Odd Fellows cemetery

Lane Street Project: James Edward Humphrey.

Erin Hollaway Palmer of Friends of East End and Adam Rosenblatt of Friends of Geer Cemetery focused their efforts Saturday on a dense tangle of wisteria with a small stone jewel at its core.

And here it is. This narrow rectangle is the most common type remaining in Odd Fellows — white marble foot stones etched with the Odd Fellows’ linked rings and the name of the deceased brother. This marker stands at the grave of “Ed Umphrey,” or, more accurately, James Edward Humphrey.

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On 25 May 1894, Edward Humphrys, 20, married Mary Harrison, 21, in Wilson. A.M.E. minister L.B. Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Dennis Sutton, D. Willie Best, and Lillie Harrison.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Edwin Umphrey, 24; wife Mary, 25; and children David, 6, Mattie B., 5, and Mittie L., 2.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 462 Goldsboro Street, lumber mill laborer Ed Humphrey, 35; wife Mary, 36, laundress; and daughters Mattie, 15, and Mittie, 12.

On 8 November 1911, Mattie B. Humphrey, 20, of Wilson, daughter of Ed and Mary Humphrey married Hardy Hinnant, 20, of Wilson, son of James and Louisa Hinnant, at Ed Humphrey’s residence in Wilson. Astor Tabron applied for the license, and Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Ione Holden, Annie Thompson, and Annie Iris.

On 10 December 1914, Mittie Humphrey, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Ed Humphrey, married Edward Grimes, 23, of Nash County, at Ed Humphrey’s residence. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony. 

James Edward Humphrey registered for the World War I draft in Wilson on 12 September 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 14 February 1875; resided at 707 Goldsboro; worked as a cooper for Export Leaf Tobacco Company at Goldsboro and Spruce Streets; and his nearest relative was wife Mary Humphrey. He was described as tall and slender with gray eyes and black hair. He signed the card “Ed Humphrey.”

Wilson Daily Times, 12 November 1919.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 November 1919.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 707 South Goldsboro Street, tobacco factory cooper Edd Humphrey, 46; wife Mary, 47; daughter Cortez, 1; and boarder George Cooper, 31, church minister. 

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 707 Goldsboro Street, house carpenter Ed Humphrey, 54; wife Mary, 55; daughter Eddie C., 11; grandchildren Eddie R., 14, James M., 11, Alfred R., 9, Mary E., 7, Sally S., 5, and boarder Millie Faggins, 65.

James Edward Humphrey died 18 July 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 February 1875 in Person County, N.C., to Sallie Humphrey; was married to Mary Humphrey; lived at 707 South Goldsboro Street; and worked as a laborer.

Mary Humphrey died 12 April 1950. She was buried in the Masonic cemetery, which is also on Lane Street but about a half-mile from Odd Fellows. 

Wilson Daily Times, 13 April 1950.

Mattie Humphrey Hinnant died 9 June 1969 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 December 1894 to Edward Humphrey and Mary [no maiden name listed]; was married to Hardy Hinnant; and lived at 707 South Goldsboro Street. She was buried in the Masonic cemetery. [Per Sanborn maps, 707 South Goldsboro was a one-story L-shaped cottage standing between Banks and Spruce Streets. It has been demolished.]

Photos courtesy of Erin Hollaway Palmer.

Lane Street Project: Lula Dew Wooten.

This lovely little headstone was discovered in Odd Fellows cemetery this very morning by volunteers at Lane Street Project’s Clean-Up Kick-Off!

Lula Dew Wooten’s grandparents and several generations of descendants are buried in the Dew cemetery on Weaver Road, northeast of Wilson. Lula’s grave in Odd Fellows cemetery suggests that she was buried in a plot purchased for her and her husband, Simeon Wooten. Wooten died in 1950, and his death certificate lists his burial location as “Rountree.” As we know, Rountree was the name broadly applied to Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemetery.

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In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Jeff Dew, 38; wife Jane, 32, farm laborer; children Bessie, 12, Lesse, 9, Lula, 8, Nettie, 6, James E., 3, Lizzie, 2, and Jesse, 1 month.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Nash Road, Jeff Dew, 46, farmer; wife Jane, 43, farm laborer; children Bessie, 21, Lessie, 19, Lula, 17, Nettie, 16, Eddie, 13, Lizzie, 12, Jessie, 9, Joseph, 8, Margaret, 6, and Jonah, 3. Jane and all but the youngest two children worked as farm laborers.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Rocky Mount Road via Town Creek, Jefferson Dew, 57, farmer; wife Jane, 55; children Lula, 26, Nettie, 24, Eddie, 22, Jesse, 20, Joe, 17, Margaret, 16, and Jonie, 14.

On 11 July 1920, Sim Wooten, 38, of Wilson, son of John and Claudia Wooten, married Lula Dew, 26, of Wilson, daughter of Jeff and Jane Dew, at Jeff Dew’s residence. Daniel A. Crawford applied for the license, and Primitive Baptist minister C.H. Hagans performed the ceremony in the presence of Moses Dew, J.C. Lassiter, and John P. Battle

Lulu Jane Wooten died 7 November 1927 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 May 1892 in Wilson County to Jefferson Dew and Jane Weaver; was married to Simeon Wooten; lived at 510 South Lodge, Wilson; and was a dressmaker.

Photo courtesy of Jane Cooke Hawthorne.

Lane Street Project: Charles S. Thomas.

Charles S. Thomas‘ pale gray, fine-grained grave marker is unique in Odd Fellows cemetery. It faces southwest, and in late afternoon, catching the rays of the setting sun, glows golden. Thomas was a barber and insurance salesman and long-time chorist at Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church. Before mid-century, granite headstones were relatively rare in Wilson’s African-American cemeteries. (Marble was the favored high-end material; concrete, the ordinary.) The machine-cut decorative features — including the harp as a nod to Thomas’ musical legacy — suggest that this was a replacement stone, perhaps an upgrade, set well after Thomas’ death.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

 

Lane Street Project: Q’s & A’s — finding grave markers.

Lane Street Project is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemeteries. We welcome community volunteer support to achieve our goals of reclaiming the cemeteries and honoring the sacred remains of our ancestors. At present, Rountree and Odd Fellows are covered with 40+ years of overgrowth. Burials date back to the 1890s, and many of the graves have collapsed. It is a fragile environment.

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Q: I found a headstone! What do I do?

A: Congratulations! 

  • First, do no harm. The markers in Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries are 75-125 years old. The stone markers are generally marble, which is fragile. The cement markers are brittle. Don’t lean on them. The obelisks may shift from their bases. The headstones may break.
  • Mark the grave marker’s location with a red flag, and notify a Lane Street Project team member.
  • If the stone is upright, leave it as it is.
  • If it has fallen, but the inscription is readable, leave it as it is.
  • If it is buried, remove as much debris as possible by hand, then cut away vines or roots around the stone. Gently dig around the stone with a spade to loosen it from the soil and expose the inscription.
  • Do not move a headstone (or even pieces of broken headstone) from its original location.
  • Clean markers with water and a nylon-bristle brush only. Do not use soap, dishwashing liquid, detergent, or any other cleaning product to clean a grave marker, no matter how safe, gentle, biodegradable or natural the product claims to be. Do not use sponges or dish scrubbers. Brush gently to remove dirt and debris.
  • Take before and after photos!

Gray Pender’s headstone was recovered in December 2020. His daughter Louvenia’s marker was found nearby.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

Lane Street Project: Q’s & A’s — what to do.

Lane Street Project is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemeteries. We welcome community volunteer support to achieve our goals of reclaiming the cemeteries and honoring the sacred remains of our ancestors. At present, Rountree and Odd Fellows are covered with 40+ years of overgrowth. Burials date back to the 1890s, and many of the graves have collapsed. It is a fragile environment.

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Q: So … what’s the plan?

A: Glad you asked.

  • You’ll be assigned to a lane marked at the edge of the overgrowth. Try to work straight back toward the rear of the property, maintaining social distance between you and the next person. 
  • The short-term goal is clear the cemetery of trash and undergrowth — vines, privet, vines, small shrubs … did I say vines? Wisteria and smilax (green with thorns) are probably the worst invaders, with honeysuckle a close third. You can’t go wrong by cutting every vine you see, both at ground level and as high as you can reach.

Wiley Oates’ lovely monument was covered with a cape of honeysuckle vine. If the vines aren’t cut back hard, the obelisk will disappear again come summer.

  • Watch out — vines can snap back and pop you pretty hard. 
  • Also, watch your feet. Vines can trip you, and you’ll want to avoid stepping into sunken graves, animal burrows, or other holes in the ground.
  • Please don’t try to cut down any trees.
  • Please haul out any trash you find, but do not move grave markers. Here’s what to do instead. Markers may look like chunks of concrete or rocks, so to be on the safe side, don’t move any of either. 

An entry into Odd Fellows opened by volunteers in December 2020. 

Lane Street Project: Q’s & A’s — what to bring.

Lane Street Project is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemeteries. We welcome community volunteer support to achieve our goals of reclaiming the cemeteries and honoring the sacred remains of our ancestors. At present, Rountree and Odd Fellows are covered with 40+ years of overgrowth. Burials date back to the 1890s, and many of the graves have collapsed. It is a fragile environment.

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Q: Hey! I’ll be there! What should I bring?

A: Thank you! The most important thing, of course, is a MASK! This will be a COVID-conscious event, and masks and social distancing will be required.

Also:

  • Your own particular talents. Whether strong arms or strong voices of encouragement, we need what you bring!
  • Protective clothing such as long sleeves, gloves, and boots. 
  • Hand tools only — hand pruners, loppers, hedge trimmers, mattocks, rakes, spades, etc.
  • No chainsaws. No other mechanized or heavy equipment. 
  • Jugs of water and nylon-bristle brushes for cleaning headstones, but no soaps, detergents or other cleaning agents. They will damage the headstones. 
  • Trashbags. 

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

Lane Street Project: Irma Vick.

Wilson Daily Times, 8 October 1921.

Samuel and Annie Vick‘s daughter Irma died of a pulmonary hemorrhage while a 16 year-old student in Asheville, North Carolina. Wilson Colored High School (later C.H. Darden High School) was two years away in 1921, and Irma was likely a boarding student at the storied private Allen School

Until recently, Irma’s gravestone at the edge of the cleared section of Odd Fellows was the sole clue to the burial plot of the Vick family. However, her grandparents Daniel and Fannie Vick and sister Viola were found in February 2020, and her parents in December of the same year.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson.

Lane Street Project: Walter M. Foster.

Walter M. Foster‘s headstone in Odd Fellows Cemetery is a beautiful example of Clarence Best‘s early work — the white marble; the incised laurel leaves; the charming irregularity of his fonts.

Foster’s foot marker was carved by a different hand. His membership in the Odd Fellows lodge is signaled by the three linked rings marked F-L-T — friendship, love, truth.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

 

Lane Street Project: Volunteers recover Wilson’s lost history — Group scours neglected cemeteries for missing graves.

Lane Street Project is preparing the announcement of its 2021 kick-off clean-up of Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries on January 16 and 18 to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and National Day of Service. Stay tuned and, in the meantime, here’s an article by Drew C. Wilson that ran 16 December 2020 in the Wilson Times. 

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About 45 minutes into an effort to clear vines and overgrowth from African American graves, volunteers fulfilled one of their major objectives Tuesday, locating Samuel H. Vick’s resting place. 

The prominent Wilsonian is Vick Elementary School’s namesake. 

“He was born enslaved in Nash County and came to Wilson at an early age,” said Lisa Henderson, a historian and organizer of the Lane Street Project to locate missing graves in Wilson’s Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries. “He was an educator, was a businessman, was one of the founders of Calvary Presbyterian Church, was postmaster of Wilson, very politically involved and arguably, in the first half of the 20th century, was the most prominent African American citizen of Wilson.”

It was Vick who famously brought Booker T. Washington to Wilson on Nov. 3, 1910.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Henderson said. “It’s really what the Lane Street project is all about. It’s not only raising awareness of the condition of these cemeteries, but also bringing back graves that have been lost for 50, 60, 70 years.”

Armed with loppers, pruners and picks, volunteers chopped and cut their way through inches-thick, decades-old vines.

“This grave that we just found is a Pender,” Henderson said as grime was smoothed away from the tannin-stained face of Gray Pender’s marble marker.

“Honestly, that is a Wilson family name. This person may have relatives right here in Wilson right now,” Henderson said. “It is indescribable to me. It’s really what it’s about.”

Henderson said she hopes individuals and groups will get involved in recovering this lost history.

“Pick a Saturday, come out here with some loppers, some hand pruners and just knock back some weeds,” Henderson said. “Hopefully, maybe by spring we will be able to see that there is a cemetery again, and that will help us decide what the best course is going forward. Obviously, I would ask anybody who comes out here to be respectful. This is hallowed ground, even if it is abandoned. But other than that, this belongs to everybody.”

Henderson said more than 1,500 graves are in the 11 acres of cemetery land at the east Wilson site.

“There are three cemeteries. We are now standing in Rountree Cemetery.  East of Rountree is Odd Fellows and beyond that is a big open field that’s actually a cemetery, that’s Vick. African Americans were buried in these three cemeteries,” Henderson said.

Henderson said African American history is Wilson’s history.

“It is all of our history. It is something that we all can be proud of. It is something that contributed to the city as a whole and the same with these cemeteries,” Henderson said.

Castonoble Hooks, one of the volunteers, said he had mixed emotions about the effort.

“First of all, I am honored to be restoring honor to people who have been overlooked for so long, understanding as I do the sacrifices these people made,” Hooks said. “I am appalled by the fact that they have been allowed to come to this point of desecration and to be allowed to stay that way for so long. I am delighted to discovered the ones we are discovering, but then when I looked across the field at the thousands of slaves and regular citizens whose tombstones and markers and indicators were removed under and agreement to be placed back and a promise never kept, that saddens me tremendously. I am going to do whatever I can in my lifetime to restore some dignity to these people’s names and memories.”

Hooks was referring to the nearby Vick Cemetery.

Henderson said the city of Wilson basically desecrated the graveyard. 

“They leveled it. They removed all the tombstones, put them somewhere and have now lost them. We have no idea, no record of who was buried in that cemetery,” Henderson said. “Obviously, there are two streams of responsibility. There is the responsibility of our own community for stepping into the breach and doing something about this. There is also the responsibility of the city of Wilson, which denied its ownership of that cemetery of Vick for decades and then, when they stepped in to do something, they destroyed it and made it impossible for people to find out who was there.”

Henderson said it’s not clear what path forward the project will take.

“All we are out here to do today is to try to make it easier for people to get in here,” Henderson said. “There is long-term goal and there is a role for the city of Wilson to play in terms of making this situation right. There is a role for all of the owners of these cemeteries to play, a role for all of us.”

For native Wilson families, Henderson said there’s likely a connection to the people buried here. 

“If you are here and you have roots in Wilson, you’ve got somebody in these cemeteries,” Henderson said. “You’ve got lots of somebodies in these cemeteries. I can’t stand and wait for the city to do something when we can do something. It just takes a little bit of effort and commitment and a decision to honor who’s here to get some amazing things done, so we will be out here Thursday.”

Volunteers plan to meet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday to continue clearing around any graves they locate.

Charlie Farris, chairman of the Wilson Cemetery Commission, said he’s heartened that the group cares for Wilson’s departed. 

“I’m glad that there are people wanting to locate the graves of people buried 70 or 80 years ago, and I wish the city of Wilson would come out with its equipment and clear this whole area,” Farris said. “There are graves 100 feet deep inside that haven’t been seen in years. I am just thrilled that there are concerned citizens that can come out and help clean it. These are cemeteries within the city, and something needs to be done.”

For more information, visit Henderson’s website, “Black Wide-Awake,” at  https://afamwilsonnc.com. The site details a broad range of African American history in Wilson. 

Photo by Drew C. Wilson, courtesy of Wilson Times.

The obituary of Samuel H. Vick, postmaster, educator, banker, real estate dealer, theatre owner and businessman.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 July 1946.

Samuel H. Vick‘s grave marker was unearthed last month by Lane Street Project volunteers. Though “Rountree” was already the name used collectively for the three cemeteries at the east end of Lane Street, Vick was in fact buried in Odd Fellows.