Work Life

Artis’ miracle.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 May 1939.

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In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg and Wilson Road, tenant farmer Willie Artis, 43; wife Francis, 43; children Alexander, 21, Harvie, 20, Willie Jr., 16, Nora E., 14, Marion, 11, Rosel, 9, Jessie, 8, Elcy, 5, and Johnie, 18; laborer Miles Warren, 40; and boarder Albert Thompson, 19.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg and Wilson Road, farmer Willie Artis, 53; wife Francis, 42; children Roselle, 19, Jesse, 18, and Elsie M., 15; lodger Myrs Warren, 50; and sister Beatrice Sauls, 19.

On 1 December 1934, Rozell Artis, 23, of Wilson County, son of Will and Frances Artis, married Rencie Bynum, 16, of Wilson County, daughter of William and Rosa Bynum, in Nashville, Nash County, North Carolina. Will Artis, William Bynum, and Frank Williams were witnesses.

Helen Jean Artis died 10 June 1939 in Wilson township [12 days after her father survived his lightning strike.] Per her death certificate, she was born 24 February 1939 in Wilson County to Rosell Artis and Rencie Bynum.

In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Old Wilson Road, farmer Roselle Artis, 27; wife Rencie, 20; son Milton, 4; mother Frances, 60, widow; nephews Marion Jr., 10, and Thomas S., 9;  lodgers Jimmie D. Barnes, 21, and Miles Warren, 60.

Roselle Artis registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 5 April 1911 in Wilson County; lived at Route 3, Wilson; his nearest contact was his wife Rencie Bynum Artis; and he worked for W.J. Davis, Wilson.

Jimmie Dee Barnes registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 6 January 1918 in Wilson County; lived at Route 3, Wilson; and his nearest contact was his employer Roselle Artis, Route 3, Wilson.

The death of Dock Royall.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 April 1938.

Dock Royall was a member of the Red Hots, an all-Black volunteer fire company. A World War I veteran, he worked as a mechanic for Hackney Body Company and died after being severely burned while trying to prime a truck motor.

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On August 10, 1928, Dockery Royall, 28, of Wilson, married Ossie Mae Jenkins, 25, of Wilson in Wilson. Baptist minister B.F. Jordan performed the ceremony in the presence of Lossie Jenkins, Flonnie Farmer, and Maggie Jordan. Walter M. Foster applied for the license.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 321 Hackney Street, rented at $12/month, Doc Royall, 34, body plant laborer, and wife Ossie May, 26, cook.

A lucky find.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 October 1925.

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On 31 January 1910, Fletcher Bowling, 34, of Wilson, married Lucy Barnes, 25, of Wilson, daughter of Rhoda Barnes, in Wilson. Holiness minister Leroy Wiggins performed the ceremony in the presence of William King, Bertha Wiggins, Lemuel Hargett, and Elder J.R. Beamon of Mount Olive.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Walnut Street, Fletcher Bowling, 34, and wife Lucy, 25.

George Fletcher Bowling registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1918. Per his registration card, he lived on Mercer Street, Wilson; was born 8 August 1975; worked as a plumber’s helper for J.R. Hinton, Tarboro Street; and his nearest relative was Maria Bowling, Simpsonville, Greenville County, South Carolina.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Fletcher Bowling, 45, plumber; wife Lucy, 40, tobacco factory laborer; and daughter Ruby, 18 months.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 508 Spruce Street, paying $16/month in rent, Fletcher Bowling, 54, city sewer laborer; wife Lucy, 54; and daughter Ruby, 12.

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: at 407 Spring Street Alley, Fletcher Bowling, 66; wife Lucy, 56; daughter-in-law Ruby Powell, 22, retrying tobacco factory laborer; and grandchildren Billy and Bobby, 5, and Edna Earl, 4.

Fletcher Bowling died 25 December 1940 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1878 in South Carolina to George F. Bowling and Mariah Smith; was married to Lucy Bowling; was a common laborer; lived at 407 Spring Street Alley; and was buried in Masonic Cemetery.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Black businesses, 1913, no. 4: 400 block of East Nash Street.

Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C., 1913.

Cross-referencing the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory and the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson reveals the specific locations of Black-owned businesses just after the turn of the century. Here’s a closer look at one side of the first block east of the railroad.

Though described as a restaurant in 1913, the 1912 city director listed Charles H. Knight‘s barbershop at 414 East Nash Street. In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: barber Charles Knight, 35; wife Elsie, 37; and sons Charles, 8, and Frank, 6; plus boarders Ethel Coleman, 23, and Sarah Jackson, 28, both teachers.

Sarah Gaither operated a small eating house at 418 East Nash as early as 1908, per city directories. In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: day laborer Rufus Gaither, 57; wife Sarah, 56; and children Julius, 22, Mandy, 18, Aaron, 17, and Clarence, 15, sharing a house with Ella Gaston, 30, and her sons Ralph, 10, and Albert, 2. Rufus and Sarah Parks Gaither married 2 February 1873 in Iredell County, N.C., and are listed in the 1880 census of Turnersburg, Iredell County, with their young children. Sarah Gaither died 1912-1915. Rufus Gaither died 23 July 1915 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 24 August 1853 and was a widower. Bertha Farmer was informant.

John Blount‘s barbershop occupied 422 East Nash. 

The three buildings that now occupy this block were built in the 1920s. However, Google Maps shows a modern barbershop operating in the footprint of Blount’s business.

Black businesses, 1913, no. 3: East Nash at South Lodge Street.

Cross-referencing the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory and the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson reveals the specific locations of Black-owned businesses just after the turn of the century.

This block of East Nash Street fronts the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad’s passenger station. In 1913, it contained four storefronts, all housing Black-owned businesses, and a large house. Just a few years later, all were demolished to make way for the Terminal Inn, the two-story, multi-bay building that for decades was anchored by Terminal Drug Store and Star Credit Department Store and still stands today.

Moses Brandon operated an eating house next to the Atlantic Coast Line tracks. His death is reported here.

Austin Neal‘s barber shop was next door at 409 East Nash. The business later moved to the 500 block of Nash Street.

The business at 407 was labeled “cobbler.” The city directory listed Bud Wiley, bootblack, as proprietor.

John G. Corbin‘s pool room rounded out the storefronts. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: street laborer Brazell Winstead, 48; dressmaker Ada, 22; sister-in-law Martha Corben, 31, laborer; and brother-in-law John, 34, farmer. [Braswell Winstead was, in fact, a college-educated teacher turned barber who had been an assistant to postmaster Samuel Vick. It seems unlikely that Martha Corbin was a laborer or John a farmer.]

The house at 401 East Nash was occupied by white millhand J. Frank Johnson.

Black businesses, 1913, no. 2: South Spring, now Douglas, Street.

Page 3, Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C., 1913.

Cross-referencing the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory and the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson reveals the specific locations of Black-owned businesses just after the turn of the century.

Above, the west side of the 400 block of South Spring [now Douglas] Street, showing a heavy concentration of small restaurants and groceries. This stretch bordered the American Tobacco (later Liggett & Meyers) tobacco warehouse to the rear and was a block away from Smith’s warehouse, Watson warehouse, Export Leaf warehouse, a larger American Tobacco warehouse, and the Norfolk & Southern cotton loading platform, and these businesses no doubt targeted the swarms of warehouse workers. 

Meet Virginia native Jacob Tucker here; Neverson Green here and here; and Nannie Best here

Agnes Taylor does not appear in Wilson census records, but her full entry in the 1912 city directory shows that she lived at 418 South Spring, just a few lots down from her eating house.

All these buildings have been demolished. 

The death of young Alex Washington.

Twelve year-old Alexander Washington died of appendicitis in March 1918, a not uncommon outcome in an era of clumsy surgery and few antibiotics. Compounding the sadness of his young death is the realization that he was already a full-time working man when he was struck down.

Washington’s death certificate notes that he was a servant in a boarding house and employed by Mrs. Lillie Barnes. Astonishingly, in 1916, when he was 11, he was listed as a butler in the Wilson city directory. I have not been able to identify with certainty Lillie Barnes or the boarding house. The inclusion of the honorific “Mrs.” implies that Lillie Barnes was white. However, there was only one Lillie Barnes listed in the 1912 and 1916 city directories, and she was “colored.” In 1916, Lillie Barnes was listed with no occupation and living at 612 East Nash Street. The 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson reveals a small shotgun, or “endway,” house at this address, not a dwelling large enough to have been a boarding house requiring a full-time servant.

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In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spruce Street, Aaron Washington, 46, drayman; wife Stella, 36, laundress; and children Clee, 17, cook, Ora, 12, cook, Grey A., 10, Hattie, 8, Alex, 6, Beatrice, 5, Lillie R., 2, and James W., 1.

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Washington Alex (c) butler h Wainwright av nr S Reid. Also: Washington Aaron (c) drayman h Wainwright av nr S Reid; Washington Hattie (c) dom h Wainwright av nr S Reid; Washington Ora M (c) dom h Wainwright av nr S Reid.

[Note: The informant on Alexander Washington’s death certificate was his paternal grandmother, Judia [Julia] Washington. She correctly named Alex’s father, Aaron Washington, but when asked “maiden name of mother,” she gave her own maiden name — Judia Sharpe. It was a surprisingly common mistake. Alex Washington’s mother was Estella Simms Washington.]

The obituary of Edgar Williams, tobacco company janitor.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 January 1949.

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In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Williams Edgar (c) lab h 213 Spruce; Williams Jane(c) lab h 213 Spruce

In 1917, Edgar Williams registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 3 January 1896 in Mount Olive [Wayne County, N.C.]; lived at 213 Spruce Street; was single; and worked as a laborer at Wilson Country Club. He was described as short, of medium build, with brown eyes and balding black hair. He signed his name on the card.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 213 Spruce Street, Jane Williams, 46, and son Edgar, 24, both tobacco factory workers.

Edgar Williams, 24, of Wilson County, son of Jane Williams, married Anna McKay, 22, of Wilson, on 16 December 1920 in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister A.L.E. Weeks performed the ceremony in the presence of F.F. Battle, Almer Pouncey, and Annie E. Weeks.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 511 Mercer Street, Echo Williams, 33, Imperial Tobacco Company office boy; wife Anna, 28; and roomer Ora Sanders, 26.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 511 South Mercer, paying $6/month rent, office janitor at retrying plant Edgar Williams, 44, and wife Anna, 39, hanger at reducing plant. The Williamses shared what was likely a double shotgun house with Arthur Dunnington, 39, “lines out hogsheads” at redrying plant, and wife Anna, 42, sweeper and hanger at redrying plant.

Anna Williams died 27 August 1941 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 April 1901 in Bennettsville, South Carolina, to Frank Washington and Lula McKay; was married to Edgar Williams; lived at 511 South Mercer; worked as a domestic; and was buried in Rountree cemetery.

Jannie Williams died 25 November 1944 in Wilson. She was 68 years old; was born in Mount Olive to Isaac and Adline Spells; was a widow; lived at 207 Spruce Street; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. 

Edgar Williams died 18 January 1949 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 June 1896 in Wilson to Jane Spells; worked as a tobacco factory day laborer; lived at 511 Mercer Street; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Inez Watson, 113 Pender Street, was informant.

Historical markers installed.

The pandemic has iced plans for formal unveilings, but Wilson County Historical Association carried through with the installation of four markers commemorating Black people, places, and events who left outsized impressions in Wilson’s history. Please look for the four — Dr. Frank S. HargraveCharles H. Darden, Operation Dixie, and the Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute — in East Wilson as part of your Black History Month activities.

I’m honored to have been asked to collaborate with W.C.H.A. on the selection of subjects for the 2020 markers, and I appreciate the Association’s commitment to telling the stories of all of Wilson.