Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the second in a series of excerpts from interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)
Jesse Jacobs found good work in Wilson, first as a hand in Jefferson Farrior‘s livery stable and then as a janitor at a white public school (with side hustles as school superintendent Charles L. Coon‘s yard man and as janitor at First Baptist Church.) However, his wife Sarah had fewer opportunities, working seasonally in tobacco stemmeries and sometimes “taking in washing and ironing,” i.e. doing personal laundry for white families.
Though she seems never to have been seriously tempted to migrate permanently, Sarah H. Jacobs occasionally traveled North for short stretches to supplement her income by hiring out for housekeeping daywork. She generally took little Hattie to New York with her and parked her with her stepdaughter Carrie Jacobs Blackwell while she worked. (Carrie, who was Jesse Jacobs’ elder daughter, and her husband Toney H. Blackwell had migrated from North Carolina circa 1900-1905.)
Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled a visit to New York when she was perhaps six years old in which she grew homesick and lonely while staying with the Blackwells:
“… So I went to crying. I cried and I cried. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go where Mama was, but Mama wasn’t supposed to come over there ‘til the next day or a day or two after that. She was doing day’s work. ‘Cause day’s work was plentiful then. People would clean up …. So Mama wanted [to make money, so she] carried me with her …. So, anyway, I cried so, and … she come on over and got me, and I told her I didn’t want to stay there no more, I wanted to go home. I said I wanted to go where she was. She said, ‘Well, you can’t go right now,’ said, ‘I got a job to do.’ She said, ‘Well, I’ll take you over to Frances.’ So that’s when she took me over to Frances’ house, and Edward [her son]. And I stayed over there, and it was the first time I ever went to school.”
Frances Aldridge Cooper, also a Dudley native, was both Sarah and Hattie’s maternal cousin and Hattie’s paternal aunt. Frances and her husband George Cooper, also from Wayne County, married in New Jersey in 1908, then moved on to New York City, where their son, Edward Lee Cooper, was born in 1911.
“It was during school time and whatchamacallem took me and Edward down to the school, wherever it was…. And the first day I ever went to school, Frances took me and her son Edward. And the building — I don’t remember what the building looked like inside — but I know we went in, and they had little benches, at least it was built around in the room. And you could stand there by it and mark on your paper if you wanted to or whatever. I didn’t see no seats in there. You sit on the same thing you were writing on. It seem like, from what I remember, it was down in the basement. You had to go down there, and the benches was all the way ’round the room. And the teacher’s desk — and she had a desk in there. And the children sat on the desk, or you stand there by it, or kneel down if you want to mark on it. First grade, you ain’t know nothing bout no writing no how. And I went in, and I just looked. I just, I didn’t do nothing. I just sit there on top of the desk. And I was crying. I went back to Frances’ house, and I said, well, ‘Frances, I want to go home.’ Go where Mama was. So she said, ‘We’ll go tomorrow.’ I said, ‘How come we can’t go today?’ She said, ‘Well, it’s too far to go now.’ I said, ‘Well, can you call her?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know the phone number, and I don’t know the name it’s in.’ And so that kind of threw me; I finally went on bed. But, anyway, they all took me back to Brooklyn.”
Hattie and Sarah Henderson Jacobs returned to Wilson a few weeks later. When Hattie tried first grade again, it was at the Colored Graded School.
Sidenote: the 1915 New York state census lists George Cooper, 32, moulding mill fireman; wife Frances, 30, laundress; son Edward, 4; and sister-in-law Alberta Artis, 15, in school, at 1504 Prospect Place, Brooklyn (in the heart of the Weeksville neighborhood.) Alberta was the daughter of Adam T. Artis and Amanda Aldridge Artis and was not Frances’ birth sister, but was very close kin. (Her birth siblings, in fact, included Josephine Artis Sherrod, Columbus E. Artis, and June Scott Artis, as well as paternal half-siblings Cain Artis, William M. Artis, Walter S. Artis, and Robert E. Artis.) This is complicated: Amanda Aldridge was the sister of Frances A. Cooper’s father John W. Aldridge. And Adam Artis was the father of Frances’ mother Louvicey Artis Aldridge. Amanda A. Artis died days after giving birth to Alberta in 1899, and Louvicey and John took the infant to rear in their own large family in Dudley. Alberta eventually followed her adopted sister Frances to New York, where she met and married George Cooper’s brother, James W. Cooper. The pair returned to Wilson County after World War I.
Detail from enumeration of inhabitants of Block No. 6, Election District No. 19, City of New York, Assembly District No. 23, Kings County, state census of New York, 1915.
Adapted from interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1996 and 1998. All rights reserved.
The twentieth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.
There were two African-American schools called Barnes in early 20th-century Wilson. One was on present-day Airport Road. The other appears to have been in the vicinity of Barnes Church on Old Stantonsburg Road. (Neither church nor school is still standing.)
“On March 3, 1919, the Wilson County Board of Education agreed, as recorded in its minutes, to expend $100.00 for an acre of land for the school. They also agreed to sell the school’s apparent predecessor to the Colored Masonic Lodge of Stantonsburg for $900.00 (a surprisingly large sum of money), provided that that the ‘colored people of the district’ would raise $600.00 for erecting a new schoolhouse. If these conditions were met, they would appropriate $250.00 for the new building. On October 6 a Charles Knight appeared before the board and requested again that a new building be erected for the Barnes Colored School. The board told him that this was ‘now impossible’ and asked that he look for a house to be temporarily acquired for the winter. On December 1, however, the board reversed course once more and authorize the erection of a two-room Barnes schoolhouse.” In a footnote to this paragraph: “It seems unlikely that the Barnes schoolhouse discussed in the board minutes is the same as the one that the Rosenwald Fund supported during the 1921-1922 budget year [i.e. the Airport Road school]. [School superintendent Charles L.] Coon notes that a five-room school, valued with its land at $9300, was erected in 1920 in the city of Wilson, but the county board references the sale of any [sic] earlier building in the town of Stantonsburg. Further, the school that the fund supported was a three-teacher type that cost $6000, with $700 in Fund support, $1000 in public funds, and a whopping $4300 contribution from the black community [citations omitted].” [Note, 11/9/2022: it appears this section to refer to Stantonsburg Colored School, not Barnes.]
Location: A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows Barnes School on what is now Old Stantonsburg Road, just north of the town of Stantonsburg.
The sixteenth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.
Location: A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows Healthy Plains School on present-day U.S. 264 Alternate, just west of the Greene County line near Spring Branch Church Road.
Description: This school was likely named for (and near by) Healthy Plain Primitive Baptist Church, an African-American church (to be distinguished from a white church of the same name near Buckhorn in western Wilson County).
The tenth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.
Lofton School does not appear to have been a Rosenwald school.
Location: A 1936 state road map of Wilson County shows “Lofton” school on present-day Downing Road, just below Contentnea Creek.
Per sale advertised in the Wilson Daily Times for several weeks in the fall of 1951: “LOFTON COLORED SCHOOL in Black Creek Township, containing 1 3/4 acres, more or less, and more particularly described as follows: BEING on the Southerly side of the Aycock Road and the Westerly side of Contentnea Creek, just below the bridge; BEGINNING in the center of the road at the bridge, runs thence with and along the road South 73 degrees 45′ West 175.13 feet to an iron pin, a bend in the road, thence South 44 degrees 10′ West 317.58 to an iron pin, leaves the road and runs thence South 81 degrees 19′ East about 619 feet to the center of Contentnea Creek, thence with and along and up the line of said Creek to the point of beginning. Being the identical land described in a deed recorded in Book 108, at page 109, Wilson County Registry.”
The North Carolina Department of Transportation has made available digitally copies of many of its historic maps. The 1936 North Carolina County Road Survey not only maps Wilson County’s roads, it also shows the locations of schools and churches. African-American county schools appear as “other”:
Some of the schools are easily identified, but for others I have made best guesses.
Starting in the northern part of the county, which covers parts of Taylor, Toisnot, Wilson, and Gardners townships:
The fifth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.
Turner School was originally built to educate white children. After school consolidation 1917-1924, the building was turned over for use by black children. In 1939, children in Turner district began attending the newly built Frederick Douglass High School in Elm City.
Location: The 29 September 1953, the Wilson Daily Times reported this land transfer: “Board of Education of Wilson County to the Board of Trustees of Elm City Graded Schools, lot beginning at I.T. Luper’s corner in the center of the Town Creek-Rocky Mount road [now Town Creek Road] known as the Turner School lot and lot beginning at the northwest corner of a church lot in the road leading from W.L. Matthews’ store to Gardners store.”
Description: Per The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24, Turner School was a one-room school seated on one acre. The report included this photo of Turner School.
The fourth in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.
[Please note that there appear to have been two “colored” Barnes Schools in the early 20th century, one under the jurisdiction of Wilson city schools, and one near Stantonsburg (perhaps affiliated with Barnes Church) under in the county school system. The post concerns the former.]
Barnes School was erected with Rosenwald funds in 1920.
Location: “3 1/2 miles west of Wilson on the Municipal Airport Road.”
“This building can be torn down and the lumber salvaged to be used for other purposes. This building is located in one of the best farming sections in eastern North Carolina and only a 10 minute ride from the center of the city.” Wilson Daily Times, 26 March 1951.
A 1925 soil map of Wilson County shows a school on what is now Airport Boulevard near a branch of Hominy Swamp and the present-day YMCA pool. This accords with the recollection of D.W. Saulter, whose grandfather purchased a school building on Airport Boulevard and converted it into a residence. She reports that the building has been demolished.
In May 1942, an article in the Wilson Daily Times announced locations for sugar ration registration, including “Barnes school, all colored people in Wilson Township west of Wilson living within Wilson township.”
In 1924, the Wilson County Board of Education published Superintendent Charles L. Coon’s report The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24. I went looking for a copy today and found one in Google Books.
On pages 19-21, Coon’s report contains a table of the value of colored school property in 1924.
In Wilson township, there were five schools: twelve-room Old School (the Colored Graded School), ten-room New School (Wilson Colored High School, later Darden High School), five-room Barnes, one-room Lanes, and Lovers (which I have never heard of.) Lovers School had “no house,” which meant its pupils met in a church or some other building
In Toisnot township: five-room Elm City School and Penders, Turners, and Pages, all one room.
In Cross Roads township, three-room Lucama and one-room Powells and Calvins [Calvin Level]. In Gardners township, one-room Holdens, Wilbanks and Bynums Schools and unhoused Whitley School.
In Old Fields township, Sims School (“no house”) and two-room schools Jones Hill and New Vester Schools. In Springhill township, one-room Williamson and three-room Rocky Branch and Kirbys Schools. In Taylors township, unhoused Farmers School, one-room Howards School, and three-room Mitchell School.
In Black Creek township, there were four one-room schools, Ruffins, Ferrells, Brooks and Minshew. In Stantonsburg township, neither Evansdale nor Stantonsburg Schools had a dedicated building. In Saratoga township, Saratoga School had one room, but Yelverton and Bethel Schools had none.
In 1924, the Wilson County Board of Education published Superintendent Charles L. Coon’s report The Public Schools of Wilson County, North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-14 to 1923-24. I went looking for a copy today and found one in Google Books. (And, yes, this is the same Charles Coon who slapped Mary C. Euell and thereby sparked the boycott of the Wilson Colored Graded School.)
An examination of two charts in the report led to an epiphany. The first shows white schools in Wilson County in 1917; the second, white schools in 1924, after a consolidation of most one and two-room rural schools and construction of several modern brick buildings. I’d been puzzled by the apparent duplication of black and white school names in newspapers, and I immediately noticed a Lane School in the 1917 chart in the same location as the black Lane School. I looked more closely. Here were Turner, Page, Wilbanks, Pender, Minshew and Ferrells Schools, all later described as “colored.” And the 1924 chart shows none of them. I deduce that after decommission as white schools, these decrepit buildings were handed down to African-Americans for the education of their children.
A bonus: the report includes photographs of several county schools that housed African-American children!