Josephus Daniels‘ Wilson Advance advanced a racist theory to explain why the Mount Olive Telegram was not receiving its courtesy copies of “brethren” newspapers — the appointment of African-American postal route agents, “coons … turned loose among loads of mail matter.” Alfred Robinsonwas one such agent.
The one hundred-seventy-second in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1913; 1 story; L-plan cottage with cutaway bay; aluminum-sided.”
Charles S. and Lessie Barbrey Alston lived at 708 Viola Street in 1921.
Wilson Daily Times, 16 August 1921.
In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Cotton Mark H (c) lab h 708 Viola
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Cotton Mark H (c; Minnie) h 708 Viola
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Cotton Mark H (c; Minnie) h 708 Viola
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: owned and valued at $2000, Mark Cotton, 87; wife Minnie, 37, servant; and stepdaughters Ruline, 19, and Eunice Brooks, 17, farm laborer.
The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists Elizabeth Robinson, cook; Evelyn Robinson, cook; Lucile Robinson, maid; and William Robinson, laborer, at 708 Viola.
In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Robinson Eliz (c) h 708 Viola
In the 1910 census of Mars Hill township, Cumberland County, North Carolina: farmer Dock Robinson, 40; wife Mary, 30; and children Joseph, 10, Eva, 8, Clyde, 7, Celia, 6, David, 4, Eliza, 3, and Leana, 17 months.
In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Doc Robinson, 55; wife Maggie, 53; children Mary, 18, James C., 19, Virginia, 17, David, 14, Elijah, 12, and Jessie B., 3; Vangie, 32, Geneva, 17, and Addie McDoogle, 15; and Moses Robinson, 8, and lodgers Jack, 103, and Annie Armstrong, 101.
On 25 January 1922, Herman Cox, 23, of Wilson County, son of David and Florence Cox, married Virginia Robinson, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of Dock and Mary Robinson, at Dock Robinson’s residence in Taylors township. A.M.E. Zion minister J.B. Sutton performed the ceremony in the presence of Dan Blue, W.J. Armstrong, and E.L. Sutton.
In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Herman Cox, 40; wife Gennie, 35; and children Herman Jr., 17, Ida Odser, 16, Comillus, 14, Raymond, 10, Willie Gray, 8, Rosevelt, 6, Douglas, 4, Joe Lewis, 3, and Henry Lee, 9 months.
Herman Cox died 4 October 1966 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 24 December 1899 in Wayne County, North Carolina, to Dave Cox; worked as a farmer; and was married to Virginia Cox. Roosvelt Cox was informant.
“I was contacted recently by someone at the library at UNC Chapel Hill concerning a question they had received from Joyce Busenbark of Statesville. Busenbark had discovered a 1935 patient discharge paper from the old Davis Hospital on West End Avenue. The names of the patient had been blacked out, meaning it had been discarded at some point, but she noticed something curious. Under the heading of ‘Discharged’ were the words ‘To Daisy’s.’ Not knowing what Daisy’s meant, she had contacted the library at UNC. When I first heard that a patient had been discharged to Daisy’s I drew a blank as well. Was some smart aleck saying this person had died and was now ‘pushing up daisies’?
“One clue was the fact that the patient was listed as ‘colored.’ After some research, I discovered that the patient had actually been discharged to the care and home of Daisy Conner Robinson. Daisy’s husband, Thomas Robinson, was deceased and she was known locally in Statesville by her maiden name of Daisy Conner. In the 1930 Statesville City Directory, she is shown living at 249 Garfield St., right at the Green Street intersection. The entry for 249 also says ‘Colored Branch Davis Hospital’ and below the listing for Davis Hospital is another entry that reads, ‘Davis Hospital, colored branch, 249 Garfield, Daisy Robinson nurse.’ Some of the older members of the black community in Statesville explained what was going on.
“Davis Hospital was opened in December 1925. Please note that I am referring to the old Davis Hospital, 709 W. End Ave., in 1930, and not the modern one on Old Mocksville Road. During those early years, Davis Hospital treated black patients in what locals called the ‘basement,’ separate from the white patients. Black patients were not allowed to stay overnight in the hospital and if they were seriously ill or injured and needed to be hospitalized, they were discharged to Daisy’s home on Garfield.
“Daisy was a black nurse who was born Dec. 4, 1892, in Catawba County. She cared for the black patients from the mid-’20s until the early ’40s. The unknown patient had received an appendectomy in 1935 and the discharge paper said ‘Going to Daisy’s tonight.’
“Daisy’s address at 249 Garfield placed her close to Dr. Robert S. Holliday at 241 Garfield. Holliday was a black physician in Statesville and could have helped with the patients under Daisy’s care. Holliday’s wife was Mary Charlton Holliday who was over the black schools in Iredell County from 1915 to 1956.
“Daisy died on Jan. 6, 1947, at age 54, from tuberculosis probably caught from a patient she cared for. Her funeral was held at First Baptist Church on Green Street. She is listed as being buried in the ‘colored cemetery,’ now known as the Green Street Cemetery, but there appears to be no headstone. The house is gone now and we have been unable to find a photograph of either Daisy or the house. Her daughter, Pheonia R. Smith, lived at 528 Falls St., with her husband, John R. Smith, until her death on June 11, 1965.”
Joel Reese, Statesville Recorder & Landmark, 11 March 2014.
In the 1930 census of Statesville, Iredell County: at 249 Garfield Street, rented for $20/month, widow Daisy Robinson, 39, hospital annex nurse; son Samuel Robinson, 19, grocery store delivery boy; cousin Henriettie Abernethy, 13; roomers Horace Locket, 21, motor company machinist, and widow Louise Sherrill, 45; grandson Lonnie Bernard, 5; and roomer Isabella Knox, 17, maid.
In the 1940 census of Statesville, Iredell County: at 249 Garfield Street, rented for $12/month, widow Daisy Robinson, 39, private hospital nurse; widow Janie Connor, 70, mother-in-law; grandson Lonnie Smith, 15; and nephew Odel Abernethy, 18.
Daisy Robinson died 6 January 1947 on Garfield Street, Statesville. Per her death certificate, she was born 4 December 1894 in Catawba County, North Carolina, to W.N. Connor and Janie Abernathy; was the widow of Thomas Robinson; and worked as a nurse.
In the 1900 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: blacksmith William Robinson, 29; wife Sissie, 27; and children Loomis, 7, Theodore, 6, Walter, 5, Mary N., George M., 2, and Joseph S., 10 months.
In the 1910 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer William R. Robinson, 40; wife Cicero, 36; and children Lunice, 17, Lucian T., 16, Walter L., 15, Naney M., 14, George M., 12, Joe S., 10, Pauline, 8, Levesta, 6, Thelma, 4, Olza B., 3, and Katie S., 1.
On 6 January 1919, J.S. Roberson, 20, married Minnie Finch, 16, in Wilson County.
In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Joe S. Robinson, 20; wife Minnie, 17; and daughter Jessie M., 8 months.
Minnie Roberson died 10 December 1922 in Old Fields township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 July 1901 in Franklin County, N.C., to Noah Finch and Corann Finch of Nash County; and was married to J.S. Roberson.
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Robinson Joseph S (c; Australie) h 205 1/2 Stantonsburg
In the 1930 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farm laborer Joe S. Robinson, 30; wife Arcate, 22; and children Retha, 4, and Walter, 3.
In the 1940 census of Middlesex township, Nash County: on North Elm Street, farmer Joe S. Robertson, 41; wife Australia B., 30; and children Jessie M., 20, Retha, 15, Walter, 14, Martha, 10, John, 5, Luther, 4, U. Cal, 1, and Justine, 2 months.
Joe Sidney Robinson registered for the World War II draft in 1941 in Nash County. Per his registration card, he was born 18 July 1900 in Wilson County; lived in Middlesex, Nash County; and worked for J.T. Alford, Middlesex.
Joe Sidney Robinson died 20 August 1961 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 July 1899 in Wilson County to Bill Robinson and Sissie Earp; was married to Lillie M. Robinson; lived in Elm City; worked as a grocer; and was buried in New Vester cemetery.
Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user Neshele Godfrey.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 502 Grace, James Austin, 34, tobacco company laborer; wife , 28, tobacco factory worker; son James Jr., 3; and roomer George Jenkins, 24, tobacco factory worker.
This massive volume, dense with charts and tables and lists, illuminates the fierce struggle over political appointment/patronage jobs in the late 19th century and the intense sense of envy and entitlement that shaped attitudes toward award of such jobs to African-Americans. Essentially, this book lists all military officers and federal government employees on the payroll in 1891.
Here is Alfred Robinson, railway postal clerk on the Rocky Mount, N.C., to Norfolk, Virginia, line, earning $1000 per year.
Measured in 2016 dollars, the relative economic status value of a $1000/year salary is $239,000. A $1500/year salary is valued at $358,000. (Economic status value measures the relative “prestige value” of an amount of income or wealth measured between two periods using the income index of the per capita gross domestic product.) This kind of wealth awarded to African-Americans set blood boiling.
“Official Register of the United States, Containing a List of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service,” Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, digitized by Oregon State Library, Salem, Oregon; available online at http://www.ancestry.com.
Hampton Institute’s 1942 freshman class included Parthenia Robinson of Wilson, right, a member of the Kampus Kamera Klub.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 202 Vick Street, barber Golden Robinson, 30; wife Bertie, 23; and children Parthenia, 5, Gold M., 3, and Glean, 1.
On 7 June 1951 in Nottoway County, Virginia, Anne Parthenia Robinson, 25, daughter of Goldwyn Robinson and Bertie Parks, born in Wilson, resident of Washington, D.C., married Berkeley Graham Burrell, 31, son of Hayward G. Burrell and Fannie Mae Miles, born in Washington, D.C., and a soldier at Camp Pickett, Virginia.
In the 1870 census of Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina: Becky Robinson, 44, huckster; her children Athalia, 24, Polly, 21, and George W., 22; and Sophie Newhoff, 14. Athalia and Polly were dressmakers; George, a shoemaker; and Sophie, a seamstress. Becky reported owning $900 in real estate. She was described as black, and her children as mulatto.
In the 1870 census of Washington, D.C., Alfred Robinson, 19, student, is listed in “Dormitory Howard University.”
Catalogue of Howard University for the Years 1869-1870.
After completing his studies, Alfred returned to Wilmington. In 1878, he married Lucy A. Leary, who had been educated at Hampton Normal & Agricultural Institute. (Lucy was a native of Fayetteville and the daughter of Lewis Sheridan Leary, Harper’s Ferry revolutionary.)
(Notably, the couple’s marriage license listed no parents for Lucy and only Alfred’s mother. His brother George W. Robinson was the official witness.)
The couple initially boarded with Alfred’s sister Athalia’s family. In the 1880 census of Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina: Benjamin F. Scott, 37, wife Athalia M., 34, and children Warren F., 9, Armon W., 7, and Benj. F., Jr., 4, and Thos. A., 2; Alfred Robinson, 27, barber, brother-in-law, and Lucy Robinson, 25, sister-in-law; John Howard, 21, boarder, a porter; James S. Robinson, 1, nephew; and Eliza Carrel, 13, servant.
They’re also found in the 1880 census of Monroe, Union County, North Carolina: Alfred Robinson, 29, barber, wife Lucy, 24, and son James S.A., 1, plus boarder Samuel Pride, 23, barber.
A second child, Mariah, was born in 1880.
By 1884, the Robinsons had relocated to Wilson, where Alfred opened a barbershop on Tarboro Street catering to white clientele.
Wilson Advance, 17 October 1884.
He quickly joined the leadership of the town’s African-American community and was elected president of the Wilson County Industrial Association. Samuel H. Vick, with whom Alfred would become a friendly rival for federal patronage positions, was elected secretary.
Wilson Advance, 3 November 1887.
Weekly State Chronicle (Raleigh), 29 December 1887.
The job required frequent travel along his postal rail route, and Alfred sold his barbershop in Wilson.
Wilson Advance, 2 May 1889.
Wilson Advance, 8 August 1889.
The Robinson family apparently kept its home in Wilson at least part-time, though, as Lucy Leary Robinson died there on 30 April 1896.
Wilmington Messenger, 1 May 1896.
Raleigh Gazette, 17 July 1897.
Less than two years after his wife passed, Alfred Robinson lost his mother. She died in Raleigh while visiting Alfred’s sister, Mary Robinson King. The ever-flattering Gazette mentioned her “clever” son Alfred’s postal route between Norfolk and Wilmington.
Raleigh Gazette, 12 February 1898.
Though he is elusive in census records, Alfred Robinson seems to have made a home base in Norfolk by the mid-1890s. In the 1894 Norfolk city directory, he is listed as a clerk living at 28 Lee Av. In the 1904 Norfolk city directory, he is listed as a “Carrier P O” living at 393 Bank. In the 1910 Norfolk city directory, he is a “clerk R M S” [railroad mail service] living at 446 Bute.
James S.A. Robinson married Emma Mossom in Phoebus (now Hampton), Virginia, on 22 December 1903.
In the 1920 census of Norfolk, Virginia: Alfred Robinson, 67, divorced, United States post office mail clerk; James A. Byers, 39, physician; and Maria Byers, 36. The Byerses were renting from Robinson. [From whom was he divorced?]
Within a few months, Maria Robinson Byers was dead of a stroke. Per her death certificate, she died 25 July 1920 at her home at 314 East Bute, Norfolk. She had been born in North Carolina on 2 July 1880 to Alfred Robinson and Lucy Leary, and her body was returned to Wilmington for burial.
Before the year was out, Alfred retired from government service, having served the postal service for 31 years.
Twin City Daily Sentinel (Winston-Salem NC), 26 November 1920.
Alfred Robinson made out a will on 16 July 1926. Reflecting, perhaps, his peripatetic lifestyle, his city of residence is omitted from the document. Golden Robinson, son of his brother George, was the principal legatee with a $2000 bequest, but he also set aside $500 to bury his “mentally afflicted” son James S.A. Robinson; $1000 to be divided among the children of his deceased nephew Benjamin Scott; and $800 to be divided among nieces Parthenia Blakeley, Annie Sadgwar, Rebecca Robinson, and Mrs. Vincent Waters. After bequests to pay for a headstone and the upkeep of his grave, Alfred earmarked the remainder of his estate to be divided among the children of nephews Warren Scott, Thomas A. Scott and Benjamin Scott.
In the 1928 and 1930 city directories of Wilson, Alfred Robinson is listed living at 622 East Green Street. (In other words, he lived in Samuel H. Vick’s household.)
Alfred’s son James S.A. Robinson died 22 July 1930. That year Alfred was involved in an imbroglio with Dr. Lovelace B. Capehart, grand master of the Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, whom he blamed for causing him to lose his position as treasurer of the organization. A Wilson Superior Court judge agreed and awarded Alfred $400 in damages.
Pittsburgh Courier, 22 November 1930.
Pittsburgh Courier, 30 November 1930.
On 6 November 1936, Alfred remarried in Wilson. His wife, Julia Winstead, was a Nash County native. He was about 85 years old, and nearly 40 years his wife’s senior.
On 29 November 1938, Alfred Robinson executed a new will devising an entire estate to his nephew Robert H. Scott, with whom he was living. His property consisted of two lots in Norfolk; a house and lot at 207 North Tenth Street, Wilmington; and two lots in Raleigh. He specifically made no provision for his wife Julia, asserting that he had already made her a property settlement. Nor did he mention his many other nieces and nephews.
Alfred Robinson died 26 June 1939 in Wilmington.
On 27 July 1939, Alfred’s nephew Golden Robinson, son of his brother George, filed his 1926 will in Wilson County Superior Court, asserting that he had found the document “in a small satchel in [Alfred’s] home.” On November 1939, his other nephew, Robert H. Scott the 1938 will in New Hanover Superior Court.