Though a native of Georgia, Georgia Burke spent at least ten years in Wilson, teaching third and fourth grade (and coaching basketball and tennis) to the children of the Colored Graded School and the Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute. She was one of the eleven teachers who walked off the job in support of Mary C. Euell in 1918 and, in 1921, was involved in another incident in which “a race riot was narrowly averted.” Burke auditioned for a Broadway on a lark in 1928, got the role, and never returned to teaching.
I recently revisited Isabel Wilkerson’s epic The Warmth of Other Suns and, if you haven’t basked in this brilliance, please do. Others have said it better than I can. Toni Morrison called the book “profound, necessary, and a delight to read”; Tom Brokaw praised it as “an epic for all Americans who want to understand the making of our modern nation”; The New York Times Book Review” proclaimed a massive and masterly account”; The New Yorker, “a deeply affecting, finely crafted and heroic book.”
Black Wide-Awake is largely about people who cast down their buckets where they were, but also shines light on those whose paths carried them away from Wilson County. I can say with confidence that nobody I knew growing up did not have relatives in Harlem or Brooklyn or Queens or the Bronx. Every summer, our little pack swelled with migrants’ grandchildren sent down South and inevitably one of our own went North for two weeks and came back “talking proper.” (Disclosure: I spent two years living in New York. I was in graduate school at Columbia and lived on West 121st Street in Morningside Heights. From the park at the end of my street, I could look out over the expanse of pre-gentrified Harlem, and 125th Street served up any Southernness I was homesick for.)
A definitive listing of these many thousands of migrants is impossible, but a try seems well worth it. In a slight expansion of the general timeline of the blog, these running lists will focus on documented migration prior to 1960. Arguably, New York was the lodestar for North Carolinians during the Great Migration, and I’ll start there.
I recently stumbled across Pointed Towards the Sun, a collection of stories about the immigrant experience published in 2018 by students and faculty of Brookdale Community College, Montclair, New Jersey. The section “Historical Research and Ancestry Studies” includes Nathalie Darden’s memoir about the triumphs and struggles of her grandparents, a French woman and an African-American man who met in Paris in the 1950s.
On 2 July 1925, Arthur Darden, 35, of Wilson, son of Charlie and Dianah Darden, married Olive Blanks, 21, of Wilson, daughter of J.B. and Susan Blanks, in Wilson. C.L. Darden applied for the license, and A.M.E. Zion minister J.E. Kennedy performed the ceremony in the presence of L.A. Moore, C.L. Darden, and V.L. Moore.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 109 Stantonsburg Street, Arthur Darden, 38, proprietor of undertaking environment; wife Olive, 21, public school teacher, born in South Carolina; son Charles R., 3; and roomer Estella Williamson, 17.
In the 1940 census of Bronx, New York: at 1324 Prospect Street, Olive Darden, 32, and son Charles, 13, both born in North Carolina.
In 1945, Charles Arthur Darden registered for the World War II draft in Queens, New York. Per his registration card, he was born 11 February 1927 in Wilson, N.C.; he lived at 167-08 111th Avenue, Jamaica, Queens, N.Y.; his contact was mother Olive Darden Edinboro; he was unemployed; and had a scar under his right eye.
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: merchant Lee Moore, 36, wife Louisa, 32, and son Ernest, 12.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Street, life insurance agent Lee Moore, 40; wife Mary, 36; and son Earnest, 19.
In 1917, Ernest Andrew Moore registered for the World War I draft in New York, New York. Per his registration card, he was born 8 March 1888 in Wilson, N.C.; lived at 257 West 111th Street; worked as an elevator operator for Frank Mull, 257 West 111th; and was single.
Ernest Moore, 31, of Wilson married Esther Mitchell, 21, of Wilson on 18 July 1919 in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony, and Dudley Bynum and Oleonia Bynum witnessed.
On 17 November 1927, Louise and Thelma Moore, children of Ernest and Ethel Mitchell Moore, were baptized at Riverside Hospital. Louise was born 28 October 1924, and Thelma, 15 July 1926. New York, Episcopal Diocese of New York Church Records, 1767-1970,[database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
Ethel Mitchell — actually, Esther Mitchell.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Atlantic Street, barber Douglas [Dudley] Bynum, 29; wife Ora, 28; and roomer Ester Mitchell, 21.
Mrs. Maryland passed away on 4 September 1995, less than a week after this news photo was published.
Jonas Maryland, 23, of Toisnot, married Florence Williams, 19, of Toisnot, on 4 October 1911 at Town Creek School house. Missionary Baptist minister J.J. Thompson performed the ceremony.
In 1918, Jonas Maryland registered for the World War I draft in Edgecombe County. Per his registration card, he was born 4 April 1878; resided at R.F.D. 1, Sharpsburg; was a farm laborer for Jessie Williams; and his nearest relative was Florence Maryland.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on the Wilson and Rocky Mount Road, farmer Jonah Maryland, 40; wife Vinie, 22; and children Clarence, 8, Willis, 5, Allie, 4, Fannie, 3, and Annie, 7 months.
In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on the Rocky Mount and Town Creek Road, Janos Maryland, 53, widower, house carpenter; and children Clarence, 19, Ernest, 17, Fannie, 15, Addie B., 13, Ruth, 11, and Essie, 8.
In the 1940 census of Bronx, New York: Elizabeth Hayes, 33, domestic for private family; daughter Ethel Hayes, 6; and partner Florence Maryland, 44, domestic for private family. The women were born in North Carolina; Ethel, in New York.
Charles Diggs left Wilson County shortly after Emancipation, and I have found no record of him there. He is remarkably elusive in federal census records as well, but newspaper clippings and other records offer glimpses of his family and the rich life he led in Brooklyn, New York. (Why was he called “Colonel,” though? Was he a veteran of the United States Colored Troops?0
On 25 April 1872, in Brooklyn, New York, Charles Diggs, 25, of Wadesborough, Virginia [sic], son of James Diggs and Lydia Harris, married Carter Corlea Jones, 25, of Lynchburgh, Virginia, daughter of Riley Carter and Polly Reed.
In the 1874 Brooklyn, N.Y., city directory: Diggs Charles well sinker 1191 Atlantic av
A female child was born 14 October 1874 in Brooklyn to Charles Diggs and Carter Carlea Jones.
A male child was born 4 April 1878 in Brooklyn to Charles Diggs and Carter Jones.
Florence R. Diggs was born 20 October 1878 in Brooklyn to Charles Diggs and Carter C. Jones.
A male child was born 2 December 1880 in Brooklyn to Charles Diggs and Carter C. Jones.
In the 1889 Brooklyn, N.Y., city directory: Diggs Charles welldriver 289 Franklin av
Carter Diggs died 25 March 1890 in Brooklyn, New York. Per her death certificate, she was 46 years old, was born in Virginia, and was married.
In 1890, Diggs was initiated into the Brooklyn Literary Union, organized in 1886, and where he would rub elbows with journalist T. Thomas Fortune:
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 8 May 1890.
In the 1892 state census of Brooklyn, Kings County, New York: Chas. Diggs, 45, well digger, and children Rosa, 19, [illegible], 15, Horace, 10, and Florence, 12.
In the 1895 Brooklyn, N.Y., city directory: Diggs Chas welldigger 485 Waverly av
Horace L. Diggs, age 16, died 9 June 1898 in New York, New York.
A 1901 article noted that Diggs was one of a few Brooklyn residents to have been born into slavery:
From “Brooklyn’s Colored Population: It Is Believed to Number Eighteen Thousand — Progress in Prosperity and In Intellectual Advancement — Paying Taxes on Property Amounting to About One Million Dollars. The Brooklyn Citizen, 8 December 1901.
In the 1905 state census of Brooklyn, Kings County, New York: at 111 DeKalb Avenue, Louis Paultry, 42, laborer; wife Harriett Paultry, 38; well digger Charles Diggs, 59; porter James Teamer, 32; stable man Edward Scoot, 46; and laborer John Harry, 27.
“Colonel” Charles Diggs helped plan the Garnet Republican Club’s Lincoln Dinner in February 1908. During the event, he delivered a speech on “Organization and Unity.”
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 13 February 1908.
Diggs helped plan the Garnet Republican Club’s observance of the 100th anniversary:
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 28 November 1908.
In 1911, the Society of the Sons of North Carolina, to which Diggs belonged, planned a “monster mass meeting” and published an appeal for support of its efforts to address “the condition of immorality existing among the young girls of our race in certain sections ….”
New York Age, 6 July 1911.
Of more personal concern, in late 1911, widow Rosa Hardnut signaled her intent to sue Bristol Meyers Chemical Company, where her husband was buried alive while working on a dig for Charles Diggs.
Brooklyn Daily Times, 9 December 1911.
Charles Diggs died 29 April 1919 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. Per his death certificate, he was born 1848 to James and Lydia Diggs; was a well digger; was a widower; and was buried in Mount Olivet cemetery.
Florence Varner died 28 April 1928 in Manhattan. Per her death certificate, she was 61 years old; was widowed; was born in 1886 in New York City to Charles Diggs of North Carolina and Carter Jones of North Carolina.
Mae Wilson died 23 July 1941 in the Bronx. Per her death certificate, she was 42 years old; was widowed; and was born 24 October 1880 to Charles Diggs of North Carolina and Carter Jones.
[What was the Society of the Sons of North Carolina?
Frank Barnes applied for a Seaman’s Protection Certificate in August 1917. American seamen carried the document as proof of citizenship in foreign ports. Per his application, Barnes was born 22 January 1895 in Wilson, North Carolina; was not literate; and had been employed since 1915 as a fireman on the S.S. Mauretania en route from New York to France.
Per his description, Barnes was 5’3″, 125 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair and a scar over his right temple. He resided at 1 Doyers Street, New York. [Doyers is a tiny elbow of a lane off The Bowery in Chinatown, and #1 is now home to Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles Inc.]
Howard Adams, above, and William Smith and Fredrick Woods, below, gave affidavits to establish Barnes’ identification.
The customs collector testified to Barnes’ citizenship.
In December 1917, Frank Barnes himself attested that he was born in Wilson in 1894 and that his father Frank Barnes “(probably)” or “believes he was born in” the United States. Barnes had lived in Wilson until 1915 when he began to work in shipping. He had recently worked on three ships: the S.S. Orduna from 1 July to 19 July 1917; the S.S. Carmenia from 26 August to 11 September 1917; and the S.S. Anglo Saxon, 14 November to 14 December 1917.
Barnes received his identification in December 1917 in Bordeaux, France.
Detail of the certificate:
Close-ups of Frank Barnes’ photographs:
Another photo from Barnes’ 1918 application for a protection certificate:
U.S. Applications for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com; original document at Application for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940, Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, 1774-1982, Record Group 41, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Andrew Cotton applied for a Seaman’s Protection Certificate in May 1936. American seamen carried the document as proof of citizenship in foreign ports. Per his application, Cotton was born 19 June 1904 in Sharpsburg, North Carolina; resided at 207 West 137th Street, New York City; and had last worked on the S.S. Evangeline as a waiter. He was 5’8″ with dark brown skin, brown eyes and black hair and had no identifying marks.
In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Levy Edwards Road, Isaac Cotton, 44; wife Flonnie, 34; and children Coloneous, 18, Lucy, 16, Sidney, 13, Mary, 11, Isaac E., 8, Andrew, 6, Levy, 4, and Clarence, 1.
Passenger lists from 1938 to 1954 show Cotton shipping out of ports on both sides of the Atlantic, including New York, New York; Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Saint Georges and Hamilton, Bermuda; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Hamburg, Germany; Gourock, Scotland; Southampton, England; Cobh, Ireland; and Genoa, Italy.
U.S. Applications for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com; original document at Application for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940, Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, 1774-1982, Record Group 41, National Archives, Washington, D.C; New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 805 Roberson Street, Isom Bryant, 37, factory laborer; wife Rossie, 32, public school maid; and daughters Beatrice, 15, Bertha, 14, and Inez, 11.
On 18 February 1931, Beatrice O. Bryant, 17, daughter of Isham and Rossie Bryant, married Jos. F. Haskins, 19, son of James Haskins and Martha Pitt, in Wilson. Rev. J.T. Douglas of Calvary Presbyterian Church performed the service at Isham Bryant’s house with Judge Mitchell and the Bryants as witnesses.
In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Isham Bryant, 49, machinist at tobacco factory; wife Rossie, 43; daughter Inez, 22, tobacco factory laborer; and granddaughter Bobbie Haskins, 8 [Beatrice B. Haskins’ daughter Barbara].
In the 1940 census of Brooklyn, King County, New York: on DeKalb Avenue, house painter Joseph Bryant, 32; wife Beatrice, 28; and children Joseph, 8, Ida Mae, 7, Donald, 5, and Dorothy, 1. Joseph and Beatrice were born in North Carolina; the children, in New York. [This is Beatrice’s second husband.]
Beatrice O. Bryant died 12 December 1982 in Jamaica, Queens, New York, and was buried in Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson.
Beatrice Bryant’s daughter Barbara Ann Haskins (1931-2001).
Photographs courtesy of Ancestry.com user jkbryant3142.