Though they once dominated block on block of south downtown Wilson, relatively few tobacco factory and warehouse buildings remain today. The hulking old Export Leaf building, however, still stands at Mercer and Banks Streets.
The building was originally built for John E. Hughes Company, as shown on the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map.
Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C., 1922.
The wooden buildings shown in yellow are long gone. I took the photo above standing in what would have been the space between them. Samuel H. Vick and Andrew J. Townsend owned considerable property in the area, rented to workers at Export and other nearby tobacco companies.
The 200 laborers would have been largely African-American. From “Six Firms Operate Eight Tobacco Redrying Plants in Wilson,” Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1955.
Guy Cox or Charles Raines shot this image of Black women sorting tobacco leaves at Export about 1946.
The photo below, which accompanied the article above, dates from a time just outside that covered in Black Wide-Awake, but depicts a scene that would have been much the same ten or twenty years earlier.
Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1955.
Export Leaf Tobacco Company, Images of Historic Wilson, N.C., Images of North Carolina, lib.digitalnc.org.