migration to Philadelphia

A marriage in New Hampshire.

Some who joined the Great Migration went from Point A to Point B and stayed. Others had more peripatetic journeys. Corneda Moore Jackson Woodard Bentley Kelsey stopped in Philadelphia, then Haverhill, Massachusetts, before settling in Cranford, New Jersey.

Herschel F. Bentley, 36, and Corneda J. Woodward, 38, both of Haverhill, Massachusetts, were married 2 September 1925 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (just a few miles up the coast.) It was Bentley’s first marriage. He was a native of Columbia, South Carolina, and a cook. Woodward, a Wilson native and widow, worked as a domestic. 

Herschel Bentley was the son of Joseph [Bentley?] of Macon, Georgia, and Grace Piot, born in Wall Hollow, South Carolina, and resident of Columbia, South Carolina. Cordena Woodard was the daughter of Bryant Moore, a farmer in Wilson, North Carolina, and Peonia Hagans, born in Greene County, North Carolina, and a resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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In the 1860 census of Fields district, Greene County: day laborer Robert Hagans, 31; wife Sarah, 30; and children Mary, 12, Joseph, 8, Penelope, 5, and Edwin, 1.

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: siblings Joseph, 15, Penelope, 12, Edwin, 11, Sarah, 8, and George Hagans, 6, all farmer’s apprentices.

In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Howel Moore, 50; wife Gatsey, 42; and children Bettie, 14, Eliza, 12, Simon, 21, Clora, 10, Jesse, 8, Howel, 3, Gatsey, 2, Penny, 17, and Bryant, 19.

In the 1880 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County: farmer Evans Jackson, 36, and wife Charity, 26; niece Penny Moore, 25, and [her children] Florence, 2, and Victoria, 8 months; and apprentices Benjn. Farmer, 19, and George Hagens, 15.

Perhaps, in the 1880 census of Raleigh, Wake County: Bryant Moore, 25, farm laborer.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: widow [sic; she was likely separated or divorced] Pennie Moore, 45; children Florence, 22, Victora, 20, Cornetta, 18, Besse, 15, Fenner, 14, and Gussie L., 1; and granddaughter Gaslen, 1.

On 27 August 1900, James H. Jackson, 21, of Wilson County, married Cornada Moore, 19, at Pennie Moore’s in Wilson. Freewill Baptist Crockett Best performed the ceremony in the presence of Millie Best, James Best, and Jasper Davis.

On 16 September 1903, Bryant Moore, 52, of Wilson, son of Howard and Gatsey Moore, married Maggie Farmer, 37, of Wilson, daughter of Barbara Lucas, in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Cooper Barnes, Jackson Barnes, and Bessie Ratley.

In the 1910 census of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: widow Pinney Moore, 51; daughter Florence Lee, 32, divorced, and her daughters Gussie, 11, and Madeline, 2; daughter Canetor Jackson, 27, divorced; daughter Bessie M. Bessa [Best], 25; son-in-law James Bessa, 27, and daughter Mable, 7; and lodgers Alfred O. Smith, 56, James Bell, 40, William Willand, 32, and Harrison R. Tyler, 31.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, odd jobs laborer Bryant Moore, 58, and wife Maggie, 37.

Fennell Moore died 25 December 1914 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 28 years old; was married; and was born in North Carolina to Bryant Moore and Penny Hagans.

In the 1920 census of Haverhill, Essex County, Massachusetts: at 21 Ashland Street, office building janitor William R. Woodard, 42, and wife Corneda J., 33, laundress. William was born in Ohio to a N.C.-born father and Ohio-born mother. Corneda was born in N.C.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, cotton mill laborer Bryant Moore, 65, and wife Maggie, 40, tobacco factory worker. 

In the 1930 census of Cranford, Union County, New Jersey: at 15 McClelland, owned and valued at $5000, Hersher F. Bentley, 41, cook for government service cafeteria, and wife Corneda J., 43, daily domestic.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 641 Wiggins Street, owned and valued at $1000, farm laborer Bryant Moore, 74; wife Maggie H., 45, farm laborer; and son Thomas, 16.

In the 1931 Westfield, N.J., city directory: Bentley Herschel F. (Corneda J.) cook h 103 McClellan

Bryant Moore died 23 March 1931 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 65 years old; was married to Maggie Moore; was a farmer; was born in Wilson County to Howard and Gatsey Moore; and lived at 640 Wiggins Street.

Victoria A. Hill died 27 February 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 September 1883 in North Carolina to Bryant Moore and Penny Moore; lived at 252 East Sharpnick, Philadelphia; and was married to Phillip Hill.

In the 1940 census of Cranford, Essex County, New Jersey: Ganes Kelsey, 44, scavenger collector; wife Corneda, 52, domestic; and lodgers Jake Bowers, 36, truck driver, and Charles Llyod, 47, laborer. 

Florence Tyler died 3 December 1946 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 27 April 1889 in N.C. to Bryant Moore and Penney Hagans; lived at 6623 Ross Street, Philadelphia; and was a widow.

Gladys Moore died 17 January 1972 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 20 June 1914 to Bryant Moore and Gladys Moore; lived at 914 Carolina Street; was single; and worked as a domestic. Informant was Gracie Allen, 1006 Atlantic Street.

Corneda Kelsey died 15 May 1971 in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey.

Other suns: Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia was the site of my closest personal connections to the Great Migration. In the 1940s and ’50s, my father’s brothers and then his mother left Wilson for Philly, and every summer we hit the highway for a week or so at my grandmother’s house on Wyalusing Avenue. Her block was filled with migrants from Georgia and North Carolina and Virginia, and her broader social circle included relatives who had settled in other parts of the city. 

(I lived in Philadelphia for a few years in the 1990s, in both West Philly and Germantown. By then, many of the first generation of Southern migrants had passed on, but their legacy is firm. The fourth generation of my eldest uncle’s offspring is growing up in North Philadelphia right now.)

Pennsylvania’s plethora of on-line records makes for easy documentation of a long list of Wilson County natives who sought new lives in the Keystone State. Not surprisingly, almost all landed in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh or their suburbs.

Hattie Henderson Ricks and husband Jonah C. Ricks, a Nash County, N.C., native, on the porch of their home at 5549 Wyalusing Avenue in West Philadelphia, late 1950s.

Princess Batoula?

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Indianapolis Recorder, 22 July 1939.

The Recorder was rather late to Harriett Mercer‘s remarkable story. A month earlier, the New York Daily News had cast Mercer as latter-day Cinderella in a piece whose mockery was only thinly veiled.

A few basics about Mercer: she was born in Wilson about 1913; lived in Philadelphia with her uncle and family; graduated Simon Gratz High School; briefly attended Cheyney State; worked as a teacher in a W.P.A. project; moved to New York after a layoff; and found work as a laundress. (Note that the African-American Recorder — choosing to focus on the uplifting aspects of Mercer’s life — omitted this last detail. The Daily News, on the other hand, blared it in its headline.)

New York Daily News, 27 June 1939.

There was, unfortunately, more.  Reportedly, a Pullman porter named Carson C. Rollins Jr. glanced at a newspaper on a train to find that his estranged wife, Harriett Mercer Rollins, was about to marry Prince Batoula of Senegal. Rollins claimed that the two had married in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1931 and separated ten months later when she walked out on him.

New York Daily News, 29 July 1939.

Things got worse.

Baltimore Afro-American, 22 July 1939.

Perhaps needless to say, Prince Batoula was no prince at all. But here’s what the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had to say about him when he arrived in New York:


7 May 1939.

The New York Age, another African-American paper, ran a full article six days later. Batoula had arrived at the World’s Fair to find that he was not welcome in the best New York hotels and was forced to seek lodging in Harlem at the Braddock, which adjoined the Apollo Theater and catered mostly to the theatrical trade. In addition to touting his own religion, Batoula, a self-professed World War I hero, expressed in meeting Father Divine and Franklin D. Roosevelt and hoped to “make a tour of the Negro educational institutions of the South.”

In fact, per historian Katherine Keller, who is working on a scholarly treatment of his life, Prince Batoula was Mamadou Alioune Kane, a Senegalese immigrant to France who worked as a taxi driver and fruit seller in Paris before transforming himself into African royalty.

Prince Batoula, Pittsburgh Courier, 20 May 1939.

As for Harriett Mercer, there’s relatively little.

Pittsburgh Courier, 1 July 1939.

I have found no references to her birth family or life in North Carolina. Nor have I found her 1931 marriage license to Carson Rollins.

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: at 1910 North 21st Street, John Highsmith, 45, grocery store keeper; wife Katie, 42; uncle William Mercer, 18; nieces Cary, 14, and Harritt Mercer, 17; and roomers Winnie Robinson, 25, maid, and Elizabeth Cart, 35, cook, all born in North Carolina.

And here, the manifest for the ship that returned Harriett Mercer to New York.

She apparently made the best of her situation, spending six weeks in France. On 10 August 1939, she boarded the S.S. Champlain at Le Havre, bound for New York City. On 17 August, she was back at home.

New York New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957, www. familysearch.org.

Efficient, painstaking and polite superintendent marries.

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Wilson Mirror, 19 November 1890.

Frank Oscar Blount married Nettie Amanda Steward in Philadelphia in 1890.

Nettie S. Blount of 926 Lombard Street, aged about 30, died 2 April 1892 in Philadelphia. She was buried in Philadelphia’s Lebanon Cemetery.

The obituary of Fletcher F. Pierce.

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Philadelphia Daily News, 22 February 2002.

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Fletcher Forest Pierce was born 5 May 1912 in Wilson to Nazareth Pierce and Ella Armstrong Pierce.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 806 Vance Street, Export Tobacco laborer Nazareth Pierce, 42; wife Ella, 43; children Eugene S., 18, Almira, 16, Leroy J., 14, Louie, 10, and Fletcher, 7; and mother-in-law Luvicy Armstrong, 65.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 905 Vance Street, insurance agent Nazareth Pierce, 54; wife Ada, seamstress; son Fletcher, 17, and daughter Elmira, 25.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 905 Vance Street, Milton Fisher, 32, teacher; wife Elmira, 28, teacher; and brother-in-law Fletcher Pierce, 26, insurance salesman.

In 1940, Fletcher Forest Pierce registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his draft registration card, he was born 5 May 1912 in Wilson; lived at 905 East Vance; his contact was father Nazerth Pierce, 415 East Green; and he worked for Winston Mutual Life Insurance, 656 East Nash Street, Wilson.

On 12 June 1943, Fletcher Forest Pierce, 31, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of N.A. and Ella Pierce, married Lucile Helen Russell, 30, of Charlotte, daughter of L.M. and Irene Russell, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In 1950, Fletcher F. Pierce filed for World War II compensation.

Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917-1919, 1934-1948 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Mary Elise Jackson Jenkins of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Like her brother Paul L. Jackson, Mary Elise Jackson Jenkins migrated from Wilson to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Toward the end of her life, she was featured several times in Philadelphia Inquirer articles.

  • Art exhibit

Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 June 1983.

  • Education in the South

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Philadelphia Daily News, 17 February 1987.

The “very special block” was, of course, the 600 block of East Green Street, home to the Vicks, the Hines/Barnes family, the Hargraves, the Reids, and other striving East Wilsonians. However, Claflin University (then College) was an unusual choice for a Wilson family. I have not been able to determine who the “girl from my home” was.

  • The Great Migration

Elise Jenkins contributed keepsakes to “Let This Be Your Home,” a year-long exhibit at Philadelphia’s Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum [now the African American Museum] chronicling the lives of “the new Philadelphians” who arrived in the city as part of the Great Migration.

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Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 February 1990.

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In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Joseph Jackson, 37, minister; wife Annie, 45; and children Eloise, 8, Joseph, 5, Paul L., 2, and John, 2 months.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 616 Green Street, Joseph S. Jackson, 48, minister; wife Annie H., 45; and children Mary E., 18, Joseph S., Jr., 15, Paul L., 11, and John B., 9.

On 18 August 1926, Leroy H. Jenkins, of Philadelphia, son of John and Molie Jenkins, married Mary Eleis Jackson, 25, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister J.S. Jackson performed the ceremony in the presence of C.L. Darden, C.S. Thomas and H.S. Stanback.

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 2346 North 25th Street, owned and valued at $2900, South Carolina-born Leroy Jenkins, 33, a doctor of dentistry; North Carolina-born wife Elise, 28; and brother Augustus, 21, automobile works inspector.

In the 1940 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 2351 West Haggart, owned and valued at $3000, dentist Leroy H. Jenkins, 42; wife Elise, 39; and children Leroy, 8, and Anne, 5.

Mary Elise Jackson Jenkins died 6 May 1990 in Philadelphia.

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Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 May 1990.

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M. Elise Jackson Jenkins (1901-1990).

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user GusJenkins.

Studio shots, no. 90: Edna E. Gaston.

Per an eBay listing for a reproduction of this photo: “Photo. North Carolina. Black girl and doll carriage. The girl’s name is Edna Earl Gaston. She was the niece of John Clark who was a founder of St Mark’s Episcopal Church. He was also the first Black mail carrier in Wilson, North Carolina. 1925.”

In fact, Edna Earline Gaston was the daughter of Albert Sessle Gaston of Wilson and Annie House Gaston of Moore County, North Carolina. John H. Clark was her great-uncle, brother of Albert Gaston’s mother Ella Clark Gaston.

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In the 1900 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County: Ella Gaston, 30, divorced, with sons Ralph, 10, and Albert, 2. [Also in the 1900 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson township, North Carolina: 44 year-old barber John Gaston, [second] wife Sabrina [Sattena] 22, and children Theodore, 13, Cicero, 10, George, 8, and Caroline, 2 months. John A. Gaston was Albert Gaston’s father.]

In 1918, Albert Gaston registered for the World War I draft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his registration card, he was born 16 August 1897 in Wilson, N.C.; resided at 2105 Nassau Street, Philadelphia; worked as a longshoreman; and his nearest relative was Anna Gaston.

In the 1920 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 2105 Nassau Street, building laborer Albert Gaston, 22; wife Anne T., 23; daughter Edna E., 1;  lodger Harry Jenkins, 19, a laundry laborer; and “mother” Hellen Hunton, 53. All were born in North Carolina.

Shortly after the census, the Gastons returned to North Carolina, where they took positions in Annie H. Gaston’s home county. On 28 April 1921, The Moore County News of Carthage printed principal Albert Gaston’s address to the Shady Grove colored school.

By October 1921, Gaston had take over as head of the struggling Addor school. Per this 1997 National Register of Historic Places nomination report, the Gastons began an energetic campaign to raise money for a Rosenwald School, and the Lincoln Park school near Pinebluff was the result.

Albert Sessel Gaston registered for the World War II draft in 1942 in Raeford, Hoke County, North Carolina. Per his registration card, he was born 15 August 1897 in Wilson; was employed by the Board of Education in Raeford; and his contact was Annie L. Gaston, 119 Lincoln Street, Hampton, Virginia.

Annie Lillian Gaston died 2 June 1952 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 17 July 1896 in Moore County to John House and Maggie Gunter; was a schoolteacher; and was married. Albert Gaston was informant.

Per the Social Security Death Index, Albert Gaston died November 1979 and Edna Gaston Coles died 25 July 1999, both in Philadelphia.

Joseph S. and Annie H. Jackson family.

Joseph S. Jackson, Annie Horton Jackson, and children John Burns, Mary Elise, Paul and Joseph S. Jackson Jr., 1920.

Joe Jackson came to Wilson about 1890. He went to work for Charles Fleming at Imperial Tobacco Company, where he eventually became foreman. The Episcopal church was across the street, and Jackson took night classes to learn to read and write and to study music with Rev. Perry (first name not stated).

After additional study, Jackson was ordained a minister in the A.M.E. Zion church.

In 1895, Jackson married Annie Horton of Smithfield, Johnston County, North Carolina. The family made its home at 618 East Green Street, and four of seven children lived to adulthood.

Mary Elise Jackson, born 1901, attended Wilson Graded School, Claflin College and Livingston College. She taught in High Point, N.C., until she married Dr. Leroy H. Jenkins, a dentist, and settled in Philadelphia.

Joseph Sylvester Jackson Jr., born 1904, attended Wilson schools, Livingstone College, New York University and University of Chicago.

Paul Jackson, born 1907, attended Wilson schools, Livingstone College, University of Pennsylvania and Temple University.

John Burns Jackson, born 1910, attended Wilson schools and Livingstone College. He worked for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance in Goldsboro, N.C., before migrating to Maryland.

Joseph Jackson Sr. died in 1942, and Annie H. Jackson in 1962.

Text adapted from article in and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

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On 27 December 1894, Joseph Jackson, 22, of Wilson, son of Andrew and Rosa Ann Jackson of Granville County, married Annie L. Horton, 20, of Johnston County, daughter of Samuel Horton and Mary J. Woods.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Joseph Jackson, 27; wife Annie L., 25; and son Joseph, 1.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Joseph Jackson, 37, minister; wife Annie, 45; and children Eloise, 8, Joseph, 5, Paul L., 2, and John, 2 months.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 616 Green Street, Joseph S. Jackson, 48, minister; wife Annie H., 45; and children Mary E., 18, Joseph S., Jr., 15, Paul L., 11, and John B., 9.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 618 Green Street, valued at $8000, Joseph H. Jackson, 60, preacher; wife Annie H., 54; and boarder Bettie Marten, 54, widowed cook.

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 2346 North 25th Street, Leroy Jenkins, 33, doctor of dentistry; wife Mary E., 28; and brother Augustus Jenkins, 21, inspector at automobile works.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 618 Green Street, valued at $3000, fruit store owner Joe Jackson, 73, born in Oxford, and wife Annie, 71, born in Smithfield.

Joseph Sylvester Jackson died 22 October 1942 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 September 1870 in Granville County, North Carolina, to John Jackson; was married to Annie Jackson; resided at 618 East Green Street; was a laborer and merchant; and was buried in Rountree cemetery.

Anna Horton Jackson died 24 December 1962 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 20 January 1872 in North Carolina to Mary Brooks; was a widow; and was buried in Wilson, N.C. Elise Jenkins was informant.

 

In loving memory of Ernest F. McCoy.

FP Ernest F McCoy Philadelphia PA_Page_1

FP Ernest F McCoy Philadelphia PA_Page_2

In the 1910 census of Ingrams township, Johnston County, North Carolina: laborer Russell McCoy, 22, and wife Ommetter, 18.

On 5 June 1917, W.R. McKoy registered for the World War I draft in Harnett County, North Carolina. Per his registration card, he lived at Route 1, Dunn; was born 12 August 1888 in Harnett County; and farmed on land owned by Lovitt Warren. He signed his card with an X.

In the 1920 census of Mingo township, Sampson County, North Carolina: on Godwin Road, Russell McCoy, 30, farmer; wife Ometa, 25; and children Alice G., 4, and Ernest F., 2.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1012 Stantonsburg Street, farm laborer Russell McCoy, 40; wife Ometa, 34; and children Alice, 15, Earnest, 13, Catherine, 8, Cle O., 6, and Mary E., 3.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Russel McCoy, 2, laborer; wife Ometa, 44, tobacco factory laborer; and children Alice, 24, Earnest, 22, Catherine, 18, Creed, 15, and Mary, 13.

In 1940, Ernest Franklin McCoy registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 30 June 1917 in Sampson County; he resided at 212 Finch Street, Wilson; he worked for Imperial Tobacco Company, Barnes and Lodge Streets; and his nearest relative was his mother Effie Ometa McCoy.

Effie Ometa McCoy died 25 October 1942 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 47 years old; was born in Dunn, North Carolina, to Creed Smith and Mary Williams; and was married to William R. McCoy. Informant was Alice McCoy, 212 Finch Street.

William Russell McCoy died 5 August 1945 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 56 years old; was born in Lillington, North Carolina, to Henry McCoy and Jennie McClain; resided at 212 Finch Street; and worked as a laborer. Alice McCoy was informant.

Funeral program from collection of Hattie Henderson Ricks (whose son Lucian Henderson married Ernest McCoy’s sister Mary Etta McCoy.)