In August 1920, James Dempsey Bullock penned a letter to the newspaper urging the city to establish burial plots for World War I soldiers who had died at war in France and whose remains were just then being repatriated. “… [S]ome one should see to it that a beautiful plat in Maplewood cemetery should be set aside for the interment of those whose parents wish them buried there and one in Oakwood for the colored.”
Oakwood, also known as Oakdale and Oaklawn, was Wilson’s first (or maybe second) public cemetery for African-Americans. If the city established a plat for returning soldiers, it is lost. Oakwood had already fallen out of favor as a burial ground by 1920, as families opted for private cemeteries like Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Masonic, or for the city’s newer public cemetery, now known as Vick. Oakwood was essentially abandoned just a few years later, though the city did not move its graves until 1941.
Six African-American Wilson County men — Henry T. Ellis, Benjamin Horne, Luther Harris, Pharaoh Coleman, Frank Barnes, and Vert Vick — were recorded as having died or been killed in service during World War I. It is not clear to which soldier’s body Bullock was referring as expected to arrive in New York.
On 3 June 1919, the Daily Times published a list of Wilson County soldiers who died during World War I. The list is segregated. First in the Colored List is Henry Ellis, who was killed 6 October 1918 and in whose honor Wilson County’s African-American post of the American Legion was named.
Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 1919.
The Daily Times had commemorated Ellis’ death when it received word in December 1918:
“Private Henry Ellis Son of Mrs. Mary J. Howard, Route 1, Wilson, N.C. Died of wounds received in action while fighting for his country and oppressed humanity.” Wilson Daily Times, 4 December 1918.
In the 1870 census of Chesterfield township, Nash County, N.C.: farmer Martin Lucus, 52; wife Eliza, 42; and children Irvin, 19, Neverson, 16, Sidney, 13, Eliza, 7, Westray, 6, Anne, 4, and Mary, 2.
In the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Eatmon, 66, wife Eliza Eatmon, 50, daughters AmandaLocus, 18, and Mary J. Locus, 14, “son-in-law” Asa Locus, 10, and “daughter-in-law” Lougene Locus, 4, Margaret Howard, 21, and Harriet Howard, 2. [Nelson Eatmon married Eliza Locust on 28 January 1880 in Wilson County. The Locuses’ relationship designations are obviously erroneous; they were Nelson Eatmon’s stepchildren.]
On 6 February 1887, Warren Ellis, 19, of Wilson County, married Mary Jane Locust, 19, of Wilson County, in Wilson County. Phillis Ellis was one of the witnesses.
In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary J. Ellis, 34, widow, and children Willis, 12, Walter, 9, William, 8, Henry, 5, and Lou, 4.
In the 1910 census of Jackson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Mary Jane Ellis, 44, and children Henry, 16, Louise, 13, and Charles, 6; and brother Neverson Lucas, 56.
Henry Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Nash County, N.C, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 10 November 1895 in Wilson County; lived at Route 2, Bailey; was a tenant farmer for Elijah Griffin; and was single. He signed his card in a neat, well-practiced hand: “Henry T. Ellis.”
In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary Howard, 52, widow; son Charlie Ellis, 17; and sister Luginer Colman, 45, widow.
Mary J. Howard died 20 June 1936 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Manuel Howard; was 65 years old; and was born in Wilson County to Martin Locus and Louisa Brantley. Gray Ellis was informant.
Henry T. Ellis, then, was the son of Warren Ellis and Mary Jane Locus Ellis and stepson of Manuel Howard. He was descended (or connected) on his mother’s side from several free families of color with deep roots in the area of western Wilson County — Locuses, Brantleys, Eatmons, Howards — and on his father’s from Hilliard and Faribee Ellis, a formerly enslaved couple who established a prosperous farm in the New Hope area shortly after the Civil War.
I have seen no evidence that Ellis’ body was returned to Wilson County for burial. His parents, grandparents, and siblings are buried in Hilliard Ellis cemetery, but there is no marked grave for him there.
James Edward Barnes (1926-1955), in his World War II uniform.
In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Frank Barnes, 22, farm laborer; wife Iantha, 17; and children James E., 4, and Oza, 1.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 311 New Bern Street, owned and valued at $700, John Scott, 82; wife Sarah, 42, cook; son-in-law Fate Daill, 38, tobacco factory laborer; Fate’s wife Iantha, 32, tobacco factory laborer; their children Ollie, 15, and Clyde, 10; and grandchildren James, 14, Inza, 13, and Atha Barnes, 12.
James Edward Barnes registered for the World War II draft in 1944. Per his registration card, he was born 26 February 1926 in Wilson County; lived at 410 Lane Street; his mailing address was 1018 1/2 Wainwright Avenue; was unemployed; and his contact was Iantha Dale.
On 26 May 1947, James Edward Barnes, 21, of Wilson, son of Frank Barnes and Iantha Scott Barnes, married Dorothy Lee Watson, 18, daughter of John McNeal and Virginia Pendergrass, at Watson’s grandmother’s house in Toisnot township. Elder William Mercer performed the ceremony in the presence of Joseph Knight, Leland Pendergrass, and Jannie Barron.
James Edward Barnes died 5 December 1955 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 29 February 1926 in Wilson County to Frank Barnes and Iantha Scott; was married; was a World War II veteran; worked as a candy cook for Acme Candy Company; and lived at 307 Lane Street, Wilson. Informant was Dorothy Lee Barnes.
Dorothy Watson Barnes applied for a military headstone for James Edward Barnes on 6 December 1955 via Talmon Hunter of Hunter’s Funeral Home. The application indicated that he served in the U.S. Navy as a Steward’s Mate 2nd Class between June and November 1944
Poppy Day — per the American Legion’s website, “On September 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of The American Legion family to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died during the war. In 1924, the distribution of poppies became a national program of The American Legion.”
World War II interrupted high school for many veterans, and they returned to earn their diplomas at war’s end. The Veterans Accelerated Club took this photo standing on the front steps of Darden High School.
The Trojan (1948), the yearbook of C.H. Darden High School.
The veteran-students’ instructors were John E. Dixon, Cora M. Washington, Mamie E. Whitehead, and Frissell W. Jones. The veteran-students: Walter Roberts, Paul L. Stevens, Henry Tune Jr., Ernest Edwards, Robert L. Murphy, Jesse B. Barnes, Jimmy L. Woodard, George W. Hines, Bennie Atkinson, Carlton Baker, Leo M. Bowens, Wilbert Currie, Frank Durham, Nelson T. Farmer, Nathaniel Ferguson, Henry Green, Jimmie Hines, Cle Arthur Jones, Nevalon Mitchell, Jesse Reynolds, Willie Townsend, Leon Williams, and Daniel Wright.
In the 1930 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farm laborer Rosco Ford, 48; wife Mary J., 37; and children Roxy L., 19, Iola, 17, Beatrice, 16, David, 14, Gestine, 13, John D., 11, Rosetta, 8, Virginia, 7, Horris C., 6, Ester J., 4, Mary L., 3, and Henry C., newborn.
In the 1940 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Roscoe Ford, 55; wife Mary, 48; children Beatrice, 25, David Lee, 24, J.D., 21, Rose Esther, 19, Virgina, 17, Harries, 15, Esther, 14, Mary, 13, Henry Clay, 10, and Willie Clinton, 9; and grandchildren John Beregs, 4, and and Odain McKennon, 1.
Horace Clee Ford registered for the World War II draft in June 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 28 January 1924 in Wilson County; lived on Route 1, Elm City; his contact was Roscoe G. Ford; and he worked for Walter Pridgen, Elm City.
Horace C. Ford died 24 December 1944 in rural Wilson township, Wilson County “3 mi N of Wilson.” Per his death certificate, he was born 24 January 1924 in Wilson County to Roscoe Ford and Mary Jane Simms; was single; was a soldier in the U.S. Army; and was buried in William Chapel cemetery.
In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Mollie Williams, 28, cook, and children Orlanda, 9, Nathaniel, 8, and Rosetta, 2.
In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Mollie Williams, 37, private cook, and children Nathaniel, 18, odd jobs laborer; Roseta, 12, laborer; and Allander, 19, odd jobs laborer.
Aulander Williams registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born in August 1891 in Wilson County; lived on Route 6, Wilson; was single; and farmed for Sallie Graves near Stantonsburg.
Orlander Williams, 26, of Stantonsburg, son of Alex Joyner and Mollie Williams, married Lula Evans, 24, of Wilson, daughter of Mingo and Martha Evans, on 5 August 1917 in Wilson County. Alexander Leake applied for the license, and Missionary Baptist minister H.H. Sanders performed the ceremony in the presence of Ernest May, Jesse Darden and Walter Haskins.
In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Aulander Williams, 28, cropper; wife Lula, 25; and son Aulander jr., 1.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Orlanda Williams, 34; wife Lula, 35; children Orlanda, 12, Nick, 8, Sarah, 7, Nora, 5, and Lula M., 2; and nephew Elmer, 14.
Lula Williams died 29 July 1947 at her home at 1016 Wainwright Street. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 January 1898 in Edgecombe County to Mingo Edwards and Martha Mercer; was married to Olanda Williams; and was a factory worker. She was buried in Rountree cemetery.
Olander Williams died 26 April 1949 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 August 1890 in Edgecombe County to Elex Johnson and Mollie Williams; lived at 520 Hadley Street; and was a laborer. Daisy Williams was informant.
Angus McNeil — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 615 1/2 Viola, barber Angus McNeil, 27, and wife Maggie, 22. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1202 Wainwright, barber Angus McNeil, 40; wife Maggie, 25; and daughter Agnes E., 6.