The streets of East Wilson, part 3.

Many of East Wilson’s streets were laid out on parcels of land owned by African-Americans and still bear the names they chose.

  • Smith Street

Originally called Zion Alley, Smith Street was renamed about 1910, almost certainly in honor of Rev. Owen L.W. Smith, whose historic marker is visible behind the street sign.

  • Washington Street

When originally platted, this was Booker T. Washington Avenue. Washington, who had personal ties to Samuel H. Vick and O. Nestus Freeman, famously visited Wilson in 1910. 

  • Atlantic Street

Similarly, today’s Atlantic Street was originally Atlanta Avenue, most likely in honor of Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise speech of 1895.

  • Freeman Street

Freeman Street was named for the Julius Freeman family, who owned land in the area and whose most prominent member was Oliver Nestus Freeman.

Cemeteries, no. 29: Polly Watson cemetery.

This poorly maintained cemetery is just outside Wilson County in Wayne County, but many of the dozens buried here were Wilson County residents.

This photo taken in December 2019 depicts a recent rough cut, with sedge broom mowed to the ground and weedy trees chopped and stacked in brush piles. The marked graves include those below.

Polly Watson cemetery under a low winter sun.

  • Calvin Sutton

Father Calvin Sutton Born 1858 May 2 1922 Gone But Not Forgotten

On 23 December 1875, Calvin Sutton, 21, married Sylvania Simmons, 22, in Wayne County.

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Calvin Sutton, 25; wife Silvania, 26; children Hattie, 3, and twins Joel B. and Josephin, 1; mother Dolly, 55; brothers Dallow, 18, and Henry, 16; and sister Mary, 12.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Calvin Sutton, 45; wife Silvania, 49; and children George, 18, Walter, 16, Mary, 13, and Roscoe, 10.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Upper Black Creek Road, farmer Calvin Sutton, 54; wife Sylvania, 58; daughter Hattie Taylor, 33; and grandchildren Olivia, 9, Viola, 7, Lillie M., 5, Georgiana, 4, and Mittie, 2; plus adopted grandson Frank McNeal, 16.

Calvin Sutton died 3 May 1922 in Great Swamp township, Wayne County. Per his death certificate, he was 68 years old; was born in Wayne County to Doll Sutton and T. Dollie Ward; and was born in Polly Watson cemetery. George Sutton was informant.

  • Sylvania Sutton

Mother Sylvania Sutton Dec 5 1851 Died 1916 Gone But Not Forgotten

In the 1860 census of Indian Springs district, Wayne County: cooper George Simmons, 40; wife Axey J., 38; and children Riley B., 19, Simon, 15, Susan A., 17, Zach, 10, Silvania, 9, Bryant, 7, H.B., 5, and Gen. Washington, 2.

In the 1870 census of Brogden township, Wayne County: farmer Geo. Simmons, 52; wife Annie, 47; and children George, 24, shoemaking shoes, Zachariah, 22, Silavant, 20, Bryant C., 18, Hillary B., 16, and Washington, 12.

Sylvania Sutton died 4 August 1916 in Springhill township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was about 65 years old; was married; her father was George Simmons; and she was buried in Watson graveyard.

  • George Washington Sutton and Mary Artis Sutton

On 17 October 1900, George Sutton, 20, of Springhill township, married Mary Jane Artis, 19, of Wayne County, in Springhill township, Wilson County. L.H. Horton, Walter Sutton, and Mary Sutton were witnesses.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Upper Black Creek Road, farmer George W. Sutton, 29; wife Mary J., 26; and children Walter C., 8, Mamie M., 6; William Mc., 4; and Anderson M., 1.

In the 1920 census of Great Swamp township, Wayne County: farmer George Sutton, 39; wife Mary J., 36; and children Walter, 18, Mamie, 16, McKinley, 14, Anderson, 10, Richard, 6, and Jarvis, 3.

In the 1930 census of Great Swamp township, Wayne County: farmer George Sutton, 49; wife Mary J., 46; and children Mamie, 26, McKenly, 24, Anderson, 21, Richard, 16, Jarvis, 14, Bessie, 8, Chester, 4, and Georgia L., 1.

Mary Jane Sutton died 11 January 1936 in Lucama, Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born in 1884 in Wayne County to Bennie and Doomie Artis; was married to George Sutton; and was buried in Polly Watson cemetery.

On 28 November 1936, George Sutton, 55, of Wilson County, son of Calvin and Sylvania Sutton, married Fannie Morgan, 49, of Great Swamp township, Wayne County, daughter of John and Jane Roundtree, in Wayne County.

In the 1940 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer George Sutton, 58; wife Fannie, 52; children Mamie, 36, Richard, 27, Jarvis, 23, Bessie, 18, Chester, 14, and Georgia, 10; plus father-in-law John Roundtree, 83.

George Washington Sutton died 8 February 1968 in Fremont, Wayne County. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 October 1881; lived on Ward Street, Fremont; was a widower; and was born to Calvin Sutton and Sylvania Simmons. Informant was Mamie Lee Sutton. He was buried in Polly Watson cemetery.

  • James Revell

James Revell Born June 1, 1867 Died July 31 1926

James Revell, 22, of Springhill township, son of Sanders and Hannah Revell, married Clarkie Hinnant, 21, of Springhill township, daughter of Em. Boyette and Hannah Hinnant, on 9 May 1890. London Revell applied for the license, and Free Will Baptist minister Nash Hortonperformed the ceremony.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer James C. Revell, 30; wife Clarky, 28; and children Nancy, 9, James T., 7, Robert, 5,  and Violia, 2.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer James Revel, 40; wife Clorca, 39; and children Nancy, 18, James T., 16, Viola, 11, Lunn, 9, and Jefferson J., 7, and cousin Lessie Barnes, 12.

In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on a branch off the Fremont and Kenly Road, farmer James Revell, 52; wife Clarkie, 50; and children Viola, 20, London, 18, Jefferson, 16, and Manley, 5.

In the 1930 census of Beulah township, Johnston County: farmer James T. Revell, 37; mother Clarkey, 61; sisters Nancy, 39, and Viola, 32; brother Manley, 18; and nephews James L., 5, and William F. Sheard, 1.

James Revell died 16 August 1948 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 30 September 1909 in Johnston County to James Revell and Clarkie Hinniant; was married to Annie D. Revell; was a truck driver; and was buried in Polly Watson cemetery.

  • Dudley E. Smith

Dudley E. Smith Oct. 16 1855 Oct. 15 1947

Douglas Smith married Mittie Speight on 5 February 1885 in Wayne County, North Carolina.

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: day laborer Dudley Smith, 53; wife Mittie, 32; and children Polly, 13, Moses, 6, and Herbert, 4.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: on Main Street, brickyard laborer Dudley Smith, 54; wife Mittie, 33; and children London, 12, David, 7, and Minnie, 4.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Dudley Smith, 63; wife Mittie, 48; and children Minnie, 14, and Hastie, 7.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Mittie Smith, 51; son Thomas, 19; and father Dudley, 70. [Dudley Smith was Thomas Smith’s father, but Mittie Smith’s husband.]

In the 1940 census of Buck Swamp township, Wayne County: on Pikeville-Nahunta Road, Dudley Edward Smith, 85; wife Mittie, 65; and son Jack, 27; son-in-law Booker T. Sherard, 35, and daughter Minnie, 34; granddaughters Virginia, 15, and Viola Edward, 14; and grandson James Richard Edward, 12.

Dudley Smith died 3 September 1947 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 100 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to unknown parents; was married to Mittie Smith, age 73; was a farmer; and was buried in Polly Watson cemetery. Joe Wells was informant.

  • Joseph F. and Pollie S. Wells

Father Mother Wells Joseph F. Sept. 21, 1883 Pollie S. Aug. 6, 1886 June 14, 1964 Thy Will Be Done Oh Heavenly Father

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: day laborer Jason Wells, 51; wife Arrena, 30; and sons Joseph E., 16, Johnie H., 17, Shelly, 2, and Carlton, 9 months.

Joseph E. Wells, 21, of Cross Roads township, son of Jason Wells, married Polly Smith, 18, of Cross Roads, daughter of Dudley and Mittie Smith, on 31 October 1904 in Lucama. Isaac Rich applied for the license.

In the 1910 census of Lucama, Cross Roads township, Wilson County: on Main Street, Joseph Wells, 25; wife Polly, 20; children Joseph O., 6, and Clyde L., 3; and cousins Lissie, 18, and William A. Deans, 1.

In 1918, Joseph Elijah Wells registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 21 September 1883; lived in Lucama; farmed for W.H. Tomlinson; and his contact was Pollie Wells.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Joe Wells, 32; wife Pollie, 28; and Joe Jr., 7, Willie, 5, and Roy, 2.

In the 1930 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Joseph E. Wells, 47; wife Polly, 41; and son Mack, 20.

In the 1940 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Joe E. Wells, 56; wife Polly, 52; Lessie Best, 28; and farmhand James A. Kent, 10.

Joseph Elijah Wells died 12 October 1866 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 September 1896 in Wilson County to Jason and Lena Wells; was a widower; worked as a farm laborer; lived at 105 South Reid Street, Wilson; and was buried in Polly Watson cemetery. Joseph O. Wells Jr., Buffalo, New York, was informant.

  • Cherry Speight

Cherry Speight Born Oct. 24, 1845 Died Nov. 1, 1921 Rest with God

In the 1880 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County, North Carolina: Cherry Speight, 34, and children Manda, 15, Dempsy, 13, Annaky, 10, Nathan, 7, Francis, 5, and Louder, 1.

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Nathan Speight, 55; wife Cherry, 40; and children Sallie, 14, Charity, 13, and Dread, 6.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Nathan Speight, 65; wife Cherry, 63; and children Cherry D., 19, Dred, 17, and Mamy, 3.

Cherry Speight died 1 November 1921 in Cross Roads township, Wilson township. Per her death certificate, she was 75 years old; married to Nathan Speight; was born in Greene County to unknown parents; and informant was Frank Hall.

  • Junius Banks

Junius Banks July 31, 1884 Jan 24, 1933 I have not forgotten you.

All photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2019.

Ezekiel Smith house.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

“This house is thought to have been built for Ezekiel Smith between 1845 and 1850. Smith was born in 1812, and the land upon which this house was built probably came from his first wife Ann (surname unknown). According top the 1860 census, Ezekiel was a farmer with $4,000 worth of real property and $15,430 worth of personal property (probably mostly slaves). Smith died in 1866 and according to the division of the land among his heirs, his daughter Penelope, wife of Benjamin W. Taylor, received the house property. The Taylors deed the property to John W. Smith, Ezekiel’s son, in 1869 and the property has remained in the Smith family to this day. The house is handsomely situated in a grove of mature trees on high ground above Contentnea Creek. The main section of the house is two stories high with a one-story rear shed. A shed-roof porch with Doric columns runs the length of the front facade. Typical of many of the Greek Revival houses in Wilson County there are two front doors flanked by nine-over-six windows. Single-shoulder exterior end chimneys are located in the gable ends. A small detached kitchen with an engaged porch has been moved up flush with the rear of the house and is joined by the side porch. On the interior the hall-and-parlor plan and original woodwork have been retained throughout. There are two corresponding smaller rooms in the one-story shed. An enclosed stair ascends from one of the front rooms. The original double vertical-panel Greek Revival style doors are still used on the interior. and simple mid-nineteenth-century mantels are still in place. The window and doors have nicely molded three-part surrounds.”


In the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County, Ezekiel Smith, 53, and family are listed.

Per the 1860 slave schedule of Black Creek district, Wilson County, Ezekiel Smith reported owning 14 enslaved people — eight men and boys aged 1 to 33, and six women and girls aged 3 to 30.

Smith keeps a “contract.”

Screen Shot 2019-12-12 at 10.03.06 PM.png

Pittsburgh Courier, 13 December 1941.

  • Mable Smith
  • John Dallas McGirt — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Archie McGirt, 52, fertilizer plant laborer; wife Pearl, 47, tobacco factory laborer; son John, 23, fertilizer plant laborer; daughter Lillian Simms, 21, tobacco factory laborer; son Belton [McGirt], 19, delivery boy for grocery store; [grandson] Walter, 5; and son-in-law Allen Simms, 25, cement finisher for contractor. John Dallas McGirt registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 May 1916 in Maxton, N.C.; lived at 1013 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; his contacts as father Archie McGirt, same address; and he worked for Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, Wilson. McGirt died 7 March 1972.
  • Ada Barnes

408 North Reid Street.

The seventy-fourth 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 was 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.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this house is: “1934; 2 stories; Oscar Woodard house; locally unique house with front-facing entry gable suggesting vernacular Tudor Revival style; end chimney includes decorative glazed tile; contributing stuccoed-concrete block wall, frame garage, and three storage sheds; Woodard was a chauffeur and handyman.”

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 408 Reid, rented at $16/month, barber Oscar Williams, 31, wife Lula, 23, son William, 1, and sister-in-law Mena Jones, 20.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 408 Reid, rented for $14/month, taxi driver Essie Smith, 28, born in Red Springs, N.C.; wife Alice, 26, maid at Woodard-Herring; and daughter Aggie Nora, 2; plus Annie McCohan, 50, widow, also from Red Springs.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, two entries: Smith Essie (c; Alice; 1) taxi driver h 408(2) N Reid; and Woodard Oscar (c; Katie J) janitor Branch Banking & Tr Co h 408 (407) N Reid

Photo taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, 2016.

Like most negroes, she was full of superstition.

In 1891, Rev. Owen L.W. Smith‘s sister, Millie Smith Sutton, shot and killed his wife Lucy Smith at point-blank range, believing that Lucy had poisoned her son.


Wilson Advance, 9 July 1891.

On 5 November, the Advance reported that Smith had been found “mentally deranged” at the time she killed Smith and was committed to the insane asylum in Goldsboro.

The Wilson Mirror offered more on 11 November:

This tragedy had sequels.

Six years later, Sutton’s walking companion, Nettie Vick Jones, was stabbed to death on the street by her husband, A. Wilson Jones.

Ten years later, on 22 November 1901, the Times reported that Sutton had been released from the hospital and had returned to Wilson and, with Carrie Pettiford, had threatened the life of her brother’s newest wife, Adora Oden Smith. (In the 1900 census, Carrie was a boarder in the Smiths’ home.) Both were arrested.

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.

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.