Buried in a white cemetery.

Tracing Their Wilson Roots: Towering Tree Marks African-American Couple’s Grave in White Cemetery

By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Daily Times, 1 October 2017.

Paul Sherrod and his nephew spent a day last month cleaning brush off their ancestors’ graves.

“Every time I come here to Wilson I come here to visit this cemetery because it is so special to me,” Sherrod said as he walked up to the resting place for his grandparents, Joseph Tobe Smith, 1871-1956, and Martha Elizabeth Wheeler Smith, 1875-1932.

A massive pine tree stands over the top of the gravesite, which is in the Winstead family cemetery, also referred to as the Parkwood Cemetery, surrounded by the parking lot of the now-closed Wilson Mall.

“I remember as a kid this being farmland,” Sherrod said. “My grandfather was a sharecropper on land owned by the Winstead family. My grandfather was allowed to plant this tallest tree here, we believe, sometime between 1918 and 1922, and he was promised that he could be buried there right along with my grandmother. So proud of this, to know that my grandfather planted that tree.”

Sherrod is not sure who it was in the Winstead family who offered and then kept that promise, but he suspects it might have been Charles Winstead Sr.

“They owned land from here all the way down to Raleigh Road. I had two uncles who sharecropped almost all the way down to the parkway,” Sherrod said.

It is remarkable to Sherrod that early in the 20th century, a black couple would be permitted to have a final resting place in a white cemetery.

“That is really truly amazing because here we are in 1929, in the middle of the Depression and some oppression, you have this act of compassion and courage from this Winstead family to allow this to happen,” Sherrod said. “Looking back on it, I think they must have had, what you call it now, some flack about that, but they were courageous enough to see it through because they made a promise to my grandfather and they held to their promise. And moving forward to the mall being here, as the developers were putting it together, I understand that the Winstead family made a stipulation when they sold them the land that the graves and the bodies will not be exhumed, so here they are. I don’t know which family members it was, but they, again, had the same courage as their forefathers. So that’s remarkable, in 1929, having an African-American buried in a white cemetery.”

Sherrod never knew his grandmother, as she died before Sherrod was born.

“I only know about my grandfather,” Sherrod said. “I remember so much about him because he was actually both a father and a grandfather to me because my father died when I was quite young. He died in 1945. Right after that I started to live with my grandfather, and he mentored me in so, so many ways. He would take me with him as he would take his wagon and his mule and cultivate gardens. He was a farmer, but he was not farming anymore, so he was cultivating people’s gardens, and I learned so much from him about agriculture, how to grow things. I had my own garden. He would help me take care of the tomatoes and the okra. He was a wonderful person.”

They lived together from about 1944 to 1950 when Sherrod was 13 to 18 years old.

“It was a pleasure living with him because I learned so much,” Sherrod said. “He was so patient with me. I understand now, that he could see that I was different. I loved the books, and he wanted to give me the opportunity to do my homework, so he had to always make sure there was enough kerosene in the lamp. A little step up from Lincoln and the candle, but a similar situation.”

Sherrod laughed.

“The house was about a mile and half from here, east of here in New Grab Neck,” Sherrod said. “Later it was called Jefferson Street, and now it’s called Forest Hills. They have changed the name a couple of times.”

Sherrod, who is now 84, said growing up in Wilson in the 1940s wasn’t as bad as it might have seemed that it could have been.

“Our neighborhood was partially integrated. About a quarter of a mile up the street from where we lived, there was a white family. As a matter of fact, my grandfather had lived in that very house back in the early ’40s,” Sherrod said. “The only real signs of segregation were more the public places. We had a colored and white drinking fountain in front of the courthouse. Now it is a memorial to veterans, I believe. You could not sit in a restaurant. You had to go back to the back to get your food handed out the back door to you. And when buses came along, we had to ride in the back of the bus. So those were outward signs of the segregation, but there was never really any brutality. You weren’t afraid to walk around. You knew your place. You understood that. It wasn’t really as bad as it could have been because I have heard some real horror stories from other cities around the country later on. Not then. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

The pine tree that Joseph Smith planted is at least 4 feet thick and the most prominent tree in the graveyard. There is a crack up its middle, perhaps made by a lightning strike many years ago.

When his grandfather died in 1956, Sherrod was overseas serving in the Air Force and could not attend the funeral.

“Before, they just had a simple marker,” Sherrod said.

Family members placed a granite marker at the site several years ago, and Sherrod recently purchased an additional stone marker to note the couple’s birth and death dates.

When Sherrod and his nephew, Bradley Sherrod of Wilson, spent the day clearing the brush around the gravesite, they left one little sapling.

“We toyed with the idea of taking it out, but my nephew and I decided no. Let that grow and see what happens. It’s obviously from the seed of this tree, so we left that one alone, that little baby pine, and over the years I’ll see what happens,” Sherrod said. “I hope the Lord allows me to be on this Earth long enough to see it be a pretty big tree. It’s growing nicely.”

Sherrod, who now resides in California, recently held a large family reunion on the site of the Sherrod family homeplace near Stantonsburg. He had spent the whole summer preparing for the event.

That is from his father’s side of the family. The Smiths are from his mother’s side of the family in Wilson.

“I firmly believe that if more people explored the roots from which they came, there would probably be a better world,” Sherrod said. “There is so much rich history on all sides on all ethnic groups, and if we had that history, we would have an opportunity to have a better understanding. It would be wonderful if people would do that on a large scale.”


In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, farmer James Smith, 34, born in Virginia; wife Adline, 30; and children John, 14, Joseph, 9, Windsor, 12, Kate, 6, Allace, 5, and Julious, 2.

On 19 October 1892, Joe Smith, 21, of Wilson, son of Jim and Adeline Smith, married Martha Wheeler, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Amy Wheeler, at Amy Wheeler’s home. Free Will Baptist minister Crockett Bess performed the ceremony in the presence of Noah Wood, John Wheeler and Jno. Artis.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 29, farmer; wife Martha, 25; and children Addie, 5, Fenner, 4, and Mark, 2, and widowed mother Amma, 55.

In the 1910 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 39; wife Martha, 36; and children Addie, 15, Fenner, 13, Mark, 11, James, 9, Lillie, 7, Mary F., 5, and Martha, 15 months.

In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Joseph Smith, 49; wife Martha, 41; and children Mark, 21, Lillie, 19, Mary Ford, 13, Martha, 10, Margaret Earls, 4 months, and Josie Brow, newborn.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Tobe Smith, 59, farmer; wife Martha, 54; and children Frenner, 35, farm laborer, Mark G., 32, farm laborer, James, 30, schoolhouse janitor, Josephine, 14, and Beulah, 11.

Martha Smith died 21 March 1932 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born born in Nash County to Dick Wheeler and Amy Rice; was married to Tobe Smith; and worked as a tenant farmer.

Joseph Tobe Smith died 20 January 1956 at his home at 315 Jefferson Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 20 August 1884 in Wilson County to James Smith and Adline Darden; was a retired farmer; resided at 315 Jefferson Street; and was buried in Winstead cemetery. Mrs. Martha Sherrod, 315 Jefferson, was informant.

Aerial view of Winstead cemetery behind Wilson (former Parkwood) Mall, Wilson. Courtesy Google Maps.

Studio shots, no. 30: Mildred Pearl Lassiter Sherrod.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 709 Lipscomb, truck gardener Jesse C. Lassiter, 41, a widower; and children Jesse C. Jr., 15, James D., 13, Ernest D., 12, Annie B., 10, Mildred P., 8, Ruby J., 7, Lesie D., 6, Harvey G., 5, and Wade, 2.

Solomon Sherrod Jr., 21, of Edgecombe County, son of Solomon and Josephine Sherrod, married Mildred Lassiter, 18, of Edgecombe County, daughter of Jesse and Lessie Lassiter, on 18 February 1939 in Tarboro. Witnesses included Solomon’s brother Leonard Sherrod.

In 1942, Solomon Shearard Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 3 June 1918 in Fremont, N.C.; resided at 802 East Viola, Wilson; his contact person was Mrs. Mildred Pearl Shearard; and worked for Export Tobacco Company, Mercer Street, Wilson.

Mildred Shearard died 3 February 1943 at North Carolina Sanatorium, Quewhiffle, Hoke County. Per her death certificate, she was born 17 April 1922 in Wilson County to Jessie Lassiter and Lessie Dew; was married to Solmon Shearard; resided at 802 East Viola, Wilson; and was buried in Rountree cemetery.

Photograph courtesy of A. Sherrod.

The house that Jack built.

STANTONSBURG — The house that Jack Sherrod built is a hidden history.

Built as a wood structure in 1886, the entire building has been encapsulated into brick and has had multiple additions over the years, but Leonard Paul Sherrod Jr., great-grandson of the builder, knows what’s underneath.

Sherrod and other family members are preparing for a grand reunion on Sept. 1-3 to be held at the Sherrod homestead.

“We are refurnishing, repairing, remodeling when necessary and getting it ready to be used as a venue for the upcoming September reunion,” said Sherrod, who was born in Wilson in 1933 and graduated from Charles H. Darden High School in 1952

A picnic and a banquet are planned at the event, which Sherrod has titled “Exploring Our Family History.”

“There is so much history,” Sherrod said. “Not only is it family history, it is African-American history, and in some small portion, American history.”

That history begins with Jack Sherrod and his wife, Cassie. Both had been slaves, yet 20 years afterward had managed to build a home on what is now Watery Branch Church Road south of Stantonsburg near the confluence of Wilson, Greene and Wayne counties.

“He had been a slave until the end of the war,” Sherrod said. “As a freed man, he acquired this land and built a home on it. He could not read, nor write, but he could build things. He had this God-given talent for building things. It is not written, but certainly said, that he built a lot of structures in this area. He was a builder. It took him two years to build this house.”

Last week, Sherrod stood in the graveyard behind Watery Branch Free Will Baptist Church. The graves of Jack and Cassie Sherrod are right there, with those of other deceased family members, about 200 yards away from and within sight of the homestead.

“To be able to stand there in your yard and see where your great-grandparents are buried, that raises a lot of emotions within me,” Sherrod said. The house that he built and I can see his grave from the front yard.”

Restoring the homestead is a passion for Sherrod.

“I think the Lord put this in my spirit to be a part of preserving this property because it has been in the family for so long and it is such a rich history that I could not stand by and let it go,” he said.

From “Hidden History: Family Celebrates Home of Patriarch, a Former Slave,” by Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Times, 16 July 2017.


Jack Sherard, son of Denis Barnes and Tempy Davis, and Cassy Exum received a marriage license in Wayne County in 1868.

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Jack Sherard, 26, wife Cassey, 25, and daughter Fanny, 4.

In the 1880 census of Nahunta, Wayne County: farmer Jack Sherod, 37; wife Cassey, 28; and children Fanny, 12, William, 9, Ida, 7, Marcy, 2, John, 5, and Benny, 11 months.

In the 1900 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer Jack Sherard, 56; wife Cassy; and children Ida, 27, Benjamin, 25, Dalas, 20, Exum, 16, Arthur, 15, and Cora, 11.

Ida Sherrod, 32, and Alonzo Wilson, 35, received a marriage license in Wayne County on 18 April 1906.

On 17 April 1907, Cora Sherrod, 18, of Wayne County, daughter of Jack Sherrod, married Columbus Ward, 26, of Greene County, son of Pearson and Cherry Ward. Oscar Hagans applied for the license, and Methodist minister Robert E. Hunt performed the ceremony in Stantonsburg, Wilson County, in the presence of Mrs. R.E. Hunt, B.J. Thompson, and Mrs. B.J. Thompson.

On 13 January 1909, Arthur D. Sherard, 22, son of Jack and Cassie Sherard, married Effie Diggs, 18, daughter of Margaret Diggs at Frances Diggs‘ house in Nahunta township, Wayne County. Jack Sherard applied for the license, and witnesses to the ceremony were W.M. Artis, Henry Pender and Richard Artis, all of Eureka, Nahunta township.

In the 1910 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer Jack Sherard, 66; wife Kassey, 55; and grandchildren Thomas, 8, and Zelma Sherard, 5.

Dallas Alonzo Sherrod, 28, son of Jack and Carrie Sherrod, married Mary Ann Taylor, 20, daughter of Nelson and Delia Taylor, on 21 December 1911 in Petersburg, Virginia.

Dallas A. Sherrod

Dallas A. Sherrod.

Jack Sherrod scrawled an X at the bottom of his last will and testament on 30 June 1914. By its terms, his wife Cassie was to receive a life estate in all his property and, after her death, daughters Cora Ward and Fannie Powell (wife of George Powell) would receive dollars each, with the remainder of his property equally divided among his children John Sherard, Exum Sherard, Willie Sherard, Ben Sherard, Arthur Sherard, Ida Wilson and Dallas Sherard.

Jack Sherrod died 18 May 1915 in Nahunta township, Wayne County. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 August 1842 to Dennis Barnes and Tempie Barnes; was married; and worked as a farmer. Arthur Sherrod was informant.

Ida B. Wilson died 21 October 1918 in Nahunta, Wayne County, of influenza. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Alonza Wilson; was born about 1873 in Wayne County to Jack Sherrod and Cassie Exum. Informant was Ben Sherrod of Fremont, North Carolina.

In the 1920 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: on Stantonsburg Road, Cassey Sherard, 69; and grandchildren Zelma, 15, Joseph, 12, and Ralph L., 12.

On 30 November 1926, Cora Sherrod, 35, of Stantonsburg, daughter of Jack and Cassie Sherrod, married Robert C. Powell, 58, of Stantonsburg, son of Lawson and Lanie Powell, in Stantonsburg, Wilson County. A.M.E. Zion minister E.D. Lewis performed the ceremony in the presence of Albert A. Cooke of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Mattie Winstead of Stantonsburg.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Delaware Line (on street), Cassie Sherrod, 75, widow; granddaughters Zelma, 25, Doris, 7, and Jeraldine, 6; and daughter Cora Powell, 30, teacher. Sherrod owned the house, valued at $600.

Dallas Sherrod died 26 December 1934 in Petersburg, Dinwiddie County, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was 50 years old; was born in Stantonsburg, North Carolina, to Jack and Cassie Sherrod; was married to Mary Sherrod; and resided at 1111 Stainback Street. He was buried in East View cemetery.

Cassie Sherrod died 26 June 1940 at 624 East Green Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Jack Sherrod; was born in Wayne County to Lewis Hall and Cassie Kelley. Informant was Cora S. Powell, 612 East Green.

Cassie Sherod’s will entered probate on 1 July 1940. Dated 25 November 1932(?), per its terms sons Exum, Arthur, Dallas and Ben Sherod were to receive $1 each; wearing clothes to daughter Fannie Sherod Powell; $1 each to John Sherod’s children Bee and Joe; $1 each to John Sherod’s children Velma and Tom; and a house and lot in Stantonsburg, a piano and all other personal property to Raphael Ward.

Arthur Sherrod died 28 March 1955 in Nahunta township, Wayne County. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 March 1886 in Wayne County to Jack Sherrod and Catherine Exum and was married to Effie Sherrod.

Cora Sherrod Barnes died 12 June 1972 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 13 December 1888 to Jack and Cassie Sherrod; resided at 500 East Green Street; was a retired teacher. Informant was Ralph Sherrod, 327 West 30th Street, New York City.

Photograph of D. Sherrod courtesy of Ancestry user garey45sos1.

Josephine Artis Sherrod.

j sherrod

Josephine Artis Sherrod (1887-1988).

Josephine Artis Sherrod, a sister of Columbus E. Artis and June S. Artis, was matriarch of a tight-knit family centered on two blocks of East Viola Street described within the family as Sherrod Village.


In the 1900 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County:  Adam Artice, 68, a widowed farmer,  with children Louetta, 18, Robert, 16, Columbus, 14, Josephfene, 13, Jun S., 10, Lillie B., 9, Henry B., 6, Annie, 3, Walter, 26, and William Artis, 24. [Josephine’s mother was Amanda Aldridge Artis, who died in 1899.]

On 16 April 1907, Solomon Sherard, 28, son of Dempsey and Harriett Sherard, married Josephine Artis, 20, daughter of Adam and Amanda Artis at A.T. Artis’ in Nahunta township, Wayne County. J.H.W. Sherard of Pikeville, J.B. Best of Saulston, and Louis Sherard of Pikeville were witnesses.

In the 1910 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: Solomon Sherard with wife Josephene and children Allena and Jarva, plus cousin Walter Smith.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: on Elm City Road, farmer Solomon Sherrod, 41; wife Josephine, 32; and children Alena, 11, Jarvis, 10; Doretta, 8; Dock, 6; B. Minnie, 4; and Solomon, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Harpers Road, farmer Soloman Sheard, 50; wife Josephine, 42; and children Javis, 20, Doretta, 18, Linton O., 16, Minnie B., 13, Solomon, 11, Flora, 3, Bulah, 3, and Elmore, 1.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 802 Viola Street, Solomon Shearard, 60; wife Josephine, 52; and children Flora, 15, Beulah, 13, Elmer, 11, and Solomon, 21; plus “son’s wife” Mildred, 18, and grandson Ernest E., 8 months.

Solomon Shearard died 6 February 1948. Per his death certificate, he resided at 802 East Viola Street; was married to Josephine Shearard; and was born 21 October 1878 in Wayne County, to Dempsy Shearard and Harriett Hill, both of Wayne County.  Informant was Josephine Shearard, 802 East Viola.


 Wilson Daily Times, 11 April 1988.

1109 Queen Street.

The second in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

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1105-1113 Queen Street, 1930 Sanborn Map of Wilson, North Carolina.

R.C. Henderson: Let’s go back to when I remember when we moved to 1109 Queen Street. When I was about six years old. And we had what they call a shotgun house. Three rooms. Front room, middle room, and a kitchen. And to get to the kitchen, you had to go out on the back porch and come through. Now there were some people who had a door cut in between the middle room and the kitchen, so you wouldn’t have to go out on the back porch. But they said if you cut that door somebody in your family would die. [Laughs.] So we wouldn’t cut the door. All of us slept in the middle room. And we had a laundry heater in the middle. We had to make fires every night. It was what you’d call a space heater. Laundry heater. You put, well, we used coal. Some people were afraid to use coal because it would get so hot it would turn red. And, you know, sparks would fly and sometimes things would catch on fire. And that’s what we used to heat the iron to iron clothes, too. You’d put ‘em on top of that stove. But we had to make fires every morning. Had to get up. And we had linoleum in there, so the floor’d be cold. So when you walk around, you had to walk on your heels. And then, you know, we had that little slop jar up under the big bed. See, that house didn’t have a bathroom. So the bathroom was outside. It sat in between the two houses. That was for 1109 and the one right beside it. It was probably 1107, and that’s where the Davises, Miss Alliner [Alliner Sherrod Davis, daughter of Solomon and Josephine Artis Sherrod], she lived right there at 1107. And then we had the water outside, and it was at her house. So there were two houses that had one toilet and one spigot. 

C.C. Powell owned the houses, and I don’t know how much we were paying, but we weren’t paying a whole lot. Behind the outhouse, we had built up like a little shed, like. Used to keep pigeons in there. Everybody had pigeons. The ones that go off – we’d see in the movies the ones that take little messages and all. So everybody would have pigeons. And then we had a little, I guess it was a garden. We had a victory garden in the back. I had to take a hoe and a shovel and dig up the backyard. Turn it over. Then Mama would go out there and make some rows and plant tomatoes and stringbeans and squash and stuff like that, and we used that to eat. And the icebox, it was a little small icebox, and you’d take the ice and put it in the top, and then there was a little hole so when the ice’d melt, it would run down. You’d have to have a little water container underneath. You’d have to empty that everyday. If not, the water would run out on the floor, out on the back porch. And it would always be so clear and just cold. We had to go to the ice house out there on Herring Avenue. And I would ride the bicycle out there to get it.

Young Rederick 01

R.C. Henderson, age about 10, sitting outside a house on Queen Street. (It is likely 1107 as the door on 1109 was on the opposite side of the porch. Otherwise, the houses were identical.)

1109 Queen

Early 1980s.

Hattie Henderson Ricks: That’s there on Queen Street. The endway house. There was grass where was in between the two houses, ours and Ellick Obey. The Joneses, Celie Mae, lived on the same side. Jesse Knight was in the house on this side. On that side there, a fellow that worked out to the hospital, his wife he got married and lived in there. She didn’t stay in there no time, and then somebody else moved in there. Martha Winley’s house was first, then mine was second, then Ellick Obey was next. Then Sis and her mama and the two children was next. Two, three, four houses. They call her Sis. I don’t know what her name is. But she was grown and had two children. And her brother was crippled. She was working, and her mama stayed home and looked after the children. They didn’t have a father there.

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Excerpt from 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County, showing households at 1109, 1107, 1105, 1111 and 1113 Queen Street.

1105-1113 Queen Street were demolished in the mid-1980s. A duplex apartment was erected in their place:


Across the street, however, are two remnants of the old 1100 block of Queen Street.



Adapted from interviews of R.C. Henderson and Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; color photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Dixie Trotters seek to play.

Pitt_Courier_12_3_1938_Dixie_Trotters (1)

Pittsburgh Courier, 3 December 1938.

Jack Benjamin Sherrod was born in Speed, Edgecombe County, North Carolina, in 1912. Less than two years after this brief article posted, he registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. He listed his mother as Lucy E. Sherrod of 807 E. Nash and his place of employment as the Cherry Hotel.