Children admitted to Colored Orphanage Asylum, Oxford, North Carolina.

DigitalNC recently uploaded a ledger of African American children admitted into Grant Colored Asylum, an institution established by the North Carolina legislature in 1883. The facility’s name was changed to the Colored Orphanage Asylum of North Carolina in 1887 and is now known as the Central Children’s Home of North Carolina. Ledger entries record a child’s name, town and county of residence, date of admittance into the orphanage, date of birth, physical description, and observations about the child’s character. Other information documented could include the child’s parents’ names and church affiliation, notes about the parents, and names of those recommended the orphanage and filed the application for admittance. Some entries contain detailed information about the child’s stay at the orphanage and his or her whereabouts after the stay. [Warning: by today’s standards, descriptions of the lives of these children and their families can appear harsh and judgmental.]

I found entries for these six Wilson County children:

  • Edwin [Edward] Pitt

Ten year-old Edwin Pitt entered the orphanage on 8 June 1908. His parents, who were not married, were Thomas Day, who died in 1902 after a fall, and Martha Pitt, who was living. Dr. Frank S. Hargrove recommended Edwin’s admission; Martha Pitt applied; and A.M.E. Zion minister Nicholas D. King approved it. “Neither mother nor child bear good reputation. The mother once stood well.”


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Violet Pit, 50, washing, and children Martha, 24, washing, Hattie, 22, cooking, Lula, 21, cooking, Ben, 19, tobacco stemmer, Carry, 12, cooking, Rosa, 16, nurse, Meaner, 11, Jenney, 5, and Edward, 2.

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Pitt Martha (c) laundress h 410 S Goldsboro

In the 1910 census of Fishing Creek township, Granville County, North Carolina: at Oxford Colored Orphanage, Edward Pitt, 12, inmate, home farm laborer.

Edward Pitts died 14 January 1918 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 21 years old; was born in Wilson County to Thomas Day and Martha Pittman [sic]; was single; and worked as a hotel waiter. Elsie Pitts was informant.

  • Eddie Woodard

Twelve year-old Eddie Woodard entered the orphanage on 23 November 1908. His parents, who were not married, were Eddie Sanders, who died in 1902, and Chloe Woodard.


In the 1910 census of Fishing Creek township, Granville County, North Carolina: at Oxford Colored Orphanage, Eddie Woodard, 12, inmate.

In 1917, Eddie Woodard registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 21 October 1896 in Wilson, N.C.; lived in Wilson; was single; and worked as a delivery boy at a dry goods store, Barrett Patrick Company, Wilson.

On 17 July 1919, Eddie Woodard, 23, married Ada Melton, 18, at Milton’s house. Otis Wright applied for the license, and Missionary Baptist minister William Baker performed the ceremony in the presence of Augustus Blow, Otis Wright, and Sarah Jones.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Cora [sic] Woodard, 47; won Eddie, 24, tobacco factory worker; daughter-in-law Ada, 19, tobacco factory worker; grandson Robert Wright, 6 months; and son-in-law Odis Wright, 25, widower, hardware company laborer.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 815 Mercer Street, owned and valued at $1500, Clora Woodard, 56, washing; son Eddie Woodard, 34, clothes presser at pressing club; and Robert L. Wright, 10, grandson.

In 1942, Eddie W. Woodard registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 3 October 1895 in Wilson; lived at 815 Mercer Street (411 Church Street, Norfolk, Virginia, was crossed out); was unemployed; and his contact was mother Cloara Woodard.

  • Nola Davis

Sixteen year-old Nola Davis entered the orphanage on 16 November 1909. Her parents Alonzo and Adeline Parks Davis were dead; they had had a “good reputation.” Dr. William Mitchner had recommended her admittance; Amanda Bynum had applied; and Samuel H. Vick had approved it.

  • Lillian and Dave Morris

Siblings Lillian Morris, 12, and Dave Morris, 7, entered the orphanage in February 1917. Their father Dave Morris had died of tuberculosis several years earlier, and their mother Lillian Hinson Morris was “a hopeless invalid.” Episcopal rector E.R. Perry [R.N. Perry] recommended that they be sent to Oxford.


In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Green Street, painter David Morris, 34; wife Lillian, 30; and children Pearle E., 12, Charles, 9, Lillian, 7, and David, 7 months.

By 1920, Lillian had aged out of the orphanage and returned home. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 108 Smith, William Johnson, 25, born in South Carolina; wife Lillian, 32, born in England; and [his] stepchildren Charles, 17, Lillie, 15, and Mabel, 6.

However, in the 1920 census of Fishing Creek township, Granville County, N.C.: in the Oxford Colored Orphanage, inmate David Morris, 10.

Lillian [Hinson Morris] Johnson died 6 March 1921 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 38 years old; was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia; was married to William Johnson; and lived on Smith Street.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Morris Lillian (c) elev opr Court House h 22 Ashe

On 14 December 1935, David E. Morris married Lorenza Williams in Brooklyn, New York.

In the 1940 census of Kings County, New York: at 624 Madison, David Morris, 30, W.P.A. worker; wife Lorenza, 22; and son Edward, 4.

However: also in 1940, David Edward Morris registered for the World War II draft in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. Per his registration, he was born 28 February 1909 in Wilson, N.C.; lived at 99 Stockton Street, Brooklyn; his contact was Sylvia Lipshitz Morris; and he worked for W.P.A., 70 Columbus Avenue, New York. On the reverse of the card, Morris is described as having a light brown complexion with black hair and brown eyes. Under “Race,” the check mark beside “Negro” is blacked out and the word “Error” written in; “White” is checked with a different pen in a different hand.

Detail from David E. Morris’s draft registration card. 

In the 1950 census of Brooklyn, David Morris is not found, but S.O. Morris is described as divorced, and Lorenza Morris as separated.

David Morris died in Brooklyn on 3 August 1965.

  • Maggie Cox

Scant notes survive for Maggie Cox, who was 13 years old when she entered the orphanage in, most likely, 1917. There were “no particulars” about her background, other than that she had been “sent by S.N. [sic] Vick.”

Grant Colored Asylum and the Colored Orphanage Asylum of North Carolina Enrollment Ledger, Central Children’s Home of North Carolina, North Carolina Memory, digitalnc.org.

Benefit for the old people’s home.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 July 1917.

Did the “old people’s home, colored” ever open? Apparently so, at 310 Lodge Street.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 August 1918.

A.A.I. Davis soon moved on to another old folks’ home in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Per newspaper accounts, Davis was pastor of a Baptist church in Albany, New York, as late as 1915, but by 1916 was running an old folks’ home in Maxton, North Carolina, in 1916. What was going on here?)

Wilmington Morning Star, 11 November 1921.


Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C. (1922).

Happy birthday to a son of East Wilson!

This photograph accompanied the very first Black Wide-Awake post on 5 October 2015. Today is Michael E. Myers‘ birthday. He, as you can see, is my lifelong friend, and has deep roots in East Wilson.

Here, we’re seated on my mother’s lap on the front steps of the East Green Street home of Michael’s great-grandparents, Rev. Fred M. Davis and Dinah Dunston Davis. Rev. Davis was a long-time pastor of Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist church. Michael’s maternal great-uncle Fred M. Davis Jr. was active in 1930s and ’40s voter registration efforts in Wilson. His great-aunt Addie Davis Butterfield was a teacher at Samuel H. Vick Elementary School, and her husband was dentist George K. Butterfield Sr. (Which, of course, makes Congressman G.K. Butterfield Jr. his cousin.) On his father’s side, Michael’s great-grandmother Grace Battle Black was a close pal of my great-great-aunt, nurse Henrietta Colvert. Grace Black’s sister Roberta Battle Johnson was one of the teachers who resigned from the Colored Graded School after the Mary Euell incident in April 1918. (My grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks was one of the children who withdrew from the school in the aftermath, and also grew up around the corner from the Davises.) Michael’s great-great-grandfather was Parker P. Battle, a noted blacksmith with Wainwright foundry.

Michael’s lovely mother Diana Davis Myers was my beloved second-grade teacher at B.O. Barnes Elementary. (I rode to school with her, and Michael and I watched cartoons together on early weekday mornings.) His father is William E. “Bill” Myers, respected educator, renowned musician, and the visionary behind the Freeman Round House and Museum. They were treasured members of my childhood village, and I hug them every chance I can.

Happy, happy birthday, Michael Earl. Wishing you love and laughter forever.

Scrapbook chronicles: the return.

I knew we were related somehow to the Sherrods, but I was in college before I figured out how. Of course, I then wanted to visit Josephine Artis Sherrod, who, it turned out, was both my great-great-grandmother’s half-sister and my great-great-grandfather’s niece. (Yes, it was complicated.) My father took me by the house on Viola Street one evening when I was home over the Christmas holidays. We knocked, the door opened, and I stared into baby-blue eyes set in a caramel-brown face. This was Solomon C. Sherrod Jr., who, though just a few years younger than my grandmother, was my great-grandfather’s first cousin. He ushered us into the front room, and I spent a delightful hour or so with Aunt Josephine.

I was in Wilson this past week. Before I left, I knocked on another door on Viola Street. Cousin Solomon’s youngest son answered, and I placed in his hands the scrapbook Rita Elsner found on a Maryland street three weeks ago. As promised, the Sherrod family’s legacy has returned home.

Here are more gems from Alliner Sherrod Davis Randall‘s scrapbook. If you can help me identify the men and women depicted, I’d be grateful.

Alliner and Henry Randall, probably not long after their marriage in 1946. They made their home in Durham, N.C.

Elmer Lee Sherrod (1929-2002), Josephine and Solomon Sherrod’s youngest son. On the reverse: “To Mr. & Mrs. Randall with Love, Elmer Sherrod, 1401 N. 18th St., Phila 21, Pa.”

Minnie Sherrod Parker (1916-1996). [Thank you, Barbara Williams Lewis!]

Studio portrait of unidentified young woman.

Alliner Randall (1908-1992) and dog.

Unidentified snapshot of older man and young girl. Is this Solomon Sherrod Sr. (ca.1880-1948)?

Betty Cooper Sherrod, who married Solomon Sherrod’s eldest son Earnest E. Sherrod. [Thank you, Bonita Sherrod!]

Scene at a graveside funeral service, possibly in the 1950s.

Solomon Sherrod Sr., probably 1940s. [Thank you, Bonita Sherrod!]

Scrapbook chronicles: Jessie Lee Davis.

Alliner Sherrod Davis Randall had a son Jessie, born in 1932, and a daughter Gaynelle, born in 1941. Jessie Lee Davis, my father’s childhood playmate, was 14 years old when he was struck and killed while riding on the handlebars of a bicycle.

Alliner Sherrod Davis and son Jessie Lee, circa 1933.

Jessie Lee Davis, perhaps about 13 years old.

Jessie L. Davis as a drummer in the Darden High School marching band, circa 1945. Jesse A. Henderson lounges beside him. For a photo take just moments before or after this image, see here.

Teenager killed in a car-bike accident.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 May 1946.

Fourteen year-old Jessie Lee Davis was seated on the handlebars of his friend Walter Rogers‘ bicycle when a car made a left turn in front of them. Rogers did not see the car and ran into it, killing Davis. The driver of the car, a 22 year-old white man named Vernest Ballance, was initially charged with manslaughter in Davis’ death, but the case was dismissed after a preliminary hearing.

  • Jessie Lee Davis

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Jesse Lee Davis was the son of Clinton Davis and Alliner Sherrod Davis Randall. His funeral was handled by his great-uncle, C.E. Artis.

  • Walter Rogers

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 705 East Green (one of several families in a rooming house), tobacco factory stemmer Thomas Rodgers, 37; wife Minorh, 33, housemaid; and children Ruth, 15, Joseph, 14, Otis G., 12, and Walter, 8.

Held for murder of neighbor.

The Rocky Mount Telegram‘s headline blares “WILSON NEGRO,” and the article identifies both the alleged shooter and his victim as black. However, the Wilson Daily Times‘ 28 January 1938 coverage of the incident reveals that both Charles Davis and Lawrence Lamm were, in fact, white.

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Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram, 28 January 1938.

Lamm’s death certificate, marriage license, and census records confirm that he was white. (The Daily Times‘ piece revealed that the bad blood between Davis and Lamm stretched back “since a day over a decade ago when Lamm is alleged to have bitten off Davis’ father’s ear in a quarrel.” On 8 September 1938, the Daily Times reported that the defendant, whose actual name, was Charles Smith, was found not guilty on a directed verdict as the evidence determined that he had acted in self-defense.)