Papered or painted, cheap and quick.

In the earliest years of his ministry, Rev. Fred M. Davis continued to ply his trade as a wallpaper hanger, sign painter and interior decorator.

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Wilson Advance, 8 February 1894.


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Fred M. Davis, 33, paper hanger; wife Diannon, 31; children Eva M., 6, Bertha E., 5, and Fred M., 17 months; plus mother Judith Davis, 50, laundress.

William Hines shows up.

The 1926 Winoca, the yearbook of Wilson High School:


This ad, placed by William Hines Barber Shop, is the sole evidence that there were any colored people at all in Wilson.


[In the 1920s and early ’30s, Wilson’s two high schools were Wilson High School and Wilson Colored High School. By the end of the latter decade, they were Charles L. Coon High School — named for the teacher-slapping superintendent who spurred a school boycott by black parents — and Charles H. Darden High School.]

Yearbook courtesy of Wilson County Public Library.

Who was U No Barnes?

In 1914, in a show of mutual support, Progressive Colored Citizens included a glowing write-up of H.G. Barnes on its front page, and the painter placed two ads in its three pages.

“H.G. Barnes, the sign painter, better known as ‘U No Barnes,’ is a good workman and has practically all of the white business of the town. He was trained in the trade in Cleveland, Ohio, although he is a native of this community. With careful attention to the details of his business, he has established himself as worthy. He also installs all kinds of electrical signs.”

Who was U No Barnes?

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Ed Pool, 54; wife Adeline, 44; and nephew Harvey Barnes, 15.

Harvey G. Barnes took out a large in the 1912-13 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory to promote his business. The directory noted that Barnes lived at 623 Darden Alley, and his House of Signs was at 107 South Goldsboro Street.


On 28 June 1916, Harvey G. Barnes, 30, of Wilson, son of Jim and Harriet Barnes, both deceased, married Roslin Pitts, 21, of Guilford County, daughter of Morgan and Georgia Pitts of Spaulding County, Georgia, in Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina. The union merited a lengthy write-up in the New York Age. The wedding party included best man Camillus L. Darden and groomsman W.H. Jones of Wilson. Barnes and Pitts apparently met during the year that she taught at Wilson’s Colored Graded School.

nya 7 6 1916

New York Age, 29 June 1916.

On 12 September 1918, Harvey Grey Barnes registered for the World War I draft in Washington, D.C. Per his registration card, he resided at 410 L Street, S.E.; was born 22 March 1886; worked as a painter for W.M. Spore, 35 M Street; was married to Rosalind B. Barnes; and was 5’4″ and slender with black hair and eyes.

In the 1920 census of Washington, D.C.: at 410 L Street, S.E., North Carolina-born Harvey Barnes, 33, and his Georgia-born wife Rosylind, 23. Barnes worked as a coach painter in a paint shop. [This house, located in the Navy Yard area, no longer stands.]

In the 1930 census of Washington, D.C.: at 1013 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Harvey G. Barnes, 40, painter in paint shop, and wife Rosaline, 32, seamstress. Barnes owned the house, which was valued at $2385. [This house no longer stands.]

Harvey Grey Barnes applied for a Social Security number in November 1936. He listed his parents as James and Harriette Barnes on his application.

In the 1940 census of Washington, D.C.: at 1013 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Harvey Barnes, 53, and sister Alice Willist, 48. Both were divorced. Barnes worked as a painter in an auto shop.

In 1942, Harvey Gray Barnes registered for the World War II draft in Washington, D.C. Per his registration card, he was 56 years old; was born 27 March 1886 in Wilson County, N.C.; resided at 1013 New Jersey Avenue, N.W.; and worked at National Trailways Bus Garage, 66 Hanover Street, N.W. He was 5’4, 150 pounds, with light brown skin, gray eyes and gray hair, and his contact was Miss Alice K. Barnes, 300 W. Franklin Street, Richmond, Virginia.

Progressive citizens, pt. 3.

Sometime in 1914, the Wilson Times published a three-page insert highlighting the achievements of the town’s African-American community. “Wilson is fortunate in having a large proportion of sensible negroes,” the writer opined, and counted among the laudable such well-known citizens and institutions as Samuel H. VickJ.D. Reid; Dr. Frank S. HargraveCharlesCamillus and Arthur Darden; Levi JonesWilliam HinesHenry Tart; and H.G. Barnes; Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home for Colored People; the Colored Graded School; First Baptist Church; Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church; C.H. Darden & Sons Undertakers; and Lincoln Benefit Society.

Here is page 3 of the insert:

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  • Crockett & Aiken
  • Acme Sign Works — “Estimates and designs furnished. Up-to-date electric signs promptly. Gold, silver and brass letters. Satisfaction guaranteed. Glass, cloth, wood, brass, metal and wire. ‘Anything in signs.’ H.G. Barnes, proprietor. ‘U No Barnes.’ He does the work.”
  • The Sanitary Shop — William Hines’ “up-to-date barber shop.”
  • Levi H. Jones, the Barber — “Hot and cold baths. No long waits. Clean shaves and everything sanitary. None but up to date workmen employed. Look for revolving sign opposite Lumina. Old customers stick. Drop in and join the stickers.”
  • Henry Tart, the Reliable Transfer Man — “When you need the luggage wagon or a hack — call Henry Tart at either phone 437 or phone 40. You get personal attention and careful handling of baggage. Our wagons and hacks meet all trains at both depots and we transfer baggage promptly to either depot or home or hotel and do it right. Hand baggage cared for with personal attention and delivered at the depot promptly. Passengers transferring between trains will find our drivers courteous. They will take of your hand baggage as well as transfer your trunks.”

Progressive citizens, pt. 2.

Sometime in 1914, the Wilson Times published a three-page insert highlighting the achievements of the town’s African-American community. “Wilson is fortunate in having a large proportion of sensible negroes,” the writer opined, and counted among the laudable such well-known citizens and institutions as Samuel H. Vick; J.D. Reid; Dr. Frank S. Hargrave; Charles, Camillus and Arthur Darden; Levi Jones; William Hines; Henry Tart; and H.G. Barnes; Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home for Colored People; the Colored Graded School; First Baptist Church; Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church; C.H. Darden & Sons Undertakers; and Lincoln Benefit Society.

Here is page 2 of the insert:

141061 (1)_Page_2

  • The small photograph, labeled C.J. Darden, actually depicts Camillus L. Darden.
  • Crockett & Aiken — “Moving Houses a Specialty. Barnes Street adjoining Norfolk Southern Station.” Livery stable owner John H. Aiken died in July 1914. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 123 Pender Street, widow Gergia Akin, 45, livery stable manager; her brother Alexander Crockett, 47, stable salesman; and two laborers, John Norfleet, 30, and Mose Parker, 32.


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

  • City Bakery — “540 East Nash St., under Odd Fellows Hall. First class and sanitary in ever particular.” R.B. Bullock.
  • Down Town Pressing Club — L.B. Barefoot.
  • Dennis Brooks Livery Stables — “Rear Odd Fellow Hall Nash Street.” Georgia-born Dennis Brooks also operated a grocery and a bar.
  • The Globe Theatre — “Odd Fellows Hall Nash St. Only place of amusement of its kind in the county — Colored People.” The Globe was a Samuel H. Vick enterprise.
  • Lincoln Benefit Society — “Chartered by the Legislature of North Carolina as a Fraternal Society. Has councils in the principal towns and cities of the state. Safe, reliable, economical.” Officers included Dr. F.S. Hargrave, president, and S.H. Vick, secretary.
  • Ideal Pharmacy — “Any physician’s prescription will be filled at Ideal Pharmacy exactly as it would be by the best drug stores of the country. We guarantee the quality of drugs, accuracy of compounders, reasonableness of charges, and unexcelled service. Give us a trial.” Darcey C. Yancey opened this pharmacy as early as 1908.
  • J.H. Shaw Groceries — “Fruits, candy, cigars, tobacco, cold drinks and produce. Get my prices before buying cheap for cash.”
  • Dr. W.A. Mitchenor — “Special attention given to the diseases of women and children. … Rear of Ideal Pharmacy.” Dr. William A. Mitchner, a Johnston County native, practiced medicine in Wilson until his death in 1941.
  • Sanitary Shaving Parlor — “The cleanest and most up-to-date in the town. We keep sharp tools, clean towels and pure toilets. Hot towels with every shave if desired. Good barbers always on hand. Satisfaction guaranteed.” Charles S. Thomas (1877-1937) was a native of Bennettsville, South Carolina.
  • R.T. Alston — “Watches, clocks, jewelry, eye glasses, spectacles, etc. I handle the very best grade of watches, such as the Elgin, Waltham, Illinois, Hampden, and Hamilton. Your credit is good. Yes, I will sell you a watch on the weekly payment plan: that is, ‘So much down and so much each week.’ I do a mail order business also. If you want a watch or other jewelry, write me for terms and order blanks. No in a few days I shall have a large stock of watches, clocks, etc. on hand. Call to see me or write.”  Robert T. Alston was a native of Granville County, North Carolina.

John Gaston: easy chairs, razors keen.

Barbers ranked high among black Wilson’s most prominent residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lemon Taborn, who was later joined by his wife Edmonia and daughter Carrie, was the earliest of the well-known Wilson barbers, whose clientele was exclusively white. Others in the late 1800s included Alfred Robinson, J.F. WhiteEd Mitchell, Tobias Farmer, and John A. Gaston.

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. George established perhaps the leading barber shop in Elm City, seven miles north of Wilson.

On 18 September 1884, J.A. Gaston, 25, married Eller Clark, 17, in Wilson. Witnesses were Samuel H. Vick, C.D Howard and Braswell R. Winstead.

When Alfred Robinson left Wilson in 1889 for his patronage postal route job, J.F. White took over his business. White did not stay long though, and by the end of the year, John Gaston and Hugh T. Ransom were advertising their partnership at the location. (City directories show that Ransom was a barber in Raleigh in 1887. He married Maggie Joyner in Wilson on Christmas Day 1889, and their marriage license notes that his parents lived in Wake County. Ransom was alive as late as 1897, when his son Hugh T. Ransom Jr. was born, but died before 1900.)


Wilson Advance, 2 January 1890.


Wilson Advance, 10 July 1890.


Wilson Advance, 4 June 1891.

Gaston and Ransom seem to have parted ways shortly, and in August 1891 a local newspaper noted the addition of Ed Mitchell to the shop.


Wilson Advance, 27 August 1891.


Wilson Advance, 14 January 1892.

Gaston continued to expand his business.


Wilson Advance, 17 November 1892.


Wilson Advance, 26 January 1893.


Wilson Advance, 22 February 1894.

Though he received a fair amount of free publicity via news briefs such as those above, Gaston was a big believer in advertising, and placed hundreds of ads in the Wilson Advance. Here, he touted two additional barbers, including one that he trained. (I have not found any other reference to Lyde (Clyde?) Richardson. Noah J. Tate, curiously, is referred to as “Pate” in this and another newspaper reference, but Tate in all others. The son of Hardy and Mary Jane Tate, he and Walter Hines entered a partnership circa 1910.


Wilson Mirror, 31 October 1894.


Wilson Advance, 2 May 1895.


Wilson Advance, 2 April 1896.


Wilson Advance, 8 April 1897.


Wilson Advance, 24 March 1898.

John A. Gaston, 44, son of George Gaston, and Sattena Barnes, 22, daughter of Doublin and Eliza Barnes, were married 9 November 1899 at the bride’s residence in Wilson. Braswell R. Winstead obtained the license; Rev. S.B. Hunter performed the ceremony at the A.M.E. Zion church; and Grant T. Foster (husband of Hugh T. Ransom’s widow Maggie), B.R. Winstead, and Samuel H. Vick were witnesses.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber John Gaston, 44, wife Satina, 30, and children Theodore, 13, Cicero, 10, George, 8, and Caroline, 2 months.

In the 1910 census of Warsaw, Duplin County: widower John Gaston, 53, barber, and son Ciseroe, 24, pressing club operator.

In 1911, a bit of unfinished business — likely related to his deceased wife’s estate — brought Gaston back to Wilson County:


Wilson Daily Times, 10 January 1911.

In the 1920 census of Warsaw, Duplin County: on Bell Street, widower John Gaston, 63, barber, and son Theodore, 33, also a barber.

On 4 November 1930, John A. Gaston died in Warsaw, Duplin County. Per his death certificate, he was born about 1858 in Duplin County to George Gaston and an unnamed mother and was the widower of Satina Barnes Gaston. Cause of death: “Don’t know. Sudden death while about his work as barber. No doctor had examined him.” Theo. Gaston of Warsaw was informant.


The old reliable barber.


Wilson Blade, 20 November 1897.

Only one issue of the Wilson Blade, a short-lived African-American newspaper, is known to exist.


In the 1900 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer James Farmer, 22, and his siblings Rosa, 17, Freeda, 10, Robert, 7, Richard, 5, Mark, 2, and Erickers, 7 months, plus boarder Tobias Farmer, 47, a barber.

In the 1908 city directory, Tobias Farmer is listed as a barber living at 203 Manchester Street.

In the 1912 city directory, Tobias Farmer is listed as a barber working for Austin Neal and residing at 121 Ashe Street.

Tobias Farmer died in Wilson on 17 May 1914. Per his death certificate, he was born 5 January 1854 in North Carolina to Elija Farmer and Rosa Barnes; was a widower; and worked as a barber. Rosa Crank was informant.