Great Migration

The obituary of Juanita Kelley Wilson.

Philadelphia Daily News, 1 July 1994.

Juanita Kelley Wilson made the great migration in stages. Born in South Carolina, she spent her childhood in Wilson before moving to Richmond, Virginia, and then on to Philadelphia.


In the 1920 census of Richmond, Virginia, 16 year-old Juanita Kelley is listed as a servant for the family of James and Clara Williams, 1622 Maryland Avenue.

Up the road.

This passage appeared in the recent article I posted about Lawyer Sanders and his 35 children. By happenstance, shortly before I saw the column, my mother mentioned learning when she first came to Wilson in the early 1960s that, in local usage, to go “up the road” meant to migrate North. Thus, for reasons we cannot know, shortly after giving birth to a child that did not survive, Dora Clark Sanders joined the Great Migration, leaving her husband and remaining children in Wilson. She did not return.

Other suns: Washington, D.C.

New York City may have been the Number One destination for North Carolinians during the Great Migration, but Washington, D.C., surely was second, especially after the Great Depression.

  • Moody, William, wife Sarah Ward Moody and children, bef. 1900
  • Artis, Solomon Andrew, bef. 1907
  • Artis, Columbus E., mid-1910s (returned to Wilson bef. 1922)
  • Barnes, Clinton Robert, bef. 1917
  • Bowser, Russell L., bef. 1917
  • Barnes, Harvey Grey, bef. 1918
  • Brown, Richard B., bef. 1918
  • Farrior, Dalley, bef. 1918
  • Burns [Bunn], William, bef. 1920 (first, to Maine)
  • Gaston, Augustus, bef. 1930
  • Reid, James D., bef. 1930
  • Reid, J.D., 1930
  • Ruffin, James Garfield, wife Parthenia, and children, bef. 1930
  • Winstead, Arnold Clearfield, betw. 1930 and 1934
  • Cotton, Sidney W., bef. 1931
  • Bagley, Lonnie, bef. 1933
  • Warren, Elijah, wife Marie Haskins Warren, and children, ca. 1934
  • Whitehead, Thelma Reid, bef. 1935
  • Bryant, Counsel, bef. 1935
  • Bynum, Theodore, bef. 1935
  • Bynum, Raymond, bef. 1935
  • Cameron, John R., bef. 1935
  • Cooper, Haywood R., bef. 1935
  • Barnes, Frederick A., bef. 1935
  • Henderson, Dempsey L., 1930s
  • McNair, Lena, 1930s
  • Powell Battle Dade, Inez, 1930s?
  • Bynum, Benjamin, betw. 1935 and 1940
  • Harrison Palmer, Ojetta, bef. 1937
  • Hill Westray, Kay, 1939
  • Barnes, John, bef. 1940
  • Brown, James E., bef. 1940
  • Bynum, Joe, bef. 1940
  • Bynum, William, bef. 1940
  • Bynum, William, bef. 1940
  • Bynum, Willie James, bef. 1940
  • Bullock, James A., bef. 1940
  • Bullock, Joseph, bef. 1940
  • Carter, Roby, ca. 1940
  • Coppedge, James E., bef. 1940
  • Campbell, Theodore, bef. 1940
  • Creech, David, bef. 1940
  • High, John W., bef. 1940
  • Powell, Eddie C., bef. 1940
  • Bullard, James, bef. 1941
  • Cox, Henry L., bef. 1941
  • Barnes, John T., bef. 1942
  • Black, Troy, bef. 1942
  • Bullard, Frank, bef. 1942
  • Byrd, Samuel, bef. 1942
  • Cogdell, Pervis, bef. 1942
  • Cotton, Isaac E., bef. 1942
  • Cotton, Zid, bef. 1942
  • Carter, Lenard, bef. 1942
  • Carter, James W., bef. 1942
  • Farmer, Lonnie, bef. 1942
  • Haskins, Allen J., bef. 1935
  • Haskins, James, bef. 1942
  • Haskins, Nathan Porter, bef. 1942 
  • Hines, Joseph Peter, bef. 1942
  • Hockaday, Willie, bef. 1942
  • Hollings, Fred, bef. 1942
  • Jones, William Pete, bef. 1942
  • Jones, Willie, bef. 1942
  • Powell, Dempsey Ward, bef. 1942
  • Redding, Fleetwood, bef. 1942
  • Robinson, Walter, bef. 1942
  • Rosser, James Hays, bef. 1942
  • Simms, Dempsey, bef. 1942
  • Simms, Henry, bef. 1942
  • Simms, James, bef. 1942
  • Tabyran, Calvin, bef. 1942
  • Taylor, Joshua Paul, bef. 1942
  • Watson, Herbert, bef. 1942
  • Westray, William Herbert, bef. 1942
  • Whitley, John G., bef. 1942
  • Williams, James J., bef. 1942
  • Williams, Thomas, bef. 1942
  • Woodard, Calvin, bef. 1942
  • Powell Beane, Vanilla, bef. 1942
  • Jones, Johnnie W., and Marie Lofton Jones and children Ruby, Cecilia, Johnie, Charles, Joan and Jacqueline, 1944
  • Burns, James A., bef. 1945
  • Reid, Herbert O., 1947
  • Boyd, Joyce Henderson, late 1940s
  • Swinney Dupree, Gracie, late 1940s
  • Wilder, Seth, 1950s 
  • Henderson, Jesse A., 1950s (in Philadelphia, Penn., before and Baltimore, Md., after)

Jesse A. Henderson in D.C., circa early 1950s.

Other suns: Michigan.

If World War II draft registrations are representative, migrants from Wilson County to Michigan landed overwhelmingly in Detroit.

  • Taylor, Kingsberry and Charity Jones Taylor, Allegan County, ca. 1855.
  • Williams, Mosley, Detroit, bef. 1924.
  • Hagans, Charles W., Battle Creek (from Pennsylvania), bef. 1930.
  • Perry, Nelson Jr., Detroit, bef. 1930.
  • Winn, Ernest, and Jesse Winn, Detroit, bef. 1930.
  • Pittman, Plummer, Detroit, bef. 1931.
  • Hines, Walter D., Detroit, late 1930s.
  • McCullers, Horace, Detroit (from Pennsylvania), 1930-1940.
  • Deans, Gray C., Detroit, bef. 1940.
  • Easton, Bennie, Detroit, bef. 1940.
  • Harris, Clarence, Detroit, bef. 1940.
  • Jackson, Alphonza, Detroit, bef. 1940.
  • Jones, Southen, Detroit, bef. 1940.
  • Lindsey, James W. and Roy J., Detroit, bef. 1940.
  • Sherwood (or Kittrell), William H., Detroit, bef. 1940.
  • Taylor, Moses, Detroit, bef. 1940.
  • Hines, C. Ray, Detroit, ca. 1941.
  • Bailey, Lonnie, Detroit, bef. 1942.
  • Barnes, Marvin, Detroit, bef. 1942.
  • Cone, Rader, Detroit, bef. 1942.
  • Gaffney, Sylvester O., River Rouge, bef. 1942.
  • Mayo, John E., Detroit, bef. 1942.
  • Moore, Absalom, Detroit, bef. 1942.
  • Rich, Willie J., Detroit, bef. 1942.
  • Richardson, John W., Detroit, bef. 1942.
  • Wellons, Julia Tart, Detroit, bef. 1944.

The waiting rooms.

As discussed here, the Atlantic Coast Line’s handsome passenger rail station was the point of departure for many African-Americans leaving Wilson during the Great Migration. Now an Amtrak stop, the station was restored and renovated in the late 1990s.

Here’s the station’s main waiting room today. Through a doorway, a sign marks a second room for baggage.

Into the 1960s, though, the baggage area was the train station’s “colored” waiting room.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, June and September 2021.

Other suns: Massachusetts.

Readily available records document relatively early migrants from Wilson County to Massachusetts, most settling in the Boston suburbs. 

Billy Kaye comes home.

In 2018, North Carolina welcomed home a native son, renowned jazz drummer Billy Kaye. Born Willie King Seaberry in Wilson in 1932, Kaye performed with Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk and other luminaries, but had never played in Wilson. Not long after his June performance at Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Sandra Davidson interviewed Kaye for North Carolina Arts Council’s “50 for 50: Artists Celebrate North Carolina.”

Below, an excerpt from the interview.


S.D.: Tell me what you remember about growing up in Wilson.

Kaye: I was born in ‘32 a couple blocks from the train station near the Cherry Hotel, one of the top hotels in Wilson. My grandparents’ home was 517 Church Street which was something like a two-block walk to the train station. It was a block off Nash Street. Most of the employment was done there. Nash Street had [a] drug store, dentist, doctor. There was a Ritz Theater on Nash Street. There were three churches in that area. That was basically it. I grew up running around the yard playing the Lone Ranger with a broomstick between my legs. I used to enjoy coming home in the summers when I was a youngster to play in the dirt, climb the trees, play under the house. That kind of stuff.

S.D.: … What is it like to for you to play your first hometown show?

Kaye: It’s hard to explain. It’s the biggest thing that ever happened. Playing at home was something I wasn’t even about when I left here. I had no history. I was just a guy that moved up [North]. I played in Greensboro some years back. It was okay. It was North Carolina, but it wasn’t Wilson. Goldsboro—that was great, but it still wasn’t Wilson. Home is where I was born. So, this thing here, it’s hard to explain. I’m playing at home. I’m seeing things that I didn’t see and appreciating things. I see these trees, the most magnificent things. There’s nothing there but trees. Man, they are the greatest trees I’ve ever seen. It’s like home.

Billy Kaye performs at Whirligig Park. (Photo: Astrid Rieckien for the Washington Post.) 

For the full transcript of Kaye’s interview and to watch videos of his performance in Wilson’s Whirligig Park, see here.


Other suns: Connecticut.

Connecticut drew a share of the Great Migration, with Wilson County migrants settling mostly in greater Hartford or in cities along the Long Island Sound coastline.

  • Artis, Silas A., New Haven, bef. 1917
  • Dyson, Jake and Catherine Dyson and son James A., New Britain, ca. 1917
  • Batts, Frank, and Jennie Jones Batts, and children James, Ernest, and John, Portland, Middlesex and New Haven, bef. 1924
  • McDaniel, Fred A., Stratford, bef. 1930 (prior, in New York)
  • Coley, George, New Haven, bef. 1935
  • Artis, John L., Albert Artis and Isaac L. Sellars, brothers, Greenwich, bef. 1940
  • Gaston, John L., New Haven, bef. 1942
  • Norfleet, Samuel, Kensington, bef. 1942
  • Norfleet, James, New Britain, bef. 1942
  • Carter, M. Elmer, Hartford, bef. 1942 (prior, in Penna. and N.Y.)
  • Williams, Willie, Fairfield, bef. 1942
  • Jones, Raymond, New Haven, bef. 1942
  • Jones, John, New Haven, bef. 1942
  • Jones, Joseph G., New Haven, bef. 1942
  • Smith, James W., New London, bef. 1944
  • Hodge, James L., New Haven, bef. 1947

Other suns: Indiana.

Indiana was an early destination for African-Americans leaving North Carolina for perceived greener pastures. Several hundred free people of color migrated to Indiana in the 1830s and 1840s, but only two families have been definitively linked to the area that is now Wilson County. Another large migration circa 1880 was the subject of a Congressional inquiry. During the Great Migration, Indianapolis was a popular focus of migration.