Jesse “Jack” Henderson (1893-1970).
Photograph in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.
Lucian J. Henderson Sr. (1926-2003).
This photo of Lucian J. Henderson was taken in the early 1940s.
Photo in the personal collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.
Wilson, North Carolina, circa 1946.
In this interview, Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001) spoke of how she received news of the sudden death of her great-aunt, who was also her adoptive mother:
“Mama didn’t know she had a bad heart until two weeks before she died. She was always sick, sick all the time. She’d go to the doctor, and the doctor would tell her it was indigestion and for her not to eat no pork and different things she couldn’t eat. ‘Cause Mama was fat. She weighed 200. She wasn’t too short. She was just broad. Well, she was five-feet-four, I think. Something like that.
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, circa 1931.
“And so, but she loved pork, and she’d try to eat some anyhow ‘cause we always had a hog, growing up. All the time. So after they said she couldn’t, she tried not to eat no pork, much. Fish and chicken, we eat it all the time. But she was so tired of chicken until she didn’t know what to do. And I was, too. But Papa loved all pork, so he’d always get a whole half a shoulder or a ham or something and cook it, and she’d eat some. But when she went to the doctor, and her pressure was up so high, and he told her, ‘By all means, don’t you eat no pork. It’s dangerous to eat pork when your pressure is too high.’ And then that’s when she stopped eating pork.
“Well, it didn’t help none, I don’t reckon. She had that little bag. A little basket. A little, old basket ‘bout that tall with a handle on it. She had all kinds of medicine in there to take. She was going up to Mamie’s, and Mr. Silver told her, said, ‘Well, you just take your medicine bag.’ She’d been married to him a good while. He said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t go up there by yourself. Since I’m down here—’ See, she’d go up and stay with him a little while, and then he’d come back to Wilson and stay a while. So he said, ‘You just take your little basket there with your medicine in it.’ So, he said, ‘Well, I’ll go with you up there and then I’ll come back on to Enfield.’ So he went with her down there to the station. He was picking up the bags to go up there, told her to walk on up to the station and wait for the train. And he got a cab — C.E. Artis. Not C.E. Artis, not undertaker Artis but a Artis that drove a cab. This was another set of Artises.
“So, she went up there to the station in Wilson and got on the train. And she’d done told me to send her insurance and everything to Greensboro, ‘cause she won’t never coming back to Wilson no more. Because she’d done seen, the Lord showed her if she stayed in Wilson, she wouldn’t live. If she went ‘way from there, she could get well. So she was going to Mamie’s. And when she got off at Selma to change trains –- she’d just got to the station door. And she collapsed right there. And by happen they had a wheelchair, a luggage thing or something. The guy out there, he got to her, and he called the coroner or somebody, but he was some time getting there. But anyway, they picked her up and sat her in the wheelchair. They didn’t want her to be out ‘cause everybody was out looking and carrying on, so they just pushed her ‘round there to the baggage room.
“And so when the coroner got there, he said, ‘This woman’s dead.’ So they called Albert Gay, and he was working for Artis then. Undertaker Artis. And Jimbo Barnes. And called them and told them that she was dead. So, Mr. Silver couldn’t even tell them who to notify. He had Mamie living in Thelma, North Carolina, on McCullough Street, but didn’t know what the number of the house was. He was so upset. So they had to call the police for the police to go find Mamie Holt. On McCullough Street. And her mother, they said, her mother died. Well, she did die. But they said it was, I think, Thelma. Not Selma, but Thelma. ‘Well, where is Thelma? It can’t be my mother. ‘Cause my mother don’t live in no Thelma. I never heard of that place. She live in Wilson.’ But, see, it was Selma. They got it wrong.
“So then Mamie went down to Smitty’s house and had Miss Smitty send a telegram to me. On the phone. Charge it to her bill, and she’d pay her: ‘IS MAMA DEAD LET ME KNOW AT ONCE’ She asked me if Mama was dead. And when I got that telegram, Annie Miriam and all them, a bunch of kids was out there on the porch, and so at that time, Jimbo or one of ‘em come up. And when I saw them, I knowed something. I had just got the telegram. Hadn’t even really got time to read it. And he said, ‘Well, you done got the news.’ And I said, ‘The news? Well, I got a old, crazy telegram here from my sister, asking me is Mama dead, let her know at once.’ He said, ‘Yeah, we just, we brought her back from Selma.’ I said, ‘What in the – ‘ Well, I went to crying. And Albert Gay or some of the children was ‘round there, and they was running. Everybody in the whole street almost was out in the yard – the children got the news and gone! That Mama had dropped dead in Selma. So I said, well, by getting that telegram, I said, that’s what threw me, honey. I wasn’t ready for that. I’d been saying I reckon Mamie’ll think Mama was a ghost when she come walking in there tonight. Not knowing she was dead right at the same time.”
Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved; photo of Sarah H.J. Silver in personal collection of Lisa Y. Henderson; photo of Rev. Silver courtesy of Ancestry.com user lexxee52.
Wayne County native Caswell C. Henderson (1865-1927) migrated to New York City in the 1890s, but returned South to Wilson to visit his sister Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver. Their great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled the elaborate steps he took to carry out his daily ritual. First, Henderson would leave their house on Elba Street and walk west on Green Street. He crossed the railroad tracks and walked a few more blocks before turning left on a cross street, then left to walk east on Nash Street to the Hotel Cherry. He entered the hotel through its front doors — as any white guest would — bought a newspaper, shot the breeze for a while with other white guests and staff, then exited right to walk back up Nash Street. After a few blocks, he turned right, then right again on Green and crossed the tracks back into the African-American world.
“Uncle Caswell had been home, he’d been to Wilson. He come down there visiting Mama …. He passed for white. He would go and get a paper every morning down there to Cherry Hotel. Walk down there for the exercise and get that paper. And they all thought he was white. He’d go in the hotel there and ask for a paper and come in there and talk to the people. And he’d leave the hotel and walk the other direction, then walk back down Green Street and come on home.”
Cherry Hotel in an undated postcard issued by the Asheville Post Card Company.
Interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.
Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. worked as a janitor at Five Points (later Winstead) School and did gardening odd jobs at the home of school superintendent Charles L. Coon. His great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks, whom he adopted, told this story:
“Papa was up there cutting grass. ‘Go in the house, and ask ‘em for some water, a pitcher.’ Talking ‘bout my daddy wanted some water. And the first time I ever seen a grapefruit was there. I said I’d never forget that. ‘Cause I went in that house and asked for some water, and I said ‘Daddy said’ – I called him Papa. Anyway, ‘he wanted to know if he could have some water.’ And the lady said, ‘Yeah,’ and she got a pitcher and a glass. And I took it on out there, and then I just sit on the steps. So Papa stopped and drinked him some water. But I was just standing there while they was fixing the water, and I looked on that table, and all ‘round the table there by the plate they had a salt cellar and half a grapefruit and a cherry sitting in the middle. And that thing just looked so pretty, looked so good. And I said, ‘Unh, that’s a big orange!’ I said, ‘Well, next time I go to the store I’m gon get me one, too.’ And sho’ nuff, I asked Papa, when we left – I don’t remember whether it was, it wont that particular time, but we come out and were on our way to Edmundson’s store in Five Points, and he wanted me to go in and get a plug of tobacco. Part of a plug. And tell Old Man Edmundson to put it on the bill. So he waited, he was out there on a wagon, he had a little horse, and I went in and told Mr. Edmundson Papa wanted a, whatever amount it was, he didn’t get a whole plug, ‘cause I think it was three or four sections to a plug of tobacco, and for him to put it on the bill, and I said, ‘He said I could have a orange. And put that on the bill.’ And it was boxes sitting up – I’ll never forget it – the boxes sitting up with all the oranges sitting up in there. And I got the biggest one out of the group. The one that wasn’t even orange. I made sure I was gon get me a big orange! I got that and come on back out there and got on the wagon and coming from Five Points to almost home, I was peeling that thing and peeling it ‘til I got it off, and it was sour, ‘Ugh, that’s a sour orange!’ I never seen a orange that sour. And I said, ‘Now, that didn’t look like, that’s a light-complected … yellow.’ But it was still like a orange, and it was so big.
“From then on I didn’t want no big orange. Now I always get little oranges. Today I don’t buy no big orange. ‘Cause the little ones is sweeter than the big ones. But, honey, that was a grapefruit, and that was the first I’d ever known it was a grapefruit. We ain’t never had no grapefruit. And so, I told Mama that was a, ugh, sour orange. And I told her ‘bout what the Coons had on their table when I went up there. And she said, ‘Well, that was a grapefruit.’ ‘A grapefruit?,’ I said, ‘well, what’s a grapefruit?’ And she said, ‘It’s like a big orange. But you have to put sugar on it most time. It’s a little sour. It’s got a little twang to it.’ She said, ‘But your daddy didn’t never like none, so I don’t care that much about it.’ And I said, ‘A grapefruit? I got myself a grapefruit.’ I said, ‘The cherries, where they get the cherries?,’ I said. ‘That little red thing where was on there.’ She said, ‘Well, you buy ‘em in bottles from the store.’ But, anyway, it was sour, but I learned the taste, you put a little sugar on it, makes a little bit sweeter. I swear, Lord, I think about those things that I did when I was little.”
The house with the grapefruit was at 109 North Rountree Street in Wilson’s College Park neighborhood. Charles L. Coon’s house has been demolished, but was catalogued in Bainbridge and Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey (1980):
“This house was built c.1915 for Wilson’s foremost educator, Charles L. Coon. He served as superintendent of the Wilson Graded School from 1907 until his death in 1927 and was County School superintendent for the last fifteen years of this period. Coon, credited with the creation of a model school system in Wilson, also served on the North Carolina Child Labor Committee, the State Teachers Assembly, the editorial board of the North Carolina Historical Review and was the author of North Carolina Schools and Academies 1790-1840 and Public Schools of Wilson County. His house is sturdy and simple. The tile roof is unusual in a house of this vintage, and it enriches the texture of the facade. The front porch was constructed in typical Bungalow style, with square flared columns supporting the overhanging hipped roof.”
Hattie H. Ricks, circa 1920, probably a few years after she first tasted grapefruit.
Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1916).
Adapted from interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.
Shortly after World War II, Hattie Mae Henderson found work at Wilson Awning & Tent Company’s factory on South Douglas Street.
As recalled here, handling fabric and sewing the oversized tents was challenging work. The dresses and skirts women commonly wore in the 1940s were not suitable for maneuvering atop the long tables on which the tents were stitched, so Henderson and other female workers donned full-legged dungarees on the factory floor. These photos were taken in unnamed Wilson studios during this period.
Photograph in the collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks, now in the possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.
A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, Dempsey Lee Henderson received a three-star Pacific Theater Ribbon, American Theater Ribbon, Victory Medal, Purple Heart, and one-star Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
Dempsey L. Henderson was born on or about 31 December 1927 in Wilson to Lena B. McNair and Jesse “Jack” Henderson.
In the 1940 census of Washington, District of Columbia: at 335 Elm Street, Lena Henderson, maid, 30; son Dempsey Henderson, 12; mother Mary McNary, 53; and lodger John Pendleton, 29, transfer merchant truck driver.
In 1943, Henderson registered for the World War II draft in Washington, D.C.
This 1944 muster roll shows that Henderson was aboard the U.S.S. Abner Read, a Fletcher-class destroyer, in September of that year.
Dempsey L. Henderson died 2003, and was buried at Quantico National Cemetery.
Photo of Dempsey Henderson in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson; Draft Registration Cards for District of Columbia, 1940-1947, digitized at www.fold3.com; Muster rolls of U.S. Navy ships, stations, and other naval activities, 1939-1949, digitized at www.fold3.com.
Family lore has it that Lucian Jacob Henderson attempted to join the Army at 15 or 16 as World War II was in full rage. He was finally able to enlist on 28 October 1944, his 18th birthday. Though his home address was 1109 Queen Street, Wilson, he was working as a deckhand for the Norfolk & Washington Steamboat Company at the time and signed up at a draft office in Washington, D.C.
Lucian J. Henderson, probably 1945-46. His shoulder patch bears the insignia of the Sixth United States Army, with whom he served occupation duty in Japan at the end of 1945.
Lucian J. Henderson, at left.
U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com; photographs from the collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks.
Jesse A. Henderson, leaning on bass drum, and other Darden High School marching band percussionists, circa 1947.
Photograph from collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks, in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.