Butler Jones, prompt and dependable.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 November 1925.


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: cook Susan Jones, 42; her children William E., 23, tobacco stemmer, Levi H., 22, barber, Charles T., 20, tobacco stemmer, Butler E., 19, tobacco stemmer, Mary J., 15, Nancy A., 11, Luther, 8, and Harvey L., 2, plus niece Arnetta Sexton, 8.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Levi Jones, 32, barber, with sister Nancy, 24, brothers Butler, 28, house carpenter, and Harvey, 12, and mother, Susan Jones, 50.

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jones Butler carp h 536 Church

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jones Butler painter h Robinson nr Manchester

On 20 September 1914, Butler Jones, 34, son of Henry and Sue Jones, married Mirtie Brodie, 28, daughter of Henry and Louise [Kersey] Johnson, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister H.E. Edwards performed the ceremony, and Ed Cox, Chas. T. Jones and Minnie McDaniel witnessed. [Myrtle Johnson‘s first marriage was to James A. Brodie on 25 November 1903 in Wilson. Her sister Gertrude Johnson married Butler Jones’ brother Charles T. Jones.]

In 1918, Butler Jones registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 5 December 1879; resided at 808 East Nash; worked as a carpenter for Boyle Robertson Construction Company, Camp Hill, Newport News, Virginia; and was married to Mertie Jones.

In the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jones Butler painter h 808 E Nash

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 808 East Nash, Butler Jones, 39, painter; wife Myrtle, 36; and children Gertrude, 12, Louise, 6, Joseph, 5, Ruth M., 3, and Willard, 3 months.

In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jones Butler pnter h 1011 E Nash

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jones Butler (Myrtie) pnter h 1011 E Nash

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jones Butler (c; Myrtie) pnter h 1011 E Nash

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1011 East Nash, owned and valued at $2500, Buller Jones, 49, building painter; wife Myrtle, 46; and children Gertrude, 23, cook, Louise, 16, Joseph, 15, Myrtle, 11, William, 9, and John, 8.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1011 East Nash, Butler Jones, 59, painter; wife Myrtie, 51; sons Joseph, 25, Willard, 20, and John, 19, all painters; and William Tabron, 26, janitor at Carolina Theatre, wife Myrtie Tabron, 21, and daughter Patsy, 3 months.

In the early 1940s, Butler and Myrtle Jones’ sons registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. All listed their address as 1011 East Nash Street; the contact as mother, Myrtle Jones, of the same address; and their employer as father, Butler Jones: in 1940, Joseph Jones, born 27 April 1914, and Willard Jones, born 3 April 1919, and in 1942, John Henry Jones, born 15 December 1921. In 1943, Butler’s brother Harvey Jones, born 23 December 1898, also registered. He resided at 1011 East Nash, but was unemployed.

Butler Jones died 24 December 1961 at his home at 405 North Reid Street. Per his death certificate, he was 83 years old; his parents were Henry Jones and Sue (maiden name unknown); he was a self-employed painter; he was a widower; and he was buried in the Masonic cemetery. John H. Jones of 405 North Reid was informant.

705 East Green Street.

The sixty-second 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. 1913; 2 stories; Hardy Johnson house; Queen Anne house composed of hip-roofed central block and projecting cutaway bay; porch has been modified and original gazebo removed; porch has been modified and original gazebo removed; Johnson was a fireman for the railroad.”

Robert C. Bainbridge and Kate Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey, originally published by the City of Wilson in 1980 and updated and republished in 2010 under the auspices of the Wilson County Genealogical Society, provides additional details about this house, including the photo above. “Built c. 1901 for Hardy Johnson, a fireman, this house is a good example of the type of large house built in Wilson at the turn of the century. Asymmetrically massed with a prominent cross gable wing to one side with a two story faceted bay, the house is transitional in style resembling a Queen Anne house in its massing, but possessing some Colonial Revival details. The generous and well preserved porch has a handsome faceted corner pavilion and a pedimented projecting entry.”

The photo, probably taken about 1979, appears to show a notice of the kind often posted to communicate boarding house rules. By the 1950s, many of the largest homes on East Green had been converted to multi-family dwellings. The house has been demolished.


Hardy Johnson, 26, of Wilson township, married Martha Woodard, 25, of Wilson township, daughter of Martha Woodard, on 25 November 1892 at the Amerson place, Wilson. John Ellis and Martha Woodard were witnesses.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer Hardy Johnson, 33; wife Martha, 31; and children Jessee B., 10, Pauline, 7, Saniga, 5, Roscoe, 3, Herbert, 2, and Johnny G., 5 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: railroad laborer Hardy Johnson, 48; wife Martha, 40; and children Pauline, 17, market laborer, Thomas, 15, Rosco, 13, Hermon, 11, Jonnie, 10, Alford, 8, Joseph, 6, Annie L., 4, Hardy, 2, and Maggie L., 5 months.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 634 Green, Hardy Johnson, 50, foreman at electric light house; wife Martha, 48; and children Sidney, 20, laborer for barber; Roscoe, 23, John, 18, barber, Alfred, 18, Josey, 15, Annie Lee, 13, Hardey, 11, Russell, 8, and Martha, 4; plus lodger James Small, 22, barber.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Hardy Johnson, 61, flagman for A.C.L. Railroad; wife Martha, 60; children Allie L., 19, Martha, 13, and Russell, 17; sister-in-law Maggie Gaston, 50, divorced; granddaughter Mary Johnson, 6; and roomer Duffy Smith, 24, fruit store merchant.

Hardy Johnson died 25 December 1932 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 October 1871 in Edgecombe County to Jacob and Clara Johnson; married to Martha Johnson; worked as a day laborer; and resided at 705 East Green.

Martha Johnson died 18 December 1934 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born about 1870 in Wilson County to Martha Woodard; the widow of Hardy Johnson; and resided at 705 East Green. Informant was Martha Gray Johnson, 705 East Green.

Studio shots, no. 67: Robert A. Johnson.

Robert A. Johnson served 30 years as the first African-American high school principal in the Elm City community. “Under his leadership, not only did Frederick Douglass [High School] receive high academic ratings, its superiority in co-curricular areas received state-wide recognition, particularly its band and basketball teams.”

A native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Johnson received a B.A. from Ohio State University and, later a master’s degree from New York University.


Robert A. Johnson, 34, married Grace A. McNeil, 27, on 3 June 1939 in Forsyth County, North Carolina.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 206 Reid Street, shoe shop owner James Mack, 41; wife Beualah, 40, born in Salisbury; and Robert Johnson, 34, teacher in Wilson County school, born in Winston-Salem.

In 1940, Robert Arthur Johnson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 19 October 1905 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; his contact was father William Johnson, 806 Stadium Drive, Winston-Salem; and his employer was Elm City Board of Trustees.

Robert Arthur Johnson died 14 March 1966 of a heart attack at Frederick Douglass High School, Elm City. Per his death certificate, he was born 19 October 1905 in Winston-Salem to William Johnson and Amie Williams; was married to Grace Johnson; and was employed as a principal by Wilson County Schools.

Text adapted from article in and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

The last will and testament of Zebulon M. Johnson.

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On 19 November 1905, Zebulon Johnson, 33, son of Jere and Minnie Johnson, all of Northampton County, married Armittie Powell, 25, daughter of Isaac and Georgia Powell, at Jerusalem Church, Rich Square township, Northampton County, North Carolina.

In the 1910 census of Rich Square, Northampton County: Armittie Johnson, 28, and her children Elvalene, 3, and Allene, 1 1/2, are listed in the household of her mother Georgianna Powell, 61. Armittie is described as married, but her husband Zebulon is not found.

In 1918, Zebulon Myer Johnson registered for the World War I draft in Nash County. Per his heart registration card, he resided at R.F.D. 3, Rocky Mount; was born 17 September 1872; was employed as a chiropodist and farmer; and his nearest relative was wife Mittie Johnson. [Where did Johnson receive his medical training? Was he actually a physician?]

On 1 December 1926, Zebulon Johnson, 48, of Wilson, married Roberta Battle, 38, of Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Mamie Lucas, Ella Allen and Henry Lucas.

In 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1008 East Nash Street, chiropodist Zebulon M. Johnson, 56, and wife Roberta, 37.

On 13 July 1934, Zebulon Myer Johnson died in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 61 years old; born in Bertie County to Jerry and Winnie Johnson; was married to Robetta Johnson; and worked as a chiropodist. He was buried in Rich Square, North Carolina.

As noted in the document above, Johnson’s will entered probate ten days after his death. As required, for several months, his executrix ran an ad in the local newspaper, notifying claimants and debtors of their obligations.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 August 1934.

There was a response — likely, unexpected. Armittie Powell Johnson, who lived in Rocky Mount, stepped forward to file a claim. By the brief notation handwritten in the will book, above, it appears that she asserted that she, and not Roberta, was Zebulon Johnson’s legal widow. I have no further information on the outcome of this challenge, but it is clear that Roberta Johnson remained in the house she had been bequeathed in the will.

Roberta Battle Johnson died 28 July 1958 at Mercy Hospital. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 October 1889 in Wilson to Parker Battle and Ella (last name unknown); was widowed; resided at 1108 East Nash; and worked as business manager for Mercy. Informant was Grace Battle Black, 1108 East Nash Street.

[Sidenote: Zebulon Myer Johnson was the grandfather of noted Nash County educator and activist Kanawha Zebulon “K.Z.” Chavis (1930-1986), whose mother was Arlin Johnson Chavis.]

White man arrested for shooting negro.


Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1921.

[Ruffin Woodard is listed in the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County, as a 38 year-old white farmer, but I have not found a listing for Hardy Johnson. Paul Lee Woodard, whose small house still stands in downtown Black Creek, was a farmer whose seed and feed store in Wilson is the city’s longest continually operating business in town. This brief article raises so many questions: Both Woodard and Johnson were tenant farmers on P.L. Woodard’s land. What was their conflict? Woodard was arrested and jailed for shooting Johnson, but Woodard’s countercharges against Johnson failed to stick. Was this a matter of Justice of the Peace Jule Hardy’s scrupulous fairness? Ruffin Woodard’s lack of standing and concomitant loss of privilege? (And, if so, why?) Hardy’s stature?]

Cemeteries, no. 13: the Sharpe cemetery.

At the Wilson-Edgecombe line, the blacktop rounds a curve and changes abruptly from Wilson County Road to Shallingtons Mill Road. Atop the bank, just inside Wilson County, is a narrow cemetery wedged between a soybean field and the road. This is the burial ground of the Allen Sharpe family on, presumably, land that once belonged to Sharpes.

  • Allen and Mary A. Sharpe

In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Mary J. Forbes, 54, and children Meddis(?), 33, Homer, 31, Vernie B., 14, Ida M., 13, and Mary L., 3; plus farm laborer/servant Allen Sharpe, 21.

On 10 October 1900, Allen Sharpe, 24, son of Abram and Carolin Sharp, married Mary A. Barron, 17, daughter of Mark and Mason Barron, in Wilson County.

In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: on Rocky Mount Road, Allen Sharpe, 31; wife Mary, 26; and children Cora, 9, Carrie, 8, John, 5, Nettie, 3, Martha, 2, and Peter, 3 months; plus, John Smith, 25.

In the 1920 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: on the public road from Tarboro to Stantonsburg, farm laborer Allen Sharpe, 43; wife Mary A., 38; children Carrie, 17, John, 14, Nettie, 12, Beatrice, 10, Peter, 9, Mark, 8, Bertha, 5, Ethel Branch, 3, and niece Dora, 19,

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Allen Sharpe, 56; wife Mary A., 47; children Carrie, 25, Nettie, 22, Peter, 19, Mark, 17, Bertha, 15, Blanche, 13,  Senie, 11, and Odell Sharp, 8; plus grandchildren Roosivilt, 7, and Minnie Howard, 4.

Allen Sharpe died 24 January 1946 in Gardners township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 April 1888 [actually, probably 1878] in Edgecombe County to Abram and Mary Sharpe and resided near Macclesfield, Wilson County. [Note that Macclesfield itself is in Edgecombe County.]

  • Mark B. and Clara Farmer Sharpe

Mark B. Sharpe, here.

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Cromwell Farmer, 57; wife Mary Jane, 48; and children James, 22, Ida, 20, Cromwell, 19, Ella, 17, Maggie, 16, Clara, 14, Floyd, 12, Viola and Liola, 9, Esther, 8, Lee A., 7, and George, 6.

On 15 March 1937, Mark Sharpe, 25, of Wilson, son of Adam [sic] and Mary A. Sharpe, married Clara Farmer, 20, of Wilson County, son of Cromwill and Mary Jane Farmer.

Clara Sharpe died 20 February 1951 in Gardners township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 12 November 1917 to Crummes Farmer and Mary Jane Battle and was married. Mark Sharpe was informant.

  • Martha Mitchell Farmer

Per her death certificate, Martha Mitchel Farmer died 19 October 1964 in Wilson township. She was born 4 July 1881 to Willie Mitchel and Laura Barren and was married to Willie Farmer. She was buried in Pinetops cemetery, Pinetops, North Carolina. [Was her grave later moved?]  Informant was Lloyd Farmer.

  • Kelly Johnson Sr.

On 1 October 1910, Kelly Johnson, 21, married Bloomer Moore, 19, in Edgecombe County.

On 5 June 1917, Kellie Johnson registered for the World War I draft in Gardners township, Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 9 March 1888 in Edgecombe County; resided near Fountain [which is in Pitt County]; was a farmer; and supported a wife and five children.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Kellie Johnson, 32; wife Bloomer, 26; and children Arthur, 10, Elizabeth, 8, L. Rosa, 6, Kellie, 5, Willie, 3, and Bloomer, 2.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson and Tarboro Road, farmer Kelly Johnson, 40; wife Bloomer, 36; Elizabeth, 16, Rosa L., 15, Kelly, 14, Willie, 13, Bloomer, 12, Maggie, 9, Ethlen, 8, Allen, 5, and Martha, 1.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm operator Kelly Johnson, 52; wife Blumer, 48; and children Maggie, 19, Boy, 13, Martha, 10, and William Henry, 9; stepdaughter Mildred, 8; and  granddaughter Alma Jean, 5 months.

Kelly Johnson died 8 April 1963 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, he was born 9 March 1889 to David Johnson and Alice (last name unknown); was retired; was married to Blummer Moore Johnson; and was buried in Northeastern cemetery, Rocky Mount [??].

Allen Sharpe cemetery.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2017.

Celebrating 50 years in the Episcopal priesthood.

William Hines, Ann J. Hines, Anna Burgess Johnson, Rev. Robert J. Johnson, Wilton M. Bethel, Rev. O.J. Hawkins and Rev. David Yates, 1960.

  • Ann J. Hines — Anna Johnson Goode Hines (1927-2010) was the daughter of Robert and Anna Johnson. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, she married Charles Edwin Hines, son of Wesley E. and Mary Ellis Hines, on 19 December 1957 in Wilson.
  • O.J. Hawkins — Presbyterian minister Obra J. Hawkins.

Photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

Whiskey hurt him. (Or Tab Baker.)

I H.D. Lucas being duly sworn did examine the body of Alex Godwin & found a contusion of the left knee a lacerated wound of the right knee & fracture of the femur near its lower end, a lacerated wound on right side of face above the mouth, a wound above right eye & another on posterior part of head, & think them suficient to produce death

I saw him dead in Wilson County   /s/ H.D. Lucas M.D.   /s/ H.W. Peel


P.S. Hicks being duly sworn Testifies as follows I saw Mr Godwin in Wilson about two oclock & sold him some medicine I saw him again about half an hour by sun and he was somewhat intoxicated though seemed to be quiet. I stoped at Mr Williamson that night & Mr Amerson come there about three quarter of an hour after dark and said he had found a man wounded on the tract of the Lattice he wanted help to get him off the tract & I went with him in company with col’d man & found Mr Godwin on the tract groaning but speechless Lying(?) with face down with his neck across the rail of the Road we got him soon as possible about twenty minutes he called for water I ask him who hurt him he answered Tab Baker hit or hurt him sometimes he spoke rational at others talk at random we found some apples bottle cologne & cartiges in coat pocket & pocket Book also with no money but a tax Recpt given on that day I ask him where his pistol was he said he had thrown it away sometime he would answer qestion refuse at other Ice water complained of being very cold frequently I helped to get him off the Road & get him in a cart this took place on Saturday & Saturday night of the seventeenth Decb AD 1881 On Tuesday morning the 20th of same months I come by Lattice & found a pearl handled pistol & a piece of Iron broken from RRoad tract at the southern end of Lattice & below the Road the Iron was stuck in ground about 9 feet from pistol Iron look to be freshly broken from RRoad tract I found Mr Godwin near the midle of Lattice all the blood we saw was where we found him  /s/ P.S. Hicks


Richard Johnson being duly sworn testifies as follows I found the deceased on RR bridge over contentnea creek in a wounded condition myself & Isaac Amerson carried him off the bridge, he called for water was asked who had hurt him & answered whiskey hurt him, myself & Warner Darden placed him upon a cart & started with him to his home, he died near the Town of Black Creek    Richard (X) Johnson


Warren Darden being duly sworn Testifies as follows I first saw Tobe Godwin in the shantie house for the RRoad bridge gard Mr Winstead ask me to go see if I knew who he was I did not know him at first then Mr Winstead hired me to carry him home he was badly hurt I then put him on a cart and started to Black Creek with him he called for water several times continued to groan seemed to be Rational he cease to groan when I got near Howell Dardens & when I got to Mr Bun Lucas tenant house south & near the mill swamp I found he was dead I carried him to Black Creek & then carried him to his house at J L Newsom this was all on Saturday night the 17th Decb 1881   Warren (X) Darden


Benjamin Moore being duly sworn Testifies as follows I saw Mr Godwin a few minutes after he was taken off RRoad his first words were he called for water Mr Hicks ask him how come him hurt he said it was a damned negro Tab Baker we ask him his name he answered Alex Godwin we ask him if the train hurt him & he said no he seemed to speak Rational at intervals saying Tab Baker hurt him said he was not on the train this was all on Saturday night the 17th of Decb 1881 Benjamin (X) Moore


E.T. Lucas being duly sworn Testifies as follows I saw Alex Godwin in Jo Lamms shop in Wilson on Saturday night the 17th Decb 1881 about six oclock seemed to be somewhat intoxicated he ask me to loan him a quarter to come to Black Creek on the train I did not Loan him any money when the train past Jo Lamms shop he turned back toward Jo Lamms shop when the train started off from the depot he then run of to the train & took hold of it I did not see him get on the train. He took hold of train at the hindmost part I did not see him after the train past was the passenger going south. E.T. (X) Lucas


Jordan C. Winstead being duly sworn Testifies as follows I was sent for to go down to contentnea bridge to look after a man supposed to be killed but on getting there found the man Living I ask him his name he answered his name was Alex Godwin he had been removed from R Road tract I ask him if he was a man with a family he said he had a wife & three children I ask him if the train hit or hurt him & he said no I ask him if he did not want to go him [home] he said yes and ask me to please send him home first I saw Godwin was between 8 and 9 oclock Saturday night 17th Decb 1881 /s/ J.C. Winstead


Isaac Amerson being duly sworn Testifies as follows I was sitting on fence about seven or eight Hundred yards from the Lattice I went up to Lattice & saw something on it I suppose it to be a newspaper I found it to be a man struggling struck a match a went to him. I called him and ask his name he did not speak. I went up to Penina Williamson a got Phis Hicks & a negro we went to the man found he was not dead the negro took him from the Lattice it was five or ten minutes before he spoke his first words were cursing called for water said his name was Alex Godwin he said next he lived at Stephen Woodards had a wife & three children we ask him what hurt him answers were the train did not hurt him. I found him about twenty or twenty five minutes after the train passed this was on the seventeenth at six oclock P.M. Isaac (X) Amerson


B.C. Campbell being duly sworn Testifies as follows I saw Alex Godwin at Jo Lam shop Saturday night 17th Decb 1881 he left Lams shop. I saw him again Just before the south bound passenger train come up about dark when the train stoped he wanted money from E.T. Lucas to come home on he did not let him have any money Just as the train started he run up as though he was going to get on did not see him after the train left he was somewhat intoxicated. /s/ B.C. Campbell


State of North Carolina, Wilson County } Know all men by these presents held and firmly bound unto the State of North Carolina in the sum of Two Hundred Dollars to make our personal appearance at Wilson on the first Monday in March next and not depart without Leave. Otherwise the bound to remain in full and effect given under our hand & seal thus the 20th day Decb AD 1881 /s/ J.C. Winstead, Isaac (X) Amerson, P.S. Hicks, E.T. (X) Lucas, N.D. Lucas, Warren (X) Darden, B.C. Campbell, Benjamin (X) Moore, Richard (X) Johnson


A “lattice” is a form of truss bridge. The railroad crosses Contentnea Creek about 2 miles southeast of Wiggins Mill reservoir and just above a spur leading to the town of Black Creek. Lattice Road still marks the area.

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  • Alex Godwin — in the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Elexander Godwin, 23, common laborer, with wife and three daughters.
  • Warren Darden — Warren Darden, 24, married Louisa Dew, 18, on 1 May 1873 in Wilson, before witnesses Amos Dew and Raiford Dew. In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, farmer Warren Darden, 30, wife Louisa, 25, children Warren, 3, and an unnamed infant, and farmhand Wilie Lee, 14.
  • Howell Darden was Warren Darden’s father.
  • Jordan C. Winstead — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County, age 35, listed as an overseer on the railroad.
  • Benjamin Moore — in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, age 45, listed as farm laborer.
  • Isaac Amerson — in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, age 25, listed as a farmer.
  • B.C. Campbell — perhaps, in the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, Bennet Campbell, 21.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives; image courtesy of Google Maps.

No Negro blood allowed.

Though James Lamm emerged victorious in his fight to educate his children in white schools, others were not as fortunate.

JOHNSON -- WDT 9 16 1914 No Negro Blood Allowed

Wilson Daily Times, 16 September 1914.

The whole matter was decided in seven months.

At the February Term of Wilson County Superior Court in 1914, J.S. Johnson filed suit against the Board of Education of Wilson County. He resided in School District No. 6 of Spring Hill township, he asserted, and was a white man and the father of four school-age children — Arthur, about 13 years old, Fannie, about 11, Carr, about 9, and Andrew, about 7. Johnson had sent Arthur to the local white public school, where a teacher sent him home after two days. The Complaint does not specify the reason for his expulsion. (And notes that Johnson did not attempt to enroll the younger children.) Johnson’s complaint demanded that the children be allowed to attend the district’s white school.

The Board of Education filed an Answer setting forth one devastating affirmative defense: “… the defense alleges that the children of the plaintiff are not entitled under the statute of North Carolina to attend the school for the white race for that they have negro blood in their veins.”

Judge George W. Connor scheduled a hearing for 4 February 1914, which was postponed by mutual consent until the 10th. In the meantime, an additional fact was admitted (presumably by Johnson): “each of the said four minor children have a slight mixture of negro blood, the same being less in each child than one-sixteenth …” Nonetheless, the Superior Court ruled a victory for the Johnsons. Judge W.M. Bond reasoned thus: the state constitution provides that the legislature shall provide separate white and colored schools and also makes valid a marriage between a white man and a woman with less than one-eighth “admixture of colored blood.” In Bond’s opinion, the legislature overstepped when it attempted to bar from white schools the child of a valid marriage involving a white person.  “In other words, the status of the child is fixed by the Constitutional recognition of the marriage.”

The Board of Education appealed.

The Supreme Court overturned.

At the outset, Justice Walker stated plainly that J.S. Johnson was a white man of a “pure strain” of blood, and his unnamed wife had less than one-eighth Negro admixture. He then homed in on a key passage of the state constitution: “no child with negro blood in his veins, however remote the strain, shall attend a school for the white race; and no such child shall be considered a white child.” “Should it be conceded … that the marriage J.S. Johnson and the woman who is the mother of his children, is a valid one, it does not, by any means, settle the important and delicate question, [presented here, in Johnson’s favor.]” The law allowing marriage between a white person and one of remote African ancestry might legitimate their children, “but by no subtle alchemy known to the laboratory of logic can it be claimed to have extracted the negro element from the blood of such offspring and made it pure.” In fact, the Court reasoned, the law does not even declare marriage between a white person and one with “negro blood” within the prescribed limit to be valid, but only that marriage between a white person and one over the limit is void. In any case, certainly the legislature has the right to lay down an absolute — no children with any African ancestry at all, period — as a matter of public policy. (That policy being the “peace, harmony and welfare of the two races, according to each race equal privileges and advantages of education and mental and moral training with the other, but keeping them apart in the schoolroom, where, by reason of racial instincts and characteristics peculiar to each, unpleasant antagonism would arise, which would prove fatal to proper school regulation and discipline …”) The justice turned to the definition of “colored,” which was not explicitly delineated in the law. What is common usage?, he asks. Is “colored” considered to include Arthur Johnson? The term is never applied to red Indians, yellow Mongolians or brown Malays, colored as they may be. “To those of Negro blood alone is [the term] ever found to be suited” and d0es not depend upon “a shade of particular blackness ….” “Whether complexions appear distinctly black or approaching toward the fair by gradations of shading is all one.” After touching approvingly upon the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, the court reiterated the justness and wisdom of maintaining harmony through segregation. Judgment: reversed. The Johnson children were too black to go to a white school.


No matter the views of school teachers and Supreme Court justices, the Johnsons’ community regarded them as white. In the 1920 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County, on the Keely Branch of the Smithfield and Red Hill Road, Arthur Johnson, 20, and his wife Bertha, 25, lived next to his parents and siblings — Josephus, 42, Minnie, 38, Fannie, 17, Carl, 15, Andrew, 12, Luther, 10, Clintard, 8, Ransom, 4, Flossie L., 2, and Leonard, 6 months. All were described as white, just as they had in the 1910 census.

Cephus Johnson, 22, son of Emma Johnson, married Minnie Taylor, 18, daughter of Silvira Taylor, at the residence of William Taylor on 25 January 1898. Both were described as white. Further, Minnie Etta Johnson of Springhill township, Wilson County, died 20 March 1937, as a white woman. J.S. Johnson was listed as her husband, and he informed the undertaker that Minnie had been born in Wilson County to Silvina Taylor and an unknown father. She was buried in a family cemetery by Joyner’s Funeral Home, a white-only business.

I have been unable to locate Silvina or Minnie Etta Taylor prior to 1898.

School Records (1914), Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives; Johnson v. Board of Education of Wilson County, 82 S.E. 832 (1914).

[UPDATE, 4 May 2018: in the 1860 census of Kirbys district, Wilson County: William Taylor, 22, mulatto, turpentine laborer, Sallie, 30, mulatto, day laborer, Jane, 23, white(?), day laborer, and Elizabeth, 10, Martha, 8, Cilvira, 5, and George Taylor, 1, all mulatto.  And in the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, Sylvia Hawley, 22, with children Paul, 3, and Minnie, 2.]