segregation

Lost ‘hoods, no. 2.

“The Atlantic Coastline Railroad tracks separated a black and a white world almost. And then there was Hines Street that wasn’t a connector in those days, but just a street. And there was Daniel Hill, where colored people lived. Then there were six houses between Lee and Gold Streets close to the city lot where black people lived. And Mercer Street in Five Points was all black. There were two ice companies near the railroad tracks and one area was called ‘Happy Hills’ where a few blacks lived. ‘Green Hill’ near the other ice company was a white neighborhood. Except for the above-mentioned, I don’t know of one black family that lived beyond the tracks. But I’m not saying there might not have been a few isolated cases. But Daniel Hill was where 99 percent of the black population lived anywhere on the west side of Wilson.” — Roy Taylor, My City, My Home (1991).

The 1930 edition of Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory reflects the full flower of segregated Wilson, with street after street east of the railroad occupied entirely by African-American households in patterns still easily recognized today. However, here and there clusters of houses appear at unfamiliar locations, either because the streets themselves have disappeared or because we have lost collective memory of these blocks as black neighborhoods.

Here are a few more:

  • Banks Alley

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I’ve been unable to locate this street.

  • West Lee Street

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An earlier post explored the small African-American settlement that coalesced around Lee and Pine Streets by the turn of the twentieth century. By 1930, this community had contracted to three small duplexes on Lee Street and half-a-dozen around the corner on Pine.

1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 202 Lee Street, paying $16/month rent, Willie Walter, 21, odd jobs laborer; wife Lulu, 15, servant; and roomer Novella Townsend, 25, laundress. Also [in the other half of the duplex], paying $16/month, cook Mamie Nord, 47, and her son Rufus J., 21, odd jobs laborer. At 204 Lee Street, paying $16/month: laundress Lizzie Larry, 49; Maude Lofty, 100; Lizzie’s daughter Anabel Larry, 28, and her sons John H., 12, and M.C., 13. Also, paying $16/month, Jasper Thigpen, 47, transfer truck driver; wife Dora, 33; and daughter Allie, 16.

  • North Pine Street

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 405 Pine Street, paying $10/month rent, Adele Matthews, 42, laundress, and Sarah McMullen, 23, laundress. Also [in the other half of the duplex], paying $10/month, odd jobs laborer David Sanders, 35, and wife Carry, 44, laundress. At 407 Pine Street, paying $12/month: servant Ella Pulley, 30. Also, paying $12/month, Egarber Barnes, 24, jail attendant, and wife Nanny, 25, laundress. At 409 Pine Street, paying $12/month, practical nurse Lizzie Bullock, 70; and children Ernest, 43, house painter, Obert, 33, hotel cook, and Gertrude, 35, laundress. Also, paying $12/month, truck gardener Charlie Moye, 29, and Edward Williams, 53, farm laborer. At 411 Pine Street, paying $10/month, greenhouse gardener Windsor Ellis, 41; wife Rachel, 34; and children dry goods store janitor Douglas, 20, John H., 10, and Elaine, 5; and lodger Fred Moye, 26, café cook.

  • South Street

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In 1930, the east and west ends of South Street were largely home to commercial and industrial outfits. The middle block, however, the 300s, housed in uncomfortably close quarters a stone cuttery, a couple of black families, the black Episcopal church, and a notorious whorehouse.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 304 East South Street, high school janitor Joseph Battle, 80; wife Gertrude, 42; and daughter Clara, 22; and five boarders, Earnest Heath, 24, cook; James Pettiford, 36, barber; Robert McNeal, 23, servant; Essie M. Anderson, 18, servant; and Viola McLean, 24, “sick.” At 306 East South: tobacco factory laborer William Barnes, 28; wife Loretta H., 23; and brother Charles Barnes, 22, servant. At 309 East South, widow Mattie H. Paul, no occupation.

Karl Fleming wrote of “veteran madams” Mallie Paul and Betty Powell, who operated Wilson’s “two twenty-dollar whorehouses,” “sexual emporia [that] had operated for at least thirty years [by the late 1940’s] … situated in similar two-story wood houses near each other just behind the tobacco warehouse district.” Though Fleming curled his lip, Roy Taylor fairly gushed about Paul: “One sight that got my attention, along with everyone else’s in the area when it occurred, was the march of Mallie Paul and her girls from their home on South Street, to women’s stores downtown to purchase clothing, cosmetics, and other necessities. And those women were beautiful! … There would be 10 or 12 of them walking leisurely toward the hotel from Douglas Street, then turning on Nash. …”

Most of Wilson’s tobacco warehouses succumbed to arson in the final decade and a half of the last century, and the 300 block of South Street is entirely industrial.

  • Taylor Street and Taylor’s Avenue

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 9.25.59 PMNeither exists today.

  • Wiggins Street

This entire street is gone, cleared for the extension of Hines Street over the railroad tracks (via Carl B. Renfro Bridge) to connect with Nash Street a few blocks west of highway 301 as roughly shown below.

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1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson.

Lost ‘hoods, no. 1.

The 1930 edition of Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory reflects the full flower of segregated Wilson, with street after street east of the railroad occupied entirely by African-American households in patterns still easily recognized today. However, here and there clusters of houses appear at unfamiliar locations, either because the streets themselves have disappeared or because we have lost collective memory of these blocks as black neighborhoods.

Here are a few:

  • New Grabneck

Was Grabneck the same as New Grabneck? I’m not sure of the location of either.

  • Pecan Road

Pecan Rd 1930

There is no Pecan Road in Wilson, though there is a Pecan Court off Kincaid Avenue in the approximate neighborhood of Pecan Road.

  • Oil Mill Alley

Oil Mill Alley, oft-cited in Daily Times‘ crime beat columns, lay in the shadow of the fertilizer plant at the edge of the large cotton oil mill complex on Stemmery Street. It no longer exists.

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  •   Parkers Alley

Parkers Alley, then known as Vicks Alley, is clearly shown in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson as a small lane bordered by five small single-family dwellings and two duplexes.

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To my amazement, Parkers Alley, now Parker Lane, still runs southeast from South Douglas Street, as shown in this Google Maps screenshot:

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  • Young’s Alley

Young’s Alley is gone, likely lost to the urban renewal projects that reshaped Daniel Hill in the 1960s. On the 1922 Sanborn map of Wilson, it is labeled Townsend Alley.

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Today, West Spruce no longer intersects South Bruton, and the former Young’s Alley — designated as a red diagonal below — cuts through the middle of a large block bounded by South Bruton, West Hines, Warren and Walnut Streets.

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Negroes take advantage. (Vick is an unusual negro.)

NY Times 12 7 1902 Vick

President William H. Harrison appointed Samuel H. Vick postmaster of Wilson in 1889. President William McKinley selected Vick again for the position in 1898. Despite the setback described above, the Lily Whites ultimately were successful in thwarting Vick’s reappointment in 1903.

William Hines shows up.

The 1926 Winoca, the yearbook of Wilson High School:

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This ad, placed by William Hines Barber Shop, is the sole evidence that there were any colored people at all in Wilson.

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[In the 1920s and early ’30s, Wilson’s two high schools were Wilson High School and Wilson Colored High School. By the end of the latter decade, they were Charles L. Coon High School — named for the teacher-slapping superintendent who spurred a school boycott by black parents — and Charles H. Darden High School.]

Yearbook courtesy of Wilson County Public Library.

Hangouts and hospitals.

In 1991, front desk clerk turned newspaper man Roy G. Taylor (1918-1995) self-published a memoir of his years working in Wilson. Though tinged with the casual racism of the time, My City, My Home offers fascinating glimpses of Wilson in the World War II era.

Here are excerpts:

“And Negroes congregated en masse on Barnes Street in the block in which P.L. Woodard Company is located. It wasn’t that they had to gather there, for they had the privilege of meeting at any place in town, just as did the whites. They liked that area, and too, it was in close proximity to several hot dog joints and other eating places. Few white people were seen in that block on Saturday, and few Negroes were seen on Nash Street. It was a matter of the two races choosing to be with their own kind.” p. 44. [Editorial note: This is revisionism of the worst stripe. Wilson in the 1940s was as rigidly segregated by law as any other Southern town. — LYH]

“In the mid-1940s there were three hospitals in Wilson — the Woodard-Herring, the Carolina General, and Mercy. … Mercy Hospital was for the citizens of color. And it didn’t boast many, if any, doctors in those days. Doctors from both hospitals treated Negroes and performed surgery on them, but the surgeons went to Mercy and took their own nurses, did the operations and left the patients in the care of black nurses and attendants.

“If there was an emergency at either hospital and surgery was required, it was performed  at the hospital, and the patient kept there until they came out of the anesthetic. Then they were transported back to Mercy Hospital.

“Mercy Hospital was established in 1913 and had a 40-bed capacity.” pp. 45-46.

——

[Sidenote: P.L. Woodard Company, founded as an agricultural supply store in 1898, is the oldest established business still operating in Wilson. It’s in the 100 block of Barnes Street between Goldsboro and Tarboro Streets.]

When they first arrive, they are wild.

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Wilson Daily Times,  25 August 1911.

Again, if you are interested in the wretched world of the Eastern North Carolina Insane Asylum, please read Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner’s Unspeakable, the story of Junius Wilson (1908-2001), a deaf African-American who spent 76 years there, including six in the criminal ward, though he had never been declared insane by a medical professional or found guilty of any criminal charge.

Hines Barber Shop.

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Walter Hines Barber Shop, 208 East Nash Street, circa early 1940s.

In the era of segregation, the barbering trade was dominated by African-American practitioners, who operated black- or white-only shops. The Hines brothers, Walter and William, owned prominent white-only establishments in Wilson’s downtown business district.

Here, left to right, the barbers are:

  • David Henry Coley (1895-1974) was born near Pikeville, Wayne County, to William Henry Coley and Luanna Vick Coley. He married (1) Eva Janet Speight in 1922 and (2) Ethel Mae Moye in 1944, both in Wilson. (Moye was a daughter of O.L.W. and Della Smith.)
  • Joe Knolly Zachary (1900-1984) was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, to Nathan and Penelope Zachary. He married Mildred Barnes, daughter of Sam and Ida Barnes, in Wilson in 1933. Rev. Charles T. Jones, whose brother Levi H. Jones was also a barber at Hines, performed the service, and Roderick Taylor (below) was a witness.
  • Edgar Hiram Diggs (1890-1970) was born near Eureka, Wayne County, to Sula Diggs. He married Mary Estella Grant in Statesville, Iredell County, North Carolina, in 1923.
  • Roderick Taylor (1883-1947) was born in Wilson to Henry Michael Taylor and Rachel Barnes (or Battle) Taylor. He married Mary John Pender in Wilson in 1906.
  • Sidney Sherwood Boatwright (1900-1977) was born in Mullins, Marion County, South Carolina, to Collins and Dinah Blaine Boatwright. He married Johnnie Lee Kornegay in 1928 in Goldsboro, Wayne County.

Original photograph in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

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).