Dr. George W. Williams.

Though his tenure was short-lived, George W. Williams may have been the first African-American physician to practice in Wilson.

He was a native of Raleigh, where his family appeared in the 1880 census: house carpenter Thomas Williams, 50, wife Anna Eliza, 38, and children: Lucy, 22, Maria, 20, Thomas, 18, John, 16, Walker, 13, Joseph, 10, George, 8, Theodore, 5, Peter, 2, and William, 8 months.

Williams graduated from Shaw University’s Leonard Medical College in 1896 and arrived in Wilson shortly after.


Raleigh Gazette, 13 February 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 17 April 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 5 June 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 8 January 1898.

Dr. Williams quickly left Raleigh for Charlotte. In the 1900 census of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County: medical doctor George W. Williams, 25, wife Lizzie O., 25, with their boarders, the family of John and Emma Harris. In Charlotte’s 1910 census: physician George W. Williams, 36, and wife Lizzie, 38.


Charlotte Evening Chronicle, 5 March 1912.

Dr. Williams was buried in Raleigh’s Oberlin cemetery.

Dr. J.A. Cotton of Chicago.

Again, for a town whose population did not hit 10,000 until 1920 (and of which only half  were black), Wilson produced an astounding number of African-American physicians in the last decades of the nineteenth century and first few of the twentieth century. To the ranks of Drs. Joseph Henry WardCharles Hudson Bynum, William Henry BryantJohn Wesley Darden, James Thomas Suggs, Walter Theodore Darden, and James Alexander Battle, add James Arthur Cotton.

The record, to date, is thin. And confusing. In the 1900 census of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois: at 2703 Dearborn, North Carolina-born James A. Cotton, 38, his Mississippi-born wife Mattie, 50, his step-children William I. Buford, 19, and Irma Buford, 13, and a roomer named Frederick Scott. Is this the right James A. Cotton?  James and William’s occupations were listed as cooper. This would seem to be an error, except that the 1897 Chicago city directory lists James A. Cooper, 2703 Dearborn, as a cooper.

Three James A. Coopers appear in the 1901 Chicago directory: (1) a cook living at 2234 Dearborn; (2) a James Jr., physician, at 3150 Wentworth Avenue; and (3) a timekeeper at the Armour stock yards living at 6802 South Carpenter. The last was likely white. The middle would seem most likely, except the first shared the address advertised for Dr. J. Arthur Cotton in the 1905 edition of The Colored People’s Blue Book & Business Directory of Chicago, Illinois:

JA Cotton

The following year, in The Broad Ax, an African-American newspaper originally published in Salt Lake City, Utah, but later removed to Chicago:

JA Cotton 2

The Broad Ax, 7 July 1906.

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The Broad Ax, 7 January 1907.

In the 1920 census of Chicago, Illinois: at 33 West 22nd Street, physician and surgeon J.A. Cotton, 59, and wife Minnie, 34.

Then, too soon, in an index to Cook County, Illinois, deaths: James Arthur Cotton; born 31 July 1866 in Wilson, North Carolina; died 13 February 1922 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; physician; spouse, Minnie Cotton; father, M. Cotton; residence 33 East 22nd; buried in Lincoln Cemetery.

And in the Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929: J. Arthur Cotton; died 8 February 1922, Chicago; type of practice: allopath; licenses: Illinois, 1897; medical school: Harvey Medical College, Chicago, 1897; cause of death: uremia.

James Arthur Cotton made out a will just days before his death. His signature by mark (“X”) likely indicates that he was too incapacitated to sign properly, as he surely was not illiterate. The trusts and outright bequests Cotton left to his wife Minnie, daughter Missouri Arthur Carver, and Augustus L. Williams (his executor, no other relationship indicated) included shares in and dividends of stock in Public Life Insurance Company, Public Agency Company, and Monarch Oil Syndicate of Texas; money at Continental and Commercial National Bank of Chicago; a life insurance policy with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company; the liquidated  value of his “medicines, chemicals, surgical instruments, office equipment” and other personal property; and a 1/59th share in 12,500 acres of “oil land” near Houston, Texas.

[Note: Cotton seems to have had just one child, Missouri Arthur (or Artha Missouri) Cotton, born about 1892 in Arkansas. He apparently did not raise her. Per unsourced family trees at, Artha’s mother Missouri Philmon was born about 1875 in Altheimer, Arkansas, and died 10 January 1892, nine days after giving birth to Artha. Artha appears in the 1900 census of Plum Bayou, Jefferson County, Arkansas, in the household of her grandmother Ann Fillman, 66, with Ann’s daughter Ezell Fillman, 24, and granddaughter Lizzie Lee, 18. In the 1910 census of Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, Arkansas: at 2004 Ninth Street, Louisiana-born Floyd Caver, 28, a self-employed tailor, wife Artha, 18, daughters Hellen, 16 months, and Thersa, 1 month, and [grand]mother-in-law Ann Philmon, 77. By 1920, Floyd is gone, presumably dead, and at 2004 West Ninth: Mississippi-born insurance agent W.E. Clark; wife Aurther, 28, who owned a clean and press shop; and stepdaughters Helen, 11, Thersa, 9, Latis, 8, and Floy Caver, 6. By 1930, Artha had again remarried and had moved across the country. In the 1930 census of Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts: at 3 Pembroke Street, carpenter Charles S. Mero, 61; wife Artha M., 38; and stepdaughter Latis, 18, and Floy Caver, 17. Mero owned his house, valued at $8000. By 1940, Artha is in the Midwest, in the city in which her father died. In the 1940 census of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois: at 2956 Ellis Avenue, head porter at a shoe store Percy Williams, 31; wife Helen B., 30; children Percy Jr., 9, Theresa, 7, Glenda, 5, and Donald, 3; and Artha Mero, 48, a practical nurse in a private home. Artha M. Mero, born 1 January 1892, died 25 July 1986 in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan.]

All records found at

Dr. James A. Battle.

For a town whose population did not hit 10,000 until 1920 (and of which only half  were black), Wilson produced an astounding number of African-American physicians in the first few decades of the twentieth century. To the ranks of Drs. Joseph H. WardCharles H. Bynum, William H. BryantJohn W. Darden, James T. Suggs and Walter T. Darden, add James Alexander Battle.

Born in 1885 to Parker and Ella Daniel Battle, Battle graduated Leonard Medical School at Shaw University in Raleigh and soon established a practice in Greenville, North Carolina. In 1914, he married Della Mae Plummer of Warren County. They had one child, daughter Ella Elizabeth. Dr. Battle is credited as the first African-American physician to gain practicing privileges at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.

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Greenville News, 23 February 1918.


Death certificate of Ella Lea Battle, Dr. Battle’s mother. Dr. Battle served as informant for the document, and Dr. Michael E. DuBissette, of Afro-Caribbean descent, certified it. 

PC 6 27 1953

Pittsburgh Courier, 27 June 1953.

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Journal of the Old North State Medical Society, volume 3, number 1 (October 1953).


Dr. J.A. Battle’s home at 1208 West 4th Street, Greenville. Photo courtesy of B. Forbes and published here.


Dr. James T. Suggs.

Cleveland Advocate 6 5 1920

Cleveland Advocate, 5 June 1920.

Tulsa Star 6 5 1920

Tulsa Star, 5 June 1920.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason Washington Sugg, 51, wife Esther, 38, and children Nicy, 21, Sarena, 17, Cator, 16, Molly, 12, Edmonia, 10, Juda, 5, and James, 3.

On 14 August 1907, James Thomas Suggs of Tuskegee, Alabama, married Fanny Louise Shook of Nashville, Tennessee, in Cleveland, Ohio.

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In the 1910 census of Florence, Lauderdale County, Alabama: physician James Suggs, 30, was a boarder in the household of Joseph and Amandia Rapier on College Street. James was described as married, but his wife was not present.

In the 1920 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: at 2181 East 80th Street, 42 year-old physician James T. Suggs, 42, wife Fannie L., 40, with two roomers, one a pharmacist and the other a teacher.

In the 1930 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, at 1054 East 98th Street: doctor Thomas Suggs, 50, and wife Fanny, 49, with niece Alina Frances Rice and sister-in-law Willey M. Shook. Fanny and Willey were teachers. [Sidenote: there were ten families enumerated on sheet 7A with the Suggses. Two were African-American — the Suggses and attorney Hardy Davis and his wife Louise, next door at 1050 East 98th. Their homes were valued at $18,000 and 18,500, respectively, the most expensive on the page.]

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1054 and 1050 East 98th Street, Cleveland, today.

James Thomas Suggs died 20 August 1934 in Cleveland. He is buried in that city’s Lake View cemetery.

Dr. John Wesley Darden.


“In the early 1900s a horse and buggy slowly made its way along dusty, dirt roads throughout Opelika and the countryside as Dr. John Darden began a long day of calling on patients. His bride, Maude Jean, who rode along to keep the young doctor company, sat in the buggy and waited until he provided medical care to his patients.

John Wesley Darden had decided at 13 years of age that he wanted to become a medical doctor when he was unable to find a physician for his unconscious younger sister. His sister lived, fueling a young John to become a doctor.

“Born in 1876 in Wilson, N.C., John was the eldest of 13 children. His father was the first African American undertaker in the state of North Carolina and also owned a general store that sold fresh produce and his homemade wine. The community held him in such high esteem that the first African American high school was named in his honor, the Charles H. Darden High School.

“When John was 13 years old, his parents, who were determined to give all their children an education, sent him to high school in Salisbury, N.C. John worked his way through Livingstone College (now Shaw University) [sic; but this is incorrect] and a medical internship in Long Island, N.Y.

Since his hometown already had African American medical service, the young doctor began searching for a place where his services were needed. A college friend, who was a physician in Tuskegee, recommended the small town of Opelika. John moved to Opelika in 1903 and became the first African American physician in a 30-mile radius and began working 18-hour days. …”

After restoration, Dr. Darden’s house was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. Today, it houses the J.W. Darden Wellness Center, which offers health screening and education in collaboration with the J.W. Darden Foundation, Inc., the EAMC Parish Nurse Program, and the Auburn University School of Nursing. For more of Dr. Darden’s remarkable life and practice in Opelika, see Dr. John Wesley Darden,, the source of the passage above.


Dr. J.W. Darden House, Opelika, Alabama.

A quarrel over house rent.

San Antonio Register 8 5 1932 MS Gilliam cut by Hargrave

San Antonio Register, 5 August 1932.


Pittsburgh Courier, 6 August 1932.

Sometime between 1910, when he and Annie Gilliam appear in the census of Plymouth, Washington County, and 1912, Dr. Matthew Stanley Gilliam moved his family and practice to Wilson. The city directory that year lists Dr. Gilliam’s address (probably that of his office) at 532 East Nash Street. Later directories place his office at 516 East Nash and his home at 805 East Nash Street (now occupied by Edwards Funeral Home). The inventory list accompanying the Nomination Form for designation for East Wilson as a National Historic District notes that Gilliam owned rental property in the 1300 block of East Nash and on Ashe Street. Presumably, it was in one of these houses that Gilliam had his fatal encounter with Andrew Hargrave.