The odyssey of Tate’s pool room.

This excerpt from a news account of a commissioners’ meeting caught my eye. Barber Noah Tate‘s application for a pool room license was denied, and Alderman Lewis cried discrimination. What kind of discrimination was being decried by an elected official in Wilson in 1919?

Wilson Daily Times, 6 September 1919.

An article published nearly eighteen months before yields context. On 7 May 1918, the Times reported, “The city fathers last night refused to renew the license to the pool rooms and to the bowling alleys of the city, and the remarks regarding the places where cider is sold were also far from complimentary. … The meeting was opened by the reading of a resolution by … business men setting forth the fact that both white and colored frequent these places and thus remove from the busy marts of trade and industry labor that should be employed in producing something other than thriftless habits and viciousness.” Mayor Killette railed against the shiftless and bemoaned the legal victory that allowed a local man to sell cider made from his own apples. “The gist of the argument [against pool rooms] was that the colored pool room was full of men who should be at work producing something for their families and helping to make something rather than being consumers merely and drones upon the body politic. They were corrupting because it was almost impossible to prevent gambling in these places and in addition to shiftlessness it encouraged vice and vagrancy. A number of employers stated that their help could be found in the pool room below the railroad, and the bowling alley came in for equally critical remarks as a place to encourage loafing and bad habits.” The matter was put to vote, and no’s were unanimous. [The “colored pool room,” by the way, may have been Mack Bullock‘s establishment at 417 East Nash. See Sanborn map detail, below.]

In June 1919, Luther A. Barnes, the white proprietor of a pool hall at the New Briggs Hotel, and the subject of intense criticism during the May debate received his license over the objection of the mayor. Perhaps this turn of events sparked Commissioner Lewis’ objection to Tate’s rejection three months later?

Noah Tate finally got his pool room in 1921. 

Wilson Daily Times, 8 July 1921.

“Over the railroad,” specifically, was 105-107 North Pettigrew Street.

The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map shows that Tate Pool Room was located in a brick building just north of Nash Street on the railroad side of the street. 

A modern aerial view at Google Maps shows that the rear of present-day 419 East Nash Street consists of two extensions. The first, with the striated roof below, sits in the footprint of Tate’s pool room and may even be the same building. 


At street level, two bricked-up windows are visible, as well as the original roofline. The building appears to have been cinderblock though, which was not commonly used in Wilson in the era of Tate’s business.

Noah J. Tate did not long enjoy his victory; he died in 1926.

Even if these people are negroes ….

Five years before he was assaulting black teachers, school superintendent Charles L. Coon was writing letters to the editor complaining about vice and depravity incubating in an East Wilson theatre. In the paternalistic and unself-conciously racist language typical of the time, he limned the dangers the show place posed to “young negro school girls” and warned that even small children were carrying to school “suggestive songs” heard at the theatre.

CL Coon Vice letter 8 2 1913

Wilson Daily Times, 11 April 1913.

The Sanborn Company issued a new volume of fire insurance maps for Wilson in 1913, but no movie theatre or vaudeville hall is depicted along East Nash Street. However, check the previous volume, produced in 1908, and there it is — a “moving picture show” just across the tracks at the corner of Nash and South Railroad Street. (In 1913, this building is [mis?]marked as a restaurant.) This theatre, at 414 East Nash, predates Sam Vick‘s Globe Theatre, which at any rate was located in the next block. Who was its proprietor? What was its name?

Moving picture show

Sanborn map, Wilson, North Carolina, 1908.

[A personal aside: seventy years later, school girls were flocking to another spot in the 400 block of East Nash. In the mid to late 1970s, Midtown Lounge, located roughly where the restaurant and cobbler shop are shown above, lured in patrons in the very best smoke-and-mirror balls disco way. On Teen Night, I was one of them. — LYH]