cemetery

Notice of intention to disinter.

On sequential weeks in April and May 2006, the Wilson Daily Times ran this Notice of Intention to Disinter, Remove and Reinter Graves.

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Notice is hereby given to the known and unknown relatives of those persons buried in The Wilder Family Cemetery located in Springhill Township, Wilson County North Carolina and being described as follows: BEING all Tract No. 1 containing 130.94 (C/L of Creek & Branches); Tract No. 2 containing 24.84 acres (C/L/ of Road & Branch); Tract No. 3 containing 11.17 acres (to C/L of Road); and Tract No. 4 containing 4.20 acres (to C/L of Road), as shown on a map entitled “Survey for Kemit David Brame, Jr., Property of Charles B. Brame, Jr., et al,” which map is recorded in Plat Book 27, page 204, Wilson County Registry; for reference see Deeds recorded in Book 125, page 583, Book 249, page 313, Book 249, page 322, Book 290, page 306, Book 381, page 37, and Book 419, page 218, Wilson County Registry. Being better described as approximately 500′ northwest of the intersection of NC#42 Highway and Neal Road (SR #1198).

KNOWNS

There are 2 marked graves said cemetery, Josiah Wilder DOB – April 5, 1866, DOD – April 22, 1919; Elizabeth Wilder Barnes, DOB October 5 1898, DOD – July 23, 1928.

UNKNOWNS

There are approximately 8-10 unknown (unmarked) graves in said cemetery; that all of the graves will be relocated and reentered in the Rocky Creek United Church of Christ Cemetery, located on NC #581 Highway, Kenly, North Carolina. Also the grave of Chestiney Earp Wilder, DOB – July 11, 1869, DOD – January 10 1957 will be relocated from the southeast corner of the cemetery to the northwest corner of the cemetery. Then a complete record of where these deceased person will be reentered will be on file with the Wilson County Registry of Deeds, Wilson, North Carolina. You are further notified that the graves are being moved under the provisions of North Carolina General Statute #65-13, and that the removals will not begin until this notice has been published four (4) successive times in The Wilson Daily Times, Wilson, North Carolina and until approval to do so has been given by the Wilson City Council, Wilson, North Carolina. This the 3rd day of April, 2006.    R. Ward Sutton [address omitted] ***

——

Here is the rough map of the site attached to the Removal of Graves Certificate and filed with the Wilson County Registry of Deeds: 

The Certificate gives two reasons as “basis for removal” — (1) to give perpetual care, (2) subdivision development. This Google Maps aerial view of the former Josiah Wilder property clearly shows the subdivision that now covers the former site of his family’s cemetery:

As shown in this photograph posted to Findagrave.com, the Wilder family’s new plot at Rocky Branch cemetery is marked with an explanatory headstone:

Capture

Access to the Elm City cemetery.

Cemetery Access Prompts Concern: Meant to deter vandals, chained road may discourage descendants

By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Times, 15 August 2018.

ELM CITY — When Marie Knight brought her daughter to see her great-grandmother’s grave, she was disappointed to find a heavy chain across the access road leading to the cemetery.

Knight, a native of Elm City, had driven from Cary on Monday to meet her mother, Shelly Robinson, to visit the African-American cemetery where their relatives are buried.

The access road, located along the south side of the former Nexans wire and cable plant on Elm City Road across from the Family Dollar, has been open and unimpeded as long as either Knight or Robinson can remember.

Nexans was sold in September 2017 and become Elm City Warehouse LLC. The new owner, Charles Gardner, put up the chain at the entranceway.

Gardner said he wants to keep people from throwing trash, vandalizing and desecrating graves and using the spot as a lovers’ lane. He posted a sign with a telephone number to call for those seeking graveyard access.

“I have a caretaker who will go and unlock it for anybody that wants to go back there,” Gardner said. “I’m not denying anybody access. All I am doing is trying to keep people that don’t need to be back there drinking and throwing cans out.”

Knight called the number Monday and the caretaker responded in a short amount of time to unlock the chain.

“You basically have to get permission to come out here and visit your loved ones,” Knight said. “I guess when you set up a cemetery, you never set it up thinking that you are going to be barred from entering. That’s never a question that enters into your mind. It’s supposed to be open with free access. I feel that it needs to be remedied quickly and I am just appalled that someone would want to do it.”

The cemetery is located on 5.46 acres of land purchased in 1900 by the Elm City Colored Cemetery Commission, which is no longer active.

According to Knight, the property was acquired by a group of Elm City residents concerned that the resting places of many of the community’s black residents could be lost unless they staked claim to the property.

Indeed, there are graves that go back to the 1840s if not earlier at the site. There are also many graves of World War I, World War II and Korean War veterans there. The latest burial appears to have been in 2014.

Knight was so disappointed with the high grass, fallen branches and general disrepair that she decided to organize a cleanup day scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon on Sept. 1.

Knight said Elm City residents need to band together to take care of their ancestors’ resting places.

“My loved ones are out here and the people that I know,” Robinson said.

Elm City names like Gaston, Spivey, Williams, Brewer, Atkinson, Barnes and Harris are throughout the graveyard.

“The graves are still here but the headstones are broken off of a lot of them,” Robinson said. “They are laying in the dirt and I don’t like it. Some of them are covered up in weeds. When you come out here to see your loved one, you don’t want to see broken stones, trees all on top of them covering them up.”

Jonathan Russell, Elm City town manager, said the cemetery is outside the town limits but within its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

“It’s something that we have assisted with cleanup of debris and mowing just to kind of maintain it as a courtesy historically for a number of years,” Russell said. “We haven’t had any issues with any vandalism or any thefts that was reported while Nexans was in operation and we are aware that the new owner has engaged the town in regard to a couple of questions regarding the property. We advised him at that time that we did not want to restrict any access to the graveyard. We had some discussions regarding the graveyard that was back there and that there were citizens within the region that visited relatives there. Our stance on that since he has purchased the property (has been) to keep it open. It hasn’t been a major concern as far as vandalism taking place back in there.”

Russell said the town has previously assisted with the removal of fallen limbs, mowing the grass, removing some debris from time to time and cleaning up.

Knight said there could be a couple hundred graves at the site.

“I would encourage if there are any relatives or distant relatives that could reestablish the commission, that would be beneficial,” Russell said. “I think that would be helpful if they could possibly come to some type of an agreement with the current owner to provide easier access to it. I think that would probably be the best solution. The town is sympathetic with the citizens and family members who want to visit. If there is anything we can do to assist to facilitate anything between potential commission members and the owner, we will be glad to help.”

Knight said she has spoken to attorneys about how the commission might be reestablished.

Brian Grawburg, who has been surveying and photographing lost and hidden cemeteries in Wilson County, said Gardner’s chain on the access road is not illegal.

“The statute does specify that they have to provide access, but they are the ones to determine what the access is,” Grawburg said.

Grawburg said that while it may be an inconvenience to call for access, people need to understand that it may not be a bad thing to keep vandals and litterers out.

There is evidence that some gravestones have been knocked over and broken.

Grawburg has seen some old cemeteries that were heavily littered with debris.

“I have seen what can happen when it is accessible and nobody is looking after it,” Grawburg said. “If there is a driveway that they can go to, they will go up there. People will dump trash back there.”

Grawburg visited the cemetery Wednesday to document it.

“It’s historic,” Grawburg said. “We don’t want to lose historic things.”

Grawburg said Knight’s desire to organize a cleanup is a good idea.

“If they don’t get it done, it’s going to get to the point that it can’t get done because it’s so overgrown,” Grawburg said.

To reach Knight concerning details of the cemetery cleanup day, call 801-390-8017. To reach the caretaker for entry to the graveyard access road, call 252-289-5085.

Finding the Newsomes’ resting place.

Searching for Wilson County’s Lost Cemeteries: Project pinpoints gravesites before nature reclaims them.

By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Times, 29 June 2018.

Brian Grawburg stops his pickup truck at the end of a farm path between an old hedgerow and a field off Radford Road.

“There it is,” Grawburg says, pointing to the underbrush where two flat marble headstones have come into view.

The 72-year-old retiree is on a search for hidden and overgrown cemeteries in Wilson County.

Grawburg erects a ladder in the bed of his truck, climbs up and points his camera at the graves. He makes a couple of pictures with a 1937 Leica rangefinder and climbs down to note the cemetery’s location with a modern GPS tracker.

These are the gravestones of Amos and Martha Newsome, husband and wife, who called Wilson County home in the late 1800s. A neighbor across the road had told Grawburg about the graveyard’s existence, and this was his second visit to the spot. Upon closer inspection, Grawburg notes the presence of another grave a few feet deeper into the woods.

Hidden behind a shield of Virginia creeper, smilax and scuppernong grape vines is a marble obelisk not quite waist-high. The face of the monument is clean and the inscription is clear.

Edna Newsom, 1846 to 1913, Kind angels watch her sleeping dust.”

“It’s a very nice stone,” Grawburg comments. “That one we’re going to have to carefully look at.”

Despite the difference in the last name spelling, Grawburg wonders if Edna might be Amos’ mother, but he’s not sure.

“Martha died in 1902, and he’s 1919,” Grawburg said. “That is certainly where we will have to get more information.”

Grawburg says he can’t wait to tell Joan Howell that he has found another headstone.

MAKING A LIST

Joan Howell has compiled four books on Wilson County cemeteries. The first one was completed in 1993, and she is currently working on her fifth. All were projects supported by the Wilson County Genealogical Society with information supplied by the group’s members.

It is Howell’s work and old Work Progress Administration surveys from the 1930s that offer hints as to where Grawburg may find the forgotten cemeteries.

The Wilson resident will sometimes wear boots to protect his shins from snakes and ticks and take along clippers to cut back “vines from hell” as he calls them.

Grawburg is building a photographic record of deceased Wilson County residents.

He’s not interested in the cemeteries that are neatly kept. Those are the ones that are already well-known.

Grawburg is interested in finding the ones that have been overgrown and rest in little patches of woods in farm fields, at the edges of subdivisions, anywhere that Mother Nature has waged a battle to reclaim the plots.

“It doesn’t take long,” Grawburg said.

A cemetery can go from being well-maintained to overgrown in a matter of a few years.

“This is top priority because they are becoming nonexistent,” Howell said.

An example is the B. Ellis cemetery in a small plot hidden by trees and overgrowth that is unseen by passing traffic off Forest Hills Road in Wilson.

“There are 35 people in there, and you don’t know there is a single one in there,” Grawburg said. “That cemetery is right there.”

Grawburg said with 16 cemeteries Howell recently found and added to the list, there are about 260 known cemeteries in Wilson County.

There are estimates that there could be another couple of hundred cemeteries that are not documented in the county.

‘IT’S EXCITING’

At age 85 and after two hip replacements, Howell still puts on her “snake boots” and heads into the woods to search.

“It’s exciting,” Howell said. “I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. Some people don’t know where their grandmothers and their grandfathers are. I just love doing this. I lament the fact that I am not as able as I once was.”

Grawburg and Howell will often meet in the genealogical room of the Wilson County Public Library to share notes. On Thursday, Howell spread out a United States Geological Survey topographical map with handwritten notations marking cemeteries that had been located.

“I don’t put anything on the map until I find the cemetery, and then I give it a name,” Howell said.

Howell said locating gravestones is vital to filling in Wilson County’s history.

“Death certificates didn’t begin to be recorded until 1913, and then they were spotty. So this is a means of recording people who might not have been noted elsewhere,” Howell said. “It is a way of preserving history and family information.”

Grawburg and Howell said there have been rare instances where farmers have driven implements over cemeteries, knocking over gravestones, and have even taken them away from the actual graves.

“That is distressing to me,” Grawburg said.

It is also a violation of state law, he added.

When Grawburg finds a grave, he wonders who the person was, how he ended up there and what he died from, particularly the children who are interred.

“Did they have scarlet fever? Did they have measles? I think about that,” Grawburg said. “Why did they die? Why so young?”

Grawburg traveled to upstate New York to locate his own relatives.

“I think about my reaction when I found my great-great-great-great-grandfather and you say, ‘Geez, I’m standing on the grave where we’re related.’ There is just something cool about that,” Grawburg said. “Not everybody sees that, but it is kind of neat to say that there’s a connection.”

Grawburg hopes that living Wilson County residents might have the same experience after their ancestors’ graves have been located.

He said there is the joy of saving somebody’s heritage regardless of the fact that he is not a relative.

“I don’t know Amos Newsome,” Grawburg said. “I don’t know anything about him. I don’t know any of his family. I have no connection to him whatsoever. None. Well, somebody does.”

Both Grawburg and Howell said tips from the public about the locations of lost cemeteries are valuable in the search.

“If they would show me where the cemeteries are, that would be helpful,” Howell said. “This is such a large project and I don’t know when we will ever get through with it.”

People interested in the project may contact Grawburg by email at archive@myglnc.com.

——

Benjamin Newsome and Edna Newsome registered their 16-year cohabitation in Wilson County in 1866.

In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamin Newsom, 50; wife Edna, 31; and children Amos, 10, Gray, 18, Pennina, 16, Mary, 13, Louisa, 9, Larry, 7, and Joseph, 5.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamin Newsome, 53; wife Edna, 40; and children Oliver, 21, Amos, 19, Gray, 18, Penelope, 6, and Mary, 2.

On 23 December 1883, Amos Newsom, 23, married Martha Ann Barnes, 22, in Wilson County.

After Benjamin Newsome’s death in 1893, Edna Newsome applied for letters of administration for his estate. A Report of Commissioners valued his personal estate (excluding land) at $400. At his death, he had owned a safe; a bureau and its contents; four beds, [bed]steads and contents; another bed and bedstead; two trunks; a sewing machine; a table; a clock; eight chairs; a stove and contents; two more tables and contents; a lard stand; another safe and contents; a saw; three trays; two jugs; a jar; two pots; a tub; two buckets; one lot of corn (about 15 barrels); two stacks of fodder; two mules; one wagon and gear; one cart; farm tools; a barrel of syrup; two wheels; a loom; four bushels of pears; two bushels of wheat; nine hogs; 150 bushels of potatoes; 150 bushels of cotton seed; seven geese; 25 chickens; 500 pounds of tobacco; and 1200 pounds of seed cotton.

On 31 January 1900, Edna Newsome, 55, of Cross Roads, married Ishmael Wilder, 60, of Springhill township, at Newsome’s residence. W.H. Horton, “minister of the Christian denom.,” performed the ceremony in the presence of Grant Farmer, W.T. Barnes, and L.H. Newsome.

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Ishmael Wilder, 63; wife Edney, 55; and daughter Clara, 26.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Joseph L. Newsom, 34; wife Virginia L., 34; mother Edna, 65; and sister Mary E., 42.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Amos Newsom, 55; [second] wife Frances, 30; and children Lena, 21, Mamie, 17, Mattie, 14, Linettie, 5, Clevland, 2, Willie, 20, and Albert, 18.

Amos Newsom died 8 June 1919 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1859 in Wilson County to Benjamin and Edna Newsom of Wilson County; was married to Francis Newsom; owned his farm; and was buried in the “country.” Informant was Larry Newsome.

Image of estate document available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Teens clear the Ellis cemetery.

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On 25 November 2018, the Wilson Times published an article about a group of teenagers working to clean and restore an African-American cemetery as a service project with the Wilson County Genealogical Society. The teens, members of a mentoring group called Gentleman’s Agreement, were curious about history of the graveyard, which was believed unidentified. I immediately recognized it as the Littleton and Judie Barnes Ellis cemetery and reached out to reporter Olivia Neeley to provide links to my September 2017 post about the overgrown burial site. I’m overjoyed to learn that it is receiving much-needed attention and look forward to Neeley’s follow-up on the project. Kudos to the young men of Gentleman’s Agreement!

The Harts’ resting place.

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A photograph does not do justice to these unique matching headstones in Rest Haven cemetery. The inset is etched black glass. Tempie Ann Hart‘s shows a regularity that suggests it was machine-made. Ben Hart‘s, however, with its pointed-tail 9’s and serifed 7’s, bears the unmistakable imprint of craftsman Clarence B. Best. Though the insets have cracked, their lettering still darkly gleams in sunlight.

——

In the 1870 census of Walnut Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Wiley Hart, 47; wife Chaney, 33; and children Susan, 13, James, 12, Lucius, 11 (described as “idiotic”), Wiley, 5, and Benjamin, 3.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Willie Hart, 57; wife Chaney, 43; children Susan, 24, James, 23, Willie, 15, Ben, 13, Epsy, 8, and Tildy, 6; and nephew Willie Killebrew, 15. Willie and Chaney reported suffering from dysentery.

In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Stephen T. Jones, 25; wife Fortune, 22; and daughters Susan, 4, and Tempy A., 2.

Ben Hart, 31, son of Wiley Hart and Chaney Hart, married Tempy Joyner, 20, daughter of Forten Joyner, on 6 June 1900 in Toisnot township, Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Benjamin Hart, 32; wife Tempy, 25; children Hattie, 5, and Grover, 2; grandchildren [niece and nephews] Edwin, 17, George, 12, and Chaney, 11; and grandmother [mother] Chaney Hart, 65.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wells Daws Avenue, Benjamin Heart, 43; wife Tempy, 33; children John L., 8, Willie B., 6, Dicy A., 5, Mattie, 3, and George, 1; wife’s children Hattie, 13, and Grover Johnson, 10; nephew Dallis Locus, 11; and mother Chanie Heart, 73.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson-Tarboro Road, farmer Ben Hardt, 50; wife Tempy, 45; children John L., 18, Willie, 16, Dicie, 14, Mattie, 12, George, 10, Mary, 8, and Effie, 4. Next door, Grover Hart, 21, wife Mammie, 21, and son William, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Ben Hart, 63; wife Tempie, 51; and children George, 21, Effie, 15, and [grandson] Ben Jr., 7.

In the 1940 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Ben Hart, 70; wife Tempie, 62; nephew Aaron Hinnant, 18; son-in-law Ernest Parker, 23; daughter Effie, 24; and granddaughter Elouise, 6.

Tempie A. Hart died 9 July 1940 in Wilson township. Per her death certificate, she was 57 years old; was born in Wilson County to Steve Jones and Forneighny Jones; and was married to Ben Hart.

Ben Hart died 7 November 1951 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 20 March 1881 in Edgecombe County to Wiley Hart; was a widower; resided at 1200 Washington Street, Wilson. Informant was Rev. J.L. Hart, 1200 Washington Street.

Willie Brown Hart died 2 April 1956 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born 3 January 1906 in North Carolina to Ben Hart and Tempie Ann Jones; was married; and worked as a janitor at City Treading Plant. Informant was George Hart, 104 North Reid Street.

Grover Lee Hart died 1 November 1958 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 August 1898 in Wilson County to Ben Hart Sr. and Tempie Ann Jones; was engaged in farming; lived in Elm City; and was married to Mamie Hart.

Hattie Pitt died 12 June 1962 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 29 January 1897 in Wilson County to Ben Hart and Tempie A. Jones; she was a widow; and she resided at 1306 Washington Street. Mrs. Festee Cotton, 1306 Washington, was informant.

John L. Hart died 6 February 1963 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 28 January 1901 in Wilson County to Benjamin Hart and Temie Ann Jones; was a minister; lived at 1200 Washington Street; and was married to Elouise Hart.

George Hart died 30 September 1971 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 February 1911 to Ben Hart and Tempie Jones; worked as a cabdriver; resided at 104 North Reid, Wilson; and was married to Lutoria Hinnant Hart.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2018.

The colored people deserve this relief.

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Wilson Daily Times, 19 February 1937.

In 1940, the city of Wilson took definite steps to close down the town’s old colored cemetery, which had had no burials since the mid-1920s, and move its graves to the new cemetery, Rest Haven. As this article demonstrates, however, conditions at Rest Haven were also challenging. Unpaved and poorly maintained roads and access drives, as well as bad drainage, blocked burials for weeks at a stretch, forcing undertakers to put bodies in storage.

Removal of graves from abandoned cemetery.

As noted here and here, I have long been intrigued by the disappearance (in space and memory) of Wilson’s first African-American cemetery, sometimes called Oaklawn or Oakland or Oakdale. Yesterday, the mystery was solved.

In the late summer of 1940, the Wilson Daily Times for several weeks ran a “Notice of Removal of Graves from Abandoned Cemetery.”  Town Commissioners had declared Wilson’s “colored cemetery” on Cemetery Street abandoned as there had been no burials there in 16 years. The Commissioners proposed “to remove all graves to the new cemetery for the colored race situate near the Town of Wilson, N.C., and known as Resthaven Cemetery.” Interested persons had 30 days to object.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 September 1940.

Whether or not there were objections, the work of removal commenced. It seems likely, then, that the oldest headstones in Rest Haven (such as those of the Dunstons) mark graves moved from Oaklawn, rather than Rountree cemetery, as I earlier speculated.

[Of course, as I learned back in February, the Cemetery Street cemetery was never entirely forgotten, at least by people who lived in the neighborhood. Harry Harris recently shared the history of the Turkey Bowl, an informal neighborhood football game taking place on holidays. The original game, he said, was played Christmas Day 1958 at the “old Carnival Ground,” then an open field at the corner of Barnes and Stantonsburg (now Pender) Streets. In 1965, the game moved to Stephenson Street, in “the projects,” where it became “part of the fabric of local community culture.” After several years, however, the game was again moved “because the ladies who lived there at that time reminded us that we were playing on sacred ground as the projects were built upon the grounds of the old Black cemetery, hence Cemetery Street.”]

Map courtesy of Bing.com.

 

The graveyard artistry of Clarence Best, pt. 3.

I’ve written here of Clarence B. Best, the marble cutter whose custom gravestones can be found in cemeteries across Wilson County and beyond. Here’s more, all in Rest Haven cemetery.

  • Joseph Earl Mercer, died 1969. Apparently, a young man who loved cars.
  • Clifton L. Howard, died 1969. Best made gravestones affordable by offering customers damaged or repurposed markers such as this one, which appears to be the top portion of a larger piece.
  • Ruby M. Ellis Opie, died 1965, and Charles E. Ellis, died 1964. THEY WAS AN AFFECTIONATE SON & DAUGHTER.
  • Charlie H. Thomas, 1965. Modeled after the white marble markers provided by the military to veterans.
  • Johnnie G. Baker, died 1962. GOD LOVES LITTLE CHILDREN.
  • Rev. Nebraska H. Dickerson, died 1969. To his oft-used dogwood and cross motifs, Best added an open book.
  • Dora M. Hoskins, died 1963. Past Matron, Order of Eastern Star. DIEING IS BUT GOING HOME.
  • William Earl Artis, died 1961. Inclusion of his mother Cora Dawes’ name is unusual as is the near-italicization of the date lines.
  • James Powell, died 1939. DEAR FATHER. GOD FINGER TOUCHED HIM AND HE SLEPT.

Buried in a white cemetery?

A bit of follow-up on the post about Tobe and Martha Smith, described as having been buried in the cemetery of the white Winstead family. The Winstead graveyard stands in the middle of the parking lot behind the defunct Wilson Mall, a tree-shaded green square protected by a chainlink fence. Within that fence is a low, wrought-iron, bow-and-picket fence that surrounds the Farmer and Winstead graves. Outside the wrought-iron fence are the graves of Joseph “Tobe” and Martha Wheeler Smith, as well as that of Jack Boss, whose identity is not at all clear, but may also have been African-American.

So, arguably in the Winstead cemetery, but certainly not of it.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2018.

Buried in a white cemetery.

Tracing Their Wilson Roots: Towering Tree Marks African-American Couple’s Grave in White Cemetery

By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Daily Times, 1 October 2017.

Paul Sherrod and his nephew spent a day last month cleaning brush off their ancestors’ graves.

“Every time I come here to Wilson I come here to visit this cemetery because it is so special to me,” Sherrod said as he walked up to the resting place for his grandparents, Joseph Tobe Smith, 1871-1956, and Martha Elizabeth Wheeler Smith, 1875-1932.

A massive pine tree stands over the top of the gravesite, which is in the Winstead family cemetery, also referred to as the Parkwood Cemetery, surrounded by the parking lot of the now-closed Wilson Mall.

“I remember as a kid this being farmland,” Sherrod said. “My grandfather was a sharecropper on land owned by the Winstead family. My grandfather was allowed to plant this tallest tree here, we believe, sometime between 1918 and 1922, and he was promised that he could be buried there right along with my grandmother. So proud of this, to know that my grandfather planted that tree.”

Sherrod is not sure who it was in the Winstead family who offered and then kept that promise, but he suspects it might have been Charles Winstead Sr.

“They owned land from here all the way down to Raleigh Road. I had two uncles who sharecropped almost all the way down to the parkway,” Sherrod said.

It is remarkable to Sherrod that early in the 20th century, a black couple would be permitted to have a final resting place in a white cemetery.

“That is really truly amazing because here we are in 1929, in the middle of the Depression and some oppression, you have this act of compassion and courage from this Winstead family to allow this to happen,” Sherrod said. “Looking back on it, I think they must have had, what you call it now, some flack about that, but they were courageous enough to see it through because they made a promise to my grandfather and they held to their promise. And moving forward to the mall being here, as the developers were putting it together, I understand that the Winstead family made a stipulation when they sold them the land that the graves and the bodies will not be exhumed, so here they are. I don’t know which family members it was, but they, again, had the same courage as their forefathers. So that’s remarkable, in 1929, having an African-American buried in a white cemetery.”

Sherrod never knew his grandmother, as she died before Sherrod was born.

“I only know about my grandfather,” Sherrod said. “I remember so much about him because he was actually both a father and a grandfather to me because my father died when I was quite young. He died in 1945. Right after that I started to live with my grandfather, and he mentored me in so, so many ways. He would take me with him as he would take his wagon and his mule and cultivate gardens. He was a farmer, but he was not farming anymore, so he was cultivating people’s gardens, and I learned so much from him about agriculture, how to grow things. I had my own garden. He would help me take care of the tomatoes and the okra. He was a wonderful person.”

They lived together from about 1944 to 1950 when Sherrod was 13 to 18 years old.

“It was a pleasure living with him because I learned so much,” Sherrod said. “He was so patient with me. I understand now, that he could see that I was different. I loved the books, and he wanted to give me the opportunity to do my homework, so he had to always make sure there was enough kerosene in the lamp. A little step up from Lincoln and the candle, but a similar situation.”

Sherrod laughed.

“The house was about a mile and half from here, east of here in New Grab Neck,” Sherrod said. “Later it was called Jefferson Street, and now it’s called Forest Hills. They have changed the name a couple of times.”

Sherrod, who is now 84, said growing up in Wilson in the 1940s wasn’t as bad as it might have seemed that it could have been.

“Our neighborhood was partially integrated. About a quarter of a mile up the street from where we lived, there was a white family. As a matter of fact, my grandfather had lived in that very house back in the early ’40s,” Sherrod said. “The only real signs of segregation were more the public places. We had a colored and white drinking fountain in front of the courthouse. Now it is a memorial to veterans, I believe. You could not sit in a restaurant. You had to go back to the back to get your food handed out the back door to you. And when buses came along, we had to ride in the back of the bus. So those were outward signs of the segregation, but there was never really any brutality. You weren’t afraid to walk around. You knew your place. You understood that. It wasn’t really as bad as it could have been because I have heard some real horror stories from other cities around the country later on. Not then. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

The pine tree that Joseph Smith planted is at least 4 feet thick and the most prominent tree in the graveyard. There is a crack up its middle, perhaps made by a lightning strike many years ago.

When his grandfather died in 1956, Sherrod was overseas serving in the Air Force and could not attend the funeral.

“Before, they just had a simple marker,” Sherrod said.

Family members placed a granite marker at the site several years ago, and Sherrod recently purchased an additional stone marker to note the couple’s birth and death dates.

When Sherrod and his nephew, Bradley Sherrod of Wilson, spent the day clearing the brush around the gravesite, they left one little sapling.

“We toyed with the idea of taking it out, but my nephew and I decided no. Let that grow and see what happens. It’s obviously from the seed of this tree, so we left that one alone, that little baby pine, and over the years I’ll see what happens,” Sherrod said. “I hope the Lord allows me to be on this Earth long enough to see it be a pretty big tree. It’s growing nicely.”

Sherrod, who now resides in California, recently held a large family reunion on the site of the Sherrod family homeplace near Stantonsburg. He had spent the whole summer preparing for the event.

That is from his father’s side of the family. The Smiths are from his mother’s side of the family in Wilson.

“I firmly believe that if more people explored the roots from which they came, there would probably be a better world,” Sherrod said. “There is so much rich history on all sides on all ethnic groups, and if we had that history, we would have an opportunity to have a better understanding. It would be wonderful if people would do that on a large scale.”

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In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, farmer James Smith, 34, born in Virginia; wife Adline, 30; and children John, 14, Joseph, 9, Windsor, 12, Kate, 6, Allace, 5, and Julious, 2.

On 19 October 1892, Joe Smith, 21, of Wilson, son of Jim and Adeline Smith, married Martha Wheeler, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Amy Wheeler, at Amy Wheeler’s home. Free Will Baptist minister Crockett Bess performed the ceremony in the presence of Noah Wood, John Wheeler and Jno. Artis.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 29, farmer; wife Martha, 25; and children Addie, 5, Fenner, 4, and Mark, 2, and widowed mother Amma, 55.

In the 1910 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 39; wife Martha, 36; and children Addie, 15, Fenner, 13, Mark, 11, James, 9, Lillie, 7, Mary F., 5, and Martha, 15 months.

In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 49; wife Martha, 41; and children Mark, 21, Lillie, 19, Mary Ford, 13, Martha, 10, Margaret Earls, 4 months, and Josie Brow, newborn.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Tobe Smith, 59, farmer; wife Martha, 54; and children Frenner, 35, farm laborer, Mark G., 32, farm laborer, James, 30, schoolhouse janitor, Josephine, 14, and Beulah, 11.

Martha Smith died 21 March 1932 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born born in Nash County to Dick Wheeler and Amy Rice; was married to Tobe Smith; and worked as a tenant farmer.

Joseph Tobe Smith died 20 January 1956 at his home at 315 Jefferson Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 20 August 1884 in Wilson County to James Smith and Adline Darden; was a retired farmer; resided at 315 Jefferson Street; and was buried in Winstead cemetery. Mrs. Martha Sherrod, 315 Jefferson, was informant.

Aerial view of Winstead cemetery behind Wilson (former Parkwood) Mall, Wilson. Courtesy Google Maps.