Johnson

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.

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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.

81921

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 _____, 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

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

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.

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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).