Great Migration

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
  • 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 (returned to Wilson)
  • 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.

Other suns: New Jersey.

Beyond the cities clustered across from Manhattan, Atlantic City appears to have been the most popular landing spot for Wilsonians who moved to New Jersey during the Great Migration.

  • Jones, Morris, and Amanda Gillespie Jones and son Frank, Newark, bef. 1905
  • Artis, James, Whitesboro, bef. 1907
  • Vick, William H., Atlantic City, bef. 1910, Orange, bef. 1930, Montclair, bef. 1936
  • Darden, Walter T., Montclair, ca. 1927
  • Best, Robert, Atlantic City, bef. 1917
  • Joyner, Alexander B., Atlantic City, bef. 1917 (later, New York City)
  • Norwood, Richard T., Atlantic City, bef. 1918
  • James, Randall R., and Elizabeth Darden James and sons Randall and Charles, Newark, bef. 1920 (Elizabeth and sons returned to Wilson)
  • Taylor, Halley B., and Marie Taylor, Paterson, bef. 1923
  • Hargrave, Frank S., and Bessie Parker Hargrave, Orange, 1923
  • Wilson, Leonard, and Georgia Wilson and children Leonard Jr., Ernest, Elmer, and Toney Lee, and brother Herman Wilson, betw. 1924 and 1930
  • Weeks, Alfred L.E., and Annie Cook Weeks, Elizabeth, bef. 1930
  • Dawson, Augustus L., Newark, bef. 1930
  • Lewis, Lucy Gay, Newark, bef. 1938
  • Cannon, Charles, and mother Stattie Cannon and sister Ruth Cannon Langford, Newark, bef. 1940
  • Artis, Ernest, and Louise Artis and son Ernest, Atlantic City, bef. 1940
  • Thomas, Elton H., Newark, bef. 1942
  • Cook, Oscar, Monmouth, bef. 1942
  • Sims El, Alex, Camden, bef. 1942
  • Woodard, Edward, and William Woodard, siblings, Camden, bef. 1942
  • Williams, Lovie, Newark, bef. 1942
  • Wilson, Chester, Newark, bef. 1942
  • Whitley, Robert, Englewood, bef. 1942
  • Washington, Paul, East Orange, bef. 1942
  • Taylor, Frank, Trenton, bef. 1942
  • Taylor, Warren T., Atlantic City, bef. 1942
  • Best, Morris, East Orange, bef. 1942
  • Parker, Amos, Atlantic City, bef. 1942
  • Moore, Arthur, Glen Rock, bef. 1942
  • Barnes, William C., Plainfield, bef. 1942
  • Bynum, James H., Orange, bef. 1942
  • Baker, William H., Belleville, bef. 1942
  • Bess, Wilson, Jr., Palmyra, bef. 1945 (prior, in Baltimore, Md.)
  • Bright, Jesse L., Glassboro, bef. 1918
  • Alston, Charles S., Newark, bef. 1930
  • Tarboro, Oscar L., Pleasantville, bef. 1950
  • Reid, James D., Camden, bef. 1950
  • Barron, Robert, Plainfield, bef. 1951
  • Rountree, Fannie Best, Asbury Park, bef. 1953
  • Faison, William, and Mena Townsend Faison, Newark, bef. 1957
  • Bailey, James H., Riverton, bef. 1959
  • Powell, Beatrice Hines

Wilson Bess Jr. (1920-1995).

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user Jerry Smith.

Other suns: Ohio.

Though Cleveland (and nearby Youngstown) appear to be have been the largest draw, Black Wilsonians headed to Ohio during the Great Migration settled across the state.

  • Freeman, Nestus L., Champaign County (later, Marysville), bef. 1873
  • Rountree, Charles, and Alice Thorn Rountree, Xenia, 1880
  • Rountree, Joseph, and Adeline Artis Rountree, Xenia, ca. 1889
  • Freeman, Henry A., Cleveland, bef. 1899
  • Williamson, Charles, and Clara Vick Williamson, Xenia, bef. 1900
  • Freeman, Oliver L., and Emma Pender Freeman, Cleveland, 1900 (returned to Wilson)
  • Barnes, Harvey G., Cleveland, betw. 1900 and 1910 (returned to Wilson, then to Washington, D.C)
  • Suggs, James T., Cleveland, bef. 1907
  • Blount, Willie, Xenia, bef. 1909
  • Harris, Frank W., Youngstown, bef. 1910
  • Freeman, Earnest A., Cleveland, bef. 1917
  • Dasher, Carrie Pitts, Cleveland, bef. 1918 (prior, New York City)
  • Harris, Oscar, Dublin, bef. 1918
  • Thomas, Charles, Cleveland, bef. 1920
  • Newsome, Oliver, Jr., Youngstown, betw. 1920 and 1930
  • Hill, John, Youngstown, betw. 1920 and 1930
  • Hagans, Charles W., Barberton, ca. 1921
  • Arrington, Allison, Cleveland, bef. 1928
  • Perrington, John W., Portsmouth, bef. 1930
  • Ward, Charles, Portsmouth, bef. 1930
  • Bynum, Julius, and Elizabeth Bynum and brother Hilliard Bynum, Cleveland, bef. 1930
  • Atkins, Spencer, Youngstown, bef. 1930
  • Howell, John, Youngstown, bef. 1930
  • Hill, Jeffry, Youngstown, bef. 1930 (prior, in Homestead, Pa.)
  • Sanders, James J., Youngstown, bef. 1930
  • Farmer, Paul J., Marion, then Bexley, bef. 1930
  • Barnes, James C., Cleveland, bef. 1930
  • Hines, Melvin, Cleveland, bef. 1934
  • Atkinson, Ivey T., Dayton, 1936
  • Howard, William J., Cleveland, bef. 1940
  • Smith, Grover, Portsmouth, bef. 1940
  • Briggs, William J., Cleveland, bef. 1940
  • Edwards, Philis, Cleveland, bef. 1940
  • Powell, Edward K., Cleveland, bef. 1940
  • Hill, Edward, Youngstown, bef. 1940
  • Farmer, Charles C., Coshocton, bef. 1942
  • Dawson, Arlander R., Cleveland, bef. 1942
  • Whitney, Lawyer P., Columbus, bef. 1942
  • Edwards, William H., Cleveland, bef. 1942
  • Bryant, Curtis M., Youngstown, bef. 1942
  • Moore, Webb C., Akron, bef. 1944
  • Perry, Nelson, Jr., Bowling Green, bef. 1945
  • Hayes, Marvin, Jr., Cleveland, bef. 1945
  • Stewart, Hattie Sanders, Toledo, bef. 1949
  • Artis, Sophia Dawson, Cleveland, bef. 1952

The Journal-Herald (Dayton, Ohio), 2 January 1956.