“Bishop William Alexander Hilliard, 103, retired bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, died March 13. He was reported to be the oldest living bishop in all of Methodism. The funeral was scheduled for March 22 at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Detroit. Born in 1904 in Greenville, Texas, and educated in Kansas City, Mo., Hilliard received his higher education at Western University and Wayne State University. He was married for 71 years to Edra Mae Hilliard, who died in 1998. Called to the ministry in 1922, Hilliard was ordained a deacon in 1924 and an elder in 1927. He was pastor at more than nine different churches before becoming pastor at St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church in Detroit. He was elected in 1960 as the 67th bishop in the AME Zion Church and retired from the episcopacy in 1980.” [Obituary unattributed, 21 March 2008]
Jet magazine, 20 October 1977.
Rev. Hilliard and wife — Rev. William A. Hilliard and wife Edra Hilliard.
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 who took the photograph (though it seems to have passed through the hands of Wilton M. Bethel), 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?
[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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rev. Dr. John E. Kennedy (1876-1944).
Annie Lucretia Moore Kennedy (1883-1942).
Rubye Eloise Kennedy (1917-1993).
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.