As the Great Depression deepened, Henry Ellis Post No. 17, American Legion, collected names of unemployed workers and sought employers willing to hire.
Thomas Cook — Per his World War I service card, Thomas Cook, 619 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson, was born 18 May 1894 in Wilson and inducted into military service on 19 July 1918. He served in Companies A and B of the 147th Labor Battalion and was discharged on 31 May 1919.
J.W. Pitt — John W. Pitt (or Pitts) registered for the World War I draft in 1917 in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 4 August 1891 in Newberry, South Carolina; lived on Vance Street, Wilson; and worked as a carpenter in Wilson for “Mr. Lassiter of Rocky Mount.”
On 3 June 1919, the Daily Times published a list of Wilson County soldiers who died during World War I. The list is segregated. First in the Colored List is Henry Ellis, who was killed 6 October 1918 and in whose honor Wilson County’s African-American post of the American Legion was named.
Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 1919.
The Daily Times had commemorated Ellis’ death when it received word in December 1918:
“Private Henry Ellis Son of Mrs. Mary J. Howard, Route 1, Wilson, N.C. Died of wounds received in action while fighting for his country and oppressed humanity.” Wilson Daily Times, 4 December 1918.
In the 1870 census of Chesterfield township, Nash County, N.C.: farmer Martin Lucus, 52; wife Eliza, 42; and children Irvin, 19, Neverson, 16, Sidney, 13, Eliza, 7, Westray, 6, Anne, 4, and Mary, 2.
In the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Eatmon, 66, wife Eliza Eatmon, 50, daughters AmandaLocus, 18, and Mary J. Locus, 14, “son-in-law” Asa Locus, 10, and “daughter-in-law” Lougene Locus, 4, Margaret Howard, 21, and Harriet Howard, 2. [Nelson Eatmon married Eliza Locust on 28 January 1880 in Wilson County. The Locuses’ relationship designations are obviously erroneous; they were Nelson Eatmon’s stepchildren.]
On 6 February 1887, Warren Ellis, 19, of Wilson County, married Mary Jane Locust, 19, of Wilson County, in Wilson County. Phillis Ellis was one of the witnesses.
In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary J. Ellis, 34, widow, and children Willis, 12, Walter, 9, William, 8, Henry, 5, and Lou, 4.
In the 1910 census of Jackson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Mary Jane Ellis, 44, and children Henry, 16, Louise, 13, and Charles, 6; and brother Neverson Lucas, 56.
Henry Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Nash County, N.C, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 10 November 1895 in Wilson County; lived at Route 2, Bailey; was a tenant farmer for Elijah Griffin; and was single. He signed his card in a neat, well-practiced hand: “Henry T. Ellis.”
In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary Howard, 52, widow; son Charlie Ellis, 17; and sister Luginer Colman, 45, widow.
Mary J. Howard died 20 June 1936 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Manuel Howard; was 65 years old; and was born in Wilson County to Martin Locus and Louisa Brantley. Gray Ellis was informant.
Henry T. Ellis, then, was the son of Warren Ellis and Mary Jane Locus Ellis and stepson of Manuel Howard. He was descended (or connected) on his mother’s side from several free families of color with deep roots in the area of western Wilson County — Locuses, Brantleys, Eatmons, Howards — and on his father’s from Hilliard and Faribee Ellis, a formerly enslaved couple who established a prosperous farm in the New Hope area shortly after the Civil War.
I have seen no evidence that Ellis’ body was returned to Wilson County for burial. His parents, grandparents, and siblings are buried in Hilliard Ellis cemetery, but there is no marked grave for him there.
Poppy Day — per the American Legion’s website, “On September 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of The American Legion family to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died during the war. In 1924, the distribution of poppies became a national program of The American Legion.”
In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on S.H. Crocker Farm Road, tenant farmer, John Whitehead, 37; wife Nellie, 36; children E.K., 16, William H., 13, Anna V.O., 7, Anna Nula, 5, and J.B., 4; and great-uncle[?] Josh Whitehead.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, express laborer [no first name] Whitehead, 49; wife Ella, 45; and children Anna V., 17, Nora, 16, John, 14, and William, 24. All were born in Georgia except Ella [Nellie], who was born in North Carolina.
In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: widow Nellie Whitehead, 56; son J.B., 24, truck driver for a contractor; daughter Anna Hagans, 27, tobacco company stemmer; son-in-law Henry Hagans, 32, town garbage remover; and daughter Elnora Whitehead, 26.
John Baptist Whitehead registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 25 December 1915 in Chester, Georgia; lived at Route 4, Box 39, Wilson; worked for Imperial Tobacco, Barnes Street; and his contact was his mother, Nellie Whitehead.
Acclaimed African-American tenor Emanuel Mansfield and Native American pianist Robert Evans appeared in concert at Reid Street Community Center in November 1946. Henry Ellis Post Number 17 of the American Legion sponsored the event. Tickets were available at Wade’s Shoe Shop, 533 East Nash Street, Wade M. Moore, proprietor.