Wilson Daily Times, 20 December 1982.
Leroy Mercer was recently featured in a post about his long-time home at 406 North Reid Street.
Wilson Daily Times, 20 December 1982.
Leroy Mercer was recently featured in a post about his long-time home at 406 North Reid Street.
We have read here of Kingsberry and Charity Jones Taylor, who migrated to Indiana in the 1840s. The pages below are excerpted from “My Grandmother, Sarah Ann Taylor Maxwell,” a transcribed memoir by the Taylors’ great-granddaughter Bessie Chandler Van Dyke (1907-1994). As with many such recorded recollections, some of the details are off, but others provide incredibly rich insight into the lives of two free people of color with roots in what is now Wilson County.
Per Europe Ahmad Farmer, the principal historian and genealogist of the Locus/Lucas family and related free families of color of Nash and Wilson Counties, Kingsberry Taylor’s mother was Zelphia Taylor Brantley, who was white, and his father was a free man of color who was a Locus. Kingsberry was not enslaved, though he likely was indentured as an apprentice until he was 21. He did not live in Randolph County, but in Nash County, and he married Charity Jones (who lived in what is now Wilson County) prior to their migration to Indiana.
The Taylor family in the 1850 census of Madison County, Indiana.
Transcript courtesy of Ancestry.com user samjoyatk.
Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the third in a series of excerpts and adaptations of interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)
Mamie Henderson Holt (1907-2000), taken not long after she married.
My grandmother arrived in Wilson as a baby in early 1911, shortly after her mother died. Her three-year-old sister Mamie remained in Dudley with their great-grandparents, Lewis and Margaret Balkcum Henderson, until their deaths. Mamie finally came to Wilson when she was about eight years old, but her adjustment was difficult. The sisters were delighted to be united, but Jesse Jacobs did not like Mamie and treated her badly.
My grandmother told the tale of her sister’s escape from Wilson often, and I recorded it several times. Here, a composite, using her own words, that sets out the story in all its heartbreaking emotional complexity.
In late 1922, Sarah H. Jacobs separated from Jesse Jacobs, taking Hattie and Mamie to Greensboro, N.C., where they moved in with Sarah’s aunt, Julia “Mollie” Henderson Hall Holt. Sarah’s health was poor, and she may also have been seeking better care and support. Jesse soon arrived, however, begging Sarah to return to Wilson. [He did not rely on his persuasive skills alone. To read about Jesse’s rootwork reinforcement, see here.]
“[Papa] come up to Greensboro and talked to Mama, and so she promised him she’d come back, [but] Mamie wouldn’t come home. She said Papa told her, said, ‘If your mammy ever leave here and take you with her, don’t you never come back here. Don’t never set foot in this door.’ He told Mamie that. But he told me, if I wanted to stay with him, I could stay, and if he didn’t have but one biscuit, he’d divide it and give me one half, and he’d have the other half.
“But I know Mama was sick, so she come up to Greensboro, and he asked her ‘bout coming back. And she told him she would come back, but she got sick. Mama didn’t work all the time, she wasn’t able to work, and so staying with A’nt Molly and them always looking at her and talking — wasn’t half-talking to her, and so she knew she had to get out from there, she wont paying no rent. [So] we moved in this house, and we hadn’t been in there but ‘bout a week, and Mamie wouldn’t come [to this house.] She stayed over there with A’nt Molly and Sadie [Hall Whitfield Farrar, Molly’s daughter.] And so that’s where I come on back to get Mamie and tell her about [going back to Wilson], and so Mamie said she wont going back.
“So [when I was] over there to Sadie’s house, I said to ‘em, I said, ‘What, y’all having a party tonight?’ And didn’t know Mamie was getting married that night. Mamie didn’t even tell me. And so they said, ‘Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we gon play some cards.’ And they wanted to get rid of me. Because they hadn’t told us nothing ‘bout it. And so the house was all clean, Sadie’s house was all cleaned up, and tables sitting all around the room. Well, they played cards all the time, so I didn’t think nothing ‘bout it, [but] they had to wait ‘til I left so Mamie and Bazel [Holt] could get married. And didn’t tell me a word about it. And they were getting married that night. Sadie went with Mamie to the courthouse to get the license and everything, and so Mamie didn’t want to come back to Wilson ‘cause Papa wasn’t good to her. He was always snapping at her or something, and he’d throw things and hit her or …. And so she said she marry a dog before she’d come back to Wilson. So Bazel, I don’t know how they got into it, but Bazel was staying with Sadie and A’nt Molly. We all was staying down A’nt Molly’s house ‘cause Molly married Bazel’s uncle [Walter Holt.] So Mamie married Bazel. To keep from coming back. But Mamie was 15 when she got married. She told Bazel she wont coming back home.
“And so [the next] day, Mama didn’t feel like going to the restaurant where she had over there, and so I sat there looking out the window, and I said to Mama, ‘Mamie’s coming up, and she’s got a suitcase! I wonder where she’s going.’ So she came on in, and she told Mama that she had got married last night and was coming to get her clothes. And Mama told her she ought not to let her have them. ‘You didn’t tell me nothing ‘bout it. If you was gon get married, and you’d a told me, [you could have] got married and had a little social or something.’ And Mama was mad with her because she got married. Mama had told her that, ‘If you don’t go back, I’ll put the law on you and make you go back ‘cause you underage.’ And that’s how come Mamie didn’t let her know nothing ‘bout nothing. So Mamie just got her clothes. Some of ‘em. And crammed ‘em in a suitcase and went back over …. And, now, she … had just met [Bazel], and he told her, ‘Well, we’ll get married if you want to stay here. We’ll get married.’ And so he married her. That night. But I didn’t know they was getting married that night, and so I fussed her out and: ‘How come you didn’t let me know where I could have stayed to the wedding? I wanted to see you get married.’ ‘Well, it wont no wedding – we was just getting married! Getting that old piece of paper. [‘Cause] I’m not going back to Wilson, so – you know Uncle Jesse don’t like me nohow. And I don’t want to go back to Wilson.’ So that’s how come Mamie got married.”
“That old piece of paper.” Mamie told the registrar she was 19 years old (she was 15) and that her adoptive parents were dead (they were not.) A Baptist minister married the couple on Valentine’s Day 1923 at the home of Henry Farrar, the husband of Mamie’s cousin Sadie Hall Farrar. Sadie’s mother Julia “Mollie” Henderson Holt was a witness to the ceremony.
Hattie Henderson returned to Wilson with Sarah H. Jacobs, but she and her sister Mamie remained exceptionally close throughout their long lives. Mamie and Bazel had six children together and were together until his death in 1954. Trips to Greensboro to visit my great-aunt and cousins were a staple of my childhood and a testament to the sisters’ bond.
Hattie Henderson and daughter Hattie Margaret Henderson with Mamie Henderson Holt, center, late 1940s, probably during a visit to Greensboro.
Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson adapted and edited for clarity. Copyright 1994, 1996. All rights reserved. Photos in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.
Courtesy of the Freeman Round House and Museum, a clear photo of the Samuel and Annie Vick house at 622 East Green Street in its spindled and turned-post prime. The Vicks and two of their children are shown left of the porch steps.
The house has been considerably altered in the 110 or so years since this photo was taken. The entire wooden porch structure, including gazebo, is gone, and the wide siding has been covered in ashlar. The street was then unpaved, but it appears that curbing was being laid. The low ashlar wall at the sidewalk still stands, though it has been patched and modified. Recalled Hattie Henderson Ricks, who grew up just around the corner on Elba Street and was a playmate of Doris Vick Walker:
“We used to come back on the wagon from out there at Five Points, and the old mule ran away from me and Mama [Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver]. It went over the fence. Me and Mama was on the wagon. It had one of those spring seats up there, we was sitting up there, and a paper flew up before the mule, it was a little gray mule, and it was half-blind in one eye. It didn’t have a name. And we went right over the top of Sam Vick’s fence.
” … We swept up out there to Five Points, and we come back and we come down Green Street. That’s when the trees, a row of trees was from Pender Street all the way up to Vick Street, and there were trees, a row of trees right in there, and you come on one side and the other side, and we was on the side coming home and a piece of paper or something blew up and scared the mule. And, honey, he took right off over there in Sam Vick’s yard. And that stone … thing up there, well, the wheels got up there, the wagon when she turned? The wheels were over in the yard on the flowers, and Mama had her foot up on the dashboard, holding him back. Just pulling back. She said, “Well, you got over there, now get up and get back!” And she backed up, and sho ‘nough … but it scarred his legs all in the back where was on that place trying to get back. But I jumped off, I jumped off the wagon. Was standing there looking at ‘em. And we home. I said, we’re right there, home.”
Oral interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.
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.
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.
A 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.
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.
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!”
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.
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!
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.
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.