Kittrell

The brickmasons’ strike(s).

Newspaper reports reveal a strike (or series of strikes) by African-American brick masons in Wilson in the first decade of the 20th century. Though the record is sparse, these articles offer rare glimpses of black workers flexing their economic muscle, and surprising hints of the reach of organized labor during a time and place well-known for hostility toward unionization.

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Wilmington Messenger, 21 October 1902.

Brickmasons led by Goodsey Holden struck for a nine-hour work day consistent with that required by “the International union.” The protest, at least temporarily, resulted in concessions from the contractors for whom they worked.

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News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 2 April 1903.

Six months later, bricklayers struck again, crippling progress on the construction of several large brick commercial buildings, including Imperial Tobacco’s new stemmery. Contractors brought in nearly 20 masons from Raleigh and Durham to pick up the work. The sub-headline suggests that the men refused to cross picket lines once they arrived in Wilson, but the article does not address the matter. Masons in those cities were also engaged in strike activity.

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Greensboro Daily News, 18 March 1906.

Three years later, Will Kittrell was arrested and charged with conspiracy and blackmail for allegedly warning a Henderson brickmason to leave town. Contractors continued to import masons from across North Carolina to fill the gap created by Wilson workers’ refusal to work without limits on long workdays.

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804 East Vance Street.

The twenty-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, this house is: “ca. 1930; 2 stories; gable front house of concrete-block construction, with patterned tin shingles in front-facing gable;  bungalow type porch; unique in district.”

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In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Virginia-born farm laborer Jacob Roberts, 35; wife Matilda, 25; and children Willie, 8, Rebecca, 5, Lettis, 3, and Isam, 11 months.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Virginia-born carpenter Jake Roberts, 54; wife Matilda, 44, washing; and children Rebecca, 23, cooking, Lettie, 21, cooking, Luginia, 18, cooking, Mattie, 16, nurse, Westly, 14, tobacco stemmer, Marrie, 13, Eddie, 8, Laura, 5, and Addie, 2.

On 29 April 1902, Solomon Kittrell, 27, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Millie Kittrell of Oxford, North Carolina, married Lettie Roberts, 23, daughter of Jacob and Tildy Roberts, all of Wilson County. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at Jacob Roberts’ home in the presence of Albert Hilliard, Floyd Cox and W.C. Christmas.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Vance Street, Solomon Kittrel, no age listed, laborer in buggy factory; wife Lettie, 26; and children Rebecca, 7, Sol K., 5, Bernis, 3, and Lillie, 1.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 704 Viola Street, laborer Saul Kittrell, 41; wife Lettie, 35; and children Rebecca, 16, Saul, 15, Bernice, 10, Lillie, 8, Margaret, 7, Charles, 2, and William, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 804 East Vance, painter Saul Kittrell, 52; wife Lettie, 48, practical nurse; and children Bernice, 19, Lilly, 18, Margaret, 17, Charles, 10, and Henry, 9. Sol valued their house at $10,000.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 804 East Vance, building painter Solomon Kittrell, 65; wife Lettie, 63; children Berenice, 32, a tobacco factory hanger, and Charles, 22, assistant county agent’s office; and lodgers Charles Beatty, 40, a blacksmith in a repair shop, and his wife Emma, 28, who reported living in Clinton, North Carolina, in 1935.

In 1940, Charles Elva Kittrell registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he resided at 804 East Vance Street, Wilson; was born 12 March 1918 in Wilson; his nearest relative was his mother Lettie Kittrell of 804 East Vance; and he was employed by the National Youth Administration in Kanawha, West Virginia.

Solomon Kittrell died 10 May 1944 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was married to Lettie Kittrell; resided at 804 East Vance Street; was born 8 February 1880 in Oxford, North Carolina, to Henry Kittrell and an unnamed mother; and he worked as a carpenter. Informant was Saul Kittrell, 804 East Vance.

Lettie R. Kittrell died 14 December 1957 after being struck by a freight train at the Green Street Atlantic Coastline railroad crossing. Per her death certificate, she was born 18 January 1876 in Edgecombe County to Jacob Roberts and Matilda Hilliard; worked as a practical nurse; and was widowed. Informant was Rebecca Thomas of 914 East Green Street.

Photo taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2017.

That’s your wife.

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Wilson News, 21 September 1899.

Ignore the snark, which was par for the course for newspapers covering African-American social and cultural events. This is a fascinating peek into early East Wilson’s social circles.

  • Henry S. Perry — Henry S. Perry (1873-1927) was a native of Lagrange, Lenoir County. He worked as a bellhop, porter and waiter.
  • Centha Barnes — Lucinda Barnes (1881-circa 1909), known as “Cintha” or “Cindy,” was the youngest child of Willis and Cherry Battle Barnes.
  • Roebertha E. Long
  • Rev. S.B. Hunter — Rev. Southey B. Hunter (1847-??) was an A.M.E. Zion minister.
  • Chas. B. Gay — Charles Benjamin Gay (1878-1953) was the son of Samuel and Alice Bryant Gay.
  • J.H. Brown
  • Michael Taylor — Henry Michael Taylor (1861-1927), married to Rachel Barnes, was the bride’s brother-in-law. Known as “Mike,”he worked as a drayman.
  • Edward Barnes — Edward Barnes (1869-1912) was the bride’s brother. He was much better known as Ned Barnes and married Charles and Lucy Gay’s sister Louisa Gay.
  • Walter Clark — Walter Clark (1884-??) was the son of mechanic Rhoden Clark and Sarah Hill Clark, who were Edgecombe County natives. The family lived at 606 E. Green Street.
  • Lucy Gay — Lucy Gay was a sister of Charles Gay. She later married John H. Lewis in Wilson.
  • L.H. Jones — Levi Hunter Jones (1877-1961), a native of Hertford County, North Carolina, was a barber.
  • E.J. Tate — Tate was probably a relative of Hardy Tate (1854-1938), a brickmason.
  • Williams Barnes — William Barnes (1879-1917) was also the bride’s brother.
  • Leutha Clark — Alethia Clark (1882-1936) was the sister of Walter Clark.
  • John Coleman
  • Sattena Barnes — Sattena Barnes (1878-1928) was born in Elm City, Wilson County, to Dublin and Eliza Batts Barnes. She later married John Gaston.
  • William Kittrel — William Kittrell (1875-??) was an Oxford, North Carolina, native and bricklayer.
  • Catharine Clark — Catherine Clark (1880-1933) was a sister of Walter and Lethia Clark.
  • Maggie Taylor — Maggie Taylor (1885-) was Mike and Rachel Barnes Taylor’s daughter.
  • Virginia Dawson — Virginia Dawson (1890-1933), daughter of fishmonger/merchant Alexander D. Dawson and dressmaker Lucy Annie Hill Dawson.
  • Bettie Clark — Bettie Clark (1885-??) was another of Rhoden and Sarah Clark’s children.
  • Lucy Hines — Lucy Hines (1886-??) was the daughter of Della Hines Battle.
  • Anna Pridgen
  • Glace Battle — Glace Battle (circa 1890-??) was the daughter of Parker and Ella Battle. She later married Timothy Black.
  • Alice Pierce — Alice Pierce (1889-1915) was the daughter of Andrew Pierce and Alice Knight Pierce. She later married Walter A. Maynor.
  • Bertha Taylor — Bertha Taylor (1891-1962) was also Mike and Rachel Barnes Taylor’s daughter.