through third grade, then he “had to get out of there and go to work.” He first delivered groceries for H.W. Baxter’s store at Pender and Nash Streets. His second job was in a wood yard. He then went to work for Jim Barbour, whose Wardrobe Cleaners was across the street from Baxter’s.
  • At age 18, Barnes started dry-cleaning clothes. He eventually married Barbour’s widow.
  • He served in Morocco and Italy during World War II and at one point was assigned to guard Winston Churchill in Marrakech.
  • After the war, Barnes returned to Wilson, and he and his wife built a new facility on one of eight lots they owned on Elvie Street. The new cleaners faced Pender.
  • After his first wife died, he married a woman named Clementine. They live in a house they built on Elvie adjacent to the cleaners.
  • He scorned the quality and durability of modern fabrics.
  • He took up golf and joined the advisory board of Wedgewood Golf Course.
  • Long-time neighbor and customer Bertha H. Carroll noted that Barnes believed in helping people.
  • Long-time friend Herbert Woodard Sr., 87, said he and Barnes shared an interest in sports going back to the 1930s, often traveling to New York together to watch prize fights and the Yankees.

——

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1005 Atlantic, owned and valued at $2000, Nancey Barber, 30, widow and presser at pressing club; son James D., 14; widowed mother Linna Carroll, 63; and lodger Willie Barnes, 21, tobacco factory cooper.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1005 Atlantic, pool room owner Daniel Carroll, 27; wife Lenora, 24, sewing; widowed mother Lina, 76; sister Nannie Barber, 40, owner of pressing club; her son James Barber, 23, presser at pressing club; and roomer Willie Barnes, 28, pressing club tailor.

On 7 January 1957, Willie R. Barnes, 47, parents unknown, married Clementine Rogers, 46, daughter of Will and Carrie Rogers, in Wilson.

  • “grandmother” — Henrietta Farmer Lloyd died 16 December 1961 at Mercy Hospital. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 August 1886; her parents were unknown; she resided at Barnes Rest Home, 626 East Vance; and she was a widow. Informant was Willie R. Barnes, 732 Elvie Street.
  • Jim Barbour — James Daniel Barbour died 23 September 1959 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 19 September 1915 in Wilson County to James Barbour and Nannie Carroll; never married; resided at 1005 Atlantic Street; worked as a presser at Wardrobe Cleaners; and was a World War II veteran. Informant was Daniel Carroll, 715 Elvie Street.
  • “Barbour’s widow” — Barnes did not Barbour’s widow at all, but his mother Nannie Barbour (and per James Barbour’s World War II draft registration, she owned Wardrobe Cleaners.) Nannie Barbour Barnes died 13 April 1956 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 7 October 1897 in Henderson, North Carolina, to Daniel Carroll and Lina Coppedge; and worked in dry cleaning. The informant was Willie R. Barnes, 1005 Atlantic.
  • Clementine Rogers Barnes
  • Bertha H. Carroll — Bertha Bryant Hawkins Carroll’s husband Daniel Carroll was the brother of Willie Barnes’ wife Nannie Barbour Barnes.
  • Herbert Woodard Sr.

Willie R. Barnes registered for the World War II draft in 1940.

I do like they done.

Martha Ann Tyson Dixon of DeValls Bluff, Arkansas, sat for an interview with a Federal Writers Project worker in the late 1930s. Dixon had spent her childhood enslaved near Saratoga, Wilson County, and she and her husband Luke D. Dixon had migrated west in the late 1880s. More than 50 years after Emancipation, she vividly described the hardships of life during and after slavery.

“I am eighty-one years old. I was born close to Saratoga, North Carolina. My mother died before I can recollect and my grandmother raised me. They said my father was a white man. They said Jim Beckton [Becton]. I don’t recollect him. My mother was named Mariah Tyson.

“I recollect how things was. My grandmother was Miss Nancy Tyson’s cook. She had one son named Mr. Seth Tyson. He run her farm. They et in the dining room, we et in the kitchen. Clothes and somethng to eat was scarce. I worked at whatever I was told to do. Grandma told me things to do and Miss Nancy told me what to do. I went to the field when I was pretty little. Once my uncle left the mule standing out in the field and went off to do something else. It come up a hard shower. I crawled under the mule. If I had been still it would have been all right but my hair stood up and tickled the mule’s stomach. The mule jumped and the plough hit me in my hip here at the side. It is a wonder I didn’t get killed.

“After the Civil War was times like now. Money scarce and prices high, and you had to start all over new. Pigs was hard to start, mules and horses was mighty scarce. Seed was scarce. Everything had to be started from the stump. Something to eat was mighty plain and scarce and one or two dresses a year had to do. Folks didn’t study about going so much.”

“I had to rake up leaves and fetch em to the barn to make beds for the little pigs in cold weather. The rake was made out of wood. It had hickory wood teeth and about a foot long. It was heavy. I put my leaves in a basket bout so high [three or four feet high.] I couldn’t tote it — I drug it. I had to get leaves in to do a long time and wait till the snow got off before I could get more. It seem like it snowed a lot. The pigs rooted the leaves all about in day and back up in the corners at night. It was ditched all around. It didn’t get very muddy. Rattle snakes was bad in the mountains. I used to tote water — one bucketful on my head and one bucketful in each hand. We used wooden buckets. It was a lot of fun to hunt guinea nests and turkey nests. When other little children come visiting that is what we would do. We didn’t set around and listen at the grown folks. We toted up rocks and then they made rows [terraces] and rock fences about the yard and garden. They looked so pretty. Some of them would be white, some gray, sometimes it would be mixed. They walled wells with rocks too. All we done or knowed was work. When we got tired there was places to set and rest. The men made plough stocks and hoe handles and worked at the blacksmith shop in snowy weather. I used to pick up literd [lightwood] knots and pile them in piles along the road so they could take them to the house to burn. They made a good light and kindling wood.

“They didn’t whoop Grandma but she whooped me a plenty.

“After the war some white folks would tell Grandma one thing and some others tell her something else.  She kept me and”

“cooked right on. I didn’t know what freedom was. Seemed like most of them I knowed didn’t know what to do. Most of the slaves left the white folks where I was raised. It took a long time to ever get fixed. Some of them died, some went to the cities, some up North, some come to the country. I married and come to Fredonia, Arkansas in 1889. I had been married since I was a young girl. But as I was saying the slaves still hunting a better place and more freedom. Grandma learnt me to set down and be content. We have done better out here than we could done in North Carolina but I don’t believe in so much rambling.

“We come on the passenger train and paid our own way to Arkansas. It was a wild and sickly country and has changed. Not like living in the same country. I try to live like the white folks and Grandma raised me. I do like they done. I think is the reason we have saved and have good a living as we got. We do on as little as we can and save a little for the rainy day.”

——

In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Nancy Scarborough, 47; Victoria, 10, Susan, 6, and Laurina Scarborough, 3; farm manager Seth Tyson, 23; and Julia, 18, Nancy, 17, Aaron, 15, and Abner Tyson, 13.

In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Mary Tyson, 62, with Edith, 23, John, 21, Abraham, 16, and Martha Tyson, 11.

In the 1880 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: Martha Tyson, 20, was a cook in the household of white marchant/farmer Mark Atkinson.

Martha Tyson, 26, married Luke Dixon, 26, in Wilson County on 12 February 1885. Minister E.H. Ward performed the ceremony in the presence of Charles Batts, Tempey Cotton and Green Taylor.

In the 1910 census of Watensaw township, Prairie County, Arkansas: Luke Dixon, 49, saw filer at Bar factory, and wife Martha M., 52.

In the 1920 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cedar Street, farmer Luke Dixon, 58; wife Martha, 59; and cousins Margaret Tyson, 14, and Oleo McClarin, 9.

In the 1930 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cypress Street, owned and valued at $2000, Luke D. Dixon, 70, born in Virginia, and wife Martha, 70, born in North Carolina, with cousin Allen Reaves, 8.

In the 1940 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cypress Street, owned and valued at $2000, Luke Dixon, 84, born in Virginia, and wife Martha A., 84, born in North Carolina.

Federal Writers’ Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 2, Arkansas, Part 2, Cannon-Evans, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mesn.022.

John Artis’ crop lien.

On 2 February 1907, A.P. Branch agreed to advance John Artis, colored, forty to fifty dollars in supplies “to enable me to make a crop” on the land on which he lived in Black Creek township rented from and owned by Nathan Bass. Artis agreed to raise twelve acres in cotton, nine acre in corn and four acres in tobacco and gave Branch a lien on his crop as well as a seven year-old black mare mule named Rody, a buggy and harness, an iron axle cart, and all his farming implements.

——

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Artis; wife Lucy, 40; children Nora, 10, John E., 15, Eliza, 13, Katie, 11, and Robert, 7; and nephew Luther, 23.

Deed book 72, page 191, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

A barbershop for sale.

In March 1906, Noah J. Tate, Walter S. Hines and Joshua L. Tabron executed a lease-purchase agreement with Richard Renfrow for the entire contents of a barber shop, including four “hydrantic” chairs, four mirrored cabinets, a barber pole and eight water bottles. These items were “packed in R.E. Hagan’s Shop on Barnes Street,” which Tate, Hines and Tabron had purchased. Renfrow agreed to pay three dollars a week, plus insurance and taxes on the property. After 132 payments, Renfrow would own the barber shop. He paid at an accelerated rate, and the debt was cancelled before the end of the year.

Unemployment fraud?

On 30 April 1938, the Pittsburgh Courier reported that three African-American Wilson women were facing fraud and misrepresentation charges connected with unemployment compensation applications. Though the details of their alleged crimes are not listed, the article notes that several others had recently been penalized after refusing employment in strawberry fields.

Pittsburgh Courier, 30 April 1938.

  • Maggie Rogers — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: perhaps, at 705 Dew Street, high school lunchroom cook Maggie Rogers, 40, and her sons Phillip Henry, 18, a tobacco factory laborer, Millard Jr., 16, and Coach V., 14.
  • Lena Kirby
  • Tiny Hobbs Jefferson — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: fertilizer plant laborer Tom Jefferson, 43; wife Tiny, 32; and children George, 12, Lena, 10, Tom Jr., 4, and Momynise, 2.

The Dardens secure their son’s start.

In March 1905, Charles H. and Diana Darden conveyed to their son Camillus L. Darden a one-quarter interest (with a life interest retained) in a lot on the south side of Nash Street “whereon is located the new shop and hall” in order to encourage his interest in a bicycle repair business. The elder Dardens also leased to C.L. Darden one-half of the first and second floors in the shop building. The lease was to continue year after year for five dollars per year as long as C.L. pursued his business. If C.L. ever wished to sell his interest in the property, his parents had right of first refusal to purchase it for $250.

Deed book 72, page 49, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

The graveyard artistry of Clarence Best, pt. 3.

I’ve written here of Clarence B. Best, the marble cutter whose custom gravestones can be found in cemeteries across Wilson County and beyond. Here’s more, all in Rest Haven cemetery.

  • Joseph Earl Mercer, died 1969. Apparently, a young man who loved cars.
  • Clifton L. Howard, died 1969. Best made gravestones affordable by offering customers damaged or repurposed markers such as this one, which appears to be the top portion of a larger piece.
  • Ruby M. Ellis Opie, died 1965, and Charles E. Ellis, died 1964. THEY WAS AN AFFECTIONATE SON & DAUGHTER.
  • Charlie H. Thomas, 1965. Modeled after the white marble markers provided by the military to veterans.
  • Johnnie G. Baker, died 1962. GOD LOVES LITTLE CHILDREN.
  • Rev. Nebraska H. Dickerson, died 1969. To his oft-used dogwood and cross motifs, Best added an open book.
  • Dora M. Hoskins, died 1963. Past Matron, Order of Eastern Star. DIEING IS BUT GOING HOME.
  • William Earl Artis, died 1961. Inclusion of his mother Cora Dawes’ name is unusual as is the near-italicization of the date lines.
  • James Powell, died 1939. DEAR FATHER. GOD FINGER TOUCHED HIM AND HE SLEPT.