migration to California

Jesse Pender, veteran and chef.

In 2011, a Palm Springs, California, news reporter interviewed Wilson native Jesse D. Pender Sr., then 96, about his World War II service, his early work for a brothel keeper, and his years cooking for a president.

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The Desert Sun, 4 December 2011.

In the 1920 census of Goldsboro township, Wayne County: farmer Joseph Pender, 49; wife Ella L., 42; amd children Edward D., 14, Maggie, 9, Ernest, 12, Alonzo, 7, Jesse, 4, Georgiana, 3, and Josephine, 1.

On 29 December 1937, Jesse Pender, 23, of Wilson County, son of Joe and Ella Pender of Wilson County married Erma Dean Hines, 18, daughter of Louis and Martha Hines of Wilson County, in Nashville, Nash County.

In 1940, Jesse David Powell registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Note his employer.

Betty Powell and Mallie Paul, Depression-era Wilson’s most notorious white madams, ran neighboring brothels on Jones and South Streets. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County, Georgia native Bettie Powell, 46, is listed without occupation, and her three lodgers, all white women in their early 20s, were occupied as “companion-private home.”

Betty Powell made out her will in March 1945. After disposing of bonds, bank accounts, real property and jewelry, she bequeathed “all the residue of my estate to Jesse Pender and all of the girls including my maids, that may be residing with me at my death, to share and share alike.” She died just over a year later.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 May 1946.

Pender’s workplace before Betty Powell hired him to drive. Advertisement, Facts About Wilson North Carolina, Wilson Chamber of Commerce (1934).

Pender at age 102. Photo courtesy of “A Flowery Tribute in Palm Springs as Warplanes Fly in Formation in Memorial Day Salute,” The Desert Sun, 29 May 2017.

Thanks to my frequent collaborator S.M. Stevens (and her grandmother Willia Jones Turner) for forwarding this clipping. North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

 

Where did they go?: California World War II draft registrations.

These men, who registered for the World War II draft across California, reported that they were born in Wilson, North Carolina.

  • Lenard Barnes

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  • Oscar DeBell

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In the 1940 census of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California: at 300 East 51st Street, renting an apartment for $30/month, Wyman H. Burney, 43, born in Kansas, bartender at steam railroad bar, and Oscar DeBell, 37, born in North Carolina, janitor at a motion picture studio. DeBell reported that he had lived in New York City five years before.

  • Samuel Clinton Dupree

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  • Robert Haskins

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  • Lee Morgan

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In the 1940 census of Oakland, Alameda County, California: Lee Morgan, 51, waiter for shipping company, born in North Carolina. He reported that he had lived in Seattle, Washington, five years prior.

  • Oscar Williams

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Charles S. Darden, Esq.

The second of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden’s sons, Charles Sylvester Darden made his mark far from home — in Los Angeles, California.  Though he largely eluded the decennial censuses, the trajectory of Darden’s career as a hard-charging attorney can be glimpsed in contemporary newspapers and other documents.

Dinah Darden and her elder sons, James B., Charles S. and John W. Darden.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charles Darden, 26; wife Diana, 21; and children John, 3, Annie, 2, and Charlie, 9 months.

Charles Darden received an undergraduate degree at Howard University and graduated from its law school in 1904.

The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 31 May 1904.

In short order, Darden headed West and in 1906 passed the examination for admission to the California bar. He was one of the first licensed African-American lawyers in the state.

The anomaly of Darden’s position early caught the attention of the local press, and in 1907 this mocking piece appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Times, 25 December 1907.

Within his community, however, Darden was taken seriously. In May 1908, his place in the political life of black Los Angeles was signaled by his inclusion among leaders calling for a protest against Republican presidential nominee William H. Taft for his recommendation that President Theodore Roosevelt dismiss black soldiers blamed for murder in the Brownsville Affair.

 

Los Angeles Herald, 31 May 1908.

That same year, Darden was instrumental in organizing a Howard University alumni association in Los Angeles. The Times covered the group’s annual banquet in 1909.

Los Angeles Times, 11 February 1909.

By 1911, Darden had entered the arena in which he had the greatest impact — real estate development and litigation. That year, as the first black lawyer to argue before the California Supreme Court, Darden attacked racially restrictive covenants

By 1913, he and ten others incorporated the Co-operative Commercial Investment Company.

Los Angeles Times, 27 November 1913.

He also was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1913.

Journal of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 1915, black police officer Homer L. Garrott purchased a home in the Angeles Park subdivision of Los Angeles. Angeles Park lots were covered by a restrictive covenant prohibiting sales to black, Japanese and Chinese buyers, and the Title Guarantee Company sued to enforce it. Charles S. Darden stepped up to defend Garrott. A Superior Court judge ruled in Garrott’s favor, striking down race restrictions as null and void. Angeles Park and the title company appealed, and the case reached the California State Supreme Court in 1919. The ruling was affirmed, but bizarrely undercut by the court’s decision in another case upholding the validity of occupancy clauses. (For more re Garrott, see Douglas Flamming, Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America (2005)).

As the United States entered World War I, Darden got involved in protests over the forced retirement of African-American Colonel Charles Young in the wake of resistance by white officers balking at being outranked by a black man. In a letter to Dean Kelly Miller of Howard University, Darden also championed of the causes of Captain Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and a Captain Green, who had also been effectively sidelined.

Kansas City Sun, 21 July 1917.

Two months later, Darden wrote directly to the Secretary of the War Department, complaining that the applications of well-qualified young African-American men were being turned down “because of their color.” The response was terse and not entirely to the point: “At the present time no colored squadrons are being formed and applications from colored men for this branch of service cannot be considered for that reason.”

Letter from Secretary of War to Charles S. Darden, 11 August 1917; W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312); Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

In 1918, Charles Sylvester Darden registered for the World War I draft in Los Angeles. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1879 in Wilson, North Carolina; resided at 224 South Spring, Los Angeles; was a self-employed lawyer at 407 Germain, Los Angeles; was 5’4″ and of medium build; and his nearest relative was Charles H. Darden, 110 Pender Street, Wilson, North Carolina.

“Incorporations,” Southwest Builder and Contractor, volume 57, number 11 (18 March 1921).

The beach at Santa Monica’s Bay Street, popular with African-Americans in the early 20th century, was derogatorily called “The Inkwell”. While they appreciated the access to the Pacific Ocean that the beach represented, local African-American leaders also wanted an end to all efforts to inhibit their freedom to use all public beaches. In 1922, the Santa Monica Bay Protective League attempted to purge African Americans from the city’’s shoreline by blocking an effort by the Ocean Frontage Syndicate, an African American investment group led by Norman O. Houston and Charles S. Darden, to develop a resort with beach access at the base of Pico Boulevard. Santa Monica officials quickly enacted zoning laws to deny the Ocean Frontage Syndicate beach front property, changing such regulations once whites bought the land and made similar development proposals.

In 1940, Darden partnered with two African-American doctors to form the Los Angeles Negro Professional Men’s Athletic Club, a venue for boxing matches, ball games, dances and other affairs.

Pittsburgh Courier, 29 June 1940.

A whiff of scandal touched Darden in 1940, but failed to gain traction. He was held blameless in a fatal automobile accident on Anaheim’s Santa Ana Canyon Road. Darden apparently never married, and the paper was careful to note that his female companion was white.

Santa Ana Register, 27 August 1940.

In 1942, Charles S. Darden registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1879 in Wilson, North Carolina; he resided at 1802 Central, Los Angeles; his phone number was PR 3750; he was employed as an attorney at 1802 Central; and his contact was C.L. Darden, Wilson, North Carolina.

Charles S. Darden died in March 1954 in Los Angeles.

The Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), 17 March 1954.

Photograph of Dardens courtesy of N.J. and C. Darden, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine; J. Clay Smith Jr., Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer 1844-1944 (1993).

Studio shots, no. 37: the Freeman brothers.

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Ernest Aaron Freeman (1890-1970) and Joseph Thomas Freeman (1894-1991) were sons of Julius F. and Eliza Daniels Freeman and younger brothers of Oliver N. Freeman and Julius F. Freeman Jr.

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Tom and Ernest Freeman.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: 56 year-old carpenter Julius Freeman, wife Eliza, 46, and children Elizabeth, 19, Nestus, 17, Junius, 11, Ernest, 9, Tom, 6, Daniel, 4, and Ruth, 4 months.

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Ernest A. Freeman.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: house carpenter Julius Freeman, 65; wife Eliza, 54; and children Nestus, 28, bricklayer; Ollie, 18, Daniel, 14, John, 7, Junius, 22, Ernest, 20, and Thomas, 17.

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Joseph T. Freeman.

Ernest Freeman registered for the World War I draft in Cleveland, Ohio. Per his registration card, he was born 3 November 1890 in Wilson, N.C.; resided at 2169 East 90th Street, Cleveland; worked as a sailor for the Pitts. Steam Ship Co. on the the steamer D.M. Clemson; and was single.

In the 1920 census of Cleveland, Ohio: at 2339 East 49th Street, steel foundry laborer Earnest Freeman, 30; wife Gertrude, 26; and daughter Gertrude, 11 months.

In the 1920 census of Los Angeles, California: at 1501 Essex Street, North Carolina-born post office clerk Joseph T. Freeman, 26, a lodger.

In the 1930 census of Cleveland, Ohio: at 2258 Ashland Road, factory clerk Earnest Freeman, 39; wife Gertrude, 35; and children Evelyn, 11, Eanest, 7, and Arthur J., 10 months; as well as boarder Myrtle Bufford, 35, a domestic servant. Freeman owned the house, valued at $4000, and rented apartments in it to two families.

In the 1930 census of Los Angeles, California: at 1220 – 33rd Street, mail clerk Joseph T. Freeman, 34, and wife Phyllis N., 31, cafe waitress. Joseph was born in North Carolina, and Phyllis was born in Minnesota to a Danish immigrant parent.

In the 1940 census of Cleveland, Ohio: at 2211 East 81st Street, National Steel foreman Ernest A. Freeman, 49; wife Gertrude; children Evelyn G. 21, Ernest Jr., 17, and Arthur J., 10.

In 1942, Earnest Aaron Freeman registered for the World War II draft in Cleveland. Per his registration card, he was born 3 November 1890 in Wilson, N.C.; resided at 2211 East 81st Street, Cleveland; worked for National Acme Company, East 131st and Coit Road; and his nearest relative was Mrs. Gertrude Freeman.

In 1942, Joseph Thomas Freeman registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he lived at 1248 West Jefferson, Los Angeles; was born 31 July 1894, Wilson, North Carolina; worked for the U.S. Postal Department, Terminal Annex, Mary Street and Alameda Street, Los Angeles; and his contact was Mrs. Sophia Freeman.

Ernest A. Freeman died 17 December 1970 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Joseph T. Freeman died 8 February 1991 and was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery, Fort Bliss, Texas.

Photographs of Freeman boys and teenaged E. Freeman courtesy of Ancestry user JaFreeman34; photo of J.T. Freeman as young adult courtesy of Ancestry user rcbrown1592rcb; The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18, The F.J. Heer Printing Co. (1926), online at Ancestry.com.

Students at the colored orphanage.

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For “School Session September 1929 to May 1929,” the Roster of Students for the Oxford Colored Orphanage listed six children from Wilson: Madell Moore; Julian and Joseph Covington; and Dempsey, Malachi and Kurfew Ward.

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  • Madell Moore — in the 1930 census of Fishing Creek township, Granville County, Maedall Moore, 9, is listed as an inmate of the Oxford Colored Orphanage of North Carolina.
  • Julian Covington
  • Joseph Covington
  • Dempsey Ward — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 703 Viola Street, house carpenter Jessie Ward, 36; wife Mary, 34; and children Mabel, 17, Gertrude, 12, Kerfus, 7, Malachi, 5, Dempsey, 3, Virginia, 2, and Sara, 1 month. In the 1930 census of Fishing Creek township, Granville County, Dempsey Ward, 14, farm laborer, is listed as an inmate of the Oxford Colored Orphanage of North Carolina. (Neither his brothers nor the Covingtons are listed.)
  • Malachi Ward — Malachi Ward died 14 February 1963 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 November 1919 in Wilson, N.C., to Jesse Ward and Mary Sherrod; he resided at 2819 North 11th Street, Philadelphia; and he worked as a barber. Kerfew Ward of Compton, California, was informant.
  • Kurfew Ward — Kurfew Melvin Ward was born 17 December 1912 in Wayne County, North Carolina. On 15 September 1937, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, issued a marriage license for Kurfew M. Ward, 24, and Elizabeth Brown, 19, both residents of Pittsburgh. Per their application, Wars was born 17 December 1912 to Jesse Ward and Mary Sheard, both dead; was from Wilson, N.C.; worked as a laborer; and lived at 621 Whittier. Brown resided at 107 Pugh and was the daughter of Earl Brown of Pittsburgh and Blanche Brown of Virginia. In the 1954 city directory of Compton, California: Kerfew M. Ward, plasterer, with Elizabeth J. Ward. Kurfew M. Ward died 4 July 1970 in Los Angeles, California.

Annual Reports of the Colored Orphanage Oxford, N.C. is available at https://archive.org/details/reporttoboardofd19201944.

Harper Best heard from.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 March 1911.

——

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spring Street, drayman Harper Best, 30, and his lodger “Methodist preacher” Franklin Bird, 24.

Harper Best, 33, married Rosa England, 18, on 22 September 1882 in Wilson.

Before the decade was out, the Bests migrated to California, and Harper Best appears in San Jose city directories as early as 1890 and at least as late as 1916.

1892 SJ city directory

1892 San Jose, California, city directory.

In 1890, he even registered to vote in San Jose:

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Copy of the Great Register of Santa Clara County.

This is likely a 1901 Santa Clara death register entry for Best’s son, also named Harper Best and born in North Carolina in about 1882. Presumably, Rosa Best died before her son did:

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Record of Deaths, Santa Clara County.

In the 1910 census of San Jose, Santa Clara County, California: 83 South First Street, 59 year-old Harper Best was lived alone. His occupation was porter in a dry goods store, and he was described as single.

The 10 March 1911 newspaper article above is not the only time Harper Best was featured in the Wilson Daily Times. On 7 May 1912, the Times printed a short letter with an accompanying clipping from a San Jose-area newspaper:

HARPER BEST BEST.

A Worthy Colored Man Who Left Wilson and Went West.

The following letter from Mr. J.M. Waterman, private secretary to Harper Best explains itself. Harper lived with Mr. Green for 13 years and is a worthy colored man.

Mr. G.D. Green, Wilson, N.C.

Dear Sir: —

Acting upon the suggestion of your friend, Harper Best, I am sending you a newspaper clipping cut from on of our principal papers, and you will note how popular Harper is out here in the “Wild and Wooly West.”

All matters in the notice are true, regarding his physical condition and [h]is insatiable appetite. He has a regular possum grin on his face at all time.

With best regards from Harper, and hoping to hear from you in the very near future, I am,

Yours respectfully, J.M. Waterman, Private Secretary to H.B.

Harper Best and Hear[t]beats.

Almost everyone in San Jose knows Harper Best, the old and trusted handy-man around the Arcade, who has held his position for about 24 years, and who at the age of 62 can still get around like a youngster. Harper is good-natured at all times, and a few hints to his many friends at this time will not be amiss on how to stay young and be happy. Harper is an epicure. Any time you meet him he begins to talk about something to eat. Chicken, young duck, ‘possum and sweet potatoes and so on. But the ‘possum seems to be his long suit and he claims that if you know how to cook it and put plenty of sweet potatoes in the roaster at the right time you will be able to stay young. If you should happen to pretend to doubt him on the age question he will pull a typewritten statement on you and prove his age to the heart beat. Here follows his age: 62 years, 744 months, 3224 weeks, 22,568 days, 541,632 hours, 32,497,920 minutes, and 1,949,875,200 heart beats. His next expression is this way: “Now, friend, you have the proof and if you want to stay young do what I do. Eat ‘possum and you can’t get old.”

And two years later, on 2 May 1914, the Times published this letter from Best himself:

Tribute from a Colored Man.

April 23, 1914.

Wilson Daily Times, Wilson N.C.

Gentlemen: — Kindly allow me space in your valuable paper to say: “Some years ago along about 1873 I came from Snowhill, Green County, to Wilson, your city. After a couple of years, I went to work with Palmer and Green, a hardware store. I stayed with Mr. Green and worked for him until 1888. Then in January, 1888, I made up my mind to start for California.

Owing to the fact that it was so far away in the West, I had not the money as usual. I was, however, [section missing] and on cold mornings I would build a fire up for him before he got up. One morning I said to him: “I am going to leave, Mr. Green.” He said, “Where are you going?” I replied that I was going to California and he inquired how I would get there. I said, “I will have to borrow the money from yo.” So it was arranged, and I got the money from him and started for California.

Since that time Mr. Green has been a dear friend of mine as well as all the time I was employed by him. It mattered not what come or went I could always depend on him. During the many years that I worked for him, I have seen the time where there were many people in the town and county that would come to Mr. Green for favors large and small. He always did what he could for them and gave them satisfaction. After I had come to California, Mr. Green settled some of my debts for me and sent me the bills. I sent him a check for the same and if there was a friend among whites or colored that upbuild Wilson, it as Mr. Green.

His brains was often required in the courthouse, and men of all classes would come to him for advice.

I find that Mr. Frank Barnes is on my mind at this time. He was on e of the leading men of the county. Also the Woodards, several of whose names I could mention. They were farmers in the country. Also Mr. Joshua Barnes was a well-known man.

After all many of these men that I remember have passed into the world beyond, but their memory will never be forgotten as long as Wilson remains a city.

I have many friends in the section of the country where I live, San Jose, California, and my life has been such that a very large majority of the people know me — and if they don’t know my name they know my face.

Now at this time, I am thinking very strongly of paying another visit to Wilson, during the summer and perhaps I will remain there for a few months. If any of my friends wish to come out to the exposition next year I want to say to them, “California is a very good country for health, but like all countries now, money is plentiful but work for young men is very scarce. With all their education they can’t get a decent job sometime. Gold is not like it used to be, nor is silver. It takes very hard pushing now for a man to get through who hasn’t any money, but if you have plenty of money, it goes very easily. But if you haven’t it, it is very hard pulling.

If any one wish to write me during the next sixty days he can do so. I will give them all the information I can about this community and section of the country. To my many friends in Wilson I will say that Wilson is dear to me. As I meet many North Carolinians from the Western and Eastern portion and I speak of the grand old state it makes me feel very proud of North Carolina. I know that there are men of very great brains and understanding and wisdom that were reared in North Carolina. As far as I can see there are no better educated men, white or colored, in any state in the Union.

I just give this little sketch to your readers. This is from an old friend.  HARPER BEST.

Best appears to have returned to Wilson during or just after World War I. By 1920, he had joined his sister’s household at 330 South Spring Street: widowed Nannie Best, 61, her daughter Frank, 30, son Aaron, 21, and daughter-in-law Estelle, 19, and a lodger, nurse Henrietta Colvert, 24 [a Statesville native who was my great-great-aunt.] (N.B.: what appears to be the same 65 year-old Harper Best is also listed as a head of a household at 109 Wiggins Street that included his brothers Morris Best, 50, and Frank Best, 32; sister Estelle Best, 21; and son Orren Best, 19. [The recurrence of given names suggests a relationship to Daniel Best (born circa 1808) of Greene County. Daniel and his wife Jane had sons Orren Best, born about 1848, and Noah Best, born about 1854. Orren Best and his wife Hancey had a daughter Nannie. Noah Best had sons Morris and Frank.]

Here are Harper and extended family in the 1922-23 city directory:

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On 22 October 1929, Harper Best dictated a will describing himself as a resident of Wilson and leaving all his property, personal and real, to his sister Nannie Best and nieces Eliza and Frankie Best. He died just under eight months later.

S123_1049-2108

California Voter Registers, 1866-1898 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com; California Death and Burial Records from Select Counties, 1873-1987 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.