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.


The obituary of William J. Howell.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 November 1939.

As noted here, William J. Howell was a member of the Red Hot Hose Company, Wilson’s all-black volunteer fire company.


William Howell, 35, son of J. and R. Howell of Fayetteville, North Carolina, married Susan Minche [Mincey], 40, on 29 October 1903 in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister E.S.W. Simmons performed the ceremony in the presence of J.P. Daniel, Carrie Pettiford and P. Henry Cotton.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Moore Street, William Howell, 40, factory laborer, and wife Susan, 35.

In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Howell Susan domestic h525 Stemmery and Howell Wm J lab h525 Stemmery

On 8 March 1929, W.J. Howell, 58, married Henrietta King, 50, in Wilson. Baptist minister B.F. Jordan perfromed the ceremony in the presence of Gen. W. Coppedge, Willie Faulkland and Eva M. Hines.

William J. Howell died 8 November 1939 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 67 years old; was born in Cumberland County, North Carolina, to Rachel Barnes; worked as a laborer; lived at 517 Church Street; and was buried at Rountree cemetery.


The end of the Red Hots?

In 1938, the city of Wilson professionalized its firefighting operations, converting the white volunteer department to semi-paid status. The Daily Times originally reported that the black volunteer organization, the Red Hots, would be abolished, but here clarified that, while they were being retired from active service, they would continue to send representatives to competitions and state conventions and would be called upon in emergencies.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 July 1938.


  • Ben Mincey
  • George Coppedge — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason George Coppedge, 34; wife Mittie, 34; and children George Jr., 4, and Elenora, 2.
  • Aaron Best — William Aaron Best died 21 August 1949 at his home at 1009 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 September 1900 in Wilson County to Aaron Best and Nannie Best; was a widower; and had been a laborer at Export Tobacco Company. Audrey Best was informant.
  • Ambrose Floyd — in 1942, Ambrose Floyd registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 4 February 1901 in Lumberton, North Carolina; resided at 1214 East Nash Street; his contact was Clara Smith; and he was employed by Gary Fulghum, 901 Branch Street, United States Post Office.
  • W.J. Howell
  • Henry Sauls — in 1942, Henry Sauls registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 10 February 1898 in Black Creek; resided at 21 Carolina Street (mailing address 1114 Carolina Street); his contact was Hattie Davis, 19 Carolina Street; and he worked for W.T. Clark Jr., 1415 West Nash Street, Barnes Street tobacco factory.
  • Louis Thomas — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 715 East Green Street, carpenter Louis Thomas, 53; wife Lillie, 33; and children Louis Jr., 16, Charlie H., 14, and Van Jewel, 12.

The obituary of Ethel Vick Harris, 100.

Ethel Mae Vick Harris, 100, of Wilson, NC, died Saturday April 8, 2017. Funeral Services will be held on Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 11 a.m. at Edwards Funeral Home Chapel with Rev. Mary Vick Howell officiating. Burial will be private in Rest Haven Cemetery. Public viewing will be on Friday, April 14, 2017 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Edwards Funeral Home Chapel. The family will assemble at Edwards Funeral Home at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. Direct condolences to Professional and personal services are entrusted to Edwards Funeral Home, 805 Nash St. E in Wilson.


In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Samuel Vick Jr., 32; wife Lizzie, 21; and children James, 4, Malissa, 3, and James, 2 months. [The elder “James” was probably daughter Jane, and “Malissa” seems to have been Ethel Mae.]

In the 1930 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Sam J. Vick, 33; wife Lizzie, 31; and children Jane, 15, Ethel M., 14, Lynard, 13, Lucile, 9, Bloomer, 8, Eva May, 6, Margaret, 4, Sam R., 3, and Percy L., 7 months.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: tobacco factory laborer Sam Vick, 46; wife Elizabeth, 44, also a tobacco factory laborer; and children Ethel, 22, maid, Mattie, 17, housekeeper, Lenwood, 20, Beullah, 16, Eva, 14, Margrett, 12, Richard, 11, Percy, 10, and Sylvester, 5.

Obituary online.

The last will and testament of Lucy Woodard.

Lucy Woodard drafted her will in 1921, but lived another 13 years. By its terms, she left:

  • her house and lot on East Street, all household and kitchen furnishings, and all residual property to Cornelia Coleman, Charlie White and Annie Howard [Howell]
  • her piano to Annie Howell’s daughter Ethel Gray Howell


In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Ruffin Woodard, 50 farmer; wife Lucy, 38; and children Zilpha, 19, John, 13, Polly, 12, Sallie, 2, Oscar, 1; and servant Willie Barnes, 12.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed day laborer/tobacco stemmer Lucinda Woodard, 52; children Sallie, 23, Viola, 17, Minnie, 13, and Winnie, 11; and grandchildren Cornelia, 4, Anderson, and Ruffin O. White, 10 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Lucy Woodard, 62; daughters Minnie, 23, cook, and Louvenia Woodard, 20, cook; daughter Mollie Thomas, 38, cook, and her daughter Mary, 17; and boarders widow Margret Jones, 28, cook, and her daughter Marthy, 4.

Lucy Woodard died 29 June 1934 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 94 years old; was the widow of Rufin Woodard; and was born in Wilson County to Harry and Hanah Simms of Wilson County. Informant was Annie Howell.

[Ethel Gray Howell (not Howard) was the daughter of Harry and Annie Thompson Howell. Her and her mother’s relationship to Lucinda Simms Woodard is not clear.]

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

Smith Ques.

The Golden Bull (1948).

The Rho Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, based at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, included three men with Wilson ties.

Brothers Ellis Brown Jr. (1921-1989) and William Edward Brown (1922-1993) were the sons of Ellis Brown and Margaret Scarborough Brown. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 306 Elba Street, truck driver Ellis Brown, 37; wife Margaret, 36; sons Ellis Jr., 19, and William E., 17; and father-in-law Jerry Scarboro. Ellis Brown taught high school in Wilson for 37 years, much of that time at Darden, and served as president of the Men’s Civic Club.

Baker Thompson Howell (1925-1980) was a son of Harry and Annie Thompson Howell and brother of William H. Howell. After service in the Army during World War II and graduation from JCSU, he attended Howard University Medical School. Dr. Howell did a residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in Saint Louis, Missouri, and practiced medicine in Chicago, serving as chief of psychiatry at Cook County Department of Mental Health.


Snaps, no. 22: William H. Howell.

William Harry Howell (1921-2004), perhaps on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Harry Howell, 46, porter at A.C.L. station; wife Annie, 46, cook at cafe; and children William, 19, Lanetta, 17, Baker, 14, Charles, 9, and Ethel, 20.

In 1942, William Harry Howell registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 14 February 1921 in Wilson; he resided at 1202 East Washington Street, Wilson; his contact person was Harry B. Howell; he was a student at Johnson C. Smith University; and he was 5’8″ tall and weighed 138 pounds.

Photograph courtesy of user nokieford.

He be damned if she do anybody else any.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

The examination of Pharo Saunders, Col, Wm Howell, Col, and Lear Rice (Col) taken before the undersigned, Coroner of said County, this the 4th day of Dec. 1900 in the town of Toisnot upon the dead body of Willie Bell Saunders (Col), then and there lying dead, to wit:

Pharo Sanders duly sworn says: I was at my mother’s house Willie Bell Saunders about 8 1/2 o’clock last night Dec 3rd. John Taylor came in and said to mother “Willie I have come” and shot her with a pistol in the head. She fell and died in a few minutes. He only shot one time. Soon after shooting he ran out of house. John has been Living with my Mother several years as his wife. Knew of no difficulty between them before. I guess at time when I say 8 1/2 o’clock.  Pharo /s/ Saunders

William Howell sworn says: John Taylor was at my house last Saturday and said he was in trouble, that Willie Saunders was giving him so much trouble he intended going away soon and that he was going to kill Willie before he left. Willie Saunders and John Taylor have been living together about 6 years and I never knew of trouble between them before nor do I know what this trouble was about.  William (X) Howell

Lear Rice Col Sworn says: John Taylor & Willie Bell Saunders have been living together as man & wife several years. I heard of no trouble between them until recently. Sunday morning she told me he was jealous of her and said he intended to kill her. Sunday I heard him say if she didnt do him any good he be damned if she should do any body else any. He be damned if he didn’t kill her. I live in about 20 yards of her.  Lear (X) Rice

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on this the 4th day of Dec. 1900, I, John K. Ruffin, Coroner of the County of Wilson, attended by a jury of good and lawful  men Viz W.H. Pridgen, Eli Felton, Jerome Bowen, P.H. Braswell, W.J.T. Beland, J.R. Winstead, by me summoned for that purpose according to law, after being by me duly sworn & empaneled at the Town of Toisnot in the County aforesaid, did hold and inquest over the dead body of Willie Bell Saunders: and after examination of the facts and circumstances of the death of the deceased form a view of the corpse, and all the testimony to be procured, the said jury find as follows, that is to say,

That the deceased, Willie Bell Saunders (col), came to her death by a pistol shot wound feloniously inflicted by the hands of John Taylor (Col) on the night of Dec 3rd 1900, and we advise that he be bound over to the next Court and imprisoned without bail.  /s/ Eli Felton, P.H. Braswell, W.H. Pridgen. W.J.T. Beland, J.R. Winstead, Jerome Bowen.

Inquest had, and signed & sealed in the presence of John K. Ruffin, Coroner of Wilson County.


In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson & Thompson, cook Leaher Rice, 43, and her children John, 18, a railroad laborer, Frank, 16, a brickyard worker, Bettie, 14, a “nurse” [nursemaid], and Annie, 12.

Despite Leah’s testimony about the proximity of her house to Willie Bell and John’s, they do not appear in the 1900 census.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

No. 1481.

From the records of the Freedmen’s Savings Bank, New Bern branch:

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Daniel Shellington, born about 1841, reported that he was born in Wilson County and was brought up “there & on Pungo river 32 mi. from Washington.”

Here is his mother Amelia “Milly” Cherry’s bank registration card. She named a two husbands, the second of which had died in Columbia, South Carolina. She had not seen her parents since she was a child:

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And Daniel, wife Maria and children Cora and Isabela in New Bern, Craven County, as reported in the 1870 census. Daniel reported that he worked in a grist mill.

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Freedmen’s Bank Records, 1865-1871 [database on-line],