Wilson Daily Times, 9 May 1932.
Wilson Daily Times, 9 May 1932.
Wilson Daily Times, 21 October 1921.
“An institution organized, owned and operated by negroes for the making of a bigger and better community — consequently for race advancement.
“It is the purpose of this bank to render the best service possible. All we ask is a chance to prove ourselves worthy of your expectation. Will you grant us this institution which will be a credit to your city and race.
“In the words of the past ‘To thine own self be true.’ Don’t betray thy nature and thy name. But show to the world that you are a true-blooded Negro, proud of your race and willing to help build it up.
“Bring your earnings to the bank and build up a savings account for yourself and prepare for that rainy day that is sure to come; we are amply prepared to take care of them for you. We are expecting every Negro in Wilson and Wilson county to open an account with us during this, our first year in operation. Are you loyal or are you disloyal? Time will answer the question.”
“Join the band of race and community builders and open a savings account with the Commercial Bank of Wilson.”
Black Wilson rallied to this sharp-edged appeal and opened hundreds of accounts at Commercial Bank. The bank operated throughout the Roaring Twenties, but by 1929 the cracks were showing. A suspicious fire on September 23 led to the bank’s immediate closure and the subsequent arrest and conviction of two of its officers, J.D. Reid and Henry S. Stanback.
Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.
Janitors at National Bank of Wilson, 113 East Nash Street, placed ads sending New Years greetings and thanking their customers for Christmas gifts.
Wilson Daily Times, 29 December 1933.
Wilson Daily Times, 1 January 1935.
[Sidenote: This building, which now houses county offices, was the tallest building in Wilson until the construction of Branch Banking & Trust’s twin towers at Nash and Pine Streets. The towers were demolished 19 December 2020, and the old National Bank building thus reclaims its title.]
Excavation for a new headquarters for the First National Bank of Wilson got underway in September 1926 at 113 East Nash Street. When it opened the following August, the eight-story building was the tallest in town. This photo shows African-American laborers who appear to be hauling soil from the site.
Similar photographs of the site are marked “First National Bank — Wilson N.C. — Chas. C. Hartmann Archt Greensboro N.C. — John T. Wilson Co. Inc. Gen. Contr. Richmond Va.” Note the advertisements pasted on the building to the west hawking Rudolph Valentino’s The Eagle and an upcoming circus. (The building to the east is the Wilson County Courthouse, erected just the year before.)
A close-up of the workers:
Many thanks to Jim Anderson for sharing this photograph.
The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, volume 22, number 4 (August 1921).
For more re the Commercial Bank, see here.
Wilson Daily Times, 29 July 1921.
The Commercial Bank failed in 1929 in the wake of embezzlement and forgery by its officers.
Attached to the Commercial Bank of Wilson’s 1921 certificate of incorporation is a list of the names of all the bank’s investors, providing information about their net worth, number of shares, and occupation. Most of the more than 150 shareholders — overwhelmingly African-American men — lived in Wilson or Wilson County, but adjoining counties like Wayne, Greene and Johnston were represented, as well as more far-flung cities like Durham and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The investors were farmers and contractors, merchants and ministers, teachers and barbers with estimated wealth ranging from $300 to $50,000.
This is the first in a series introducing these men and women:
In the 1910 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County: Virginia-born John Aiken, 44, and North Carolina-born wife Georgia, 38. John worked at a livery stable.
Georgia Crockett Aikens died 17 August 1939 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 67 years old, born in Wayne County to William Crockett and Rachel Powell, resided at 120 Pender Street in Wilson, and was married to John Aikens.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson and Tarboro Road, Frank Armstrong, 30, wife Mary, 26, and children Lucy, 5, Grace, 3, and Josuah, 1.
Frank Armstrong died 14 November 1961 in Mercy Hospital, Wilson. His death certificate indicates that he was born 5 January 1891 in Wilson County to Josh Armstrong and Harriet Bullock. He was buried in Rest Haven cemetery; Vinnie Armstrong was informant.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson Rocky Mount Road, farmer Gary Armstrong, 73, wife Henrietta, 65, and daughter Minnie, 28.
Garry Armstrong died 1 February 1928 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 82 years old, born in Edgecombe County to Abraham and Cherry Armstrong, and married to Henrietta Armstrong. He was buried in a family cemetery in Wilson County, and John H. Armstrong was informant for his death certificate.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: farmer John Armstrong, 43, wife Mary, 40, and children James, 18, Bessie, 17, Harvey, 16, William, 11, John, 9, Laura, 7, Mammie, 5, Hattie, 4, and Attie, 1.
John H. Armstrong died 1 February 1939 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 1 August 1877 in Wilson County to Garrett Armstrong and Henretta Williams, and married to Mary Johnson Armstrong. He was buried in a family cemetery in Wilson County, and James A. Armstrong was informant for his death certificate.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson Elm City Road, Josh Armstrong, 61, wife Harriet, 58, and children Annie, 28, Willie, 22, Arthur, 19, Minnie, 18, Charlie, 17, Ada, 15, and James, 11.
Joshua Armstrong died 22 June 1925 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 65 years old, a farmer, born in Edgecombe County to Abram and Cherry Armstrong, and married to Harriet Armstrong. Frank Armstrong was informant for his death certificate.
Moses S. Armstrong died 23 November 1961 at his home at 62 Wilson Street in Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County. His death certificate states that he was born 12 February 1893 in Wilson County to Garry Armstrong and Henriett (maiden name unknown). He was buried in a family cemetery in Town Creek, North Carolina, and wife Lillie Armstrong was informant.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: Nelson Armstrong, 60, wife Mary, 50, and boarder Grover Barnes, 19.
Nelson Armstrong died 8 December 1934 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 80 years old, a farmer, born in Edgecombe County to Abraham and Cherry Armstrong, and a widower. Henry Armstrong of Sharpsburg, North Carolina, was informant for his death certificate.
In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County: grocery storekeeper Columbus Artis, 24, his brothers June Scott, 20, and Henry J. Artis, 16, and lodgers John Newson, 30, and Eliga Diggs, 24, all of whom worked as laborers in a box factory.
Columbus Estelle Artis died 18 March 1973 in Wilson. According to his death certificate, C.E. was born 28 August 1886 to Adam T. Artis and Manda Aldridge. Married to Ruby Barber and residing at 611 East Green Street, he was a retired undertaker. He was buried at Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson.
In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg & Wilson Road, farm manager June S. Artis, 30, wife Ethel, 26, and children James, 7, Edgar, 7, Manda Bell, 3, and farm laborer Edgar Exum.
June Scott Artis died 2 June 1973 in Stantonsburg, Wilson County. His death certificate reports that he was married to Ethel Becton and was born 23 November 1895 to Adam Artis and Mandy Aldridge. He was buried 7 June 1973 at Artis Cemetery, Wayne County.
In December 1920, five of Wilson’s leading African-American citizens executed a certificate of incorporation to establish the Commercial Bank of Wilson. The bank was necessary, they asserted, “to promote thrift and economy,” “to encourage agriculture and industrial enterprises,” and “to place in circulation money otherwise unavailable.” Farmer, realtor and businessman Samuel H. Vick; barber William H. Hines; school principal J. James D. Reid; funeral home operator and businessman Camillus L. Darden, and physician Frank S. Hargrave — the unquestioned cream of east Wilson‘s crop — each invested in 100 shares of bank stock and, after filing the document, set about designating a president (Hines) and board of directors (J.R. Rosser, Elm City; druggist Isaac A. Shade; businessman Cain D. Sauls, Snow Hill, Greene County; Charles S. Thomas; R.A. Worlds, Black Creek; John Lucas; lawyer G.S. McBrayer; J.G. Mitchell, Elm City; Lee Pierce and John Pierce, Kenly, Johnston County; barber Alfred Robinson; realtor Walter S. Hines; farmer Biscoe Hagans; W.H. Hinnant and W.R. Hinnant, Kenly, Johnston County; funeral home operator and businessman Columbus E. Artis; Garry Armstrong and Joshua Armstrong, Elm City; funeral home operator C.L. Darden; barber Walter S. Hines; physician F.S. Hargrave; dentist W.H. Phillips; farmer Ernest Taylor, Sharpsburg; laborer Ed Humphrey; farmers Harry Barnes and Lovett Barnes; contractor Ed Barnes, Selma; merchant Andrew W. Townsend; and a cashier, G.W.C. Brown of Norfolk, Virginia).
Wilmington Morning Star, 18 November 1920.
Elizabeth City Independent, 4 March 1921.
Attached to the filing are three pages listing the names of all the bank’s investors and providing information about their net worth and occupation. Most of more than 150 shareholders — overwhelmingly African-American men — lived in Wilson or Wilson County, but adjoining counties like Wayne, Greene and Johnston were represented, as well as more far-flung cities like Durham and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. They were farmers and contractors, merchants and ministers, teachers and barbers, with estimated worths ranging from $300 to $50,000.
In the 1921-1922 issue of The Negro Year Book: An Annual Encyclopedia of the Negro, Monroe N. Work, editor, Commercial Bank of Wilson was listed as one of only eight black banks in the state of North Carolina, which trailed only Virginia (13) and Georgia (9) in the number of such institutions.
Alas, things fell apart. After a fire in the vault destroyed records, the State launched a criminal investigation that resulted in the closing of the bank on 4 September 1929 and the indictments of vice-president (and chief promoter) J.D. Reid and cashier H.S. Stanbank on charges of embezzlement, forgery and deceptive banking practices. As reported in the 22 February 1930 issue of the Pittsburgh Courier, the courtroom was daily packed with victimized depositors and shareholders, all of whom bore an “intense feeling of resentment against the accused….” Both were convicted and sentenced to five-year prison terms — at hard labor — but released after two years.
Excerpt of 1930 federal census of Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, showing inmates of N.C. State Penitentiary, including J.D. Reid, 58, and Harry Stanback, 35.
Burlington Daily Times-News, 22 December 1931.