I missed the cues, and at first could find no record of an African-American Russell Owings living in Wilson. But that was because Owings was not Black. He was instead a “faithful and courageous friend of [their] interest.” Owings, freshly graduated from Atlantic Christian [now Barton] College, was a white man who — much in the spirit of Rev. R.A.G. Foster’s outreach — crossed the color line to teach voice lessons and direct a choral group at Saint John A.M.E. Zion. He died in a car accident in late October 1938.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 707 Vance, Andrew Pierce, 55, nurse at home (usually barber); wife Lossie, 55, in hospital; daughters Alice, 35, and Hester, 27; sons Boise, 29, cafe [cook?], and Binford, 14; daughter Ruby, 19, “cook school;” and grandchildren Randolph, 9, and Montheal Foster, 7, and Mickey Pierce, 1.
Samuel Randolph Foster registered for the World War II draft in Durham, N.C., in 1945. Per his draft card, he was born 19 February 1927 in Wilson; lived at 403 Henry Street, Durham; was a student at Hillside High School; and his contact was Sam Foster, 403 Henry Street. He was 5’7″, weighed 141 pounds, with brown eyes, black hair and a birthmark in the bend of his right arm. [In fact, per his birth record, Foster was born in 1931 in Wilson to Samuel Foster and Hester Pierce, which would make his age consistent with that in the Times article. In other words, Foster was 14 years old when he was inducted into the Army at Fort Bragg in September 1945.]
Marianne Foster generously shared these photos of her father, Rev. Richard A.G. Foster, who served as pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church in the late 1930s and made strident calls for equal rights and social justice from his Pender Street pulpit.
In the pulpit at Varrick A.M.E. Zion Church, New Haven, Connecticut, 1940s.
Henry Armstrong — in the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Henry Armstrong, 52; wife Minnie, 42; and children Mary, 19, Fred, 18, Rosa, 16, Clarence, 14, Nathan, 11, Daniel, 9, Louise, 8, David, 6, and Henry, 3.
Sugar Hill section — There is a Sugar Hill neighborhood on the western outskirts of the town of Simms and a Sugar Hill Road that runs just east of and parallel to Interstate 95 near the Nash County line. Neither is in Toisnot township. Henry Armstrong’s family’s land was east of Elm City near Edgecombe County. Can anyone pinpoint the location of Armstrong’s Sugar Hill? [Update, 7/28/2020: Jack Cherry identified Sugar Hill as a community along East Langley Road between Town Creek and Temperance Hall United Methodist Church (which is just across the line in Edgecombe County.) His great-grandfather operated a small general store and gas station at the heart of the community and lent his name to Cherry Chapel Baptist Church.]
Among the many pastors who passed through Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church on their way to prominence, Rev. Richard A.G. Foster ranks among the most accomplished. An early and vocal proponent of equal rights, Rev. Foster spent an impactful couple of years in Wilson, as seen here and here and here and here.
In April 1951, Color magazine called Rev. Foster “The Most Powerful Negro in New Haven” in an in-depth article that credited the “strong race man and … public-spirited citizen” with “doing more for race relations in New Haven than any other person.”
“In New Haven, Conn., the folk will all tell any visitor that Rev. Richard A.G Foster is the most powerful Negro in town. Rev. Foster is not a rich man, but he’s a man who knows how to get things down. A strong race man and a public-spirited citizen, he is credited with doing more for race relations in New Haven than any other person.
Operates Like One-Man F.E.P.C.
“Within two years Rev. Foster secured more than 2700 jobs for Negroes in the city, and he has been directly responsible for getting Negroes jobs in many factories and plants which previously refused to hire colored help. He demanded more money for domestic workers such as cooks, maids, butlers, and chauffeurs and got it! Foster helped raise theirs salaries more than 100 per cent. As a result of his efforts, Negroes are employed in the city’s welfare department as investigators and stenographers. He gave New Haven its first Negro city court clerk, and got several Negroes jobs in the police department.
Helped Levi Jackson Play At Yale U.
“The powerful pastor of Varick Memorial Church for eleven years molded public opinion in favor Levi Jackson’s acceptance to play football at Yale University. Rev. Foster served on the Board of Aldermen from 1943 to 1950, during which time he sponsored and engineered the passage of the F.E.P.C. bill. Always fighting hard for the rights of minorities, the New Haven minister saw to it that public workers employed in his district included Negroes — and as a result, the district is now the cleanest and has the best lighting.”
He is now fighting to obtain appointments for Negroes to various important local and state commissions, and he feels that a member of his race should serve as assistant to the states attorney. Appointed by the late Governor James L. McConaughey, Foster is the only Negro on the Rent Control Board for the New Haven district.
Twenty-Five Years of Church Leadership
It was Bishop W.J. Walls who recognized Rev. Foster’s excellent qualities of leadership eleven years ago, and appointed him to Varick Memorial Church. Now celebrating his 25th year in the ministry, and his eleventh at the New Haven church, Foster has built up an enviable record. When he first came to Varick Memorial his weekly salary was a mere $35, and the church membership was only 37, although the enrollment listed 227 members. Today the church has over 1100 members, and his salary has increased proportionately. He is, at present, directing a $25,000 mortgage fund for his church.
Rev. Foster attended school at Livingston College, chief educational institution of A.M.E. Zion, Hood Theological Seminary, and did graduate work at Syracuse University.
[The caption under the top photo on this page: “‘Most of our people,’ said Rev. Foster, ‘have religion that is only mouth-deep. What we need is religion that reaches the center of the spirit and whole of the being.’ ….”]
Many thanks to Rev. Foster’s daughter Marianne Foster for sharing this article.
The one hundred-nineteenth in a series of posts highlighting buildings inEast Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this house is: “ca. 1930; 1 story; Thomas Foster house; bungalow with hip roof and engaged porch; Foster was janitor at Wilson post office.”
In the 1925, 1928 and 1930 Wilson city directories, Thomas and Olivia Foster are listed at 310 North Reid.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: owned and valued at $3000, Tom Foster, 45, post office janitor, and wife Oliva, 43.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: owned and valued at $3000, John T. Foster, 60, post office janitor; wife Olivia, 59; and her brother Claude Artist, 53, odd jobs.
In 1940, Du Bissette Best registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 26 January 1922 in Wilson; lived at 308 North Reid; his contact was Tom Foster, 310 North Reid; and he worked for W.G. Taylor, Taylor’s Barber Shop, 106 South Tarboro.
Tom Foster died 17 October 1956 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 3 April 1883 in Wayne County to John Thomas Foster and Louise Thompson; was married to Olivia Foster; worked as an elevator laborer; and resided at 310 North Reid.
Olivia Foster died 15 November 1956 at her home at 310 North Reid. Per her death certificate, she was born 4 October 1886 in Wayne County to Jesse Artis and Lucinda Hobbs; was a widow. Informant was Ada Rowe, 1006 Atlantic Street, Wilson.
Tom and Olivia Foster had mortgaged their home early in 1955 and, the spring after their deaths, the loan went into default. Trustee Wade A. Gardner posted this notice of sale in the local newspaper. Among the details: the Fosters had purchased the lot, part of the Rountree Tract, from Levi H. and Hannah Peacock in 1916.
Wilson Daily Times, 9 May 1957.
Around the same time, Tom Foster’s executor advertised a sale of the contents of the house, which offers an interesting glimpse at the typical furnishings of a working-class household in mid-century East Wilson.
Wilson Daily Times, 8 June 1957.
Claude Artis died 16 January 1960 at his home at 310 North Reid Street. Per his death certificate, he was born 3 January 1890 in Wayne County to Jesse Artis and Lucinda Hobbs; was never married; and worked as a laborer. Ada Rowe, 310 North Reid, was informant. (Claude Artis was Olivia Artis Foster’s brother. Did he buy the house, or did he pay rent to whomever purchased it?)
Helen T. Wade — In the 1947 North Carolina Manual, published by the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office, Helen T. Wade is listed as the colored home demonstration agent for Wilson County. Wade married Charles E. Branford in 1950.
Richard A.G. Foster made the most of his brief time as pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church, as chronicled here and here. In the letter to the editor below, he called to task Wilson County Commissioners for failing to heed the pleas of African-American residents for adequate schooling, including serious repairs for the Stantonsburg Street School (also known as Sallie Barbour School).