Jerome De Perlinghi‘s Eyes on Main Street is so many things, including an annual public art installation and international photography exhibit, a lecture series, an art gallery, and a residency program. Since the fall of 2017, the latter has brought dozens of photographers to Wilson for a month at a time; provided them an apartment, a stipend, and a bicycle; and given them a broad mission to create a photographic portfolio rooted in what they find there.
This remarkable photograph of what appears to be a family gathered for a funeral, probably in the 1940s. Pennie Mills Dancy stands fifth from the left, hatless in a dark dress with two large buttons. The girl at far left, looking out of the frame, may be her daughter Lovie Dancy (later Tabron.)
The stamp on the back of the photograph is equally remarkable, revealing as it does another African-American photographer operating in Wilson: “Portraits Made In Your Home. R.J. Dancy. 704 Suggs St. Phone 2092. Wilson, N.C.” Ray J. Dancy was Pennie Mills Dancy’s son.
In the 1910 census of Chicod township, Pitt County: Arnold Mills, 61, farmer; wife Lovie, 42; and children Nasby R., 21, Arnold, 20, Carrie T., 18, Gatsey D., 15, Goldman, 11, Lovie E., 13, Pennie, 9, Vanie L., 6, Jeruth, 5, and Abram C., 3.
On 9 December 1917, John C. Dancy, 20, of Greene County, son of John and Elizabeth Dancy, married Pennia Mills, 18, of Greene County, daughter of Ormond and Lovie Mills of Pitt County, at Maury Chapel Church in Greene County, North Carolina.
In the 1920 census of Contentnea Neck township, Lenoir County, North Carolina: farm laborer John C. Dancy, 24; wife Penny E., 19; and daughter Enlishel V., 2 months.
On 9 May 1924, John Allen Dancy, age 18 months, died in Ormonds township, Greene County. Per his death certificate, he was born to John Dancy of Ayden, N.C., and Pennie Mills of Pitt County, and was buried in Mills cemetery, Pitt County.
In the 1930 census of Township 9, Craven County, North Carolina: farmer Johnie C. Dancy, 34; wife Pennie, 29; and children Evangeline, 10, Lovie, 8, R.J., 5, and Aribell, 1.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John Dancy, 44, city of Wilson laborer; wife Pennie, 39, tobacco factory laborer; and children Evangline, 20, tobacco factory laborer, Lovie, 18, R.J., 15, Olie Bell, 11, Mildred, 8, and Leo, 5.
In 1942, Ray Joel Dancey registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 5 December 1924 in Pitt County; lived at 704 Suggs Street; has contact was Penny Dancey of the same address; and he was a student at Darden High School.
In 1946, Ollie Bell Dancey registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 4 June 1928 in Greene County; lived at 704 Suggs Street; has contact was mother Penny Dancey of the same address; and he was a student at Darden High School.
Penny Ethel Dancy died 13 April 1984 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 January 1901 in Pitt County to Arnold Mills and Lovie Shepherd; was widowed; had worked as a factory worker for Watson; and lived at 702 Suggs Street. Lovie Tabron was informant.
Many, many thanks to Edith Jones Garnett for a copy of this photograph.
Said Hattie Henderson Ricks, who lived in East Wilson from 1911 to 1958: “Yep, that’s me standing up there, and [my sister] Mamie sitting in the chair. And that little arm [of the chair] off there, it was Picture-Taking Barnes, they called him then. You were gon have your pictures made, you went to Picture-Taking Barnes.”
Sisters Mamie and Hattie Henderson, alias Jacobs, circa 1920.
George Washington Barnes‘ one-armed chair is also recognizable in this image of Ricks’ great-aunt, Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver:
Per Stephen E. Massingill’s Photographers in North Carolina (2004), Barnes was perhaps the first of three African-American photographers operating in Wilson in the early part of the twentieth century. In the 1908 city of directory of Wilson, George W. Barnes’ listing shows that he worked for white photographer O.W. Turner in a studio at 105 West Nash. The others were J. Thomas Artis, active in Wilson by 1921 and also in Wilmington, North Carolina, in the 1920s, and Connecticut native Edwin D. Fisher, active by 1930.
Wilson City Directory, 1916. (The asterisk * indicates “colored.”)
In The Sweet Hell Inside (2001), Edward Ball prints a letter that 28 year-old Elise Forrest wrote her boyfriend Teddy Harleston after she arrived in New York City in 1918 to begin classes at the Emile Brunel School of Photography. “Dear Ted,” she began. “This morning I went to school. I am the only woman. There is one other colored, a young man from Wilson, N.C., …” … Who?
1922 Sanborn map of Wilson showing 2nd floor location of Barnes’ East Barnes Street photography studio.
Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved; photographs in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.