Town of Elm City

Recommended reading, no. 10.

I’ve posted several excerpts from Cecil L. Spellman‘s Elm City: A Negro Community in Action, but you don’t need to wait for me if you want to know more. (And, if you have any link to Toisnot township, you should.) Forgotten Books has published the book in its Classic Reprint Series, and it’s available via Amazon.

Cemeteries, no. 5, pt. 2: Elm City Colored Cemetery.

Heritage Cemetery today, annotated, per Google Maps.

I recently revisited Elm City Colored Cemetery, now known as Heritage Cemetery. Founded in 1892 and containing hundreds of graves, Heritage offers a glimpse of what Odd Fellows and Vick Cemeteries might have looked like with consistent, even if half-hearted, maintenance over the last 70 years. 

The front section of Heritage is lightly wooded, but with little undergrowth and none of the invasive vines seen in Odd Fellows or Vick. (None of the grave plantings either, such as daffodils or yuccas.)

This large stuccoed brick vault, which appears to belong to the Wynn family, is the only one in the cemetery. There are none similar in Odd Fellows, and we don’t know if there were any in Vick.

The back section of Heritage is an open field traversed by a drainage ditch. In contrast to graves in the front section, which generally lie roughly east-southeast to west-northwest, graves here are orientated northeast to southwest.

As with graves in Odd Fellows, and probably much of Vick, Heritage’s graves primarily are arranged in family groups, not ranks of straight lines. 

Aerial view of Elm City Colored Cemetery, 1940.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2023.

Harris makes highest corn yield.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 November 1935.

  • Volious Harris

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Sidney Harris, 50, wife Hattie, 40, and children Emma, 17, Oliver, 16, Nathan, 13, Novella, 11, Volious, 8, Hattie M., 6, Beatrice, 3, and Clarence, 1.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Sidney Harris, 59, wife Hattie, 50, and children Novella, 22, Volious, 17, Hattie Magarette, 15, Beatrice, 13, and Clearance, 12, and granddaughter Deloris McMillian, 6.

In 1942, Volious Lee Harris registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 June 1921 in Wilson County; lived at Route 2, Elm City; his contact was Sydney Harris; and was a student at A.&T. College, Greensboro, N.C.

On 21 July 1945, Volious Harris, 24, of Elm City, son of Sidney and Hattie Harris, married Helen Underwood, 25, of Goldsboro, N.C., daughter of William and Nellie Underwood, in Goldsboro, Wayne County, N.C.

Volious Harris died 28 February 1989 in Goldsboro, N.C.

Elm City’s water woes.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 May 1950.


  • James Young

On 3 February 1936, James Young, 21, of Toisnot township, married Alice Simmons, 17, daughter of Sam and Minnie Simmons, in Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: renting for $8/month, town laborer James Young, 27, born in Georgia; wife Allice, 20; and children Rachiel E., 3, and Eddie J., 1; and cousin Romar McGee, 16. 

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: electric light lineman James Young, 40; wife Bessie, 39; and children Ratchel, 13, Eddie, 12, Verge, 10, Edna Hines, 10, and Willie Lee, 2.

In 1942, James Alexander Young registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 8 May 1904 in Savannah, Georgia; lived in Elm City; and worked for O.C. Hill, Elm City.

In the 1950 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: James Young, 49, city electrician; wife Lucille, 29; and children Thomas, 19, Willie Lee, 12, Thomas B., 3, Carolyn, 2; and Shirley, born in November. [The family is erroneously described as white.]

James Alexander Young died 21 June 1971 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 May 1904 in Georgia to Alexander Young and “Claretta (?) Young”; lived in Elm City; worked as an electrician; and was married to Lucille Newbern Young.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Elm City in 1923.

I regularly mine Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Wilson for information, but only now have discovered the 1923 maps of Elm City. Sheet 4 covers the town’s historic African-American east side. Three inserts show streets beyond the borders of the map.

Though the street grid has not changed much in a hundred years, the names of Elm City’s streets have.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Elm City, N.C. (1923).

Tarboro Road is now East Langley Road. The “First Baptist Church (Colored),” founded 1875, remains an active congregation, now known as First Missionary Baptist Church of  Elm City. The building now sits perpendicular to the road.

Corker Street is now Tyson Lane. The Elm City Colored Graded School stood near its intersection with Church Street.

Wilson Street retains it name. A lodge hall — Masons? Odd Fellows? — stood near the current location of Wynn’s Chapel Church.

Further east on Wilson, the First Presbyterian Church (Colored), which would gain national attention nearly 40 years later when targeted by the Ku Klux Klan.

Sheet 5 shows the area south of Elm City’s business and residential center. The Free Will Baptist Church (Colored) beneath J.D. Winstead Cotton Gins was Wynn’s Chapel in its original location.

Elm City, Wilson County, N.C., Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Library of Congress.

Elm City schools consolidated.

Frederick Douglass High School in Elm City was the first high school for African-American students outside the city of Wilson. In 1949, the one- and two-room schools administered by the Elm City Schools were consolidated with Douglass (formerly called Elm City Colored School. When additional classroom space was completed, children who had attended Mitchell, Pender, and Turner Schools were bussed into Elm City to attend Douglass. (Like Darden, though called “high school,” Douglass had both elementary and secondary divisions.)

Wilson Daily Times, 29 December 1949.


Principal’s report: Elm City Colored School, 1941.

High school principals were required to file annual reports with the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction. In 1941, Robert A. Johnson filed this report for Elm City Colored School for the preceding school year.

The school year was only 120 days and ran from 10 February 1941 to 28 June 1941. Seven teachers taught at Elm City — two men and five women. They taught 164 children — 48 boys and 116 girls. Elm City Colored School housed all grades in one building. It had no restrooms, lunchroom or auditorium. It had no librarian, but it did have a library room.

The high school offered classes in English, general mathematics, geometry, algebra, citizenship, American history, world history, sociology, general science, biology, home economics, and French.

Classes met at 8:45, 9:35, 10:30, 11:30, 1:00 and 2:00. Odelle Whitehead Barnes taught English and French; Clara G. Cooke taught history and English; Mabel Brewington taught home economics and history; Earl C. Burnett taught science and math; and Robert A. Johnson taught math and tended the library on Fridays.

All the teachers were college graduates. Barnes had the most tenure at Elm City, with 8 years; Brewington and Burnett were newcomers.

The school had no laboratories or maps. It published a newspaper, The Elm City Journal; had both girls’ and boys’ glee clubs; a 4-H Club; and an English Club. Elm City Colored School graduated fourteen in the Class of 1941 — William Bynum, Volious Harris, Willie R. Mitchell, Mary Armstrong, Minnie E. Armstrong, Nelia Brown, Essie Bynum, Alice Ellis, Bessie Lancaster, Clara Lancaster, Eva Lindsey, Ada B. McKinnon, Georgia Toliver, and Marie Wynn.

High School Principals’ Annual Reports, 1940-1941, Wayne County to Wilson County, North Carolina Digital Collection,