Flora R. Clarke, 706 E. Nash Street, Wilson, N.C., May 31, 1929, Class of ’24, “Je vous aime, toujours.”
Geneva P. Brown, 1013 E. Martin St., Raleigh, N.C., June 2, 1929, Class of ’22, Live not without a friend.
Inez Middleton, 807 East Davie St., Raleigh, N.C., June 2, 1929, Class of ’27, “Be humble or you’ll stumble.”
Bernice Taylor, Box 233, Windsor, N.C., Live for “Lil Flo.”
J. Whiteside Chippey, St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, N.C., May you always be the “Con.Sten.”
Edith E. Thompson, 504 Weinacker Ave., Mobile, Ala., In your golden chain of friendship always consider me a link.
Alleen J. Poitier, 1837 N.W. 3rd Ave., Miami, Florida, June 9, 1929, Class of ’31, “Always look toward the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you.”
Arthesa S. Douglas, 117 Edgecombe Ave., New York, N.Y., Always be your very self for to you nature is kind.
A. Zenobia Howse, 816 East Fifth Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee, May you always regard me as one of your friends.
Louise Cherry, 1119 E. Nash St., Wilson, N.C., “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
A section for personal notes contained brief letters from Bethel’s sister Jessica Bethel and friends Arthesa Douglas and Louise Cherry.
The stonework caught my eye. This is, I am fairly certain, the Nestus Freeman-built house at 1115 East Nash Street. Bethel’s good friend Louise Cherry lived two houses down at 1119. Is she one of the young women shown?
Black Wide-Awake benefits from the largesse of so many, and J. Robert Boykin III is at the forefront of its benefactors. Recently, Bobby shared a box of photographs left in a sidewalk trash pile after the death of Wilton Maxwell Bethel in 1986. A native of the Bahamas, Bethel was a long-time salesman for North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, son-in-law of John H. Clark, and a devoted Episcopalian.
I pulled from the box several sleeves of loose sepia snapshots, several formal portraits mounted in cardboard folders, several large group photos, and a photo album. At first glance, no faces seemed familiar, but as I continue to sit with the box, it’s giving up its secrets. I’ll share them in groups, starting with the photo album.
Wilton M. Bethel’s photo album.
Five year-old Wilton M. Bethel arrived in the United States on 6 April 1911 with his mother Phillis E. Bethel, 33, described as a widowed washwoman; his eight year-old brother Alfred M. Bethel; and his four year-old niece Flosie L. Bethel. The family’s last residence was Eleuthera, Bahamas, and their “nationality” was British West Indies. Their nearest relative in their home country was Phillis Bethel’s sister Sarah J. Gardner, Cat Island, Bahamas. The Bethels’ final destination was listed as Eleuthera, which suggests a return trip home, but the family appears to have remained permanently in Miami, Florida. Phillis Bethel reported being in possession of ten U.S. dollars and stated that the family had not visited the country before. They were headed to visit her son George Bethel in Miami.
Detail of List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival.
In the 1920 census of Miami, Florida: at 630 2nd Street, Philis E. Bethel, 57; sons Arvis, 20, hotel bellman, Alfred, 18, aviation camp laborer, and Wilton, 15, jewelry store porter; and daughter Jessie, 19. All reported arriving in the U.S. in 1911 from the Bahamas and were “aliens.”
This photo broke the code. On the reverse:
It’s the young Wilton M. Bethel, “a pal indeed,” in January 1924, when he was 18. His mother ordered four copies, it appears.
Speaking of Phillis E. Bethel, this may be her image. The shotgun houses at rear, as the palm tree at right discloses, are not in Wilson. Rather, they are the type built by early Bahamian immigrants in Miami neighborhoods such as Coconut Grove.
Wilton Bethel at right at the beach with a man, a child, and a woman in a cloche, pearls, stockings, and high-heeled mary janes.
In 1924, Bethel arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, to enroll in the high school division of Saint Augustine’s College’s, which did not yet offer baccalaureate degrees. (Bethel was already 19 years old, but older students were not uncommon in an era in which childhood illness, family finances, and the scarcity of public high schools for Black students often delayed completion of secondary education.) He is listed in school catalogs from 1924-25 through 1928-29 as he progressed through four years of high school and a year in the College Department. His first two years, his hometown is listed as Miami; the latter three, as New York, N.Y.
Bethel’s scrapbook seems to span his late teens and early twenties, with most of the photos snapped at Saint Aug. The nearly one hundred pictures do not appear to be in chronological order, and none are labeled. Several, though, are stamped “Finished by Siddell Studio, Raleigh, N.C.,” and a handful bear inscriptions on the reverse. Bethel himself appears to have been the photographer for many.
On the reverse: “With love Al.” Is this Bethel’s elder brother Alfred Bethel?
Bethel, top left, with pals, probably at Saint Augustine’s College in the late 1920s.
Unidentified man skiing in tie and newsboy cap.
On the reverse: “Will arrives in Raleigh 5 40 Thurs after meet Train”
Around 1929, Bethel took a position as an insurance salesman with North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company and moved to Wilson, where he first lodged with the Noah Tate family.
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bethel Wilton M (c) slsmn N C Mut Life Ins Co h 307 Pender.
Flora Clark Bethel.
On 18 June 1930, Wilton M. Bethel, 21 [sic], of Wilson, son of Ernest and Phillis Bethel, married Flora Ruth Clark, 21 [sic], of Wilson, daughter of John H. and Ida R. Clark, in Wilson. Protestant Episcopal minister Eugene Leon Henderson performed the ceremony at Saint Mark’s in the presence of the Clarks and Percy Young. [Actually, Wilton Bethel was 24. Flora Clark Bethel was about 7 years older than her husband. She had also attended Saint Augustine’s College, graduating in 1924, when it was a junior college.]
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John Clark, 76; wife Ida, 65; son-in-law Wilton Bethel, 33, insurance agent for N.C. Mutual, and daughter Flora, 30, teacher at Darden High School.
Wilton Maxwell Bethel registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 5 September 1906 in Miami, Florida; was an American citizen; lived at 706 East Nash Street, Wilson; his nearest relative was wife Flora C. Bethel; and he worked for N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company, Goldsboro, N.C.
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.