Firm racial identification was paramount during Jim Crow, and Southern newspaper often carried notices clarifying that status or making it plain even in contexts in which it would not seem to be important. Did John L. Moore submit his acknowledgment to the Times with “(Colored)” already included? Or did staff insert it to make clear that this John Moore was not one of the white John Moores?
Wilson Daily Times, 11 November 1927.
On 30 May 1895, John Moore, 22, of Black Creek township, son of L. and Vinney Moore, married Mattie Simms, 18, of Black Creek township, daughter of Jno. Lassiter and Rachel Simms. L.A. Moore applied for the license, and a justice of the peace performed the ceremony at Larnce Moore’s residence in Black Creek in the presence of C.F. Darden, M. Roundtree, and David Moore.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: day laborer John Moore, 28; wife Mattie, 23; and sons Arthur, 4, and John H., 1.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer John Moore, 36; wife Mattie, 36, dressmaker; and sons Arthur, 14, William B., 7, Zack, 6, and James, 5.
Mattie Moore died 7 November 1927 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 24 December 1877 in Wilson County to John Lassiter and Rachel Sims; was married to Johnie Moore; and lived at 910 Washington Street. She was buried in Wilson [likely in Vick or Rountree cemeteries.]
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.”
Excerpt from my interview with my father, Rederick C. Henderson, who was born in Wilson in 1934:
My father with Darden classmates Helen Williams, Lillie Dixon and Eloise Parker in 1948-49.
What do you remember about race relations? Or what were you told about dealing with white people?
Well. See, we never had a lot, the only white people that I saw had little stores in the black community. And you know, they said, you can’t, just don’t have a whole lot of dealings with white folks. And racism … things I saw about racism. I was, I remember I was maybe 12, 13, and I went downtown walking over to the stadium somewhere. I was walking over to one of my friend’s house stayed on Mercer Street, and they had these prisoners of war. Germans. And they had this “P.W.” on the back of their thing, and they were cleaning up ‘round the factory. And they had some MPs or something with them. And they were sitting down on a bench outside resting. One of them little regular benches. A wood bench that they used to advertise or something. And so I stopped – they had gone in – and I stopped, and I was sitting down, and a man came out, and he spit on my leg.
A German or an American?
Naw, this was a white American. He said, “You can’t sit on that bench.” I don’t know if he called me a boy or whatever, but had that tobacco spit on me. And he –
But the Germans were sitting on the bench. Prisoners of war in this country.
Right. And I couldn’t sit on the bench.
Then I remember they had an incident at the theater where something had happened, and this girl [Marie Everett] slapped a white girl. And they took her and put her in jail. Took her and put her in prison. She went off and stayed. She must have stayed ‘bout a year. And Mama and all them said, “Don’t y’all go downtown.” So far as I got to go was to the [Ritz] theater and then come back home.
And all over there behind Vick School [Academy, Crowell and Mayo Streets] was all white back in there. And they used to throw stuff at us on the [playground] — we’d be throwing rocks back and forth, back and forth. But the police didn’t ever come over there. Now the police would be downtown on Saturday afternoon ‘cause see in Wilson, like Friday and Saturday was when we’d go to the movie. And I’d go to the movies on Saturday and stay all day long. Stay in there ‘til it’d be almost dark. That’s how you’d know it was time to go home. Come down there, walk down there, say, “Can I look outside and see…?” Lady’d just: “Yeah.” Walk down there; look out there; see. If it’s still light, you’d come back up and watch the movie again. Sit upstairs in the movie. And so they had all the white police. They would walk from uptown, I guess, down to Pender Street. And on the sidewalk. And black folk had to get out the way. I mean, they’d walk right up, push you right out in the street. Or whatever. And just walk right on down to the end and turn around and come back and all.
In 1934, Wilson Chamber of Commerce published this promotional guide extolling the virtues of Wilson County.
The introduction to the town sets the perspective.
Wilson had a population of more than 12,000 in 1934, of whom about 40% were African-American. They were of little interest to the Chamber of Commerce, however, and were not among the target audience for Facts About Wilson.
“The Mercy Hospital for colored people only was reorganized as a community basis in 1928. It is controlled by a board of trustees. All physicians of the town and county, both white and colored, are eligible for membership on the staff. This hospital is used by Wilson, Pitt, and Green[e]Counties, as it is the only hospital in three counties for colored people.”
There’s a lot to digest in the pages above, but it all boils down to the values in the columns for “white” and “colored.” For example, the ten white school buildings were valued at $800,131, and the 23 colored schools (more because so many were one- or two-rooms) at $48,592.
“The negroes of Wilson maintain separate churches, and the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian congregations are especially large, active and well organized. Six smaller negro churches here also serve this race in Wilson.”
The list of white organizations ran one full page into a second. Only two Black groups — the Odd Fellows and Masons — made the brochure’s cut, however.
Hat tip to Brooke Bissette Farmer for sharing this find, which is digitized here and held in the Rare Book Collection Archives of East Carolina University’s Joyner Library.
I’m starting a side project (working name: Segregation Chronicles) that will document the physical legacy of racial injustice in Wilson County. I was born in the waning days of legal segregation, and I haven’t lived here in almost 40 years, but I can reel off two dozen-plus sites that stand as mute testimony to trauma that continues to haunt us. I know y’all know more than I do, though, so I’m asking for your help. (Or your mama’s. Or your granddaddy’s.)
At which restaurants did we have to go around back for food? (Like Parker’s.) What theatres had separate entrances and black balconies? (Like the Drake.) What businesses had partitions in their sitting rooms — or whole separate sitting areas? (Like the train station.) Who wouldn’t let you eat at the lunch counter? Who had a colored water fountain (other than the county courthouse)? Where did the Klan rally? Where were German POWs allowed to rest, but your father was told to get his black ass up? Where was the black liquor house that had to pay off a white cop to sell white people liquor after midnight?
Please post here. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or let me know if you’d rather call. All responses from any source, black or white, appreciated. Thank you, and stay tuned. (Especially if you want to know what this photograph shows.)
Indiana History Blog published Nicole Poletika’s detailed look at Dr. Joseph H. Ward‘s role in challenging segregation as the head of Tuskegee, Alabama’s Veterans Hospital No. 91 in the 1920s and ’30s.
Dr. Ward is on the front row, center (next to the nurse) in this 1933 photograph of Veterans Hospital staff. Photo courtesy of VA History Highlights, “First African American Hospital Director in VA History,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
For more on Dr. Ward, who was born in Wilson about 1869, see here and here and here and here and here.
[Sidenote: Dr. Ward was not born to “impoverished parents” per the article, though it is possible that he himself gave this gloss on his early life. Rather, his father was Napoleon Hagans, a prosperous freeborn farmer in nearby Wayne County, and his mother was Mittie Ward, a young freedwoman whose family moved into town after Emancipation from the plantation of Dr. David G.W. Ward near Stantonsburg.]
Hat tip to Zella Palmer for pointing me to this article. She is Dr. Ward’s great-granddaughter, and they are my cousins.
WILSON, N.C., Feb. 3 — Sidney Ingram of this city, was nabbed by Federal Agents Friday after writing protest letters to the Presidents of the Norfolk, Southern and Seaboard Airline railways over Jim Crow treatment while traveling.
He told operatives he bought a ticket from Wilson to Bailey, was told to get on Greenville train, then put off mile from Wilson station. His letters signed “David Ingram.” Not threatening but asked aid in getting “just calls” from railroad. Ingram was released after investigation.
Two years later, Sidney Ingram was counted in the 1940 census among the “inmates” housed at the notorious Eastern North Carolina Insane Asylum for Negroes.
1940 census, Fork township, Wayne County, North Carolina.
He spent the remainder of his life institutionalized and died at the state hospital in 1954. His death certificate notes that he was a New Jersey native, that he was married, that his usual residence was Wilson County, and that he had been at the asylum for 15 years, three months and 16 days. He died of bladder cancer and “insanity,” and his body was sent “to Chapel Hill to be used by Anatomical Board.”
Thus passed one of Wilson’s earliest civil rights activists.
If you are interested in the world of the Eastern North Carolina Insane Asylum, please read Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner’s Unspeakable, the story of Junius Wilson (1908-2001), a deaf African-American man who spent 76 years there, including six in the criminal ward, though he had never been declared insane by a medical professional or found guilty of any criminal charge.