segregation

Below the railroad.

In the earliest known map of Wilson, drawn in 1872, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad marked the town’s eastern border. Beyond lay the plank road, a toll house, and a smattering of buildings, but the territory was essentially farmland. By 1882, town limits had pushed east to Pender Street, and a tiny commercial district had grown up at Nash and Pettigrew Streets, convenient to railroad workers, customers and passengers. Although African-Americans owned substantial plots of land along Pender, Stantonsburg and Manchester Streets and the Plank Road [East Nash], the area also contained large farms owned by well-to-do whites. However, with the arrival in the 1890s of tobacco stemmeries and a cotton gin near Railroad Street, working-class neighborhoods such as Little Richmond sprang up. Black businesses and churches solidified their claim to Pender Street end of Nash, and Samuel H. Vick and others began to lay the grid of East Wilson’s streets.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 8.46.08 PM.png

Sanborn fire insurance map, 1885.

Newspapers offer glimpses of the early development of East Wilson. References to the area “below the railroad” — “across the tracks,” in more modern parlance — regularly appeared in the pages of Wilson’s several late nineteenth-century journals.

Burford & Hinnant operated a meat market below the railroad, most likely at Nash and Pettigrew. Their 1883 notice advertised their steaks to customers and solicited “fat cattle” from area growers.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 3.11.26 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 30 November 1883.

Perry Taylor’s grocery/saloon/pool hall stood at one corner of Nash and Pettigrew Streets. The combination was a popular one. This ad appeared in January 1884, but the reference to Christmas suggests that it had first run earlier. Taylor had bought out grocer James Batts and could “whet your whistle” 24 hours a day.

img-17.jpeg

Wilson Advance, 18 January 1884.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.39.46 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 4 April 1884.

Stilley & Wooten advertised tobacco products, including “Black Nancy fine-cut tobacco and “Sweet Violet” cigars. In the context of retailers, “below the railroad” in this period seems to have meant the vicinity of Nash and Pettigrew Streets.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 3.09.51 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 5 December 1884.

The 1888 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson shows the addition of rail lines and businesses to support them. Note, just below the “small lumber yard” at right, an area marked “Negro tenements.” The brick commercial buildings fronting Nash between the railroad and Pettigrew Street were known as the Fulcher block after prominent merchant L.H. Fulcher.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 8.52.49 PM.png

By the 1890s, newspapers — the Advance leading the way — were making hay with the contents of Wilson’s police blotter and criminal court dockets. Crimes alleged to have been committed by African-Americans received conspicuous, and, if at all possible, outlandish coverage.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.37.15 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 21, April 1892.

In January 1893, a fire devastated the “colored Odd Fellows Hall” on Nash Street. White grocer Golden D. Walston, who rented storage on the hall’s first floor, was fortunate to have insurance to cover his loss. (The order rebuilt its lodge later that year, erecting a three-story building that towered over the block for nearly one hundred years.)

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 3.06.29 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 5 January 1893.

E.G. Rose operated another liquor store-cum-grocery store below the railroad.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 3.04.07 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 11 May 1893.

Finch & Lamm was perhaps a general merchandise store.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 3.15.17 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 2 August 1894.

The last decade of the 1800s saw the break-up of the farms and large lots that made up much of the east side’s property holdings. When Zillah Edmundson died in 1896, her estate sold her six-room house on five acres at Vance and Pender Streets to a seller who immediately flipped it. Before long, the former Edmundson property had been subdivided for house lots, and East Wilson’s familiar grid began to take shape.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.36.04 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 8 August 1896.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.00.42 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 23 October 1896.

Here was a complicated adaptive reuse: Briggs & Flemming converted the former Baptist church building on West Green Street to use as a tobacco prize house. Silas Lucas bought the building, removed the steeple, and planned to move it below the railroad to the former location of the Tate house (which was where?) for further repurposing as a tenement house. (Presumably for African-American tenants. Wilson’s black workforce was booming with the influx of former farmhands seeking factory jobs.)

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 7.39.45 PM.png

Wilson Advance,  21 January 1897.

Across Wilson, buildings overwhelmingly were constructed of wood, and fires were an ever-present danger.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.43.06 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 23 April 1897.

This article covering the criminal docket verged into an opinion piece in 1897. By that time, “below the railroad” was understood to mean the town’s black residential area.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 3.18.28 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 11 November 1897.

In 1898, Benjamin M. Owens moved a wooden building on East Nash Street to make way for “two nice brick stores.”

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.34.37 PM.png

Wilson Advance, 7 July 1898.

In 1899, Mack D. Felton advertised his fish market (outfitted with one of Wilson’s earliest telephones.)

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 7.41.38 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 5 May 1899.

In 1899, with the financial assistance of local merchants, the town assigned police patrol at all hours below the railroad. Later that year, as winter approached city council appointed a committee to find a space in the area for police to warm themselves during the night shift.

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 8.53.03 PM.png

Wilson News, 2 March 1899.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.32.33 PM.png

Wilson News, 12 October 1899.

After the turn of the century, references to “below the railroad” became less common. However, in 1911, Charles H. Darden & Son employed the term in an ad for their bicycle repair shop. With more businesses now lining the streets across the tracks, a specific address was a useful bit of information.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 7.42.57 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 17 March 1911.

Another shooting. The 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists Benjamin H. Moore as the owner of a grocery on Nash Street near the city limits. Henry Stewart appears in the directory as a laborer living at 127 East Nash. Orlando Farmer was a porter at Wilson Grocery Company, no home address listed.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.38.41 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 8 August 1911.

Another fish market. Gillikin’s is listed in neither the 1908 nor 1912 city directories.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 3.16.27 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 22 December 1911.

Late in 1918, the city announced that it was moving the town lot from Pine Street to Barnes Street.

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 8.20.33 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 3 December 1918.

Is this collection of sheds the town lot? The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map shows it across from Farmer’s Cotton Oil Company and adjacent to Wilson Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.

It’s hard to imagine that a twenty-five-dollar theft warranted bloodhounds from Raleigh, but ….

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 5.02.17 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 25 February 1919.

Charlie Hines’ listing in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory. East Nash Street “extended” was the stretch beyond city limits, near Nestus Freeman’s home. In this period, the city’s southeastern edge crossed East Nash at Wainwright Avenue, at the approximate location of today’s Round House and Museum

This article announcing a celebration marking the opening of the black-owned Commercial Bank noted that tickets could be purchased at Shade’s Drugstore, below the railroad at 530 East Nash.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 April 1921.

Early in 1925, Samuel H. Vick appeared before Wilson’s board of aldermen to request funds for “the colored hospital” and streetlights from the railroad to the intersection of Nash and Pender Streets. (A “whiteway” is a brightly lighted street, especially in a city’s business or theatre district.) Vick pointed out the bad optics of one well-lit side and the other dark to train passengers. The mayor raised the usefulness of good lighting to police officers.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 February 1925.

Though decreasingly cited, the term remained in currency at mid-century. In 1952, after considerable public controversy and contention, Wilson’s board of commissioners approved appointment of a housing authority to determine the extent of the city’s need for federally funded public housing. As this snippet of an article attests, black citizens crowded the hearings, testifying to the intense post-war housing shortage “below the railroad.”

Wilson Daily Times, 6 December 1952.

Colored cafe.

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 11.24.25 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 31 May 1948.

Wrote Roy Taylor in My City, My Home: “And Negroes congregated en masse on Barnes Street in the block in which P.L. Woodard 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.”

Taylor’s take on the privileges and choices of legally sanctioned and enforced segregation is ridiculous, but this passage does offer context for the location of Gus Gliarmis’ cafe on the southern edge of downtown, far from Wilson’s African-American neighborhoods in the 1940s.

 

Cherry Hotel and the color line.

Wayne County native Caswell C. Henderson (1865-1927) migrated to New York City in the 1890s, but returned South to Wilson to visit his sister Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver. Their great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled the elaborate steps he took to carry out his daily ritual. First, Henderson would leave their house on Elba Street and walk west on Green Street. He crossed the railroad tracks and walked a few more blocks before turning left on a cross street, then left to walk east on Nash Street to the Hotel Cherry. He entered the hotel through its front doors — as any white guest would — bought a newspaper, shot the breeze for a while with other white guests and staff, then exited right to walk back up Nash Street. After a few blocks, he turned right, then right again on Green and crossed the tracks back into the African-American world.

——

“Uncle Caswell had been home, he’d been to Wilson.  He come down there visiting Mama …. He passed for white.  He would go and get a paper every morning down there to Cherry Hotel.  Walk down there for the exercise and get that paper.  And they all thought he was white.  He’d go in the hotel there and ask for a paper and come in there and talk to the people.  And he’d leave the hotel and walk the other direction, then walk back down Green Street and come on home.”

Cherry Hotel in an undated postcard issued by the Asheville Post Card Company.

Interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Snaps, no. 40: back of house at the Zam-Zam Club.

Raines & Cox shot this photograph of the kitchen staff of the Zam-Zam Club in 1946. Does anyone recognize any of the workers?

Many thanks to John Teel for sharing this image from the Raines & Cox collection of photographs at the North Carolina. This photograph is found among those shot at the Zam-Zam Club, a night club just north of Wilson city limits. The Zam-Zam, named for an Egyptian ship torpedoed by the Nazis in 1941, opened just after World War II to entertain eastern North Carolina’s white “movers and shakers.” The photo is catalogued as PhC_196_ZZ_8B_Staff.

Jim Crow exception.

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 7.42.47 PM.png

Carolina General, a private hospital, opened in 1920 at 103 North Pine Street. It closed in 1964 and, for the 44 years of its operation, was a segregated facility. How was it then, in 1943, that Banks Blow, who was African-American, died at Carolina General rather than Mercy Hospital? (Note that he lived only two block from Mercy Hospital, which was at 504 East Green.)

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 7.50.21 PM.png

Carolina General Hospital, circa 1964. Image courtesy of digitalnc.org.

Plans for future growth.

This map was produced just past the period of focus of Black Wide-Awake, but I post it for the crystal-clear view it gives of mid-century Wilson’s residential segregation patterns.  It appeared in the 14 April 1951 issue of the Wilson Daily Times under the heading “Map Shows Zoning Plans for Future Growth of the City of Wilson.”

Here’s the key:

The dot-and-dash of proposed zone RA 5 Residential not coincidentally was coterminous with the East Wilson and Daniel Hill neighborhoods. These neighborhoods were black, and the “plans for future growth” intended to keep them that way.

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 9.07.29 PM.png

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.

42091_343637-00607.jpg

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.

Buried in a white cemetery?

A bit of follow-up on the post about Tobe and Martha Smith, described as having been buried in the cemetery of the white Winstead family. The Winstead graveyard stands in the middle of the parking lot behind the defunct Wilson Mall, a tree-shaded green square protected by a chainlink fence. Within that fence is a low, wrought-iron, bow-and-picket fence that surrounds the Farmer and Winstead graves. Outside the wrought-iron fence are the graves of Joseph “Tobe” and Martha Wheeler Smith, as well as that of Jack Boss, whose identity is not at all clear, but may also have been African-American.

So, arguably in the Winstead cemetery, but certainly not of it.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2018.