Oral History

An afternoon with Mr. Lathan.

Samuel Caswell Lathan sat in the front row during my presentation at Wilson County Public Library last week, making me a little nervous. This extraordinary musician, who once played drums for James Brown, was especially interested in the topic — he grew up on the 500 block of East Nash Street in the 1930s and ’40s. I visited with Mr. Lathan the next afternoon, soaking up his memories of the people and businesses of the block, whom he credits for setting him on his path as a drummer. He urged me to continue my documentation of East Wilson and expressed appreciation for and satisfaction with my work thus far.

Mr. Lathan also shared with me some extraordinary photographs of pre-World War II East Nash Street. Here he is as a toddler, circa 1931.

This stunning image depicts Neal’s Barbershop, with three of its barbers, circa 1935. Mr. Lathan is the boy leaning against the window, and Walter Sanders is seated in the chair awaiting a cut. “Billy Jr.” stands to his left in the photo, and an unidentified boy to the right.

African-American photographer John H. Baker took this family portrait of an adolescent Sam Lathan with his mother Christine Barnes Collins, grandmother Jeanette Barnes Plummer, and aunt Irene Plummer Dew in the late 1930s.

And this Baker portrait depicts Mr. Lathan’s beloved late wife, Mary Magdelene Knight Lathan.

Sam Lathan has graciously agreed to meet with me again to further explore his recollection of Black Wilson. I thank him for his interest, his time, and his generosity.

Photos courtesy of Samuel C. Lathan, please do not reproduce without permission.

How Dew’s Rest Home got financed.

Naomi Elizabeth Morris (1921–1986), who grew up in Wilson, served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 1967 through 1982. She was Chief Judge of that court from 1978 through 1982. In an interview conducted in 1983, Judge Morris recollected her efforts to assist the establishment in the 1950s of Wilson’s first sanctioned nursing home for African-Americans. Though considered progressive for her time and place, Judge Morris’ notions of privilege and segregationist propriety (and that of the interviewer) peek through here.

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PAT DEVINE: One story that I encountered which struck me with interest as something that I’d love to hear you talk more about was, you alluded to one experience you had in helping to do the legal background work for the founding of the first or only home for indigent blacks in Wilson.

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: Not indigent blacks. No, this was a nursing home for blacks. The office had had this woman as a client for many years. She ran a restaurant at one time. She was quite an aggressive, hardworking woman, and she came to me and said that the director of public welfare, Mr. Monroe Fordham [Fulghum], had asked her to open a nursing home for blacks. She had at that time taken in two or three aged people in her home to take care of, under the auspices of the welfare department, and Monroe Fordham had asked her if she would open a nursing home for blacks. She told him that she would if she could get the money, so she came to me to get the money. We went many places to borrow money, including from the black insurance company in Durham, and they would not let her have the money. Although she had sufficient property to secure the note, they would not let her have the money, and that made me perfectly furious. I came back to Wilson and called the Branch Bank and told them the situation. I said, “You will be missing a very good opportunity if you don’t let this woman have the money,” so they said they would. They required a lot of her that they might not have required of a white person in the same situation — I don’t know — but this was something new and untried. The man who did the electrical work took her note for the electrical work without any security. We worked it out to the point that she had her financing, and she paid everybody back ahead of time. One way she did it, in the summer when the crops would be coming in and the people would have gotten their crops harvested from the field, she would get permission to go out to that field and get what was left [gleaning], the small potatoes that they didn’t pick up, the beans on the bottom part of the vine. She would go get those, and that’s the way she fed her people and was able to feed them cheaper than a lot of people could run a home. Extremely well run.

PAT DEVINE: Is it still there?

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: Oh, yes, it’s still there. About five years after she borrowed the money, the Branch Bank called me and asked me if she would be interested in adding onto her home, that they would be glad to let her have the money. I always wanted to write the insurance company in Durham and say something to them, but I didn’t.

PAT DEVINE: That’s hard to understand.

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: It is hard. It was very difficult for me to understand, because they always talk about looking after their own and the fact that white people don’t do things they ought to for them.

PAT DEVINE: What is this woman’s name?

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: Geneva Dew.

PAT DEVINE: Is she alive?

JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS: Oh, yes, she’s alive and doing well. I hear from her at least twice a year. She attended my swearing-in ceremony and the party that was given afterward. I’m very fond of her. She’s a very fine person.

——

Nina Aldridge Faison Hardy at Dew’s Rest Home, circa mid 1960s.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer William Winn, 59; wife Jennie, 48; and children Charley, 21, John, 19, Dorch, 13, Pink, 10, and Jeneva, 8.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer Willie Winn, 62; wife Jennie, 60; children Roy, 23, and Pink, 20; and lodger Lula Ward, 45.

On 27 July 1935, Ernest Dew, 26, of Wilson County, son of Frank Dew, married Geneva Dew, 23, of Wilson County, daughter of Willie and Jennie Wynn, in Nashville, Nash County.

Willie Wynn Jr. died 11 February 1940. Per his death certificate, he died 11 February 1940 in Wilson; had been married to Jennie Wynn, but was a widower; resided at 1102 Atlantic Street, Wilson; worked as a laborer; was the son of Willie Wynn and Annie Williams. Geneva Dew, 1102 East Atlantic Street, was informant, and he was buried in Elm City.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Dew Geneva (c) beer 315 Stantonsburg h 203 Stantonsburg. (In the 1947 city directory, the address has shifted 319 Stantonsburg.) The 1950 city directory also shows Dew as owner of a beer establishment.

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Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1960).

Earnest Dew died 15 March 1969 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 May 1910 to Frank Dew and Cora Braswell; was married to Geneva Wynn; resided at 501 Spaulding Street, Wilson; and was a rest home operator.

Geneva Wynn Dew died 6 November 1984 in Wilson.

Dew’s celebrates a move to new quarters. Wilson Daily Times, 20 June 1964. 

Excerpt from oral history interview with Naomi Elizabeth Morris, November 11 and 16, 1982, and March 29, 1983. Interview B-0050. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; photo of N. Hardy in personal collection of Lisa Y. Henderson. Many thanks to Bob Martin for the correction of Monroe Fulghum’s surname.

Cherry Hotel and the color line.

Wayne County native Caswell C. Henderson (1865-1927) migrated to New York City in the 1890s, but returned South to Wilson to visit his sister Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver. Their great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled the elaborate steps he took to carry out his daily ritual. First, Henderson would leave their house on Elba Street and walk west on Green Street. He crossed the railroad tracks and walked a few more blocks before turning left on a cross street, then left to walk east on Nash Street to the Hotel Cherry. He entered the hotel through its front doors — as any white guest would — bought a newspaper, shot the breeze for a while with other white guests and staff, then exited right to walk back up Nash Street. After a few blocks, he turned right, then right again on Green and crossed the tracks back into the African-American world.

——

“Uncle Caswell had been home, he’d been to Wilson.  He come down there visiting Mama …. He passed for white.  He would go and get a paper every morning down there to Cherry Hotel.  Walk down there for the exercise and get that paper.  And they all thought he was white.  He’d go in the hotel there and ask for a paper and come in there and talk to the people.  And he’d leave the hotel and walk the other direction, then walk back down Green Street and come on home.”

Cherry Hotel in an undated postcard issued by the Asheville Post Card Company.

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

It’s got a little twang to it.

Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. worked as a janitor at Five Points (later Winstead) School and did gardening odd jobs at the home of school superintendent Charles L. Coon. His great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks, whom he adopted, told this story:

“Papa was up there cutting grass. ‘Go in the house, and ask ‘em for some water, a pitcher.’  Talking ‘bout my daddy wanted some water. And the first time I ever seen a grapefruit was there.  I said I’d never forget that.  ‘Cause I went in that house and asked for some water, and I said ‘Daddy said’ – I called him Papa.  Anyway, ‘he wanted to know if he could have some water.’  And the lady said, ‘Yeah,’ and she got a pitcher and a glass.  And I took it on out there, and then I just sit on the steps.  So Papa stopped and drinked him some water. But I was just standing there while they was fixing the water, and I looked on that table, and all ‘round the table there by the plate they had a salt cellar and half a grapefruit and a cherry sitting in the middle.  And that thing just looked so pretty, looked so good.  And I said, ‘Unh, that’s a big orange!’ I said, ‘Well, next time I go to the store I’m gon get me one, too.’  And sho’ nuff, I asked Papa, when we left – I don’t remember whether it was, it wont that particular time, but we come out and were on our way to Edmundson’s store in Five Points, and he wanted me to go in and get a plug of tobacco. Part of a plug.  And tell Old Man Edmundson to put it on the bill. So he waited, he was out there on a wagon, he had a little horse, and I went in and told Mr. Edmundson Papa wanted a, whatever amount it was, he didn’t get a whole plug, ‘cause I think it was three or four sections to a plug of tobacco, and for him to put it on the bill, and I said, ‘He said I could have a orange.  And put that on the bill.’  And it was boxes sitting up – I’ll never forget it – the boxes sitting up with all the oranges sitting up in there.  And I got the biggest one out of the group.  The one that wasn’t even orange.  I made sure I was gon get me a big orange!  I got that and come on back out there and got on the wagon and coming from Five Points to almost home, I was peeling that thing and peeling it ‘til I got it off, and it was sour, ‘Ugh, that’s a sour orange!’  I never seen a orange that sour. And I said, ‘Now, that didn’t look like, that’s a light-complected … yellow.’ But it was still like a orange, and it was so big.

“From then on I didn’t want no big orange. Now I always get little oranges. Today I don’t buy no big orange.  ‘Cause the little ones is sweeter than the big ones.  But, honey, that was a grapefruit, and that was the first I’d ever known it was a grapefruit.  We ain’t never had no grapefruit.  And so, I told Mama that was a, ugh, sour orange.  And I told her ‘bout what the Coons had on their table when I went up there.  And she said, ‘Well, that was a grapefruit.’  ‘A grapefruit?,’  I said, ‘well, what’s a grapefruit?’  And she said, ‘It’s like a big orange.  But you have to put sugar on it most time.  It’s a little sour.  It’s got a little twang to it.’  She said, ‘But your daddy didn’t never like none, so I don’t care that much about it.’  And I said, ‘A grapefruit?  I got myself a grapefruit.’  I said, ‘The cherries, where they get the cherries?,’ I said. ‘That little red thing where was on there.’  She said, ‘Well, you buy ‘em in bottles from the store.’ But, anyway, it was sour, but I learned the taste, you put a little sugar on it, makes a little bit sweeter.  I swear, Lord, I think about those things that I did when I was little.”

——

The house with the grapefruit was at 109 North Rountree Street in Wilson’s College Park neighborhood. Charles L. Coon’s house has been demolished, but was catalogued in Bainbridge and Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey (1980):

“This house was built c.1915 for Wilson’s foremost educator, Charles L. Coon. He served as superintendent of the Wilson Graded School from 1907 until his death in 1927 and was County School superintendent for the last fifteen years of this period. Coon, credited with the creation of a model school system in Wilson, also served on the North Carolina Child Labor Committee, the State Teachers Assembly, the editorial board of the North Carolina Historical Review and was the author of North Carolina Schools and Academies 1790-1840 and Public Schools of Wilson County. His house is sturdy and simple. The tile roof is unusual in a house of this vintage, and it enriches the texture of the facade. The front porch was constructed in typical Bungalow style, with square flared columns supporting the overhanging hipped roof.”

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Hattie H. Ricks, circa 1920, probably a few years after she first tasted grapefruit.

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1916).

  • Plug tobacco is made by pressing cured tobacco in a sweet (often molasses-based) syrup. The resulting sheet of pressed tobacco was cut into “plugs.” Edmundson likely carried locally manufactured product.

Adapted from interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Marvin Jones: “We were just making the day.”

As noted in NCPedia.org, “[h]istorian David Cecelski wrote a popular oral history series called “Listening to History” for the Raleigh News & Observer from 1998 to 2008. With the support of the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Cecelski traveled across the state listening to, recording and preserving stories that spoke to the state’s history throughout the 20th century. ‘Listening to History’ appeared monthly in the newspaper’s ‘Sunday Journal,’ a special section of the Sunday edition of the newspaper that focused on the state’s cultural life.”

In 2004, as part of his series, Dr. Cecelski interviewed Marvin Jones, who began working for the Export Leaf Tobacco Company in Wilson in 1946. An excerpt from that interview, in which Jones “recalled the strong, and sometimes irreverent, camaraderie that enlivened tobacco factory life and laid a foundation for” the historic tobacco workers’ labor movement, is found here.

Marvin Jones died ten years after his “Listening to History” interview. Per his obituary:

“Mr. Marvin Jones, age 90, of 1020 SE Hines Street, Wilson, NC died Sunday, June 1, 2014 at his residence. Funeral arrangements are scheduled for Saturday, June 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm at Tabernacle of Prayer, 1601 Lane Street, SE, Wilson, North Carolina.

“Mr. Jones was preceded in death by: his wife, Johnnie Mae Brevard Jones; his parents, Rufus Haney and Gladys Jones Barnes; two sons, Bobby Julian Batts, Sr. and Tony Lewis; six sisters, Jessie Haney Locus, Thelma Roundtree, Annie Mae Barnes, Bessie Lee Davis, Rosa Barnes and Louise B. Johnson; four brothers, Rufus Haney, Jr., Joe Bonnie Haney, Issac Barnes and Jasper Barnes.

“He leaves cherished memories to one son, Walter Jones Jr. of the home; three daughters, Evelyn Wade (Donald) of the home, Gale Artis (James) of Wilson and Gwendolyn Fisher of Wilson; twelve grandchildren; thirty-one great grandchildren and nineteen great-great-grandchildren; one sister, Louise Reynolds of Philadelphia, PA; one sister-in-law, Ruth Barnes of Wilson; two special care givers, his great granddaughter, Tamara Richardson and Hattie Batts; and  a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives and friends.

“A public viewing will be held on Friday, June 6, 2014 from 3:00 pm until 8:00 pm with the family receiving friends from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Stevens Funeral Home, 1820 Martin Luther King Jr., Parkway, Wilson, North Carolina.”

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In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: in Happy Hill, road construction laborer Jesse Barnes, 41; wife Gladys A., 38; and children Marvin J., 16, Mary, 18, Rosa, 15, Isaac, 11, Bessie, 10, and Jasper Lee, 7.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 912 East Vance Street, South Carolina-born tobacco factory cooper Rufus Haney, 38, and children Rufus Jr., 13, and Jiosa Lee, 10, and mother Minder, 74.

In 1942, Marvin Jones registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 18 November 1923 in Wilson; resided at 612 Wiggins Street; his contact was Mrs. Julia Barnes, Wainright [sic], Wilson; and he worked for N.L. Baker, Route 1, Wilson.

Grocery shopping in East Wilson.

From an interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001) by her granddaughter Lisa Y. Henderson, in which she responds to the question, “Where did y’all shop for groceries?”

“I went down on Nash Street down there to the A&P store when it first come about. Up there in back of Dickerson Grocery. Right up there on Pender Street. By First Baptist Church. That was the first A&P store. And then when they opened up the store up there on Nash Street. We had to go, like, living on Queen Street, we’d go out there to, there was two stores out there. Yeah, one right where the Elks Club is, and then the one down there where was in between there and a lady name Hattie something, she had a beauty parlor on the corner of East Street. East and Nash.

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“The one by the Elks Club,” formerly Cain’s Grocery, 911 East Nash 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 [Vick] seemed to be pretty clean, and the house was clean. Didn’t nobody get sick.

“And there was a store down, right down the hill from the house. There was a store right down there. Old Man Bell, a white guy, had a store down there. And that’s where, we could go down there and get flour and everything, like meal and stuff, like, you know, just stock, but it was a small place.

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Old Man Bell’s store down the hill from the house at 303 Elba Street, 1922 Sanborn insurance map.

“They had a store right there on Green Street up there, on Green Street. That brick store right cross, like leaving Elba Street, and it’s on the right-hand side, going up. Well, that was open, doing pretty good. A white person built the building, and then he stocked it, and we went up there to buy stuff.

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Former Boyette & Holford’s Grocery and Mercer’s Grocery, 513 East Green Street.

“And sometimes Old Man Langley, up there, the colored fellow on Viola Street. We went up there sometimes…. But they were mostly white. ‘Cause there wont no, black folks didn’t have no stores.

“The stores would do their own butchering. They’d have pork chops, they’d cut the whole thing. They had a nice size freezer.

“But the stores didn’t stay in place too long. And you had to get another one, go to another place. So we just followed ‘em until the A&P opened up there on Nash Street. That’s when you had to carry all the stuff. Mama’d have a bag, I’d have a bag. Bring ‘em from down there, and then she’d send us sometime to the store during the week. So we wouldn’t have so much to bring. ‘Cause they wouldn’t deliver. The A&P store won’t. But down the bottom, you were right there [near neighborhood corner stores.] But you had to pay so much more for it. So Papa, ‘fore he died, he had a place, say go down there and tell Old Man Bell to send me a plug of tobacco. And I’d go down there and tell him, and he’d let him have it. And put it on the bill. And I asked if I could get something. And he’d say, ‘Yeah,’ and he’d put it on the bill.”

——

  • Per the nomination form for the Wilson Central Business District-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District, A&P was located at 561 East Nash Street in a commercial building erected by Camillus L. Darden in the 1920s. It operated until the 1940s.
  • As described in the East Wilson Historic District nomination report, Dickerson Grocery, 622 East Nash Street, was a parapet-roofed grocery with one-bay facade and metal veneer. The building was demolished in the 1990s.
  • As described in the East Wilson Historic District nomination report, Cain’s Grocery, a brick-veneered structure with parapet front built about 1930, was the district’s largest grocery. It now houses a church.
  • Marshall Lodge #297 of the International Protective Order of Elks occupied a lodge hall at the corner of Nash and Vick Streets erected in 1921. In 1954, it was replaced by a two-story cinder block building that was in use until about 1980.
  • Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick lived at 622 East Green Street. Alongside her husband’s many business ventures, Annie Vick sold her neighbors farm-fresh milk.
  • I have not been able to identify “Old Man Bell,” though Gus A. Bell operated a grocery at Pine and Lee Streets in the 1920s, per city directories. The 1922 Wilson city directory lists Zadock D. Mumfort as the operator of a grocery at 317 Elba Street.
  • As described in the East Wilson Historic District nomination report, Mercer’s Grocery, a brick, parapet-fronted building built about 1908, was one of the major groceries in the neighborhood. The building still stands at the corner of Green and Pender Streets and was active as a grocery into the 1990s.
  • “Old Man Langley” — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 Viola Street, Jarette J. Langley, 51, grocery store merchant; wife Mary, 49; and children Ivary, 21, Esmond, 19, Ruttena, 16, Alcesta, 14, and Eunice, 8.

Oral interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved; photographs taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2017.

 

Something just went all over her.

From an interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001) by her granddaughter Lisa Y. Henderson in which she explains the method Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. used to bring his estranged wife Sarah Henderson Jacobs back home to Wilson, and the aftermath:

“The one I heard about at that time was Doctor Buzzard. And he was in the country. And you had to go to him. He didn’t come to you. You go to him. And you had to take some kind of clothes that you wear next to you, if you and your boyfriend or your husband falls out and had a misunderstanding, well, he could take the clothes you wear next to you and put something on it. It looked like, the thing what I opened where came out that tree looked like little roots, just little stems from a tree, and it was on a white piece of cloth, and it was just wrapped up in it and where Papa bored that hole in the tree, and it had a bottle stopper, it was a half-a-gallon stopper. It come in a jug, one of them little cork stoppers. Well, when he bored that hole in the tree, he took that little piece of rag or clothes or whatever. Mama was – I reckon it was Mama’s. He didn’t know whether it was her clothes or whose. But he got some rags and put in there, and he wet on it for nine mornings. He’d go wet on that tree. And he corked it up with the stopper. But I reckon he must have taked the stopper out when he wet in it.

“And so Mama claimed she got sick. So she was talking to some old witchcraft person or something, he’d know what to do for her, and I think she got somebody to take her. And he told her a whole lot of junk and mess, and that’s when he said, “You look in any – you got any trees in the yard?” And she said, yes, she had a apple tree and a peach tree. So when she come home was telling it, Mama said something, and Papa said it was one of them trees out there. He had put some stuff in it, not to kill her but to make her sick. And so I said, “Well, if it’s out there, I’m gon find it.” And sho ‘nough, I went out there and saw that cork and stuff sticking up in that tree, the peach tree. I went back in the house and got the ice pick. And I prised the stopper out and sho ‘nough it was some rags and a little piece of cloth was wrapped around this little sticks and things was in there. And I was scared then after that. I said, “Lord, this here mess! What is this stuff?” And Mama claimed that when I taken the cork stopper outn that tree, she said seem like something just went all over her. That could have been a tale, but that’s what she said – seem like something fell off her. So she got better. And so, she outlived him.”

——

  • Doctor Buzzard — I have not been able to identify a local Doctor Buzzard. The original, apparently, was in South Carolina, and many practitioners adopted the name.
  • Sarah Henderson Jacobs — in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Jesse Jacob,  53, deliveryman for stable; wife Sarah, 35; daughter Annie Belle, 15; and boarders Jesse Henderson, 17, Herbert Jones, 23, both stable laborers, and Nina Fasin, 32, a housemaid. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 606 Elmo [Elba] Street: school janitor Jessie Jacobs, 60, wife Sara, 52, and daughters [great-nieces] Mamie, 12, and Hattie May, 10. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 303 Elba, laundress Sarah Jacobs, 49, and daughter [great-niece] Hattie, 19, a servant for a private family. Sarah Henderson Jacobs died 8 January 1938 in Selma, Johnston County, North Carolina. Per her death certificate, she was 55 years old, married to Joseph Silver, and was born in Wayne County to Lewis Henderson and Margaret Carter, both of Wayne County. Informant was Hattie Jacobs of 303 Elba Street.
  • Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. — in the 1908 Wilson city directory, Jesse Jacobs is listed as a laborer living at 106 Elba Street. Jessie Adam Jacobs died 6 July 1926 at the “colored hospital” in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 December 1862 in Sampson County, North Carolina, to Jesse A. and Abbie Jacobs; was married to Sarah Jacobs; resided at 303 Elba Street; and worked as a janitor in city schools.

Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson adapted and edited for clarity. Copyright 1994, 1996. All rights reserved.

 

Recommended reading, no. 1.

S&SW

Norma Jean and Carole Darden, Spoonbread & Strawberry Wine: Recipes & Reminiscences of a Family (1978).

Spanning more than a century of African-American life and culture, this oral history — now a classic — celebrates the remarkable heritage of Charles H. Darden‘s descendants as told through family photographs, reminiscences, and cherished recipes.

 

Out past Five Points.

From an interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001) by her granddaughter Lisa Y. Henderson:

“‘Cause I know I used to go with him out to the school. I swept out the Five Points School. Out there for three years to get a bicycle. So I could ride back and forth out there. I hadn’t got the bicycle this morning. But I run all the way from over there from where we lived on Elba Street out there past Five Points going out there Edmundson’s store about a mile up that road where that school, whatever school that is, Five Points School. I went out there three years and swept up that whole building by myself. And when the wind would blow and the door would slam, I’d run and get under the table, the teacher’s desk, and peek out and see. They said the cemetery was there, before the school, and I was scared to death. Papa’d be down there in the front, be a-plowing, and so I’d rather be around him and do anything rather than stay with Mama. She was just the fussy kind. So I’d just rather be round him all the time. I’d follow him everywhere he’d go. On the old wagon. They all called me a tomboy.

“And so I went with him. Up there to First Baptist Church, help him dust the seats, and he’d run the sweeper and all that kind of stuff. And when he was over to another school up there, the college. He used to be janitor to the college. And then he had the school out there at Five Points. Winstead School out there at Five Points. That was the last one he was to. Then he died. And I would be the one at all those places. Go cut Professor Coon’s grass, I’d be right with him.

“I went out there – I was in school ‘cause I run all the way from up the school, came by the house, get me a bite to eat and run from there to clean to Five Points School where was out there – white folks. And sweep up that whole building by myself. Papa’s down there in the field, up there by – uh, what is the people be putting them … they had chains on their legs and had the white stripes … convicts. It was a place up there. And I’d go ‘round there and sweep that whole building up by myself. Papa was gon get me a bicycle so I could ride over there. ‘Cause, see, he had the horse and wagon, and so he was already over there, and he had been there by where the pigpen was down by that little stream, that little ditch. And I’d come back on the wagon at night with him. But he was plowing, ‘cross the street over there where he had a acre of cotton. Old Man Price was in a house over on one corner, and the school over here. And Papa was working, plowing that garden where was on the side. Professor Coon let him have whatever he put in it. He would buy all the stuff to go in the ground, if he would just work it. The part there where was to the children’s playground. But they had it barred off, the children didn’t actually go over in that part. So he’d plant that, and then me and Mamie had to get up two o’clock in the morning, go down there and pick up potatoes. Light night. It’d be so bright you could see ‘em. He’d plow it up, turn that ground over, and all them old potatoes down there, we’d put them in baskets, and what we couldn’t see ‘fore it got real daylight, we had to go out there and pick ‘em up when it got day.”

  • Five Points School — now Winstead Elementary School, operating in a newer building on the same land on Downing Street at Ward Boulevard. Five Points School was one of two white graded schools in Wilson in the 1920s.
  • Elba Street — 303 Elba Street, in east Wilson.
  • Papa — Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. (1856-1926) migrated from Dudley, Wayne County, to Wilson circa 1905. He worked first as a hostler for Jefferson D. Farrior, then as a janitor at a church, Five Points School and Atlantic Christian College, and performing odd jobs for the school superintendent.
  • Edmundson’s store — the 1920 city directory of Wilson lists Andrew J. Edmundson, grocer, South Goldsboro at the corner of Mill Road, Five Points.
  • Mama — Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver  (1872-1938) was Hattie Henderson Ricks’ grand-aunt and adoptive mother. Sarah migrated from Dudley to Wilson with her husband Jesse A. Jacobs.
  • First Baptist Church
  • The college — Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College), private liberal arts college founded in 1902.
  • Professor Coon — School superintendent Charles L. Coon.
  • Her school — either the Wilson Colored Graded School or the Independent School. Judging by her description — “I run all the way from up the school” — my guess is the Graded School, as the Independent School was close by her house.
  • Convicts — The state of North Carolina operated a road camp in Wilson County just south of the Wilson city limits, beyond Five Points. The site is now home to the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Highway Division 4. For the history of North Carolina’s prison systems, which included convict camps whose inmates built the state’s roads, see here.
  • Old Man Price — unidentified.
  • Mamie — Mamie Lee Henderson Holt (1907-2000), sister of Hattie Henderson Ricks.
  • Picking potatoes by moonlight

Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, copyright 1994. All rights reserved.