M.D. Williams submits his dissertation.

After more than a decade as teacher, principal, and school administrator in Wilson, Malcolm D. Williams entered the doctoral program at Columbia University’s Teacher College. His dissertation, “A Suggested Plan to Improve Teaching and Learning in the Negro Schools Located in Wilson, North Carolina, Through Developing a Better Parent and Teacher Common Understanding of More Effective Concepts of Teaching and Learning,” was submitted in 1951.

Most interesting to me, at least initially, is Williams’ lengthy citation to a 1939 Study of Negro Education in Wilson prepared by Atlantic Christian College unit of the North Carolina Unit of Education and Race and sponsored by the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and the North Carolina Department of Education. (Where can I possibly find this document?)

The study asserts that the first school for African-Americans was started in 1869 at Mount Zion Methodist Church [Saint John A.M.E. Zion?], which stood “in the corner of a cemetery near the Stantonsburg highway.” (The predecessor cemetery to Oakdale Cemetery, which was established by the Town of Wilson very close by.) In 1870, Wilson established its first public school for Black children. It operated for four months a year and had no grades until 1880. The study skips to 1920, the year Wilson established a Black high school — only three years after the first in the entire state. (Actually, Wilson Colored High School, later C.H. Darden, did not open until 1923.) 

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for bringing this document to my attention.

Educating Southern Negroes.

Wilmington Messenger,  4 March 1905.

A Wilmington newspaper reprinted this Richmond News Leader piece highlighting North Carolina Superintendent J.Y. Johnson’s views on the necessity of funding education for Black children. “If this is not even done, the negro will leave the South and go where his children may have the opportunity to attend the schools.”

“… In illustration of his point, he cites the experience of a district in Wilson county, N.C.. There the county board of education failed to provide a school-house for the negroes. Before the end of the year the white farmers offered to give a site and explained that at least a third of their best negro tenants and laborers had moved out of the district to put themselves near school-houses, leaving the farms unprovided.”

Rev. Joseph C. Price, educator, orator, civil rights leader.

Rev. Joseph C. Price‘s extraordinary career began in 1871 as principal of an African-American school, Wilson Academy.

Rev. Joseph C. Price (1854-1893).

“Joseph Charles Price, black educator, orator, and civil rights leader, was born in Elizabeth City to a free mother, Emily Pailin, and a slave father, Charles Dozier. When Dozier, a ship’s carpenter, was sold and sent to Baltimore, Emily married David Price, whose surname Joseph took. During the Civil War, they moved to New Bern, which quickly became a haven for free blacks when it was occupied by Federal troops. In 1863 his mother enrolled him in St. Andrew’s School, which had just been opened by James Walker Hood, the first black missionary to the South and later the bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church. Price showed such promise as a student at this and other schools that in 1871 he was offered a position as principal of a black school in Wilson. He taught there until 1873, when he resumed his own education at Shaw University in Raleigh with the intention of becoming a lawyer. But he soon changed his mind and transferred to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to study for the ministry in the A.M.E. Zion Church. He was graduated in 1879 and spent another two years at its theological seminary. During this period, he married Jennie Smallwood, a New Bern resident he had known since childhood. They were the parents of five children.

“In 1881, soon after his ordination, Price was chosen as a delegate to the A.M.E. Ecumenical Conference in London. While there,Bishop Hood urged him to make a speaking tour of England and other parts of Europe to call attention to the plight of black education in the South and, more specifically, to raise funds to establish a black college in North Carolina. His effectiveness as an orator drew large crowds and resulted in contributions of almost $10,000. This, plus the support of white residents of Salisbury, enabled him to establish Livingstone College and to become its president in October 1882, when he was twenty-eight years old. (Originally called Zion Wesley College, its name was changed to that of the African explorer and missionary David Livingstone in 1885.) Sponsored by the A.M.E. Zion Church, Livingstone began with five students, three teachers, and a single two-story building, but it grew rapidly to become one of the South’s most important liberal arts colleges for blacks. Though he encouraged the support of southern whites, such as Josephus Daniels, and philanthropists, such as Leland Stanford and Collis P. Huntington, Price felt that blacks themselves must bear the real responsibility for educating their race. In 1888 he stated that ‘Livingstone College stands before the world today as the most remarkable evidence of self-help among Negroes in this country.’

“Price’s leadership of the college and his ability as an orator gained him national attention. In 1888 President Grover Cleveland asked him to serve as minister to Liberia, though he declined, saying he could do more for his people by remaining in Salisbury. In 1890 he was elected president of both the Afro-American League and the National Equal Rights Convention and named chairman of the Citizens’ Equal Rights Association. But conflict among the groups and lack of financial support led to their decline soon afterwards. Like Booker T. Washington, Price believed that blacks’ self-help through education and economic development was their best hope for solving the race problem, and he assured whites that social integration with them was not among their goals. But he was less conciliatory than Washington in demanding that the civil rights of blacks be upheld. Blacks were willing to cooperate and live peaceably with southern whites, but not at the cost of their own freedom of constitutional guarantees. ‘A compromise,’ he wrote, ‘that reverses the Declaration of Independence, nullifies the national constitution, and is contrary to the genius of this republic, ought not to be asked of any race living under the stars and stripes; and if asked, ought not to be granted.’

“Price’s activist role in civil rights and black education ended abruptly in 1893, when he contracted and died of Bright’s disease at age thirty-nine. He was buried on the campus of Livingstone College. W. E. B. Du Bois, August Meier, and others felt that it was the leadership vacuum created by Price’s death into which Booker T. Washington moved, and that had he lived, the influence and reputation of Price and of Livingstone College would have been as great or greater than that achieved by Washington and Tuskegee.”

Text (citations omitted) from Joseph Charles Price,

So I just stopped school.

This chart is simultaneously heart-breaking and awe-inspiring.

Three thousand African-American children in Wilson County were enrolled in eight grades during the 1923-1924 school year. They ranged from six to twenty years of age. The 1689 first graders ranged from six to seventeen years old, and nearly two-thirds were classified as “over age.” There were three nineteen year-old second graders, and a full fifth of all third graders were thirteen years old. One was twenty. Only 17 of 269 fourth graders were age-appropriate. The eighth grade class — the highest grade offered to black children — tallied a single pupil.

Why? Pick a reason. Or several, as years passed. “Mama is sick.” “I am sick.” “I need to mind the baby.” “I don’t have school clothes.” “I can’t see the board, and my daddy can’t get me no glasses.” “It’s too far to walk.” “I missed too much time last year.” “I got to work.” “I’m too old.”

My grandmother‘s schooling was repeatedly interrupted. Two life-threatening bouts with pneumonia. Temporary moves to new towns as her guardian great-aunt sought work with better pay than Wilson offered black women. A great-uncle with dementia who’d begun to wander from home and needed to be watched. She left school for good when she was about 13, just before the school year captured in this chart.

“The first day I went down to Graded School, that day it rained. I come back – there was a hole in my shoe, and I slopped in all the water and got my feet wet. That’s what Mama said, anyhow, and I taken with a fever. And I was sick that whole rest of the year. I mean, wasn’t strong enough to go down to Graded School – she wouldn’t let me go down there. So I stayed home, and Mama put all them old rags … that old flannel cloth, and she’d put it in red onions and hog lard.”

“[F]irst of the year I went to school, and [then I got sick and] I didn’t go back no more to the Graded School. They opened the Wilson Training School on Vance Street, with that old long stairway up that old building down there, well, I went over there. Then when Mama … went to Greensboro, then I went to Greensboro to Ashe Street School. Then we moved from over Ashe Street over to Washington Street, over there, then I went to Washington Street School. So then I went over there. And so we come on back [to Wilson], and then they wanted to put me back in the same grade I was in before I left, and I cried. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to go back to that school anymore. So I just stopped school.”

Imagine teenagers crammed into desks alongside seven year-olds, sounding out words in blue-back spellers, carefully practicing the shapes of letters, and ticking off numbers on their fingers. The perseverance of these children and their families, the determination to get an education, is palpable.

Imagine also the children who fell from the ranks each year, who were bright and eager and wanted just as badly to learn, but whose obstacles won the day. In 1924, only one black child who had started the race finished the course.


For statistics from 1913-1914, see here.

Wilson City colored schools educated 1225 children in eleven grades in 1923-1924. Almost 28% were normal age for their grades, a slight improvement over the county schools. The oldest child attending city schools was a 20 year-old eighth grader.

Chart from Coon, Charles L., The Public Schools of Wilson County North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-1914 to 1923-1924, published by Board of Education of Wilson County;   interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

School attendance, 1913-14.

On 18 January 1915, the Wilson Times ran a piece by school superintendent Charles L Coon concerning recent school enrollment in the county. Coon set forth statistics for each of the county’s districts based on a census taken to enumerate all residents aged 6 to 21, which was, broadly, the age range for school pupils. Coon expressed some concern about the average daily attendance, citing 66% as a goal. “There are some 50 white children and 200 Negro children in the town of Wilson who ought to be in school and are not. In the county we have a similar condition. The irregularity of attendance, considering the short school term, makes the figures indicate that we are giving many of our children very meager educational opportunities.” (Note: Wilson County had only two high schools in this period, one in Wilson and the other serving the Lucama area. Neither admitted African-American children.)



Send-off at Calvary.

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The Africo-American Presbyterian, 15 September 1938.


Another gem from Darden Alumni Center, here depicting the Wilson Colored High School glee club in 1937. A label listing the students’ and teachers’ names has been augmented where possible with birth and death dates and parents’ names, below. Many eastern North Carolina counties did not provide secondary education for African-American children in the 1930s. As a result, families who wanted schooling beyond the elementary grades chose to send their children to Wilson to board with local families and attend high school. Where discovered, the hometowns of such children are noted below.

Front row: Annie Elizabeth Cooke Farmer (1921-??, Jerry and Clara Godette Cooke); Delores Robbins Coleman (1920-2003, James D. and Louise Davis Robbins); Edna Gray Taylor Desvigne (1921-2011, Roderick and Mary John Pender Taylor); Helen E. Reid Worsley (1921-1981, Willie C. and Mary Galley Reid); Lucy Gray Pittman Cunningham Parker (1922-2003, Aaron and Lucy Graham Pittman); unknown; Bessie Mae Joyner Redden (Eddie L. and Annie Joyner); Gracie White Terrell (1923-1994); Willia B. Jones Turner (1923, Wesley and Martha Taylor Jones); Lucy Dawson.

Second row: Spencer J. Satchell; Aurelia Janet Lucas Hagood (1920-1997, Henry and Mamie Battle Lucas); Helen Crutchfield Lewis (1924-1993, Willie and Novella Bryant Crutchfield), Doris Louise Crooms Caldwell Robinson (1920-1992, Lloyd and Maggie Jones Crooms); Bernice Gerald; Annie Frances Crawford (1921-??, Clarence and Maggie Barnes Crawford); Retha M. Best; Millicent Monroe; Naomi Lee Dawson Clark (1920-1978, Clarence and Elizabeth Thomas Dawson); Rosemary Plummer Fitts Funderburg (1923-2000, Howard and Elizabeth Plummer Fitts); Hattie L. Dixon; Evelyn Knight (1921-??, James H. and Ada Green Knight); Alice McCoy (1915-1983, Russell and Ometa Smith McCoy); Juanita Pope Morrisey.

Third row: Leroy Foster (1917-??, Claude and Cora White Foster); Harvey Gray Ford (1921-1942, Curlis and Mamie Battle Ford); Cornelius Best; Eula Mae Horton Bryant (1912-1990, Louis and Minnie Horton); unknown; Montez Colesse Hooker Boatman (1922-1990, Gray F. and Bettie Caddell Hooker);  Virginia Walden Wilson (Albert L. and Annie Moore Walden); Thomas H. Haskins (1919-1978, Robert and Gertrude Haskins); Primrose Carter (1914-1972, Morehead City, Carteret County, Willie E. and Henrietta Cooper Carter).

Fourth row: William Nelson Knight (1916-2011, James H. and Ada Green Knight); John Henry Mincey (1919-1982, Benjamin and Mattie Barnes Mincey); Charles Darden James (1914-1994, Randall R. and Elizabeth Darden James); James F. Coley (1921-??); Clarence Herman Best (1918-1994, Clarence B. and Geneva Smith Best); Weldon Williams; unknown; Clinton Rudolph Leacraft (1918-2007, Swansboro, Onslow County, Frank and Hagar Duncan Leacraft).

Fifth row: James Aaron Best; Marion Vernon Jones (1919-1975, Wesley and Martha Taylor Jones); unknown; Charles Elva Kittrell (1918-1990, Solomon and Lettie Roberts Kittrell); unknown; Elmond Henry McKeithen (1914-2003, Cumberland County, Henry and Sarah Robinson McKeithan).

Roll of honor.

The single surviving edition of the Wilson Blade, an African-American newspaper, reported this “Roll of honor of the colored graded school for the month ending Nov. 13th, 1897.”


Wilson Blade, 20 November 1897.

  • Annie Thomas
  • Edie Corey
  • Mary Darden
  • Carneva Blount — daughter of Marcus and Annie Bryant Smith Blount. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widower Mark Blount, 38, a cook, and his children Coneva, 10, Dotsey, 9, and Theodore W., 6, were lodgers in the household of George Faggin.
  • Naomi Blount
  • Mamie Towe
  • Maggie Simmons
  • Loretta Best — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: carpenter Crocket Best, 64; wife Carline, 62; daughter Mary, 23; and granddaughters Elizabeth, 2, and Loretta, 8.
  • Annie Peacock — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed cook Rosetta Peacock, 47, and children Lillie, 18, Carrie, 12, Charlie, 12, Annie, 7, and granddaughters Addie, 6, and Julia M., 5 months.
  • Bernice Farmer — daughter of Gray and Argent Blount Farmer. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: nurse Argent R. Farmer, 46, and daughters Clara, 23, a seamstress, Rosa, 15, Roberta, 14, Gladys, 11, Bernice, 10, and Katie, 8.
  • Vasti Taylor
  • Earnest Freeman — son of Julius and Eliza Daniels Freeman. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: 56 year-old carpenter Julius Freeman, wife Eliza, 46, and children Elizabeth, 19, Nestus, 17, Junius, 11, Ernest, 9, Tom, 6, Daniel, 4, and Ruth, 4 months.
  • George Gaston — son of John A. and Sattena Barnes Gaston. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber John Gaston, 44, wife Satina, 30, and children Theodore, 13, Cicero, 10, George, 8, and Caroline, 2 months.
  • Sylvester Purrington — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: cook James Purrington, 35; wife Edmonia, 30; and children Sylvester, 8, Hester, 2, and Viola, 1. Sylvester Purrington registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 22 July 1895 in Wilson County; resided at 809 Roberson Street, Wilson; and worked as a laborer for a furniture company.
  • S.M. Barbour — Sallie M. Barbour.
  • Cicero Gaston — son of John A. and Sattena Barnes Gaston.
  • Willie Clark — son of Rhoden and Sarah Clark. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: mechanic Roden Clark, 60; wife Sarrah, 50; and children Mittie, 30, Catherine, 19, Alethia, 17, Walter, 16, Bettie, 15, Cary, 13, and Willie, 11.
  • Hattie Davis
  • Ernest Moore — son of Lee A. and Louisa Moore. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: merchant Lee Moore, 36, wife Louisa, 32, and son Ernest, 12.
  • Viola Barnes — daughter of Dave and Pattie Battle Barnes. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: hotel porter Dave Barnes, 40; wife Della; and children Walter, 20, William, 15, Lucy, 13, Dave, 5, and Viola, 11. [Walter and William were in fact Walter and William Hines, Della Hines Barnes’ sons and Dave’s stepsons.]
  • Gladis Farmer — daughter of Gray and Argent Blount Farmer.
  • Allie Barnes
  • Mary Battle — daughter of Allen and Annie Battle. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Allen Battle, 50; wife Annie, 39; and children Mallon,22, Anner, 16, Mariah, 13, Mary, 11, Edward, 8, James, 6, George, 4, and Maggie, 1.
  • Nannie Taylor — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: laundry woman Sonora Taylor, 34, and children Nannie, 13, Isah, 10, and Smith, 6.
  • Virginia Dawson — daughter of Alexander D. and Lucy Hill Dawson.
  • Lucy Holland — Lucy Holland, 21, married Frank Battle, 21, in Wilson on 26 April 1911. Rev. Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Henry H. Blow, Ada Knight and Joe Baker.
  • Lillie Boykin — daughter of John and Dicy Boykin. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: house mover John Boykin, 30; wife Dicy, 44, a cook; and children Sallie, 19, cook, James, 18, Dotia, 16, Susia, 13, Lillie, 10, and Eliza, 7.
  • Annie Purrington
  • Granville Towe — son of Granville H. and Maggie Corprew Towe. 
  • Geneva Simms — on 27 November 1907, Jos. Daniel, 22, married Jeneva Simms, 20, in Wilson.
  • Ida B. Rountree
  • Annie Best
  • Bessie Simms — on 31 October 1905, Clarence McCullers, 21, son of Jerry McCullers, married Bessie Simms, 19, daughter of Lee and Mary Simms, in Wilson.  A.M.E. Zion minister N.D. King performed the ceremony in the presence of Rosa Rountree, Barton Griffin and Will Bullock.
  • Mary L. Barnes
  • George Winstead — son of Braswell R. and Ada Winstead. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: assistant postmaster Braswell Winstead, 39, wife Ada, 25, and children Arnold, 13, George, 12, Rolland, 11, and Christine, 8.
  • Ambrose Towe — son of Granville H. and Maggie Corprew Towe.
  • Susie Boykin — daughter of John and Dicy Boykin. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: house mover John Boykin, 30; wife Dicy, 44, a cook; and children Sallie, 19, cook, James, 18, Dotia, 16, Susia, 13, Lillie, 10, and Eliza, 7.
  • Arthur Darden — son of Charles H. and Diana Scarborough Darden. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: wheelwright Charles Darden, 44, wife Dianna, 40, and children Annie, 21, Comilous, 15, Lizzie, 13, Arthor, 12, Artelia, 10, Russell, 5, and Walter, 4.
  • Ometa Purrington 
  • Mattie Battle
  • Armena Barnes — daughter of Short W. and Frances Barnes. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer Short W., 38, wife Frances, 40, and daughters Armena, 13, and Mary M., 6, plus cousin Eliza, 19. Armena V. Barnes died 10 July 1907 and is buried in the Masonic cemetery.
  • Rowlland Winstead — son of Braswell R. and Ada Winstead. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: assistant postmaster Braswell Winstead, 39, wife Ada, 25, and children Arnold, 13, George, 12, Rolland, 11, and Christine, 8. Rolland Tyson Winstead registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 16 June 1889 in Wilson; resided at 603 Green Street, Wilson; and worked as a barber for John Bradsher, Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
  • Clarence Crawford — son of Daniel A. and Annie D. Crawford. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Daniel A. Crawford, 44, A.P. Co. employee; wife Annie D., 34; and children James L., 13, Clarence A., 9, William C., 8, Mable L., 6, Mena, 4, Julius L., 3, and Ulyses G., 1. Clarence Allen Crawford registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 23 September 1891 in Durham, North Carolina; resided at 617 Green Street, Wilson; and worked as a bricklayer for Wilkins Brothers, Wilson.
  • Theodore Gaston — son of John A. and Sattena Barnes Gaston.
  • G.H. Towe — Granville Harrison Towe.
  • Glace Battle — daughter of Parker and Ella Lea Burston Battle. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: moulder Parker Battle, 45, wife Ella L., 38, children Mamie P., 19, James A., 17, Sallie R., 14, Sudie E., 12, and John T., 9, plus mother-in-law Roberta A. Outlaw, 49.
  • Minnie Harris — the daughter of Arch and Rosa Woodard Harris. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Arch Harris, 53; wife Rosa, 45; and children James, 22, Arch, 20, Mary Jane, 18, Nancy, 16, Lucy, 12, Minnie, 11, Maggie, 8, Jessie, 6, and Annie, 3.
  • Charlie Battle — son of Charles and Leah Hargrove Battle. In 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: blacksmith Charley Battle, 50, a widower; son Charley, 10; and Menerver Edwards, 58, a hired washwoman.
  • Arnold Winstead — son of Braswell R. and Ada Winstead. Arnold Winstead registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 31 August 1886 in Wilson; resided at 545 East Nash Street, Wilson; and worked as a bricklayer for William Glisson, Wilson.
  • Dorsey Battle — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: tobacco stemmer Naomie Farmer, 32, and two boarders Dorsey Battle, 21, a cook, and his wife Laura, 20.
  • Mamie Battle — daughter of Parker and Ella Lea Burston Battle.
  • Hattie Best — daughter of Orren and Hancy Best. On 31 December 1902, Willie Barnes, 22, son of Willis and Cherry Barnes, married Hattie Best, 21, daughter of Orange and Hancy Best, at Orren Best’s residence in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister N.D. King performed the ceremony in the presence of Charles B. Gay, John H. Lewis, and Orren Best.
  • Rosa Parker — daughter of Allison and Mary Hilliard Parker. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Allison Parker, 44; wife Mary, 32; and children Thomas, 19, Rosa, 17, Etta, 15, Carter, 13, and Oscar, 5.
  • Etta Parker — daughter of Allison and Mary Hilliard Parker.
  • Carter Parker — son of Allison and Mary Hilliard Parker.
  • Ada G. Battle — daughter of Charles and Leah Hargrove Battle. In the 1900 census, Ada G. Battle, 24, is a listed as a teacher at Scotia Seminary in Concord, Cabarrus County, North Carolina.
  • Donie Battle — daughter of Charles and Leah Hargrove Battle.
  • Lena Harris — probably, in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: doctor Frank Hargrave, 32, wife Bessie, 23, and boarder Lena Harris, 26, insurance bookkeeper.
  • Henry Bynum
  • Camillus Darden — son of Charles H. and Diana Scarborough Darden. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: wheelwright Charles Darden, 44, wife Dianna, 40, and children Annie, 21, Comilous, 15, Lizzie, 13, Arthor, 12, Artelia, 10, Russell, 5, and Walter, 4.
  • Lizzie Darden — daughter of Charles H. and Diana Scarborough Darden. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: wheelwright Charles Darden, 44, wife Dianna, 40, and children Annie, 21, Comilous, 15, Lizzie, 13, Arthor, 12, Artelia, 10, Russell, 5, and Walter, 4.
  • Ida Armstrong
  • S.A. Smith — Simeon A. Smith.