Reid Street Community Center

A first look at the Reid Street pool.

Every once in a while, we step outside Black Wide-Awake‘s period of focus to highlight an especially interesting document.

Reid Street Community Center opened in 1939 as, of course, a segregated facility. Long-time plans to build a state-of-the-art “community center building for the whites” (as it was called in a 11 August 1954 Daily Times editorial, and thus the moniker “White Rec,” as it was known for decades and maybe still is) screeched to a halt in early 1954 after the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” standards of racial segregation were unconstitutional.

Opined the Daily Times editorialist:

The exhortations worked, and voters (who were largely white) elected to fund both community centers. Architectural sketches of the proposed new (or renewed) buildings dropped in March 1955, and here’s the proposed updated facility at Reid Street with its big new pool.

A few features were pared away before final construction, but anyone, like me, who learned to swim at Reid Street as late as the 1980s will immediately recognize the high and low diving boards and the lifeguard’s chair. The overhang shown shading the exit from the locker rooms, where you turned in your wire clothes basket and received an enormous numbered safety pin, didn’t make the final cut. Nor did the tennis courts, the large wading pool, or the landscaping.

Courtesy of Google Maps, here’s an aerial rear view of Reid Street Community Center shot when the pool was closed during the pandemic. It’s looking a little worse for the 68 years of wear since 1955, and the $1.9 million overhaul recently announced is long overdue.

The arrival of the Catholic trailer chapel.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 July 1941.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 July 1941.

The first Catholic services for African-Americans in Wilson were held at Reid Street Community Center in 1941, with construction of a new church — to be known as Saint Alphonsus — soon to get underway.

Halloween festivities at the Center.

Wilson Daily Times, 4 November 1940.


Three hundred children showed up for a Halloween party at Reid Street Community Center in 1940. Instructors presented “an interesting program of contests, stunts, and games” and awarded prizes in various competitions.


  • Deborah Swindell — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Deborah Swindell, 40, beautician in own shop; daughter Deborah, 16; and lodger Noble Wade, 38, cook in railroad shop, born in Georgia. 
  • Virginia Melton — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1206 Washington Street, T[illegible] Barnes, 72, washing, widow; daughter Cora Melton, 42, private cook, widow; grandchildren Lucy, 16, Virginia, 15, and John, 14, all farming green tobacco, W.T., 8, and Hilda, 7; and daughter Lillie Barnes, 40. 
  • Prof. M.D. Williams — Malcolm D. Williams, principal of Vick Elementary School.
  • Frances Eliza Williams
  • Thomas Freeman — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1114 Washington Street, owned and valued at $3000, brick mason Julius Freeman, 52; wife Pattie, 40; and children Julius L., 20, Doris, 19, Robert and Richard, 18, John, 16, Charles, 14, Eunice, 12, Mary, 11, Ruby, 10, Tom, 9, Dan, 8, Lillian, 6, and Henry, 2.
  • John Farmer
  • Paul Bryant
  • Silas Bryant
  • Office Clark — Offie Clark. In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1300 Washington Street, William Clark, 47, mechanical helper in guano factory; wife Katie E., 47; and children Offie E., 18, Addie E., 15, and William T., 12; and grandson Milton Grady, 2.
  • Virginia Williams
  • Hilda Gray Young
  • Dan Freeman — brother of Thomas Freeman, above.
  • Irvin Sutton
  • Dillon Bell — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1309 East Nash, auto body company blacksmith Charlie Bell, 58, born in West Virginia; wife Nina, 31, cook; and children Dillon, 14, and Benson, 10.

Friday night social.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 November 1950.

Bill Elliott supervised the Darden High School’s Teen Age Club, which held social events at Reid Street Community Center under the joint sponsorship of Darden’s Parent-Teacher Association and Wilson’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

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.