Funeral directors argue over girl’s body.

The competition between rival undertakers was ferocious. Martha Lucas died two days after her twelfth birthday. Unbeknownst to the family, a nurse at the “local colored hospital” (later known as Mercy Hospital) called Batts Brothers and Artis undertaking firm to prepare the girl’s body for burial. Later, the Lucas family asked C.H. Darden & Sons to perform the service. When Darden discovered the body missing, they showed up at Batts and Artis demanding possession. Batts and Artis refused to hand her over unless Darden paid transportation expenses. Darden went to court.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 August 1921.

Three days later, Martha’s father Wiley Lucas and Camillus L. Darden also appealed to the court of public opinion. Lucas stated that he, not Darden, had caused the sheriff’s department to file a claim and delivery action on the advice of police when Amos Batts dramatically claimed he would rather die than surrender Martha’s body. (Replevin, or claim and delivery, is a legal remedy that enables a person to recover personal property taken unlawfully and to obtain compensation for resulting losses.) Lucas “emphatically [denied] that any undertakers but C.H. Darden & Sons were instructed to attend to the funeral arrangements, as I knew of no other colored funeral directors in Wilson at the time ….”

C.L. Darden chimed in to direct readers to the magistrate’s record for the facts, noting that Batts had been told he could sue the hospital if he felt aggrieved. “But Batts knows as the public knows — as I can prove if it comes to a showdown — that Artis’ wife, who is head nurse in the institution, solicits in the hospital for the firm of Batts Bros. & Artis, of which her husband is a member of the firm.” “Artis” was Columbus E. Artis, and his wife was registered nurse Ada Artis.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 August 1921.

Batts Brothers and Artis responded three days after that, “that the public may not be misled.”  They denied having refused to give up the girl’s body, contending that they only sought to be paid for services rendered. The firm claimed the trial justice agreed they were entitled to a “small fee,” but, perhaps taking the temperature of public sentiment, they agreed to drop their claim and pay court costs.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 August 1921.

Martha Lucas’ death certificate.

Hotel proprietors busted running whiskey and numbers.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 March 1936.

Wilson’s Green Book-listed Biltmore Hotel offered more than a place to stay.


  • Walcott Darden — Charles Walcott Darden, a native of Nash County, North Carolina. In the 1940 census of Washington, District of Columbia: at 2130 – 11th Street N.W., whiskey wholesale truck driver Walcott Darden, 30, and wife Annabelle, 33. Both had been living in Wilson, North Carolina, in 1935.
  • Floyd Fisher — Floyd Fisher also moved on after this misadventure. The son of Edwin W. and Nanny D. Fisher, Floyd Fisher had been born in New Haven, Connecticut, and arrived in Wilson in the 1920s. In the 1940 census of New York, New York: at 582 Saint Nicholas Avenue, paying $65/month rent for an apartment, Ann Snipes, 35, born in Connecticut; her daughter Robnette Smipes, 18, born in Virginia; her brother Floyd Fisher, hotel bellhop, born in Connecticut; and lodger Louise Evans, 28, artists’ studio maid, born in North Carolina. Five years prior, Fisher had been living in Wilson, and Evans was in Wilberforce, Ohio (presumably as a student.) The Snipes women each reported two years of college; Fisher and Evans, four.

703 East Vance Street.

The one hundred sixty-third 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. 1913; 1 story; saddlebag house aluminum-sided and heavily remodeled.”


For several weeks in 1920, an unidentified African-American nurse living at 703 East Vance advertised her skills in the Wilson Daily Times.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 January 1920.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bennett Fredk D (c; Lillie) h 703 E Vance

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 703 Vance, rented for $11/month, Fred D. Bennett, 46, minister, Holiness Church; wife Lily, 43, laundress; and children Herbert, 15, Willie, 12, Ruth, 6, Naomi, 10, and Charles E., 4. The Bennetts and their two oldest children were born in Georgia; the remaining children in South Carolina. [In 1940, the Bennett family was enumerated in New Haven, Connecticut.]

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Rogers Wm (c) h 703 Viola

In the 28 October 1944 edition of the Wilson Daily Times, a “Land Transfers” column detailed this transaction: 

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Darden Moses (c; Cora) h 703 E Vance

The Dardens did not keep the house long:

Wilson Daily Times, 1 December 1950.

Tributes to Dr. L.V. Grady.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 February 1936.

After faltering in the 1920s, Wilson’s Black hospital reorganized and reopened as non-profit Mercy Hospital in 1930. Carolina General Hospital’s Dr. Leland V. Grady was instrumental in guiding Mercy’s administrators through the hospital’s earliest years, and William Hines and Camillus L. Darden penned tributes to him at his death.

Dancy lectures on “Race Achievement;” leads day of speeches.

New York Age, 25 January 1912.


On 12 January 1912, John C. Dancy spoke to an appreciative crowd at Saint John A.M.E. Zion, then joined Non-Formal Reading Club for a reception at the home of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden.  After a big oyster supper, a series of local speakers — almost like a Toastmasters club — regaled the Non-Formals on diverse topics, including politics, economics, and literature. Most intriguing perhaps: Dr. William A. Mitchner‘s remarks on “The Negro’s Christianity as evidenced by His Business Dealings” and (not a doctor) Arthur N. Darden‘s comments on “The Negro’s Waning Credulity.”

Tarboro native John Campbell Dancy was a politician, journalist, and educator in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. For many years he was editor-in-chief of African Methodist Episcopal Zion church newspapers Star of Zion and Zion Quarterly. He served briefly as collector of customs in Wilmington, North Carolina, but was forced to leave the city in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898. Dancy moved to Washington, D.C., and served as the city’s Recorder of Deeds from 1901 to 1910. Dancy died in 1920; D.C. Suggs was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral.

Our staff is composed of experts; the expense is a matter of your own desire.

“In your home, you should put aside all arguments in favor of the one fact —  the trained and proficient man is the best.” — C.H. Darden & Sons.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 December 1916.


Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Another Darden High School.

Wilson’s African-American high school was renamed for Charles H. Darden in 1938. Thirteen years later, Opelika, Alabama’s new high school for Black students was named for Darden’s first-born son, Dr. John W. Darden.

Both Darden High Schools graduated their last classes in 1970. Their buildings, however, remain in use. The newer section of Wilson’s Darden houses part of Samuel H. Vick Elementary. Opelika’s Darden is now home to Lee County Head Start Darden Center.

Architectural drawing posted at “First Black Doctor in Opelika, AL,” Valle Vision News blog, 22 February 2018.

Dr. Darden makes good.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 September 1936.

“Darden and Family at Pharmacy.” This unattributed photo is posted at “First Black Doctor in Opelika, AL,” Valle Vision News blog, 22 February 2018. Dr. Darden is at center, with his wife Maude Jean Logan Darden to the left, standing in front of his Opelika pharmacy. The man at far right may be J.B. Darden, a pharmacist who worked in his brother’s shop before settling in Virginia.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.