Saint John AME Zion

Lodge members gather at Saint John.

This beautifully crisp photo depicts a gathering of Prince Hall Masons in front of Saint John A.M.E. Zion‘s distinctive Gothic arches during the church’s construction. Dated 1914-1915, I do not know the specific occasion for the photograph, or whether it features only members of Mount Hebron Lodge No. 42, whose lodge was just across Smith Street. I do know that it is fantastic in every detail.

Though my focus is on the men assembled at center, the edges of the image are rich  with detail as well — the boy in a newsboy cap perched on the scaffolding; the boys peering over the heads of the suited men; the few girls clustered at right, with a woman in a magnificent hat just behind them; another woman at extreme left, visible only as an eye under the wide brim of her hat.

Of the 36 men depicted, as of now, I have only been able to identify only eleven certain and a few possibles. Do you recognize any others?

And a question to any Prince Hall Masons, do the medallions, swords, aprons, or other regalia disclose anything public about the wearer’s status or office within the lodge?

Rev. Halley B. Taylor (1879-??), Worshipful Master, Presbyterian minister.

Julius F. Freeman Sr. (1844-1927), carpenter.

Roderick Taylor Sr. (1883-1947), barber.

William Hines (1883-1981), businessman, hospital administrator.

Camillus L. Darden (1884-1956), businessman, funeral director.

Rev. Bryant P. Coward (1864-1940), pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church.

Short W. Barnes (1860-1943), carpenter.

Samuel H. Vick (1861-1947), educator, businessman.

Charles H. Darden (1854-1931), blacksmith, funeral director.

John H. Clark (1863-1949), postal employee.

John Mack Barnes (1869-1958), Treasurer, brickmason, builder of Saint John A.M.E. Zion.

Either barber Levi H. Jones (1877-1961), Rev. Charles T. Jones (1878-1963), or painter Butler E. Jones (ca. 1879-1961), brothers.

Probably, Arthur N. Darden (1889-1948), mortician.

Probably, Leonard L. Barnes (1888-1952).

Probably, Edgar H. Diggs (1890-1970), barber.

Possibly, Darcy C. Yancey (1883-1957), pharmacist.

[Sidenote: There is something incredibly moving about seeing these men in the early part of what arguably was Black Wilson’s Golden Age in the 1910s and ’20s. Though the photograph was staged, their expressions (other than Sam Vick, who was obviously accustomed to formal portrait-posing) are almost candid. They are a mix of old heads, born in the final days of slavery, and a new generation of young lions. I was surprised by my instant recognition of Charles and Camillus Darden and William Hines. It took me longer to realize my own grandfather stood at far left. My identification of Arthur N. Darden is based in part on his close resemblance to his mother, Dinah Scarborough Darden. Most of the others I was able to name only after reviewing other photos of men I know to have been Masons. Leonard Barnes, astonishingly, I recognized because of his close resemblance to his grandson, who was my childhood playmate.]

Many thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for the copy of this photograph. And a special shout-out to Stanley Horton, Past Worshipful Master, Foundation Lodge #592, Prince Hall Affiliated, for his help in identifying offices and emblems. 

[Updates: Rev. Halley B. Taylor and the Jones brothers added 3 September 2020.]

Regret for the death of Russell Owings.

Wilson Daily Times, 31 October 1938.

I missed the cues, and at first could find no record of an African-American Russell Owings living in Wilson. But that was because Owings was not Black. He was instead a “faithful and courageous friend of [their] interest.” Owings, freshly graduated from Atlantic Christian [now Barton] College, was a white man who — much in the spirit of Rev. R.A.G. Foster’s outreach — crossed the color line to teach voice lessons and direct a choral group at Saint John A.M.E. Zion. He died in a car accident in late October 1938.

Rev. R.A.G. Foster through the years.

Marianne Foster generously shared these photos of her father, Rev. Richard A.G. Foster, who served as pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church in the late 1930s and made strident calls for equal rights and social justice from his Pender Street pulpit.

In the pulpit at Varrick A.M.E. Zion Church, New Haven, Connecticut, 1940s.

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New Haven, Connecticut.

Oakland, California, 1958.

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Oakland, California, 1968.

Establishing a property line.

On 12 February 1946, Leslie and Minnie Diggs Artis of Eureka, Wayne County, and the Trustees of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church reached an agreement to resolve uncertainty over the location of back boundary for property that each party owned on Smith and Church Streets.

Both Artises had close ties to Wilson. Leslie Artis, son of Napoleon and Sallie Taylor Artis, was the nephew of Cain, C.E., June Scott, Walter and William Artis, Josephine Artis Sherrod, and Amanda Artis Cooper, as well as Jonah Williams, whose daughter Clarissa Williams owned the lot adjoining the disputed properties.

Leslie Artis (1892-1974).

Minnie Diggs Artis was a cousin of Edgar H. Diggs. And the Artises’ daughter Sallie Mae Artis Shackleford (1924-2013) was a long-time resident of Academy Street in East Wilson.

Minnie Diggs Artis (1897-1970).

The church’s trustees were Camillus L. Darden, John Mack Barnes, Separise P. Artis, Louis Thomas, James Henry Knight, Charles Knight, D.E. Simms, C.L. Hardy, A.J. McCoy, Linwood Moore, and David Henry Coley.

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Photos courtesy of Leroy Barnes; deed book 318, pages 183-185, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

They’re not yet through discussing it.

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New York Age, 25 January 1912.

Tarboro native John Campbell Dancy was a politician, journalist, and educator in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. For many years he was editor-in-chief of African Methodist Episcopal Zion church newspapers Star of Zion and Zion Quarterly. He served briefly as collector of customs in Wilmington, North Carolina, but was forced to leave the city in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898. Dancy moved to Washington, D.C., and served as the city’s Recorder of Deeds from 1901 to 1910. Dancy died in 1920; D.C. Suggs was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral.

Kennedy family photos.

Tennessee native Rev. John E. Kennedy was pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church from about 1925 to about 1930. (The family is not listed in the 1930 census of Wilson.) He had married Annie L. Moore, whose mother Serena Suggs Moore was a native of Wilson and a daughter of G. Washington and Esther Suggs.

This photograph was taken on the front steps of Saint John’s parsonage, next door to the church. The Kennedys’ youngest child, son James Reginald, was born in Wilson.

The Kennedy family in 1929 — Rev. John Kennedy, Annie Moore Kennedy, James R. Kennedy and Ruby E. Kennedy.

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Rev. Dr. John E. Kennedy (1876-1944).

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Annie Lucretia Moore Kennedy (1883-1942).

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Rubye Eloise Kennedy (1917-1993).

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James Reginald Kennedy (1925-1997).

The parsonage at 121 North Pender Street, Wilson. The shed-roof porch is unfortunate recent add-on.

Kennedy family photos courtesy of Ancestry.com user JamesKennedy621; photo of parsonage taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2019.

A view of Saint John.

A gift from Samuel C. Lathan arrived in the mail recently:

It’s a Curt Teich & Company postcard depicting Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church. Per the Guide to Dating Curt Teich Postcards, this one was issued in 1923, and was perhaps meant to commemorate the church building’s tenth anniversary.

Here’s a cleaned-up version: