DigitalNC’s Images of North Carolina collection contains four early 20th century photograph albums attributed to the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House Museum. The albums’ creator(s) is unidentified, and most the photos pasted within are unlabeled, but it seems pretty clear that they are the handiwork of Willie Hendley Freeman, O.N. Freeman’s wife. Many of the photos depict Hendley family members in Nashville or people and scenes associated with Tuskegee Institute, where the Freemans met.
Below, the cover of one of the albums and its first page. Freeman’s Texaco filling station is depicted at top center.
And this photo of a group of women taken by a Nashville photographer almost certainly depicts O.N. Freeman’s mother, Eliza Daniels Freeman, seated at middle. Willie Hendley Freeman appears to be the woman in the black dress with her hands resting on her mother-in-law’s chair.
I knew we were related somehow to the Sherrods, but I was in college before I figured out how. Of course, I then wanted to visit Josephine Artis Sherrod, who, it turned out, was both my great-great-grandmother’s half-sister and my great-great-grandfather’s niece. (Yes, it was complicated.) My father took me by the house on Viola Street one evening when I was home over the Christmas holidays. We knocked, the door opened, and I stared into baby-blue eyes set in a caramel-brown face. This was Solomon C. Sherrod Jr., who, though just a few years younger than my grandmother, was my great-grandfather’s first cousin. He ushered us into the front room, and I spent a delightful hour or so with Aunt Josephine.
I was in Wilson this past week. Before I left, I knocked on another door on Viola Street. Cousin Solomon’s youngest son answered, and I placed in his hands the scrapbook Rita Elsner found on a Maryland street three weeks ago. As promised, the Sherrod family’s legacy has returned home.
Here are more gems from Alliner Sherrod Davis Randall‘s scrapbook. If you can help me identify the men and women depicted, I’d be grateful.
Alliner and Henry Randall, probably not long after their marriage in 1946. They made their home in Durham, N.C.
Elmer Lee Sherrod (1929-2002), Josephine and Solomon Sherrod’s youngest son. On the reverse: “To Mr. & Mrs. Randall with Love, Elmer Sherrod, 1401 N. 18th St., Phila 21, Pa.”
Minnie Sherrod Parker (1916-1996). [Thank you, Barbara Williams Lewis!]
Studio portrait of unidentified young woman.
Alliner Randall (1908-1992) and dog.
Unidentified snapshot of older man and young girl. Is this Solomon Sherrod Sr. (ca.1880-1948)?
Betty Cooper Sherrod, who married Solomon Sherrod’s eldest son Earnest E. Sherrod. [Thank you, Bonita Sherrod!]
Scene at a graveside funeral service, possibly in the 1950s.
It was the afternoon on Sunday before I noticed the shared post in a Wayne County, North Carolina, Facebook group:
By then, there were thousands of comments and further shares to genealogy groups — did anyone know this family? could anyone help? The finder had attached several photos from the scrapbook, and I gasped. “Josephine” was Josephine Artis Sherrod, who was both my grandmother’s great-aunt and cousin, and who presided until nearly her 101st birthday over a block of Viola Street called Sherrod Village. “Allister” was Alliner Sherrod Davis Randall, her eldest daughter.
The next few hours were an anxious scramble to contact the finder. Finally, we connected through intermediaries and, long story short, Cousin Alliner’s scrapbook has begun its journey home. I plan to scan all its photos and documents, upload them to cloud storage so they’re available to all family members, and return the original items to one of Aunt Josephine Sherrod’s direct descendants in Wilson. (And, of course, share the highlights with you!)
Josephine Artis Sherrod (1887-1988), probably 1950s.
My deep gratitude goes to Rita Elsner, who followed her gut to save these priceless documents and then to track down someone connected to them and preserve them from further damage by drying them carefully and placing them in archival sleeves. Her stewardship is exemplary.
These are two of 19 images from “[t]wo small souvenir albums from PhC.196, Raines & Cox Studio Photo Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC. The negatives were sent to the Raines & Cox Studio in Wilson, NC, to be printed by a James Battle, likely from Wilson, and the resulting little albums were for some reason never delivered to Mr. Battle. The photos in the smaller album depict various scenes and unidentified men and women in unidentified locations in what looks like eastern Europe, and those in the slightly larger one show an unidentified African American woman and various scenes in Atlantic City, NJ. Based on the scant information available in these albums and on the envelope in which they were originally housed, it appears that James Battle was probably a soldier in the US Army and the pictures in both albums were probably shot by him in the mid to late 1940s.
“Please help us identify James Battle and his Army buddies and lady friends depicted in these photos.”
At least eight James Battles born in Wilson registered for the World War II draft, but only one — James Carter Battle — was still living in Wilson at the time. (The others lived in nearby towns and Norfolk, Virginia.) Was this the James Battle who ordered these albums?
Beautiful. Last fall, in her quest to learn more about the owners of an abandoned photo album, New York Times reporter Annie Correal stumbled across Black Wide-Awake and contacted me to get a feel for early 20th century Wilson. I am delighted to have played a small role in bringing this story to light.
Here’s a passage:
“Etta Mae Barnes was born on July 28, 1918, in Wilson, N.C., which once called itself the world’s greatest bright-leaf tobacco market. When Ms. Taylor was young, it was a boomtown. Thousands of African-American families had migrated to Wilson from the countryside to pick tobacco on farms and hang it in big warehouses downtown.
“The first pages in the album seemed to be of Wilson; several photos had stamps from photographers’ studios there. There were portraits of women in flouncy dresses, babies, a boy with a dog, a group in straw hats in a field.
“In two portraits placed side by side, a middle-aged couple posed by a flowering bush, in front of a clapboard house. I wondered if they were Etta Mae’s parents.
“Etta Mae’s mother, Anna Bell Green Barnes, was born in Virginia and worked as a hanger at a tobacco company, the documents revealed. Her father, James Frank Barnes, was a grocery store clerk. His family went back generations in Wilson County.
“Etta Mae was one of six. When she was still a child, her oldest brother, Charles, boarded the train that passed through Wilson and became part of what we now call the Great Migration, the exodus of millions of black Southerners from the Jim Crow South. Judging from the album, many of Etta Mae’s relatives had gone north; I could tell them apart from their country kin by their suits and furs.
“Etta Mae left school after seventh grade and went to work as a housekeeper in a private home, according to the 1940 census. That year, 10 other people were living at the Barneses’, including an aunt; an adopted daughter; Etta Mae’s sister Mildred; Mildred’s husband, Jack Artis; and their baby, Charles.”
Household of Frank and Annie Green Barnes at 1000 South Carroll Street, Wilson, 1940 census.