Town of Elm City

Plans for Elm City Colored Cemetery.

ELM CITY — Descendants and family members have reestablished the commission that oversees the black cemetery located at 4979 Elm City Road S.

The commission will meet at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9 in the Wilson County Public Library assembly room, 249 Nash St. N. Members will discuss renaming the cemetery, electing 2019-20 commission members and potentially soliciting bids for lawn care. All members of the public are invited to attend.

Organizers say the acting commission has succeeded in removing the chain blocking access to the cemetery, obtaining an address for the property, hiring landscaping crews to remove fallen trees and debris and spearheading a community cleanup day. The commission plans to install a flagpole to honor veterans interred there just in time for Veterans Day.

For more information, call Marie Knight at 801-390-8017.

Frederick Douglass resurrected.

“We have a righted a wrong”: Board votes to name elementary school for Frederick Douglass

By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Daily Times, 19 February 2018.

The Wilson County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to rename Elm City Elementary School after abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

All six board members supported the proposal. Board member Robin Flinn was absent from the meeting.

“I am just proud of them for understanding and knowing that it was time,” said Alice Freeman, a 1964 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and a former president of the Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association.

The effort to rename the school was led by alumni association members who have made multiple requests to adopt the Douglass name going back to the early 1970s.

“I am very happy and I am just so proud of our organization and the hard work that it took,” Freeman said. “I am just really proud of the school board because they realized the importance of it. They realized our contributions. They realized that after 40 years, almost 50 years, we have remained active. We’ve got good folks and we are going to move forward with this. We’re just excited.”

Bill Myers, a former teacher at Frederick Douglass High School, said after the decision that it was hard to put his feelings at the moment into words.

“I can’t even express it really. We have righted a wrong,” Myers said.

“The question should have been ‘Why change the name in the first place?’ So to do it now is just electrifying,” Myers said.

Elm City Elementary has been named after the community in which it is located since 1970, when integration began in Wilson County. The school was named Frederick Douglass High School from 1939 to 1969. During that time it was attended by members of the African-American population in Wilson County. In 1970, former Frederick Douglass students joined students at Elm City High School to form an integrated school.

Though Elm City Elementary has undergone multiple renovations since 1970, two major portions of the school, the auditorium and the gymnasium, were originally part of Frederick Douglass High School.

The original Douglass auditorium.

The Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association has a long history of financial support of Elm City Elementary and Elm City Middle.

“I’m just tickled to death, particularly for all those kids that were here tonight and the association that has been doing so much to promote and keep the thing going,” Myers said. “They have been giving away money, scholarships, everything, every year and this is why I wanted to be here to do this, for them.”

Myers said he felt a major part of this effort to rename the school and regain the 30-year legacy of the high school.

“This was my first teaching job over here and I feel very much still a part of it,” Myers said. “I am happy for them. I am happy that this board could see through that and try to rectify something that happened that was definitely wrong.”

According to Lane Mills, superintendent of Wilson County Schools, costs associated with changing the name of Elm City Elementary School would be about $11,353.

The costs would include $4,317 for staff long-sleeve and short-sleeve T-shirts, $2,500 for a new school marquee, $800 for a new school sign, $704 to replace the rugs at the entrances, $450 for new checks, receipts, a deposit stamp, $450 for new PTO checks and deposit slips, $250 for school pencils, $200 for school stamps and $200 for ink pens, plus other miscellaneous items.

The original Douglass gymnasium.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2019.

All invited to the farm family picnic.

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Wilson Daily Times, 21 June 1947.

——

  • C.W. Foster — Carter W. Foster.
  • Helen T. Wade — In the 1947 North Carolina Manual, published by the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office, Helen T. Wade is listed as the colored home demonstration agent for Wilson County. Wade married Charles E. Branford in 1950.
  • Frederick Douglass High School was Elm City’s African-American high school from 1939 until the end of segregation in Wilson County schools in 1969.

Report of vaccinations, no. 4.

In the winter of 1902, doctors in Wilson County commenced a vaccination campaign to counter the spread of smallpox across North Carolina. Physicians in the county were paid ten cents per resident inoculated and sent in lists of patients to justify their fees. Dr. Edwin G. Moore practiced in Elm City and surrounds. On 3 February 1902, the County paid him $52.70 for fees and expenses related to 164 vaccinations (including ten pounds of sulphur used to treat three houses.)

The following list of African-American patients is abstracted from the roll Dr. Moore submitted to the County:

Sidney Harriss, 8 January 1902, age 18

Clarence Drake, 8 January 1902, age 14

Fred Gaston, “, age 12

Ivy Barnes, “, age 15

Nellie Ellis, “, age 17

Blanche Barnes, “, age 12

Haywood Ellis, “, age 13

Martha Ellis, 9 January 1902, age 20

Haywood Ellis, “, age 10

Lily Hall, “, age 18

Cora Gaston, “, age 16

Violet Bullock, “, age 16

Lena Armstrong, “, age 18

Wm. Armstrong, “, age 7

Ricks Whitaker, “, age 14

Ben Whitehead, 10 January 1902, age 19

Jennie Bunn, “, age 16

Ivrah Farmer, “, age 23

Almeta Williams, “, age 14

Mag Bullock, “, age 12

Elmer Gaston, 11 January 1902, age 9

Alma Gaston, “, age 7

Tom Coggins, “, age 16

Mag Armstrong, “, age 14

Etta Kelly, “, age 14

Pearly Mitchell, “, age 11

Viola Kelly, “, age 8

Flossie Gaston, “, age 7

Ada Gaston, “, age 15

Georgia Gaston, “, age 17

Serena Hunter, “, age 12

Julius Mitchell, 13 January 1902, age 10

Nina Gaston, “, age 13

Walter Locus, “, age 11

James Rosser, “, age 9

Maggie Ricks, “, age 16

Mancy Gaston, “, 9

Gus Gaston, “, 7

Malvina Johnson, 14 January 1902, age 16

Arie Williams, “, age 15

Catherine Hall, “, age 6

Anna Belle Hall, 15 January 1902, age 12

Minerva Anderson, 16 January 1902, age 15

James Anderson, “, age 9

Jno. Red Barnes, “, age 18

Redmond Barnes, “, age 66

Kinny Ellis, ” , age 17

Will Barnes, 17 January 1902, age 26

Scilla Parker, “, age 40

Nathan Williams, 18 January 1902, age 60

Alice Williams, “, age 40

Emma Williams, “, age 14

Melvina Whitehead, “, age 42

Wily Bynum, “, age 38

John Ellis Sr., “, age 46

Ed Barnes, “, age 27

Caroline Reid, 20 January 1902, age 21

Farro Sanders, 21 January 1902, age 13

George Sanders, “, age 13

Wily Barnes, 30 January 1902, age 30

Jno. Ellis Jr., “, age 19

Nan Williams, “, age 13

Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

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.

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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.