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The new decorated Ritz.

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The Carolina Times, 19 September 1942.

The ad above, touting the “new decorated” Ritz Theatre, ran in The Carolina Times, an African-American newspaper based in Raleigh, North Carolina. The white-owned Ritz, which catered to a “colored” audience, was located at 523 East Nash Street.

This photograph of the Ritz, which hangs in a hallway of the Freeman Round House and Museum, is undated, but contains some clues however. The magnificent movie posters at either side of the entrance promote Lena Horne, Bill Robinson and Cab Calloway in the acclaimed musical Stormy Weather, which was released in 1943.  The sign above the ticket booth reads “GRAND RE-OPENING, Monday May 13th,” but 13 May 1943 was not a Monday. Nor was that date a Monday in 1942, when the reopening ad above ran. The closest years that fit are 1940 and 1946. Thus, either the sign was left hanging for several years, or Stormy Weather was a re-run showing several years after original release. If this photograph were taken by Raines & Cox studio, which seems probable, the 1946 date is more likely.

Stormy Weather film poster in vivid color. I have not been able to find color images of the two magnificent posters in the Ritz’ glass cases.

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Update: Mystery solved. Many thanks to Steve Brown for locating this ad from the 11 May 1946 edition of the Wilson Daily Times, touting the Grand Re-Opening of The State’s Finest Most Modern Colored Theatre!

The Silver Boot Grill.

Ola and Georgia Anna Williams Dupree opened the Silver Boot Grill in 1947, serving an all-black clientele.

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Wilson Daily Times, 26 March 1948.

Two years later, the restaurant closed for enlargement and remodeling. When it reopened, it announced that curb service was available for their “white friends.”

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 June 1949.

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 June 1949.

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On 29 January 1927, Ola Dupree, 30, married Georgia Williams, 20, in Wilson. Methodist minister J.T. Jackson performed the ceremony in the presence of Mrs. Mamie Pender, G.W. White, and Suprema Croom.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1105 Atlantic Avenue, butler Ola Dupree, 44; wife Georgia, 32; and roomers Florence Atkinson, 24, and her husband William Atkinson, 26, a medical doctor.

 

Newest and finest.

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Wilson Daily Times, 26 March 1948.

Seventy years later, Edwards Funeral Home — still operated by the Edwards family — remains a cornerstone of East Wilson business. Its website sets out the company’s history:

“On a calm, sunny day in March 1948, two brothers, Oliver H. and James Weldon Edwards, opened the doors of Edwards Funeral Home, Inc. at 805 E. Nash Street in Wilson, North Carolina. The story does not begin there. Rather it begins with the conception and dream that two brothers had of being entrepreneurs and opening their own business, a funeral home. Oliver, the older of the two, lived in Raleigh and worked at a funeral home as a licensed funeral director. He encouraged James, who had just completed a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in World War II, to attend school in funeral service and mortuary science rather than pursue another career and major. James was in New York City by this time, and he began and completed American Academy of Mortuary Science in New York City (now American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service) as a licensed funeral director and mortician. The dream moves toward reality. Having met two of the requirements (experience and knowledge) for starting an enterprise of this type, both men had to decide where to locate the business. The decision was a fairly easy one – to go home. “Home” was the tri-county area of Wilson, Nash, and Edgecombe Counties where the Edwards family had deep roots, dating back several generations to at least the 18th Century and where the brothers, as well as the extended family, grew up, went to school, and attended church. Their father, the Reverend B.H. Edwards, was a highly respected Baptist minister who pastured Sandy Fork Missionary Baptist, Red Oak Grove Missionary Baptist, Rising Sun Missionary Baptist, and Mary Grove Missionary Baptist Churches over a span of 42 years. In their youth, Reverend Edwards carried his boys (and all his children) throughout the various church communities and neighborhoods in these counties. Thus, Oliver and James knew the people, and the people knew them. The decision was made – Wilson. The brothers, encouraged by their parents and wives, bought a two story white frame house in East Wilson. Located on the main thoroughfare, this “home” was a classic representative of the Colonial Revival type of architecture. It still has the original interior paneling, crown molding, woodworking, winding stairway and a marble hearth fireplace. The site was chosen as much for its location and the charm of this house far for the warmth and friendliness of the neighbors and the neighborhood (some of whom reside there today). The funeral home (with interior and exterior renovations and expansions) remains in the same location today due mostly out of a desire to remain in the area where the family still lives and because of the history and symbolism of the structure. Oliver and James worked hard and opened the doors to Edwards Funeral Home and established it as a thriving business. Both brothers ran the business until Oliver’s death in July 1963. James assumed leadership, ownership and management of the business until May 1982 when he died. James’ widow, the former Josephine Farmer from Nash County, assumed leadership, after her husband’s death. She wanted to keep the dream and legacy alive for their children, Angela and Carla. Having worked as a classroom teacher in the public schools of Nash and Wilson Counties for 36 years, Josephine joined the ranks of the funeral home staff upon her retirement in 1987. Under her watchful nurturance, the funeral home continued to operate and prosper in a profession that has been traditionally dominated by men. Despite “being a woman in a man’s world,” Josephine expanded the funeral home to include, among other changes, a chapel with an organ. The chapel has a seating capacity of 200 people. Her commitment to the business, the people, the community and to serving Wilson and surrounding counties is evidenced by her ever presence at the funeral home and at funerals. Josephine’s community orientation and dedication to Wilson County is also evidenced by her service as a county commissioner, per participation in the various local, civic, and service organizations/clubs and her service through appointment on state committees by Governor Hunt. The future of Edwards Funeral Home, Inc. is certain. It is moving into the second millennium under the family oriented leadership of Mrs. Edwards with the support of her children: Angela R. Edwards Jones, Carla D. Edwards Williams, Tyrone P. Jones, III, and Darryl A. Williams. Hopefully the third generations will keep the legacy alive with the grandchildren, Darian and Carlin Williams. The legacy lives. Mrs. Edwards remembers and is appreciative for the kind support of her patrons throughout the years. She hopes to continue serving you in the difficult times during and after the loss of a loved one. She gives the best in dignified, personalized, professional care and service at the time of death and afterwards. Edwards Funeral Home, Inc. hopes to continue this tradition of meeting people’s needs with friendliness, kindness, understanding, warmth, innovation, and confidentiality. Over these sixty years, many employees have helped to insure quality service and care to patrons. Mrs. Edwards is thankful to all persons who have assisted the family since 1948. The fine tradition of service with dignity continues to be the aim of the Edwards Funeral Home staff. ‘Let Gentle Hands and Kind Hearts Care For You When Loved Ones Depart.'”

  • Rev. B.H. Edwards — Buchanan Hilliard Edwards (1891-1967)
  • O.H. Edwards — Oliver Hazel Edwards (1907-1963)
  • James W.  Edwards — James Weldon Edwards (1921-1982)
  • Josephine Farmer Edwards (1922-2013)

 

Wilson needs a lot of good colored homes now.

Suggs Heights appears to comprise part or all the D.C. Suggs properties platted in the early 1920s.

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“Ask any man who has property to rent what kind pays the most on the investment and he will tell you colored property.” [Likely because one could readily overcharge.] Wilson Daily Times, 11 December 1925.

Stantonsburg Heights may be the area platted as Vicksburg Manor.

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“This high class colored development will build up in good homes and gardens.” Wilson Daily Times, 8 May 1945.

[A note about “Heights.” Wilson sits it in North Carolina’s Upper Coastal Plain at 108 feet above sea level. The eastern half of the county, including the city of Wilson, is notably flat, and low-lying areas flood notoriously. Neither of the areas advertised above are “heights” in any common understanding of the term, and it’s questionable whether the latter area could reasonably be described as high or dry.]

For sale in the colored section.

In the late 1940s, the Wilson Daily Times regularly ran classified ads for housing restricted to African-American tenants and buyers. The realty companies that placed the advertisements below were white-owned.

The lot Cecil B. Lamm & Co. was hawking lay in the Vicksburg Manor subdivision, land once owned by Samuel H. Vick.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 February 1946.

Realtor George A. Barfoot sought to unload houses to both homeowners and investors.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1947.

J.E Miles offered building lots across East Wilson. (Where was Stronach Avenue?)

Wilson Daily Times, 9 December 1948.

George A. Barfoot, who was the major player in East Wilson real estate sales in this period, advertised what appears to be the short sale of 706 East Viola. Realtor Hugh S. Sheppard showcased a more modest offering, a two-room house near Export Leaf Tobacco Company, which was at 601 South Goldsboro Street.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 August 1949.