Oral History

Getting milk from the Vicks.

Excerpt from my interview with my grandmother, Hattie Henderson Ricks, about where her family bought food during her childhood on Elba Street:

“But when I was a little girl, the only place you could get milk was from the Vicks. It was a quarter.  That was the only place we had to get the milk, if you got any. Unless you used canned milk. She had a back porch. Closed-in back porch. Screened in. Anyway, glass in it all around, there on the back porch, and tables out there. One of them things you churn, what I mean, a great, old big urn out there where the milk get too old, and then she’d have buttermilk. And she had a ‘frigerator sitting out there, where she’d taken the shelves out, look like where she’d made a big thing to put it in there. But she would get fresh milk everyday. The cows was somewhere out there, I don’t know where, I didn’t see ‘em in the yard. They wont nowhere up there. But somebody was working for them would go out and get the milk and bring it in these cans where you have, where got the churn in the top of it. And she would put them out there on the porch. Miz Annie seemed to be pretty clean, and the house was clean. Didn’t nobody get sick. Yeah, and they had the two daughters, and I don’t know how many boys it was. Robert was the youngest boy, and I went to school with him, and Doris and I was in the same class in school. And — I didn’t know whether she was a sister to the man, or whether she was sister to the lady, I never did find out which way — but that house, they built that two-story house right next to the Vicks, and they didn’t stay in it, they went to Washington or somewhere. And they rented the house out. And I think somebody else bought it.”

My grandmother, right, and her sister Mamie Henderson Holt, around the time their family was buying milk from the Vicks.

All rights reserved.

“Just don’t have a whole lot of dealings”: The Talk in 1940’s Wilson.

Excerpt from my interview with my father, Rederick C. Henderson, who was born in Wilson in 1934:

My father with Darden classmates Helen Williams, Lillie Dixon and Eloise Parker in 1948-49.

——

What do you remember about race relations?  Or what were you told about dealing with white people?

Well. See, we never had a lot, the only white people that I saw had little stores in the black community. And you know, they said, you can’t, just don’t have a whole lot of dealings with white folks. And racism … things I saw about racism. I was, I remember I was maybe 12, 13, and I went downtown walking over to the stadium somewhere. I was walking over to one of my friend’s house stayed on Mercer Street, and they had these prisoners of war. Germans. And they had this “P.W.” on the back of their thing, and they were cleaning up ‘round the factory. And they had some MPs or something with them. And they were sitting down on a bench outside resting. One of them little regular benches. A wood bench that they used to advertise or something. And so I stopped – they had gone in – and I stopped, and I was sitting down, and a man came out, and he spit on my leg.

German or an American?

Naw, this was a white American. He said, “You can’t sit on that bench.” I don’t know if he called me a boy or whatever, but had that tobacco spit on me.  And he –

But the Germans were sitting on the bench.  Prisoners of war in this country.

Right. And I couldn’t sit on the bench.

Then I remember they had an incident at the theater where something had happened, and this girl [Marie Everett] slapped a white girl. And they took her and put her in jail. Took her and put her in prison. She went off and stayed. She must have stayed ‘bout a year. And Mama and all them said, “Don’t y’all go downtown.” So far as I got to go was to the [Ritz] theater and then come back home.  

And all over there behind Vick School [Academy, Crowell and Mayo Streets] was all white back in there. And they used to throw stuff at us on the [playground] — we’d be throwing rocks back and forth, back and forth. But the police didn’t ever come over there. Now the police would be downtown on Saturday afternoon ‘cause see in Wilson, like Friday and Saturday was when we’d go to the movie. And I’d go to the movies on Saturday and stay all day long. Stay in there ‘til it’d be almost dark. That’s how you’d know it was time to go home.  Come down there, walk down there, say, “Can I look outside and see…?” Lady’d just: “Yeah.” Walk down there; look out there; see. If it’s still light, you’d come back up and watch the movie again. Sit upstairs in the movie. And so they had all the white police. They would walk from uptown, I guess, down to Pender Street. And on the sidewalk. And black folk had to get out the way. I mean, they’d walk right up, push you right out in the street. Or whatever. And just walk right on down to the end and turn around and come back and all.

All rights reserved.

Memories of Hattie Daniels’ Golden Rule kindergarten.

Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid shares this excerpt, adapted for Black Wide-Awake, from her My Neighborhood Legacy Series: A Salute to the Educational Leadership of Rev. Hattie Louvenia Owens Daniels, Founder and Director of the Golden Rule Kindergarten 1944-1972 Wilson, NC.” Though it recalls a period after BWA’s focus, it offers a close look at the warm, rich experience that would have been familiar to children who attended Golden Rule earlier.

Dr. Rashid’s parents, Levi and Cora Greene Wellington, lived on Manchester Street from 1946 to 1978. Between 1957 and 1966, she and two of her siblings attended Rev. Hattie Daniels‘ Golden Rule Kindergarten at 908 Wainwright Street, just a block from their home. 

Each morning, a family member dropped the children off at the front door of the house. As they entered the living room, Rev. Daniels and her daughter Deborah Ruth Daniels, greeted each child by name with a warm and welcoming “Good morning!” Once all the children had arrived, they stood together and responded in song — “Good morning to you!, Good morning to you!, We’re all in our places, with bright shiny faces, and how do you do? How do you do?” The Danielses asked each child how they were doing and if they had eaten breakfast. If they had not eaten at home, they were fed at no charge. The children then lined up as a group and marched out the back door to the school, a long building located to the left rear of the backyard. The remaining yard was the playground. Everything they learned was recited in song and rhyme — the alphabet, numbers, sight words, etc.  Rev. Daniels rang a big hand bell to begin their daily recitations of the lessons they learned, to get their attention,  or to signal a change in activity.

Throughout the school day, children formed a neat line for everything, including forays into the public. They marched everywhere, always staying in a neat line and looking straight ahead. Golden Rule’s children took field trips to sing on a local radio program, to the county fair, and the Wilson Christmas parade. Each year, they walked from the school to downtown Wilson to sing Christmas carols on the county courthouse steps.  Rev. Daniels led the line of students while her daughter walked behind. Rev. Daniels’ students were known to have manners.

Judy Wellington Rashid graduated from Wilson’s R.L. Fike High School in 1970, completed college, and became a teacher. During her first few years teaching, she began to reflect on the invaluable academic lessons, respect for education, and order and discipline she received at the Golden Rule kindergarten. Shortly becoming a principal in 1977, she visited Rev. Daniels in her home. The old school building was still standing but not usable. Dr. Rashid went to thank Rev. Daniels for the great foundation that she had provided her in kindergarten. She also wanted to know if Rev. Daniels still had a book that she had used to teach her students, and indeed she did.

Rev. Hattie Daniels with a copy of Lillian Moore’s A Child’s First Picture Dictionary, first published in 1948.

On a 2004 visit to Wilson, Dr. Rashid noticed Deborah Daniels and another woman sitting on the porch of 908 Wainwright. Daniels recognized her, and they shared laughter over seeing each other again after so many years. Lillian Francis Lucas introduced herself and said she moved from Wiggins Street to the house next door to 908 Wainwright “when the highway came through.” She said she had come over to clean house and “wait on” Rev. Daniels. She remembered that “there were 60 students at the school at one time or the other,” aged three to five years.  She also remembered that the school day would start around 5 or 6 A.M. and last until 5 or 6 P.M. 

Rev. Daniels’ Wainwright Street home at left, a rental property she owned at middle, and the church she pastored at right.

Deborah Daniels’ chimed in: “my mother housed, clothed, fed, and took care of me from Elvie School, Catholic School, Sallie Barbour School, to Darden High School”.  Dr. Rashid closes: “May God forever bless the educational legacy of Rev. Hattie Daniels and her daughter Deborah Ruth Daniels.”

Golden Rule kindergarten in 1964. The Wilson Daily Times printed the photo, submitted by James Boyette, in its 9 July 2002 edition.

Photos courtesy of Judy Wellington Rashid.

Wood stoves.

Castonoble Hooks shared this memory of winters in Wilson. Though he was born just after the close of the period covered in Black Wide-Awake, his recollection would have rung true for generations before him.

“I remember the wood stove this time of year. Wilson streets were covered with clouds of smoke — each house contributed its own stream of exhaust! Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s Wilson, you “learned” the wood stove. The first chore I remember as a child was to carry out cold ashes, the residue of burned wood. I was maybe five years old. Later that year, I could clean the stove of hot or cold ashes. The next year I was cutting wood, stacking wood, starting a fire in morning and banking the stove at night! At the age of ten, I was working for woodmen, Mr. Turner Jenkins and Mr. Columbus Ham, who rode around our hood delivering wood and coal. Almost every house had at least one stove! Wood heat is so warming and completely satisfying. Many a cold day was, the wood stove stood tall!”

  • Turner Jenkins — 

In the 1920 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Gray Jenkins, 46; wife Mary Jane, 35; children Joseph, 17, William, 15, Lucinda, 12, Mada, 11, Mark, 9, Turner, 7, Rosa, 5, Rachel, 4, and (adopted) Lester, 7; servant Frank Braswell, 18.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Turner Williamson, 30; wife Mary, 21; children Mary B., 5, Sarah P., 4, and Paul, 2; sister-in-law Lucinda Jenkins, 23, and brother-in-law Turner Jenkins, 17, farm laborer.

Turner Jenkins, 21, of Gardners township, son of Gray and Mary Jane Jenkins, married Lossie Applewhite, 21, of Gardners township, daughter of Tom and Diana Applewhite, on 15 November 1933 in Wilson. Gray Jenkins, Stantonsburg; Lonnie Applewhite, Wilson, and B.E. Howard, Wilson, were witnesses.

Turner Jenkins registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 17 April 1912 in Edgecombe County; lived at 911 Carolina Street, Wilson; his contact was wife Lossie Applewhite Jenkins; and he worked for Independent Ice Company.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Turner Jenkins, 29; wife Lossie, 29; daughter Annie M., 12; sister [in-law] Minnie Applewhite, 19; and [her?] son Roy William Applewhite, 11 months. 

Turner Jenkins died 11 January 1967 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 April 1912 in Edgecombe County to Gray Jenkins and Mary Jane Bridgers; was married to Lossie Jenkins; lived at 128 Narroway Street; and worked as a laborer.

  • Columbus Ham

Caleb Columbus Hamm Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County in 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 16 August 1920 in Greene County; lived at 913 East Nash Street, Wilson; his contact was Annie Hodges, 110 Ashe Street, Wilson; and he worked for Stephenson Lumber Company.

Thank you for sharing, Castonoble Hooks!

Memories of Samuel and Catherine Clark.

The recent post about the 500 block of Nash Street sparked memories from Cora Ruth Greene Wellington Dawson, who earlier shared her recollections of attending the Sallie Barbour School.

In the 1930s, Mrs. Dawson’s grandparents Samuel and Catherine Frison McFadden Clark lived on Smith Street, which ran parallel to Nash for one block. They were members of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church and owned a horse and buggy. Catherine Clark was a cook at Woodard-Herring Hospital on West Green Street and also cooked for Camillus L. and Norma D. Darden at their Pender Street home.

—— 

In 1918, Sam Smith registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 18 April 1874; lived at 118 Smith Street; worked as a laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company; and his nearest relative was wife Katherine Clark.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 607 Viola, rented for $16/month, hospital cook Catherine Clark, 42; husband Sam, 52; grandchildren Martha Clark, 15, and Willie McGill, 6; and roomers Talmage Smith, 21, and Roy Maze, 26, both orchestra musicians.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Clark Samuel (c; Cath) h 607 Viola

Samuel Clark died 21 January 1935 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 53 years old; was born in Macon, Georgia; was a laborer; was married to Katherine Clark; and lived at 513 Smith Street.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: boarding house keeper Floyd Mitchell, 56, and lodgers Rosa Taylor, 39, laborer; Catherine Clark, 51, cook, Willie Cook, 14, and David Cook, 9; Alice Cutts, 34; Irvin Cutts, 39; George K. Cutts, 9, and Charles Cutts, 7.

Catherine Frison Clark died 9 November 1944 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 20 February 1875 in Charleston, South Carolina, to David Frison and Easter [last name unknown]; she was a widow; and she lived at 401 Grace Street. She was buried in Rountree cemetery, and Lottie Cohen, 401 Grace, was informant.

Thanks to Judy Wellington Rashid for sharing.

Barton College’s oral history project.

The introduction to Barton College’s Crossing the Tracks: An Oral History of East and West Wilson:

“Starting in the spring of 2013 and concluding in the fall of 2014, Barton College students began interviewing Wilson residents about social, cultural, political, and economic relations between residents of East and West Wilson, and how these relations have changed over the past sixty to seventy years. 

“In spite of the many significant achievements of the modern Civil Rights Movement, our nation, state, and community bear the scars and legacies of a deeply troubled racial history that continues to impact our relationships. While we might like to forget or gloss over the painful part of that history, its effect lingers, and denying it will not make it go away.  As the writer James Baldwin once said, ‘The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.’  One of the goals of Crossing the Tracks, then, is to bring these unconscious forces of history into our consciousness, so that we might begin to confront the historical effects of white supremacy and begin the process of healing.

“A history of segregation, built on a foundation of white supremacy, created a separate but unequal society.  And the traditional historical narrative is at best an incomplete history, written and preserved by those who hold political, social, and economic power.  It too often omits the strong voices and tremendous contributions of those on the margins of power.  Part of the mission of the Freeman Round House Museum is to fill this gap in the historical record by preserving and publicizing the contributions of African American Wilsonians to education, medicine, the arts, criminal justice, and entertainment.  Crossing the Tracks supports this mission.  It is an accessible collection of first-person accounts of life in Wilson that students, scholars, and the general public can use to study and write about this remarkable, underrepresented history.  In many ways, it builds on the work of Dr. Charles W. McKinney, Jr., whose book, Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina, documents decades of committed struggle by East Wilson residents to lay the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement.”

The project includes videotaped interviews with 22 residents of East Wilson. The recollections of many, including Samuel Lathan, Roderick Taylor Jr., and Mattie Bynum Jones, date to the 1930s and ’40s, the latter decades covered by the blog. Barton College partnered with the Freeman Roundhouse and Museum to obtain these invaluable stories and all are available online.

He was gon get it, but he didn’t have the money.

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Death certificates are the official records of death, but often tell us very little about how the decedent’s family understood or experienced their loved one’s final illness and transition.

Jesse A. Jacobs died 6 July 1926 of apoplexy (or, as we would now call it, cerebral hemorrhage.)  “Hernia inguinal” was listed a contributing cause. “Papa Jesse” reared my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks. He died when she was 16; he was her great-aunt Sarah Henderson‘s husband. Though his hernia, which apparently had strangulated, did not directly kill him, his suffering and the blame cast within the family after his death deeply impacted her.

Here’s what she told me:

“[Papa] was ruptured from the time I can remember.

“… He was supposed to have an operation. He was ruptured, and [his daughter] Carrie [Jacobs Bradshaw], she claimed she didn’t know it. And I said, now, I was the youngest child was there, and I knowed that all that stuff that was down ‘tween his legs was something wrong with him. And I had sense enough to know not to ask no grown folks or nothing about it. And I didn’t ask Mama. I didn’t say nothing, but I was wondering, ‘What in the world was wrong with him?’

“… And Papa, he was a good person, and they want to accuse him of going with the nurse up there at Mercy Hospital. I don’t know whether she was married or not, I don’t think she was married, but she was real light-skinned lady, smaller lady, and he went up there for something, probably his rupture – I know he had to go to the hospital for treatments or something. Anyway, the last time, Carrie came down and she was fussing about if she’d known Papa had to have an operation, she’d have come down, and he’d have had it. Instead of waiting until it was too late. Now the last week they wasn’t expecting him to live. But, no bigger than I was, I knew he had it. And she was grown, old enough for my mother, and then she talking ‘bout she didn’t know he was ruptured? Well, all his tubes was, ah –  And he always had to wear a truss to hold hisself up. And when he’d be down, I’d be down there sweeping at the school, and he’d be out there plowing a field he rented out there, and he’d come up, lay down on the floor and take a chair and he’d put his legs up over the chair like that, and I’d wet the cloths from the bowl where was in the hall, some of the old dust cloths, and hand them to him, and he’d put them down on his side, and you could hear it ‘bluckup’ and that thing would go back there.

“But see it had got, his intestines, that tissue between there had bursted, and the doctor told him he needed an operation. So he was gon get it, but he didn’t have money enough to get it. Didn’t save up money enough to have the operation. So none of the children – all of them know, as large as his – but leastways he couldn’t hide himself, ‘cause even from a little child, I could see that for years, and I wondered what it was. ‘Cause I know everybody didn’t have it, at least didn’t have all that in their britches. [Pause.] And Carrie come down there, and she fuss Mama out about him not having the operation and this kind of stuff. And [Mama] said, ‘Well, we never had the money to get the operation. We tried to go and get it, and we’d pay on it by time.’ But, naw, he wanted, he was gon make something off the crop, and he’d pay. Pay it and have it then. But he never got the chance. So when they put him in the hospital and operated on him — say when they cut him, he had over a quart of pus in him. I think it was on a Thursday, and he lived ‘til that Tuesday.”

Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1998; all rights reserved.

A Sallie Barbour student remembers.

Cora and Levi Wellington reared seven children on Manchester Street, first in a three-room endway house at 313 and then a four-room house at 402. Cora Wellington, now Dawson, is now 92 years old and has vivid memories of her East Wilson school days: 

From Charles L. Coon, The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24.

Cora Ruth Greene Wellington Dawson attended Sallie Barbour School from 1934 to 1937.  Eleanor P. Reid was principal. Mrs. Dawson recalls that Mrs. Reid rang a big bell when school started (and everyone had to be seated), at lunch time, and at the end of the day. She remembers eating peanut butter with jelly sandwiches and homemade soup at school everyday – at no charge. She remembers huge swings and merry go rounds in the playground and outside toilets. Some of the teachers at the school were Mrs. Georgia Dupree, Mrs. Addie Butterfield (who taught 4th grade), and Mrs. Celie Norwood.  Mrs. Norwood, who taught Mrs. Dawson’s first husband Levi Wellington in third grade, lived in a two-story house on Pender Street. The house, which has been demolished, stood behind Calvary Presbyterian Church, which then faced Green Street.  Many of the teachers, who were always sharply dressed in heels and suits, walked down Wainwright Street to the school.

Sallie Barbour School was located across from Cemetery Street near the present location of cinderblock apartments. Mrs. Dawson recalled that students entered the school on the Stantonsburg Street side, now known as Pender Street. The back of the school faced Manchester Street. This section of Wilson is often referred to as “the school yard” long after Sallie Barbour School is gone. The school building was all wood. The front porch, where everyone entered the building, was very large. The principal’s office, located in the front of the building, faced Stantonsburg Street, and children had to pass Mrs. Reid’s office and walk down a long hall way to their classes. Though she was just six years old, Mrs. Dawson remembers having to take her younger brother to school with her because she was his babysitter. She would go downstairs to the girls’ toilet outside to change his diaper, and the teacher would make a place for him to take a nap behind the big blackboard in the back of the classroom.

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Cora Green Wellington Dawson in 2018.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Grace Street, public service laborer Henry Green, 47; wife Lottie, 40, cook; and children Cora, 12, Fred, 9, Henry Jr., 7, Edward, 2, and James, no age given.

Cora Green married Levi Wellington on 28 September 1944.

Levi Wellington- student at Sallie Barbour School in 1934

Levi Wellington.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Highway 42, farmer Haywood Willieston, 35; wife Lonie, 30; and children Haywood, 12, Leavay, 10, Sudie, 6, Mary, 8, Magline, 4, Raymond, 2.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Grace Street, public service laborer Haywood Wellington, 46; wife Lona, 40; and children Levi, 20, grocery store delivery, Sudie, 16, Magerlean, 14, Raymon, 12, Helen, 7, and Gereldean, 4.

In 1940, Levi Wellington registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 16 September 1919 in Greene County, North Carolina; lived at 409 Grace Street, Wilson; his contact was mother Lona Wellington, same address; and he worked for Barnes-Graves Grocery Company.

Levi Wellington died 13 November 1978 in Wilson.

Levi and Cora Wellington in the 1960s at 402 Manchester St..jpg

Cora and Levi Wellington at their house on Manchester Street, 1960s.

Many thanks to Dr. Judy Wellington Rashid for sharing her mother’s memories of the Sallie Barbour School and photographs of her family.

Porch talk.

I’m deeply grateful to Harry B. Harris for allowing me to share the first episode of “Porch Talk,” his series of interviews with the elders of East Wilson. Harris here is talking with Romaine Ellis Blackston, Samuel C. Lathan, and Sterling Corbett on the porch of the East Nash Street house in which 94 year-old Mrs. Blackston has lived all her life. Her recollection of the residents and businesses of East Nash Street is like a walk through the posts of Black Wide-Awake. Enjoy!

 

The stake of life.

While director of the University of North Carolina Press, W.T. Couch also worked as a part-time official of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, serving as assistant and associate director for North Carolina (1936-1937) and as director for the southern region (1938-1939). The Federal Writers’ Project Papers are housed at U.N.C.’s Southern Historical Collection and include Couch’s correspondence and life histories of about 1,200 individuals collected by F.W.P. members. At least two African-American residents of Wilson, Georgia Crockett Aiken and William Batts, were memorialized in this way. 

Folder 550 contains the transcript of the interview with William Batts, titled “The stake of life.” Batts, a tobacco packer, lived at 804 Stronach Avenue. [The 1940 city directory described Stronach Alley as “(formerly Young’s Line) — from a point east of North Av at Adams, north to Tilghman rd.”]

Batts had worked as a packer for ten seasons and enjoyed the work. He was six feet tall and muscular and had farmed on rented land before working in the warehouse.

Batts’ family were sharecroppers, working to keep half the crop they produced. As he reached adulthood and realized how little money his parents received for their toil, he determined to find different work. Batts had wanted an education, but his father did not believe in the value of schooling needed him to work. “He learned us how to treat white folks and let our education stop at dat.” In response to his father’s view that literacy was for white people, Batts said, “… if de nigger could do his own figuring de white folks ‘ud have to figure harder, too.” His first job was as a section hand for Norfolk & Southern Railroad, which he quit to drive a dray.

From there, Batts went to work at a wagon company. (Almost certainly Hackney Wagon.) After he was laid off, he got a job at a tobacco warehouse. The work was seasonal — August to November — and he had been paid $11.88 a week for the ten years he had worked there as a packer, unloading tobacco from farmer’s wagons and placing it in baskets in the warehouse. The odor of tobacco sickened him at first, but he could not quit because his wife was not working and the dollar-a-day he made doing farmwork during the summer did not go far.

Batts worked 7 o’clock A.M. to 6 P.M. five days a week and a half-day on Sunday. When the season ended, he hustled to find more work to supplement his wife’s work washing clothes, “cooking when company come to de white folks” and other occasional work. “when the spring opened up,” there was farm work — setting our tobacco plants, chopping cotton, barning tobacco, and picking cotton kept him “in a regular strut.” In winter, he dug ditches, sawed wood in a sawmill, and cleared land.

“I reckon you’d say I ain’t got no regular job, but I work pretty regular, ‘specially all de months besides December and January.” His wife worked stemming tobacco for about $8 a week. Still, they had trouble saving money. “We had to buy some furniture and clothes and keep up our life insurance and our rent and lights.” The couple was fortunate that their water was included in their rent — “We can take a bath every day if we want it …”

Their son and daughter no longer lived with them. Batts missed them, especially for help when his wife felt poorly because of high blood pressure.

He was seldom seriously ill and felt bad for her and tried to help. She would probably have to quit working. “I reckon I can support us ’cause we don’t owe no debts.” They bought their furniture for cash, and paid groceries ($15/month) and rent ($10/month) in cash. They had life insurance and had set aside a “little,” but feared running into bad luck. Batts dreamed of buying a small farm and a mule. “I think dat is the de stake of life.” A farm could provide security, something he had not thought much of until the stock market crash of 1929.

Batts’ wife was a Christian when they married, but it took her five years to convert him. When she “made [him] see the point,” he joined a Disciples Church. It brought him great comfort.

Batts introduced the interviewer to his wife, who was in the kitchen peeling potatoes. The room contained newly painted furniture, a four-burner oil stove, a linoleum rug, and “snowy white” linens. Mrs. Batts explained that Batts had gotten the idea to paint the furniture green from an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. He had wanted to paint the walls after the owner of the house refused, but she counseled him to paint the things they could take with them if they had to leave the house.

Nursey Batts longed for her own house that she could “fix and mess over” and believed the Lord would provide. She came from a large family with hard-working parents who denied their own needs in their struggle to provide for their children. Only six of their 14 lived to adulthood.

Nursey Batts believed few white folks believed in ghosties or witches or conjuring, and black people were “outgrowing” it. She opined on the origins of conjure. She also had this opinion: “Most niggers feels like dey is imposed on just ’cause dey is niggers, but lemme tell you, a good honest nigger needn’t be skeered of living. De white folks has always been good to me and [William.]”

While waiting for an  iron to heat, Nursey Batts showed the interviewer her parlor, which was neatly furnished and decorated.

“A body never knows when a important person will drop in on him and everything will most likely be like de devil’s had a fit on it. I hate for company to catch me, as de saying is, with my breeches down.” Still, she downplayed the appearance of the room. She had crocheted the bedspread from tobacco twine in a pattern she got from a woman who lived out in the country. She was proud of the chifforobe her husband had bought her for Christmas.

Nursey Batts was hopeful that she and William Batts would get their farm and thought another term for Franklin Roosevelt would be helpful. “I wish dat we could vote for him, but [William] can’t read or write so he can’t vote. I can read a little, but I don’t know nothing ’bout de Constitution of the United States.”

——

On 7 July 1915, Will Batts, 23, of Wilson, son of Morris and Nancy Batts of Taylor township, married Nurcy Hill, 22, of Wilson, daughter of Robert Hill, at Graham Woodard‘s in Wilson township. Missionary Baptist minister Jeremiah Scarboro performed the ceremony in the presence of Jason Farmer, Bessie Farmer, and Mena Littlejohn.

In 1917, Will Batts registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 15 December 1889 in Wilson County; lived on Vance Street; and was a butler for N.L. Finch.

In the 1920 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Batts Nursey (c) dom 601 Warren; Batts William (c) drayman h 601 Warren

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: a 804 Stronach Alley, Will Batts, 46, public school janitor; wife Nursey, 36, tobacco factory stemmer; and brother-in-law Freeman Hill, 29, tobacco factory office boy.

In 1942, Freeman Hill registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 25 November 1900 in Wilson; lived in 623 East Viola; his contact was Nursey Batts, 722 Stronach Avenue; and worked for Wilson Tobacco Company, South Railroad Street.

Will Batts died 24 February 1947 in Wilson of congestive heart failure. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 December 1890 in Wilson County to Morris Batts and Nancy Bynum; was married to Nursey Batts; was the janitor at Charles L. Coon High; and lived at 722 Stronach Avenue.