Willie Greenfield — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 319 North Hackney Street, Rufus Green [sic], 28, shoe repairer; wife Reva, 26; and children Willie Lee, 6, Ruby L., 5, Evelyn, 4, Charlotte, 3, and Bobby J., 1. [By 1950, the Greenfield family had migrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks, who migrated to Philadelphia later in the 1950s, spoke of Rufus Greenfield, mentioning that he was originally from Wayne County, North Carolina, and was blind by time she arrived in the city.]
Senior Willie L. Greenfield, Flame and Steel, the Dobbins-Randolph Vocational-Technical High School yearbook, 1952. [Greenfield would have been in my father Rederick C. Henderson’s class at Darden High School.]
Albert Parker — quite possibly, my cousin Albert Thomas Parker Jr. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 800 Gay Street, oil mill laborer Thomas Parker, 25; wife Minnie, 23; and children Spencer, 5, Louise, 4, and Albert, 1.
When an airplane passed over to shoot this 1940 aerial, the landscape of much of the East Wilson into which I was born was undeveloped. My early years were spent mostly east of Carroll Street and once I started school I had essentially free range of the blocks between Carroll, Highway 301, Academy Street to the north, and Atlantic Street to the south. The housing in those blocks, except along the western and southwestern edges and a solid line of shotguns in the 1300 block of Carolina, sprang up post-World War II, when severe housing shortages and pent-up demand pushed East Wilson beyond city limits toward the planned path of a ring road (Ward Boulevard) and a widened and re-routed U.S. 301.
I came home from Mercy Hospital to 706 Ward Boulevard. Before I turned one, we had moved to a little brick rental house at 1401 Carolina Street. There, I gained my grounding in Black Wide-Awake and, on June 26, 1969, celebrated my 5th birthday in the backyard.
My friends then are my friends now. I hugged the neck of the lady at upper right just last month. And my own sweet mother, at upper left, blesses me daily. This birthday hits a little different, but I’m grateful for the journey — and proud that it started here.
Photo from the collection of Beverly A. Henderson.
In the 1940 census of Fork township, Wayne County, N.C.: at Eastern North Carolina Insane Asylum, Negro, James Edward Gerald, 9. [He was not the youngest inmate. Mixed among the hundreds housed at the hospital were children as young as 5.]
Lawyer Sanders married Dora Clark in 1904 and Beatrice Ruffin in 1914. Readily available records reveal only 17 of Lawyer Sanders’ purported 35 children: Gilly, Rosetta, Lillie, Earnest, an unnamed girl, Maggie, Daisy Ella, Lorena, Mavis, Odessa, Lawyer Jr., David, Bertha, Dorothea, Mary Lee, Theodore Roosevelt, and Mae.
On 18 May 1904, Lawyer Sanders, 20, of Saratoga, son of M.A. Williams, married Dora Clark, 18, of Saratoga, daughter of Dora Clark, at Eason Brothers Store in Saratoga.
In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: on Plank Road, Lawyer Sanders, 22; wife Dora, 22; and children Gilly, 2, and Rosa, 1.
An unnamed three month-old female child died 23 October 1913 on Railroad Street in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born August 1913 to Lawyer Sanders and Dora Clark.
On 11 June 1914, Lawyer Sanders, 25, of Gardners township, married Beatrice Ruffin, 15, daughter of Ransom Ruffin, at the residence of Ransom Ruffin. Primitive Baptist minister Jonah Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Ransom Ruffin, Charles Bynum, and James Braswell.
In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Lawyer Sanders, 33; wife Beatrice, 20; and children Rosetta, 16, A. Lillie, 11, G. Earnest, 8, Maggie, 4, E. Daisy, 3, and Lorena, 1.
In the 1930 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Lawyer Sanders, 43; wife Maggie, 30; and children Maggie R., 14, Dazella M., 14, Lorena, 11, Mavis E., 9, Odessa, 7, Lawyer J., 5, David A., 3, and Bertha L., 1.
Rosetta Sanders died 11 July 1933 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 28 years old; was born in Wilson County, N.C., to Lawyer Sanders and Dora Clarke; and worked in farming.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 708 Railroad Street, rented at $6/month; WPA laborer Lawyer Sanders, 51; wife Beatrice, 41; children Maggie, 23, farm laborer, Essie Mae, 19, cook, Odessa, 18, cook, Lawyer Jr., 15, farmhand; David A.J., 13; Bertha Lee, 11, Dorothea, 9, Mary Lee, 7, Roosevelt, 5, and Mae E., 2; and granddaughter Eldewards, 2.
The Sawyers’ “shack” back on Daniel Hill was on a short stretch of dirt road called West Railroad Street, which ran alongside the Norfolk-Southern railroad between Park Avenue and Daniel Street. (And is not to be confused with the Railroad Street that borders the Atlantic Coast Line railroad downtown.) West Railroad no longer exists, and a roofing supply business and a large empty lot stand in its place. Detail, 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson.
In 1942, Lawyer J.R. Sanders registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he lived at 621 West Railroad Street, Wilson; was born 5 January 1924 in Wilson; and his contact was Beatrice Sanders.
In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Norfolk-Southern Railroad Street, Lawyer Sanders Sr., 61, ditching for water line-street department for city; wife Beatrice R., 51, private service work; children Theodore, 16, Eloise, 12, and Mary Lee, 17; and grandchildren Velma L., 1, and Willie L., 1.
Eloise Sanders Johnson died 18 July 1953 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 17 June 1937 in Wilson to Lawyer Sanders and Beatrice Ruffins and was married to Clarence Johnson.
Lawyer Sanders died 30 January 1959 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 9 May 1888 in Wilson County to Bill and Martha Ann Sanders; was married to Beatrice Sanders; worked as a laborer; and lived at 214 Graham Street, Wilson.
Wilson Daily Times, 31 January 1959.
David Sanders died 22 January 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, she was born 25 March 1927 to Lawyer Sanders and Beatrice Ruffin; was married to Doretha Sanders; and lived at 104 Tacoma Street, Wilson.
Maggie Sanders Clark died 17 January 1968 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 May 1915 in Wilson to Lawyer Sanders and Beatrice Ruffin; was married to Sam Clark; was a tobacco factory laborer; and lived at 212 West Walnut Street, Wilson.
Beatrice Sanders Ricks died 14 October 1970 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 8 February 1911 in Wilson County to Ransom Ruffin and Maggie Pender; was a widow; was a tobacco factory laborer; and lived at 614 Manchester Street, Wilson. Informant was Doretha Mitchell, 906 Hadley Extension.
Wilson Daily Times, 16 October 1970.
The Lawyer Sanders family joined with the J.D. Taylor family in 1980 to hold a family reunion at Brown’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church.
Wilson Daily Times, 2 August 1980.
Ernest Sanders Sr. died 8 July 1987 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 13 March 1910 in Wilson to Lawyer Sanders and Beatrice Ruffin; lived at 516 Forrest Street, Wilson; and worked as a construction helper.
Daisy Sanders Rice [Rhice] died 18 August 1991 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 16 April 1916 in Wilson to Lawyer Sanders and Beatrice Ruffin; was married to Richard Rice; and lived at 1002 Macon Street.
In June 1964, the Rocky Mount Telegram reported the tragic death of two teenaged siblings from Spring Hope, Nash County. Seventeen year-old Nora Jane Mercer had drowned trying to save her 16 year-old brother William Earl Mercer, who also drowned in a pond a few miles north of Bailey.
Rocky Mount Telegram, 12 June 1964.
Nora Mercer’s death certificate listed her cause of death as “drowning … while swimming in farm pond” and described her accident as “trying to save her brother.” William Toney’s Funeral Home, still active today in Spring Hope, handled the burial, which took place in … Rountree Cemetery? In 1964?!?
William Mercer’s death certificate also lists Rountree Cemetery in Wilson as his burial place. Why would two Spring Hope children be buried more than 20 miles away in Wilson?
I first wondered if this were a family cemetery — Rountree is not an uncommon surname here — located just over the Nash County line in Wilson County. (I don’t know of any such cemetery, but I wondered.) However, the double obituary for the siblings made clear that they were indeed buried in Rountree (or its sister cemeteries, Vick and Odd Fellows, collectively and confusingly known as Rountree). Further, their funeral was also in Wilson — at Piney Grove Free Will Baptist Church.
Rocky Mount Telegram, 14 June 1964.
The obituary gives Nora and William Mercer’s parents as Mr. and Mrs. Willie Austin. However, this was likely their stepfather and mother (and the surname, per the death certificate, was Alston.) Louise Alston was informant for the certificates, and she named the children’s parents as William Mercer and Louise Webb. William Mercer and Louvenia [actually, Louisianna] Webb were married in Wilson County in September 1946. Both were Wilson County natives. It appears that they divorced, and Louise Webb Mercer married an Alston. So, as we can establish that the Mercer children did have close ties to Wilson, we can be more certain that they were buried in one of the set of cemeteries on (former) Lane Street collectively called Rountree Cemetery.
Now to the most puzzling fact — 1964.
This is an aerial view of Vick, Odd Fellows, and Rountree Cemeteries in 1964.
Vick Cemetery had been condemned in the late 1950s as unfit for human burial. (Vick is the most likely of site of the children’s burials as it was a public cemetery, they were not members of Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, and there is no evidence that their father was an Odd Fellow.) By 1964, all three cemeteries were severely overgrown, with none of the bare-earth family plots so readily observable in earlier decades.
I checked Joan L. Howell’s Wilson County Cemeteries, Vol. V: The Two City-Owned African-American Cemeteries, which contains a list of 600+ burials from the last 25 years or so these cemeteries were active as burial sites. In her searches of local death certificates, the latest burials Howell found were three from 1960, six from 1961, and one from 1962. Thus, as far as now known, Nora Jane and William Earl Mercer were the last people buried in Vick, Odd Fellows, or Rountree Cemeteries.
Many thanks to Noelle Vollaro for bringing the Mercer siblings to my attention.
Without comment, on 7 June 1917, the Wilson Daily Times published a lengthy list of names and addresses of children who were members of corn (for boys) and canning (girls) clubs in Wilson, Lucama, and Stantonsburg. The groups, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, were the precursors to 4-H Clubs.
Given the canning club membership requirements, it’s astonishing that so many town girls were involved. Per Farm Life Readers, Book 5 (Bryan, Evans & Duncan, 1916, page 38): “Any girl between the ages of nine and eighteen in the county, where the work is organized may become a member. She must plant one-tenth of an acre to tomatoes, and must do all the work connected with her garden except preparing the soil for her plants. Prizes are offered for the largest yield, the largest net gain, the best display in glass jars, best history of garden work, the largest tomato, the most perfect tomato, the largest, neatest best collection of tomato recipes.”
Cover of notebook created by North Carolina canning club girl, 1915. Wilson County girls would have been required to create such a document. Jane Simpson McKimmon Papers (PC 234), State of Archives of North Carolina.
Below, the lists of children consolidated and alphabetized:
Allen, Rose, Route 2
Atkinson, Addie, Route 2
Atkinson, Mattie, Route 2
Barnes, Fletcher, Route 3 Box 68
Barnes, Joseph, Route 3 Box 68
Barnes, Sarah, Route 3 Box 68
Battle, Redmond (son of Columbus and Sallie R. Battle)
Bethea, Lillie, Box 77
Boykin, Ida, Route 3 Box 76 (daughter of William T. and Sarah Boykin)
Boykin, Katie, Route 3 Box 76 (daughter of William T. and Sarah Boykin)
Cherry, Eldora, Route 2 (granddaughter of Arch and Martha M. Atkinson)
Creech, Daisy, Route 3 Box 74 (daughter of Troy and Martha Creech)
Creech, Dorsey, Route 3 Box 74 (son of Troy and Martha Creech)
Creech, James, Route 3 Box 14
Creech, Naomi, Route 3 Box 14
Creech, William, Route 3 Box 14
Dew, Joseph, Box 92 (son of Cornelius D. and Cora L. Dew)
Dew, Martha, Box 92 (daughter of Cornelius D. and Cora L. Dew)
Pamela Pridgen Fragoso shared this photo of her father and friends standing in front of the Mill House, a windmill-shaped store that stood at the corner of West Lee and Pine Streets. Alvis T. Pridgen is standing left of the door, shirtless and holding a stick. He was born in 1934 and was about ten years old when this picture was taken. The boy sitting cross-legged directly in front of Pridgen is his pal Bobby Lee Dickerson, known as Chippy or Chipper. Dickerson appears to be younger than Pridgen and was born perhaps in the late 1930s. As an adult, he worked as a policeman in Teaneck, New Jersey. I have not been able to find out anything further about him.
Edgar Joel “Buddy” Artis (1914-1988) and James Broady Artis (1912-1963), sons of June S. and Ethel Becton Artis, circa 1919.
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, 5, Manda Bell, 3, and farm laborer Edgar Exum.
In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer June S. Artis, 40, wife Ethel P., 34, and children James B., 17, Edgar J., 15, Amanda B., 14, and Gladys L. Artis, 5.
In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer June S. Artis, 50; wife Ethel, 46; and children James Brodie, 25, Edgar, 23, and Gladys, 16.
Many thanks to Edgar J. Artis’ grandson Adam S. Artis for sharing this photo.
The Wilson Daily Times printed this photo of Addie Davis Butterfield‘s 1945 first grade class at Samuel H. Vick Elementary. Mrs. Butterfield is top right, and the children include her nephew William Bayard Davis Jr. (front row in white shirt and tie), Rudolph Kersey Bullock (laughing beside Davis), Jessie Gertrude Baldwin Pouncey, Patricia Ann Tabron Bates, Alton Ray Kirk, Robert Eugene Dew, Earline Blount, Callie Joyce Bowens, Sarah Frances Greene, Reuben Hammonds, Luther Mincey and Raymond Bell. The caption attributes the photo to the collection of Diane Davis Myers, Butterfield’s niece.