Work Life

The twin Gastons.

Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 10.10.33 PM.png

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.

White people surprised by colored fair.

img.jpg

Wilmington Morning Star, 30 December 1913.

The white people may have been surprised, but this was not the first “colored fair” in Wilson. The Wilson County Industrial Association, headed by Samuel H. Vick, sponsored fairs as early as 1887 and 1888. Politician and newspaper editor John C. Dancy was a featured speaker at the 1888 event, too.

Killed in sawmill.

Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 7.31.33 PM.png

Fayetteville Observer, 26 October 1921.

Bob Speight was also known as Bob Hill. A Greene County native, he was 17 years old at his death.

Perhaps due to confusion created by his use of alternate surnames, Robert Hill, alias Speight, has two death certificates. Bob Hill’s document notes that an epileptic seizure contributed to the saw mill accident that killed him. Odie Speight acted as informant and undertaker, and W.B. Wooten signed the certificate at filing.

Robert Speight’s certificate does not mention an underlying medical event. Jessie Speight was informant, and, curiously, C.H. Darden & Son signed as undertaker. There is no registrar’s signature.

Negro doing well in the North.

During one of his annual visits home to Wilson, the News & Observer published a short feature on Silas Alexander Artis, who had once worked turning the power press at the Wilson Daily Times., a paper once operated by N.&O. founder Josephus Daniels. After leaving the paper, Artis attended Brick Agricultural, Industrial and Normal Institute in northern Edgecombe County before migrating North.

img.jpg

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 22 June 1922.

Was Silas A. Artis the son of Fereby Barnes Artis Barnes and her first husband, Benjamin Artis? If so, in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Willis Barnes, 60; [his second] wife Fereby, 51; and [Fereby’s] children Morris, 20, Artis [sic], 16, Silas, 14, Wade, 12; and Fereby’s mother Rose Barnes, 50. (Though the surname of Fereby’s children was listed as Barnes, it was in fact Artis.)

In 1917, S. Alexander Artis registered for the World War I draft in New Haven, Connecticut. Per his registration card, he was born 4 July 1886 in New Orleans, Louisiana; resided at 171 Dixwell Street, New Haven; worked as a stationary fireman for Cauder Rubber Company, New Haven; and had “defective eyes.”

In the 1920 census of New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut: at 58 Hudson Street, rubber shop fireman Silas A. Artis, 34, born in Connecticut; wife Baptiste, 38; daughters Sila, 2, and Frances, 1; and Pearley Reeves, 24.

In the 1930 census of New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut: at 647 Orchard Street, houseman Silas A. Artis, 44, born North Carolina; wife Baptiste, 50; and daughters Sila, 13, and Frances, 11.

In 1942, Silas A. Artis registered for the World War II draft in New Haven. Per her registration card, he was born 4 July 1886 in Wilson, N.C.; lived at 9 Northeast Drive, New Haven; worked for City of New Haven Park Department; and his contact was Sila A. Artis, 9 Northeast.

Silas A. Artis died in New Haven, Connecticut, on 13 August 1977.

New Haven Independent, 5 May 2009.

Hines brothers’ barber shops.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1947.

In addition to his business and real estate interests, William Hines for decades served as secretary-treasurer and general administrator of Mercy Hospital. This photograph, which probably dates from the mid-1950s, depicts Hines flanked by Helen James, nursing director, and Anna Burgess Johnson, hospital board member. Photo courtesy of O.N. Freeman Round House and Museum.

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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.57.32 PM.png

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.

img-13.jpeg

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.

img-14.jpeg

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 new Darden Memorial.

201903061916455273.jpg

Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1949.

“Established in 1875, the Darden Memorial Funeral Home has given Wilson almost 75 years of continuous service, and with the occupation of its new building is now prepared to render even more efficient service in the future.

“The new building, which boasts the most modern conveniences, is designed to provide beautiful and comforting funeral service, and includes the slumber room, a chapel and a large casket display room.”

——

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: 608-610 East Nash Street, “1949; 2 stories; (former) Darden Funeral Home; brick-veneered Tudor Revival structure with hip-roof and half-timber decor on upper story; building replaced earlier funeral home on this site established by Charles H. Darden, North Carolina’s first black licensed mortician.”

The building has been demolished.

 

The obituary of Hercules Hill Hinnant.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 10.21.55 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 22 June 1934.

——

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: garden laborer Joe Hill, 71, and wife Annie, 68, housemaid; daughter Elizabeth Hinnant, 23, laundress; son-in-law Frank, 37, store drayman; grandson Hercules, 1 month; daughter Estell Hill, 20, cook; son-in-law(?) Lela Hill, 16, laundress; son-in-law Edgar Barnes, 20, odd jobs laborer, and daughter Mary, 19, laundress.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Mercer Street, widow Louise Hinyard, 58; son Frank, 34, hardware store truck driver; daughter-in-law Elizabeth, 31, tobacco factory worker; and grandson Hercules, 10.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 306 Pender Street, rented for $20/month, widow Anna Hill, 75, private maid; grandson Herkie Lee Hill, 19, drugstore deliveryman; lodgers Willie Bryant, 18, bicycle shop laborer, and Elixandora Sharp, 21, barbershop bootblack; roomer John Sharp, 13; and granddaughter Rosa Simmons, 17, laundress.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hinnant Hercules (c; porter) 306 N Pender

Per his death certificate, Hercules Hinnant died 17 June 1934 in Wilson. He was born 21 August 1910 to Frank Hinnant and Elizabeth Hill; resided at 306 Pender; was single; and worked as a laborer.

  • Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church
  • Rev. I. Albert Moore
  • Rev. B.F. Jordan — Benjamin F. Jordan.
  • Rev. Eddie Cox
  • Rountree cemetery
  • Wilson Drug Company — per the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Wilson Drug Company was at 114 South Tarboro Street.
  • Miller Drug Company — the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Miller’s Drug Store was at 200 East Nash.
  • Samuel Robinson
  • Willie Bryant — see above.
  • Mack Sharpe — probably, in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Katie Sharpe, 37; and children Harvey, 21, Willard, 19, Ernest, 17, Samson and Gladys T., 15, Nellie, 13, Alexander, 11, Kathryn, 9, Mack, 6, and John, 4.
  • Freeman Ennis — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 904 Viola, rented for $15/month, Maggie Ennis, 45, sons Freeman, 22, barbershop bootblack, and Ennis, 12, daughter Hennie, 10; and roomer Julus Barnes, 27, Hackney body plant laborer.
  • Samuel Farmer
  • Willie Neale — probably, in the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, Jaushue Neal, 45; wife Pearcy, 39; and children Willie, 18, Louise, 16, Mattie, 13, Essie M., 12, and Charlie, 11.

 

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.