As noted in the earlier “Lost Neighborhoods” posts, downtown Wilson was once shot through with narrow alleys packed with the tiny double-shotgun dwellings of African-American tobacco workers. Was Woodard Bottom such a neighborhood?
Lane Street Project: please join us.
Standing at the edge of Odd Fellows Cemetery gazing into the jungle of Rountree Cemetery. The green and red are new sprouts of wisteria, which will be in its riotous, ruinous lavender glory in a few weeks. Fifteen months ago, much of Odd Fellows looked like this. The weather has not been kind to our cleanup schedule this year, please help us make the most of the remainder of Season 2.
Next dates: March 26, April 9, April 23.
Lane Street Project: save the dates.
“If you want to do something beautiful, do this. If you want to do something healing, do this. If you want to learn about Black History in Wilson, go here. I participated in this project last year, and those were my takeaways.” — Mahalia Witter-Merithew
“Working with the Lane Street Project has added to my understanding of the past, love of the present, and hope for our future.” — Castonoble Hooks
PLEASE JOIN US!
Lane Street Project: Season 2 kickoff!
Yesterday was one of those unexpectedly warm winter days — perfect weather for the 70 or so volunteers who showed up and showed out at Lane Street Project’s Season II Clean-up Kickoff!
I’m grateful to all that believe in Lane Street Project’s mission and overjoyed to see that “One Wilson” is not just a slogan. Yesterday’s volunteers crossed lines of color, age, and faith, and demonstrated the power of community.
My most sincere thanks to each and everyone, including my ride-or-die LSP Team; Pastor Jasper L. Kent and the Total Impact Outreach Ministries family; Rev. Paul H. Castelli and Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church’s Outreach Commission; the Islamic Community Development Center; Peace Church; Rev. George Ward and Beyond 4 Walls Ministry; Rev. Maurice Barnes and White Rock Presbyterian Church; Seeds of Hope; Casita Brewing Company; Drew C. Wilson and the Wilson Times; Congressman G.K. Butterfield Jr.; Councilmember Derrick Creech; and the extraordinary photographers who chronicled the day — Chris Facey (whose work is featured below), Janelle Booth Clevinger, and Anita Pouchard Serra!
Photographs courtesy of Chris Facey; all rights reserved.
A running list of African-American communities and place names in Wilson County:
- Daniel Hill — Living community northwest of downtown, between Hines, Walnut, Warren Streets and Park Avenue. Most of original housing stock cleared in Warren Street Urban Renewal Area Project of the mid-1960s. The neighborhood’s grid also somewhat altered by the closing of certain streets and removal of alleys during project. Population augmented by residents pushed out of other neighborhoods, including Grabneck and New Grabneck.
“Delay on New Housing Measure May Snag Urban Renewal Plans,” Wilson Daily Times, 29 February 1964.
Vacated Daniel Hill Area, “Urban Renewal Voted Top Wilson Story During 1964,” Wilson Daily Times, 2 January 1965.
- East Wilson — Broad term for all of the city of Wilson “below the railroad.” Also known until mid-20th century as “the colored section.”
- Grabneck — Former community located along West Nash Street for several blocks north of Cone Street from late 19th century to early 1920s. Centered around land belonging to the Orrin Best family.
Excerpt from “He Misses ‘Grab Neck’ Most of All,” Wilson Daily Times, 28 October 1938.
- Happy Hill — Area around South Lodge Street, south of Hines Street.
- Little Richmond — Mill village erected by Richmond Maury Tobacco Company in the vicinity of its stemmery at Railroad and Stemmery Streets. Developed in mid-1890s. Area ceased to be known by the name perhaps as early as World War I.
- Little Washington — Known only from a reference in the 11 March 1897 Wilson Advance to a fight in that neighborhood. Location unknown, but likely in East Wilson. (Unless this brief article actually concerns an event that took place in Goldsboro’s well-known African-American neighborhood of Little Washington or the city of Washington, North Carolina, which is colloquially called “Little Washington.”) [Update, 24 April 2018: Little Washington was the area around South and Lodge Streets, west of downtown Wilson.]
- New Grabneck — Community formed by relocated Grabneck residents, west of downtown and just above Tarboro Street on what are now Jefferson Street and Forrest Road. African-American residents pushed out in the 1960s to make way for white public housing development at Starmount Circle.
- The Schoolyard — Area around the Wilson Colored Graded School, later known as Sallie Barbour School. South of downtown along present-day Black Creek Road near intersection with Pender Street.
- Stantonsburg Heights — Real estate designation for an area south of the Colored Graded School, probably the same area as Vicksburg Manor.
- Suggs Heights — A subdivision south of downtown, probably along the western side of Stantonsburg Street. Primarily a real estate designation rather than a name used by residents.
Wilson Daily Times, 17 December 1925. (Effie May Lewis was the daughter of Whit and Effie Harper Lewis. Per his death certificate, the family was living at 1013 Stantonsburg Street when her father died in 1927.)
- Toad Town — perhaps an African-American community, perhaps northwest of the town of Wilson.
- Vicksburg Manor — Living community southeast of downtown, developed by Samuel H. Vick in the 1920s. (Note: Real estate designation. I have never heard the name used colloquially.)
- “Short Viola” — Former section of Viola Street west from Pender Street. Now an unpaved alley running alongside 307 North Pender and through to Hackney Street.
- “Short Carolina” — Former informal continuation of Carolina Street across East and Narroway Streets to Ashe. Closed off when Carolina was paved in the 1970s.
Where was Toad Town?
Where was Toad Town? Was it an African-American community?
This brief article suggests that it lay somewhere between Wilson and southern Nash County.
Wilson Times, 3 October 1911.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, a handful of families were reported living along Toad Town Path, which was in the vicinity of County Line Road and Finch Mill Road, perhaps west and north of Grabneck.
I have found a couple of cryptic references to Toad Town in pseudonymously penned opinion-editorial pieces published in Wilson newspapers. A piece in the 12 April 1893 Wilson Mirror warns that the “Toad Town syndicate is in danger of collapse” from the expense of improvements and the failure of the electric company to extend lights to the area. Was Toad Town, then, a speculative real estate development? And if so, was it intended to displace an older community? “Toad Town” is not a name to attract well-heeled investors. In the 3 February 1911 issue of the Wilson Times, a writer queries whether a man could “distinguish the difference between the milky way and a Toad Town hog path.” If Toad Town had been a planned garden suburb, it certainly failed.
Elm City’s Negro community, pt. 1.
Cecil Lloyd Spellman was a professor of rural education at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. In 1947, he published “Elm City, A Negro Community in Action,” a monograph intended to employ sociology to “interpret the Negro in his actual day to day activities and interrelationships with members of his own and other races.” This is an excerpt.
In searching the records, one finds no mention of early Negroes in this area, however, by contacting some of the older living residents, the following information dealing with pioneer Negro residents has been obtained.** All the following people are now dead unless the fact is otherwise indicated.
J.H. Bellamy and his wife Cherry were among the first Negroes to move into the Sharpsburg vicinity. Bellamy was a preacher and a teacher. He did some good work in the general section in both these capacities. Together these two acquired a small tract of farm land. This was held up in his preaching and teaching as an example of what Negroes generally should do in order to succeed in life.
Sam Rice, a minister, was another of the early settlers in this area. No mention was made of the fact that he had a wife. He also bought farm land.
Thomas Dawes came early to this section and bought farm land. Dawes was an ex-slave. He came into the section from South Carolina. We are told that Thomas and his twin sister, Sarah (Bunn) were sold as slaves when they were about twelve years hold. It is not clear whether they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, or achieved their freedom in some other manner.
Henry Bunn and his wife Sarah (sister of Thomas Dawes) came into the section from South Carolina. Sarah was an ex-slave. She and her twin brother Thomas Dawes were sold into slavery when they were about twelve years old. Sarah became a midwife, and was in constant demand for her service by both white and colored people during the late years of her life.
Dawson Armstrong was a very conspicuous early character of the area. He was known as the root doctor. Many fancy tales are told about him and his roots and herbs. He was well liked and no doubt his root medicine did some good because of the confidence which so many of the people had in him. Of course, there were always fanciful tales about some of his doings as he moved about in field and forest in search of the right roots, herbs and barks for the concoctions which he brewed.
In the 1900 census of Sharpsburg township, Edgecombe County: farmer James H. Bellamy, 42, wife Cherrie, 34, and children Clara, 18, Jacob, 8, Cora, 6, and Rena, 1.
Dawson Armstrong died 24 May 1911 in Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County. Per his death certificate, he was at least 45 years old, was born in Wilson County to Abram and Priscilla Barnes Armstrong, was single, and engaged in general labor. Mattie Bryant was informant.
**This is odd. African-Americans came to the Toisnot area with the earliest white settlers pushing down from southern Virginia. They were the pioneers, not people who moved in after the Civil War. Spellman named black county extension agent Carter W. Foster as his source.