boarding house

Women are best.

While director of the University of North Carolina Press, W. T. Couch also worked as a part-time official of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, serving as assistant and associate director for North Carolina (1936-1937) and as director for the southern region (1938-1939). The Federal Writers’ Project Papers are housed at U.N.C.’s Southern Historical Collection and include Couch’s correspondence and life histories of about 1,200 individuals collected by F.W.P. members. At least two African-American residents of Wilson, Georgia Crockett Aiken and William Batts, were memorialized in this way. 

Folder 324 contains the transcript of the interview with Georgia Crockett Aiken, titled “Women are best.”

The first page is a key to the pseudonyms used in the transcript.

Georgia Aiken is mistakenly described as white. She lived at 120 Pender Street in Wilson. When her interview began, she was in her kitchen directing the work of two children who were cleaning the house. She was born in 1872 into a family of ten children, all of whom were dead except her. [The family had lived in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Georgia’s brothers included Alexander and James Crockett.]

Georgia Aiken grew up near a school and, because both her parents were wage-earners, was able to attend through the ninth grade. She obtained a teaching certificate and started teaching in 1889 a one-room school “out in the country.” She made $25 a month for teaching seven grades and reminisced on the hardships — and reward — of serving the children of the community.

In 1908, Georgia Aiken arrived in Wilson. She started high school coursework [where? the Colored High School did not open until 1924] and received a big raise when she completed it. She taught for 48 years, all told.

She dated John Aiken for two years before they married. Aiken owned a prosperous livery stable, and the couple saved their money to build a house. When they bought the Pender Street lot, a widow lived with her children in a small house there. [A 1905 plat map shows John Aiken already owned a lot on Pender Street. Was it a different one?] John Aiken died before the house was completed [in 1914] and Georgia Aiken took over the business.

Though worried about finances, Georgia Aiken went ahead with plans to build. The livery business did well until “automobiles came in.” She sold the business at a loss and turned her attention to teaching and caring for her house.

The writer described Aiken’s kitchen in deep detail.

Her “cook stove … finished in blue porcelain” was probably much like this one, found in an on-line ad:

Aiken continued, speaking of training her helper, her standards for housekeeping and food preparation, and her preference for paying cash.

And then: “I might as well say that I voted in the last city elections and have voted ever since woman’s suffrage has come in, and I expect to as long as I can get to the polls. I would like to see some women run for some of the town offices. I think they’re just as capable as the men who set themselves up so high and mighty. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if women didn’t get more and more of the high positions in the near future. …”

And: churches and government are run by rings, and “if you don’t stand in well with these, you don’t stand a chance.”

“I believe the women do more in church work than men.”

Georgia Aiken took in boarders at her home on Pender Street and always tried to make her “guests feel at home.” “When times are good and business is stirring” — likely, she meant during tobacco market season — “I always have my house full.” In slow times, though, it was hard to meet expenses. Taxes were due and though she knew she would make the money to pay them in the fall, she hated to incur fees.

Aiken paid her helper in board and clothes only, though she wished she could pay wages. If she stayed long enough, Aiken would consider leaving her some interest in the property after her death, though her niece in New York might object. She lamented a long delay in repainting the exterior of the house, but had plans to do so.

The writer described the house’s rooms and furnishings, mentioning their wear and age. Aiken indicated her preference for “clean decent folks” as tenants. She had two baths in the house and hot water from the stove for both. She could not afford to install steam heat when the house was being built and rued the dustiness of coal.

“Helping anyone in need is being nice to anyone, and the one that helps me most during the few years that I’ve left in this life is the one I hope to remember with the most of what I leave when I’m called to the life to come.”

A summary:

Georgia Crockett Aikens died 17 August 1939 in Wilson, apparently just a few months after giving this interview. 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.

“Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, Collection No. 03709.” The Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mattie B. Coleman of the Orange Hotel.

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 July 1985.

Per the Nomination Form for recognition as a National Historic District for “Wilson Central Business District – Tobacco Warehouse Historic District,” “According to the Sanborn maps, by 1913 the Orange Hotel was known as the Lynn Haven Hotel and by 1922 it was a dwelling. Vick lost the building during the Depression and the Mechanics and Farmers Bank held title until 1944. The present owner, Mrs. Mattie B. Coleman, purchased the property in 1950 and continues to live here and rent furnished rooms.”

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On 5 September 1920, Henry Coleman, 32, of Wilson, married Mattie B. Williams, 18, of Wilson, at her home in Wilson. Disciples of Christ minister Walter Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Jim Barkidale, Fillies Barkdale and A.L. Spates, all of Sampson County, North Carolina.

In the 1928 and 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Coleman Mattie B (c) h 526 E Nash

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 526 East Nash Street, paying $12/month in rent, widow Carrie Shaw, 48; and children Robert, 21, dry cleaning plant laborer, Cornie, 20, laundress, Louise, 18, private nurse, Jovester, 17, Aline, 15, and Nettie R., 12. Also paying $12/month, Dave Harris, 32, guano plant laborer; wife Bessie S., 27, laundress; and children Timothy, 12, Roy, 10, Ardria M., 8, Roland, 5, Odessa, 3, and Herman, 1. Also paying $12/month, boarding house keeper Mattie B. Coleman, 25; tobacco factory stemmer Enemicha Kent, 20; tobacco factory stemmer Carrie M. Shine, 22, and Callonia Shine, 15; wholesale grocery delivery boy Mitchel Hamon, 24, and wife Ella, 17; restaurant dishwasher James Nelson, 21; laundry ironer Irene Rountree, 27; and cook Maggie Downing, 26.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 526 East Nash Street, rented for $20/month, Mattie B. Williams, 36, rents room-lodging house; Herbert Wiggins, 25, filling station helper; Ernest Davis, 28, veneer factory fireman, and wife Dolly, 29, both of South Carolina; George Rountree, 33; and Sadie Collins, 31, of New York, cafe proprietor.

Mattie Bea Coleman died 10 November 1986 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 March 1904 in Wilson County to Thomas Williams and Sylvester [maiden name unknown]; resided at 526 East Nash; was a widow; and was a hotel owner. Informant was widow Hattie Margaret Williams of Baltimore, Maryland.

The death of Moses Brandon.

Victim of Heart Failure.

Moses Brandon, a negro, fell dead today at 2:15 from heart failure.

The negro, it appears, was walking on Spring street, opposite the Norfolk Southern cotton platform, when suddenly he threw up his hands and fell to the ground. Smith Bennett, another negro who lived nearby, saw him and ran to his assistance. He saw though that Brandon was dying and ran to get a chair. Brandon died in a few minutes.

The deceased had conducted a restaurant in this city for a great many years and is one of Wilson’s best known colored citizens.   — Wilson Daily Times, 4 March 1914.

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Moses Brandon, son of Frances Terry of Virginia, married Amie Hilliard on 22 May 1895 in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister L.B. Williams performed the ceremony, and Charles H. Darden, Braswell R. Winstead and L.A. Moore served as witnesses.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Virginia-born Moses Brandon, 50, day laborer; wife Emmie, 45, washerwoman; and son Marvin, 12. (Smith Bennett, 47, a brickmason, and his daughter Addie, 2o, also appear in the Wilson census.)

In the 1908 Wilson city directory, Moses Brandon’s listing shows his “eating house” at 127 South Goldsboro Street and his home at 125 Ashe.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Moses Brandon, 55, proprietor of boarding house, and wife Amy, 51, laundress. Her only child was reported dead.

In the 1912 Wilson city directory, Moses Brandon’s listing shows his eating house at 411 East Nash and his home at 127 Ashe.

Page_11) 127 E. Goldsboro. 2) 411 E. Nash. 3) 125-127 Ashe. 4) N&S cotton platform, Spring Street. Sanborn map of Wilson NC, 1913.

Brandon died intestate. Two months after his death, his widow Amy applied for letters of administration for his estate, valued at $300. Camillus L. Darden (son of Charles L. Darden, above) and Roderick Taylor joined her to give a $600 bond.

M Brandon Admin Bond

Amy Brandon did not long outlive her husband. The will she drew up in September 1916 was proved six months later:

North Carolina, Wilson County.   I, Amy Brandon, a colored woman, of the state of North Carolina and county of Wilson, being of sound mind and memory but considering the uncertainty of this my earthly existence and wishing to arrange for the proper handling of my affairs and the distribution of my property in the event of my death, do make, publish, and declare this my last will and testament in manner and form following:

First: my executor, hereinafter named and designated, shall give my body a decent burial, suitable to the wishes of my relatives. And it is my desire that my said executor have my body interred in the burial ground at Wilson, North Carolina.

I direct my said executor to pay all my funeral expenses and all my just debts out of the first moneys coming into his hands from my said estate.

Second: I give, bequeath and devise to my beloved and only sister, Lucinda Holloway, now living and residing at No. 624 Princess Anne Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia, all my property, real and personal, of whatsoever kind and condition and wheresoever situate, to her and her heirs and assigns, in fee simple forever.

Third: I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint, Camillus Darden, a colored man of Wilson, North Carolina, a friend of myself and family, my lawful executor, to all intents and purposes to execute this my last will and testament and every part and clause thereof according to the true intent and meaning of the same, hereby revoking and declaring void all other wills and testaments by me heretofore made.

In Testimony Whereof, I, the said Amy Brandon, have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal, this the 8th day of September, 1916.     Amy (X) Brandon  {seal}

Signed, sealed, published and declared by the said Amy Brandon to be her last will and testament in the presence of us, who at her request and in her presence, and in the presence of each other, have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses thereto.    Witnesses: /s/ D.C. Yancey, Ph.G., L.A. Moore