Commercial Bank

The Commercial Bank block.

Wilson Commercial Realty Company commissioned a survey in November 1925 of three commercial buildings it owned at 418, 420 and 422 East Nash Street between South Pettigrew Street and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, adjacent to the African-American-owned Commercial Bank.

The labels on the buildings — grocery store, clothing, barber shop — were perhaps intended to suggest suitable uses for the spaces, as they do not correlate with the businesses listed at those addresses in 1922 or 1925 city directories.

I have not been able to identify businesses for 418, which stood closest to the railroad.

In the center building, James Henry Barnes operated a barbershop at 420 1/2, which perhaps was a second floor space. Cutt Davis and James Mack operated the Baltimore Shoe Repair Shop at 420.

At 422, next to the bank, Leroy G. Hemingway operated a second-hand furniture dealer and repair shop, The Furniture Exchange.

Blueprint courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Report of the condition of the Commercial Bank.

In January 1926, officers of the Commercial Bank of Wilson filed a year-end financial report.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 January 1926.

Safety, efficiency, courteous service.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 October 1921.

“An institution organized, owned and operated by negroes for the making of a bigger and better community — consequently for race advancement.

“It is the purpose of this bank to render the best service possible. All we ask is a chance to prove ourselves worthy of your expectation. Will you grant us this institution which will be a credit to your city and race.

“In the words of the past ‘To thine own self be true.’ Don’t betray thy nature and thy name. But show to the world that you are a true-blooded Negro, proud of your race and willing to help build it up.

“Bring your earnings to the bank and build up a savings account for yourself and prepare for that rainy day that is sure to come; we are amply prepared to take care of them for you. We are expecting every Negro in Wilson and Wilson county to open an account with us during this, our first year in operation. Are you loyal or are you disloyal? Time will answer the question.”

“Join the band of race and community builders and open a savings account with the Commercial Bank of Wilson.”


Black Wilson rallied to this sharp-edged appeal and opened hundreds of accounts at Commercial Bank. The bank operated throughout the Roaring Twenties, but by 1929 the cracks were showing. A suspicious fire on September 23 led to the bank’s immediate closure and the subsequent arrest and conviction of two of its officers, J.D. Reid and Henry S. Stanback.


  • James H. Bailey, cashier — of Goldsboro, N.C.
  • H.S. Stanbach, assistant cashier — Henry S. Stanback.
  • S.H. Vick, president — Samuel H. Vick.
  • J.D. Reid, vice-president
  • F.S. Hargraves, vice-president — Dr. Frank S. Hargrave, physician.
  • J.G. Mitchell, vice-president — James G. Mitchell, a farmer near Elm City.
  • W.R. Hinnant, vice-president — a Kenly, Johnston County farmer.
  • C.D. Sauls, vice-president — Cain D. Sauls, a Greene County businessman.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

An accounting.

A financial statement prepared by the state bank commissioner on 1 August 1933 concerning the Commercial Bank, which had closed 23 September 1929. The defendants listed appear to be the bank’s shareholders. (As account holders, they were also victims of the shady business practices that led to the bank’s collapse.)

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Wilson Daily Times, 5 August 1933.

B.C. Griffin, Judge Fleming, Edwin W. Fisher, Mayme B. Ford, Cora Farmer, Stattie Cannon, James H. Ford, Jasper Coley, John F. Battle, Lucrean Barnes, Ethel L. Barber, Sallie M. Barbour, J.W. Black, Columbus E. Artis, S.D. Artis, Georgia Crockett Aiken, Julia Burnette Harrell, Ed Humphrey, Ruth E. Hooker [Coppedge], Amos Johnson, Levi H. Jones, Tempsie Jones, Columbus Mitchell, Laura Wardill McPhail, Raiford J. McPhail, J.O. Plummer [likely John O. Plummer of Warren County, father of E. Courtney Plummer Fitts], William Hines, Eleanor [Elna] J. Farmer Hooker, Louis Thomas, Charles S. Thomas, Turner Stokes, Isaac A. Shade, D.B. Swinson, J.D. Reid, Eleanor P. Reid, Alfred F. Rector (white; listed in the 1930 city directory as a ticket agent for the A.C.L. Rail Road Company), Joe Rogers, Lyda Rountree, Levi H. Peacock, L.T. Lucas (probably white), Green Taylor, E.A. Taylor, Samuel H. Vick, Christine Venters, James Whitfield, Marie Williams.

Reid and Stanback stand trial.

A detailed newspaper account of the trial of J.D. Reid and Henry S. Stanback, who were charged with embezzlement and other crimes that led to the failure of Wilson’s Commercial Bank.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 February 1930.

In summary:

Bank examiners closed Commercial Bank on 24 September 1929 after a suspicious fire. J.D. Reid was the bank’s vice-president, and Stanback, the cashier. They were indicted on six counts. One alleged that Reid and Stanback knowingly permitted others to make deposits to the bank, knowing it was insolvent, specifically these deposits: $66.50 by Alfred Robinson; $57.00 by Camillus L. Darden, treasurer of Saint John A.M.E. Zion; $10.00 by Ed Humphrey; $1100.00 by Edwin W. Fisher, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent; $10.00 by John Clark for Saint Mark’s Episcopal; $400.00 by Jarrette J. Langley; $35.00 by C.E. Artis and Company; and $200.00 by Shade’s Pharmacy.

Reid and Stanback were defended by W.A. Finch, Bryce Little, O.G. Rand, Wade Gardner, and Pete Bell, “Plymouth negro lawyer.”

The State first called certified public accountant C.A. Bean, who testified that he had examined the bank’s records and books on behalf of the North Carolina State Banking Department. Bean testified that pages from the bank’s ledger January 1929 until it closed were destroyed by fire, as well as a number of deposit records. Some documents were found strewn on the floor. He believed the bank was insolvent for four months before it closed. Records shows the bank had $565.84 in cash and checks on hand when it closed, against $72,000 owed to depositors and more than $53,000 in outstanding loans. Bean also found duplicate ledger sheets and a number of accounts under various names controlled by Stanback and Reid (including that of the Wilson Colored Hospital.) Further, he found numerous checks drawn but not charged to Stanback’s account, and well as checks  drawn by Stanback from others’ accounts from 1922 to 1928. Bean testified that Stanback told him one of the special accounts was set up for expenses related to operating the bank. Reid had similarly shady accounts. The bankers’ lawyers objected vigorously to the questions put to Bean.

The state next called several bank customers.

Alfred Robinson, secretary-treasurer of the “Grand Lodge of Negro Masons,” testified that he maintained a personal account and the lodge’s account at the bank. He made deposits in his personal account on September 17 and asked for balance statements for both. Stanback gave him the personal account balance, but said he was too busy to give the lodge’s. He put Robinson off again a few days later, then told him the fire had destroyed records before he could get the information. Robinson said Stanback and Reid told him rats and matches had caused the blaze.

The courtroom was packed with spectators — as many as five hundred, most African-American.

Ed Humphrey testified that he had traveled to Roxboro, North Carolina, with Reid to get a two or three thousand dollar check from Lee Clay. He said Reid offered him $25 to deposit $1880 in the bank, but Humphrey refused.

Edwin Fisher testified about deposits he made on behalf of N.C. Mutual and about a “bogus” deposit slip for $150 that Reid had given him to cover an overage at the bank.

Columbus E. Artis testified that his own balance sheets showed a balance of $1176.67, but the bank’s showed him $14 overdrawn. He further stated that once, when he had a balance of $1800, he had written a check for $500. Stanback had returned it to him unpaid, asking him “not to write such big checks as the bank was a little low on funds owing to the demands of farmers.”

Lee Clay, of Roxboro, testified that Reid had convinced him to transfer $2000.00 from a “white man’s bank” to Commercial about September 1.

Plummer A. Richardson testified in his capacity as officer of a Nash County fraternal organization. He testified that Reid and Stanback blamed the tobacco market for cashflow problems, and he had to make several trips to Wilson to get his checks cashed.

Coverage continued the next day under this headline:

Again, hundreds of dismayed African-Americans crowded the courtroom to hear witnesses pile on evidence against Stanback and Reid. Isaac A. Shade, an eight-year customer, testified that Stanback had explained discrepancies with his pharmacy’s checks as mere mistakes. Shade was later recalled and examined about the Commercial Realty Company, which he claimed to known little about. John H. Clark testified that, upon hearing rumors that the bank would close, he tried to cash out his account, and Stanback had told him that the bank was not open for business. John Melton had $860.00 to his credit when the bank closed. Nestus Freeman testified that he had $3100.00 in the bank when it closed.

H.D. Beverly, “colored superintendent” of a lodge called “Brothers and Sisters of Love and Charity,” testified that  Reid came to his home in Ahoskie, North Carolina, to solicit him to deposit his and the lodge’s money in the bank. Among other things, he said Reid instructed him to allow Stanback to fill out his savings account book to avoid messing up Stanback’s books. He heard the bank was about to fail, but Reid assured him it was not. Andrew Tate also testified.

Marland Jones of Durham testified at length. Jones opened an account after Stanback “kept after him” to do so.  “One morning he went after his money, and it was after the time for the bank to open. Reid came with a sack of money and witness asked what was the matter and if the bank was broke, and Reid said ‘Who said so.’ I wanted to draw out $172.00, and Stanback said that he was short on cash, and I said if you have trouble paying me $172.00, I want all of it.” Jones thought he got the money from Durham, as a Western Union boy came in the office with the money shortly after.

Bertie County depositor N.H. Cherry testified that he had opened an account at Reid’s request and had done so with $500. He later wrote Stanback two letters demanding return of his money. Reid showed up at Cherry’s in person, threatening to “jack up” Stanback for failing to respond and promising to pay Cherry $25 if he kept his money in the bank. Cherry never saw the $25 or his $500 either.

Oscar McCall and Ellen Tate testified about the bank’s shady practices, and Mr. Bean was recalled to testify about irregularities in Hattie Tate‘s account. The State rested, and the defense followed suit, calling no witnesses.

The case went to jury the next day. After just over an hour, they returned two guilty verdicts on the count of receiving deposits knowing that the bank was insolvent. Reid and Stanback were sentenced to five years hard labor, and the remaining charges were deferred to a later date. After abruptly withdrawing their appeals, Reid and Stanback entered state prison by the first of March.


210 North Pender Street.

The twelfth 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. 1913; 1 story; J.D. Reid Tenant House; double-pile, hip-roofed, side-hall cottage with patterned-tin roof and turned-post porch; built by Reid for tenant, including bank clerk Harry Stanback.”

J.D. Reid wore many hats — school principal, banker, hospital administrator, real estate investor. In the 1922 and 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories, 210 Pender is shown occupied by carpenter Nathan Boyette and wife Emma.

Virginia native Harry Sylvester Stanback arrived in Wilson in the easily 1920s to serve as cashier of the black-owned Commercial Bank. He is shown in the 1925 and 1928 Wilson directories residing at 210 Pender. Two years later, landlord and tenant were convicted of embezzlement, forgery and other bank fraud crimes and sent to the state penitentiary.

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory for 1930 shows 210 Pender occupied by barber Mack D. Cannon and his wife Bettie, a maid at the “Federal Building.” They were recent arrivals, as the 1930 census of Wilson shows them sharing a duplex nearby at 527 Church Street. 210 Pender is not listed in the directory and may have been vacant.

Mack D. Cannon died 15 December 1938 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he resided at 210 Pender; was married to Bettie Cannon; was employed as a barber; was born in Oxford, North Carolina, to Henry Cannon and Mary Dinger; and was buried in Wilson. Marie Mathews was informant.

Bettie Cannon remained in the house until her death in Wilson on 17 February 1963. Per her death certificate, Bettie Elizabeth Cannon was born 1 August 1879 in Brunswick County, Virginia; worked as a laborer at the post office; and was widowed. Lula Sims, of the home, was informant.

[The empty lot at the right of the photo is the former site of the Clinton Bess house at 208 North Pender.]

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, November 2016.