Divided by East Nash Street, Pettigrew Street is two blocks long. By the 1920s, the two halves were starkly segregated, with African-Americans at the north end and whites at the south. (The exception on the south end was the Oak City Pressing Club, a laundry service.)
Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, 1930.
Today, North Pettigrew Street is abandoned, dotted with the husks of commercial buildings.
Only one house, at 210, stands. Originally a two-room duplex, the house is vacant despite a recent renovation (in which one of the front doors was removed.)
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Smith Chas (c; Geneva) lab h 210 N Pettigrew
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Daniel Wm (c) firemn h 210 N Pettigrew
In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Faison Millard (c; Lina) lab h 210 N Pettigrew
In 1942, Millard Harry Faison registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, Faison was born 11 September 1897 in Duplin County, N.C.; lived at 210 Pettigrew Street; his contact was H.J. Faison, Faison, N.C.; and he worked under a contractor’s contract at Marine Barracks, New River, Onslow County, N.C.
Unity Peace Mission, a non-denominational church headed by W.E. Willoughby, was active in Wilson in the 1940s. Wilson Daily Times, 12 January 1943.
Casual violence among young men is not new. Unsurprisingly, historically newspapers have sensationalized such violence when it involved black men, playing into the stereotypes and fear-mongering of the era.
I recognize the viciousness of this propaganda.* I also recognize articles reporting violent crime as invaluable, if distorted, glimpses into the lives of ordinary African-Americans during a period in which they were poorly documented. Beyond the basic facts of the terrible crime reported here, what can we learn?
News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 30 July 1907.
“on the Owens place” — This reference to the owner of the farm on which the events took place indicates the protagonists were likely sharecroppers or tenant farmers. The Saratoga Road is today’s U.S. Highway 264-A (formerly N.C. Highway 91.)
“a negro dance and barbecue supper was given by Robert Hilliard” — Hilliard, who was Black, hosted a Saturday night party on the farm, perhaps in a barn. He sold barbecue — surely Eastern North Carolina-style, with a vinegar-and-red pepper sauce — and sandwiches to patrons from a stand near the road.
“a wheezy fiddle” — the source of music for the dance. (Who was the fiddler? Was he locally renowned? Was there accompaniment? Was fiddling a common skill? I can’t name a single one from this era.)
“‘Hilliard is the n*gger I wanted to drap.” — The meaning and usage of this now-extreme pejorative has shifted over time. Here, it is almost, but not quite, neutral. More interesting, to me, is the now-archaic pronunciation “drap” for the verb “drop.”
On 29 January 1903, Will Scarborough, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ashley and Ellen Scarborough, married Lucy Anderson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Bob and Winnie Anderson, in Wilson County. Jack Bynum applied for the license.
Will Scarborough died 6 August 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was the son of Ashley Scarborough and Ellen [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived in Stantonsburg; and was buried at Saint Delight cemetery, Walstonburg. Informant was James E. Best, Stantonsburg.
On 1 November 1900, Robert Hilliard, 20, of Wilson County, son of Jack and Laura Hilliard, married Ailsy Bynum, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of West and Sopha Bynum, in Gardners township, Wilson County.
Robert George Hilliard Sr. died 27 February 1944 at his home at 211 Finch Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jack Hilliard and Laura [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; was engaged in farming; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mattie Moore, 211 Finch Street, was informant.
On 8 May 1902, Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, at “Mr. Frank Barnes Plantation.” A.M.E. Zion elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony in the presence of Mattie V. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.
The mid-1890s’ surge of white supremacy, best and most horrifically exemplified in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, created an atmosphere in which crude and casual racism flourished even in “respectable” publications. The Wilson Mirror led a story about a robbery with this gratuitous doggerel.
Riley Faison — Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, on 8 May 1902. A.M.E. Zion ordained elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony at Frank Barnes’ plantation in Toisnot township in the presence of Mattie M. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.
“across the railroad near the Methodist church” — in the vicinity of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church.
Will Faison, 24, of Wilson, and Mena Townsend, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Louis Townsend, were married 15 August 1912 in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister William Baker performed the ceremony in the presence of Rosa Greene, Ora Bunch and Josie Strickland.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Banks Street, tobacco factory worker Willie Banks, 31; wife Mena, 26; and children Edward, 6, Willie Mae, 4, Addie, 2, and Adell, 7 months.
Mabel Eliza Faison died 25 December 1929 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 17 years old; a school girl; single; and was born in Wilson to Willie Faison and Mena Townsend. Informant was Maggie Katis.
Henry Cornelius Faison registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 22 February 1921 in Wilson; lived at 504 Banks Street; his contact was Meana Faison; and he worked for Export Tobacco Company. Ethel L. Hines was registrar.
In the 1957 Newark, New Jersey, city directory: Faison William (Mena) longshoreman h 146 S 9th
Thanks to Lisa R.W. Sloan for sharing this funeral program from a family collection.
Elder C.L. Faison is elusive in census records and directories of Wilson, and apparently divided his time between Wide-Awake and Durham, North Carolina, where his Church of God in Jesus Christ, New Deal, Inc., was incorporated. Per his death certificate, Cluster L. Faison died 27 March 1963 in Durham. He was born 9 September 1889 in McCrae [McRae], Georgia, to Eli Faison and Della Thorpe; was a clergyman; and was married to Isabelle Faison.
Be it remembered that on the 22nd day of April 1872 I, H.W. Peel one of the Coroners of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, viz J.W. Crowell, John L. Baley, Elijah Williams, M.G. Trubuthan, J.W. Fryar, W.D. Farmer, B.J. Cogins. R.S. Wells. Jas. W. Taylor, Henry Dixon, W.H. Cobb, William A. Farmer by me summoned for that purpose according to law after being by me duly sworn and impaneled at Farmer Mill Pond in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of Joseph Perry, col and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of deceased from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured the Jury find as follow that is to say that the deceased came to his death by accidental drowning. /s/ J.W Crowell, Foreman, L. Baley, W.A. Farmer, Wm. D, Farmer, Henry Dixon Jnr., Elijah Williams, B.J. Coggins, M.G. Trevathan, W.H. Cobb, J.W. Friar, R.S. Wells, J.W. Taylor.
James G. Cobb being duly sworned says that on Sunday April 21 1872 himself, Ralph Faison & Bynum Arrington Crisp McNair together with Joseph Perry Deceased were at Mill Pond of W.D. Farmer in County of Wilson state of North Carolina & Proposing to go in Washing or bathing. There upon said Cobb & Ralph Faison proceeded to swim a distance of seventy five yds or thereabout & parties consisting of the other witnesses Bynum Arrington Crisp McNair & Jos Perry deceased were left on & near the shore, upon being called by Bynum Arrington he the said Cobb looked back & saw Joseph Perry deceased appearantly struggling & sinking under twice after he the said Cobb saw him. Further stating that aid Perry threatened to swim as far as any of the party & that he saw no person or persons interfere with deceased in any way by which he could have been encouraged to go beyond his depth in water. The other witnesses above being duly sworn testified to the facts as above and all agree in the matter that Joe Perry was alone & no person interfered with him while in the water. /s/ James (X) G. Cobb, Ralph (X) Faison, Bynum (X) Arrington, Crisp (X) McNair.
Joseph Perry – probably, in the 1860 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Kinchen Locust, 8, and Joseph Perry, 6, in the household of Henry Dixon, 76, a white farmer. Kinchen was black; Joseph, mulatto. Also, in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Joseph Perry, 15, farm laborer, living in the household of Eveline Evans, 52. Eveline and her children are described as white; Joseph, as mulatto.
Bynum Arrington – in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Haywood Arrington, 45; wife Louisa, 35; and children Bynum, 16, Ervin, 11, and Anthoney, 8.
James G. Cobb — in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County, James G. Cobb, 12, the son of Gray and Martha Cobb. (Though he was still a minor, Cobb, who was white, was the only witness who actually gave testimony.)
Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County, on Vance Street, 49 year-old widowed laundress Ella Fason with daughters Mary, 18, Emma, 16, Henretta, 13, and Flory Fason, 10. Ella’s husband Patrick Faison died 1900-10.
Six years later, Ella Faison made out a pointed will leaving all her belongings to just one of her children:
Ella Faison died 6 June 1928. Her sole heir and executrix, Ida Faison Jones, wife of Sankey Jones, survived her by only six months. Flora Faison, however, lived till 1983.
North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], Ancestry.com.