Tuskegee Institute

Studio shots, no. 10: Benjamin A. Harris Sr.

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As noted here, Benjamin Amos Harris was one of a small group of kinsmen, including Julius and Oliver Freeman, who traveled nearly 700 miles from Wilson to Alabama to attend Tuskegee Institute. He was awarded a certificate in May 1917, returned home, and established a bricklaying business that his sons carried on after his untimely death.

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On 25 January 1894, Edwin Harris, 21, married Bettie Daniel, 21, at the residence of Amos Daniel in Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Fremont township, Wayne County: day laborer Ed Harriss, 27, wife Bettie, 24, and children Benjamin A., 5, Roday [Rhoda], 4, and John H., 6 months.

In the 1910 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer Ed Harriss, 37, wife Bettie, 34, and children Benjamin, 15, Rhoda, 14, Johney, 10, Nanny, 9, Nicey and Vicey, 7, Edgar, 4, and Oscar and Roscar, 1.

Shortly after graduation from Tuskegee, Benjamin Amos Harris registered for the World War I draft. He reported to Eureka Precinct of the Wayne County Draft Board that he was born 16 October 1896 in near Fremont, Wayne County; that he resided in Stantonsburg [actually, at a Wayne County residence with a Stantonsburg address]; that he worked as a farm laborer for his father near Eureka, Wayne County; and was single. He was described as medium height and build with black hair and eyes. He signed his card “Benja Harris.”

Ed Harris died in Nahunta township, Wayne County, on 25 February 1918, perhaps while his oldest son Ben was away at war. Per his death certificate, he was born in Wayne County in 1872 to Sylvester Harris and Rhoda Daniel and worked as a farmer. He was buried at “A.D. Scott’s place.” Son John Harris was informant. Bettie Harris died eleven months later. Per her death certificate, filed in Wayne County, she was born 29 September 1875 in Wilson County to John Daniels and Millie Daniel. She too was buried at A.D. Scott’s place; son Ben A. Harris was informant.

On 14 March 1922, Benj. A. Harris, 25, married Pauline Artis, 20, in Nahunta township, Wayne County. She was the daughter of Noah and Patience Mozingo Artis.

The Harrises moved ten miles into Wilson shortly after their marriage. In the 1925 Wilson city directory: Harris Benj bricklyr h 407 Viola.

The National Register Historic Places registration form for East Wilson Historic District describes Ben Harris’ house at 312 Finch Street this way: “1941.  1 1/2 stories.  Benjamin Harris house; brick veneered Tudor Revival dwelling built by Harris for his home; Harris was a brickmason; fine example of this style in district.” His descendants have lived in the house for more than 75 years.

Benjamin A. Harris died 15 May 1955.

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Wilson Daily Times, 18 May 1955.

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Benjamin A. Harris’ grave at Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson.

Photograph of Harris courtesy of Ancestry.com user ladyjmcnow. Photo of grave by Lisa Y. Henderson.

Oliver N. Freeman.

ON FREEMAN

O.N. Freeman

From North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Directory:

Oliver Nestus Freeman (February 22, 1882-September 28, 1955) was a prolific, creative, and multi-talented craftsman active in Wilson from about 1910 to his death in 1955. He became the community’s preeminent brick and stonemason and also worked in tile, but he is best known for his stonework on his own buildings and throughout the community.

“Born in rural Wilson County, the son of Julius Freeman, a carpenter, and Eliza Daniels Freeman, Freeman was educated at the Tuskegee Normal School where he majored in industrial arts. Training and experience in construction, including masonry work, constituted an important part of the Tuskegee program. As a young man, Freeman taught at Tuskegee and later at the Wilbanks School in Wilson County. He married Willie May Hendley, originally of Nashville, Tennessee, whom he met at Tuskegee. The Freemans became friends with both Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver through the Tuskegee connection. The couple settled in Wilson about 1910, and there Freeman constructed a modest brick house at 1300 East Nash Street, where they raised four children, and which has remained in the family.

“Freeman identified himself to the census takers of 1910 and 1920 as a brickmason, but he was skilled at all types of masonry work. Especially distinctive is his bold, rough stonework for foundations, chimneys, columns, and other architectural elements throughout Wilson, especially for the city’s many fine bungalows. Besides his work on buildings, he created imaginative masonry sculptures that enhance many Wilson gardens.

“Freeman’s best known works are those he built for himself. After constructing a brick cottage for himself and his wife in about 1910, in the 1920s he transformed the Oliver Nestus Freeman House into a stone bungalow. Over the years he added stone and concrete garden sculptures to his property, including a 7-foot dinosaur. In addition, he constructed nearby a rental dwelling, to help with the local housing shortage. Known as the Freeman Round House (1940s), the locally unique house of rough stone features a circular plan divided into wedge-shaped rooms. Long a landmark of the community, in recent years the round house has been preserved and opened as a local museum.”

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Another of Freeman’s buildings — Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 612 Vance Street NE, Wilson.

Photo of Freeman courtesy of www.digitalnc.org; photo of church taken by Lisa Y. Henderson in May 2016.

 

Thirty-sixth annual commencement: “Do not lose faith.”

Robert Russa Moton assumed the helm as president of Tuskegee Institute after Booker T. Washington‘s death. The first commencement over which Moton presided took place on 26 May 1917. Among the candidates for diplomas and certificates presented by Emmett Scott were Daniel Elijah Freeman (1896-1972) of Wilson, son of Julius and Eliza Daniels Freeman, and Benjamin Amos Harris (1894-1955) of Stantonsburg, son of Edward and Bettie Daniels Harris. Daniel and Benjamin were first cousins once removed (Bettie Daniels’ mother Millicent Daniels Daniels was Eliza Daniels Freeman’s sister) and were encouraged to attend Tuskegee by Daniel’s older brothers, O. Nestus Freeman, Julius F. Freeman Jr. and Ernest Freeman.

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New York Age, 7 June 1917.

Instruction that would prepare us for a useful life.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 3 June 1911.

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Julius Franklin Freeman Jr. (1888-1960) was the son of Julius F. and Eliza Daniels Freeman.  Noted stonemason Oliver Nestus Freeman was his older brother. The family appears in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: 56 year-old carpenter Julius Freeman, wife Eliza, 46, and children Elizabeth, 19, Nestus, 17, Junius, 11, Ernest, 9, Tom, 6, Daniel, 4, and Ruth, 4 months.

Built circa 1925 — no doubt by Freeman himself — the two-story Julius Freeman house at 1114 Washington Street is described in the East Wilson Historic District nomination report as “hip-roofed, cubic form with original brick veneer and simple Colonial Revival detail.” Here’s the house now:

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Freeman was a long-time vocational education teacher at C.H. Darden High School in Wilson. The photograph below is part of the collection at the Freeman Roundhouse, the East Wilson museum housed in one of Julius’ brother O.N.’s constructions.

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http://library.digitalnc.org/cdm/fullbrowser/collection/ncimages/id/9901/rv/singleitem