The obituary of Rev. James C. Bess.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 April 2002.


In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason Clinton Bess, 37; wife Minnie, 26; and children Hampton, 7, Ruth G., 6, and James C., 4. 

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 Pender Street, brickmason Clinton Bess, 40; wife Minnie, 30; children Glenwood, 5, Gladis, 15, and James, 12; and boarders Mary Reid, 21, and Martha Robinson, 25, teachers.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 208 Pender Street, widow Minnie Best, 48; and children Hartford, 30, delivery boy for retail dry goods business; Ruth, 27, teacher at Williamston School; James, 23, janitor at Oettinger’s store; and Glenwood, 10, grocery delivery boy.

James Clinton Bess registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 9 November 1915 in Wilson County; lived at 208 Pender; his contact was mother Minnie Bess; and he worked for Oettinger’s Estate, Wilson.

[N.B.: “Wilson Training School” was another name for the Wilson Industrial and Normal School.]

The obituary of Frances “Frankie” Best.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 June 1941.


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: cook Nannie Best, 34, widow, and daughters Francis, 20, and Eliza, 16, and boarder Lula Garrett, 25. The latter three were house servants.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Nannie Best, 48, cook; her children Francis, 28, cook, Eliza, 24, public school teacher, and son Aaron, 9; and lodgers, Lula, 24, cook, and Nannie Best, 16, private nurse.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 330 South Spring Street: widowed Nannie Best, 61, her daughter Frank, 30, son Aaron, 21, daughter-in-law Estelle, 19, widowed brother Harper Best, 65, and a lodger, nurse Henrietta Colvert, 24.

In the 1922 and 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories, Frankie Best is listed as a domestic living at 320 South Spring.

In the 1930 Wilson city directory, cook Nannie Best, laundress Frankie Best and seamstress Eliza Best are listed as residents of 1009 East Nash Street.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Best Frankie (c) lndrs 1009 E Nash

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Nan Best, 75, widow; daughter Frankie, 55; and grandsons William, 19, and Audrey, 15.

Frankye Best died 23 June 1941 at her home at 1009 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 58 years old; was born in Lenoir County, N.C., to Aaron Best and Nannie Best; was single; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Eliza Best was informant.

An introduction to Sharpsburg.

Per county GIS mapping data, there are two property owners remaining in Wilson County whose named include the word “Colored.” The first I know well — Elm City Colored Cemetery Commission. The second pulled me up short — Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist Church.

Though I have driven through it on U.S. Highway 301 hundreds of times, I know little about Sharpsburg, other than that its town limits straddle three counties — Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe. Because I’m not familiar with the locations of these boundaries, I have not looked closely at Sharpsburg as a source of material for Black Wide-Awake.

I pulled up the GIS map for Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist and was immediately struck by two things.

One, the Wilson County sector of Sharpsburg is cleanly bounded by SE Railroad Street on the west and Main Street on the north. Two, this is the historically Black section of town — the church is there, it is “across the tracks,” and its street names include Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

And then there’s this grainy Google Maps image of the church itself:

Per county tax records, trustees bought the lot at the corner of Railroad and Lincoln Streets in 1915 and built Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist Church in 1920. Another grainy photograph linked to the tax record and date-stamped 2016 shows a large sign mounted on the church tower that reads “Bellamy Chapel P.B. Church.” Bellamy Chapel appears to be defunct as well. 

I’ve added Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist Church to my follow-up list. Stay tuned.


County schools, no. 18: Yelverton School.

The eighteenth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.

Yelverton School

Yelverton School is listed as a Rosenwald School in Survey File Materials Received from Volunteer Surveyors of Rosenwald Schools Since September 2002.

Location: A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows Yelverton School on present-day Aspen Grove Church Road near the Pitt County line.

Per notification of public sale in 1951: “YELVERTON COLORED SCHOOL in Saratoga Township, containing two acres, more or less, and more particularly described as follows: BEGINNING at a stake on the East side of Aspin Grove Road beside a white oak, runs thence South 55 1/2 [degrees] East 204 feet to a stake with a sourwood and 2 pine pointers, corners, runs thence 34 1/6 [degrees] West 420 feet to a stake, corners, runs thence North 55 1/2 [degrees] to a stake on the easterly side of said road, thence with said road to the beginning. Being the identical land described in a judgment recorded in Book 179, at page 155, in the Office of the Register of Deeds of Wilson County.”

Description: Per The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, Bynums School had two acres valued at $200, but “no house.” Yelverton School was built in 1925-16 with $700.00 from the Rosenwald Fund, $2025.00 from Wilson County, and $50.00 from local families.

Yelverton School building is one, and the better preserved, of two Rosenwald schools (officially) standing in Wilson County. Per Research Report: Tools for Assessing the Significance and Integrity of North Carolina’s Rosenwald Schools and Comprehensive Investigation of Rosenwald Schools In Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Wayne and Wilson Counties (2007), in 1926, State Rosenwald Supervisor William F. Credle gave this report on the newly built Yelverton School to the Wilson County Board of Education:

“This is good two-teacher school with cloak rooms and industrial room. It is properly located on a good site. I recommend that the following improvements be made:

“Put in at least 30 feet of blackboard to the room. This should be provided with a chalk rail.

“Put in terra cotta thimbles in all chimneys.

“Provide good stoves. Jacketed stoves are to be desired. We furnish blue prints for jackets and they can be made for about $20.00 a piece at an good tinner’s.

“Hooks for cloaks and shelves for lunch boxes should be provided in the cloak rooms.

“The seats now in the building should be reconditioned and a sufficient number of new ones provided to accommodate the enrollment. The old seats that are badly cut can be put in very good condition by planing off the rough tops and staining and varnishing.

“Finally the privies should be removed to the line of the school property. They should be provided with pits and the houses should be made fly proof.

“The patrons should be encouraged to clean off the lot so as to provide play ground for the children.”

The condition of Yelverton School has declined considerably in the 13 years since Plate 256, above, published in the research report.

A bank of nine-over-nine windows.

One of the two classrooms. Note the stove and original five-panel door.

The rear of the school.

Known faculty: teachers Otto E. Sanders, Esther B. Logan, Merle S. Turner, Izetta Green, Louise Delorme, Dorothy Eleen Jones.

Plate 256 published in the Research Report; other photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.

New historical markers.

Though the coronavirus pandemic has forestalled the customary installation ceremonies, Wilson County Historical Association has erected two of four planned markers commemorating significant African-American people and places in Wilson’s history.

Charles H. Darden. Born in Greene County, 1854. Arrived in Wilson after Civil War. In 1875, here established the first African-American funeral business in Wilson, diversified by son C.L. Darden. Operated for more than 100 years. Local high school named in his honor. (Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church is at rear.)

Dr. Frank S. Hargrave. Born in Lexington, NC. Graduated Leonard Medical School, 1901. Arrived in Wilson, 1903. Founder and Chief of Staff, Mercy Hospital. In 1914, elected President, National Medical Ass’n. President, Lincoln Benefit Society. Home was at 624 E. Green St. (Hargrave’s former home is at left, and Samuel and Annie Washington Vick‘s at right.)

I collaborated with W.C.H.A. on the subject, text, and siting of these markers. I give thanks to the Association and honor to these ancestors.

The streets of East Wilson, part 1.

Many of East Wilson’s streets were laid out on parcels of land owned by African-Americans and still bear the names they chose.

  • Vick Street

Samuel H. Vick built his Queen Anne mansion on Green Street, but developed the neighborhood around it. He named several streets for his daughters, others for family friends and his personal hero, Booker T. Washington.

  • Elba Street

Vick named this three-block street after his eldest daughter Elba Louise Vick, born in 1893.

  • Viola and Reid Streets

Viola Street was named for Viola Leroy Vick, who was born in 1894 and died as a toddler. Reid Street was named for either (or both) veterinarian Elijah L. Vick or J.D. Reid, school principal and banker.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.

505 South Pender Street, redux.

A year ago, Black Wide-Awake featured the abandoned endway house at the corner of South Pender and Hines Streets.

September 2020 finds the hundred-year-old house under complete renovation.

The interior has been gutted to the studs, but the house will essentially retain its original floor plan — an entry door opening directly into a front room, then a middle room, then at rear a kitchen and bath. (The bathroom was originally a back porch and would have been enclosed in the 1950s or ’60s.)

The house was once heated by an oil stove that vented through a chimney.

The house sits on new concrete block pillars, but a skirt of some sort will likely be added to enclose the crawlspace.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.

The Wide Awakes.

Yesterday, the New York Times published a feature on the revival of sorts of a Civil War-era political movement, the Wide Awakes, who mobilized against slavery and in support of Abraham Lincoln. Both artist-activists and re-enactors have been moved to create political and social change in the spirit of the Wide Awakes, who engaged in raucous, but peaceful, marches in the streets of Northern cities.


They like football, and they have that old school spirit.

In the fall of 1944, Darden High School’s football team, finding no teachers available to fill the role, coached itself.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 October 1944.

(Note the reference to the team’s playing field. Darden had no formal football field, and the team had to spend its own money to rent Fleming Stadium for home games.)


The team:

  • Herman Hines — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1001 Vance Street, wagon factory laborer Wesley Hines, 35; wife Lucy, 30, a private nurse; and sons Herman, 13, and Charles, 10. Oddly, three before the article above was published, Herman Wesley Hines registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 7 October 1944 in Wilson; lived at 1001 East Vance; his contact was his father Wesley Edward Hines; had a burn scar on his left ankle; and worked as a section hand for the railroad. Was this in fact his father’s occupation? Hines and others were members of the Class of 1945. [Note: Herman Hines died 30 July 2014 in Reidsville, North Carolina. His obituary mentions his coaching stint at Darden.]
  • Bennie Hill
  • James Jones — In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 Stantonsburg Street, Wesley Jones, 51, fertilizer plant laborer; wife Martha, 52, tobacco factory laborer; and children Lucille, 22, teacher at Fremont School, Vernon, 20, Willie, 16, John, 14, James, 12, and Elroy, 10. On 26 December 1945, James Thomas Jones registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 23 December 1927 in Wilson; lived at 901 Stantonsburg Street; his contact was Wesley Jones; and he worked at Contentnea Guano Company, Wilson.
  • John Melton — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow T[illegible] Barnes, 72, washing; daughter Cora Melton, 42, widow and private cook; and grandchildren Lucy, 16, Virginia, 15, John, 14, W.T., 8, and Hilda, 7; and daughter Lillie Barnes, 40, “sick.” On 11 September 1944, John Melton registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 11 September 1926 in Wilson; lived at 1206 Washington Street; his contact was mother Cora Melton; and reworked at Imperial Tobacco Company, Wilson.
  • Lindbergh Wilson  — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Elizabeth Wilson, 55; daughter Marie, 29; lodgers Earnest Mack, 35, and Jessie McMillion, 34; and grandsons Lindberg, 12, and Rodney Wilson, 14. On 10 September 1945, Lindbergh Wilson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 9 September 1927 in Wilson County; he lived at 1013 Stantonsburg Street; his contact was Marie Wilson; and his “employer” was N.C. State [North Carolina College?], Durham.
  • Lester McNeil — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 107 South Carroll Street, railroad station porter Chester McNeal, 49; wife, Mary, 36, tobacco factory stemmer; daughter Ula, 20, and son Lester, 12; adopted daughter Elane Barnes, 20; and adopted son William McNeal, 1. On 28 September 1945, Lester McNeil registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 27 September 1927 in Wilson; he lived at 107 South Carroll; his contact was Chester McNeil; and his “employer” was Darden High School.
  • Charles Hines — Hines was the younger brother of Herman Hines, above. On 19 December 1957, Charles Edwin Hines married Anna Johnson Goode in Wilson.
  • Thomas Stokes — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1208 Atlanta Street, barber James Stokes, 35; wife Viola, 25; children Frank, 8, Dorthea, 4, Thomas, 2, and Julia, 18 months; and mother Julia, 64. On 24 July 1945, Thomas Watson Stokes registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 24 July 1927 in Wilson; he lived at 1206 Atlantic Street; his contact was Viola Stokes; he had a small scar on his forehead; and he was a self-employed painter.
  • Robert Speight — On 9 August 1944, Robert Elton Speight registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 9 August 1926 in Wilson County; he lived at 624 Viola Street; his contact was father Theodore Speight; and he was a student at Darden High School.
  • Ernest Halliday — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 612 East Suggs Street, Westley Holiday, 40; wife Rosa, 30; and children Earlise, 13, Edward, 11, Deborah, 9, Lula M., 6, Earnest, 4, and Joseph, 1. On 19 June 1944, Ernest Holliday registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 18 June 1926 in Wilson County; he lived at 512 East Spruce Street; his contact was Rosa Holliday; and he was unemployed.
  • Robert Jenkins — On 22 January 1945, Robert Allen Jenkins registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 21 January 1927 in Wilson; he lived at 611 Viola Street; his contact was mother Geneva Mercer; he had a scar on his right leg below his knee; and he was a student at Darden High School.