Late local historian Hugh B. Johnston Jr.’s file contain this note, apparently copied from volumes of city commissioners or boards of aldermen meetings that cannot now be located:
“Dec. 17, 1888 Oakview Cemetery. Gray Farmer, [illegible] Robinson, and Washington Sugg were appt. a Committee to look for a burial ground for the colored people.”
This is the earliest reference to a public African-American cemetery in Wilson and appears to presage the establishment of Oakdale (also called Oaklawn, Oakland, Oakwood, and Oakview) Cemetery in the area of present-day Cemetery Street south to the former Elvie Street School. Sugg (or Suggs) owned extensive property in the area, and the deed for his first land purchase refers to a preexisting “graveyard lot” near his property. This lot may have been developed into a city cemetery.
However, an 1895 Wilson Daily Times article mentions that county commissioners had begun to search for a “suitable burying ground for the colored people.” What had happened (or not happened) in the previous seven years?
Know all men by these presents that for and Consideration of the sum of one Thousand Dollars to me in hand paid the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged doth grant bargain sold and conveyed and doth hereby bargain and sell and by these presents convey unto Jerry Washington his heirs administrators and assigns all that certain piece or parcel of land situate in the State of North Carolina & County of Wilson, near the Town of Wilson and bounded as follows Beginning at a stake on the Barefoot roads and street leading from the African Church to said Road thence with said Road to Jerry Washingtons corner thence with said Washington line Four hundred and twenty feet to a stake thence Two hundred and ten Feet to R.W. Taylors line Thence with said Taylors line to the line of the W&W R.R. Line thence with said R.R. line to Allen Tyson Corner thence with said Tysons line to Washington Suggs Corner thence with said Suggs line to the street Thence with said street to the beginning said to Contain Ten acres Be the same more or less to have and to hold the same forever and I do hereby warrant and defend the title to my whole Interest in said piece or parcel fo land to the said Jerry Washington his heirs and assigns against the claims of any and all persons whatsoever In testimony whereof I hereunto set my hand and seal this the 11th day of Oct 1872 W.M. Gay, Mary Gay
This deed, the second filed in Wilson County by Samuel H. Vick‘s future father-in-law, Jerry Washington, is notable for its reference to “the African Church.” Though Barefoot Road has not been definitely identified the reference to the church and to the Wilmington & Weldon Rail Road suggest that this parcel was located near modern Hines and Pender Streets.
Deed book 23, page 486, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.
Know all men by these presents that for and in consideration of the Sum of Sixty dollars to me in hand paid the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged that I Virginia C Edwards of the State and county aforesaid hath bargained sold and conveyed and doth hereby bargain sell and convey unto Washington Sugg of the county and State aforesaid to him and his heirs and assigns a certain piece or parcel of land situate in the County of Wilson State of North Carolina and bounded as follows to wit beginning at a stake Allen Tyson corner thence with Thomas Hadley line two hundred & ten feet to a stake Calvin Blounts corner thence with said Calvin Blounts line two hundred & fifty two feet to a Stake corner grave yard Lot thence with said grave yard lot two hundred and ten feet to a stake on street leading to the African church thence with said street two hundred and fifty two feet to the beginning to have and to hold to him the said Washington Sugg his heirs and assigns in fee simple forever and I Virginia C Edwards for myself my heirs and assigns do hereby warrant and defend the title of the aforesaid land unto the said Washington Sugg his hairs and assigns free from the lawful claim of any and all persons whatsoever. In testimony whereof I hereunto set my hand and seal this 23rd day of March AD 1870 /s/ V.C. Edwards
Witness M.J. Edwards
Received and registered 22 August 1870 …
This deed is remarkable not only as the first filed by Washington Suggs, just five years after his emancipation in Greene County, but also for its reference to the “graveyard lot” and “the African church.”
The graveyard lot appears to be the cemetery that preceded Oakdale, cemetery. This deed establishes that the older cemetery was already in existence in 1870..
The African church appears to be the church later known as Jackson Chapel (and later still, after a merger, as Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church), which was located on Barnes Street just off Pender Street (then Stantonsburg Street), a block south of Nash Street. If so, this deed pushes back the date of the building of the congregation’s first edifice.
Sugg’s new neighbor, Calvin Blount, was also African-American and formerly enslaved. His will, drafted in 1909, contains this provision — “Fourth: To my beloved sons Wright Blount and Tillman Blount, whom I have not heard from in many years — I do hereby give and bequeath to them to share and share alike my other lot of land on the edge of the Town of Wilson, State and County aforesaid, adjoining the lands of G.W. Sugg, Cater Sugg, and the Colored Cemetery, containing about one acre.”
Deed book 4, page 135, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.
In the winter of 1960-’61, the Wilson Housing Authority published a series of notices in the Wilson Daily Times concerning its intent to exercise eminent domain over two parcels of land at Suggs and Moore Streets for Project 20-2A. (Hence, the term “the projects.) The family who owned the land were the heirs of George Washington Suggs, who had died in 1914. (Specifically, they were heirs of his daughters Serena Suggs Moore, Edmonia Suggs Perrington, and Julia Suggs Bryant.)
The development, still occupied, remains the property of the Housing Authority.
George Washington Suggs, commonly known to his white friends as “Uncle Washington” died at his home here in the city yesterday at six o’clock. He was one of the oldest, and most highly respected of our colored citizens. By trade he was a brickmason and plasterer and most of the older houses of the city still bear testimony of his superior skill and honest workmanship. To secure his services was a guarantee of a good job. He was honest, industrious and of sober and law-abiding. He enjoyed the confidence and respect of both races. He took care of his money and wisely invested it in the education of his children and property. As a result he reared and educated a family of two sons and four daughters. One of his sons, D.C. Suggs is at the head of the A. and M. College of Georgia and has been for more than twenty years, while his other son, J.T. Suggs, is a practicing physician in Florence, Ala. All of his daughters are married. Two live here in Wilson, one, Lorena [Serena] is the wife of Dr. E. Moore of Livingstone College, Salisbury, the other lives in Chicago.
His funeral takes place from the Trinity A.M.E.Zion church on Sunday afternoon at two o’clock. His many friends, white and colored are cordially invited.
The funeral will be preached by Rev. Wm. Coward, pastor of the church and Elder P.D. Gold who has known the deceased nearly all of his life, and was familiar with his good qualities as a man and a citizen will deliver a short address.
— Wilson Times, 21 February 1914.
George Washington Sugg.
Higher tributes could scarcely be paid any man white or colored than were those paid Uncle George Washington Sugg, a colored man of this city who moving here when the town was an infant has left a shining example of what industry and thrift, generous instincts and motives progressiveness and correct living and a life devoted to the uplift of his people, would bring in the way of heartfelt eulogies at his departure.
The man in the north and west who does not understand the kindly relations existing between the white man and the black man in the south, would probably have been surprised to have seen representative white and colored citizens mingling their tears together with their tributes at the bier of Uncle George Washington Sugg whose memory we all delight to honor, for his life in his sphere of activity has been all that could be asked of any man, and in order to set aside any superficial ideas resting upon the minds of those who are not informed, we regret they could not have witnessed the scene presented yesterday afternoon.
Rev. Cowan, pastor of the A.M.E.Zion church opened the services by asking Elder P.D. Gold to read the 90th Psalm. He did so [illegible] that tradition says that Moses wrote this psalm while Israelites were sojourning in the wilderness and to the vision of Moses there seemed to be nothing tangible and his life work had been thrown away, and yet in the purpose of God all things are known. It is not for us to reason or to question why, it it for us to remain in our places and do our part and the blessing always comes.
Then followed appropriate resolutions from the church read by a member of the committee. Rev. Cowan then read a sketch of the life of the deceased. His worth as a citizen, his activity as a trustee of the colored school, his help to his race generally. It stated that he moved here in 1868 before the county was able to support a school and became personally responsible for the salary of J.C. Price, who conducted a school here for the colored people.
Elder Gold was then asked to speak and state that he was glad to see such an interest manifested in the funeral of a man who in honoring you yourselves honor. I have known him for 50 years and always esteemed him. That he has reared a family of children well raised and properly tutored who have distinguished themselves in the world is a credit to him if he has done nothing else.
“Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart therefrom.”
A man is judged by the company he keeps. A good man likes good men and likes their company. Our deceased brother sought the company of the best white and colored men and in this way he found the best rather than the worst in life. A man fond of evil company shows he likes that sort of living. That it pays to seek good company and that a man is judged by the company he keeps was illustrated by Elder Gold who related a story of a young man who came to one of the Rothschilds for assistance and the Baron said to him, “come with me.” Together they walked up and down the bourse and then the Baron remarked, “They will be pleased to lend you all the assistance you need and you will henceforth be sought after.”
A man joined with Jesus Christ has enough. His conduct will be good, his deportment good and he will be found striving to do right and when he goes hence he will received the reward that remains to those of the redeemed.
Rev. Cowan then delivered an eloquent funeral address and at its close called upon Hon. John E. Woodard who complimented the pastor upon what he had so well said.
Mr. Woodard stated that he deemed this a melancholy pleasure to say a word over the bier of a man who had been his friend and a true friend to his race. He had known him 35 years as a distinct type of a man, a man who easily passed from the state of slavery to that of a citizen with the right ideas in his head and ideals in his mind as to the duties of citizenship. He gave to his people better opportunities than he had enjoyed. It was his pleasure to do so. He invested his wages for their good. He has reaped a noble harvest in the children he gives to his country and in the regard he has left in the hearts of the countrymen.
Prof. J.D. Reid followed in a laudation of the deceased as a promoter and supporter of the schools. He visited the schools and encouraged the children.
Prof. S.H. Vick delivered a beautiful eulogy and glowing tribute and Rev. Taylor of Calvary Presbyterian church also added a word to the many fine tributes that had been paid.
The exercises were interspersed with hymns and solos, and the large audience viewed the remains which were laid to rest by the Masons, of which he was an honored member.
— Wilson Times, 24 February 1914.
Death certificate of G.W. Suggs.
George W. Suggs, son of Lou and Julia Bess Suggs, was buried in the Masonic cemetery next to his wife, Esther. Their double headstone, now broken, once stood as one of the most impressive in the burial ground.
G.W. Suggs died intestate. (There is confusion about whether his surname carried a terminal “s.”) Letters of Administration issued in his estate named as heirs his children D.C. Sugg, Jas. T. Sugg, Serena Moore, Julia Bryant, Edmonia Purrington and Mollie Watson.
Photo of Suggs courtesy of user JamesKennedy621 at http://www.ancestry.com. Photo of grave taken November 2015 by Lisa Y. Henderson. Administrators Bonds, Wilson County Superior Court, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
Daniel Cato Sugg (or Suggs) (1866-1936) was the son of George Washington Suggs and Esther Suggs. His sister Serena Suggs Moore was featured here.
Here’s the family in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Washington Suggs, 42, brickmason, with children Sarena, 8, Mary, 2, Decatur [Daniel Cato], 6, plus farm laborer Richard Harper, 17. Wife Esther was apparently overlooked.
In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason Washington Sugg, 51, wife Esther, 38, and children Nicy, 21, Sarena, 17, Cator, 16, Molly, 12, Edmonia, 10, Juda, 5, and James, 3.
According to Krewasky A. Salter’s The Story of Black Military Officers 1861-1948, Daniel was not admitted. Federal records promise to reveal more, and I’m hunting them down. Stay tuned.