migration to New York

Other suns: New York.

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.

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Rev. T.G. Clark, who helped make the A.M.E. church what it is.

CLARK, Rev. Thomas Garrett, one of 9 children of Harry and Flora Clark, was born in Wilson county, N.C., July 10, 1876; grew up on the farm and attended the country and also public school; Lincoln University, Pennsylvania; converted May 22, 1899, and connected with the Presbyterian Church; entered Howard University, 1902, graduating May, 1905; joined the AME Church in 1906; was licensed in February at Bethel AME Church, Philadelphia; ordained deacon at the Philadelphia Annual Conference, June 14, 1908, at Carlisle, Pa., by Bishop [Wesley J.] Gaines, and also transferred to the Liberian Annual Conference, West Africa, June 15; sailed for Africa with Bishop [William H.] Heard and other missionaries December 5, 1908. He preached in Africa January 1, 1909, and met the first annual conference January 27; was ordained elder January 31, 1909, and appointed to the Eliza Turner Memorial Church, Monrovia; reappointed January 26, 1919, and made principal of the Mission School, with 130 students; he rebuilt the church; was appointed to Bethel AME Church, Lower Buchanan, Grand Bassa, March 20, 1911, and established a mission station among the Kroo Tribe at Kroo Town, November 26th. He baptized 76 persons; was appointed general missionary at the Annual Conference held at Monrovia, March 15, 1912, and returned to the U.S. with a native boy “Ulch” from the mission station, for the purpose of educating him; he arrived in America April 10 and was married to Miss Sarah B. Wainwright April 21. He was pastor of Victor’s Chapel AME Church, Montclair, 1912-1913; St. John’s AME Church, Catskill, N.Y., 1913-1914; Elmira, N.Y., 1914-1917; Jamaica, N.Y., 1917-1923; raised nearly $20,000 mortgage of long standing was burned; Flushing, N.Y., 1923-1924; Glen Cove, N.Y., 1924-1925; Stamford, Conn., 1925-1926; Middletown, N.Y., 1926-1928; Arverne, L.I.N.Y., 1928; purchased building at cost of $1500, all of which he paid. In the recent history of the Goshen Presbyterian Church of more than 225 years standing, it is set forth therein that the branch if that denomination, founded among the Colored race near half-century ago, and supervised by the Caucasian members interview the Rev. T.G. Clark, a number of times for the purpose of serving the latter Branch which he eventually agreed and did for a number of years.

Richard R. Wright Jr., Centennial Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Containing principally the Biographies of the Men and Women, both Ministers and Laymen, whose Labors during a Hundred Years, helped make the A.M.E. Church What It Is; also Short Historical Sketches of Annual Conferences, Educational Institutions,General Departments, Missionary Societies of the A.M.E. Church, and General Information about African Methodism and the Christian Church in General Being a Literary Contribution to the Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Denomination by Richard Allen and others, at Philadelphia, Penna., in 18162nd ed. (1947); postcard image of Eliza Turner Memorial A.M.E. Chapel, commons.wikimedia.org.

Marble competition.

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Wilson Daily Times, 2 July 1940.

Parker Reuben Battle was born in Wilson on 21 July 1928 to John Battle and Gladys O’kelly Battle. [His aunt, Roberta Battle Johnson, was one of the teachers who resigned en masse to protest the mistreatment of teacher Mary C. Euell by a white superintendent.]

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 322 South Spring Street, owned and valued at $8000, cooper John Battle, 39; wife Gladis, 26; and children Grace G., 3, and Parker, 1; also, blacksmith Timothy Black, 23; wife Grace, 30; relative Olga L. [Battle], 22, public school teacher.

In the 1940 census of New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York: at 154 Crosby Place, garage helper Arthur Johnson, 30, wife Cora, 30, boarding house keeper, and son Arthur W., 9; brother-in-law Jack Willis, 33, chauffeur, and [Johnson’s] sister Pricie, 24, and children Albert, 3, Anna, 2, and Joan Arlene, 3 months; porter Herman Murphy, 28, and cook Vernon Murphy, 28; lodgers Grace Jean Battle, 13, and Parker Battle, 11; and lodger David Johnson, 21, waxer. The Battle children were reported as born in North Carolina and living in Wilson in 1935.

Rev. Clark congratulates The Age.

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New York Age, 9 February 1935.

In 1935, Rev. Thomas G. Clark sent a congratulatory letter to mark the New York Age’s “50 years of untrammeled service to the race, nation and the world.” In it, he revealed details of his early educational struggles, and the epiphany to which Edward A. Johnson’s A School History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1890 brought him. [Johnson, born enslaved in Wake County in 1860, was educated at Atlanta University and wrote A School History at the urging of a school superintendent. The book was the first by an African-American author to be approved for use in North Carolina’s public schools. (Sidenote: I won’t rest until I secure a copy.)]

 

Studio shots, no. 126: Julia Pearl Simms Epps.

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Julia Simms Epps (1914-1981).

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: John Simms, 63, wife Milindy, 54, and children Jenette, 23, Rosetta, 20, Johnnie, 18, Paul, 16, Julia, 13, and Mary, 12.

Charlie Epps, 21, of Edgecombe County, son of Silas and Flossie Epps, married Julia Pearlie Simms, 20, of Edgecombe County, daughter of John and Malinda Simms, on 11 February 1936 in Tarboro, Edgecombe County.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: laborer Charlie Epps, 26; wife Julia, 27; and son Charlie Jr., 4.

In 1940, Charlie Epps registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 7 May 1914 in Edgecombe County; resided on Route 1, Elm City, Wilson County; his contact was wife Julia Pearl Epps; and his employer was John L. Griffin, Route 1.

Julia Epps Simms died 20 September 1981 in Baldwin, New York.

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user brianandrewbonner.

Left for Wilson.

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New York Age, 31 May 1919.

The 1919 city directory of Niagara Falls, New York, lists only one Whitehead — the mayor — but the 1918 edition shows Jesse Whitehead, laborer, living at 26 Cherry Street:

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Jesse Whitehead registered for the World War I draft in September 1918 in Niagara Falls. Per his registration card, he was born 7 September 1878, worked as a packer for an electrolytic company on Old Main, Niagara Falls, and was married to Rose Whitehead. He was literate.

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Jesse Whitehead’s visit down South had no return. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 4 October 1919 in Wilson. Per his death certificate he was 40 years old; worked as a cooper; was married to Rosa Whitehead; lived at 639 East Green Street; was born in Wilson County to Spencer Whitehead; and had contracted his fatal illness in “Niagra Falls.”

In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Spencer Whitehead, 38; wife Rhoda, 40; and sons W.D., 13, and Jesse, 1.

On 23 December 1908, Jesse Whitehead, 28, of Wilson, son of Spencer Whitehead, married Rhoda Pender, 27, of Wilson, daughter of Amos Pender, in Wilson. Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at Amos Pender’s in the presence of D.S. Lassiter, Elton Thomas and Hardy Mercer.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Jessie Whitehead, 35; wife Rhoda, 24; and boarder Ada Jaspin, 25.

Rosa Whitehead remained in Wilson at least briefly after her husband’s death. In the 1920 census, she is listed at 801 Kenan Street as a servant of farm supply retail merchant Lewis Tomlinson. Whitehead was 39 years old and described as a widow. However, in the 1920 Wilson city directory, her address is listed as 639 East Green.

Rosa/Rhoda Whitehead grew up in Toisnot township, north of Wilson. In the 1900 census of Toisnot township: farmer Amos Pender, 57, widower, and daughters Vanedous, 22, and Rhoday, 19, plus adopted daughter Prussie Armstrong, 18.

Amos Pender died 26 January 1922 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 March 1844 in Wilson County to Abraham Farmer and Amy Bullock; was married to Pennie Pender; and was a farmer. Rhoda Whitehead was informant.

I have not been able to identify Rosa Whitehead’s sister, Miss E. Pittman.

Clerk comes to the city.

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New York Age, 13 September 1917.

In the 1900 census of Asheville, Buncombe County: at 174 Haywood Street, Isacc Shade, 24, laborer; wife Emma, 29; and children John, 7 months; and mother Alice Shade, 40.

In the 1910 census of Asheville, Buncombe County: on Jordan Street, Isacc Shade, 34, physician at drugstore; wife Emma, 22; son John, 10, Alice, 8, and Kenneth, 3; and widowed roomer Ollie Burgin, 41.

Isaac Shade moved his family to Wilson shortly before World War I, and he opened a pharmacy on Nash Street.

John Albert Shade registered for the World War I draft in Wilson in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1900; resided at 530 East Nash Street, Wilson; worked as a clerk at Shade’s Pharmacy, 530 East Nash; and had blue eyes and black hair and no apparent disqualifications.

On 27 September 1922, John A. Shade, 22, and Ruby Percell, 20, both of Wilson County, were married by Presbyterian minister A.H. George in the presence of W.H. Phillips, Henry N. Cherry and Will Farmer.

In the 1925 New York State census, in Brooklyn: at 718 Cleveland, John Shade, 24; wife Ruby, 21; and daughter Emma, 1. John worked as an attendant at Grand Central Station.

In the 1940 census of Bronx County, New York: North Carolina-born hotel elevator operator John Shade, 40; South Carolina-born wife Rubie, 35, bedding operator; and daughters Emma, 16, and Grace, 13.

John A. Shade died 8 October 1969 and is buried in Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson.

Per Social Security records available at Ancestry.com, Emma Evangeline Shade was born in New York on 4 February 1924 to John A. Shade and Ruby I. Purcell. Emma S. Galiber died 19 June 1995.

Studio shots, no. 39: Thomas Levi Peacock.

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Tom Peacock, mid-1940s.

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In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 204 Vick Street, hotel bellboy Levi Peacock, 30; wife Elouise, 28, a public school teacher; children Jewel D., 4, and Thomas L., 14; and mother-in-law Etta Reaves, 50, post office maid. [This entry contains serious errors. Jual D. Peacock was a daughter, rather than son, of Levi and Eloise Peacock, and Thomas was in fact just over a year old in 1930.]

Thomas Levi Peacock registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1946. Per his registration card, he was born 6 December 1928 in Wilson County; resided at 414 North Reid Street; his contact was Levi Harry Peacock; and he was a student at Darden High School.

Thomas Levi Peacock graduated from Darden in 1947 and entered Howard University in Washington, D.C.  He pledged Alpha Chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity in 1948 and graduated in 1951.

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The Bison (1951).

Peacock enlisted in the Air Force after graduation and in 1952 graduated from Officer Candidate School.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 July 1952.

Peacock went on to Meharry Medical College’s Dental School and in 1958 was licensed to practice dentistry in North Carolina:

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Within a few years, Dr. Peacock opened a practice in Jamaica, Queens, New York, where he immediately rose to prominence in social, as well as professional circles …

Baltimore Afro-American, 17 December 1963.

… and was named one of the “Bachelors for 1964” in the August 1964 issue of Ebony magazine.

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Dr. Peacock is retired and, after returning to live in Wilson for several years, now resides in Florida.

Photograph in the collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks, now in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.

The reverends grew up together.

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New York Age, 15 March 1930.

The mystery of Astor B. Bowser.

Astor Burt Bowser, born 1896, was one of three sons of Burt L. and Sarah Rountree Bowser. He appears with his parents (and grandparents) in the 1900 and 1910 censuses of Wilson, but in 1916 is listed at 17 Mott Street in the city directory of White Plains, New York. When he registered for World War I draft in September 1918, however, he was in Wilson, working in his father Burt’s cafe.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County, the Bowser family’s surname was erroneously recorded as “Brown.”

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Occupations of the household’s inhabitants were recorded in the right-most columns. Astor’s? Doctor/dentist.

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Dentist? When and where did Astor Bowser attend dental school?

Astor married Deloris Harvey of Alamance County on 17 August 1921 in Wilson. Throughout the 1920s, he appears to have continued to move between Wilson and greater New York City.  In the 1922 and 1925 city directories of Wilson, he is listed as an insurance agent residing at 520 East Nash. However, in the 1924 White Plains city directory: Astor B Bowser, clerk, at 17 Mott. And in the 1925 New York state census of White Plains, Westchester County: bank messenger Astor Bowser, 28, wife Deloris, 24, daughter Sarah, 2, and Lettia Bowser, 49, a widow. In the 1926 and 1928 city directories of White Plains, Astor is listed as a porter living at 7 Mott Street. But Astor B. Bowser Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois, in May 1928.

In the 1930 census, Astor B. Bowser, 32, Delores, 29, and their children, Astor B., Jr., 1, and Sarah, 6, are listed in Chicago, Illinois, at 4905 Vincennes, where they were lodgers. Astor worked as an artist in his own studio and Deloris as a saleslady in a millinery.

In 1942, Astor registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 29 September 1896 in Wilson, North Carolina; resided at 4905 Vincennes, Chicago; was married to Delores Bowser; and worked for the Fannie May Candy Company.

Astor died in Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, in 1981.

Was Astor really then a dentist?

A brief entry in an industry journal may clear up the matter:

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The Dental Cosmos: a Monthly Record of Dental Science, Edward C. Kirk, ed. (1917).

In fact, it was Astor’s elder brother Russell L. Bowser who attended dental school, graduating from Howard in June 1917. The same month, he registered for the World War I draft. Per his registration card: Russell Linwood Bowser was born 5 March 1891 in Wilson, North Carolina; lived at 416 Oakdale Place, Washington, D.C.; was single; worked as a dental surgeon in Washington; was tall, medium build, with brown eyes and black hair; and had “defective eyesight and a weak heart.”

In the 1920 census of Chicago, Illinois: North Carolina-born Dr. Linwood Bowser, 28, dentist, was a lodger on Evans Avenue.

In 1942, Russell Linwood Bowser registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card: he was born 5 March 1891 in Wilson, North Carolina; lived at 5634 South Parkway, Chicago (telephone number Went 2910); listed as a close contact Mr. A.B. Bowser, 4905 Vincennes Avenue, Chicago; and worked in the Central Investigating Unit, Federal Security Agency, Public Health Service, 54 West Hubbard Street, Chicago.

Per the Cook County, Illinois, Death Index, Russell L. Bowser died 2 December 1951.