circus

The Negro was given a very raw deal.

In 1919, Samuel H. Vick drafted a lengthy letter to the Daily Times to protest treatment of African-American patrons of the John Robinson Circus. 

The exact nature of the “raw deal” is not clear, but appears to involve forcing Black customers to buy premium-priced reserve seating rather than general admission tickets. Also, refusing to honor purchased tickets. And humiliating patrons by directing them to “the Nigger Wagon” and “the Nigger Hole” when they tried to enter the show. Vick’s anger is clear, but measured. He notes the general good relations between Black and white Wilsonians, but laments the potential for disruption of that goodwill by a rude stranger. Who could blame a Black man for losing his cool?

Wilson Daily Times, 1 October 1919.

Circus day in Wilson.


Wilson Daily Times, 29 September 1934.

The Daily Times printed these photographs without captions. What was the occasion of the parade?

Per an article on a previous page, Hagenback-Wallace — one of the largest circuses “in the land” — was scheduled to perform two shows in Wilson that day. “Great hulking elephants and prancing ponies, stately white ring horses and gaily striped zebras, towering giraffes and snobbish, little llamas, dappled draft horse teams of eight and ten, and double files of supercilious camels — these were the units of the colorful procession … that thrilled hundreds of Wilson circus fans this morning as the three long trains of the big show unloaded on the Norfolk and Southern sidings at Tarboro street and moved to the lot at the Old Ball Park.”

A closer look at the bottom image reveals that parade routes were among the few public spaces in which integration was acceptable in the 1930s.