Pierce was about 21 years old at the time and clearly had a voice that he was willing to use. In these letters, he first called on the Times to act on its commitment to justice for the laboring class by sharing information about the New Deal’s impact on low area wages.
Next, he called the employers of domestic servants to task for the abysmally low wages paid to these men and women (who were overwhelmingly African-American.) “Now how in the name of sound economics can these low salaries raise the standard of living in this town?,” Pierce asked.
Through much of the 20th century, the overwhelming majority of African-American women in Wilson who worked outside their homes worked either as domestic servants or tobacco factory laborers. Mittie Clarke‘s death certificate identifies her employment precisely — she performed domestic work for Mrs. W.D. Adams.
Mittie Clark’s parents, Rhoden and Sarah Hill Clark, migrated to Wilson from Scotland Neck, Halifax County, North Carolina, circa the 1890s. Rhoden Clark was a mechanic; Sarah Clark, a laundress. Sarah Clark bought a lot on Green Street from Samuel H. Vick in 1898, and the family built a large house, signaling their ensconcement in East Wilson’s Black middle class. Maintaining their position required the contributions of all, however, and the 1900 census shows five of the seven Clark children, ranging from age 13 to 30, engaged in nursing (as in childcare — this was Mittie), dressmaking, laundry work, and work as waiters.
William D. Adams was president of Barnes-Harrell Company, Wilson’s Coca-Cola bottler. His wife, Bess Hackney Adams, was a granddaughter of Willis N. Hackney, founder of Hackney Brothers Body Company.
[Note that Mittie Clark was buried in Rountree Cemetery. This may indicate Rountree, in fact, but more likely Odd Fellows or Vick Cemeteries. No grave markers for her or her family members have been found to date.]
My Son Walter is sick and as it may be important for you to get the information, I have concluded to write. We hired Mary Tomlin last year to wash on the farm and I asked her at the end of the year if she was willing to live with me this year and do any little thing about the house, and wash, and iron. She said she was, but did not know how to iron, therefore we had our ironing done by others, and when she washed we had our cooking done by others. She has never been burdened for she had half of her time to work for herself. We agreed to give her two dollars a month and feed her two small children which was her price and when she wanted anything we purchased it for her and charged her with it, and last summer she had a little girl that was without a home, which she wished me to hire. I told her I would, if she would let me have her for five years which I would learn her enough to make her useful to her, and herself, too. I also promised to learn her to read. I told her to think about it, that I did not wish her to answer me hastily for I did not want her without she was perfectly willing. In a few weeks she told me that she rather I would have her than any body else so we had a contract written, and I am to pay her at the end of every year. Last winter we hired her son at eight dollar a month her price, she agreed to let him have half to buy clothes as he was very destitute when he came, he has nearly had it and she wanted a settlement at the end of the year. When she left we would have owed her sixteen dollars, but she had traded to the amount of twenty dollars, fell in my debt, so we do not owe her any thing until the end of the year. About three months ago she became dissatisfied and wish to leave, I told her I could hold her to her bargain if I choose, but if she wanted to leave I would let her go off with her two small children, but she did not at that time, but was often threatening to go until she called for a settlement, and as I had told her before, that I would let her off, I did not oppose her. I had enquired where I could get some one to take her place when she did, she never was sent from here she went off on her own accord. I have always tried to be fair with all that I have hired and since she left I have said nothing against her to keep her from getting a home, and I have tried to help them from getting in debt, when her pay is due for her children it will be paid certain all that we owe. We do not want to wrong her out of a cent. Respectfully, Margaret H. Battle
In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: minister Amos J. Battle, 65, wife Margret J., 59, sons Jesse, 19, and Cullen, 22, and fifteen hotel boarders, plus Kit Carmel, 35, his wife Louisa, 35, a hotel cook, and sons Joseph, 11, and Henry, 8; George Merit, 21, and Warren Adams, 22, hotel porters; and chambermaid Harret Barnes, 18.
Elsewhere in town: Washer woman Mary Tomlin, 40, with Ellen, 17, Orphius, 20, Blount, 9, and Willie Tomlin, 12, and James Davis, 27. Ellen worked as a domestic servant and Orphius as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Davis, who was white, worked as a store clerk and appears to have been a boarder.
Nina Frances Faison Kornegay Hardy was born March 15, 1882, probably in northern Duplin County, to John Henry Aldridge and Addie Faison. She seems to have been married briefly to Joe Kornegay in 1899 in Wayne County, but is not in the 1900 census. By 1910, she had made her way 40 or so miles north to Wilson and was listed as “Nina Facin,” boarding on Elba Street in the household of Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs. The census also shows a “Nina Facon” living and working as a servant in the household of Jefferson D. Farrior in Wilson. Though described as white, this is almost surely Nina Faison, who cooked and cleaned for the Farriors most of her working life.
In an interview I conducted, my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001) said:
Aint Nina lived up over the Farrior house on Herring Avenue. Herring’s Crossroads, whatever you call it. And that’s where she come up there to live. Well, the maid, as far as the help, or whoever, they stayed on the lot, where they’d have somewhere to sleep. So Aint Nina was living on Nash Road, way down there, and when we went to see her, me and Mamie would run down there five miles. She was working for Old Man Farrior then. When she was living out in the country, she was working for white people, and so she went up to their house and cooked for them. And when we’d go down to her house, she’d have to come from up there and cook when she get home. So we would go and spend a day, but it would be more than likely be on her day off. But when we had the horse and buggy, Mama drove out there once, and we went, I went with Papa with the wagon to where you grind corn to make meal, down to Silver Lake or whatever that place was down there. Lord, them were the good old days.
The Farriors, their back porch was closed in. It had windows. And had a marble floor in the back, and that stairway was on, where it was closed in on the back porch, you could go upstairs, and there was a room up there. You couldn’t go from out of that room into the other part of the house. You had to come back down them steps then go in the house. And that’s where Aint Nina stayed. I said, Lord, I wouldn’t want to have stayed up there. And then something happen … She had to come down and go down the steps, go upstairs, I mean, and come out of the kitchen, and then go up them steps out on this porch in her room. So she stayed up there. Lord, I wouldn’t want to stay up there. She get sick out there, she couldn’t get nobody. I didn’t see no – I was up in there one time, and I went up there just to look around. Well, she had a nice room, nice bed and chair and dresser and everything. There was a whole set in the room where she was. That was the only time I was up there. But I wouldn’t want to stay up there.
In 1917, Nina married Julius Hardy in Wilson township.
It is likely their house that my grandmother and great-aunt visited out on Nash Road:
They had guinea chickens. A car run over a chicken and killed it, and it kept going. And we, me and Mamie, was going out there, and we picked up the chicken and carried it ‘round there. And Aint Nina poured water and scald the chicken and picked it and cooked it, and we had the best time eating it. Wont thinking ‘bout we was going out there to eat. And so we come walking in there with that chicken, and she wanted to know, “Well, where’d you get that?” “A car run over it, and we picked it up and brought it on over so you could cook it.” And she said, “Yeah, it’s good. A car just killed it?” And it wasn’t too far from the house. And I reckon it was one of her chickens anyhow. Honey, she cooked that old stewed chicken, had to put pastry and vegetables in it. Lord, we stayed out all that time, then had to come home from way out there. But we was full.
And her brother, his name was James Faison, lived across the street from her, and his wife, and I think the lady had been married before because they wasn’t his children. It was two girls. And he worked at the express, at the station. The place was on that side, Nash Street station was over on this side. Baggage used to come over there. The baggage place where’d you take off the train. That’s where you put it over on that side at that time. And he was working over there.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County, Nina Hardy is listed as a maid in the household of lawyer William D.P. Sharpe Jr., next door to Annie V. Farrior and her brother Marvin Applewhite. Did the families share her services?
In 2004, a Farrior descendant sent me copies of several photos of Nina Hardy. They were likely taken in the early 1950s, a few years before Annie V. Farrior’s death. The Farriors’ grand home, with its immense columned portico, was demolished in the 1960s.