Town of Elm City

Access to the Elm City cemetery.

Cemetery Access Prompts Concern: Meant to deter vandals, chained road may discourage descendants

By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Times, 15 August 2018.

ELM CITY — When Marie Knight brought her daughter to see her great-grandmother’s grave, she was disappointed to find a heavy chain across the access road leading to the cemetery.

Knight, a native of Elm City, had driven from Cary on Monday to meet her mother, Shelly Robinson, to visit the African-American cemetery where their relatives are buried.

The access road, located along the south side of the former Nexans wire and cable plant on Elm City Road across from the Family Dollar, has been open and unimpeded as long as either Knight or Robinson can remember.

Nexans was sold in September 2017 and become Elm City Warehouse LLC. The new owner, Charles Gardner, put up the chain at the entranceway.

Gardner said he wants to keep people from throwing trash, vandalizing and desecrating graves and using the spot as a lovers’ lane. He posted a sign with a telephone number to call for those seeking graveyard access.

“I have a caretaker who will go and unlock it for anybody that wants to go back there,” Gardner said. “I’m not denying anybody access. All I am doing is trying to keep people that don’t need to be back there drinking and throwing cans out.”

Knight called the number Monday and the caretaker responded in a short amount of time to unlock the chain.

“You basically have to get permission to come out here and visit your loved ones,” Knight said. “I guess when you set up a cemetery, you never set it up thinking that you are going to be barred from entering. That’s never a question that enters into your mind. It’s supposed to be open with free access. I feel that it needs to be remedied quickly and I am just appalled that someone would want to do it.”

The cemetery is located on 5.46 acres of land purchased in 1900 by the Elm City Colored Cemetery Commission, which is no longer active.

According to Knight, the property was acquired by a group of Elm City residents concerned that the resting places of many of the community’s black residents could be lost unless they staked claim to the property.

Indeed, there are graves that go back to the 1840s if not earlier at the site. There are also many graves of World War I, World War II and Korean War veterans there. The latest burial appears to have been in 2014.

Knight was so disappointed with the high grass, fallen branches and general disrepair that she decided to organize a cleanup day scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon on Sept. 1.

Knight said Elm City residents need to band together to take care of their ancestors’ resting places.

“My loved ones are out here and the people that I know,” Robinson said.

Elm City names like Gaston, Spivey, Williams, Brewer, Atkinson, Barnes and Harris are throughout the graveyard.

“The graves are still here but the headstones are broken off of a lot of them,” Robinson said. “They are laying in the dirt and I don’t like it. Some of them are covered up in weeds. When you come out here to see your loved one, you don’t want to see broken stones, trees all on top of them covering them up.”

Jonathan Russell, Elm City town manager, said the cemetery is outside the town limits but within its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

“It’s something that we have assisted with cleanup of debris and mowing just to kind of maintain it as a courtesy historically for a number of years,” Russell said. “We haven’t had any issues with any vandalism or any thefts that was reported while Nexans was in operation and we are aware that the new owner has engaged the town in regard to a couple of questions regarding the property. We advised him at that time that we did not want to restrict any access to the graveyard. We had some discussions regarding the graveyard that was back there and that there were citizens within the region that visited relatives there. Our stance on that since he has purchased the property (has been) to keep it open. It hasn’t been a major concern as far as vandalism taking place back in there.”

Russell said the town has previously assisted with the removal of fallen limbs, mowing the grass, removing some debris from time to time and cleaning up.

Knight said there could be a couple hundred graves at the site.

“I would encourage if there are any relatives or distant relatives that could reestablish the commission, that would be beneficial,” Russell said. “I think that would be helpful if they could possibly come to some type of an agreement with the current owner to provide easier access to it. I think that would probably be the best solution. The town is sympathetic with the citizens and family members who want to visit. If there is anything we can do to assist to facilitate anything between potential commission members and the owner, we will be glad to help.”

Knight said she has spoken to attorneys about how the commission might be reestablished.

Brian Grawburg, who has been surveying and photographing lost and hidden cemeteries in Wilson County, said Gardner’s chain on the access road is not illegal.

“The statute does specify that they have to provide access, but they are the ones to determine what the access is,” Grawburg said.

Grawburg said that while it may be an inconvenience to call for access, people need to understand that it may not be a bad thing to keep vandals and litterers out.

There is evidence that some gravestones have been knocked over and broken.

Grawburg has seen some old cemeteries that were heavily littered with debris.

“I have seen what can happen when it is accessible and nobody is looking after it,” Grawburg said. “If there is a driveway that they can go to, they will go up there. People will dump trash back there.”

Grawburg visited the cemetery Wednesday to document it.

“It’s historic,” Grawburg said. “We don’t want to lose historic things.”

Grawburg said Knight’s desire to organize a cleanup is a good idea.

“If they don’t get it done, it’s going to get to the point that it can’t get done because it’s so overgrown,” Grawburg said.

To reach Knight concerning details of the cemetery cleanup day, call 801-390-8017. To reach the caretaker for entry to the graveyard access road, call 252-289-5085.

Wiley Ricks is still barbering.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 October 1980.

Wiley Ricks and young customer.

——

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Millie Ricks, 40, widow, with sons William, 12, and Wiley, 1.

In the 1910 census

On 27 July 1918, Wiley Ricks, 21, of Toisnot, married Fannie Fort, 21, of Toisnot, in Elm City. Presbyterian minister A.E. Sephas performed the ceremony in the presence of John Gaston, Samuel T. Ford and T.H. Nicholson.

Fannie Ford Ricks died 9 March 1924 in Elm City, Toisnot township. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 January 1899 in Wilson County to Sam Ford of Halifax County and Mattie Williams of Wilson County and was married to Wiley Ricks.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Wiley Ricks, 30, barber; wife Carrie, 29; and children Miriam, 2, and Maggie, 9 months.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Branch Street, barber Wiley Ricks, 41; wife Cary P., 39; and children Miriam, 12, Maggie R., 10, Lois, 8, and Malinda, 1.

Wylie Ricks died 28 March 1985 in Hollister, Halifax County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 December 1898 in Wilson County to Wiley Sharpe and Millie Sharpe; was a barber; resided in Elm City; and was married to Carrie Parker Ricks.

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A 1947 photo taken outside Wiley Ricks’ barbershop. Courtesy of Thomas Griffin via Wilson Daily Times, 15 January 2002.

Haircut photo courtesy of article re Ricks in History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

The only colored school with a domestic science class.

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 April 1921.

  • Elm City Colored Graded School
  • Prof. J.D. Reid — Reid was principal of the Wilson Colored Graded School.
  • Prof. W.S. Washington
  • Mary Howard — in the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on the Elm City and Wilson Road, farmer Junius Rosser, 59, wife Lizzie, 46, children Daniel, 14, Annie, 12, Bennie, 10, and Lizzie, 8, and boarder Mary Howard, 19, a teacher.

To lose a faithful servant is to lose a friend.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 July 1935.

J.T. Watson of Elm City eulogized two African-American men in this letter to the newspaper. Per Watson, Jim Green, age about 58, died 16 June 1935 at a hospital in Wilson. He came to Elm City from Wayne County about 1905. He worked first for Dr. E.G. Moore, then took a job with the town. He bought a lot on the south end of Parker Street and built two houses, one for himself and one to rent out.

Jim Williams died 25 June 1935. He came to Wilson County from the Dunbar farm in Edgecombe County in 1884 and bought Susan Cohn’s old house on East Nash Street in Elm City. Williams worked at manual labor as a young man and later as a handyman for J.W. Cox. His only son, Jim, and Jim’s children lived in northern cities.

Final rites for Aggie M. Williams.

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Wilson Daily Times, 24 March 1951.

The Daily Times‘ editorial policy, apparently, provided that the most remarkable fact of the lives of men and woman who had been enslaved was that they had been enslaved. However, as set forth in detail here, Aggie Mercer Williams died possessed of a house and two lots in Elm City and two farms outside of town, which suggests a lifetime of notable achievement.

Studio shots, no. 67: Robert A. Johnson.

Robert A. Johnson served 30 years as the first African-American high school principal in the Elm City community. “Under his leadership, not only did Frederick Douglass [High School] receive high academic ratings, its superiority in co-curricular areas received state-wide recognition, particularly its band and basketball teams.”

A native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Johnson received a B.A. from Ohio State University and, later a master’s degree from New York University.

——

Robert A. Johnson, 34, married Grace A. McNeil, 27, on 3 June 1939 in Forsyth County, North Carolina.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 206 Reid Street, shoe shop owner James Mack, 41; wife Beualah, 40, born in Salisbury; and Robert Johnson, 34, teacher in Wilson County school, born in Winston-Salem.

In 1940, Robert Arthur Johnson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 19 October 1905 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; his contact was father William Johnson, 806 Stadium Drive, Winston-Salem; and his employer was Elm City Board of Trustees.

Robert Arthur Johnson died 14 March 1966 of a heart attack at Frederick Douglass High School, Elm City. Per his death certificate, he was born 19 October 1905 in Winston-Salem to William Johnson and Amie Williams; was married to Grace Johnson; and was employed as a principal by Wilson County Schools.

Text adapted from article in and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

Boy runs amuck, cuts principal.

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 18 January 1920.

  • Carl Lucas
  • Walter Washington — Probably this man: Walter T. Washington died 9 November 1968 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 September 1896; resided at 811 East Edenton Street, Raleigh; was married to Verdie Parrish Washington; was the son of Hillary Washington and Georgianna Sasser; and was a retired schoolteacher. He was buried in National Cemetery, Raleigh.

Obituary of Willie Wynn.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 February 1940.

On 23 September 1886, Willie Winn, 27, and Jennie Hussey, 19, were married in Wayne County, North Carolina.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Willie Winn, 50; wife Jennie, 23; and children Bessie, 18, Cora, 14, Charlie, 11, Annie, 10, John, 9, Ray, 7, Dortch, 4, Pinkie, 1, and Jessie, 17.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer William Winn, 59; wife Jennie, 48; and children Charley, 21, John, 19, Dorch, 13, Pink, 10, and Jeneva, 8.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer Willie Winn, 62; wife Jennie, 60; and children Roy, 23, and Pink, 20; and lodger Lula Ward, 45.

Willie Wynn Jr. died 11 February 1940. Per his death certificate, he died 11 February 1940 in Wilson; had been married to Jennie Wynn, but was a widower; resided at 1102 Atlantic Street, Wilson; worked as a laborer; was the son of Willie Wynn and Annie Williams. Geneva Dew, 1102 East Atlantic Street, was informant, and he was buried in Elm City.

  • Wynn’s Chapel
  • McKinley Whitley — in the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: church minister McKinley Whitley, 28, and wife Ruth, 28.

N.C.C.U. ’45.

From the 1945 edition of The Campus Echo Review, a yearbook of North Carolina College for Negroes [now North Carolina Central University.]

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Doris Gaston Rosemond (1924-2007).

In the 1930 census of Town of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: barber Dewey Gaston, 30; wife Mary, 20; and children Doris L., 5, and Victor H., 3.

In the 1940 census of Town of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: barber Dewey Gaston, 40; wife Mary, 38; and children Doris, 51, and Victor H., 13.