Colored Graded School

The Colored Graded School’s early days.

This beautifully sharp photograph is the earliest known depicting the Colored Graded School. Photographer F.M. Winstead, who operated in Wilson from about 1880 to about 1908, shot this wintertime scene, most likely within a few years of the school’s opening in the 1890s. The school was built at what was then the edge of town, and I am fairly sure that the field in front of the school has been picked clean of cotton.

My thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for this photograph.

A morning with the Knights.

I spent a delightful hour or so yesterday speaking with students at Greenfield School about revolutionary African-American teacher Mary C. Euell and the Wilson Colored Graded School boycott. I appreciate the opportunity to share community history and stories of resistance with young people, and I thank Jennifer Johnson, Greenfield’s librarian, for the invitation.

Greenfield opened in the fall of 1970, the same semester I started first grade. That’s not a coincidence. After 16 years of stonewalling post-Brown v. Board of Education, Wilson finally fully integrated its school system in 1970, more or less at gunpoint. Some in the city’s monied class had seen the handwriting on the wall, and Greenfield was just one of many seg academies that sprang up across the South.

Fifty-two years is a long time, but no guarantor of change for the better. Greenfield, however, has moved along the arc of the moral universe, and the faces of the teenagers who listened so attentively and asked such thoughtful questions reflect its progress.

Schoolhouse “I do.”

Well into the twentieth century, African-American couples married overwhelmingly at an office of a justice of the peace or the home of a relative. However, on 21 March 1906, as carefully noted a Wilson County marriage register, William Sutton and Laura Williams tied the knot at Wilson’s Colored Graded School. Free Will Baptist minister John Steward performed the ceremony, and Charles Best, Charley Dawson, Minnie Sutton, and Henry Garnett.

School closings and reopenings.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 December 1936.

For a brief period in November-December 1936, all three of Wilson’s Black schools were closed down. The Stantonsburg Street School (formerly known as Colored Graded and later as Sallie Barbour) shut down for repair of a burst boiler. The Colored High School (later known as Darden) was closed indefinitely due to a serious fire, and Sam Vick Elementary’s grand opening had been delayed by late furniture arrivals.

The majority of the children are picking cotton.

Wilson Advance, 15 October 1891.

School calendars aligned with the rhythms of the agricultural calendar. Even so, children picking cotton missed the beginning of school in October. (Just as children at my high school who worked in tobacco nearly one hundred years later sometimes did not report until after Labor Day.)


In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Enos Thompson, 41; wife Hillon, 41; and children John, 17, Margaret, 16, Lucy, 6, Pet, 4, and Ennis, 3.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: garden laborer Ennis Thompson, 72; wife Helen, 65; and daughter Lucy, 35, laundress.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 144 East, Lucy Thompson, 40, and father Ennice Thompson, 81, widower.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 200 Pender, renting [likely a room] at $2/month, Lucy Thompson, 65.

Lucy A. Thompson died 24 July 1946 at her home at 310 Singletary Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 71 years old; was born in Wilson County to Ennis Thompson of Greene County, N.C., and Hellen A. Ruffin of Louisburg, N.C.; worked as a teacher; and was buried in Rountree cemetery.

  • Victoria Battle