When the Daily Times covered Sallie Clark Harrison’s 80th birthday, among other reminiscences it included this snippet:
“Eighty Years Old Today,” Wilson Daily Times, 17 August 1935.
Records of ownership and sales of enslaved people are relatively rare for Wilson County, and Harrison’s recollection supplies uncommon detail. John Cherry “brought in” (perhaps to the office in which Harrison’s father Edwin Clark worked as postmaster) a 17 year-old girl. Clark paid Cherry $1200 for her and named her Mariah — what had her name been? — an extraordinary sum for that time (likely toward the end of the Civil War) and place.
The 1870 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County, shows 20 year-old Mariah Clark, described as mulatto, living in the Clark household as a domestic servant. Despite Sallie Harrison’s claims of selfless devotion, Mariah Clark is not listed in any further census records with the Clarks or Harrisons, and I have not been able to identify her otherwise.
On early Wilson County death certificates, causes of death were very often less medical than philosophical. Solomon Clark was blind and suffering from debilitating maladies. When all was considered, Dr. William S. Anderson concluded Clark “was just worn out.”
“He had been blind and in feeble health for several years and he was just worn out.”
On 7 April 1887, Solomon Clark, 26, of Wilson County, married Dellar Braswell, 24, of Wilson County, at Dellar Braswell’s house in Wilson township. Free Will Baptist minister Solomon Arrington presided, and Frank Lipscomb, Mary Lipscomb, and Pattie Lancaster were witnesses.
Through much of the 20th century, the overwhelming majority of African-American women in Wilson who worked outside their homes worked either as domestic servants or tobacco factory laborers. Mittie Clarke‘s death certificate identifies her employment precisely — she performed domestic work for Mrs. W.D. Adams.
Mittie Clark’s parents, Rhoden and Sarah Hill Clark, migrated to Wilson from Scotland Neck, Halifax County, North Carolina, circa the 1890s. Rhoden Clark was a mechanic; Sarah Clark, a laundress. Sarah Clark bought a lot on Green Street from Samuel H. Vick in 1898, and the family built a large house, signaling their ensconcement in East Wilson’s Black middle class. Maintaining their position required the contributions of all, however, and the 1900 census shows five of the seven Clark children, ranging from age 13 to 30, engaged in nursing (as in childcare — this was Mittie), dressmaking, laundry work, and work as waiters.
William D. Adams was president of Barnes-Harrell Company, Wilson’s Coca-Cola bottler. His wife, Bess Hackney Adams, was a granddaughter of Willis N. Hackney, founder of Hackney Brothers Body Company.
[Note that Mittie Clark was buried in Rountree Cemetery. This may indicate Rountree, in fact, but more likely Odd Fellows or Vick Cemeteries. No grave markers for her or her family members have been found to date.]
Flora R. Clarke, 706 E. Nash Street, Wilson, N.C., May 31, 1929, Class of ’24, “Je vous aime, toujours.”
Geneva P. Brown, 1013 E. Martin St., Raleigh, N.C., June 2, 1929, Class of ’22, Live not without a friend.
Inez Middleton, 807 East Davie St., Raleigh, N.C., June 2, 1929, Class of ’27, “Be humble or you’ll stumble.”
Bernice Taylor, Box 233, Windsor, N.C., Live for “Lil Flo.”
J. Whiteside Chippey, St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, N.C., May you always be the “Con.Sten.”
Edith E. Thompson, 504 Weinacker Ave., Mobile, Ala., In your golden chain of friendship always consider me a link.
Alleen J. Poitier, 1837 N.W. 3rd Ave., Miami, Florida, June 9, 1929, Class of ’31, “Always look toward the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you.”
Arthesa S. Douglas, 117 Edgecombe Ave., New York, N.Y., Always be your very self for to you nature is kind.
A. Zenobia Howse, 816 East Fifth Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee, May you always regard me as one of your friends.
Louise Cherry, 1119 E. Nash St., Wilson, N.C., “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
A section for personal notes contained brief letters from Bethel’s sister Jessica Bethel and friends Arthesa Douglas and Louise Cherry.
The stonework caught my eye. This is, I am fairly certain, the Nestus Freeman-built house at 1115 East Nash Street. Bethel’s good friend Louise Cherry lived two houses down at 1119. Is she one of the young women shown?
Black Wide-Awake benefits from the largesse of so many, and J. Robert Boykin III is at the forefront of its benefactors. Recently, Bobby shared a box of photographs left in a sidewalk trash pile after the death of Wilton Maxwell Bethel in 1986. A native of the Bahamas, Bethel was a long-time salesman for North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, son-in-law of John H. Clark, and a devoted Episcopalian.
I pulled from the box several sleeves of loose sepia snapshots, several formal portraits mounted in cardboard folders, several large group photos, and a photo album. At first glance, no faces seemed familiar, but as I continue to sit with the box, it’s giving up its secrets. I’ll share them in groups, starting with the photo album.
Wilton M. Bethel’s photo album.
Five year-old Wilton M. Bethel arrived in the United States on 6 April 1911 with his mother Phillis E. Bethel, 33, described as a widowed washwoman; his eight year-old brother Alfred M. Bethel; and his four year-old niece Flosie L. Bethel. The family’s last residence was Eleuthera, Bahamas, and their “nationality” was British West Indies. Their nearest relative in their home country was Phillis Bethel’s sister Sarah J. Gardner, Cat Island, Bahamas. The Bethels’ final destination was listed as Eleuthera, which suggests a return trip home, but the family appears to have remained permanently in Miami, Florida. Phillis Bethel reported being in possession of ten U.S. dollars and stated that the family had not visited the country before. They were headed to visit her son George Bethel in Miami.
Detail of List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival.
In the 1920 census of Miami, Florida: at 630 2nd Street, Philis E. Bethel, 57; sons Arvis, 20, hotel bellman, Alfred, 18, aviation camp laborer, and Wilton, 15, jewelry store porter; and daughter Jessie, 19. All reported arriving in the U.S. in 1911 from the Bahamas and were “aliens.”
This photo broke the code. On the reverse:
It’s the young Wilton M. Bethel, “a pal indeed,” in January 1924, when he was 18. His mother ordered four copies, it appears.
Speaking of Phillis E. Bethel, this may be her image. The shotgun houses at rear, as the palm tree at right discloses, are not in Wilson. Rather, they are the type built by early Bahamian immigrants in Miami neighborhoods such as Coconut Grove.
Wilton Bethel at right at the beach with a man, a child, and a woman in a cloche, pearls, stockings, and high-heeled mary janes.
In 1924, Bethel arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, to enroll in the high school division of Saint Augustine’s College’s, which did not yet offer baccalaureate degrees. (Bethel was already 19 years old, but older students were not uncommon in an era in which childhood illness, family finances, and the scarcity of public high schools for Black students often delayed completion of secondary education.) He is listed in school catalogs from 1924-25 through 1928-29 as he progressed through four years of high school and a year in the College Department. His first two years, his hometown is listed as Miami; the latter three, as New York, N.Y.
Bethel’s scrapbook seems to span his late teens and early twenties, with most of the photos snapped at Saint Aug. The nearly one hundred pictures do not appear to be in chronological order, and none are labeled. Several, though, are stamped “Finished by Siddell Studio, Raleigh, N.C.,” and a handful bear inscriptions on the reverse. Bethel himself appears to have been the photographer for many.
On the reverse: “With love Al.” Is this Bethel’s elder brother Alfred Bethel?
Bethel, top left, with pals, probably at Saint Augustine’s College in the late 1920s.
Unidentified man skiing in tie and newsboy cap.
On the reverse: “Will arrives in Raleigh 5 40 Thurs after meet Train”
Around 1929, Bethel took a position as an insurance salesman with North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company and moved to Wilson, where he first lodged with the Noah Tate family.
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bethel Wilton M (c) slsmn N C Mut Life Ins Co h 307 Pender.
Flora Clark Bethel.
On 18 June 1930, Wilton M. Bethel, 21 [sic], of Wilson, son of Ernest and Phillis Bethel, married Flora Ruth Clark, 21 [sic], of Wilson, daughter of John H. and Ida R. Clark, in Wilson. Protestant Episcopal minister Eugene Leon Henderson performed the ceremony at Saint Mark’s in the presence of the Clarks and Percy Young. [Actually, Wilton Bethel was 24. Flora Clark Bethel was about 7 years older than her husband. She had also attended Saint Augustine’s College, graduating in 1924, when it was a junior college.]
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John Clark, 76; wife Ida, 65; son-in-law Wilton Bethel, 33, insurance agent for N.C. Mutual, and daughter Flora, 30, teacher at Darden High School.
Wilton Maxwell Bethel registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 5 September 1906 in Miami, Florida; was an American citizen; lived at 706 East Nash Street, Wilson; his nearest relative was wife Flora C. Bethel; and he worked for N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company, Goldsboro, N.C.
We have seen Ellen (not Ella) Clarkhere, in a post about her headstone, discovered in Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Ben Wootten — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on West Walnut Street, Ben Wooten, 45, restaurant proprietor; wife Georgia, 36; and Rosina, 16, and Russell, 11. Ben Wooten died 18 October 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 77 years old; was married to Georgia; lived at 119 West Walnut; engaged in farming; and was born in Pitt County, N.C.
Lonnie Hopkins — in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Hines Street, Rhesa Moore, 45, laundress, widow; daughter Ethel Moore, 15, factory laborer; lodger Mary Lumford, 23, cook; grandson Willie Lumford, 7; and lodgers Alfred Cook, 28, and Lonnie Hopkins, 26, guano factory laborers. On 24 September 1916, Lonnie Hopkins, 28, of Wilson, son of Jim and Julia Hopkins, married Ara Blount, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Daniel and Sue Bynum Blount, in Wilson. Disciples minister J.B. Kornegay performed the ceremony in the presence of Millard Grady, Ellar Blount, and W.M. Edwards.
We did a little trip down to Cordele, Georgia, this weekend. Once there, I was a little hazy on the directions, but I spotted A.S. Clark Drive and knew we were good.
Augustus S. Clark was among the cohort of (mostly) young men who erupted from Wilson in the 1880s and ’90s,* determined to lead. Born in the final days of slavery, or just after, they drank in everything J.C. Price and Samuel H. Vick poured at Wilson Academy, went straight to university (often at Lincoln, their instructors’ alma mater), then set out, in Clark’s later words, to “… do what I can for the uplift of my people.”
Dr. Augustus S. Clark (1874-1959). (Photo courtesy of Frank T. Wilson, ed., “Living Witnesses: Black Presbyterians in Ministry II,” Journal of Presbyterian History, volume 53, number 3 (Fall 1985).)
For his part, in 1902 Clark founded, with his wife Annie, the Gillespie Normal School, later Gillespie-Selden Institute, in Cordele. In 1925, the institute added an hospital. (The closest Black medical facility was 142 miles away in Atlanta.) I’ve written of Gillespie-Selden here and finally went to see it.
Gillespie Institute Founded By Rev. and Mrs. Augustus Clark September 1, 1902 Served By Them Until October 1, 1941 Alumni 1942
The school complex forms the heart of Cordele’s Gillespie-Selden Historic District. Below, the school’s administration building, built in 1935.
The girls’ dormitory below, built in 1929, is the most imposing building in the neighborhood.
A rear addition has been largely torn down, and an open door grants access to the interior.
The building holds evidence of fairly recent use as a family resource and daycare center, as well as squatters. All things considered though, it is in pretty good condition.
This room runs the length of the back wall on the first floor.
At the front of the building, a series of small interconnected rooms flanks a central entry hall. I didn’t venture upstairs.
The cornerstone of the girls’ dormitory.
A marble plaque inlaid by the class of 1929.
The President’s House, also known as Dr. Clark’s house, which sits just to the west of the girls’ dormitory. The Clarks retired from active teaching and school leadership in 1941.
Below, Saint Paul Presbyterian, also founded by Rev. Clark. The tin-roofed section at right appears to be the original church, updated with brick.
Gillespie-Selden Institute closed in 1956 when Cordele finally erected a high school for African-American students. Named in honor of A.S. Clark, the school eventually converted to an elementary school, but closed in 2014. The building is now under development as a non-profit biomedical institute.
For more about Gillespie-Selden Historic District, see the Gillespie-Selden Historic District National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, which contains this passage:
“Within the Gillespie-Selden Historic District, the outreach missionary role of Dr. Augustus S. Clark (1874-1959) and St. Paul Presbyterian Church is significant to the development of the neighborhood. Dr. Clark completed his theological training at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1897; he was sent by the Presbyterian National Board of Missions to Cordele in 1898 as a missionary to help the struggling Portis Memorial Presbyterian Church. During that same year, a loan was secured from the Board of the Church Erection Fund of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church for the construction of a new church building to be named St. Paul Presbyterian Church.
“In 1902, Dr. Clark and his wife, Anna, realized that there were less than adequate educational institutions for African-Americans to attend in Cordele as well as the entire southwest region of the state. Dr. Clark taught elementary-level and Sunday-school classes in the basement of St. Paul Presbyterian Church, but found he needed more space. … By 1904, enough money had been donated by white members of northern Presbyterian churches, especially the Gillespie family of Pittsburgh, that three buildings of the school complex were constructed. …”
In the 1880 census of Rocky Mount, Nash County: farm worker Right Whitley, 31; wife Tempie, 32; and children Blunt, 10, Ellin, 8, Bunch, 7, and Ann Wright, 2.
Ellen Whitley married Will Clark on 31 October 1896 in Nash County, North Carolina.
Ella Clark died 13 June 1913 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 35 years old; was born in Nash County to Wright Whitley and Tempie Lewis; was widowed; lived at 313 Goldsboro Street; and “fell dead on street — some cardiac event.” Eli Bryant was informant.
Thanks to Joe Stair for finding and photographing Ellen Clark’s headstone.
[Update: While searching for a different group of markers, I spotted the red flag Joe Stair placed at Ellen Clark’s headstone. I also noticed two small terra cotta pots placed nearby. Happenstance? Or evidence of flowers placed in her memory decades ago? — LYH, 4/20/2021]
“From 1932 to 1964, Mrs. Bethel was employed in the Wilson city schools system where she furthered the use of her musical talents. For many years, she was the musical assistant for the Darden School Choir.
“In addition she has taught private classes in piano and organizing for a number of students in the Wilson community, while at the same time serving as organist for the St. Mark’s Mission. Mrs. Bethel’s contribution to music at St. Mark’s Mission will be recognized during the concert by the St. Augustine’s choir, which is said to be a tribute to all the makers of music to the greater glory of God.”