Richard A.G. Foster made the most of his brief time as pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church, as chronicled here and here. In the letter to the editor below, he called to task Wilson County Commissioners for failing to heed the pleas of African-American residents for adequate schooling, including serious repairs for the Stantonsburg Street School (also known as Sallie Barbour School).
This chapter, offering a wistful comment on the destruction of a vestige of Jim Crow, is excerpted from William B. Clark Jr.’s Some Reflections On and Trivia of Wilson’s Tobacco Auction Warehouses 1890-1980, self-published in 1991:
A LESS THAN OBJECTIVE COMMENTARY?
Whenever local history buffs engage in a discussion involving the BANNER WAREHOUSE’s original segment (built in 1899), surely they concur that this particular construction deserves to be recognized as a Wilson landmark. The presently on-going demolition, therefore, cannot help but elicit at least some cry of protest and disappointment.
Inside the structure’s Kenan and South Tarboro Streets corner area formerly stood a two-unit, public drinking fountain (previously mentioned on page 47), its water cooled by passage through segments of half-inch galvanized pipe arranged in convolution and laid upon the floor of a deep box-like container kept filled with large blocks of ice delivered, when needed, to the warehouse by a local ice company. Vestigial evidence of this archaic fixture is found in the continued, but flaking-off, presence of two words (black in-color-of-paint, capitalized lettering) on the white-washed Kenan Street wall an eye level’s height above the warehouse sales floor; viz., WHITE to the viewer’s right and COLORED on the left … guilt-evoking “artifacts” from a by-gone era of southern culture and history when even water fountains in places so publically wide open — at least during the marketing season — as tobacco auction warehouses were rigidly maintained on a separate-but-equal basis.
Social reformers need not despair; for whatever taboos Civil Rights Legislation has failed to erase inside a commercial building long ago closed to the general public will be vanquished in their entirety once this demolition project has been completed.
If the dismantling of BANNER WAREHOUSE for a moment in brevity causes something of another era to resurface and remind the observer of a prior generation’s quasi-innocent wrongdoing, then the crumbling of these aged walls serves-up a meaning and purpose which reaches far beyond the mere physical activities taking place on this plot of urban soil.
It is more than simply traditions which are being laid to a dusty rest; for “transgressions” are being obliterated in reality even if not expunged from the pages of all our history books; and if nostalgia abounds in the loss of a tobacco auction warehouse long the epitome of this community’s central warehouse district, yet must there rise spontaneously a wholesome candor that applauds the demolition of walls and their lettered, gasping reminders of a “way that was.”
This aerial view of Banner Warehouse, taken perhaps in the 1930s, shows the building’s location at Tarboro and Kenan Streets, at the edge of Wilson’s sprawling central tobacco warehouse district. Photo courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III’s Historic Wilson in Vintage Postcards (2003).