Exodus to Mississippi.

A lesser studied migration took African-American farm families from North Carolina to Mississippi in the last decade of the nineteenth century. A recent post about Sharpsburg Cemetery evoked a reader response that revealed one such family. Robert Cooper, his wife, and children set out for the Delta around 1890, settling in Sunflower County, about 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee (and home of Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Pop Staples.)


In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Samuel Cooper, 40, farm laborer, and children Trecy, 23, Jordan, 18, Nancy, 17, Robert, 8, Silas, 7, Ellis, 4, and Robbin, 3.

In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: farmer Sam Cooper, 51; wife Frona, 40; and children Robert, 20, Silas, 19, Robin, 13, Polly, 8, Amey, 7, and Tempey, 3.

On 10 November 1885, Robert Cooper, 24, married Rutha Ann Lassiter, 18, at Silas Lassiter‘s, Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: day laborer Robert Cooper, age unknown, widower; children S.P., 11,  and David B. Hill Cooper, 7; and “part” [partner?] Richard Dodd, 36, and Lizzie Reed, age unknown. Robert and S.P. were born in North Carolina; David in Mississippi.

In the 1910 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer Robert Cooper, 44, widower, and sons S.P., 20, and Robert, 17.

Jordan Cooper died 21 November 1914 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was about 60 years old; was the son of Sam Cooper and Fronie [no maiden name given]; was a widower; and a tenant farmer. He was buried in Sharpsburg Cemetery, and Josh Armstrong was informant.

Robert Cooper registered for the World War I in Sunflower County, Mississippi, in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born in November 1874; lived in Lombardy, Sunflower County; farmed for W.L. May; and his nearest relative was Della Cooper.

In the 1920 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer S.P. Cooper, 30, widower.

Silas Cooper died 11 September 1920 in [illegible], Halifax County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was 60 years old; was born in Elm City to Sam Cooper and Frony Jones; was a farmer; and was buried in Enfield, N.C.

Nancy Lucas died 6 February 1922 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 65 years old; was the daughter of Samuel and Flona Cooper; was the widow of Offie Lucas; and was buried in Elm City. George Cooper was informant.

Ammie Winstead died 17 October 1928 in Coopers township, Nash County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was 55 years old; was born in Nash County to Samuel Cooper and Froanie Coley; was married; and worked as a farmer. Samuel Winstead was informant.

In the 1930 census of Bolivar County, Mississippi: farmer Samuel P. Cooper, 40; wife Savanna, 26; children Arthur, 7, T.K., 6, Willie, 4, and Cornelius, 1; and stepdaughter Callie Cay, 9.

In the 1930 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer David Cooper, 36; wife Genora, 20; children Percy, 6, and Willie M., 3; and mother-in-law Mary Williams, 47, widow.

In the 1940 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer Dave Cooper, 40; wife Genora, 31; Mary Williams, 50; and stepson Percy J. Stewart, 15.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

State vs. Albert Freeman.

To stave off responsibility for caring for poor women and their children, unwed mothers were regularly brought before justices of the peace to answer sharp questions about their circumstances.

On 1 October 1866, Martha Cooper admitted to Wilson County justice of the peace William G. Jordan that she had fourteen month-old and two month-old children whose father was Albert Freeman. Jordan ordered that Freeman be arrested and taken to a justice to answer Cooper’s charge.

I have not been able to identify either Cooper or Freeman.

Bastardy Bonds, 1866, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Family ties, no. 2: starting school.

Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the second in a series of excerpts from interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)


Jesse Jacobs found good work in Wilson, first as a hand in Jefferson Farrior‘s livery stable and then as a janitor at a white public school (with side hustles as school superintendent Charles L. Coon‘s yard man and as janitor at First Baptist Church.) However, his wife Sarah had fewer opportunities, working seasonally in tobacco stemmeries and sometimes “taking in washing and ironing,” i.e. doing personal laundry for white families.

Though she seems never to have been seriously tempted to migrate permanently, Sarah H. Jacobs occasionally traveled North for short stretches to supplement her income by hiring out for housekeeping daywork. She generally took little Hattie to New York with her and parked her with her stepdaughter Carrie Jacobs Blackwell while she worked. (Carrie, who was Jesse Jacobs’ elder daughter, and her husband Toney H. Blackwell had migrated from North Carolina circa 1900-1905.)

Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled a visit to New York when she was perhaps six years old in which she grew homesick and lonely while staying with the Blackwells:

“… So I went to crying. I cried and I cried. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go where Mama was, but Mama wasn’t supposed to come over there ‘til the next day or a day or two after that. She was doing day’s work. ‘Cause day’s work was plentiful then.  People would clean up ….  So Mama wanted [to make money, so she] carried me with her …. So, anyway, I cried so, and … she come on over and got me, and I told her I didn’t want to stay there no more, I wanted to go home. I said I wanted to go where she was. She said, ‘Well, you can’t go right now,’ said, ‘I got a job to do.’ She said, ‘Well, I’ll take you over to Frances.’  So that’s when she took me over to Frances’ house, and Edward [her son]. And I stayed over there, and it was the first time I ever went to school.”

Frances Aldridge Cooper, also a Dudley native, was both Sarah and Hattie’s maternal cousin and Hattie’s paternal aunt. Frances and her husband George Cooper, also from Wayne County, married in New Jersey in 1908, then moved on to New York City, where their son, Edward Lee Cooper, was born in 1911.

“It was during school time and whatchamacallem took me and Edward down to the school, wherever it was….  And the first day I ever went to school, Frances took me and her son Edward. And the building — I don’t remember what the building looked like inside — but I know we went in, and they had little benches, at least it was built around in the room. And you could stand there by it and mark on your paper if you wanted to or whatever. I didn’t see no seats in there. You sit on the same thing you were writing on. It seem like, from what I remember, it was down in the basement. You had to go down there, and the benches was all the way ’round the room. And the teacher’s desk — and she had a desk in there. And the children sat on the desk, or you stand there by it, or kneel down if you want to mark on it. First grade, you ain’t know nothing bout no writing no how. And I went in, and I just looked. I just, I didn’t do nothing. I just sit there on top of the desk. And I was crying. I went back to Frances’ house, and I said, well, ‘Frances, I want to go home.’ Go where Mama was. So she said, ‘We’ll go tomorrow.’ I said, ‘How come we can’t go today?’ She said, ‘Well, it’s too far to go now.’ I said, ‘Well, can you call her?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know the phone number, and I don’t know the name it’s in.’ And so that kind of threw me; I finally went on bed. But, anyway, they all took me back to Brooklyn.”

Hattie and Sarah Henderson Jacobs returned to Wilson a few weeks later. When Hattie tried first grade again, it was at the Colored Graded School.

Sidenote: the 1915 New York state census lists George Cooper, 32, moulding mill fireman; wife Frances, 30, laundress; son Edward, 4; and sister-in-law Alberta Artis, 15, in school, at 1504 Prospect Place, Brooklyn (in the heart of the Weeksville neighborhood.) Alberta was the daughter of Adam T. Artis and Amanda Aldridge Artis and was not Frances’ birth sister, but was very close kin. (Her birth siblings, in fact, included Josephine Artis Sherrod, Columbus E. Artis, and June Scott Artis, as well as paternal half-siblings Cain ArtisWilliam M. Artis, Walter S. Artis, and Robert E. Artis.) This is complicated: Amanda Aldridge was the sister of Frances A. Cooper’s father John W. Aldridge. And Adam Artis was the father of Frances’ mother Louvicey Artis Aldridge. Amanda A. Artis died days after giving birth to Alberta in 1899, and Louvicey and John took the infant to rear in their own large family in Dudley. Alberta eventually followed her adopted sister Frances to New York, where she met and married George Cooper’s brother, James W. Cooper. The pair returned to Wilson County after World War I.

Detail from enumeration of inhabitants of Block No. 6, Election District No. 19, City of New York, Assembly District No. 23, Kings County, state census of New York, 1915. 

Adapted from interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1996 and 1998. All rights reserved. 

Snaps, no. 77: James W. Cooper.

Curating Black Wide-Awake brings innumerable rewards, among them making surprise connections between people I’ve known all my life and people who pop up in records. Even better, sometimes those connections hit home.

I made a startling discovery a couple of weeks ago when I was updating my family tree with information I found in cousin Alliner Sherrod Davis Randall‘s scrapbook. The material included several funeral programs, including one for Alberta Artis Cooper. This wasn’t new to me; I featured it here. But, looking for obituaries for Alberta Cooper’s children, I found that of her son, John Hardy Cooper. I studied the names of his children … Frances Cooper BynumChristine Cooper Barnes … Wait — what?

I’ve been friends with the children of these sisters since middle school — and we’re cousins!

… but not in the way I first thought.

Though she reared him as her own, John H. Cooper was actually Alberta Artis Cooper’s step-son, the son of James W. Cooper and his first wife, Susannah (or Susie Anna). But Susannah Cooper was also an Artis — the daughter of Richard Artis and Susannah Yelverton Artis. Richard Artis (1849-1923) was the youngest brother of Adam T. Artis, who was Alberta Artis Cooper’s father (and my great-great-great-grandfather.) Thus, James W. Cooper’s wives were first cousins, a not-uncommon phenomenon in small communities in that time.

So, having already featured Alberta Artis Cooper, here is James William Cooper:

James W. Cooper (1886-1967), who, as president of Tobacco Workers Union Local 270, worked to improve working conditions for leaf house workers.


In the 1900 census of Nahunta township, Wilson County: farmer George Cooper, 46; wife Stellar, 40; and children Arrettor, 22, George B., 16, Juley, 14, James, 12, Mary, 10, Maggie, 7, Bessie, 4, and Royal, 3 months.

James Cooper, 21, of Wayne County, son of George and Stella Cooper, married Susie A. Artis, 19, of Wayne County, daughter of Richard and Susanna Artis, on 6 December 1905 at Richard Artis’ residence in Nahunta township, Wayne County.

James Cooper married Alberta Artis on 18 July 1918 in Kings County, New York.

In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Brick House and Moore School Road, James Cooper, 33, farmer; wife Alberta, 20; and son Albert Horton, 1.

In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: James Cooper, 39, farmer; wife Alberta, 26; and children Elija, 21, Albert, 10, Mollie A., 8, Willard M., 5, Lauzin, 3, Annie M., 7 months; sister Oretter Bailey, 45; and niece Irene Artis, 18.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: James Cooper, 54, farmer; wife Alberta, 40; and children Marilyn, 18, Willard, 15, Laurzene, 13, Annie, 11, George, 9, Alberta, 5, Chester, 3, and Lillie, 1.

James William Cooper died 12 February 1967 at his home at 110 Fourth Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 24 July 1887 in Wayne County to George Cooper and Estelle Smith; worked as a foreman for Jas.I. Miller Co.; and was a World War I veteran. Wife Alberta A. Cooper was informant.

Photo courtesy of George Cooper and Frances C. Bynum, via Vernette B. Roberson. Thank you!

113, 115 and 117 North East Street.

The one hundred-twentieth 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, the houses at #113, #115, #117 are: “ca. 1908; 1 story; shotgun with board-and-batten veneer.” The board-and-batten has been replaced with clapboard.

The 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson shows that there were originally six endway houses (with two different floor plans) on this stretch of North East Street. Street numbering changed about 1922, so the houses above were originally #114, #116 and #118.

In the 1928 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Ward Ussell (c; Nettie) lab h 113 N East; 115 N East Vacant; Cooper Jack C (c; Nora) lab  h 117 N East

In the 1930 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bethea Mamie (c) smstrs h 113 N East; Hargrove Andrew (c; Ada) lab h 115 N East; Artis Amelia (c) factory hand  h 117 N East

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 113 North East, paying $6/month rent, Mamie Bathea, 40, laundress; Pattie Manual, 60, mother, laundress; George Kannan, 30, brother, taxi chauffuer; Pearl Manual, 20, nurse for private family; daughters Ruth S., 14, Sally S., 12, and Adel Manual, 10; cousins Louisa, 10, and Ralph Kannan, 8; and daughter Mamie Manual, 4.

In the 1941 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bethea Mamie (c) smstrs h113 N East; Bowman Rufus (c; Daisy) tob wkr h115 N East; Hines Boyd (c; Betty) tob wkr h117 N East

In the 1947 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bethea Annie (c) h 113 N East; Grimes Fagin (c; Addie) lab h 115 N East; Williams Rematha Mrs (c) h 117 N East

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2019.

Newlywed robbed and abandoned.

The mayor of Wilson offered a fifty-dollar reward for the recovery of Carrie Cooper Pettiford’s money.

Wilson Advance, 26 January 1893.

  • J.E. Pettiford — John E. Pettiford, a Wilson resident and Granville County native, son of John and Louisa Pettiford, married Carrie Cooper of Wilson on 20 December 1892.
  • Carrie Cooper Pettiford

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Carrie Cooper, 20, school teacher, living alone.


The marriage license of John E. Pettiford and Carrie Cooper.

In 1893, Hampton Normal School Press published Twenty-Two Years’ Work of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute at Hampton, Virginia (Records of Negro and Indian Graduates and Ex-Students with historical and personal sketches and testimony on important race questions from within and without, to which are added, by courtesy Messrs Putnam’s Sons, N.Y., some of the Songs of the Races gathered in the School), which featured an interview of Carrie Cooper.

Carrie Cooper is listed as a teacher in the 1896 edition of Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Owens Smith, 49, minister; wife Adora, 30; son Jesse, 19; daughter Flossie, 4; widowed mother Maria Hicks, 78, a midwife; and boarder Carry Pettiford, a widowed teacher.

In 1901, Carrie Pettiford was arrested with Millie Sutton for threatening the life of Adora Smith, wife of Rev. Owen L.W. Smith.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, Carrie Pettiford, 46, widow, cook, living alone.


405 and 415 Maury Street.

Maury Street is outside the East Wilson Historic District. It is one of a cluster of narrow streets squeezed between the railroad and what was once an industrial area crowded with a stemmery, cotton oil and fertilizer mills.

405 Maury Street.

This house does not appear in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance maps of Wilson and was likely built in the late 1920s to house tobacco factory and mill laborers.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 405 Murray [Maury], renting for $12/month, tobacco factory laborers Hasty Cooper, 36, widow, and Lena Simmons, 25.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 405 Maury, renting for $10/month, Percy Lucas, 30, laborer on WPA project, and wife Eva, 23, tobacco factory laborer.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, 405 Maury was vacant.

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Franklin, John (c) lab h 405 Maury

415 Maury Street. 

This house does not appear in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance maps of Wilson and was likely built in the late 1920s to house tobacco factory and mill laborers.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 415 Murray [Maury], renting for $16/month, cook Annie Cambell, 34; her children Paul, 18, fish market salesman, and Christine, 16, tobacco factory laborer; and grandson Paul, 0. All the adults were born in South Carolina.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 415 Maury, renting for $12/month, laundress Lena Barnes, 49, and children Harvey, 28, well digger; Paulean, 17, housekeeper; and “new workers” Evylene, 14, and James, 19.

In 1940, Harvey Barnes registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 9 April 1913 in Wilson County; resided at 1505 West Nash, Wilson; his contact was mother Lena Barnes, 415 Maurry; and he worked for Mr. B.T. Smith, 1505 West Nash.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Barnes Lena (c) maid h 415 Maury

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Wiggins Blanche (c) tob wkr h 415 Maury and Wood Rosa Mrs (c) 415 Maury

Photographs taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2018. (Note that 405 Maury, condition notwithstanding, is advertised for sale or rent.)

Surprise verdicts?

Just after Christmas 1948, an all-white jury acquitted Woodrow Taylor, a white service station operator, in the murder of Hugh Bynum, a black man.

In a nutshell: Bynum and Taylor had a “conversation” about a pack of cigarettes. Bynum stepped out of the store. Taylor followed and asked, “You don’t think I’ll kill you?” Bynum said no. Taylor went back in and returned with a shotgun. Again: “You don’t think I’ll kill you?” And shot Bynum in the chest. Or, “the gun went off” — Taylor said it fired accidentally when he tried to set it down on a “cold drink crate.” And he denied aggressively questioning Bynum. The jury believed him.


Wilson Daily Times, 29 December 1948.

Bynum was not the only black man whose manner of death went before a jury that day. On 7 October 1947, William Cooper was thrown into the street at Nash and Pender Streets when M.O. Tripp, driving drunk, struck his wagon. Cooper died two weeks of later of injuries sustained, and Tripp was charged with manslaughter. The Daily Times reported the verdict in this case the next day. Surprise.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 December 1948.


In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Lynn Bynum, 70; wife Lena, 50; and children Patience, 18, Lynn, 8, Harvey, 6, Hubert, 5, and Bunny, 3.

In 1940, Hubert Bynum registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born in 1915 in Edgecombe County; resided at Route 1, Stantonsburg, Wilson County; and his contact and employer was his first cousin Jack Bynum. He was described as “feeble-minded” with a “displaced eye.”



In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: William F. Cooper, 43, delivery man for ice and coal company; wife Lillie, 30, cook; and step-daughter Anna Bobbitt, 16.


The obituary of Maggie Lena F. Cooper, 99.

Maggie Lena Farmer Cooper, 99, of Wilson Pines Nursing Care Facility and formerly of 704 Maury Street, Wilson, NC died August 31, 2014. The funeral will be held Saturday at 1:00pm at St. Rose Church of Christ, 605 S. Douglas Street, Wilson, NC with Elder Ernest Melton officiating. Interment will follow in Rest Haven Cemetery. Public viewing will be Friday from 2-7 pm at the funeral home. The family will receive friends on Saturday from 12 noon to 1pm at the church and will assemble on Saturday at the residence of her son Thomas E. Williams, 501 W. Daniel Street Wilson, NC at 11:00am. Professional and personal services are entrusted to EDWARDS FUNERAL HOME, 805 E. Nash Street, Wilson NC. Condolences may be directed to

Obituary online.