house fire

603 East Green Street, revisited.

The Washington Wilkins house at 603 East Green Street, built circa 1930, was burned beyond repair last night.

The destruction of this historic house is tragic, but secondary to the well-being of the last family to live in it. Wishing them well as they recover from their loss.

[Update, 4/15/2021: since this posting, the Wilson Times published an article detailing the local fire department’s efforts to battle this fire and the resiliency of Hunette Francois, the Haitian immigrant who lived in the Wilkins house for six years and lost everything in the blaze.]

Thanks to Edith Jones Garnett for sharing this image.

“Negro dwellings” destroyed.

Wilson Daily Times, 23 September 1929.

In the Jim Crow era, even buildings were racialized. Houses were not merely in “negro” neighborhoods; they were somehow, at their essence, “negro houses.” This brief article reports the destruction by fire of three houses on East Nash Road, in the vicinity of present-day B.O. Barnes Elementary School. Though the houses were owned by Ben Eagles, a wealthy white tobacconist, and one was being used as storage, they were “negro dwelling houses.”

A house blazed on the other side of town.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 January 1899.

In January 1899, a house owned by Annie Barnes and occupied by Ed Humphrey and George Rogers. The “two fire companies” that responded were, presumably, the all-white city department and all-black volunteer Red Hot Hose Company. Neighbor B.F. Briggs, as indicated by the honorific “Mister,” was white.

Mother and child killed in oil can explosion.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 November 1921.

In 1917, Avery Johnson registered for the World War I draft in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Per his registration card, he was born 25 June 1891 in Marietta, N.C.; lived at 636 Green, Wilson; worked as a laborer for Worth Bros., Coatesville, Pennsylvania; and had a wife and one child.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Avery Johnson, 27; wife Carrie, 24; and children Evaline, 2, and John L., two months.

The child who died in the oil can explosion was a son, John Elry Johnson, not a daughter. He was two weeks past his second birthday.

Avery Johnson’s wife Carrie Wingate Johnson also succumbed to her injuries, after four days of suffering.