Freeman

Employee of the Robinson minstrel show.

In 1940, 29 year-old Langstard Miller registered for the Word War II draft in Wilson County. A native of Saint Louis, Missouri, Miller listed his address as 700 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson, the home of his friend Betsy Freeman. [Was this actually his permanent address or just a mailing address?] Miller listed his employer as Dr. C.S. Robinson Minstrel Show, based on Wilmington, North Carolina.

I have found very little on Miller and nothing else to link him to Wilson. However, on 11 July 1932, Gurnie Langstard Miller, 25, son of Joe Miller and Mattie Langstard, married Annie Amelia Evans, 21, daughter of John Evans and Ida Ash, on 11 July 1932 in Northampton County, Virginia.

Betsy Freeman was not living at 700 Stantonsburg Street when the census enumerator arrived in 1940. Rather, the censustaker found City of Wilson laborer George Freeman, 56; wife Effie, 45, tobacco factory laborer; son James, 26, tobacco factory laborer; and grandchildren Edward, 13, and Doris Evans, 11. The latter were the children of Bessie [sic] Freeman and James Evans, whom she had married in Wilson on 23 June 1925. [Was Betsy/Bessie Freeman also a minstrel show employee?]

Robinson’s Silver Minstrels were a white-owned tent show that featured African-American performers. The “Repertoire-Tent Shows” section of the 21 November 1942 issue of The Billboard magazine featured this short piece:

A few months later, in the 27 February 1943 Billboard, Robinson’s Silver Minstrels advertised for “colored performers and musicians, girl musicians OK; trumpets, saxophones, piano player, chorus girls, novelty acts.” The company promised the “highest salaries on road today” and a “long, sure season.” “All performers who have worked for me in past, write” to the show’s Clinton, N.C., address.

Tuskegee Institute annual catalogues.

Alfred L. Moore is listed as a junior in the 1903-04 Tuskegee Institute Annual Catalogue.

Oliver N. Freeman is listed in the B Middle Class in the 1903-04 catalogue, A Middle Class in 1904-05, and a senior in 1905-06.

Artelia M. Darden is listed in A Preparatory Class in the 1905-06 catalogue.

Henry Howard is listed in B Preparatory Class in the 1905-06 catalogue. In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer James Howard, 33, widower, and children Henry, 14, Mirantha, 9, Lela Ann, 7, Kinzey, 5, and Cleo, 4; plus boarders Mary Jane, 24, and David Battle, 2. In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, Jeasee Howard, 45; wife Zillar, 40; and children Henry, 25, Marenda, 19, Lena, 17, Kensey, 15, Leaola, 13, and Jessee Jr., 16 months.

The streets of East Wilson, part 3.

Many of East Wilson’s streets were laid out on parcels of land owned by African-Americans and still bear the names they chose.

  • Smith Street

Originally called Zion Alley, Smith Street was renamed about 1910, almost certainly in honor of Rev. Owen L.W. Smith, whose historic marker is visible behind the street sign.

  • Washington Street

When originally platted, this was Booker T. Washington Avenue. Washington, who had personal ties to Samuel H. Vick and O. Nestus Freeman, famously visited Wilson in 1910. 

  • Atlantic Street

Similarly, today’s Atlantic Street was originally Atlanta Avenue, most likely in honor of Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise speech of 1895.

  • Freeman Street

Freeman Street was named for the Julius Freeman family, who owned land in the area and whose most prominent member was Oliver Nestus Freeman.

Nestus Freeman’s crew at work. (But where?)

This copy of a photograph is said to show O. Nestus Freeman‘s workmen building Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on West Vance Street, Wilson. Does it though?

Freeman came out of retirement to direct the stonework at Our Redeemer, which was completed after World War II. The photo above is undated, but appears to date from earlier in the twentieth century. Moreover, this crew is clearly building an addition to a pre-existing church.

Here’s a photo of Our Redeemer published at the church’s 25th anniversary at the Vance and Rountree Streets site. (The building itself was not completed until after 1941.) This does not appear to be the same church as the one above. The men above are laying brick, not stone. The buttresses between the windows below do not appear in the image above. And the windows themselves are much taller in the image above. The church’s raised stone rake is also missing from the gable end above.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 May 1966.

On 1 September 2001, the Daily Times featured a long piece contributed by Robert B. Lineberger, whose father was pastor at Our Redeemer in the early 1940s. In pertinent part, here is Lineberger’s recollection: 

“Oliver Nestus Freeman was the stone mason for the church. The stone was delivered to the lot in 1942. It was supposed to be 4 inches thick, and the supplier brought half to it from the quarry at Roleville [Rolesville, in Wake County, N.C.] and dumped it on the lot when no one was there. It was 8 inches thick. When the quarry realized its mistake, they said Dad could have it at half price if he would accept it where it was.

“He asked what he could do with it that thick. They indicated it could be split just like a cake of ice … except you would use a sledge hammer with a pointed side to it instead of an ice pick. Tap it on one side, roll it, tap it on the second side, roll it, tap it on the third side, roll it … and when you tap it on the fourth side, it would split in half. That meant the church got the stone for 25 percent of the original price!

“[My father] acted as general contractor for the church. During the early war years contractors and builders were doing all the work they could at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune. He hired Mr. Freeman, who came out of retirement to build the church.

“Mr. Freeman then lived in a stone house off of East Nash …. I mixed mortar for him and placed the stones at his directions on the scaffold on which he worked. He chose each stone for a particular place as he worked. I worked with him for a long time during the summer and after school of the year the church was built.

“Mr. Freeman was a fine man, and I learned a lot about stone masonry, mixing mortar and life from him. …”

Lineberger provided some photographs of construction, including these:

Wilson Daily Times, 1 September 2001.

These images further strengthen my belief that the first photograph depicts Freeman’s crew working on some church other than Our Redeemer.

Any thoughts?

Our Redeemer Lutheran today.

Top photo courtesy of Freeman Round House and Museum, Wilson, N.C., digitized at Images of North Carolina, digitalnc.org; bottom photo by Lisa Y. Henderson.

O.N. Freeman’s handiwork.

O. Nestus Freeman‘s stonework was not limited to houses. Below, a mailbox stand he created for his good friend John W. Woodard, who lived west of Wilson on Tartts Mill Road.


The handcarved inscription reads
: J.W. Woodard, R.F.D. No 4, Box 33, Wilson N.C. Nov. 12, 1935

Photo courtesy of J.W. Woodard’s grandson Daryl M. Woodard. Thank you!

O.L. and Emma Freeman family portrait.

Bottom: Emma, “Little Emma” and Oliver Lovett Freeman. Top: Irma, Percy and Hazel Freeman.

——

Lovett Freeman, 24, of Wilson County, son of J.F. Freeman and Eliza Freeman, married Emma Pender, 23, daughter of Amos Pender, on 25 October 1899 in Amos Pender’s house in Wilson County. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony.

In the 1900 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: blacksmith Oliver L. Freeman, 25; wife Emma C., 24, school teacher; sister Olive, 8; and roomer Henry Bruce, 20, barber. All the Freemans were born in North Carolina; Bruce, in Tennessee.

In the 1910 census of Rocky Mount, Nash County: blacksmith in buggy shop Oliver Freeman, 36; wife Emma, 34; and children Percy, 10, Hazel, 8, Irma, 6, and Emma, 3.

In the 1920 census of Rocky Mount, Nash County: blacksmith O.L. Freeman, 44; wife Emma, 43; and children Percy, 29 [sic], Hazel,18, Erma, 16, and Emma, 12.

In the 1930 census of Rocky Mount, Nash County: at 1113 West Thomas, Oliver L. Freeman, 55, blacksmith; wife Emma C., 53; and Emma Freeman, Percy Freeman and Harold L. Freeman.

In November 1938, Oliver Lovett Freeman applied for Social Security benefits. His application noted that he was born 12 November 1869 in Wilson, N.C., to Julious Freeman and Eliza Daniel.

In the 1940 census of Rocky Mount, Nash County: at 1113 West Thomas, Oliver Freeman, 64, blacksmith shoeing horses; wife Emma, 63; and daughter Emma, 31.

In 1942, Cornelius Pitt registered for the World War II draft in Nash County. Per his registration card, he was born 6 October 1921 in Rocky Mount; lived at 1110 West Thomas; his contact was Oliver Freeman, 1113 West Thomas; and he worked for Emerson Shops, A.C.L. [Railroad], Rocky Mount.

Oliver L. Freeman made out his will on 5 June 1954 in Nash County. Per its terms, daughter Irma F. Rudd was to receive the homeplace at 1113 West Thomas Street, Rocky Mount; daughter Hazel F. Whisonant, the tenant houses at 1123-1125 Gay Street, Rocky Mount; son Percy Freeman, the tenant house at 1119-1120 Gay Street; and daughter Emma Freeman, the tenant house at 1121-1122 Gay Street. His remaining property was to be divided among his children in equal shares.

Per Findagrave.com, Freeman died 26 June 1955 and is buried in Northeastern Cemetery, Rocky Mount.

Photo courtesy of Mary Freeman Ellis, The Way We Were.

Snaps, no. 60: Connie Freeman Banks.

The identity of this woman is unknown, though she appears to be standing in front one of O. Nestus Freeman‘s stone-clad buildings. The photograph is found in the O.N. Freeman Family Collection, and a copy is displayed in the Round House and Museum.

[Update, 11 February 2020: Many thanks to Lossie Freeman for identifying this young woman as Connie Frances Freeman Banks, daughter of O. Nestus and Willie Hendley Freeman.]