This house is not within the bounds of East Wilson Historic District. However, the blocks of Mercer Street southwest of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad lines have been an African-American residential area since the early twentieth century.
906 Mercer appears in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance maps of Wilson.
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Outlaw Arthur (c; Mary) fishermn h 906 Mercer
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Oates Henry (c; Minnie) driver Clark Hdw Co Inc h 906 Mercer
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 906 Mercer, rented for $21/month, Henry Oates, 34, hardware store truck driver; wife Minnie L., 26; and children Willie, 9, Albert L., 8, Fredie, 6, and Bubbie, 2.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 906 Mercer, Lettie Smith, 48, widow, works at stemming machine at redrying plant; her children Harvey, 28, gas station attendant, Mary, 15, Herbert, 13, and Elijah and Elisha, 11; and grandson Donald Ray, 8.
The house is listed as vacant in the 1941 city directory, but in the 1947 directory was occupied by tobacco worker Lena Whitley. (Whitley died in 1965 at her home at 918 Mercer. The informant on her death certificate was Eula King, 906 Mercer.)
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.
“my grandparents” — Kaye’s mother was Helen King. On 8 March 1929, Henrietta King, 50, whom I believe to be Helen King’s mother, married W.J. Howell, 58, in Wilson. Rev. B.F. Jordan performed the ceremony in the presence of George W. Coppedge, Eva M. Hines, and Willie Faulkland. William J. Howell died 8 November 1939 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 67 years old; was born in Cumberland County, N.C., to Rachel Barnes; was married to Henrietta Howell; lived at 517 Church Street; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Rountree Cemetery. In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Howell Henrietta (c; cook) h 517 Church. Henrietta King Howell died 28 December 1948 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
When the registrar filed 48 year-old Willie Black‘s death certificate on 6 February 1933, she recorded his cause of death as “gun shot wounds inflicted by parties or party unknown to the Coroner Jurry.”
However, on 27 January 1933, the Wilson Daily Times reported Willie Black’s widow Sarah Black and her “paramour” Robert Collins had confessed to the crime. On 7 February 1933, the paper reported that a grand jury had returned an indictment against Sarah Black for first degree murder in the slaying of her husband. Collins was also charged.
Sarah Black went on trial in May.
Elijah King testified that he heard two gunshots in the direction of the railroad. He went to the police station, then returned with officers to the Norfolk and Southern railroad, where they found a dead man lying about 150 yards from Rountree Bridge road. [Rountree Bridge road was most likely the continuation beyond city limits of what was then Stantonsburg Street and is now Black Creek Road. Rountree Bridge crossed Contentnea Creek three miles southeast of Wilson.]
Acting Coroner Ashe Hines testified that the body bore two gunshots wounds, one at close range behind the right ear and the other in the back.
Willie Black’s son, also named Willie Black, testified next. He was Sarah Black’s stepson. His father and stepmother had been married about two years before, and they quarreled frequently. On the night of the murder, Black Jr. saw Sarah talking with a preacher who lived nearby. His father was not at home, and Black Jr. thought he was at work.
Willie Black Jr. got home about 7:30 PM and found a lamp burning in his parents’ bedroom. He went to James Stancil’s store and stayed until about 9:00 PM, then went home and went to bed. Sarah Black came home about 10:00 PM, and ten minutes later the police arrived. Willie Jr. asked, “Where’s Papa?,” and the police took him and his stepmother to view the body where it lay. Sarah Black cried a little. The police questioned them about a single gauge shotgun.
The night before the shooting, Willie and Sarah Black had argued about the pigtails he brought home for dinner. Sarah Black: “I do not like them.” Willie Black: “If you don’t like them, you can thrown them out.” Sarah Black: I don’t even know why I married you. Willie Black Jr. admitted he and his stepmother had argued, too, but denied ever pulling a knife on her or threatening her.
Officer Lloyd Lucas testified that he had questioned Sarah Black, and she told him that she was a burial society meeting and then a prayer meeting during the time WIllie Black was supposed to have been killed. Lucas denied trying to intimidate Sarah Black or “wring a confession out of her,” but allowed he might have said “damn.”
Robert Collins, who was alleged to be Sarah Black’s lover, was charged with the actual killing and was to be tried after Black’s trial.
Wilson Daily Times, 24 May 1933.
Which happened immediately. The next day’s edition announced that Collins turned state’s evidence and testified to this sorry chain of events:
Robert Collins lived in Happy Hill and had known Sarah Black three to four years. About a week before the murder, at Sarah Black’s sister’s house, Sarah had told him she was tired of Willie Black and wanted him out of the way. She would furnish him with Willie Black’s own gun and would pay him with money and clothing. (Williams Lumber employees testified that they saw Sarah come to talk to Collins at work.) On the night of the shooting, Sarah hid Willie’s shotgun in a ditch. She and Collins followed Willie as he walked down the railroad, and Collins shot him in the back. Black kept walking. Sarah Black asked if Collins was going to shoot him again, and Collins said he could not. She then took the gun and shot her husband down. Collins and Sarah Black went to the Black home, then separated. When confronted by the police, Collins confessed and took all the blame for himself.
The jury deliberated about two-and-a-half hours before delivering its decision. Guilty. As to both. Collins was immediately sentenced to 29 years and Sarah Black to the electric chair.
[But stay tuned.]
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, day laborer Chas. Hines, 38, and wife Isabella, 38; step-daughter Mary Jane Bryant, 18; cook Jane Black, 35, widow, and her children William, 14, Clara, 4, Lucy, 1, plus day laborer Ed Black, 21, all boarders; and day laborer William York, 75, boarder.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, widow Jane Black, 45, house servant, and children Willie, 24, Caria, 14, Lucy, 11, Samuel, 7, and Gertrude, 3.
In 1918, Will Black registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in February 1883; lived on Goldsboro Street, Wilson; was a laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company; and his contact was wife Matilda Black.
On 27 August 1928, Matilda Black died in Castalia township, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was about 36 years old; married to Will Black; lived in Wilson; was born in Nash County to Richard Taylor and Dianah Hill; and was buried in a family cemetery. Will Black was informant.
Will Black, 40, of Wilson, son of Fred and Jane Black, married Sarah Kittrell, 25, of Wilson, daughter of Ed and Rosa Kittrell, on 11 August 1930 in Wilson. Disciples minister Fred Williams performed the ceremony in Wilson in the presence of Mae H. Young, Jas. H. Knight and Clara Ward.
George F. King was a Virginia-born news reporter and editor who built his career as a correspondent covering African-American people and issues in the South. He reported on Booker T. Washington’s visit to Wilson in 1910, but I can find no sources beyond these two Denver Star articles to establish that he actually lived in Wilson.
Be it remembered that on this the 28th day of July AD 1871 I, H.W. Peel, Coroner of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, (viz) W.S. Dun, John Baily, Timothy Wheeler, Jim Bass, Rober Gardner, Gray Web, George Best, Willy Ellis, J.W. Amerson, P.A. Whitley, Jos. Edmundson, Jos. Peacock by me summoned for that purpose according to Law after being by me duly sworn and Empanneled at the house of Sol Woodard in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of Charles King (col) and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of the deceased, from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured, the Jury find as follows, that is to say that the deceased came to his death by aixdently discharge of a loaded gun of the hands of Wm Woodard. /s/ J.M. Amason Forman, W.S. Dunn, Robt. Gardner, John (X) Baily, Timothy (X) Wheeler, Wiley Ellis, James (X) Bass, Geo. D. Best, Gray Webb, J.W. Peacock, Joseph Edmundson, J.A. Whitley
I Jas. T. Graves being sworn do testify that I examined the body of Charles King col and find that he came to his death of a gun shot wound entering his head in the left eye & penetrating the brain which was the cause of death. James T. Graves M.D.
Raford Newsom being solemly sworn says as follows. Namely that Wm Woodard Charles King Raford Newsom & Caroline King All the above names were at work on the farm except Caroline who went down to carry Charles King breakfast her husband. While eating his breakfast Wm Woodard came along and he and Charles King got into a play with the gun and while in the play the gun went off axidentily and shot Charles King near the left eye which instily killed him Raford (X) Newsom
Caroline King the wife of the deceased being solemnly sworn says as follows. The facts stated by Raiford Newsom as above are true the best of her understanding. Caroline (X) King
Neither Charles nor Caroline King appears in Wilson County records, but the jurors of the inquest are listed in the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township.
Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives
Last Sunday Coroner Wm. Harris received a telegram from the railroad agent at Elm City saying that a Negro man had been found there in a dying condition with a wound in his head, and telling the coroner to come over. The coroner went and obtained an affidavit from one John Rice that the body was that of James King, an employee of the Southern Railroad.
A jury was summoned, who, after examination of the body, rendered the following verdict:
That according to the evidence and after viewing the body of James King, (col.) that the deceased came to his death by some unknown cause.
The general supposition is that he was struck on the head by another of the train hands while he was on the top of the moving freight.