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.
The background is remarkable in this photo of the ground-breaking for Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church. In the early 1940s, the northeastern end of Reid Street was at the edge of town. Thus, the buildings seen in the background here are tobacco barns.
Though this image of Sister Antonio Spruill of Oblate Sisters of Providence was taken in the 1950s, just beyond the range of Black Wide Awake, it’s really just too great not to be included here. Barbara Farmer, at far left, identified the other girls as Josephine Collins, Gail Peacock, JoAnn Jenkins and Wilter Davis. (Thank you!)
“Music Class St. Alphonsus School in Wilson, N.C.”
Born in Oxford, North Carolina, Bessie Richardson [as she was known, despite her marriages] was brought to Wilson as a housekeeper and cook by Mr. and Mrs. Carl Goerch. After about a year, she went to work for opthalmologist Thomas Blackshear and his wife. “She was with the Blackshears so long until she earned the nickname of Bessie ‘Blackshear’ by many patients, friends and neighbors of the Blackshears.”
She cared for two of her brothers, Wilbur and Leo Taylor, during their last illnesses. Wilbur Taylor worked for many years as a cook at the Ship and Shore Restaurant on West Nash.
Bessie Richardson was a devout Catholic and long-time member of Saint Alphonsus Church. She and her husband, Willie “Skeeter” Bowden, had no children.
William R. Bowden, age illegible, of Wilson, married Bessie T. Jones, 34, of Wilson on 15 June 1926. Oscar Reid applied for the license, and J.W. Aiken, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, performed the ceremony at Willie R. Bowden’s home in the presence of Ferdinand Faison, John Sanchas and John Lee Devaughan. Willie Bowden died 5 March 1960 at his home at 203 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 13 November 1901 to Mary Adams; was married to Bessie Bowden; and worked as a laborer. He was buried at William Chapel cemetery, Elm City.
Text adapted from article in and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).
For more about Rev. Richard A.G. Foster, see here and here and here.
Georgia Farmer Mitchell died 18 February 1938 at Mercy Hospital. Per her death certificate, she was a 15 year-old school girl; was born in Wilson to Floyd Mitchell and Lucy Farmer, both of Wilson County; and resided at 409 South Warren Street. She died of acute appendicitis and an intestinal blockage.
Rev. Foster, probably in the late 1930s or early ’40s, perhaps at Yale University, his alma mater.
Southern Cross: Bulletin of the Catholic Laymen’s Association of Georgia, 25 April 1942.
Saint Alphonsus youth group, circa 1942. R.C. Henderson is second left of the priest, Rev. Francis J. Walsh, at top. His sister Hattie Henderson Ellis is shading her eyes on the bottom row. Maggie Barnes Crawford (1893-1971) stands at far left.
Saint Alphonsus today, with the rectory beyond. (What happened to the belfry?)
A brief history of Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church may be found here. The congregation has merged with Saint Therese in Wilson.