Darden

Property line.

Samuel H. Vick‘s house still towers over East Wilson, but that of contemporary giant Charles H. Darden is long gone. At first glance, I thought this plat map showed the location of the Darden house on Pender Street near Nash. Upon further study — not quite. The Dardens lived at 111 (formerly 110) North Pender Street, and this two-story house was at 113 (formerly 116) North Pender. The Dardens did own it, however, and rented it as a multi-family dwelling.

A surveyor drew the plat map in August 1946 and titled it “Property of C.H. Darden-Hebron Masonic Lodge #42.” Though the only building drawn in is the house at 113, the block was densely built, and nearby property owners are noted, including Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church, Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church, Columbus E. Artis, D’arcey C. Yancy, and Charles Darden’s son Camillus L. Darden.

The survey apparently was intended to resolve a dispute over the location of the lot line between Darden’s property (or that of his estate, as he died in 1931) and Mount Hebron Lodge #42, which was preparing to erect a replacement hall at 115-117 North Pender. As noted on the map, the boundary descriptions in the deeds for each property were vague. The Masons believed their southern lot line ran right through the middle of the house at 113, while the Dardens placed it a few north of the house’s edge.

The 1908 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, below, shows the old wooden lodge building and the house beside it. (The lot line is notably consistent with the 1946 map plat.) The corner of Vick and Pender was an empty lot, and Smith Street was “Zion Alley.” Charles H. Darden’s house is on the wedge-shaped lot at 110 East Pender.

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On the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson below, note the newly built First Baptist Church, whose pink shading indicates that it was constricted of brick. Saint John A.M.E. Zion, on the other hand, was a couple of years away from its grandest edifice.

The 1922 Sanborn map, see below, depicts the new Saint John building. The lodge hall is, curiously, absent, and an “old 1st Baptist church” that I have not been able to identify is shown facing Smith Street.  (How old could it have been if it were not built until after 1913?) The Dardens had added several small outbuildings, including a garage, to their parcel. The house at 113 occupies half of a single lot, which is almost certainly a mapping error.

The site today, as shown in an aerial Google Maps view. The building marked “Ball & Cane Club” is the Masonic lodge hall built in 1947. (The club, now defunct, housed their social functions.) The sites of the houses at 111 and 113 North Pender are now under the parking lot of the expanded Baptist church.

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In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 111 Pender Street, valued at $6000, undertaker-proprietor Charles H. Darden, 76; wife Mary E., 67; and granddaughter Cora Brown, 22, drugstore clerk. At 113 Pender, five families: (1) paying $14/month rent, fertilizer plant laborer James Edwards, 29, wife Frances, 32, and Rufus G., 14, Julious G., 12, and Willie G., 13; (2) paying $8 rent, hospital janitor Andrew Reid, 27, and wife Sarah L., 30; (3) paying $8, Carl Henborn, 39, building carpenter; (4) paying $4, Neil Ray, 31, junk shop laborer, and wife Annie, 23; and (5) paying $4, cook William M. Powell, 38.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 113 Pender Street, (1) paying $12/month, Ethel Cain, 32, elementary school teacher, and mother Delia Jones, 66, cook; (2) paying $4, Charles Nelson, 36, pressing club presser, and wife Mamie, 34; and (3) paying $4, Hubert McFail, 35, tobacco factory truck driver, and wife Viola, 20, school teacher.

Plat Book 4, page 46, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County Courthouse.

The Dardens secure their son’s start.

In March 1905, Charles H. and Diana Darden conveyed to their son Camillus L. Darden a one-quarter interest (with a life interest retained) in a lot on the south side of Nash Street “whereon is located the new shop and hall” in order to encourage his interest in a bicycle repair business. The elder Dardens also leased to C.L. Darden one-half of the first and second floors in the shop building. The lease was to continue year after year for five dollars per year as long as C.L. pursued his business. If C.L. ever wished to sell his interest in the property, his parents had right of first refusal to purchase it for $250.

Deed book 72, page 49, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Charles S. Darden, Esq.

The second of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden’s sons, Charles Sylvester Darden made his mark far from home — in Los Angeles, California.  Though he largely eluded the decennial censuses, the trajectory of Darden’s career as a hard-charging attorney can be glimpsed in contemporary newspapers and other documents.

Dinah Darden and her elder sons, James B., Charles S. and John W. Darden.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charles Darden, 26; wife Diana, 21; and children John, 3, Annie, 2, and Charlie, 9 months.

Charles Darden received an undergraduate degree at Howard University and graduated from its law school in 1904.

The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 31 May 1904.

In short order, Darden headed West and in 1906 passed the examination for admission to the California bar. He was one of the first licensed African-American lawyers in the state.

The anomaly of Darden’s position early caught the attention of the local press, and in 1907 this mocking piece appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Times, 25 December 1907.

Within his community, however, Darden was taken seriously. In May 1908, his place in the political life of black Los Angeles was signaled by his inclusion among leaders calling for a protest against Republican presidential nominee William H. Taft for his recommendation that President Theodore Roosevelt dismiss black soldiers blamed for murder in the Brownsville Affair.

 

Los Angeles Herald, 31 May 1908.

That same year, Darden was instrumental in organizing a Howard University alumni association in Los Angeles. The Times covered the group’s annual banquet in 1909.

Los Angeles Times, 11 February 1909.

By 1911, Darden had entered the arena in which he had the greatest impact — real estate development and litigation. That year, as the first black lawyer to argue before the California Supreme Court, Darden attacked racially restrictive covenants

By 1913, he and ten others incorporated the Co-operative Commercial Investment Company.

Los Angeles Times, 27 November 1913.

He also was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1913.

Journal of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 1915, black police officer Homer L. Garrott purchased a home in the Angeles Park subdivision of Los Angeles. Angeles Park lots were covered by a restrictive covenant prohibiting sales to black, Japanese and Chinese buyers, and the Title Guarantee Company sued to enforce it. Charles S. Darden stepped up to defend Garrott. A Superior Court judge ruled in Garrott’s favor, striking down race restrictions as null and void. Angeles Park and the title company appealed, and the case reached the California State Supreme Court in 1919. The ruling was affirmed, but bizarrely undercut by the court’s decision in another case upholding the validity of occupancy clauses. (For more re Garrott, see Douglas Flamming, Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America (2005)).

As the United States entered World War I, Darden got involved in protests over the forced retirement of African-American Colonel Charles Young in the wake of resistance by white officers balking at being outranked by a black man. In a letter to Dean Kelly Miller of Howard University, Darden also championed of the causes of Captain Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and a Captain Green, who had also been effectively sidelined.

Kansas City Sun, 21 July 1917.

Two months later, Darden wrote directly to the Secretary of the War Department, complaining that the applications of well-qualified young African-American men were being turned down “because of their color.” The response was terse and not entirely to the point: “At the present time no colored squadrons are being formed and applications from colored men for this branch of service cannot be considered for that reason.”

Letter from Secretary of War to Charles S. Darden, 11 August 1917; W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312); Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

In 1918, Charles Sylvester Darden registered for the World War I draft in Los Angeles. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1879 in Wilson, North Carolina; resided at 224 South Spring, Los Angeles; was a self-employed lawyer at 407 Germain, Los Angeles; was 5’4″ and of medium build; and his nearest relative was Charles H. Darden, 110 Pender Street, Wilson, North Carolina.

“Incorporations,” Southwest Builder and Contractor, volume 57, number 11 (18 March 1921).

The beach at Santa Monica’s Bay Street, popular with African-Americans in the early 20th century, was derogatorily called “The Inkwell”. While they appreciated the access to the Pacific Ocean that the beach represented, local African-American leaders also wanted an end to all efforts to inhibit their freedom to use all public beaches. In 1922, the Santa Monica Bay Protective League attempted to purge African Americans from the city’’s shoreline by blocking an effort by the Ocean Frontage Syndicate, an African American investment group led by Norman O. Houston and Charles S. Darden, to develop a resort with beach access at the base of Pico Boulevard. Santa Monica officials quickly enacted zoning laws to deny the Ocean Frontage Syndicate beach front property, changing such regulations once whites bought the land and made similar development proposals.

In 1940, Darden partnered with two African-American doctors to form the Los Angeles Negro Professional Men’s Athletic Club, a venue for boxing matches, ball games, dances and other affairs.

Pittsburgh Courier, 29 June 1940.

A whiff of scandal touched Darden in 1940, but failed to gain traction. He was held blameless in a fatal automobile accident on Anaheim’s Santa Ana Canyon Road. Darden apparently never married, and the paper was careful to note that his female companion was white.

Santa Ana Register, 27 August 1940.

In 1942, Charles S. Darden registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1879 in Wilson, North Carolina; he resided at 1802 Central, Los Angeles; his phone number was PR 3750; he was employed as an attorney at 1802 Central; and his contact was C.L. Darden, Wilson, North Carolina.

Charles S. Darden died in March 1954 in Los Angeles.

The Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), 17 March 1954.

Photograph of Dardens courtesy of N.J. and C. Darden, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine; J. Clay Smith Jr., Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer 1844-1944 (1993).

On the agenda.

This 1925 Daily Times article detailed the business of a single February city aldermen’s meeting. First on the agenda, the Wilson Colored Hospital. The article listed the white members of the hospital’s board of trustees first, then noted its African-American members — S.H. Vick, J.D. Reid and “Permillus” [Camillus] Darden. After some discussion, the “the Board” decided to reinstate the city’s $75/month appropriation to the hospital, which had been discontinued the previous September.

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The trustees stated that the hospital was “a necessity among the colored people of the city, and that many of them would be without treatment but for the institution.” Alderman Daniel asked if the trustees had personal knowledge that “the affairs of the institution were properly administered.” Dr. C.A. Woodard responded that “no institution of this kind made any money, and that they understood the disadvantages under which those connected with it were laboring.” Hospital management agreed to file monthly reports to the city.  Trustee F.N. Bridgers invited the city to appoint a member to the board, and J.D. Reid noted that alderman Graham Woodard had been asked. Woodard acknowledged the invitation, but cited a busy schedule.

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Hospital business satisfactorily concluded, Vick broached another subject — street lights. Would “the city extend its Whiteway below the railroad to the Baptist church, at the corner of Nash and Pender Streets”? A lighted north side and dark south did not present a good look to voyagers passing through on trains. The aldermen referred the matter to the Water and Light Commission. The Business Men’s League and the J.C. Price Literary Society endorsed the project, Vick added. (Joseph C. Price “taught here fifty years ago and afterwards founded Livingstone College.”) Mayor Lucas raised another point: lighting would help the police do their job. One had been killed and another nearly so in “pistol duels in that section of the city.”

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Vick raised item number three — the colored cemetery. Would the city place an awning and also fix the roads so people could get in and out? Mr. Grantham of the cemetery commission responded defensively: “it was difficult to get the cemetery into a correct shape, and lay it out. The graves had been placed everywhere, and without regard to lines or streets.” Also, “there was some of the land that was worthless for the purpose, as it was a bottom. He spoke of land in the old cemetery which if the graves were removed would be worth considerable money.” Anyway, he agreed to “go over the property and work out some plan to get it in shape.”

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No further colored business.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 February 1925.

  • Why had the city discontinued its $75/month allocation in the first place?
  • What did the J.C. Price Literary Society do? When was it founded? Who were its members?
  • When did streetlights finally cross the tracks?
  • For what purpose was an awning needed in the cemetery?
  • “Fix the roads“? What roads led to the cemetery?
  • Were there still burials in Oakdale as late as 1925? Was the question more of access to existing graves than for new ones?

 

Studio shots, no. 63: Norma Duncan Darden.

Norma Duncan Darden (1895-1987).

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In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 108 Pender Street, Calamus L. Darden, and wife Morma, 30. Their home was valued at $10,000.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 108 Pender Street, undertaker C.L. Darden, 45, and wife Norma, 40.

Norma Duncan Darden died 1 August 1987 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 16 October 1894 in Montgomery, Alabama, to Eugene Duncan and Evangeline Howard; had been an English teacher; was widowed; and resided at 109 North Pender Street.

 

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).

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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. 45: 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.