Work Life

Shelling corn.

In the summer of 1938, “Baker” photographed farming scenes across North Carolina for the state Department of Conservation and Development. In July, he captured in quick succession two images of a small group of white and African-American men and boys shelling corn on a farm “near Wilson.”

Close-ups of the two photographs: 

Shelling Corn near Wilson July 1938, Department of Conservation and Development, Travel Information Division Photographs 1937-1973, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh.

It wasn’t just wages we wanted.

On this Labor Day, I bring you “It Wasn’t Just Wages We Wanted, But Freedom”: The 1946 Tobacco Leaf House Workers Organizing in Eastern North Carolina, a compilation of all known scholarship related to the Tobacco Workers International Union and Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers’ mass organizing campaign. The campaign secured union contracts at more than 30 leaf houses, and workers engaged in voter registrations and political action that presaged the civil rights movement a decade later. 

In an introduction to the first edition, Phoenix Historical Society’s Jim Wrenn noted, “This movement began as early as March 1946 when three workers at Export Leaf in Wilson — Aaron Best, Harvey Moore and Chester Newkirk — met with TWIU organizer Dr. R.A. Young … at Best’s home on East Nash Street in Wilson. This meeting led to the establishment of TWIU Local 259 at Export Leaf, the leading tobacco local in Wilson. Best became its first president, Moore its first secretary and Newark its first treasurer. Local 259 members reached out to workers at five other Wilson leaf houses, who were organized as Locals 260, 268, 270, 271, and 272. Today, Local 259 has been absorbed into local 270, the last surviving union local of the 1946 movement.”

The work was published by the Phoenix Historical Society, an organization devoted to the preservation of the African American history of Edgecombe County, and I purchased this copy directly from them.

Where we worked, 1922 — S.

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 fourteenth 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.

  • Sams, Hattie, tobacco worker, 907 Mercer
  • Sams, Lucinda, tobacco worker, 907 Mercer
  • Sanctious, John, laborer, 210 Finch
  • Sanders, Branch, laborer, 916 Washington Av
  • Sanders, Daniel, laborer, 916 Washington Av
  • Sanders, Luther, porter, Gilmer’s Inc, 307 Pender
  • Sanders, Mark, porter, The Mayflower, 916 Washington Av
  • Sanders, Maryland, domestic, 127 Narroway
  • Sanders, Richard, laborer, 916 Washington Av
  • Saunders, Ashley, laborer, 211 Finch
  • Saunders, Cora, cook, 206 Sunshine Alley
  • Saunders, Lena, laundress, 211 Finch
  • Savage, Anna, cook, 400 Stantonsburg Rd
  • Scarboro, James, painter, 913 E Vance
  • Scott, John, farmer, 1110 Woodard Av
  • Selby, James, tobacco workers, 311 Hackney
  • Sellers, James, bricklayer, 700 E Vance
  • Sellers, William, carpenter, 700 E Vance
  • Shadd, Sue, cook, 300 Broad
  • Shade, Isaiah [Isaac] A., proprietor Shade’s Pharmacy, 524 E Nash
  • Shade’s Pharmacy, 525 E Nash, I.A. Shade, proprietor
  • Sharp, Katie, laundress, 916 Robinson [Roberson]
  • Sharp, Minnie, domestic, 716 E Green
  • Sharp, Wiley, tobacco worker, 716 E Green
  • Shaw, Ella, teacher, 308 Hackney
  • Shoulder, Burrell, ice puller, 295 W Gold
  • Simmons, Olivia, cook, 513 Railroad
  • Simmons, Rosa, tobacco worker, 513 Railroad
  • Simms, Alonzo, laborer, 509 Stantonsburg Rd
  • Simms, Mack, laborer, 1004 Robinson [Roberson]
  • Simms, Mary, tobacco worker, 509 Stantonsburg Rd
  • Simms, William, laborer, 1105 E Nash
  • Simms, Zelpha, laundress, 1007 Robinson [Roberson]
  • Simon, Jack, laborer, 406 N Pine
  • Simpson, Fannie, cook, 603 E Nash
  • Sims, Carey, freight hand, 408 E Walnut
  • Sims, Frances, tobacco worker, 106 Manchester
  • Sims, George, laborer, 200 Manchester
  • Sims, Wiley, laborer, 507 S Mercer
  • Singletary, Mary, cook,  605 W Nash
  • Singletary, Samuel, tobacco worker, 510 Church
  • Singletary, Walter, porter, 605 W Nash
  • Small, James, barber W.S. Hines, 307 Elba
  • Smith, Adeline, laundress, 1008 Woodard Av
  • Smith, Alice, domestic, rear 408 Whitley
  • Smith, Andrew, laborer, 613 Wiggins
  • Smith, Annie, domestic, 209 Manchester
  • Smith, Augustus, fireman, 605 Darden Alley
  • Smith, Benjamin, tobacco worker, 525 Smith
  • Smith, Caroline, domestic, 914 Robinson [Roberson]
  • Smith, Delia, tobacco worker, 504 E Walnut
  • Smith, Della, domestic, 408 S Bruton
  • Smith, Edward, laborer, 408 N Pine
  • Smith, Ella, laundress, 313 Pender
  • Smith, Ethel, domestic, 502 Grace
  • Smith, Kate, domestic, 808 Mercer
  • Smith, Lena, tobacco worker, 613 Wiggins
  • Smith, Lonnie, tobacco worker, 413 S Goldsboro
  • Smith, Lucy, tobacco worker, 203 S Railroad
  • Smith, Mack, laborer, 521 S Lodge
  • Smith, Mamie, tobacco worker, 910 E Nash
  • Smith, Mary, cook, 311 S Goldsboro
  • Smith, Mary, domestic, 110 Ashe
  • Smith, Mary J., laundress, 410 E Hines
  • Smith, Millard, carpenter, 504 E Walnut
  • Smith, Mittie, domestic, 507 Hadly
  • Smith, N.B., Rev., pastor Seventh Day Adventist Church 532 E Nash
  • Smith, Nancy, cook, 217 Broad
  • Smith, Owen L.W., Rev., 200 Pender
  • Smith, Sandy, bricklayer, 417 S Goldsboro 
  • Solomon, Julian, presser, 111 N Pettigrew
  • Sowers, William, porter, 217 Stantonsburg Rd
  • Speight, Junius, laborer, 511 Stantonsburg Rd
  • Speight, Rebecca, domestic, 700 E Green
  • Spell, John S., carpenter, 204 Pender
  • Spells, Nancy, cook, 508 S Lodge
  • Spicer, Lila, domestic, 809 E Nash
  • Spikes, Edgar, factory hand, 213 E Spruce
  • Staffet, John, tobacco worker, 811 Robertson [Roberson]
  • Stallion, Georgia, cook, 518 Banks
  • Stanback, H.S., cashier, The Commercial Bank of Wilson, 600 E Green
  • Stantonsburg Street Public School, Stantonsburg Rd, E.J. Hayes principal
  • Staton, Ida, domestic, 702 Suggs
  • Staton, Josie, tobacco worker, 812 Robinson [Roberson]
  • Staton, Mollie, laundress, 703 Suggs
  • Steadman, Elvina, domestic, 212 S Vick
  • Steadman, John J., tobacco worker, 212 S Vick
  • Steadman, Necie, laundress, 212 S Vick
  • Stephens, James, factory hand, 510 S Goldsboro
  • Strickland, Jesse, proprietor Strickland Cafe, 504 S Lodge
  • Strong, Lyman D., barber, 505 Viola
  • Studaway, Wyatt, grocer 112 1/2 Manchester, 112 Manchester
  • Suggs, Alexander, laborer, 409 Stantonsburg Rd
  • Surles, Rosa, laundress, 211 Stantonsburg Rd
  • Sutton, George, student, 304 E Walnut
  • Sutton, James, laborer, 805 Stantonsburg Rd
  • Sutton, May, tobacco worker, 304 E Walnut

Snaps, no. 73: Jake Mitchell.

Jane Cooke Hawthorne shared these beautiful images of Jake Mitchell shot by her father, dentist (and photographer) Charles Cooke, in 1973. Mitchell was houseman and later chauffeur to generations of tobacconist Howell G. Whitehead III’s family.





In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: George Mitchel, 23, day laborer; wife Rosa, 23; and children William, 2, and George, 1.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer George Mitchell, 29; wife Rosa, 30; and children George, 11, Bunyan, 9, Frank L., 5, Albert and Alton, 3, and Rosa, 1.

On 8 November 1922, Jake Mitchell, 21, son of George and Rosa Mitchell, married Mandy Lucus, 19, daughter of Wyatt and Elizabeth Lucus, in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Jeremiah Scarboro performed the ceremony “on Daniel Hill” in the presence of Della Smith, George Thorne and James Blake.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Jake Mitchell, 27, farmer; wife Manda, 28; and children Jake T., 3, and Jewell D. [Geraldine], 1.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 410 Warren Street, W.P.A. cement finisher Jake Mitchel, 38; wife Mamie, 39, cook; and children Jake, 13, Jeraldine, 11, and Edna Gray, 9.

In 1942, Jake Mitchell registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 12 October 1903 in Wilson; lived at 410 Warren Street, Wilson; his contact was George Mitchell, Finch Street; and he worked for tobacco dealer H.G. Whitehead at 505 West Nash Street.

Both Jake and Amanda Locus Mitchell worked in the Whitehead household. In 1953, Nolia G. and Howell G. Whitehead transferred to the Mitchells a house and lot at 810 West Walnut Street, in Daniel Hill.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 October 1953.

Three years later, realtor George T. Stronach Jr. and his wife Nancy C. sold the Mitchells a lot on Queen Street, in East Wilson.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 December 1956.

The following spring, Jake Mitchell secured a building permit to erect a five-room brick house on the Queen Street lot.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 March 1957.

Rosa Mitchell died 6 April 1959 at 335 Finch Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 16 May 1883  in Wilson County to Stephen Lipkins [Lipscomb] and Mariah (last name unknown) and was a widow. Jake Mitchell was informant.

in 1960, under the terms of Nola Gardner Whitehead’s will, Jake and Mandy Mitchell received bequests of $500 each as well as a 1950 Buick.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 March 1960.

Jake Mitchell died 8 June 1975 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 October 1900 to George Mitchell and Rosa Libson [Lipscomb]; was married to Amanda Locus; lived at 1305 Queen Street; and was a chauffeur.


Jake Mitchell reminisced about running dogs for P.L. Woodard, merchant and president of Contentnea Guano Company.

Many thanks to Jane Cooke Hawthorne!

A tree fell on him.

Wilson Daily Times, 8 February 1944.


In the 1870 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Peyton Vick, 29; wife Ellen, 21; children Henry, 11, Riley, 9, Roxana, 3, and Isadora, 2; and Zady Mercer, 58.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Peyton Vick, 24; wife Ellen, 24; and children Rily, 18, Roxie, 13, Isadora, 12, Lou C., 10, Defada, 8, Sablaska, 6, Investa, 4, and Invoida, 1.

On 27 October 1887, Jerry Parker, 21, of Wilson County, married Roxey Vick, 22, of Wilson County, at Paton Vick’s in Toisnot township.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Roxy Parker, 24, and children Joseph, 14, Minnie, 13, Elenn, 12, Armena, 11, Mathew, 10, and Defatie, 2.

On 19 April 1903, Charlie Hines, 40, of Wilson township, son of Wesley and Ollie Hines, married Rox Anna Parker, 40, of Wilson township, daughter of Payton and Ellen Vick. Elder B.W. Tippett, a Free Will Baptist minister, performed the ceremony in the presence of Stephen Strickland, Wm. H. Tippett, and H.F. Boswell, all of Elm City.

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) h Harper’s la nr Herring av

Seab Parker registered for the World War I draft in 1918 in Nash County, North Carolina. Per his registration card, he was born in March 1884; lived on Route 2, Elm City; farmed for J.W. Wells; and his nearest relative was Clora Parker.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lipscomb Road, widow Roxie Parker, 50, cook, and daughter Ellen, 21, farm laborer. Next door: William H. Knight, 22; wife Minnie, 24; brothers-in-law Cephus, 29, Menus, 22, and Mathew, 18; and lodgers Mary Saunders, 25, and her children Lebis, 10, and Lovie, 8.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) laundress h 731 Harper

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) laundress h 802 Viola

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 811 Viola, laundress Ellen Gay, 36; mother Roxanna Parker, 67; and nephew Matthew, 16.

In the 1940 census of Stoney Creek township, Nash County: in a prison camp, Sebe Parker, 65, residence Wilson County.

Charlie Seab Parker died 7 February 1944 in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 52 years old; was born in Wilson to Jerry Parker and Roxie Vick; worked as laborer for Evans Bros. Sawmill; and lived in Rocky Mount, Nash County.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 19 April 1944.

Roxie Parker died 8 August 1949 at her home at 616 Viola Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 April 1847 [likely, 20 years] in Edgecombe County to Hayden Vick and Ellen Jones and was a widow. Informant was Minus Parker.

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 August 1949.

Boiler explosion.

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“No Dr. Instantly killed and body badly mutilated, caused by explosion of boiler at pumping station.”

A fireman tends the fire for running of boilers, heating buildings, or powering steam engines. The job involves hard physical labor, including shoveling coal or wood into a boiler’s firebox, and is inherently dangerous.

I have been unable to locate additional information about Walter Brailey‘s life or death.

An abundance of good grazing.


Wilson Daily Times, 27 July 1944.


  • Henry Armstrong — in the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Henry Armstrong, 52; wife Minnie, 42; and children Mary, 19, Fred, 18, Rosa, 16, Clarence, 14, Nathan, 11, Daniel, 9, Louise, 8, David, 6, and Henry, 3.
  • Sugar Hill section — There is a Sugar Hill neighborhood on the western outskirts of the town of Simms and a Sugar Hill Road that runs just east of and parallel to Interstate 95 near the Nash County line. Neither is in Toisnot township. Henry Armstrong’s family’s land was east of Elm City near Edgecombe County. Can anyone pinpoint the location of Armstrong’s Sugar Hill? [Update, 7/28/2020: Jack Cherry identified Sugar Hill as a community along East Langley Road between Town Creek and Temperance Hall United Methodist Church (which is just across the line in Edgecombe County.) His great-grandfather operated a small general store and gas station at the heart of the community and lent his name to Cherry Chapel Baptist Church.]

Google Street View of the old Cherry’s Store.

Lightning strike kills two.

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Wilson Daily Times, 6 July 1926.

This article does not reveal the depths of this tragedy — FrankJames, and Herbert Barnes were brothers, and Herbert was only 17 years old.


  • Frank Barnes
  • James Barnes
  • Herbert Barnes

In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farm laborer Drew Barnes, 31; wife Stella, 26; and children John, 10, Wade, 6, Frank, 5, James, 3, Lula, 2, and Andrew, 5 months.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, farmer Andrew Barnes, 40; wife Estella, 37; and children John W., 20, Wade, 16, Frank, 15, James, 13, Lula,12, Andrew 10, Maggie, 8, Fransis, 6, Joseph, 4, Ella, 3, and Hubbard, 15 months.

In 1917, Frank Barnes registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 2 April 1895 in Wilson County; lived on R.F.D. #6, Wilson; was a laborer/farmhand for Drew Barnes; and was single. He signed his full name to the document.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Drue Barnes, 51; wife Stella, 49; and children Wade, 25, Frank, 23, James H., 22, Lula D., 21, Andrew, 20, Maggie, 18, Francis, 17, Hubert, 10, Lanciel, 7, and Estella, 5.

“Killed by Lightning while in field ploughing Death was sudden”

Hat tip to J. Robert Boykin III for passing along this article.