In memoriam: Vivian Speight Coley, nonagenarian.

Vivian M. Speight Coley (1924-2023).


In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 405 East Green, dentist William H. Phillips, 56; wife Rena C., 52; sister-in-law Isabelle Thornton, 62; and lodgers Ruth Williams, 26, Vivian Speight, 23, both public school teachers, Harold Schmoke, 30, movie theatre manager, Angus Williams, 21, projection operator, and James Williams, 20, chauffeur.

On 16 October 1950, Jasper Coley, 23, of Wilson County, son of Jasper Coley and Lydia Coley, married Vivian Speight, 23, of Greene County, daughter of Sylvester Speight and Minnie Speight, in Nashville, Nash County. Witnesses were Ruth G. Ward, Vivian G. Garner, and Luther Wingate, all of Wilson.

Retired teacher Vivian Speight Coley died 13 May 2023 in Wilson.

Studio shots, no. 183: Lydia Meeks Grissom Coley.

Lydia Lee Meeks Grissom Coley (1892-1946).


In the 1900 census of Princeville, Township No. 1, Edgecombe County: day laborer Philip Meeks, 59; wife Nancy, 49, janitress; and daughters Cristiana, 15, and Dila L. [Lydia], 9.

On 24 July 1913, Herman Grissom, 22, of Wilson, son of Willis and Hattie Grissom, married Lydia Meeks, 20, of Edgecombe, daughter of Philip and Nancy Meeks, at Saint Paul’s A.M.E. Zion in Tarboro, Edgecombe County.

Herman Nadies Grissom died 23 March 1921 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 January 1891 in Wilson to Willis Grissom of Franklin County, N.C., and Hattie Thorne of Wilson; was married to Lydia Grissom; lived at 201 Vick Street; and worked as a barber.

In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Grissom Lydia (c) hair dresser 201 N Vick

On 9 October 1924, Jasper Coley, 40, of Wilson, married Lydia Grissom, 30, of Wilson, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister J.E. Kennedy performed the ceremony in the presence of D.H. Coley, Sallie Coley, and Annie L. Kennedy.

In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Grissom Lydia (c) hair dresser 201 N Vick

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Coley Jasper (c; Lydia) barber Bonnie [sic] Reid h 401 [sic] N Vick

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 201 Vick Street, owned and valued at $1200, barber Jasper Coley, 50; wife Lila, 47, teacher at county school; daughters Dorothy, 25, teacher at county school, and Ruth Grissom, 19; and son Jasper, 13.

In 1945, Jasper Allison Coley Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 6 January 1927 in Wilson; lived at 201 North Vick; worked at Barshay’s Ladies Shop, Nash Street, Wilson; and his contact was mother Lydia Coley. He had a scar from a burn on his right hand.

Lydia Lee Coley died 7 March 1946 at Lincoln Hospital in Durham, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was born 9 October 1892 in Tarboro, N.C., to Rebecca Meeks; was married to Jasper Coley; lived at 201 North Vick Street, Wilson; and was a teacher. Informant was Dorothy Parker, 624 East Green Street.

Photo courtsey of user Debra Winfrey.

A public library for black citizens.

Wilson County Public Library’s Local History Room holds a copy of “A History of Public Library Service to Blacks in Wilson, N.C.,” the master’s thesis Doretta Davis Anderson submitted to the University of North Carolina’s School of Library Science in 1976. Here are early excerpts :

“The honor of first suggesting a public library for the black citizens of Wilson, North Carolina belonged to a Mrs. Argie Evans Allen. Mrs. Allen suggested the idea of establishing a library for the black community as a project for her club, the Mary McLeod Bethune Civic Club. Accepting the idea, the club then authorized Mrs. Allen to carry our the project as she saw fit.

“The first actual recorded interest in the establishment of the library appeared in a letter, written by Mrs. Allen to Mrs. Mollie Huston Lee on June 7, 1943. Mrs. Lee, at that time was supervisor of North Carolina’s Negro Public Libraries.  …

“Subsequently, Dr. D.C. Yancey donated a room over his drugstore to the club for the establishment of a library. …

“… Volunteers were solicited to man the library. The first official ‘librarian’ was Evangeline Royal, a local high school student employed to operate the library after school.”

“The following persons were appointed to become members of the library’s first board of trustees: Mrs. W.M. Freeman (Chairman); E. Hilliard (Secretary); James Whitfield (Treasurer); E.F. Battle; William Hines; Dr. D.C. Yancey; and C.W. Foster.

“Considering its relative obscurity, the library was to circulate 108 volumes during its first year of operations and collect $539.40 in donations for operating expenses.

“The following year showed a marked improvement. Aside from acquiring a new librarian, the board of trustees was able to solicit appropriations from the local city and county officials for the financing of the library. … Under the direction of Miss Pauleze Coley (Bryant), the college graduate employed by the library, circulation for the year ending June 30, 1945 totaled 3,172 volumes. …”

Proposed floor plan of Wilson County Negro Library’s location on Pender Street.

  • Argie Evans Allen
  • D.C. Yancey — D’arcey C. Yancey.
  • Evangeline Royal — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 203 Pender Street, widow Ossie M. Royall, 33, an elevator girl at the courthouse; her mother Tossie Jenkins, 53, stemmer at a tobacco factory; daughters LaForest, 16, and Evauline Royall, 14; and a roomer named Ed Hart, 45, a laborer employed by the town of Wilson. Ossie and LaForest were born in Wilson; Evaline in Battleboro [Nash County]; and Tossie and Ed in Nash County.
  • W.M. Freeman — Willie Mae Hendley Freeman.
  • E. Hilliard
  • James Whitfield
  • E.F. Battle
  • William Hines
  • C.W. Foster — Carter W. Foster.
  • Pauleze Coley (Bryant) — Elizabeth Pauleze Coley Bryant.

115 Pender Street East today. The library was housed in the storefront at left until the early 1970s, when it moved to a location on Pender south of Nash Street. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

901 East Green Street.

The one-hundred-seventeenth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District: “ca. 1930; 2 stories; two-bay, side-hall, gable front house.” Like 817 East Green, Walter S. Hines (and his heirs) owned and rented out this house. It was demolished in 2001.

In the 1928 and 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Brooks Maggie (c) cook h 901 E Green

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 East Green, renting for $21/month, widow Maggie Brooks, 45, servant; Eszie M. Brooks, 26, nurse; roomer Roland Sudden, 24, factory laborer; Christene Brooks, 2; and roomers Robert Harvey, 26, glass cutter, and wife Mary, 22, both born in Georgia.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 East Green, rented for $15/month, barber Henry D. Coley, 44; wife Eva J., 39, teacher in public schools; and daughters Elizabeth P., 16, Grace L., 14, and Eva E., 10.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Coley David H (c; Eva) barber Walter S Hines h 901 E Green

Eva Janet Coley died 7 October 1941 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 9 June 1899 in Greene County to Jacob Speight and Ida Ward; was married to David H. Coley; was a teacher; and lived at 901 East Green Street.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2019.

Coley receives a degree in library science.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 June 1947.

Elizabeth Pauleze Coley was almost certainly the first, and perhaps the only, African-American native of Wilson to graduate what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. A 1940 graduate of Charles H. Darden High School, she received her first degree from North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in 1944.

Coley married Kelly Winslow Bryant of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and eventually migrated to suburban Washington, D.C. Though it’s not clear whether she ever worked in Wilson — the main library on West Nash Street was whites-only in 1947, and the tiny Negro branch remained a fledgling — Elizabeth Pauleze Coley Bryant did become a librarian.

Roundtable (1969), the yearbook of Frank W. Ballou High School, Washington, D.C.


Elizabeth P. Coley was born 1 May 1923 in Wilson to David Henry Coley and Eva Jane Speight.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 930 [sic, 931] Carolina Street, barber Henry Coley, 48; wife Eva, 46, teacher; and children James, 16, Eva, 15, and Elizabeth, 13. [The ages of this entire family are off. David H. Coley was in fact about; Eva, about 30; Elizabeth, about 6; and Eva, about 4.]

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 East Green, rented for $15/month, barber Henry D. Coley, 44; wife Eva J., 39, teacher in public schools; and daughters Elizabeth P., 16, Grace L., 14, and Eva E., 10.

In the 1948 Rocky Mount, North Carolina, city directory: Bryant Kelly W (c; Pauleze; Wright’s Chick Shack) r 522 Raleigh rd


The 200 block of East Street and the 900 blocks of Carolina and Washington Streets.

In February 1920, Atlantic Coast Realty Company surveyed an irregularly shaped parcel of land between East and Vick Streets in Wilson. The land, commonly known as the Sallie Lipscomb property, belonged to J.H. Griffin and others, who planned to carve out 45 lots for sale to home builders.

[Note: Sarah A. Barnes (1842-1927), daughter of Edwin T. and Theresa Simms Barnes, married Virginia-born Oswald Lipscomb in 1869. Per documents in Lipscomb’s estate file, Lipscomb and his brother-in-law John T. Barnes entered into a partnership to form Lipscomb & Company (also known as Lipscomb & Barnes), a contracting, carpentry and woodworking business that operated from a shop at Pine and Lee Streets. The business operated profitably until “opposition in business, a general falling off of the trade, the contraction in prices and one or more contracts for building houses in which the firm lost money” caused Lipscomb to give up the trade and “retire to his wife’s farm near the town of Wilson.” It is reasonable to assume that the Sallie Lipscomb property platted here was (part of) that farm. (Lipscomb & Barnes continued to struggle, and Barnes piled on more debt to keep the firm afloat. Lipscomb died in 1891, and Barnes in 1894. Soon after, Edwin T. Barnes, administrator of John T. Barnes’ estate, sued to make sure their brother-in-law’s estate claimed no portion of the business.)]

Plat book 1, page 184, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County.

The plat map shows neighboring landowners as “Vick” (almost certainly Samuel H. Vick), Dorsey Williams, Robert Rice and “Howard.” Development did not commence immediately, as the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map below shows empty space along the 200 block of East Street and between the 900 blocks of Washington and Carolina Streets. The six houses on Washington and one on Carolina lie beyond the borders of the Sallie Lipscomb property. Sam Vick’s house is at top left on Green Street, and the strip of land he owned at the edge of the map seems to have been behind houses in the 700 block of Green. Dorsey Williams’ house was at 304 (formerly 147) East Street.

1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of WIlson, N.C.

On 12 February 1924, barber David H. Coley and wife Eva Speight Coley, a teacher, purchased Number 44, one of the larger lots in the subdivision, and built a house on it. On 1 October 1929, they executed a deed of trust with realtor D.S. Boykin to secure a loan from Carolina Building and Loan Association. Exactly four weeks later, the stock market collapsed, and it is not hard to imagine that the Coleys’ fortunes fell with the country’s. They defaulted on their loan, and in February 1932, Boykin advertised the impending sale.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 February 1932.

Here is the approximate location of the Sallie Lipscomb property as shown on Google Maps today. The Coleys’ house at 931 Carolina Street was long ago demolished; it is not listed in the East Wilson historic district inventory.