1008 Mercer Street.

This house is not within the bounds of East Wilson Historic District. However, the blocks of Mercer Street southwest of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad lines have been an African-American residential area since the early twentieth century. This house, with its original brackets, turned posts, balusters, and other millwork, is the gem of the block.

Per its architecture, I would peg the construction date of this house around the turn of the 20th century. City directories from that era, however, do not list house numbers for Mercer Street, describing houses only as “near Norfolk & Southern Railroad.”

The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map shows 1008 Mercer as the last house inside city limits on that side of the street.

Detail from 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Collins Debora (c) lndrs h 1008 Mercer

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Collins Deborah (c) lndrs h 1008 Mercer

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1008 Mercer, owned and valued at $3000, South Carolina-born widow Deborah Collins, 37, laundress, and niece Clara Thomas, 26, public school teacher.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1008 Mercer, rented at $16/month, James Hall, 31, cook at Cherry Hotel; wife Edith, 31, stemmer at redrying plant; children James Jr., 10, and Lurrine, 8; and adopted son Columbus Dawson, 23, laborer at redrying plant.

In 1940, James Hardy Hall registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 6 October 1909 in Wilson; lived at 1008 Mercer; his contact was wife Edith Burnette Hall; and he was unemployed.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hall Jas H (c; Edith E; 2) cook h 1008 Mercer

In 1942, Lonnie Ford registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 3 May 1924 in Dillon, South Carolina; lived at 1008 Mercer Street, Wilson; his mailing address was 1612 6th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.; his contact was Thomas Ford, 1008 Mercer; and he worked for War Department Bureau No. 5, Washington, D.C.

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Ford Thomas (c; Dora) confectioner 515 E Nash h 1008 Mercer

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2022.

412 East Green Street.

The one hundred thirty-second 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, this building is: “ca. 1940; 1 story; double shotgun with bungalow type porch.” (It’s not clear whether the house is still multi-family or has been converted to a single.)

Per the 1922 Sanborn fire map of Wilson, this single-family dwelling stood at 412 East Green prior to the double-shotgun there today.

In the 1928 and 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: McNeill Lucinda (c) dom h 412 East Green

In 1940, Ike Essex Collins registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 23 November 1907 in Camden, S.C.; lived at 412 1/2 East Green Street; his contact was mother Josephine Robinson Collins of Greensboro, N.C.; and he worked for Monticello Cafe, West Nash Street, Wilson.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Collins Isaac (c; Lula; 1) cook Monticello Cafe h 412 E Green

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Collins Isaac E (c; Lula) cook M&J Restaurant h 412 E Green

[A comparison with the 2012 image in Google Maps Street View shows that this house has been updated. Large overgrown shrubs blocking the front steps are gone, and the white trim paint is fresh.]

The murder of Willie Black.

When the registrar filed 48 year-old Willie Black‘s death certificate on 6 February 1933, she recorded his cause of death as “gun shot wounds inflicted by parties or party unknown to the Coroner Jurry.”

However, on 27 January 1933, the Wilson Daily Times reported Willie Black’s widow Sarah Black and her “paramour” Robert Collins had confessed to the crime. On 7 February 1933, the paper reported that a grand jury had returned an indictment against Sarah Black for first degree murder in the slaying of her husband. Collins was also charged.

Sarah Black went on trial in May. 

Elijah King testified that he heard two gunshots in the direction of the railroad. He went to the police station, then returned with officers to the Norfolk and Southern railroad, where they found a dead man lying about 150 yards from Rountree Bridge road. [Rountree Bridge road was most likely the continuation beyond city limits of what was then Stantonsburg Street and is now Black Creek Road. Rountree Bridge crossed Contentnea Creek three miles southeast of Wilson.]

Acting Coroner Ashe Hines testified that the body bore two gunshots wounds, one at close range behind the right ear and the other in the back. 

Willie Black’s son, also named Willie Black, testified next. He was Sarah Black’s stepson. His father and stepmother had been married about two years before, and they quarreled frequently. On the night of the murder, Black Jr. saw Sarah talking with a preacher who lived nearby. His father was not at home, and Black Jr. thought he was at work.

Willie Black Jr. got home about 7:30 PM and found a lamp burning in his parents’ bedroom. He went to James Stancil’s store and stayed until about 9:00 PM, then went home and went to bed. Sarah Black came home about 10:00 PM, and ten minutes later the police arrived. Willie Jr. asked, “Where’s Papa?,” and the police took him and his stepmother to view the body where it lay. Sarah Black cried a little. The police questioned them about a single gauge shotgun.

The night before the shooting, Willie and Sarah Black had argued about the pigtails he brought home for dinner. Sarah Black: “I do not like them.” Willie Black: “If you don’t like them, you can thrown them out.” Sarah Black: I don’t even know why I married you. Willie Black Jr. admitted he and his stepmother had argued, too, but denied ever pulling a knife on her or threatening her.

Officer Lloyd Lucas testified that he had questioned Sarah Black, and she told him that she was a burial society meeting and then a prayer meeting during the time WIllie Black was supposed to have been killed. Lucas denied trying to intimidate Sarah Black or “wring a confession out of her,” but allowed he might have said “damn.”

Robert Collins, who was alleged to be Sarah Black’s lover, was charged with the actual killing and was to be tried after Black’s trial.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 May 1933.

Which happened immediately. The next day’s edition announced that Collins turned state’s evidence and testified to this sorry chain of events:

Robert Collins lived in Happy Hill and had known Sarah Black three to four years. About a week before the murder, at Sarah Black’s sister’s house, Sarah had told him she was tired of Willie Black and wanted him out of the way. She would furnish him with Willie Black’s own gun and would pay him with money and clothing. (Williams Lumber employees testified that they saw Sarah come to talk to Collins at work.) On the night of the shooting, Sarah hid Willie’s shotgun in a ditch. She and Collins followed Willie as he walked down the railroad, and Collins shot him in the back. Black kept walking. Sarah Black asked if Collins was going to shoot him again, and Collins said he could not. She then took the gun and shot her husband down. Collins and Sarah Black went to the Black home, then separated. When confronted by the police, Collins confessed and took all the blame for himself.

The jury deliberated about two-and-a-half hours before delivering its decision. Guilty. As to both. Collins was immediately sentenced to 29 years and Sarah Black to the electric chair. 

[But stay tuned.]


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, day laborer Chas. Hines, 38, and wife Isabella, 38; step-daughter Mary Jane Bryant, 18; cook Jane Black, 35, widow, and her children William, 14, Clara, 4, Lucy, 1, plus day laborer Ed Black, 21, all boarders; and day laborer William York, 75, boarder.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, widow Jane Black, 45, house servant, and children Willie, 24, Caria, 14, Lucy, 11, Samuel, 7, and Gertrude, 3. 

In 1918, Will Black registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in February 1883; lived on Goldsboro Street, Wilson; was a laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company; and his contact was wife Matilda Black.

On 27 August 1928, Matilda Black died in Castalia township, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was about 36 years old; married to Will Black; lived in Wilson; was born in Nash County to Richard Taylor and Dianah Hill; and was buried in a family cemetery. Will Black was informant.

Will Black, 40, of Wilson, son of Fred and Jane Black, married Sarah Kittrell, 25, of Wilson, daughter of Ed and Rosa Kittrell, on 11 August 1930 in Wilson. Disciples minister Fred Williams performed the ceremony in Wilson in the presence of Mae H. Young, Jas. H. Knight and Clara Ward.

Done out of $3000.


News & Observer (Raleigh), 28 June 1907.

  • Samuel H. Vick
  • John F. Collins — I have found no record of John Collins living in Wilson. Possibly, in the 1910 census of Washington, D.C.: at 2010 Third Street, N.W., John F. Collins, 32, lawyer in general practice, born in North Carolina; wife Alice E., 29; and son John F., Jr., 2. Collins in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 censuses of Washington employed as a mail carrier with wife Alice and sons John and William K. Collins.

Where did they go?: Tennessee death certificates.

Death certificates for residents of Tennessee born in Wilson, North Carolina:

  • Mamie Lee King, Chattanooga

33113_257902-00213In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm worker Samuel Gay, 29; wife Allice, 25; and children Blanch, 9, Louizah, 7, Edgar, 4, Charlie, 2, and Mamie, 1 month.

  • Minnie Carey, Knoxville


  • Maluel Coleman, Collinsville, Shelby County


  • James Watson, Davidson County


  • Charlie James Barnes, Memphis


Tennessee Death Records, 1908-1958 [database on-line],