Russell L. Darden.

“Russell Darden — front row, second from left, in his class at Biddle, now Johnson C. Smith.”

“… [O]ne of the first funerals under [Camillus and Arthur Darden‘s] direction was that of their younger brother, Russell, who was in his last year at Howard University Law School. Russell had gone to New York City to look for adventure during the Christmas vacation. While there, he caught pneumonia and died at Harlem Hospital before any of the family could reach him. Russell had been a daring, fun-loving, robust, athletic young man known for his prowess on the football field. [His brother Walter T. Darden remembered] that the last time he saw Russell play football was at Livingston[e] College. The score was Livingston[e] 3, Biddle 3. The ball was snapped and thrown to Russell. He was running hard. The opposition tried for the tackle but missed and tore off the seat of his pants instead. Oblivious to the cheers and laughter of the crowd, Russell kept running and won the game 9-3 with his rear end showing. He had an aggressive spirit and was the pride and joy of his family. His death left an aching gap in the family circle.”

N.J. and C. Darden, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine (1978).


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: wheelwright Charles Dardin, 44; wife Dianna, 40, sewing; and children Annie, 21, sewing; Comilous, 15, tobacco stemmer; Arthor, 12; Artelia, 10; Russell, 5; and Walter, 4.

In the 1908 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Darden, Russell, carpenter, h 110 Pender. [At age 15?]

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: blacksmith Charlie Darden, 55; wife Dianah, 48; and children Cermillus, 24, bicycle shop owner; Arthur, 22, teacher; Artelia, 18, teacher; Russel, 16; and Walter, 14.

In the 1912 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Darden, Russell, porter, h 110 Pender.

In the 1913 Charlotte, N.C., city directory: Darden, Russell, bds [boards] Seversville.

In 1917, Russell Lenoir Darden registered for the World War I draft in Washington, D.C. Per his registration card, he was born 9 June 1893 in Wilson, N.C.; resided at 940 Westminster Street, Washington, D.C.; was a student; was single; and was stout and of medium height.

Russell Darden died 26 January 1918 in Manhattan, New York, New York.

A brief mention in the New York Age suggests that C.L. and Arthur could not, after all, bring themselves to bury their brother and called in Calvin E. Lightner of Raleigh to assist.

New York Age, 9 February 1918.


Studio shots, no. 15: Dardens and friends.

Lizzie Darden commemorating her high school graduation with Roderick Taylor (standing), her brother Camillus L. Darden (seated), and a friend (seated in Picture-Taking George W. Barnes‘ chair), circa 1903.

Photograph courtesy of N.J. and C. Darden, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine (1978).

Wilson news.

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New York Age, 3 October 1912.

  • C.H. Dorden and Son — Charles H. Darden and son Camillus L. Darden.
  • Dr. John W. Dorden — C.H. Darden’s son John W. Darden.
  • Maj. McGrew — apparently, Maj. James H. McGrew was commandant of students at Saint Paul’s Normal and Industrial School in Lawrenceville, Virginia. His wife was Hattie Smith McGrew. I have been unable to discover more about McGrew’s time in Wilson.

The Dardens of Montclair.

Montclair History: The Darden Sisters, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine

by Frank Gerard Godlewski, baristanet.com, 14 April 2017

The Darden sisters, Norma Jean and Carol Darden Lloyd, currently living in Manhattan, have immortalized their magnificent Montclair home and family history in a 1978 book now reaching its fifth edition, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine.

Their parents, Dr. Walter Darden and his wife Mamie Jean, had acquired their Montclair property at 266 Orange Road in 1946. The house employed a butler, a maid and a gardener. Dr. Darden built the garden apartment complex behind their home as a business venture.

Dr. Darden, was born in Wilson, N.C. He was an alumnus of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., and of the Howard University Medical School in Washington. He moved to Newark to join a colleague and stayed on in private practice. He was one of the first black men to be a guest in the audience of the then-segregated Cotton Club of Harlem where he acted as physician.

Among his patients, friends and Montclair houseguests were Sara Vaughn, Lena Horne, Billy Eckstein, the Duke Ellington band, as well as Sammy Davis Junior. From the sports world, Larry Doby, Jackie Robinson, Monte Irving and the Newark Eagles baseball team that meet frequently at the Darden house. The Dardens with Harold Shot and Congressman Peter Rodino did fundraising and organizing for the Montclair chapter of the NAACP. The Dardens were also affiliates of education pioneer Mary McCleod Bethune and hosted her often in their home in Montclair.

Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine intends to be a historical family cookbook, but it is of even greater value as it presents an exceptional social history. Norma Jean and Carole Darden also have two restaurants in Harlem – Miss Mamie’s at 366 W. 110th St., named after her mother, and Mrs. Maude’s at 547 Lenox Ave., named after her aunt.

Both graduates of Sarah Lawrence, Carole was a social worker, Norma, a Wilhemina model before they wrote the 1979 cookbook that launched them into the celebrity food world.

The recipes and family stories in Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine came from their Southern roots: corn pone, spareribs, peach cobbler, banana pudding. Their grandfather, Charles Darden born before the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, was a great inspiration also. Papa Darden, a former slave that became an undertaker, was quite known for his recipes for fruit based wines and pine needle beers.

A request to cook for a Channel Thirteen event led to the birth of the Darden Sister’s catering company. Catering has its own challenges they say, like one time they packed up Norma Jean’s Porsche in front of their home on Orange Road before doing a catering gig and the huge quantity of coleslaw began to create a big white puddle under the car. Another time, an order of fried chicken fell out of the back door of the delivery van and was stolen by onlookers waiting at a bus stop. Norma had to buy more chicken and two fryers and then find a hiding place where she could prepare it on the fly at the event. Years later, when a space opened next to the catering kitchen, it seemed natural to open a small restaurant.

When the cookbook came out, despite its glorious history, the Hahnes Department Store in Montclair declined to sell the book. In an interview on the Martha Stewart Show, where Norma Jean was presenting her story, she said that she had learned many recipes from her father. Stewart smiled and asked, “Oh, your father was a cook?” Norma Jean smiled back at Stewart who had apparently not read the book and replied, “No my father was a medical doctor.” The audience giggled.

Today, the Darden House is the lovingly preserved home of Senator Nia Gill, Thurston Briscoe, and Bradley Gill.

108 North Pender Street.

The thirty-fifth 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 East Wilson Historic District: “1925; 2 stories; Camillus L. Darden house; one of the district’s fine Colonial Revival house, with rare original brick veneer, arched floor-to-ceiling windows flanking front door; columned entry porch with roof balustrade; Darden contracted white architect Charles Benton; builder was black brick mason John Barnes [Darden’s brother-in-law]; Darden operated district’s leading mortuary business, established by his father, Charles Darden.”

After the death in 1987 of Camillus Darden’s widow, Norma Duncan Darden, the house passed to the local graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2016.

Cemeteries, no. 17: the Littleton and Judie Ellis family.

This small family cemetery is completely hidden in a copse of trees just outside the gates of Wiggins Mill Water Treatment Plant on Forest Hills Road in Wilson. Until relatively recently, this area — nearly four miles south of downtown — was outside city limits. Few gravestones are visible in the tangle of catbrier, pines and oak saplings, but several oblong indentations — some feet deep — mark burial sites just as clearly. This cemetery holds the remains of several generations of the family of Littleton and Judy Barnes Ellis, a couple born in slavery. The couple and at least four of their children — Bryant, Lucy, Maggie, Lizzie Sarah — are buried here on land that once belonged to Littleton Ellis.

The view from the edge of the woods:



The dark patches at right are a series of sunken graves:


  • Maggie Ellis Darden (1886-1969). Gone to take her rest. We loved her but God loved her best. The family.

In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farm laborer Littleton Ellis, 30, wife Judah, 21, and children Bryant, 4, and Martha, 3.

In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Littleton Ellis, 45; wife Judah, 30; and children Bryant, 14, Martha, 12, Patsey, 10, Mary, 8, Bud, 6, Thomas, 4, Rose, 2, and James, 1.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Littleton Ellis, 73; wife Judy, 55; and children Lucy, 21, Littleton, 18, Sarah, 16, Maggie, 14, Nettie, 12, and Minnie, 10.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Wiggins Mill Road, farmer Littleton Ellis, 27; his mother Judie, 62; and sisters Lucy, 30, Sarah, 24, Maggie, 23, and Lettie, 21.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Judie Ellis, 80, widow; children Lucy, 32, Litt, 30, and Maggie, 25; and granddaughter Manerva Barnes, 22.

On 18 March 1923, George Darden, 35, married Maggie Ellis, 25, in Wilson County. Free Will Baptist minister Tom Thomas performed the ceremony in the presence of Willie Darden, Jonathan Ford, and W.H. Cotton.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer George Darden, 42; wife Maggie, 35, and daughter Artelia, 1.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1021 South Mercer Street, laundress Maggie Darden, 46, and daughter Artelia, 11.

Maggie Ellis Darden died 22 September 1969 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 March 1886 in Arkansas to Littleton Ellis and Julia Barnes [were the Ellises returned Exodusters?] Informant was Artelia Neal.


A vault cover hidden under pine needles and creeping foliage:


  • Rev. Jesse Herring (1890-1956). Gone but not forgotten.

In the 1900 census of Indian Springs township, Wayne County, and the 1910 census of Brogden township, Wayne County, Jessie Herring is listed in the household of his parents Amos and Lucy Herring.

In 1917, Jesse Herring registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he lived at 618 Lodge Street, Wilson; was born 23 September 1892 in Mount Olive, North Carolina; worked as a carpenter for George Whitley in Wilson County; and had a dependent wife and two children.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: at 413 Lodge Street, carpenter Jessie Herring, 27; wife Sarah, 33; and children Daisy, 5, Minnie, 4, and Mary, 2.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Jessie Herring, 34; wife Sarah, 36; and children Daniel, 13, Minnie, 12, Mary E., 11, Amos, 9, Maggie, 7, James L., 3, and Mary E., 1 month. Herring paid $3/month in rent. [Next door, the household of Sarah’s brother Bryant Ellis.]

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 301, farmer Jessie Herring, 53; wife Sarah, ; and children Dazel, 25, Amos, 20, James L., 14, Mary Elizabeth, 9, George R., 7, and Ruby Lee, 6. Herring owned his house.

Jessie Herring died 5 June 1956 in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 September 1889 in Wayne County to Amos Herring and Lucy Whitfield; was a farmer; was married to Sarah Herring; and was buried in Ellis cemetery. Sarah Herring was informant.


  • Lizzie Sarah Ellis Herring (1884-1964). We loved you. She was the sunshine of our home.

Sarah Ellis Herring died 9 July 1964 in Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 9 May 1891 in Wilson County to Littleton Ellis and Judy [last name unknown]; was widow of Jessie Herring; and was buried in the family cemetery. Informant was Amos Herring. [This is a fine example of a Clarence Best gravestone and features many of his signature motifs.]

Voyage to Havana.

On 20 August 1937, Camillus and Norma Duncan Darden boarded the S.S. Cuba at Havana, Cuba, for a one-day return to the United States arriving in Tampa, Florida, on the 21st. The Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Company operated the Cuba.

U.S. Citizen Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Tampa, Florida, digitized at Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.