Artist, lawyer, preacher.

On 15 September 1939, Cora L. Bennett, a writer employed by the Works Project Administration interviewed William Arthur Cooper for the Folklore Project. The transcript of the interview is housed at the Library of Congress. Here is an excerpt:

William A. Cooper, artist and preacher gives the story of his life as follows:

“My work has been my life. Whatever degree of success I have had has come about, I believe, as a result of my dogged determination to do something tangible for my race.

“I was born in the country near Hillsboro, N.C. As a small boy I worked on the farm. I worked in the tobacco fields, worming and stemming tobacco as well as in the cotton fields. For about four months in the winter I attended a Mission school in Hillsboro for negros. In summer time I worked as a janitor and some times as a cook or house boy.

“When I was about fourteen I began to support myself, and soon there after went to the Industrial Institute at High Point, N.C. as a work student. I worked on the school farm,
got up at five o’clock in the morning to milk the cows, plow and hoe cotton and corn, and anything else that needed to be done. While I was at this school I also took up brick laying along with my other studies.

“From High Point I went to the National Religious Training School at Durham, N.C. There I took the four year Theological Course. Still working my way through school, I received the Bachelor of Theology Degree from that institution.

“As soon as I had finished I went to Wilson, N.C. where I started out as an insurance man, and at the same time preaching at a small church on Sunday.

“I went from there to Burlington, N.C. where I was elected Principal of a high school. I also served as Principal of the high school at Graham, N.C. and taught at various other places. All this time I was studying law at night and passed the State Bar examination in 1922.

“I became interested in art for the first time a few years before this. I was in bed with a severe cold and while lying idle I thought I would try to do two pictures illustrating the Biblical quotation: ‘Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, but straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be who
find it.’ The members of my church were quite pleased with the pictures. Their pleasure encouraged me a great deal, and from that time on I began to paint other things. It was then I started painting the members of my race, anybody I could get 3 to sit— field hands, teachers, children, cooks or washerwomen. I had taken no formal lessons at the time but I kept right on trying to see what I might do.

“I have attempted to show the real negro through art. I believe that unless we have some record of the negro that is neither burlesqued with black face nor idealized with senmentality, the younger generation of negroes will be deprived of inspiration from their own race. …”


William Arthur Cooper (1895-1974), preacher, lawyer, and artist, painted the portraits of Negro field hands, domestic servants, children, religious and civic leaders and business executives. As a member of the North Carolina Interracial Commission, Cooper made a “good will” tour to colleges and universities in North Carolina where he exhibited his portraits and lectures on art and black culture.

Cooper’s papers, housed at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, include: “Biographical materials; correspondence, concerning portrait commisions, lectures on art, and exhibitions of his work; two account books containing expenditures; receipts; a journal, 1935, containing expenditures and notes concerning his “good will” tour; a report on the tour; Cooper’s publication Educating Through Fine Arts; his book A Portrayal of Negro Life, 1936, which contains reproductions of his portraits acompanied by his explanatory text, and documents related to the book including proposed plans, sales records, and a typescript of the book which contains portraits not included in the published version; price lists for Cooper’s paintings; exhibition catalogs, clippings, miscellany, and a book by Charles C. Dawson, ABCs of Great Negroes; and 36 photographs of Cooper, of his friends and church members, and his portrait paintings.”

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 9.02.59 PM

The Bathing Girl (1932).

The obituary of Calvin Sidney Edwards.

calvin edwards 1 14 47

Wilson Daily Times, 14 January 1947.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Aaron Edwards, 40; wife Lucinda, 39; and children Thomas, 13, Mary J., 10, Louvenia, 8, Sallie A., 5, George A., 2, and Calvin, 4 months.

On 25 April 1912, Calvin Edwards, 25, son of Aaron and Lucinda Edwards, of Wilson, married Beatrice Moore [sic, Morgan] 18, daughter of William and Mary Moore [Morgan] of Cross Roads, in Lucama. Missionary Baptist minister R. Corbett performed the ceremony in the presence of J.L. Newsom, W.R. Kent, and Rev. C.D. Dew.

On 12 September 1918, Calvin Sydney Edwards registered for the World War I draft. Per his registration card, he was born 15 September 1882; resided at 113 Pender Street; worked as a plumber of J.E. Alphin on Nash Street; and his nearest relative was Beatrice Edwards.

Beatrice Edwards died 15 October 1918 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 1895 in Johnston County to William Morgan and Mary Saunders; resided at 113 Pender Street; and was married to Calvin Edwards.

On 24 September 1919, Calvin Edwards, 32, married Lizzie Woodard, 25, in Wilson.

Calvin Edwards executed a will on 31 August 1944. Under its terms, his wife (and executrix) Lizzie was to receive all his personal property and a life interest in his real property; at Lizzie’s death Maggie Holt Rountree, wife of Connie Rountree, was to receive a life interest; thence a life interest to Maggie’s brother Freddie Holt; thence to the nearest blood kin. [Maggie Foster, daughter of Charley and Georgianna Holt, married Connie Rountree in Nash County in 1937.]

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 12.21.25 PM

Calvin Sidney Edwards died 10 January 1947 at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 February 1887 in Wayne County to Aaron Edwards of Orange County and Lucinda Davis of Durham; resided at 1105 Carolina Street, Wilson; was a preacher; and was married to Lizzie Woodard. He was buried in the Masonic cemetery, Wilson.

Lizzie Edwards died 21 May 1954 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was a widow; was born 3 September 1890 in Wilson County to Stephen Woodard and Pheba McGowan. Informant was John M. Barnes, 500 East Green Street.

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

The reverends grew up together.

NY age 3 15 1930

New York Age, 15 March 1930.

The Negro ministers were well received.

pc 3 12 1938

Pittsburgh Courier, 12 March 1938.

  • Richard A.G. Foster — As shown here, Rev. Foster was a steadfast and enthusiastic proponent of civil rights.
  • E.O. Saunders — South Carolina native Otto Eugene Sanders was newly arrived from Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Bryant P. Coward

He learned the English alphabet in about twenty minutes.

Jethro, Nimrod, the Queen of Sheba, Saint Catherine, Hannibal, Phillis Wheatley, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Denmark Vesey … and Rev. Robert S. Rives. Rives was pastor of Saint John’s A.M.E. Zion in Wilson around 1900 and testified at the coroner’s inquest over the shooting death of James A. Hunt. His selection as one of the Negro stars of the ages is as curious as author W.H. Quick’s contrived (and occasionally opaque) prose.





Right reverends.

For more than 100 years, three churches have loomed over a two-block stretch of Pender Street, near the northwest edge of black Wilson. Jackson Chapel Missionary Baptist and Saint John’s A.M.E. Zion were among the earliest established black churches in Wilson, and Calvary Presbyterian Church was not far behind. Saint John’s, especially, was a plum ministerial assignment, but Jackson Chapel and Calvary also attracted high-profile clergy.

Here, a running list of African-American ministers of the gospel active in Wilson County before 1920. (All worked in Wilson, unless otherwise noted.)

A.M.E. Zion (Saint John’s unless noted)


  • Nick AndersonNew Vester Missionary (Sims)
  • Nick Arrington, New Vester Missionary (Sims)
  • Solomon Arrington, Free Will
  • William Baker, Missionary
  • Frank Barnes, Primitive (Elm City)
  • Crockett Best, Ellis Chapel Free Will
  • A. BluntPiney Grove Free Will
  • D. BluntPiney Grove Free Will
  • Jim Brown, Brown’s Chapel Free Will, Wynn Chapel (Elm City)
  • Thomas Bunch, Primitive
  • Alfred Carmen, Piney Grove Free Will
  • G.W. Buckram, Second Missionary
  • James G. Coppedge, Second Missionary
  • E.H. Cox, Free Will
  • Fred M. DavisFirst Missionary/Jackson Chapel First Missionary
  • G.W. Davis, Free Will
  • L.M. Davis, Missionary
  • Spurgeon D. Davis, First Missionary
  • Thomas Davis, Free Will
  • Nelson Hines, Free Will
  • Nathaniel L. Horton
  • R.A. Horton, Mount Zion Original Free Will
  • Andrew J. Jackson, First Missionary
  • Joseph S. Jackson
  • Charles T. Jones
  • William H. Mitchiner, New Vester Missionary (Sims)
  • Alonzo Moore, Piney Grove Free Will
  • H.H. Neil, Free Will
  • Esrom P. Pearsall, Missionary
  • John W. Pitts, Free Will
  • C.H. Register, Missionary
  • P. Rodman, Brown’s Chapel Free Will
  • Fred M. Rogers, First Missionary
  • W.J. Sasser, Ellis Chapel Free Will
  • J. Scarborough, Missionary
  • [unknown] Stamper, New Vester Missionary (Sims)
  • Daniel Stokes, New Vester Missionary (Sims)
  • Marshall A. Talley, Missionary
  • B.W. Tippett, Free Will
  • E.H. Ward, Missionary
  • E.C. Watson, Missionary (Taylor township)
  • P.P. Watson, First Missionary
  • Alfred L.E. Weeks, First Missionary, Tabernacle Missionary
  • Jonah Williams, London’s Primitive, Barnes Chapel Primitive (near Stantonsburg), Little Union Primitive (near Elm City)
  • William B. Williams, Primitive
  • London Woodard, London’s Primitive
  • W.T.H. Woodard, First Missionary
  • Abram Wooten, Pilgrim’s Rest Primitive

Presbyterian (Calvary)


  • A.B. Abney, Seventh Day Adventist
  • Horace Bowens, United Holy
  • G.J. Branch, Mount Zion Holy/Branch’s Memorial Tabernacle United Holy
  • J.H. Harrison, Mount Zion Holy
  • W.H. Horton, Christian
  • J.H. Jones, Saint Mark’s Episcopal
  • Joseph Lancaster, Church of God and Saints of Christ
  • Isaac Lewis, Pentecostal
  • Alex A. Locker, Saint Luke African Methodist Episcopal
  • William H. Neal, Saint James Holiness
  • John W. Perry, Saint Mark’s Episcopal
  • Robert N. Perry, Saint Mark’s Episcopal
  • John H. Scott, Saint James Holiness

Influential colored man dies.

Samuel H. Vick‘s protege, Rev. Turner Grant Williamson, died 91 years ago today.


The Robesonian, 25 February 1926.

In the 1920 census of Elizabethtown, Bladen County, North Carolina: Turner G. Williamson, 51, teacher; wife Annah B., 44; and children Tabitha G.E., 17, Irvin, 13, Margret C., 10, Sallie T., 8, and Samuel R., 5.

Anna B. Williamson died 1 February 1921 in Elizabethtown, Bladen County. Per her death certificate, she was born in 15 February 1875 in Maxton, North Carolina, to Edd McKoy and Sarah McKoy of Roberson County; worked as a teacher; and was married to Rev. T.G. Williamson.

Turner G. Williamson died 3 February 1926 in Elizabethtown, Bladen County. Per his death certificate, he was born about 1871 in Wilson County to Anna B. Williamson [error, Anna was his wife, not mother]; was engaged in preaching and teaching; and was a widower.

He was converted and taken into full connection at Wilson.


T. F. H. Blackman was born in Goldsboro, N. C., March 9, 1852. He received his early training in the Freedmen’s School maintained at that place partly by Northern aid. He entered St. Augustine Normal School, at Raleigh, but failed to finish the course by reason of having to work to care for his father. He has finished the course in the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, also a course in Hebrew. He was baptized when about thirteen or fourteen years old; was converted and taken into full connection May 30, 1869, at Wilson, N. C., where he was engaged in teaching school. He received a local preacher’s license at Mosley Hall, March 4, 1871. He was received into the Annual Conference and ordained deacon at Lincolnton, N. C., December 1, 1871, and was ordained elder at Concord November 30, 1875. His first appointment was to the Evergreen Circuit, Brunswick County, N. C.; here he served for two years. His next appointment was Mount Pleasant, Columbus County, for three years. He was then sent to Lincoln, where he remained for four years. During these nine years in the pastoral work he had uninterrupted success. He built up the church spiritually, improved the church property, and paid off debts. The church at Lincolnton has never since been in as good condition as it was when he had charge. In 1880 he was appointed Presiding Elder of the Statesville District, which position he filled with credit for one year, during which time he succeeded in establishing the church at Morganton, where we had long labored in vain to get a start. He then filled a missionary appointment in South Carolina for one year in the interest of the church in Columbia, and raised ninety dollars above his salary and expenses. He then had a very successful year as pastor of the church at Lancaster, S. C. His seventh appointment was to Opelika, Ala. This was among his most pleasant charges, and he had very great success.

From this point he was transferred to the Tennessee Conference and appointed to Chattanooga, where his usual success attended him; he paid more than one thousand dollars on the debt. At the end of two years’ service he was appointed to Maryville, Tenn.; here he improved the church both spiritually and temporally, leaving it in excellent condition. He was then appointed to the Shiloh Circuit in Buncombe County, N. C.; but Presiding Elder White, of the Bristol District, having resigned, Rev. Blackman was appointed to fill the vacancy for the balance of the year. He filled that position to the great satisfaction of both bishop and pastors for two years. He is now serving the second year as Presiding Elder of the Asheville District.

Brother Blackman has had a very quiet but successful ministry. While Presiding Elder of the Statesville District he secured the first lot for a church in Winston. He has been a painstaking and industrious member of several General Conferences. He was married in 1881 to Miss Lillian M. Carson, who has been a faithful helpmate.

From J.W. Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; or, The Centennial of African Methodism (1895).

Rev. Leavey J. Melton.

LJ Melton 1

LJ Melton 2

LJ Melton 3

A.B. Caldwell, ed., History of the American Negro and His Institutions, North Carolina Edition (1921).

In May 1892, Rev. Leavy J. Melton, with Rev. J.F. Jordan, jointly presided over the marriage of Samuel H. Vick and Annie M. Washington at the A.M.E. Zion church in Wilson. Vick was a staunch Presbyterian and apparently insisted on the inclusion of his pastor.

Vick Wash lic detail

Excerpt from marriage license of Vick and Washington.

Per The Ministerial Directory of the Presbyterian Church, vol. 1, edited by Edgar Sutton Robinson (1898):

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.45.20 PM