segregation

Lane Street Project: “There is no question … the city owns it.”

Thirty-one years ago this month, the City of Wilson acknowledged what a quick deed search could have told anyone — it owns Vick cemetery.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 February 1990.

The Cemetery Commission’s reaction, as reported here, was a long list of negatives focused on the expense of restoration and upkeep of Vick cemetery, with no comment recorded about duties owed (and neglected for decades) to the dead. 

(N.B.: The Cemetery Commission is not involved in the present upkeep of Vick Cemetery or the narrow strip at the front of Odd Fellows Cemetery. They are mowed, sprayed, etc., by the Public Works Department.)

“Just don’t have a whole lot of dealings”: The Talk in 1940’s Wilson.

Excerpt from my interview with my father, Rederick C. Henderson, who was born in Wilson in 1934:

My father with Darden classmates Helen Williams, Lillie Dixon and Eloise Parker in 1948-49.

——

What do you remember about race relations?  Or what were you told about dealing with white people?

Well. See, we never had a lot, the only white people that I saw had little stores in the black community. And you know, they said, you can’t, just don’t have a whole lot of dealings with white folks. And racism … things I saw about racism. I was, I remember I was maybe 12, 13, and I went downtown walking over to the stadium somewhere. I was walking over to one of my friend’s house stayed on Mercer Street, and they had these prisoners of war. Germans. And they had this “P.W.” on the back of their thing, and they were cleaning up ‘round the factory. And they had some MPs or something with them. And they were sitting down on a bench outside resting. One of them little regular benches. A wood bench that they used to advertise or something. And so I stopped – they had gone in – and I stopped, and I was sitting down, and a man came out, and he spit on my leg.

German or an American?

Naw, this was a white American. He said, “You can’t sit on that bench.” I don’t know if he called me a boy or whatever, but had that tobacco spit on me.  And he –

But the Germans were sitting on the bench.  Prisoners of war in this country.

Right. And I couldn’t sit on the bench.

Then I remember they had an incident at the theater where something had happened, and this girl [Marie Everett] slapped a white girl. And they took her and put her in jail. Took her and put her in prison. She went off and stayed. She must have stayed ‘bout a year. And Mama and all them said, “Don’t y’all go downtown.” So far as I got to go was to the [Ritz] theater and then come back home.  

And all over there behind Vick School [Academy, Crowell and Mayo Streets] was all white back in there. And they used to throw stuff at us on the [playground] — we’d be throwing rocks back and forth, back and forth. But the police didn’t ever come over there. Now the police would be downtown on Saturday afternoon ‘cause see in Wilson, like Friday and Saturday was when we’d go to the movie. And I’d go to the movies on Saturday and stay all day long. Stay in there ‘til it’d be almost dark. That’s how you’d know it was time to go home.  Come down there, walk down there, say, “Can I look outside and see…?” Lady’d just: “Yeah.” Walk down there; look out there; see. If it’s still light, you’d come back up and watch the movie again. Sit upstairs in the movie. And so they had all the white police. They would walk from uptown, I guess, down to Pender Street. And on the sidewalk. And black folk had to get out the way. I mean, they’d walk right up, push you right out in the street. Or whatever. And just walk right on down to the end and turn around and come back and all.

All rights reserved.

“Facts” about Wilson.

In 1934, Wilson Chamber of Commerce published this promotional guide extolling the virtues of Wilson County. 

The introduction to the town sets the perspective.

Wilson had a population of more than 12,000 in 1934, of whom about 40% were African-American. They were of little interest  to the Chamber of Commerce, however, and were not among the target audience for Facts About Wilson.

“The Mercy Hospital for colored people only was reorganized as a community basis in 1928. It is controlled by a board of trustees. All physicians of the town and county, both white and colored, are eligible for membership on the staff. This hospital is used by Wilson, Pitt, and Green[e]Counties, as it is the only hospital in three counties for colored people.”

There’s a lot to digest in the pages above, but it all boils down to the values in the columns for “white” and “colored.” For example, the ten white school buildings were valued at $800,131, and the 23 colored schools (more because so many were one- or two-rooms) at $48,592.

“The negroes of Wilson maintain separate churches, and the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian congregations are especially large, active and well organized. Six smaller negro churches here also serve this race in Wilson.”

The list of white organizations ran one full page into a second. Only two Black groups — the Odd Fellows and Masons — made the brochure’s cut, however.

Hat tip to Brooke Bissette Farmer for sharing this find, which is digitized here and held in the Rare Book Collection Archives of East Carolina University’s Joyner Library.

Charles S. Darden’s groundbreaking legal work against segregation.

In 2018, the City of Los Angeles nominated the Cordary Family Residence and Pacific Ready-Cut Cottage at 1828 South Gramercy Place, Los Angeles, California, for historic-cultural monument designation. 

Page 13 of the nomination form contains this arresting statement: “Until recently the case of Benjamin Jones and Fanny Guatier, Plaintiffs v. Berlin Realty Company, a corporation, Defendant, has been an obscure footnote to history. But observers are now not just rediscovering the case itself, but also reminding us that the legal arguments against racial covenants used by Plaintiffs’ attorney Charles S. Darden in this case — and adopted by the Los Angeles Superior Court judge in ruling favorably for the Plaintiffs — preceded and foresaw what became the notable winning argument of later precedent-setting “Sugar Hill” case that took place in Los Angeles in 1945.” That case, involving actors Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers‘ fight against racially restrictive covenants, is credited with being the first to cite the 14th Amendment as justification for overturning such covenants. That recognition, however, more properly belongs to Jones and Gautier — and the arguing attorney, Wilson’s own Charles S. Darden — which has been overlooked because it did not rise to California’s Court of Appeals. Read more about Darden’s innovative arguments below.

Attention, colored people!

Wilson Daily Times, 19 September 1944.

Though earlier in the century many of the largest developers of East Wilson real estate were Black, such as Samuel H. Vick and brothers Walter and William Hines, by World War II realtors and landlords increasingly operated from the other side of the tracks. Here, Cecil B. Lamm appealed to African-American buyers to invest their wartime earnings in narrow lots on Atlantic and Washington Streets.

Elm City schools consolidated.

Frederick Douglass High School in Elm City was the first high school for African-American students outside the city of Wilson. In 1949, the one- and two-room schools administered by the Elm City Schools were consolidated with Douglass (formerly called Elm City Colored School. When additional classroom space was completed, children who had attended Mitchell, Pender, and Turner Schools were bussed into Elm City to attend Douglass. (Like Darden, though called “high school,” Douglass had both elementary and secondary divisions.)


Wilson Daily Times, 29 December 1949.

 

Iredell County Chronicles, no. 5.

Margaret Colvert Allen, seated far right, third row, circa 1915.

Greensboro Daily News, 10 March 1916.

Margaret C. Allen, second from right, second row from top. Her sister Launie Mae Colvert Jones, at left, first row of middle section, circa 1916. Both photos, I believe depict students of Statesville’s Colored Free School. The second photo may show the school itself shortly before it burned or may depict one of the other buildings in which the school met before a replacement was built in 1921.

Photos in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Barton College’s oral history project.

The introduction to Barton College’s Crossing the Tracks: An Oral History of East and West Wilson:

“Starting in the spring of 2013 and concluding in the fall of 2014, Barton College students began interviewing Wilson residents about social, cultural, political, and economic relations between residents of East and West Wilson, and how these relations have changed over the past sixty to seventy years. 

“In spite of the many significant achievements of the modern Civil Rights Movement, our nation, state, and community bear the scars and legacies of a deeply troubled racial history that continues to impact our relationships. While we might like to forget or gloss over the painful part of that history, its effect lingers, and denying it will not make it go away.  As the writer James Baldwin once said, ‘The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.’  One of the goals of Crossing the Tracks, then, is to bring these unconscious forces of history into our consciousness, so that we might begin to confront the historical effects of white supremacy and begin the process of healing.

“A history of segregation, built on a foundation of white supremacy, created a separate but unequal society.  And the traditional historical narrative is at best an incomplete history, written and preserved by those who hold political, social, and economic power.  It too often omits the strong voices and tremendous contributions of those on the margins of power.  Part of the mission of the Freeman Round House Museum is to fill this gap in the historical record by preserving and publicizing the contributions of African American Wilsonians to education, medicine, the arts, criminal justice, and entertainment.  Crossing the Tracks supports this mission.  It is an accessible collection of first-person accounts of life in Wilson that students, scholars, and the general public can use to study and write about this remarkable, underrepresented history.  In many ways, it builds on the work of Dr. Charles W. McKinney, Jr., whose book, Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina, documents decades of committed struggle by East Wilson residents to lay the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement.”

The project includes videotaped interviews with 22 residents of East Wilson. The recollections of many, including Samuel Lathan, Roderick Taylor Jr., and Mattie Bynum Jones, date to the 1930s and ’40s, the latter decades covered by the blog. Barton College partnered with the Freeman Roundhouse and Museum to obtain these invaluable stories and all are available online.

Boxcar.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 8 June 1913.

Joe Saunders was arrested for shooting Charles Coley at a house at 114 Wiggins Street. Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home (later known as Mercy) did not open until 1914. Other hospitals in town would not admit African-Americans, so Coley was carried to a boxcar to die or recuperate.