Independent School

A big occasion in the history of the race in this city.

I was astonished to realize that this article memorializes the first commencement exercises at the Independent School — here called by its full and official name, the Wilson  Normal and Industrial Institute. As chronicled here and here and here, a coalition of African-American parents and religious and civic leaders founded the Independent School (also known as the Industrial School) in the wake of an assault on a black teacher by the white school superintendent.

I have not been able to identify Judge William Harrison of Chicago, who delivered to the new school’s graduates a remarkably unprogressive message that seemingly flew in the face of the stand for civil rights the community had resolutely made just a year earlier. The Times reporter made no mention of the school’s genesis, preferring to focus at length on Harrison’s message of admiration for the white man’s guidance and fine example.

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Wilson Daily Times, 31 May 1919.

  • Judge William Harrison
  • Prof. S.H. Vick — Samuel H. Vick furnished a building on Vance Street to house the new school.
  • Rev. A.L.E. Weeks — Alfred L.E. Weeks was a member of the Colored Ministerial Union committee appointed to address the community’s concerns to the school board.
  • Joseph S. Jackson — Joseph S. Jackson Jr.
  • Boisy Barnes — Boisey O. Barnes.
  • Lester Mitchell — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Street, Annie Mitchell, 70, her children Sallie, 46, Eddie, 44, Albert, 42, Eva, 36, and Floyd, 34, plus niece Sevreane, 18, and nephew Lester, 15.
  • Willard Crawford — probably, Daniel Willard Crawford who died 16 October 1964 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 1 January 1900 in Wilson County to Daniel Crawford and Annie Whitted; was never married; and worked as a carpenter. Walter H. Whitted was informant.
  • Addie Davis — Addie Davis Butterfield.
  • Rev. R.N. Perry — Episcopal priest Robert N. Perry was also on the Ministerial Union’s committee.
  • Lillian Wilson — perhaps, in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: livery stable groom William Wilson, 51; wife Sarah, 48, and daughters Elen, 23, and Lillian, 21, both tobacco factory workers.

A continuation of the bad feelings.

This article captures the apparent exasperation of Wilson school officials with the sizable “element” of the African-American community that refused to send its children to public school after Superintendent Charles Coon slapped a black teacher. The “Anti-Reidies” appointed local pastors Robert N. Perry and Spurgeon D. Davis to head their new schools at such time as they were able to open. (An occasion the health department was doing its part to thwart.) The basis of black opposition to J.D. Reid is sorely understated here, and the Reidites claim of public dislike of successor Clarissa Williams misses a larger problem with Reid himself. (Reid rebounded from this setback with a key role in the establishment of Wilson’s only black-owned bank, only to fall again spectacularly.) See here for a fuller account of the Mary Euell incident and its aftermath.

The Independent School (one, not two) in fact opened a week after this article ran and operated for the next ten years.

no-10-7-1918

News & Observer (Raleigh), 7 October 1918.