Darden grid stars!

Wilson Daily Times, 20 September 1950.

  • William White — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 614 Green Street, George C. White, 41, hotel cook; wife Jane, 38, hotel laundress; and children Hampton, 3, William, 6, Margurite, 14, and Lucile, 4. In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: William H. White, 15, and brother Hampton, 13.

The Trojan (1952), yearbook of C.H. Darden High School.

  • Cornelius Moye — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Anderson McCall, 30, mortar mixer; wife Annie L., 26, cook; and sons Feral McCall, 6; Fred Moye, 8, Cornelius Moye, 7, and William A. Moye, 5.
  • Eddie Best — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 406 Walnut, rented for $12/month, Aaron Best, 39; wife Estelle, 39; and children Rudolph, 14, Royce, 10, Harper and Gerald, 8, Eddie, 7, and Nannie Jean, 5.
  • Albert Cannady — in the 1940 census of Sand Hill township, Moore County, North Carolina: public laborer Albert Cannady, 35; wife Sylvan, 30; and children Lunia, 12, Harold, 9, Albert Jr., Graddick, 4, and Betty Jean, 3 months. In the 1950 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Lipscomb Road, Albert M. Cannady, 45, chief cook at state hospital; wife Sylvan, 43; children Albert M., Jr., 16, grocery delivery boy, Graddick, 14, and Betty J., 10; and granddaughter Amanda Farmer, 3.

The Trojan (1952), yearbook of C.H. Darden High School.

At White Oak Primitive Baptist Church.

Like other white Primitive Baptist congregations, Saratoga’s White Oak Primitive Baptist admitted African-Americans to segregated membership — probably from the time it was founded in 1830. However, when they were able to form their own congregations after Emancipation, most Black Primitive Baptists left white churches to worship in less discordant settings, and White Oak’s members joined African-American churches in southeast Wilson County, including Bartee and Cornerline.

White Oak P.B. is no longer active. A small cemetery lies adjacent to the church, but its graves are relatively recent. (The oldest marked grave dates to 1927.) It seems likely that prior to that time, church members were buried in family cemeteries in the neighboring community.

White Oak Primitive Baptist Church, Saratoga, Wilson County.

On a recent visit to White Oak, I was surprised to recognize a feature in the graveyard. Up to then, of hundreds I’ve found, I had never seen a Clarence Best-carved marker on a white person’s grave. Here, though, was a little cluster, a single family whose small marble headstones I immediately recognized as Best’s work. They tell a terrible tale of loss, four babies who died before they reached the age of two.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2023.

The last will and testament of Noah Best.

For more about Noah Best, see here and here and here. The Griffin Street house and lot he mentioned in his will was property Best (and several of his family members and neighbors) received after being forced out of Grab Neck community.

Will of Noah Best (1924), North Carolina Wills and Probate Records 1665-1998,

The death of Lottie Best.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 June 1911.


In the 1880 census of Saint Marys township, Wake County, N.C.: Patsy Dunston, 50, and daughters Lottie, 17, and Minerva, 7.

On 27 April 1882, Daniel Best, 23, married Lottie Dunston, 20, in Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: tobacco stemmer Daniel Best, 40; laundry woman Lottie, 35; and children Henry, 17, Sarah, 16, both tobacco stemmers, Daizell, 13, nurse, John, 11, tobacco stemmer, and Griffin, 7.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer Dave Best, 54; wife Lottie, 45, laundress; and children Henry, 26, Sarah, 18, Dezell, 16, James, 15, Griffin, 10, and Harry, 4 months.

Lottie Best died 5 June 1911 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 45 years old; was born in Wilson County to Joe and Winnie Best; was widowed; worked as a cook; lived on Pender Street; and was buried in Wilson. John Best was informant.

Fine cemetery memorials!

Nearly all grave markers from the last 40 years or so are machine-cut, their lettering precise and even and utterly predictable. In Wilson County’s African-American cemeteries, however, even a casual perusal of older markers reveals artisanal work, almost always anonymous. Though there are many hand-cut styles, one repeatedly snags the eye with its distinctive font — squared letters with flared serifs and, especially, 9’s with long, pointed tails. These carvings are the work of marble cutter Clarence Benjamin Best, who chiseled stars, crosses, flowers, lambs, and Masonic emblems, as well as grammatically idiosyncratic epitaphs, into slabs of stone for more than 50 years. I have found his work in rural Wilson County cemeteries and as far afield as Wayne, Edgecombe, and Greene Counties, but Rest Haven Cemetery is the ground zero of his oeuvre.

Best got his start as a marble cutter at Wilson Marble Mantle & Tile Company on North Railroad Street. By the early 1920s, he was designing and cutting headstones for African-American clients as a side gig. Operating from a backyard workshop, Best worked at every price point, often repurposing scrap stone or headstone seconds to create custom monuments that collectively testify to his skill and endless creativity. He opened his own business in 1946, advertising FINE CEMETERY MEMORIALS, and worked another 30 years.

As a tribute to this unsung vernacular artist, I’ve set out to photograph every monument I can attribute to Clarence B. Best and will feature his stand-out pieces in a dedicated Instagram account. Stay tuned.

Behold the Lamb of God. Clarence B. Best’s work is well-represented in Saint Delight Cemetery, near Walstonburg, Greene County, North Carolina.

The final resting place of Eliza Best.

Per her death certificate, Eliza Best was buried in “Rountree Cemetery.” However, her simple little white marble headstone is now found in Rest Haven Cemetery next to her son Clarence B. Best and other family members. Best was probably originally buried in Vick Cemetery (which, with Odd Fellows Cemetery, was often lumped with Rountree), then disinterred and moved to a new family plot in Rest Haven after the older cemeteries closed circa 1960.

[Note: despite her son’s growing business carving headstones, Eliza Best’s marker  does not display any of Clarence Best’s characteristic style features.]

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2023.

Wilson’s first African-American policemen.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 July 1950.

In 1950, Wilson hired its first two Black policemen, Rudolph Best and Lee Jackson Williams, to patrol east of the railroad tracks.

  • Lee Jackson “Hank” Williams

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 319 Hackney Street, a duplex rented at $12/month per unit, Frank Harris, 35, lumber mill laborer; wife Mamie, 33; son Frank Jr., 2; and nephew McKinley Barnes, 21, farm laborer, and niece-in-law Hagar, 16; and Sam Williams, 28, barber; wife Emma, 28; children Addie M., 9, James, 7, Billie, 3, and Sam Jr., 1; and roomer Earnest Corbitt, 32, oil mill laborer.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 511 East Green Street, rented for $12/hour, Sam Williams, 42, barber; wife Emma, 38; and children Addie, 19, James, 17, Billie, 13, Samuel Jr., 11, and Dazzarine, 9.

In 1944, Lee Jackson Williams registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 5 May 1926 in Wilson County; lived at 511 East Green Street; his nearest relative was Emma Williams; and he was “unemployed — going to school.”

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 505 East Green, barber Sam Williams, 50; wife Emma, 48; children Addie M., 28, James, 26, and Lee Williams, 23; and daughter Dazzarine Nicholson, 19, cashier, and her daughter Edrina, 1.

On 27 September 1954, Lee Jackson Williams, 28, of Wilson, son of Sam and Emma Crawford Williams, married Margaret Evangeline Speight, 25, of Wilson, daughter of Theodore and Marie Thomas Speight, at 510 East Green Street, Wilson. Presbyterian minister O.J. Hawkins performed the ceremony in the presence of Beatrice Neal, Emma Williams, and Sarah Bryant.

Lee Jackson Williams died 24 October 1997 in Wilson.

  • Rudolph Best

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 406 East Walnut, ice plant laborer Aaron Best, 31; wife Estell, 31; and children William A., 9, Audry L., 6, Rudolph V., 5, Vera M., 3, and Royce D., 1.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 406 Walnut, rented for $12/month, Aaron Best, 39; wife Estelle, 39; and children Rudolph, 14, Royce, 10, Harper and Gerald, 8, Eddie, 7, and Nannie Jean, 5.

In 1943, Rudolph Best registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 17 September 1925 in Wilson; his contact was Aaron Best; he lived at 1009 East Nash Street, Wilson; and he worked part-time at Briggs Hotel.

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1009 East Nash Street, Isaac Williams, 26, plaster helper; wife Delores D., 25, shaking tobacco at tobacco factory; and Larry L., 1; (upstairs) Rudolph Best, 24, plaster helper, and brothers Audrey L., 27, auto mechanic at repair shop, and Eddie E., 17; and (upstairs) Odessa B. Reid, 39, and mother Ietta R.M. Reid, 81, widow.

On 29 December 1954, Rudolph Best, 29, of Wilson, son of Aaron Best and Estelle Burden Best, married Ophelia Atkinson, 30, of Wilson, daughter of Mark Atkinson and Ada Battle Atkinson in Wilson.

Rudolph Best died 19 August 1974 in Durham, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 September 1925 to Aaron Best and Estelle Burton; was married to Ophelia Atkinson; lived at 1009 East Nash Street, Wilson; and had worked as a “policeman (22 years) Wilson Police Dept. Retired.)


Wilson Daily Times, 15 March 1982.

The obituary of Bessie McNair Best.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 August 1949.


In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 213 Ashe Street, renting for $8/month, tobacco factory laborer Virginia McNair, 40; daughter Bessie Ward, 24, a cook; and grandchildren Grace, 8, Mary N., 5, and Willie C., 7.

Bessie McNair Best died 29 July 1949 in Norfolk, Virginia. Per her death certificate, she was born 23 August 1915 in Wilson, N.C., to William McCullum and Virginia Ward; was the widow of James Best; and was taken to Wilson for burial by C.E. Artis Funeral Home.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.