Wilson Blade, 20 November 1897.
Newspaper reports reveal a strike (or series of strikes) by African-American brick masons in Wilson in the first decade of the 20th century. Though the record is sparse, these articles offer rare glimpses of black workers flexing their economic muscle, and surprising hints of the reach of organized labor during a time and place well-known for hostility toward unionization.
Wilmington Messenger, 21 October 1902.
Brickmasons led by Goodsey Holden struck for a nine-hour work day consistent with that required by “the International union.” The protest, at least temporarily, resulted in concessions from the contractors for whom they worked.
News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 2 April 1903.
Six months later, bricklayers struck again, crippling progress on the construction of several large brick commercial buildings, including Imperial Tobacco’s new stemmery. Contractors brought in nearly 20 masons from Raleigh and Durham to pick up the work. The sub-headline suggests that the men refused to cross picket lines once they arrived in Wilson, but the article does not address the matter. Masons in those cities were also engaged in strike activity.
Greensboro Daily News, 18 March 1906.
Three years later, Will Kittrell was arrested and charged with conspiracy and blackmail for allegedly warning a Henderson brickmason to leave town. Contractors continued to import masons from across North Carolina to fill the gap created by Wilson workers’ refusal to work without limits on long workdays.
Before moving to Wilson, brickmason and restaurateur Goodsey H. Holden led a colorful life in Johnston and Harnett Counties.
Smithfield Herald, 17 September 1887.
The Central Times (Dunn, N.C.), 23 June 1892.
On 28 November 1883, Goodsey Holden married Laura McCullers in Johnston County, North Carolina.
In the 1900 census of Rocky Mount, Nash County, North Carolina: on Church Street, hotel cook Nathan Eason, 28; wife Mary E., 28; and son Luther, 2; boarder James Dean, 42, a clergyman; boarders Goodsy, 38, James, 26, and Eddie Holden, 16, all brickmasons; and boarder Andrew McCellus, 30, painter. Goodsy Holden reported that he was married.
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason Goodsey Holden, 36; wife Lorra, 35; and children Estell, 15, Albertha, 14, and Ianea, 11.
In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Holden Goodsy, bricklyr 603 S Spring
In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Holden Goodsy H, eating house 406 1/2 S Spring h 603 S Spring
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 603 Spring Street, brickmason Goodsey Holden, 59; wife Laura, 52; and roomer Carrie Strickland, 29, tobacco factory worker.
In 1924, the Wilson Daily Times published a notice of execution sale for Holden’s Spring Street property, which meant that a court had ordered a sheriff sale to satisfy an unpaid debt — in this case, to Wilson Wholesale Company.
Wilson Daily Times, 24 November 1924.
The Holdens’ large South Spring home, as shown in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance maps of Wilson.
Laura Etta Holden died 13 September 1929 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 59 years old; was born in Johnston County to Willis McCullers and Emly Sanders; was married to Goodsey Holden; and resided at 804 East Green Street. Ione Perrington was informant.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 512 East Spruce Street, owned and valued at $1500, Gustus Holden, 65, brickmason, and roomers Ella Farmer, 35, laundress, and Corrine Young, 40, cook.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 400 Viola Street, widower Goodsey Holden, 77.
Wilson Daily Times, 1 October 1947.
The fifty-ninth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East 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. 1908; 1 story; Jesse Holden house; L-plan cottage with turned porch posts and traces of decorative millwork along porch; Holden was a brick mason.”
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Conner, 63, odd jobs laborer; wife Lillie, 40; and sons Joseph, 2, Sam, common laborer, and Jack, 22, odd jobs laborer.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 608 Elmo [sic] Street, a rented house, factory laborer Orier Harrison, 28; Vasti Robins, 19, and Net Robins, 21, barber, both lodgers; and Carron Harrison, 44, oil mill laborer, and his children Margaret, 8, and Clarence Harrison, 4.
In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hawkins Otha bricklyr h 307 Elba
1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C.
In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Holden Jesse bricklyr h 307 Elba
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Holden Jesse (Beatrice) lab h 307 Elba
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory 307 Elba was listed as vacant, and the 1930 census does not enumerate anyone at that address.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 307 Elba Street, brickmason Jesse Holden, 46; wife Beatrice, 46, household servant; and daughter Geraldine, 30, tobacco floor girl.
In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Brown Ellis (c; Margt) driver R E Quinn & Co h 307 Elba; Brown Ellis Jr (c) tob wkr h 307 Elba.
In 1942, Ellis Brown registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 12 May 1902 in Wilson County; resided at 307 North Elba Street; his contact was Jessie M. Cox, Viola Street; and he worked for R.E. Quinn Furniture Company, South Goldsboro Street.
State of North Carolina, County of Wilson.
I, James H. Holden, of the City of Wilson and State of North Carolina, do make my last will and testament as follows:
First – I give and bequeath unto my wife Isabella Holden, my home house and lot on Bank Street where I live and which was paid for me and her.
Second – I give and bequeath unto my wife Isabella Holden all monies coming to my estate from lodges to which I belong and all insurance companies in which I am insured to be used at her own discretion after she has given me such a burial as maybe satisfaction to her.
Third – I give and bequeath to my wife Isabella Holden my share of the lot in Smithfield which was left to me and my two brothers Jesse Holden and Edward Holden. This lot was owned by my father and left to the three of us. My part will be one third interest and the amount of $20 which I have paid for taxes over and above my part of the taxes on the lot since my father’s death. The taxes should have been paid by all three of us and if this had been done my part would have been one third of the taxes, but this was not done and I have paid out for taxes on the lot $20 paid over to my wife Isabella Holden and after she is paid the amount and when the time comes to divide the property I want my one third interest paid over to my wife.
In Witness Whereof, I, James H. Holden, have to this my last will and testament hereto set my hand and seal, this the sixteenth day of May, A.D. one thousand nine Hundred and eighteen. /s/ James H. Holden
Signed, sealed published and declared by the said James H. Holden as and for his last will and testament, in the presence of us, who, in his presence and at his request, and in the presence of each other, I have hereto set our hands as witnesses, the day and year last above written. /s/ A.L.E. Weeks, Annie E. Weeks
In the 1880 census of Smithfield, Johnston County, North Carolina: laborer Anderson Holden, 27; wife Rachel, 22; daughter Ether, 6, and Sarah, 3.
James H. Holden, 35, of Wilson, son of Rachel Holden, married Isabell Deans, 25, on 25 January 1900 in Wilson. Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of J.T. Deans, Cora Beckwith and Goodsey Holden.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: brick mason James Holden, 24; wife Isabelle, 35; and children Ether, 1; and brother Jesse, 7.
Ed Holden, 27, married Gussie McClammie, 20, on 10 December 1903 in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of M.C. Bynum, Eliza Mayo and J.H. Palmer.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 391 Jones Street, Ed Holden, 30, brickmason; wife Gussy, 26; and children Carrie L., 6, and Andrew J., 12.
James Holden died 8 August 1918 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 July 1874 in Johnston County to Anderson Holden and Rachel Whitfield, both from Wake County; resided at 428 Bank Street, Wilson; and was married. Belle Holden was informant.
Isabella Holden quickly remarried. On 17 June 1919, she wed Zeke Artis, 35, in a ceremony performed by Baptist minister Spurgeon Davis in Wilson. F.S. Hargrave, A.V. Bowser, and Mrs. M.A. Spell witnessed.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 703 Lodge Street, bricklayer Edd Holden, 36; wife Gussie, 30; and children Carrie, 15, Anderson, 11, David, 8, Roy Lee, 6, Russell, 3, and Thermon, 1.
Jesse Holden, 33, married Beatrice Gay, 32, on 14 February 1925 in Wilson. Eddie Holden applied for the license, and A.M.E.Z. minister J.E. Kennedy performed the ceremony in the presence of A.L. Winstead, Will Farmer(?) and Clarence Mc[illegible].
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 607 East Green, bricklayer Jessie Holden, 35; wife Beatrice, 38; and stepdaughter Jeroline Wood, 20.
Jesse Holden died 26 February 1965 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born July 1893 in Johnston County to Anderson Holden and Rachel Whitfield; resided at 623 East Green; was a retired brickmason; and was a World War I veteran. Beatrice Gay Holden was informant.
Image of original will available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
I, ISABELLA ARTIS, of the County of Wilson, State of North Carolina, being of sound mind, but considering the uncertainty of life, do hereby make and declare this to be my last will and hereby revoking and declaring numb and void all other wills and testaments heretofore made by me.
FIRST: My executor hereinafter named shall give my body a decent burial, and erect a suitable tombstone or monument at my grave, collect all debts due my estate, and out of the first moneys coming to into my estate, he shall pay all of my just debts, funeral expenses and costs of administering my estate.
SECOND: I give, devise and bequeath to my husband, J.E. Artis, that parcel or land together with the house thereon situate in which I now love, located on Banks Street, in the Town of Wilson, and adjoining the heirs of Mary Bunch and others, and having a frontage of approximately fifty feet on Banks Street, and a depth of about one hundred and ten feet, and being the identical lot devised to me by the will of James Holden.
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the above described real estate to him, the said J.B. Artis, for the term of his natural life, and no longer, and upon his death to the following persons in fee simple absolute forever, in shares as designated: To my brother-in-law, Ed Holden, a one-half interest; to my step-children Verdie May Artis and James Clifton Artis, a one-fourth interest each.
I devise and bequeath this property in the above manner in consideration of the love and affection my husband, J.E. Artis, has exhibited towards me and that I hold for him, and in consideration of the fact that the house in which I now live was largely paid for by the said J.E. Artis; and I give Ed Holden, my brother-in-law, one-half interest in the remainder after death of J.E. Artis, in consideration of the many favors and accommodations he has rendered me, and because he is a brother of my first husband, who originally owned the property.
THIRD: All of my personal property of every description, I give to my husband, J.E. Artis.
FOURTH: I hereby constitute and appoint my husband, J.E. Artis, my lawful executor to all intents and purposes to execute this, my last will and testament, according to the true intent and meaning of the same, and every part and clause thereof.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I, the said Isabella Artis, do hereunto set my hand and seal, this the 14th day of September, 1938.
Witness as to Mark: C.E. Simons, M.D.
Signed, sealed, published and declared by the said Isabella Artis, to be her last will and testament, in the presence of us, who at her request and in her presence, and in the presence of each other, do subscribe our names as witnesses. Bessie L. Edwards, Leon Ward, Julie McNeal
Isabella Artis died four days after making her will.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: 24 year-old brickmason James Holden, wife Isbella, 35, daughter Ether, 1, and brother Jesse, 7.
James Holden, son of Anderson and Rachell Whitfield Holden and a native of Johnston County, died of consumption, i.e. tuberculosis, on 8 August 1918 in Wilson.
On 17 June 1919, Isabella Holden, 36, married Zeke Artis, 35, in Wilson.
The 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County, shows James E. Artis, 50, living at 407 Banks Street with his new wife, Molly. “Ezekial” Artis died in Goldsboro, Wayne County, on 15 July 1964.
North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], Ancestry.com.