“Bishop William Alexander Hilliard, 103, retired bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, died March 13. He was reported to be the oldest living bishop in all of Methodism. The funeral was scheduled for March 22 at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Detroit. Born in 1904 in Greenville, Texas, and educated in Kansas City, Mo., Hilliard received his higher education at Western University and Wayne State University. He was married for 71 years to Edra Mae Hilliard, who died in 1998. Called to the ministry in 1922, Hilliard was ordained a deacon in 1924 and an elder in 1927. He was pastor at more than nine different churches before becoming pastor at St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church in Detroit. He was elected in 1960 as the 67th bishop in the AME Zion Church and retired from the episcopacy in 1980.” [Obituary unattributed, 21 March 2008]
Jet magazine, 20 October 1977.
Rev. Hilliard and wife — Rev. William A. Hilliard and wife Edra Hilliard.
Casual violence among young men is not new. Unsurprisingly, historically newspapers have sensationalized such violence when it involved black men, playing into the stereotypes and fear-mongering of the era.
I recognize the viciousness of this propaganda.* I also recognize articles reporting violent crime as invaluable, if distorted, glimpses into the lives of ordinary African-Americans during a period in which they were poorly documented. Beyond the basic facts of the terrible crime reported here, what can we learn?
News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 30 July 1907.
“on the Owens place” — This reference to the owner of the farm on which the events took place indicates the protagonists were likely sharecroppers or tenant farmers. The Saratoga Road is today’s U.S. Highway 264-A (formerly N.C. Highway 91.)
“a negro dance and barbecue supper was given by Robert Hilliard” — Hilliard, who was Black, hosted a Saturday night party on the farm, perhaps in a barn. He sold barbecue — surely Eastern North Carolina-style, with a vinegar-and-red pepper sauce — and sandwiches to patrons from a stand near the road.
“a wheezy fiddle” — the source of music for the dance. (Who was the fiddler? Was he locally renowned? Was there accompaniment? Was fiddling a common skill? I can’t name a single one from this era.)
“‘Hilliard is the n*gger I wanted to drap.” — The meaning and usage of this now-extreme pejorative has shifted over time. Here, it is almost, but not quite, neutral. More interesting, to me, is the now-archaic pronunciation “drap” for the verb “drop.”
On 29 January 1903, Will Scarborough, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ashley and Ellen Scarborough, married Lucy Anderson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Bob and Winnie Anderson, in Wilson County. Jack Bynum applied for the license.
Will Scarborough died 6 August 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was the son of Ashley Scarborough and Ellen [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived in Stantonsburg; and was buried at Saint Delight cemetery, Walstonburg. Informant was James E. Best, Stantonsburg.
On 1 November 1900, Robert Hilliard, 20, of Wilson County, son of Jack and Laura Hilliard, married Ailsy Bynum, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of West and Sopha Bynum, in Gardners township, Wilson County.
Robert George Hilliard Sr. died 27 February 1944 at his home at 211 Finch Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jack Hilliard and Laura [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; was engaged in farming; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mattie Moore, 211 Finch Street, was informant.
On 8 May 1902, Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, at “Mr. Frank Barnes Plantation.” A.M.E. Zion elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony in the presence of Mattie V. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.
This grave marker, which appears to be a foot stone, stands in Odd Fellows Cemetery. Research reveals only one Augustus “Gus” Hilliard in early 20th-century Wilson County.
But he died in 1971.
And is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery.
Why, then, is his marker in Odd Fellows?
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Black Creek Road, dredge boat laborer Dock Hilliard, 31; wife Mary Ella, 29; and children Agustus, 8, Isic, 7, Mattie F., 6, Eddie, 3, and Mary, 4 months.
In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Moyton and Wilson Road, Dock Hillard, 46; wife Mary, 28; and children Gustus, 17, Mattie, 14, Eddie, 12, Mellar, 11, Isabella, 10, Channie, 8, Tommie, 4, and Willie, 3 months.
On 17 January 1925, Augustus Hilliard, 23, of Stantonsburg, son of Dock and Mary E. Hilliard, married Nancy McCoy, 21, of Stantonsburg, daughter of Will and LeesieMcCoy.
In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Gustie Hillard, 29; wife Nancy, 23; and children Henry, 5, and Daissey L., 2.
In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Old Wilson Road, farm laborer Gus Hilliard, 39; wife Nancy, 40; and children Henry, 14, Daisy Lee, 12, Eddie, 9, Isaac, 6, Nathaniel, 3, and Johnnie A., 9 months.
In 1942, Gus Hilliard registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 31 March 1901 in Wilson County; lived at “Box 87 – Rt. #3 – Wilson – Stantonsburg – Wilson”; his contact was Thurman Phillips; and he worked for Ashley Horton, Greensboro, N.C.
In 1943, Henry Hilliard registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 25 November 1925 in Wilson County; lived at Route 3, Box 87, Wilson; his contact was Gus Hilliard; and he worked at J.A. Wharton Farm, Wilson.
Augustus Hilliard died 22 February 1971 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 3March 1904 to Doc Hilliard and Mary Ella Ellis; was married to Nancy McCoy; was a farmer; and was buried in Rest Haven. Informant was Daisy Peoples, Wilson.
In 1910, “boy” applied to an African-American male could have meant any age from 3 to 30, but it seems likely that William Hilliard was young by any standard. “Mr.” Ernest Felton, on the other hand, was 16 years old and listed as a carriage factory worker in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County.
“Our late father and mother were Thomas and Mamie Armstrong Hilliard. Members of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church in Rocky Mount in 1914, they moved to Wilson Co. in or around 1917 when their two daughters, Cornelia and Magnolia, were eight and nine years old. Our grandparents were Tom and Fortant Hilliard and Nelson and Mary B. Armstrong.
“We farmed and attended Parker and Turners Elementary School in Wilson Co. Our social activities were concerts and in-school spelling matches every Friday evening. After growing up and marrying we still farmed and kept house. Our pleasures were fireplace reading and church and Sunday school.
“Our most sorrowful experience was when we lost our mother at an early age in 1932. Often we picked cotton in the late fall; the weather was so cold that icicles were hanging on the bolls of cotton. We helped clear new ground by removing stumps and roots by hand after school in the evening.
“We had a 1919 Model T Ford our father drove often. We drove a mule and buggy to Sunday school and church. The family was missionary Baptist. Our father, Tom, was the Sunday school superintendent. Today Cornelia, Magnolia and Marie are mission workers around our community, if we can help somebody along life’s way. Our children are all grown and have their own families.
“After marriage I, Magnolia H. Joyner, went to Baltimore, Md. reared six children and worked for 30 years. I bought a home and retired; then I came back to my old house in Toisnot township to live the rest of my life in 1978. My husband expired, but I’m not alone; God is still by my side.”
In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Hilliard, 53; wife Fortine, 58; children Olive, 24, Becky, 21, and Thomas, 16; and adopted son Thadeous Battle, 12.
In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Armstrong, 45, wife Mary Ann, 40, and children Mamie, 15, Hattie, 13, and Henry, 12.
On 7 February 1906, Thos. Hilliard, 22, son of Tom and F. Hilliard, married Mamie Armstrong, 21, daughter of Nelson and Mary Armstrong. Missionary Baptist minister N.H. Arrington performed the ceremony at Thomas Hilliard’s in Toisnot township.
In the 1910 census of Toisnot, Wilson County, on Wells Daws Avenue, Nelson Armstrong, 58, Mary, 45, daughter Hattie Armstrong, 22, son Henry Armstrong, 20, son-in-law Thomas Hilliard, 25, daughter Mamie, 24, and their children Carnelia, 3, and Magnora Hilliard, 2.
In 1918, Thomas Hilliard registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 2 September 1883; resided on R.F.D. 1, Elm City; was a self-employed farmer; and his nearest relative was Mamie Hilliard. He was literate.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson & Tarboro Road, farmer Thomas Hilliard, 36; wife Mamie, 35; and children Cornelia, 12, Magnolia, 11, and Luther Thomas, 1.
In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Tom Hilliard, 45; wife Mamie, 40; and children Maggnolia, 22, Luther, 11, Marie, 7, and Robert, 7.
Mamie Hilliard died 23 May 1932 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 December 1885 in Wilson County to Nelson Armstrong and Mary Bulluck and was married to Tom Hilliard.
In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Hilliard, 56; wife Rena, 41; and children Robert, 17, and Marie, 17; and Lucille, 15, Bettie Ruth, 14, and Helen Earles, 11.
Thomas Hilliard died 24 August 1966 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 2 November 1886 in Wilson County to Thomas Hilliard and Fortney Killebrew; resided in Elm City; was a farm laborer; and was married to Rena B. Hilliard. He was buried in Sharpesburg cemetery, Nash County.
Text and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).
The eighty-third 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: “circa 1930; 1 story; Rufus Hilliard house; bungalow with gable roof and small gabled entry porch; form appears to have been extended to accommodate tenants; Hilliard operated store at #901 [The People’s Palace] and speculated in local real estate.”
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Murray Wm (c) h 903 E Nash
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: [at 903 East Nash], owned and valued at $2000, Lelia Hillard, 36, teacher at Lucama Graded School, living in Florence, S.C., in 1935, and husband Rufus, 43, fireman for City of Wilson power plant.
In 1940, John Smith Hammett registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 19 February 1912 in Clarendon, South Carolina; resided at 903 East Nash Street; his contact was Rufus W. Hilliard, uncle, 903 East Nash; and he worked for the Town of Wilson.
In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hilliard Rufus W (c; Lelia) firemn Town of Wilson h 903 E Nash
In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hilliard Rufus W (c; Lelia) firemn City Light Water & Gas Dept h 903 E Nash
Rufus Wimberly Hilliard died 5 December 1976 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 July 1896 to Albert H. Hilliard and Penina Wimberly; was married to Lela Washington Hilliard; lived at 903 East Nash; and was a retired fireman with the Wilson Power Plant.
Mr. and Mrs. R.W. Hilliard — Rufus Hilliard, 35, of Wilson, son of A.H. Hilliard and Penina V. [Wimly?], married Lela M. Washington, 29, daughter of William Washington and Martha (last name not listed) on 30 December 1932 in Wilson. Baptist minister B.F. Jordan performed the ceremony in the presence of J.S. Spell, E. D.[illegible] Fisherand Nancy Wilkins. Rufus Wimberly Hilliard died 5 December 1976. Lela Washington Hilliard died 26 July 1985.
Mr. and Mrs. Levi Peacock Jr. — Levi H. Peacock, 22, of Wilson, son of Leviand Hannah Peacock, married Elouise Reavis, 20, of Wilson, daughter of Joseph and Etta Reavis, on 4 October 1922 in Wilson. W.A. Mitchner applied for the license, and Presbyterian minister A.H. George performed the ceremony in the presence of John D. Henry, Henrietta Foster and John H. Parris.
Ruth E. Hooker —Ruth Hooker Coppedge died 26 May 1945 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 41 years old; resided at 200 South Vick Street, Wilson; was married to George Coppedge; was born in Wilson to Frank Richard Hooker of Greene County and Eleanor Farmer of Wilson County; and was a school teacher.
Allie M. Hines — Within days of the Hilliards’ soiree, on 27 January 1934, Willis E. Prince, 47, son of Turner Prince and Sarah (last name not given) married Alma Mae Hines, 29, daughter of Amos and Sarah Hines, in Wilson. C.E. Artis applied for the license, and A.M.E. Zion minister I. Albert Moore performed the ceremony in the presence of M.W. Hines,C.L. Darden and A.M. Dupree. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Willis Prince, 54, carpenter contractor, and wife Allie, age not listed.
Willis Prince — Willis Ephriam Prince died 2 October 1960 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 January 1889 in Edgecombe County to Turner Prince and Sarah (last name not listed); worked as a merchant; was married; and resided at 205 Stantonsburg Street. Allie Mae Prince was informant.
The thirteenth 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: “ca. 1913; 2 stories; Queen Anne house with L-plan and cross-gable roof; intact turned-post porch.”
The history of occupancy of this shabby gem is spotty. Though the house’s year of construction is estimated at 1913, the house does not appear on the 1922 Sanborn insurance map of Wilson unless the house at 901 East Nash was moved and reoriented to face East Street at the red X. The plan of the house at 901 closely resembles that of 102 North East.
Laborer Rufus Hilliard* and his wife Pennie are listed at 102 North East Street in the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory. However, in 1940, when Roosevelt Leech [Leach] registered for the World War II draft, he listed his address as 102 North East Street. He also indicated that he was born 25 May 1913 in Johnston County; was married to Hattie Leech; and worked as a cook in his own cafe at 512 East Nash Street. He signed the card with an X. The 1941 city directory also shows Leach at the address. In 1942, when George Lee Williams registered for the draft, he named Hattie Leach of 109 [sic] North East Street as his nearest relative. Williams was born in Goldsboro on 10 March 1924 and worked for Draper Brothers in Frederica, Delaware. Roosevelt Leach died 30 October 1943 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he lived at 102 North East Street, was married to Hattie Leach, worked as a cook, and was born in Johnston County to Colman Leach and Mary Hall. In 1945, Robert Earl Williams, presumably George’s brother, named Hattie Leach, 102 North East Street, as his guardian on his draft registration card. He indicated that he had been in Wayne County on 11 August 1927 and worked as a laborer.
Sarah Sauls died 3 October 1961 in Wilson at her home at 102 North East Street. Per her death certificate, she was born 12 May 1888 in Greene County to Patric Sauls and Ada Thomas and was buried in the family cemetery in Black Creek. Bessie Sauls of 102 North East Street was informant.
In the 1963 Hill’s city directory, Hattie E. Lee is listed at 102 North East.
*The National Register nomination form describes 903 East Nash Street, just around the corner from 102 North East, as the Rufus Hilliard house and notes that Hilliard operated a store at 901 East Nash [the People’s Palace, built about 1940 and destroyed since the district was registered] and speculated in local real estate. Such real estate included 104 North East Street, built circa 1930.
Photograph taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2017.