In April 1943, Parker boarded a Wilson city bus on Saturday evening. He sat down in the white section and remained firmly ensconced when the driver asked him to move. The driver, James Batchelor, abandoned his route to drive the bus to the police station, where Parker was arrested and charged with violating North Carolina’s “passenger law,” which allowed for the designation of colored and white sections in commercial transport vehicles. Parker was adjudged guilty and given a thirty-day suspended sentence provided he remain “in good behavior.” Per the Daily Times, Parker was the first person to challenge Jim Crow laws in Wilson County in 25 years.
We see Maplewood, founded in 1876 (and since expanded northwest across Hill Street), laid out in an orderly grid. The circle of trees, since removed, at the center of the first eight sections marks the location of the city’s Confederate monument, which was unveiled in 1902. The gateway arch is southwest of the monument, at Woodard Street.
And here we see Vick Cemetery — plus Odd Fellows and Rountree — on a dirt road outside city limits and surrounded by piney woods and corn fields. Vick, founded in 1913, is at left and takes up about two-thirds of what looks like a single graveyard, but is in fact three. There is no internal grid, no clearly marked access paths, no uniform spacing of graves or family plots. Certainly no Spanish Revival gateways or monuments to heroic ancestors. Though the city had established Rest Haven Cemetery in 1933, Vick remained active until the early 1960s, and hundreds of people were buried there in the 1940s alone. As poorly as it compares to Maplewood, Vick Cemetery never looked this good again.
In March 1941, after repeated complaints by “a delegation of negroes,” Wilson County Commissioners were forced to supply two additional school buses to alleviate severe overcrowding on the buses ferrying children to and from the county’s two Black high schools, Elm City and Williamson. A state school commission inspection disclosed that the two buses serving Elm City were carrying 280 children a day on a route that wove across the top half of the county. (Children were picked up in dangerously overcrowded shifts, which resulted in forces tardiness and absences for many.)
The Lincoln Theatre, a theatre catering to African-American audiences, operated in the late 1920s and early 1930s at 417 East Nash Street. Greek immigrant George C. Woller was the theatre’s proprietor. Burch Williams’ Golden Follies were a Black act, but white audiences could buy tickets for a special midnight show at another Greek-owned establishment, the European Cafe.
As discussed here, the Atlantic Coast Line’s handsome passenger rail station was the point of departure for many African-Americans leaving Wilson during the Great Migration. Now an Amtrak stop, the station was restored and renovated in the late 1990s.
Here’s the station’s main waiting room today. Through a doorway, a sign marks a second room for baggage.
Into the 1960s, though, the baggage area was the train station’s “colored” waiting room.
Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, June and September 2021.
An article about the results of hearings for businesses charged with liquor law violations contains an interesting tidbit. Effie Boswell, a white woman who ran a roadhouse “just off the Wilson-Lucama Highway,” i.e. today’s U.S. Highway 301, was ordered to reduce her hours and pay a five hundred dollar bond to keep her place open pending her next hearing. The order also provided that “there was to be no more mixed dancing of white and negro persons at the place,” an allegation the judge considered was alone sufficient to shut the place down.
Wilson Daily Times, 12 April 1939.
An earlier article reported that Boswell’s place, described as a grocery store and filling station, had been closed initially, but the judge had amended his order after legions of upstanding citizens vouched for her good character. Nevertheless, by May 1939, Boswell had agreed to shut her doors permanently, and the State dropped its prosecution.
Effie Boswell — Per her death certificate, Effie Lamm Boswell was born 21 January 1889 in Wilson County to Edwin and Zillah Bass Boswell. She died 13 September 1970. She was the widow of Jesse Boswell.
In January 1917, the Daily Times published an explanation cum apology to its white readers. The night before, its social column had led with announcement of a dance given by the Carnation Club at the Odd Fellows Hall. However, the Club was for “colored people” and the hall was “below the railroad.” (In other words, it was the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows’ hall, not the whites-only hall belonging to the International Order of Odd Fellows Enterprise Lodge No. 44.) After making this clear, the paper claimed: “of course the notice should not have been placed in the social column for the reason that it was a paid notice and belongs in the advertising columns ….”
Wilson Daily Times, 5 January 1917.
I have not found anything further about the Carnation Club.
First, “jitney” — a vehicle providing inexpensive shared transportation over a set route. In this case, round-trip travel between Wilson and Goldsboro, some 25 miles south. Second, the jitney was integrated in 1920?
Now the story: an African-American passenger aboard the jitney “made himself obnoxious” — which could have been anything from refusing to yield to seat to whistling loudly to … anything, short of actual criminal behavior, which would have been dealt with swiftly. White people threatened to boycott the service if they had to share space with “colored” people any longer. The jitney proprietor quickly acceded to their wishes and barred Black passengers. An unnamed “worthy colored man” of Wilson requested that the Daily Times post a notice of the change to “save [African-Americans] from worry,” i.e. humiliation, inconvenience, and dangerous annoyance. He himself had been denied passage when he attempted to board for a return from Goldsboro. To reassure any who questioned his motives, perhaps, the anonymous man asserted that he was not complaining of the jitney company’s action, that, in fact, he thought it just under the circumstances.
[Note: Jim Crow, among other things, required a constant soft-shoe, relentless squaring, rapid-fire calculation, a perpetual mask. Consider this as you judge. — LYH]