Reid Street Community Center

Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra at the Community Center.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 September 1943.

South Carolina-born Buddy Johnson was a jump blues pianist whose orchestra began touring the South in the early 1940s. Reid Street Community Center was a popular venue on the chitlin circuit.

Reid Street Center gets a pool.

Wilson Daily Times, 28 April 1944.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 June 1944.

Five years after it opened, Reid Street Community Center got its first pool.

[Sidenote: Though the dimensions are not entirely clear — was it 60 feet by 40 feet? was it somewhere between 40 and 60 feet in length? — this definitely not the pool I learned to swim in 25-30 years later. That pool’s depth ranged from three feet to five feet to ten feet, with both low and high diving boards at the deep end.]

Clippings courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Boxing team formed at Reid Street Center.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 March 1939.

Soon after Reid Street Community Center opened, Saint John A.M.E. Zion minister Richard A.G. Foster organized a Boys Club at the church. Club members received boxing training at the Center and helped repair toys to be distributed the next Christmas.

  • Charlie Farris — businessman Charles Patrick Farris (1907-1958), son of Joseph and Rosa Selim Farris.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Town turns down request for recreation funding.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 September 1937.

The path to building Reid Street Community Center was a rocky one. As reported in September 1937, African-American community leaders, headed by William Hines, appeared repeatedly before Wilson’s Board of Aldermen (the precursor to City Council) seeking help.  To match federal funds, the group requested $7500 to add to another $7500 they hoped to receive from the county. When the county declined to approve the funds, the group returned to the city to ask for the $7500 outright to build a scaled-down building. “The request was voted down by the Aldermen last night on the grounds that the appropriation the town had made was contingent on the county’s appropriation and that there seemed to be some doubt anyway whether the town even could appropriate the money.”

The Center was finally funded in the spring of 1938 and opened at the end of the year.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Concert at the Community Center.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 November 1946.

Acclaimed African-American tenor Emanuel Mansfield and Native American pianist Robert Evans appeared in concert at Reid Street Community Center in November 1946. Henry Ellis Post Number 17 of the American Legion sponsored the event. Tickets were available at Wade’s Shoe Shop, 533 East Nash Street, Wade M. Moore, proprietor.

Nursery school at Reid Street Community Center.

Just before Christmas 1940, with the assistance of the National Youth Administration, the City of Wilson opened a nursery school at Reid Street Community Center, staffed by four unnamed “negro college graduates.” At the same time, the City organized a formal recreation program at the Center. (Sidenote: a program I benefitted from thirty years later when I learned to swim at Reid Street.)

Wilson Daily Times, 10 December 1940.

A branch of Toisnot Swamp.

I have a vague childhood memory of playing in a ditch that ran behind the Reid Street Community Center pool. Keith M. Harris and I — ever chasing our explorer fantasies — would dig greasy clumps of red and gray clay from its banks, dipping them in the water to coat our fingers in slip. 

A 1940 aerial image clearly shows that what I remember as a ditch was in fact a narrow branch of Toisnot Swamp. The branch ran behind and west of present-day Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf and Longleaf Neuro-Medical Center, crossed Lipscomb Road (now Ward Boulevard), and coursed behind Reid Street Center and Vick Elementary. It then crossed Vance Street just beyond Vick Street and forked before seeming to peter out.

A modern aerial, courtesy of Google Maps, reflects the wooded course of the branch across Ward Boulevard and over to Gold Street. There, however, it disappears into underground culverts.

Here’s this waterway on the ground today. Looking west from Gold Street just below Reid, the concrete embankment and corrugated steel culvert pipe that contain the branch. The heavily polluted water of the stream is visible beyond the pipe’s opening.

Below, looking east into the park behind the Community Center. These willow oaks once grew on the banks of the “ditch” that now flows underground.

1940 aerial photo courtesy of “Wilson County Aerial Photographs, 1940,” State Archives of North Carolina Raleigh NC, http://www.flickr.com; other photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.