snapshot

The life and times of Wilton M. Bethel, part 1.

Black Wide-Awake benefits from the largesse of so many, and J. Robert Boykin III is at the forefront of its benefactors. Recently, Bobby shared a box of photographs left in a sidewalk trash pile after the death of Wilton Maxwell Bethel in 1986. A native of the Bahamas, Bethel was a long-time salesman for North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, son-in-law of John H. Clark, and a devoted Episcopalian.

I pulled from the box several sleeves of loose sepia snapshots, several formal portraits mounted in cardboard folders, several large group photos, and a photo album. At first glance, no faces seemed familiar, but as I continue to sit with the box, it’s giving up its secrets. I’ll share them in groups, starting with the photo album.

Wilton M. Bethel’s photo album.

Five year-old Wilton M. Bethel arrived in the United States on 6 April 1911 with his mother Phillis E. Bethel, 33, described as a widowed washwoman; his eight year-old brother Alfred M. Bethel; and his four year-old niece Flosie L. Bethel. The family’s last residence was Eleuthera, Bahamas, and their “nationality” was British West Indies. Their nearest relative in their home country was Phillis Bethel’s sister Sarah J. Gardner, Cat Island, Bahamas. The Bethels’ final destination was listed as Eleuthera, which suggests a return trip home, but the family appears to have remained permanently in Miami, Florida. Phillis Bethel reported being in possession of ten U.S. dollars and stated that the family had not visited the country before. They were headed to visit her son George Bethel in Miami.

Detail of List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival.

In the 1920 census of Miami, Florida: at 630 2nd Street, Philis E. Bethel, 57; sons Arvis, 20, hotel bellman, Alfred, 18, aviation camp laborer, and Wilton, 15, jewelry store porter; and daughter Jessie, 19. All reported arriving in the U.S. in 1911 from the Bahamas and were “aliens.”

This photo broke the code. On the reverse:

It’s the young Wilton M. Bethel, “a pal indeed,” in January 1924, when he was 18. His mother ordered four copies, it appears.

Speaking of Phillis E. Bethel, this may be her image. The shotgun houses at rear, as the palm tree at right discloses, are not in Wilson. Rather, they are the type built by early Bahamian immigrants in Miami neighborhoods such as Coconut Grove.

Wilton Bethel at right at the beach with a man, a child, and a woman in a cloche, pearls, stockings, and high-heeled mary janes.

In 1924, Bethel arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, to enroll in the high school division of Saint Augustine’s College’s, which did not yet offer baccalaureate degrees. (Bethel was already 19 years old, but older students were not uncommon in an era in which childhood illness, family finances, and the scarcity of public high schools for Black students often delayed completion of secondary education.) He is listed in school catalogs from 1924-25 through 1928-29 as he progressed through four years of high school and a year in the College Department. His first two years, his hometown is listed as Miami; the latter three, as New York, N.Y.

Bethel’s scrapbook seems to span his late teens and early twenties, with most of the photos snapped at Saint Aug. The nearly one hundred pictures do not appear to be in chronological order, and none are labeled. Several, though, are stamped “Finished by Siddell Studio, Raleigh, N.C.,” and a handful bear inscriptions on the reverse. Bethel himself appears to have been the photographer for many.

Wilton Bethel sitting on a stump, holding a 3A Folding Pocket Kodak.

On the reverse: “With love Al.” Is this Bethel’s elder brother Alfred Bethel?

Bethel, top left, with pals, probably at Saint Augustine’s College in the late 1920s.

Unidentified woman.

Unidentified man skiing in tie and newsboy cap.

On the reverse: “Will arrives in Raleigh 5 40 Thurs after meet Train”

Around 1929, Bethel took a position as an insurance salesman with North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company and moved to Wilson, where he first lodged with the Noah Tate family.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bethel Wilton M (c) slsmn N C Mut Life Ins Co h 307 Pender.

Flora Clark Bethel.

On 18 June 1930, Wilton M. Bethel, 21 [sic], of Wilson, son of Ernest and Phillis Bethel, married Flora Ruth Clark, 21 [sic], of Wilson, daughter of John H. and Ida R. Clark, in Wilson. Protestant Episcopal minister Eugene Leon Henderson performed the ceremony at Saint Mark’s in the presence of the Clarks and Percy Young. [Actually, Wilton Bethel was 24. Flora Clark Bethel was about 7 years older than her husband. She had also attended Saint Augustine’s College, graduating in 1924, when it was a junior college.]

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John Clark, 76; wife Ida, 65; son-in-law Wilton Bethel, 33, insurance agent for N.C. Mutual, and daughter Flora, 30, teacher at Darden High School.

Wilton Maxwell Bethel registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 5 September 1906 in Miami, Florida; was an American citizen; lived at 706 East Nash Street, Wilson; his nearest relative was wife Flora C. Bethel; and he worked for N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company, Goldsboro, N.C.

Wilton M. Bethel died 14 January 1986 in Wilson.

Florida, Arriving and Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1898-1963, database on-line at http://www.ancestry.com.

Snaps, no. 89: John H. Lassiter and Ora Lassiter Covington.

John H. Lassiter and granddaughter Ora Lassiter, probably not long before his death in 1915.

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In the 1860 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Silas Lassiter, 38; wife Orpie, 34; children Sallie, 12, Mary, 11, James, 9, John, 7, Elizabeth, 5, Penina, 4, Hardy, 3, Silas, 1, and George, 2 months; and Delpha Simpson, 14.

In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: James Lassiter, 19, and John Lassiter, 18, farm laborers.

On 17 December 1874, John Lassiter, 21, married Lizzie Lunsford, 21, in Johnston County, North Carolina.

In the 1880 census of Pikeville township, Wayne County, North Carolina: John Lassiter, 28, farm hand.

On 26 October 1886, J.H. Lassiter, 34, of Wilson County, son of Silas and Orphy Lassiter, married Isabella Gear, 21, of Wilson County, in Wilson. Carline Vick, Martie Brooks, and John Vick were witnesses, and Baptist minister E.H. Ward performed the ceremony.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: drayman John Lassiter, 50; wife Isabella, 33, wash woman; and children and grandchildren Ida, 17, Henry G., 9, Marcellus, 7, Hardy, 5, and Ora, 7 months.

On 8 January 1908, John H. Lassiter, 50, of Wilson, son of S. and O. Lassiter, married Pattie D. Hunder, 29, of Richmond, Virginia, in Wilson. Joseph S. Jackson, A.M.E. Zion minister, performed the ceremony in the presence of Jim Watson, Harry Mercer and Rev. John Scarboro.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, John H. Lassiter, 57, and children and grandchildren Marcellious, 18, Hardie, 16, and Oeta, 14, all odd jobs laborers.

John Lassiter died 15 June 1915 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 63 years old; was born in Wilson County to Silas Lassiter and Ophie Simpson; and was married. Henry Lassiter was informant.

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Lassiter Ora (c) dom h 512 Stantonsburg rd

On 5 May 1918, Albert Covington, 23, of Wilson, son of Noah and Sarah Covington of Harnett County, married Ora Lassiter, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Henry and Lizzie Lassiter, in Wilson.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 101 East Street, furniture store truck driver Albert Covington, 23; wife Ora, 20; son John, 4 months; roomer Will McNeal, 22, oil mill laborer; and brother-in-law Marcellus Lassiter, 24, tobacco company laborer.

In the 1928 Baltimore, Maryland, city directory: Covington Albert (Ora) chauf h 505 Robert

Detail of photo courtesy of Bernard Patterson.

Snaps, no. 88: the Charles and Maggie Woodard Harris family.

Charles and Maggie Woodard Farmer and children, circa 1915. 

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In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Benj’n Woodard, 32, wife Harriet, 31, and children Edna, 13, Frederick, 9, and Venah, 6.

In the 1870 census of House Creek township, Wake County, N.C.: farm laborer William Harris, 30; wife Candrice, 30; and children Emeline, 13, Charles, 12, Willie, 6, and Medicus, 2.

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer, Benjamin Woodard, 42, wife Harriet, 39, children Frederick, 18, Maggie, 15, and Ruth, 10, plus a servant with neuralgia named Merrit Joyner, 23.

In the 1880 census of Houses Creek township, Wake County: farmer William Harris, 45; wife Candis, 37; and children Charles, 20, Willie, 14, Medicus, 11, Betty, 8, Nancy, 4, Mary and Martha, 5, and Patsy, 2.

Charles Harris, 23, married Maggie Woodard, 19, on 13 December 1882 at Benj. Woodard’s in Wilson County in the presence of Frank Woodard, Benj. Woodard, and Harriett Woodard.

In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Charles Harriss, 49; wife Maggie, 36; and children Ora, 16, Lee A., 14, Annie C., 11, Charlie, 9, Hattie, 6, Benjamin F., 4, and Carr H., 2.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Charles Harris, 50; wife Maggie, 44; and children Ora, 26, Charlie, 18, Hattie, 16, Benjamin F., 14, Hezekiah, 12, Mattie, 9, William H., 7, James C., 5, and Maggie, 1.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Charley Harris, 60; wife Maggie, 55; and children Ora, 36, Ben, 24, Ezecar, 21, Mattie, 18, William, 16, James, 14, and Maggie, 11.

Charlie Harris died 9 September 1922 in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 63 years old; was married to Maggie Harris; was a farmer who owned his farm; and was born in Franklin [sic], N.C., to William Harris. Informant was Leando Harris, R.F.D. 6, Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Hezicah Harris, 31; widowed mother Maggie Harris, 65; and daughters [i.e. Hezekiah’s sisters] Oda, 46, and Maggie, 21. Next door: Leander Harris, 44; wife Lucy, 48; and daughters Ada, 21, Rosa, 20, Dazie, 16, and Ida, 15.

Ora Harris died 10 February 1935 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 24 August 1883 in Wilson County to Charlie Harris of Franklin County and Maggie Woodard of Wilson County; was single; and farmed.

In the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Debro Bunch, 40; wife Mattie, 38; widowed mother-in-law Maggie Harris, 76; and children Charlie, 15, Athenia, 12, David, 10, Mattie Lee, 9, and Mary Bunch, 6.

Maggie Harris died 19 February 1945 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born in 1864 in Wilson County to Ben Woodard and Harriet Woodard; was the widow of Charlie Harris; and engaged in farming. She was buried in Harris cemetery [which had a Fremont address, but was probably in Black Creek township just inside the Wilson County line.] Debro Bunch was informant.

Cora Ann Elizabeth Woodard died 9 May 1945 in Black Creek township. Per her death certificate, she was born 19 March 1889 in Wilson County to Charlie Harris of Wake County and Maggie Woodard of Wilson County; worked in farming; was married to Steven Lee Woodard; and was buried in Harris cemetery, Black Creek.

Leander Harris died 22 February 1963 at his home at 1202 Wainwright Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 9 March 1886 in Wilson County to Charlie Harris and Maggie Woodard; was married to Lucy Harris; and worked as a laborer.

Mattie Harris Bunch died 15 January 1968 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 7 March 1902 to Charlie Harris and Maggie Woodard; was married to Debro Bunch; lived at 511 South Douglas Street, Wilson; and worked as a tobacco factory laborer.

William Henry Harris Sr. died 14 December 1970 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 22 February 1903 to Charlie Harris and Maggie Woodard and was married to Lucy L. Pate. Informant was Lucy Harris, Elm City.

Benjamin Franklin Harris died 21 August 1976 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 1 January 1896 to Charlie Harris and Maggie Woodard; was a widower; lived at 205 Manchester Street; worked as a laborer. Ernestine Harris, 205 Manchester, was informant.

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user Laraysha Shaw.

Snaps, no. 87: Iora Blanche Wilkins Jones Baines Lucas.

Iora Wilkins Jones Baines Lucas.

In the 1900 census of Old Field township, Wilson County: Francis Kates, 37, widow, farmer, and children Ora, 16, Jane, 14, Willie, 10, and Earnest, 6.

Iora Lucas, 15, of Old Fields township, daughter of Buck Wilkins and Frances Kates, married James E. Jones, 28, of Old Fields, son of Burt Jones and Susan Jones, on 2 June 1901 at Frances Kates’ in Old Fields. Thomas A. Jones was a witness.

On 19 February 1906, Frank Baines, 26, of Old Fields, son of Simon and D. Baines, married Iora Jones, 21, of Nash County, daughter of Frances Cates, at Frank Baines’ residence. Thomas A. Jones, John R. Jones, and Dorsey Powell were informants.

In the 1910 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Franklin Baines, 28; wife Ora, 24; and children James V., 8, Elroy, 4, Cornelia, 2, and Mary A. Baines, 7 months.

In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: widowed farmer Ora Bains, 33, and children Elroy, 12, Cornelia, 11, Mary E., 10, Rosevelt, 7, Donnie, 5, Armensie, 3, and Josephine, 2.

In the 1930 census of Jackson township, Nash County: widow Ora Lucas, 45, and children Donnie, 16, Armensie, 14, Josephine, 12, Junius, 8, and Monzora, 6. [The latter two by her third husband, June Lucas.]

Iora Lucas migrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user Jerry Smith.

Snaps, no. 85: Hattie Henderson Ricks.

On the 111th anniversary of her birth, remembering my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks. This photo was snapped circa 1931 in East Wilson. I have not been able to identify the house. The same day, the photographer captured images of her oldest sons, Lucian and Jesse Henderson, her great-aunt Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, and a friend, Sarah Lyles.

Photo in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Studio shots, no. 175: Oscar and Viola Brown Best.

Viola Brown Best (1900-1963).

Oscar Best (1890-1976).

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In the 1900 census of Falling Creek township, Lenoir County, N.C.: farmer John W. Best, 33; wife Nancey, 29; and children Florence, 10, Oscar, 9, and Lithey, 7.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: lumber mill laborer John W. Best, 43; wife Nannie, 43, laundress; and children Oscar, 19, lumber mill laborer, and Litha, 17, servant.

On 14 August 1910, Oscar Best, 21, of Cross Roads township, son of John W. and Nan Best, married Daisy Barnes, 20, of Cross Roads, daughter of Joe Barnes. Missionary Baptist minister William Baker performed the ceremony in the present of Will Bullock, James Coleman and [Rosa] Hinnant.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Oscar Best, 29; wife Daisy, 25; and children Seretha, 9, Mildred, 8, Hattie, 6, James, 4, Virginia, 2, and Nannie, 2 months.

Daisy Best died 9 May 1922 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 32 years old; was born in Wilson County to Joseph Barnes and Lillie Strickland; was married to Oscar Best; and was a tenant farmer for Fred Washington. Informant was Nan Best.

On 29 December 1925, Oscar Best, 33, son of John W. and Nan Best, married Viola Brown, 23, daughter of Neal and Patsy Brown, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister Wyatt Studiway performed the service in the presence of Samuel Austin, Lucius Studaway, and Nellie Thompson.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Harpers Road, farmer Oscar Best, 40; wife Viola, 28; and children Mildred, 17, Hattie, 14, Virginia, 12, James, 13, Andrew, 13, Mamie, 11, Jessie, 11, Oscar, 4, Corine, 3, and Joe Lizzie, 2.

In the 1940 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Oscar Best, 50; wife Viola, 40; and children Buddie, 20, Oscar, 14, Corina, 12, Joe E., 12, Dollie Mae, 11, John, 10, J.D., 9, Herbert Lee, 4, Horace, 6, and William, 1.

In 1940, Buddy Best registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born October 1919 in Laurinburg, N.C.; lived at Route 3, Wilson; his contact was father Oscar Best; and he worked for W. Herbert Ellis.

In 1943, Oscar Junior Best registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 15 August 1925 in Wilson County; lived at Route 3, Saratoga, Wilson County; and his contact and employer was Oscar Best.

Corine B. Woodard died 30 January 1953 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 12 October 1928 in Wilson County to Oscar Best; was a laborer; was married; and lived at 1211 Wainwright Avenue. Informant was Walter Woodard.

James Best died 7 September 1958 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 December 1919 in Wilson County to Oscar and Daisy Best; was married to Rosa Best; lived in Portsmouth, Virginia; and worked as a metalsmith helper.

Viola Best died 27 June 1963 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 May 1900 in Laurinburg, N.C. to Neal Brown and Patsy Pickett, was married to Oscar Best, and was a laborer.

Mildred Best Williams died 27 October 1967 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 February 1912 on Wilson County to Oscar Best and Nannie Best; lived at 206 South Reid Street; and was married to Alvester Williams.

Oscar Best died 25 July 1976 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 December 1887 to John Best and Nannie Sutton; was married; and worked as a farmer. J.D. Best was informant.

Hattie Best Jones died 19 May 1980 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 January 1915 in Nash County to Oscar Best and Dazie Best; was a widower; and loved at 1110 Queen Street.

Oscar Best Jr. died 6 August 1886 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 August 1925 to Oscar Best Sr. and Viola Brown; was married to Mildred Jones Best; and worked as a carpenter for a container corporation.

Buddy Best died 6 April 1991 in Goldsboro, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 October 1917 in Wilson to Oscar Best and Viola Brown.

Roland Best died 8 February 1993 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 30 March 1921 to Oscar Best and Viola Brown; was a widower; and worked as a heavy equipment operator.

Photos courtesy of Ancestry.com user Portia Black.

Snaps, no. 83: John W. High.

John W. High Sr.

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In the 1880 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Peter High, 50; wife Mary, 50; sons Grant, 10, and John W., 9; and hireling William Young, 12.

On 1 October 1891, John High, 19, of Taylors township, son of Peter and Mary High, married Trecy Rowe, 17, of Taylors township, daughter of Samuel and Louisa Rowe, at Ellises Chapel, Taylors township. Noah Battle applied for the license, and Freewill Baptist minister Crockett Best performed the ceremony in the presence of Hilliard Ellis, Joshua Bunn, and William Ray.

In the 1900 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer John High, 26; wife Treasy, 23; and Walter, 8, and Sam, 6.

On 8 September 1907, John High, 37, of Wilson married Flora Lucas, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of Elbert and Rosa Lucas, at Ace Thompson’s house in Selma, Johnston County, N.C. Edward Battle of Wilson was a witness.

In the 1910 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer John High, 40; wife Florine, 19, farm laborer; and Lena M., 2.

In the 1930 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer John W. High, 55; wife Flore R., 34; and children Lizzie, 14, John Jr., 16, Rennie, 12, Perlia, 10, Minnie, 8, Gldyes, 7, Bessie M., 5, and Earnest T., 1; daughter Julia Wood, 20, and granddaughter Rasey M. Wood, 8 months.

In the 1940 census of Washington, D.C., John High Sr., 67, widower, is listed as a lodger in the household of James E. and Pauline Tyler.

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user gia707.

Snaps, no. 82: Artis cousins.

Beulah Artis Exum Best (1909-1972), Helen Carter Greenfield (1916-1994), Margaret Artis Thompson (1910-1981), circa late 1930s.

Beulah and Margaret Artis were daughters of William M. and Etta Diggs Artis, and Helen was the granddaughter of their father’s sister Louvicey Artis Aldridge. Though William M. Artis and family lived primarily just south of Eureka in Wayne County, he owned property a few miles away in Stantonsburg, Wilson County.

Beulah Artis and her first husband, Leslie “Jake” Exum, lived in Wilson from the time they were married in December 1929 until he was killed in July 1934.

Helen Carter Greenfield‘s paternal great-uncle, Jesse A. Jacobs, lived in Wilson, and she and her family lived briefly on Green and Vance Streets in the early 1920s.

Copy of original photo in the collection of the late Helen C. Greenfield.