centenarian

Rest in peace, Vanilla P. Beane.

Black Wide-Awake mourns the passing of Vanilla Powell Beane, Wilson native, Washington, D.C., legend, and milliner extraordinaire. Her 103 years of life were exceptionally well-lived, and the world so much richer for her talents.

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Vanilla Beane, the District’s ‘Hat Lady,’ dies at 103.

By Michael Rosenwald, The Washington Times, 25 October 2022.

Vanilla Beane, whose radiant hats topped the heads of legions of African American women at church, weddings and funerals in the District for half a century, earning her the title of “D.C.’s Hat Lady,” died Oct. 23 at a hospital in Washington. She was 103.

The cause was complications following an aortic tear, said her grandson Craig Seymour.

Mrs. Beane’s hats, which she had designed and fabricated at the Bené Millinery and Bridal Supplies shop on Third Street NW, were featured on postage stamps and in collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Every hat was one-of-a-kind.

“Nobody wants to walk into a church and see someone else wearing their hat,” she once said.

Poet Maya Angelou wore one of Mrs. Beane’s millinery creations. Civil rights activist Dorothy I. Height donned them for meetings with presidents and other officials. “Hats give me a lift and make me feel real special,” Height explained — a sentiment shared by the countless others who shopped at Mrs. Beane’s store.

Mrs. Beane worked six days a week into her 100th year.

“Some people like real fussy hats,” she told The Washington Post in 2009. “Others like sophisticated hats, and a lot of people like simple hats. I try to please people regardless of their race or background.”

Mrs. Beane made her hats the old-fashioned way, wetting buckram — a stiff cotton — into molds decorated with all manner of fabrics. Keeping her fingernails cut short, Mr. Beane made tams, turbans, panamas, sailors and cloches. Decades of the repetitive fashioning turned her fingers stiff and rough.

“They look like I have been digging potatoes,” she said.

Vanilla Powell was born in Wilson, N.C., on Sept. 13, 1919, the second youngest of nine siblings. Her father was a carpenter and farmer, and her mother was a seamstress who also worked in White people’s homes washing their clothes.

Growing up during the Depression instilled a robust work ethic in the Powell children, who worked in the fields picking tobacco and cotton. On Sundays, they rested and walked to Sandy Point Baptist Church, where women sat in the pews wearing fancy hats.

“In the past, when most Blacks had blue-collar jobs, dressing up on Sundays was a cherished ritual,” Craig Marberry, co-author of “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats,” said in a 2019 story about Mrs. Beane in The Post. “The hat tradition grew out of the idea that you were expressing how God has blessed you. The more flamboyant a hat, the more God has blessed you.”

After graduating from [C.H. Darden] high school in 1940, Vanilla Powell moved to Washington and two years later married Willie Beane Sr., producing the name that endlessly charmed her customers and friends, though it took her a little bit to realize its novelty.

“I was in the drugstore and the pharmacy said, ‘Do you know there is a Vanilla Beane?’” she recalled in a television interview in 2020. “I said I guess it was meant to be.”

In Washington, Mrs. Beane worked as an elevator operator in a downtown building with a hat store called Washington Millinery Supply. She was enamored by the intricate hats and the craft of making them, so she bought some supplies and began making them herself.

Eventually she showed her hats to the store’s owner, Richard Dietrick Sr. “She had very much talent, but she didn’t have the design know-how in those days,” Dietrick recalled later. “She picked it up very quickly.”

Mrs. Beane eventually began working for him, and when he moved his shop to Gaithersburg, Md., she bought his supplies and, in 1979, opened her own store. She was a shrewd businesswoman, convincing Ethel Sanders, the owner of Lovely Lady Boutique in Bethesda, Md., to move her store near Bené Millinery.

“People knew us as a team,” Sanders recalled in 2019. “Women would come in for a dress and I’d send them to Vanilla for a hat. Or they’d go for a hat and she’d send them to me for an outfit.”

Mrs. Beane’s shop had White customers, as well. One of them was Sherry Watkins, who founded the Rogue Hatters, a group of women who collected Mrs. Beane’s hats. Watkins owned 75.

Mrs. Beane taught them the rules of hat wearing.

“Don’t match the hat to the outfit,” Watkins recalled. “Just buy a hat you like and the outfit will come. Never wear your hat more than one inch above your eyebrows. Slant it to look more interesting and possibly even risque.”

Mrs. Beane seemed to never get designer’s block. Her designs constantly evolved.

At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, one of Mrs. Beane’s hats is green velveteen.

“The hat is circular with a rounded peak and constructed by layering a strip of fabric over itself in a wrapped design,” the museum’s description says. “The base of the fabric is a light green while the pile is a darker green, giving the hat a two-tone appearance.”

Another is a red felt bicorn style.

“The hat is composed of a single piece of stiff felt that has been folded up at the center front,” the museum notes. “The dome of the hat is cylindrical, with the raised brim attached at the top of the crown. There are red felt bows affixed at the attachment points.”

Mrs. Beane’s husband died in 1993. Their son, Willie G. Beane Jr., died in 1980. Ms. Beane is survived by two daughters, Margaret L. Seymour of Charleston, S.C., and Linda R. Jefferson of the District; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Beane was such a fixture of Washington that then-Fox News host Chris Wallace named her “Power Player of the Week” in the summer of 2020.

Wallace asked her what made a proper church hat.

“Well,” she answered, “any hat that’s not too fancy, not too wide.”

The host marveled at her longevity.

“In these challenging times,” Wallace said, “it’s nice to know there are still some constants in the world, like Vanilla Beane.”

Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post.

Wilson County’s own Vanilla Powell Beane honored as she turns 103!

Nothing I could write could improve upon Jeni Hansen’s remarks about her remarkable grandmother, so I take the liberty to share them here:
“This past week, on the evening of her 103rd birthday,​ ​Vanilla Powell Beane received the ​2022 ​Mayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honor. Thank you, Mayor [Muriel] Bowser​, and ​thank you DC for showing up to honor the oldest small business owner in Washington!
“I’ve said this before but it stands true today — one of the things I remain most inspired by, is my grandmother’s desire to do something without being recognized.
The other day we were talking about becoming who you are — the dedication, determination, triumphs, and challenges. I am not surprised she did the damn thing without analytics, likes, and without a platform – her passion wasn’t built around the approval of others but a genuine love for her craft. She was inducted into the National Association of Fashion & Accessories Designers in 1975, has more than one day named after her in Washington, and hats are featured on a U.S. Postal Service stamp and in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“If it takes you 103 years to be recognized for your talents, work hard and enjoy every day. When you make it where you’re going, overcome the obstacles you and others put in your way, and become who you are destined to be — I hope you’ll look in the mirror and say exactly what my grandma said to me, ‘Well, I’m here aren’t I?’
“The life you lead, truly, is the legacy you leave.”
Photo by Salah Djimbananou and text courtesy of Jeni Hansen, via Sandy Alston, Mrs. Beane’s great-niece.

Venus Ruff, centenarian?

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Sarah Jackson, 21; brother-in-law Gabriel Bowden, 40, brother-in-law, laborer; sister Anna, 32, cook; nephews Columbus, 11, house servant, and James, 9; son B.F. Jackson, 6; mother Vinus Ruff, 52; and boarder Whitehurst Wiswould, 64, laborer.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: jailor Columbus Gay, 39; Silva Mix, 24, housekeeper; Vinous Wisber, 72, housekeeper; and Sarah Jackson, 47, cooking.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Sarah Jackson, 55, widow, private cook; mother Venus Ruff, 73, widow; and adopted daughters Effie, 17, private nurse, Bessie, 17, private cook, and Etta, 12.

There is no accounting for the 27-year gap between Ruff’s estimated age in the census and her age on her death certificate, made the same year. Earlier census records, however, suggest that she was closer to 82 than 100 when she died.

Roxie Parker, oldest local citizen?

Wilson Daily Times, 22 May 1948.

Per census records, Roxana Vick Parker Hines was actually a toddler when the Yankees rode through, having been born circa 1861.

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In the 1870 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Peyton Vick, 29; wife Ellen, 21; children Henry, 11, Riley, 9, Roxana, 3, and Isadora, 2; and Zady Mercer, 58.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Peyton Vick, 24; wife Ellen, 24; and children Rily, 18, Roxie, 13, Isadora, 12, Lou C., 10, Defada, 8, Sablaska, 6, Investa, 4, and Invoida, 1.

On 27 October 1887, Jerry Parker, 21, of Wilson County, married Roxey Vick, 22, of Wilson County, at Paton Vick’s in Toisnot township.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Roxy Parker, 24, and children Joseph, 14, Minnie, 13, Elenn, 12, Armena, 11, Mathew, 10, and Defatie, 2.

On 19 April 1903, Charlie Hines, 40, of Wilson township, son of Wesley and Ollie Hines, married Rox Anna Parker, 40, of Wilson township, daughter of Payton and Ellen Vick. Elder B.W. Tippett, a Free Will Baptist minister, performed the ceremony at Rox Anna Parker’s residence in the presence of Stephen Strickland, Wm. H. Tippett, and H.F. Boswell, all of Elm City.

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) h Harper’s la nr Herring av

n the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lipscomb Road, widow Roxie Parker, 50, cook, and daughter Ellen, 21, farm laborer. Next door: William H. Knight, 22; wife Minnie, 24; brothers-in-law Cephus, 29, Menus, 22, and Mathew, 18; and lodgers Mary Saunders, 25, and her children Lebis, 10, and Lovie, 8.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) laundress h 731 Harper

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) laundress h 802 Viola

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 811 Viola, laundress Ellen Gay, 36; mother Roxanna Parker, 67; and nephew Matthew, 16.

Roxie Parker died 18 August 1949 at her home at 616 Viola Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 April 1847 in Edgecombe County to Hayden Vick and Ellen Jones; and was a widow. Minus Parker was informant. 

The obituary of Hattie Rose Gaston Pannell, 100.

Hattie Rose Pannell, 100, transitioned to be with the Lord on Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at Medstar Washington Hospital Center, Washington DC.

“A viewing will be held Wednesday, December 8, 2021, from 2 pm-5 pm at McGuire Funeral Home, 7400 Georgia Avenue, Washington, DC and a Celebration of Life Service will take place on Saturday, December 11, 2021, at Tabernacle Temple of Jesus Christ 1601 Bishop L.N. Forbes St., Wilson, NC 27893 at 1 pm followed by burial at Rest Haven Cemetery.

“Hattie was born May 4, 1921, to Hattie Bates Gaston and William Gaston. Hattie attended Elm City public schools and moved to Washington, DC at a young age.

“Hattie was a pillar to her community and will be truly missed.  Hattie was a faithful and devoted member of St. Mark’s Baptist Church for 48 years, she loved her pastor Raymond Matthews, First Lady Matthews, and her church family. Regardless of how Hattie was feeling on any given Sunday, she took pleasure in attending Sunday school, church service, worshipping with her St. Mark’s Baptist Church family, singing hymns, reading Scriptures, and praising the Lord. Individually and collectively, it all gave her so much joy. Hattie is the longest-serving church usher in the District of Columbia. Hattie will now be waiting with Saint Peter to greet her.

“Hattie was a faithful member of St. Mark’s Missionary Society; she was in fact the oldest member of the Missionary Society.  Hattie loved her St. Mark’s church family.

“Tribute to Mrs. Hattie Pannell:

“The Fort Stevens Senior Center has lost a treasure of insurmountable value; priceless.

“Mrs. Hattie Rose Pannell was always the person who greeted you, in fact, she was the head of the ladies of the round table; the group that actively volunteered to plan, orchestrate and host most of our events and all our fabulous birthday parties. It was Mrs. Pannell, the fashionista, the show-stopping model, the actress, the flower arranger extraordinaire, the plant doctor, the hostess with the mostest that attracted so many people to become members of Fort Stevens Senior Center. Hattie enjoyed line dancing at the Senior Center the younger seniors had to keep up with her.  Hattie was recognized for her Distinguished Volunteer Service to the Fort Stevens Senior Planning Committee by the DC Department of Recreation and Parks.  Hattie enjoyed her 100-year-old birthday celebration/drive-by party at Fort Stevens Senior Center in May, the celebration was featured in The Washington Informer, so many people came from near and far to CELEBRATE with her. Hattie REALLY enjoyed herself and talked about it for months after. Hattie loved her Fort Stevens family.

“Hattie was a General Service Supervisor for over 25 years and retired in the 1990’s. Hattie enjoyed traveling and was in a traveling club. Hattie has visited all 50 states, Africa, and other countries. Hattie attended a lot of social events, she was TRULY a socialite.  Hattie catered for major events in the District of Columbia area and enjoyed fashion, modeling, acting, event planning, decorating parties, flower arranger extraordinaire, the plant doctor, enjoyed tea parties, manicures, and pedicures (even at 100 years old) listening to jazz and gospel, her favorite artist was Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On” was her favorite song. She enjoyed hour-long conversations with family and friends these were just a few things that warmed her heart, lifted her spirits, and place a smile on her face.  Hattie met many friends who would remain a special part of her friendship circle throughout her life. Hattie loved politics, she made sure she voted in every election, and she was eager to vote in the 2020 election. Hattie received several awards throughout her life for her outstanding accomplishments and volunteer services, including letters from the President of The United States for her Birthday and Councilmembers of the District of Columbia recognizing her as well.

“Hattie’s sweet spirit, warm smile, and calming presence will be solely missed by those who loved her.

“In the presence of the Lord, she now joins her late mother, Hattie Bates Gaston; father, William Gaston; sisters, Annie Nancy Gaston-Knight and Marie Ruth Gaston-Howard; and brothers, William Glenn Gaston Jr., John Rufus Gaston, and George Eddie Gaston.

“Hattie is survived by her 96-year-old sister, Catherine Bernice Gaston-Atkinson of Elm City, NC; a host of nieces, nephews, loving relatives, and friends; and a special goddaughter, Vee Davis.

“Please keep the family in your thoughts and prayers as their Matriarch has gained her wings to become their guardian ANGEL.

“Arrangements have been entrusted to Stevens Funeral Home, 1820 Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway, Wilson, NC.”

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In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Will Gaston, 39; wife Hattie, 28; and children Willie, 12, Hattie, 9, John R., 8, Bernice, 6, Nancy, 3, and Marie, 3 months.

 

A visit from Rebecca Pate Daniel.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 October 1932.

Rebecca Daniel Pate‘s name is memorialized in family graveyard near Lucama known as “Becky Pate Cemetery.”

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Richard Pate and Rebecca Daniel were married in Wayne County, N.C., on or about 12 June 1866.

 

In the 1870 census of Goldsboro township, Wilson County: farm laborer Richard Pate, 37; wife Beckey, 32; and Polly, 12.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Richard Pate, 36; wife Rebecca, 36; and daughter Trecinda, 3.

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Richard Pate, 59, and wife Rebecca, 57.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Richard Pate, 74; wife Rebecca, 72; and grandchildren Louis Daniel, 30, and Roscoe, 12, and Leanna Barnes, 10.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Rebecca Pate, 81, widow, living alone.

In the 1930 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Rossie Barnes, 30, farmer; wife Mamie, 27; children William H., 9, Elbert, 7, Leena M., 2, and Johnnie L., 8 months; grandmother Rebecca Pate, 95, widow; sister Leeanna Barnes, 28; and niece Beatrice Barnes, 15.

Rebecca Pate died 31 March 1935 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 108 years old; was the widow of Richard Pate; lived on Pate Farm; was born in Wayne County to Arch Daniel and Leher Daniel; and was buried in Pate cemetery. Informant was William Daniel.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Irene Frances Hinnant Exum, age 102.


Irene Hinnant Exum (21 July 1918-25 June 2021). Rest in peace.

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In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Ezekiel Hinnant, 31; wife Annie L., 24; and daughters Bessie M., 3, and Irene, 18 months.

On 19 December 1938, Irene Hinton [sic], 20, married James Exum, 22, in Johnston County, North Carolina.

In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Walter Exum, 23; wife Irene, 21; and daughter Velma R., 5 months.

In 1940, Walter Exum registered for the World War II in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 3 July 1916 in Johnston County, N.C.; his contact was wife Irene Exum; he lived at R.F.D. #3, Kenly, Wilson, N.C.; and worked for Guy Bullock.

James Walter Exum died 19 November 1941 in Springhill township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 19 September 1941 in Wilson County to Walter Exum of Johnston County and Irene Hinnant of Wilson County.

The death of Ann Jack, (probably not a) centenarian.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 August 1922.

“Ann Jack” was Annie Jackson Williamson. Her death certificate is perplexing, as it lists a death date of August 12 — two days after the newspaper notice above. A closer look reveals this notation by the certifying physician: “I HEREBY CERTIFY that I attended deceased from about Aug 1st, 1922, to one visit only, that I last saw her alive on or about Aug 1st 1922 and that death occurred, on the date above, at 735 am. The CAUSE OF DEATH was as follows: ‘I did not visit her but once, extreme old age and heart dropsy.'” So did she die August 1 or sometime between then and August 12? It’s not clear.

Annie Williamson lived on Daniel Street, was a widow, was born in Wilson County to Allace Rice, and was about 100 years old. Ujennia Williamson was informant. 

Annie Williamson was likely closer to 80 years old.

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On 4 February 1868, Jack Williamson, son of Toney Eatmon and Hester Williamson, married Ann Boykin, daughter of John Harper and Alder Ried, at Jack Williamson’s in Wilson.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: domestic servant Robert Vick, 19, and wife Spicy, 18; Anna Williamson, 25, washerwoman, children Jena, 10, Charles, 5, and Ann I.M., 2, and husband Jackson Williamson, 45, blacksmith.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Tarboro Street, Jack Williamson, 55, blacksmith; wife Ann, 30; and children Eugina, 20, cook, Charles 16, blacksmith shop worker, Tete, 14, and Lea, 4.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Annie Williamson, 51, and daughters Lugenia, 35, and Susan A., 23, all laundry women.

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Ann and Lugenia Williamson were listed as laundresses living at West Walnut near Tarboro Street.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 604 Daniel Street, Annie Williamson, 85; daughter Lugenia Williamson, 40, laundress; and grandchildren Sylvester, 18, bottling works laborer, and Mittie Williamson, 3.