school

Back to school!

More Raines and Cox photographs of Saint Alphonsus School, these taken in 1949.

Book Week.

Your Best Friends Read Good Books.

This photo, perhaps also shot by Raines and Cox, appears to date from the 1950s.

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Saint Alphonsus School Drum & Bugle Corps.

[On a personal note: One day when I was 4, I followed another child out the front of Kiddie Kollege of Knowledge (formerly St. Alphonsus School) with my arms spread wide. In the inexplicable way that crazy things happen to little kids, my pinky got caught and crushed between the heavy double doors seen in the third image above. My aunt, Hattie H. Ellis, came up Carroll Street from Darden High School — she was a guidance counselor — to take me to the doctor, and I proudly showed off my little cast when I returned to school the next day.]

Top photos: many thanks to John Teel for sharing these images from the Raines & Cox collection of photographs at the North Carolina State Archives. They are catalogued as PhC_196_CW_StAlphonsusClassroom3 and
PhC_196_CW_StAlphonsusClassroom2. Bottom: courtesy of Wilson Community Improvement Association.

A charge of “negro blood.”

In January 1915, members of the Wilson County School Board considered a petition signed by 24 (ostensibly) white men and one white woman. “We the undersigned,” they wrote, “wish to protest against the attendance of any child or children in our school with negro blood in their veins as the law directs and would further ask that this matter be attended to at once.”

This is not a new issue for the Board, having lost a battle in 1909 to keep James and Jane Carter Lamm‘s children out of white schools, but won an effort in late 1914 to bar Josephus and Minnie Taylor Johnson‘s offspring.

Charles L. Coon and the Board refused to hear the petition, but agreed to rule on specific charges against specific families accused of being too black to attend white schools. Immediately, several petitioners pointed fingers at Luke Tedder’s children. The Board directed counsel for the Tedders and for the petitioners to present their cases. Instead, Tedder sent word that he would withdraw his children from Renfrow School. The matter having resolved itself, the Board adjourned.

Tedder no doubt wished to spare his family the ordeal (and humiliation) of a public dissection of his wife’s genealogy. I have written here of the Hawleys, the family into which Sally Ann Hawley Tedder was born. They and the related Rose, Ayers and Taylor families of Springhill township moved back and forth across the color line in the late 1800s. By the turn of the century, most claimed and were accorded a white identity. However, memory was long, and not all in their community were willing to overlook their remote African ancestry.

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Renfrow School, circa 1920s.

——

On 26 June 1867, William Hawley, son of Joseph Hair and Patsey Hawley, married Nancy Rose, daughter of Sarah Rose, at Sarah Rose’s house in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farmer William Hawley, 28, wife Nancy, 20, son Joseph, 1, and Aquilla Hawley, 17. William, Joseph and Aquilla were classified as mulatto; Nancy, as white.

In the 1880 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farmer William Hawley, 39, wife Nancy, 32, and children Joseph, 10, Sally An, 7, and John, 3; all described as mulatto.

Luke Tedder, 23, son of Stephen and Betsy Tedder, married Sallie Hawley, 18, daughter of  William and Nancy Hawley, on Christmas Day 1888 in Springhill township, Wilson County. Both were classified as white. Their children were Joseph S., Victoria, William T., John H., Luke C. Jr., Lizzie, Minnie L., Eddie G., Nancy C., and James F. Tedder.

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Copies of minutes in “Education 1910-1919” folder of hanging files, Local History Room, Wilson County Public Library, Wilson; photo of school courtesy of Images of Historic Wilson County, Images of North Carolina, digitalnc.org.

So I just stopped school.

This chart is simultaneously heart-breaking and awe-inspiring.

Three thousand African-American children in Wilson County were enrolled in eight grades during the 1923-1924 school year. They ranged from six to twenty years of age. The 1689 first graders ranged from six to seventeen years old, and nearly two-thirds were classified as “over age.” There were three nineteen year-old second graders, and a full fifth of all third graders were thirteen years old. One was twenty. Only 17 of 269 fourth graders were age-appropriate. The eighth grade class — the highest grade offered to black children — tallied a single pupil.

Why? Pick a reason. Or several, as years passed. “Mama is sick.” “I am sick.” “I need to mind the baby.” “I don’t have school clothes.” “I can’t see the board, and my daddy can’t get me no glasses.” “It’s too far to walk.” “I missed too much time last year.” “I got to work.” “I’m too old.”

My grandmother‘s schooling was repeatedly interrupted. Two life-threatening bouts with pneumonia. Temporary moves to new towns as her guardian great-aunt sought work with better pay than Wilson offered black women. A great-uncle with dementia who’d begun to wander from home and needed to be watched. She left school for good when she was about 13, just before the school year captured in this chart.

“The first day I went down to Graded School, that day it rained. I come back – there was a hole in my shoe, and I slopped in all the water and got my feet wet. That’s what Mama said, anyhow, and I taken with a fever. And I was sick that whole rest of the year. I mean, wasn’t strong enough to go down to Graded School – she wouldn’t let me go down there. So I stayed home, and Mama put all them old rags … that old flannel cloth, and she’d put it in red onions and hog lard.”

“[F]irst of the year I went to school, and [then I got sick and] I didn’t go back no more to the Graded School. They opened the Wilson Training School on Vance Street, with that old long stairway up that old building down there, well, I went over there. Then when Mama … went to Greensboro, then I went to Greensboro to Ashe Street School. Then we moved from over Ashe Street over to Washington Street, over there, then I went to Washington Street School. So then I went over there. And so we come on back [to Wilson], and then they wanted to put me back in the same grade I was in before I left, and I cried. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to go back to that school anymore. So I just stopped school.”

Imagine teenagers crammed into desks alongside seven year-olds, sounding out words in blue-back spellers, carefully practicing the shapes of letters, and ticking off numbers on their fingers. The perseverance of these children and their families, the determination to get an education, is palpable.

Imagine also the children who fell from the ranks each year, who were bright and eager and wanted just as badly to learn, but whose obstacles won the day. In 1924, only one black child who had started the race finished the course.

——

For statistics from 1913-1914, see here.

Wilson City colored schools educated 1225 children in eleven grades in 1923-1924. Almost 28% were normal age for their grades, a slight improvement over the county schools. The oldest child attending city schools was a 20 year-old eighth grader.

Chart from Coon, Charles L., The Public Schools of Wilson County North Carolina: Ten Years 1913-1914 to 1923-1924, published by Board of Education of Wilson County;   interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

For sale, the following public schools, pt. 1.

In the fall of 1951, having opened several modern — or modernized — brick buildings across the county, the Wilson County Board of Education moved to auction off its old colored school houses, some of which had been built with Rosenwald funds. For several weeks, the Wilson Daily Times ran lengthy notices identifying the properties by name and metes and bounds. Schools set for sale included New Vester, Jones Hill, Sims, Farmer’s Mill, Howard’s, Brooks and Minshew’s Colored Schools in Old Fields, Taylors and Black Creek townships.

Wilson Daily Times, 23 October 1951.

Contributions to Mercy, part 3.

On 30 January 1947, the Wilson Daily Times published a lengthy list of contributors to the fundraising drive of the Mercy Hospital Women’s Auxiliary. The list, reproduced here in five parts, included many of black Wilson’s leading individuals, businesses and institutions.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 January 1947.

  • Vick ElementaryVick Saml Elementary School (c) 801 N Reid
  • Sallie Barbour — (Formerly the Colored Graded School.) Barbour Sallie School (c) Milton M Daniels prin 705 Stantonsburg
  • Darden High — (Formerly Wilson Colored High School.) Darden Chas H High School (c) Edw M Barnes prin N Carroll
  • Saint Alphonsus — St Alphonsus Catholic School 600 N Reid
  • Stantonsburg — a Rosenwald school.
  • Penders
  • Ruffin
  • Williamson High
  • Sims — a Rosenwald school.
  • New Vester — a Rosenwald school.
  • Healthy Plain
  • Yelverton — a Rosenwald school.
  • Stantonsburg [a duplicate entry?]
  • Pages
  • Howard
  • Williamson [a duplicate entry?]
  • Evans Dell [Evansdale] — a Rosenwald school.
  • Turners — a Rosenwald school.
  • Holden — a Rosenwald school.
  • Tune
  • Minshew
  • Barnes
  • Farmer
  • Barnes
  • Davis Gulf Station — Davis Gulf Station (W Ira Davis) 136 N Goldsboro
  • Corner Green and Goldsboro St.
  • Lucama School — a Rosenwald school.
  • Men’s Civic Club
  • Ladies Civic Club
  • A.K.A. Sorority — Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
  • The G.O.S. Club
  • Ace Heralds Club
  • Domestic Club
  • Merry Matrons Club
  • Modernetts Club
  • After Six Club
  • The Friends
  • Omega Psi Phi Fraternity
  • Quartets
  • Cedars of Lebanon Tent
  • Jewels of Julia Tent No. 159
  • Alpha Tent No. 483
  • Ark of the Covenant Temple No. 214 — Ark of the Covenant Temple No. 214, Daughter of Elks
  • Mt. Hebron Lodge — Mount Hebron Lodge N0. 42, Prince Hall Masons
  • Marshall Lodge No. 297 — Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, Marshall Lodge No. 297
  • Silver Star Chapter No. 26 — Order of Eastern Star, Silver Star Chapter No. 26

All annotations, some edited for clarity, are entries in Hill’s Wilson City Directory 1947-48.

Margaret Caldwell and the Adventist school.

This entry appears in the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory:

Who was Margaret Caldwell, and when did the Seventh Day Adventist Church begin operating a school?

The Seventh Day Adventists established a congregation in Wilson prior to 1920. The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson shows the church at an unnumbered address beside a house at 905 Atlantic Street. The school, presumably, occupied the same building.

In the 1930 city directory, Margaret E. Caldwell is listed as a teacher at the Seventh Day Adventist school, and her residence was at 1109 Atlantic (which was the home of Lehman and Nancy Woodard Barnes.) The church was listed at 907 Atlantic Avenue, with Napoleon Smith as pastor.

Caldwell did not remain long in Wilson. In August 1935, from Georgia, she contributed this article to the church’s Southern Tidings newsletter:

In its 8 December 1937 issue, Southern Tidings noted that Caldwell was heading a colored church school in Jacksonville, Florida.

Mount Hebron Seventh Day Adventist Church continues to operate a school at 700 South Pender Street. The Atlantic Street location is now home to Amazing Grace Church.

Photos courtesy of Google Maps.

604-606 East Vance Street.

Though located within the East Wilson Historic District, this 1970s-era apartment building is not counted as a contributing structure. Its site, however, is significant. Here, in a former tenement building owned by Samuel H. Vick, was located the Wilson Independent School, founded to educate the children who withdrew from the Colored Graded School after superintendent Charles L. Coon slapped teacher Mary Euell.

Vance Street at Pender Street, 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2018.

 

They really want to help along their own education.

BOTH WHITE AND COLORED PEOPLE ARE TAKING A LIVELY INTEREST IN THEIR SCHOOLS; NEARLY $2,000 RAISED

During October and November the following amounts have been raised and paid in to supplement the district funds of colored schools in Wilson County.

WILLIAMSON (Spring Hill)

The people have raised $300 to aid in building a new school house and to put cooking and sewing in their school.

ROCKY BRANCH (Spring Hill)

The people raised $200 in October to improve their school house and buy 20 new patent desks.

JONES HILL (Old Fields)

The people of this neighborhood raised $120 during October to improve their school house and buy 15 patent desks. They raised more than fifty dollars last spring for the same purpose.

LOVER’S LANE (Wilson)

This district has raised $50 to improve their school house.

EVANSDALE

This district has raised $400.62 for building a new house and buying desks.

POWELL’S (Cross Roads)

The people have raised $25 to get a good well and to put a pump in it.

LANE’S (Wilson)

This school has raised $75 with which to repair their school house and put in 15 new patent desks.

LUCAMA

The people have raised $100. They have installed 20 new patent desks and expect to add another school room later.

HOWARD’S (Taylor’s)

The people at Howard’s have raised $60. They ceiled their school house and have bought 15 new patent desks.

STANTONSBURG

This people of this district have raised $250. They have painted the school house, bought $100 worth of new patent desks, cleaned up the yard, put electric lights in the school house, and have secured a cook stove and a sewing machine.

SARATOGA

The people here have raised $7. They mean to increase this amount soon.

The above amounts total $1387.62. Other colored districts are now engaged in raising money to improve their school house. The results will be reported later on. The interest of the colored people in improving their school facilities has been greatly stimulated by the intelligent and untiring work of J.D. Reid, who has led in raising the amounts of money referred to above. For the first time in the history of the county the colored people have this fall made more voluntary contributions to their schools than the white people. Who can gain say the statement that the above amounts and the many others which will be reported later on show that our colored people really want to help along their own education?

I am sure it will pay handsomely to encourage this spirit of self-help on the part of our colored citizens. Those who show the interest in the welfare of their children indicated by the above sums of money deserve our thanks. I am certain all right thinking people appreciate the spirit which has prompted these donations.  CHARLES L. COON. January 1, 1917.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 January 1917.

——

[Note: the white people, at 12 schools, raised less than half as much — $537.35. — LYH]

 

No Negro blood allowed.

Though James Lamm emerged victorious in his fight to educate his children in white schools, others were not as fortunate.

JOHNSON -- WDT 9 16 1914 No Negro Blood Allowed

Wilson Daily Times, 16 September 1914.

The whole matter was decided in seven months.

At the February Term of Wilson County Superior Court in 1914, J.S. Johnson filed suit against the Board of Education of Wilson County. He resided in School District No. 6 of Spring Hill township, he asserted, and was a white man and the father of four school-age children — Arthur, about 13 years old, Fannie, about 11, Carr, about 9, and Andrew, about 7. Johnson had sent Arthur to the local white public school, where a teacher sent him home after two days. The Complaint does not specify the reason for his expulsion. (And notes that Johnson did not attempt to enroll the younger children.) Johnson’s complaint demanded that the children be allowed to attend the district’s white school.

The Board of Education filed an Answer setting forth one devastating affirmative defense: “… the defense alleges that the children of the plaintiff are not entitled under the statute of North Carolina to attend the school for the white race for that they have negro blood in their veins.”

Judge George W. Connor scheduled a hearing for 4 February 1914, which was postponed by mutual consent until the 10th. In the meantime, an additional fact was admitted (presumably by Johnson): “each of the said four minor children have a slight mixture of negro blood, the same being less in each child than one-sixteenth …” Nonetheless, the Superior Court ruled a victory for the Johnsons. Judge W.M. Bond reasoned thus: the state constitution provides that the legislature shall provide separate white and colored schools and also makes valid a marriage between a white man and a woman with less than one-eighth “admixture of colored blood.” In Bond’s opinion, the legislature overstepped when it attempted to bar from white schools the child of a valid marriage involving a white person.  “In other words, the status of the child is fixed by the Constitutional recognition of the marriage.”

The Board of Education appealed.

The Supreme Court overturned.

At the outset, Justice Walker stated plainly that J.S. Johnson was a white man of a “pure strain” of blood, and his unnamed wife had less than one-eighth Negro admixture. He then homed in on a key passage of the state constitution: “no child with negro blood in his veins, however remote the strain, shall attend a school for the white race; and no such child shall be considered a white child.” “Should it be conceded … that the marriage J.S. Johnson and the woman who is the mother of his children, is a valid one, it does not, by any means, settle the important and delicate question, [presented here, in Johnson’s favor.]” The law allowing marriage between a white person and one of remote African ancestry might legitimate their children, “but by no subtle alchemy known to the laboratory of logic can it be claimed to have extracted the negro element from the blood of such offspring and made it pure.” In fact, the Court reasoned, the law does not even declare marriage between a white person and one with “negro blood” within the prescribed limit to be valid, but only that marriage between a white person and one over the limit is void. In any case, certainly the legislature has the right to lay down an absolute — no children with any African ancestry at all, period — as a matter of public policy. (That policy being the “peace, harmony and welfare of the two races, according to each race equal privileges and advantages of education and mental and moral training with the other, but keeping them apart in the schoolroom, where, by reason of racial instincts and characteristics peculiar to each, unpleasant antagonism would arise, which would prove fatal to proper school regulation and discipline …”) The justice turned to the definition of “colored,” which was not explicitly delineated in the law. What is common usage?, he asks. Is “colored” considered to include Arthur Johnson? The term is never applied to red Indians, yellow Mongolians or brown Malays, colored as they may be. “To those of Negro blood alone is [the term] ever found to be suited” and d0es not depend upon “a shade of particular blackness ….” “Whether complexions appear distinctly black or approaching toward the fair by gradations of shading is all one.” After touching approvingly upon the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, the court reiterated the justness and wisdom of maintaining harmony through segregation. Judgment: reversed. The Johnson children were too black to go to a white school.

—–

No matter the views of school teachers and Supreme Court justices, the Johnsons’ community regarded them as white. In the 1920 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County, on the Keely Branch of the Smithfield and Red Hill Road, Arthur Johnson, 20, and his wife Bertha, 25, lived next to his parents and siblings — Josephus, 42, Minnie, 38, Fannie, 17, Carl, 15, Andrew, 12, Luther, 10, Clintard, 8, Ransom, 4, Flossie L., 2, and Leonard, 6 months. All were described as white, just as they had in the 1910 census.

Cephus Johnson, 22, son of Emma Johnson, married Minnie Taylor, 18, daughter of Silvira Taylor, at the residence of William Taylor on 25 January 1898. Both were described as white. Further, Minnie Etta Johnson of Springhill township, Wilson County, died 20 March 1937, as a white woman. J.S. Johnson was listed as her husband, and he informed the undertaker that Minnie had been born in Wilson County to Silvina Taylor and an unknown father. She was buried in a family cemetery by Joyner’s Funeral Home, a white-only business.

I have been unable to locate Silvina or Minnie Etta Taylor prior to 1898.

School Records (1914), Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives; Johnson v. Board of Education of Wilson County, 82 S.E. 832 (1914).

[UPDATE, 4 May 2018: in the 1860 census of Kirbys district, Wilson County: William Taylor, 22, mulatto, turpentine laborer, Sallie, 30, mulatto, day laborer, Jane, 23, white(?), day laborer, and Elizabeth, 10, Martha, 8, Cilvira, 5, and George Taylor, 1, all mulatto.  And in the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, Sylvia Hawley, 22, with children Paul, 3, and Minnie, 2.]