Vick

The remains of West Vick, a colored soldier, return.

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Wilson Daily Times, 18 March 1919.

In the 1900 census of Stony Creek township, Nash County: farm laborer John Vick, 45; wife Hanna, 40; and children Tassey, 21, Clara, 19, Johnnie, 17, Berry, 15, Elisha, 13, Joseph, 10, Westray, 9, Paul 3, and Baby, 1.

Wesley Vick, 21, son of John and Hannah Vick, married Sarah Locus, 20, daughter of Jesse and Florida Locus, on 25 May 1912, in Wilson.

Rest in peace, Monte Vick Cowan.

Occasionally, we are reminded that the past is not so very distant, that we are often only a degree or two removed from the men and women whose achievements we now think of as historic. The news of the death last week of Monte LeRoque Vick Cowan, the youngest and last surviving child of Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick, is just such a reminder.

A young Monte Vick on a snowy day.

Mrs. Cowan was born in Wilson in June 1918. World War I was raging, and Spanish flu had begun its deadly spread across the United States. At home, though, the Vick family was enjoying perhaps its period of greatest influence and prosperity. With the entrenchment of Jim Crow, Samuel Vick had retired from political life, but, described as the wealthiest man of his race in North Carolina, was involved one way or another in the establishment of nearly every important institution in East Wilson — an Odd Fellows hall, a Presbyterian church, a Baptist church, a public cemetery, a hospital, a theatre. Two months before Mrs. Cowan’s birth, black parents launched a boycott of the colored graded school, and Vick stepped forward with the offer a building to house an alternative school. Just before Mrs. Cowan’s third birthday, her father led the establishment of Wilson’s only black-owned bank. She grew up in her parents’ imposing East Green Street home in a neighborhood he largely planned with streets named for her older sisters Irma, Viola, Elba and Doris. She was five years old when Wilson Colored High School opened its doors, and a young adult when the elementary school named for her father admitted its first students in the late years of the Great Depression. World War II found Mrs. Cowan in Wilmington, Delaware, where she married Army corporal George Alexander Cowan.

Mrs. Cowan’s 101 years offer a bridge to places and events that can now seem remote. Her long life reminds us of the reach of our roots and invites remembrance and recognition of those upon whose shoulders we stand.

Rest in peace, Monte Vick Cowan.

——

Monte L. Cowan passed on February 12, 2020. She was a Maywood, N.J., resident, formerly of East Orange. She was a graduate of Bennett College of Greensboro, N.C., class of 1940. She was a life long member The Silver Steppers of East Orange, N.J.

Mrs. Cowan leaves to cherish her memories her daughter Vicki M. Cowan, granddaughter Kyara A. Cowan, nieces Joyce Freeman, Beverly Adams, Darnell Street, Denise Cowan, Emma Cowan, Roslyn Lanham, and a host of other relatives and friends. Funeral Services Tuesday February 18, 10 am at Mt. Olive Baptist Church 260 Central Avenue, Hackensack. Visitation 9-10 am Tuesday at the church. Cremation at the convenience of the family. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to Bennett College of Greensboro, N.C. in the name of Monte L. Vick Cowan Class of 1940. Arrangements by Earl I. Jones Funeral Home, 305 First Street, Hackensack. Brent Smallwood Senior Director.

My thanks and condolences to Vicki L. Cowan on the loss of her mother and for sharing these family photographs. Thanks also to Cynthia S. Ellis for the notification of Mrs. Cowan’s passing and for connecting me with the Vick-Cowan family.

Another search for gravestones in Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

First: my request for the Vick cemetery survey and documentation re the decision to destroy its headstones? As yet unfilled, though the city attorney assures me it’s coming soon.

With boots and gloves and a hand pruner, I returned to Rountree/Odd Fellows/Vick cemeteries on a frosty Saturday morning to see what else there is to see.  Walking through the clear strip of Odd Fellows, I noticed immediately that someone had neatened up the stones that are usually lying higgledy-piggledy on the ground. Here, Clarence L. Carter and his daughter Omega Carter Spicer.

Picking my way toward the back edge of the cleared section, it dawned on me that this was once the main entrance to Odd Fellows. The hinges on the post to the right were the give-away. And the traces of asphalt driveway.

Standing near Irma Vick‘s headstone and looking in, I spotted this, plain as day. It’s hard to imagine how I missed it in December.

It’s the double headstone of Daniel and Fannie Blount Vick, Samuel H. Vick‘s father and mother. Daniel Vick died in 1908 (112 years to the day before my “discovery” of his grave) and Fannie Vick sometime in the late 1800s. (Is that a bullet pockmark?)

A few feet away, the headstone of Viola Leroy Vick, daughter of Samuel and Annie Washington Vick. She died as a toddler in 1897, and East Wilson’s Viola Street was named in her honor.

And then, perhaps 25 feet away, cocooned in honeysuckle and evil smilax, this monument loomed. Was it Sam Vick’s?

To my astonishment — no. The honeysuckle pulled off like a cape (after I wasted time hacking at the briars on the other side) to reveal that this remarkable marble headstone, which tops six feet, marks the grave of Wiley Oates. (More about him later.) Samuel and Annie Vick’s gravestones remain elusive.

I’d bought the cheapest hand pruners I could find, and they performed cheaply, but I got through to this gravestone and its companion, which appear to lie across the property line in Rountree cemetery.

The gravestone for Amos Batts’ wife, Jennie Batts, who died in 1945. Behind it in the left corner of the frame you can see the base of a pine whose diameter is at least two feet, which gives a measure of how long this cemetery has been neglected.

Here is the “canal” described in the Rountree cemetery deed. It’s a channeled section of Sandy Creek, and I imagine Rountree Missionary Baptist Church once performed baptisms here. I spent idyllic childhood afternoons exploring along the banks of this waterway perhaps a quarter-mile downstream. Sandy Creek is a tributary of Hominy Swamp, which flows into Contentnea Creek, which empties into the Neuse River at Grifton, North Carolina.

Here, I’m standing on the south bank of Sandy Creek looking down into the bowl that was once Rountree cemetery. I have not found any markers in this low-lying section, though there appear to be collapsed graves. Repeated flooding was one of the factors that led to the abandonment of cemetery. The undergrowth is starting to green up and, as the weather warms, soon these graveyards will be nearly impenetrable without sharper, heavier tools.

Daffodils are not native to eastern North Carolina and would not ordinarily be found blooming in the middle of the woods. This thick drift has naturalized from bulbs perhaps more than one hundred years old. Daffodils were commonly planted in cemeteries to symbolize the death of youth or mortality.

My exit strategy failed at the edge of barricade of wild blackberry twenty-five feet deep between me and Lane Street. I had to scramble back through the woods to gain egress at the ditch dividing Rountree from Odd Fellows. All this battling ate up my time, and I wasn’t able to explore the far end of Odd Fellows, next to Vick. Peering through the fence, though, I did see this marker for Lizzie May Barnes, daughter of H. and L. Barnes, who died in 1919.

——

  • Amos Batts died 24 March 1937 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 61 years old; was born in Wilson County to Thomas and Mariah Batts; was married to Jennie Batts; worked as a common laborer; and lived at 1202 East Nash Street. Informant was Jennie Batts.
  • Jennie Batts died 25 December 1945 at her home at 1202 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Amos Batts; was 58 years old; was born in Wilson County to unknown parents; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Eddie Batts was informant.
  • Lizzie Barnes died 3 April 1919 in Taylor township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 August 1918 in Wilson County to Henry Barnes and Lena Woodard.

Samuel H. and Annie W. Vick family, no. 2.

This formal portrait of Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick and their children was taken around 1913, a few years after the photograph posted here.

The woman at left does not appear to be an immediate family member. Otherwise, by my best judgment, there is daughter Elba, Sam Vick, son Robert, son Daniel (center), daughter Doris, Annie Vick, son Samuel, son George, and daughter Anna.

Photo courtesy of the Freedman Round House and African-American Museum, Wilson, N.C.

Common justice requires that they work for family.

Here is the original complaint from Violet Blount to the Freedmen’s Bureau about her grandsons’ unlawful apprenticeship, chronicled here. Blount was also the maternal grandmother of Samuel H. Vick.

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Wilson N.C., May 31, 67

Freedmens Bureau Goldsboro N.C.

I respectfully wish to inform you that my grandsons Oscar & Marcus Blount (16 & 17 years of age) have been without my or their knowledge or consent bound to Mr. B.H. Blount, their former owner, while myself and their younger brother age seven years have to be supported by my son in law Daniel Vick. I am seventy years old and do think that common justice requires these boys to work at least in part for me & their younger brother as their mother is dead and their father does not claim to work for him. Mr. B.H. Blount once agreed to give the boys up to me but still holds on to them saying that his son G.W. Blount Esq. had arranged it for them to stay where they are till they are free.

Most Respectfully, Violet Blount

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Letters Received Jan 1867-Feb 1868.

In my humble estimation you stand pre-eminently above them all.

In 1936, Wilson-born pharmacist William Henry Vick wrote a letter to Kansas Governor Alf Landon, predicting that he would win the Republican nomination for president. Vick wished “to be the first Negro of New Jersey as Landon booster.” Vick’s prescience notwithstanding, Landon lost badly to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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The Montclair Times, 28 July 1936.

Details of a drowning.

The day after Eugene Fisher drowned while swimming in the lake at Contentnea Park, the Daily Times printed an article suggesting that “Sam Vick,” i.e. Samuel H. Vick Jr., bore some responsibility for the accident.

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Wilson Daily Times, 29 July 1924.

Vick immediately fired back. His grief, he stated sharply, had “been still more aggravated by the misstatement of facts concerning my part in the matter, for the facts were badly twisted and really just the opposite what really happened.” Georgia Aiken also contributed a corrective, milder in tone, but just as firm.

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 July 1924.

And where was Contentnea Park? References in contemporaneous news articles reveal that (1) it was not an African-American-only park — the Kiwanis met there regularly — but rather seems to have had a section reserved for black patrons, “the negro park”; (2) it was privately owned and operated; (3) it was located above the dam on Contentnea Creek; and (4) entrance was gained via a road marked by two stone pillars. A dam spans Contentnea Creek just above U.S. Highway 301 to form what is now known as Wiggins Mill Reservoir, still a popular recreational area. With a hat tip to Janelle Booth Clevinger, here is my best guest at the park’s location:

——

  • Eugene Fisher — Connecticut-born Eugene Leonard Fisher was newly arrived to Wilson at the time of his tragic death. His father Edwin W. Fisher was a manager with North Carolina Mutual and moved his wife and remaining children to Wilson between 1926, when Edwin is listed in the 1926 Durham, N.C., city directory, and 1928, when he appears in the Wilson directory. They settled into 624 East Nash Street, the house built for Dr. Frank S. Hargrave next door to Samuel Vick’s family home at 622. The Fishers appear in Wilson in the 1930 census, and Daisy Virginia Fisher (Eugene’s stepmother) died there on 25 April 1935. Per her death certificate, she and her husband were living at 539 East Nash at the time. Eugene Fisher’s younger brother Milton W. Fisher remained in Wilson into the 1940s, and his older brother Edwin D. Fisher lived there the remainder of his life.

Eugene Fisher’s death certificate reveals that he was an insurance agent for North Carolina Mutual. Fisher was living at an unspecified address on Nash Street. His father Edwin, then a Durham resident, was informant.

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Eugene L. Fisher served in the United States Naval Reserve Force during World War I as a mess attendant. The Messman Branch of the Navy, which was restricted to non-white sailors, was responsible for feeding and serving officers. Fisher was assigned to U.S.S. Black Hawk, a destroyer depot ship. After his death, his brother Edwin D. Fisher of 600 East Green Street applied for a military headstone to be shipped to the “Negro Cemetery (Fayetteville Street)” in Durham. [Edwin Fisher, himself a veteran of World War I, signed as “Liaison Officer, [illegible] A.V. of World War, Sumter S.C. chap. #2.” (What does this signify?)]

Aerial images courtesy of Google Maps.

UPDATE, 9 April 2019:

The “stone” pillars I identified above are actually brick. Until a better guess arrives though, I will stick with hypothesis that they mark the entrance to Contentnea Park. Many thanks to Janelle Booth Clevinger for this photo. — LYH

UPDATE, 11 April 2019: Per additional intel, the pillars shown above were erected in the 1960s. Thus, the location of Contentnea Park remains a mystery.

The collapse of the Vick empire.

A deed of trust is essentially an agreement between a lender and a borrower to give legal title to a property to a neutral third party who will serve as a trustee. The trustee holds the property until the borrower pays off the debt owed to the lender. During the period of repayment, the borrower keeps the actual or equitable title to the property and generally maintains full responsibility for the premises. The trustee, however, holds the legal title to the property and is empowered to sell the property to satisfy the debt if the borrower defaults.  Once the sale is complete, the trustee will distribute the proceeds between the borrower and the lender. The lender gets whatever funds are required to satisfy the debt, and the borrower receives anything in excess of that amount.

On a single day in April 1935, Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick lost nearly all of their wealth, including their home. The Vicks were heavily in debt and had defaulted on their loans.  Trustee Mechanics and Farmers Bank, an offshoot of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (and one of a handful of black North Carolina banks to survive the Great Depression), offered dozens of their properties for sale. On 4 April 1935, as recorded in Deed Book 221, pages 333-341, Home Development Corporation purchased the following tracts — comprising 109 houses and lots, 4 additional vacant lots, and 2 large parcels — for $35,000:

  • Tract 1 — the house and lot at 310 [North] Pender Street.
  • Tract 2 — the house and lot at 313 [North] Pender Street.
  • Tract 2-A — the houses and lots at 401, 403, 407 and 409 Viola Street.
  • Tract 3 — “off of and south of Plank road [East Nash Street], adjoining the lands of Harry Clark and others.”
  • Tract 4 — a 19-room house on Vance Street. [This is likely the building that housed the Independent School.]
  • Tract 5-A — the house and lot at 714 East Viola Street.
  • Tract 5-B — the “Vick Home Place” at 622 East Green Street. [The Vicks regained title to this house, which remains in family hands today.]
  • Tract 5-C — the houses and an empty lot at 711, 713 and 717 East Green Street.
  • Tract 5-D — the house and lot at 716 East Green Street.
  • Tract 5-E — the house and lot at 703 East Green Street.
  • Tract 5-F — the house and lot at 709 East Green Street.
  • Tract 5-G — the houses and lots at 606, 608, 610, 612 and 614 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-H — the houses and lots at 630 and 632 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-I — the house and lot at 620 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-J — the house and lot at 624 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-K — the house and lot at 628 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-L — the houses and lots at 617 and 619 East Viola Street.
  • Tract 5-M — the houses and lots at 705 and 707 East Viola Street.
  • Tract 5-N — the house and lot at 623 Darden Alley [now Lane].
  • Tract 6 — the houses and lots at 701 and 703 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 7 — a 5820 square-foot lot on Viola Street.
  • Tract 8 — the house and lot at 508 East Green Street.
  • Tract 9 — the houses and lots at 509 and 511 [East] Green Street.
  • Tract 10 — the houses and lots at 503 and 505 [East] Green Street.
  • Tract 12 — the houses and lots at 529, 531 and 533 East Nash Street.
  • Tract 13 — the houses and lots at 543, 545, 547 and 549 East Nash Street.
  • Tract 25-A — the buildings and lots at 535, 537 and 539 East Nash Street.
  • Tract 25-B — the house and lot at 526 Smith Street.
  • Tract 25-C — the house and lot at 522 Smith Street.
  • Tract 25-D — the house and lot at 516 Smith Street.
  • Tract 25-E — the houses and lots at 523 and 525 Smith Street.
  • Tract 25-F — the houses and lots at 517 and 519 Smith Street.
  • Tract 14 — the house and lot at 518 East Nash Street.
  • Tract 15 — a 53′ by 153′ lot on Church Alley [now Street].
  • Tract 17 — the houses and lots at 402 and 404 Vick’s Alley [now Parker Lane].
  • Tract 18 — the house and lot at 503 South Spring [now Lodge] Street.
  • Tract 19 — a 7200 square-foot lot adjoining Louis Townsend, near Spring Street [now Lodge].
  • Tract 20 — the houses and lots at 406 and 408 Vick’s Alley [now Parker Lane].
  • Tract 21 — the houses and lots at 403, 405, 407 and 409 Vick’s Alley [now Parker Lane].
  • Tract 23 — the houses and lots at 206 and 208 South Manchester Street.
  • Tract 26-A — the houses and lots at 810 and 812 Elvie [formerly, Elliott] Street.
  • Tract 26-B — the house and lot at 1002 Elvie Street.
  • Tract 26-C — the houses and lots at 801 and 803 Elvie Street.
  • Tract 26-D — the house and lot at 811 Elvie Street.
  • Tract 26-E — the house and lot at 908 Elvie Street.
  • Tract 27 — the house and lot at 607 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 28 — the house and lot at 600 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 29 — the houses and lots at 213, 215 and 217 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 31-A — the houses and lots at 903 and 907 Mercer Street.
  • Tract 31-B — the house and lot at 915 Mercer Street.
  • Tract 32 — a lot on Sugg[s] Street.
  • Tract 33 — the house and lot at 700 Suggs Street.
  • Tract 34-A — the house and lot at 309 Hackney Street.
  • Tract 34-B — the houses and lots at 305 and 307 Hackney Street.
  • Tract 35-A — the house and lot at 617 Darden Alley [Lane].
  • Tract 35-B — the house and lot at 623 Darden Alley [Lane].
  • Tract 37 — the houses and lots at 109, 111, 113, 115, 117 and 201 East Street.
  • Tract 38 — the houses and lots at 108 and 110 Ashe Street.
  • Tract 39 — the houses and lots at 114, 116 and 118 East Street.
  • Tract 40 — 40 acres in Wilson township.
  • Tract 42 — the houses and lots at 400, 402 and 404 Hines Street.
  • Tract 43 — the houses and lots at 500 and 502 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 44 — the house and lot at 712 East Vance and the adjoining lot.
  • Tract 45 — the house and lot at 603 Darden Alley [Lane].
  • Tract 46 — the house and lot at 504 [North] Vick Street.
  • Tract 47 — the house and lot at 504 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 48 — the house and lot at 515 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 49 — the house and lot at 201 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 16 — the house and lot at 519 Church Street.

Separate deeds filed the same day showed the transfer of (1) a 50-acre subdivided parcel (minus several dozen lots already sold) from trustee E.R. Merrick to Home Development Corporation for $3500 (Deed Book 221, page 332), and (2) 7 lots on Suggs, Vick, Church and Viola Streets from trustee R.L. McDougald to Home Development Corporation for $6000 (Deed Book 221, page 331). Both transactions involved land the Vicks had borrowed against.

Marked with red asterisks, this roughly six-block area shows the locations of 34 properties held in trust by Merchants and Farmers Bank and sold on 4 April 1935. Many were small shotgun houses built for rental to working-class families. Excerpt from page 32 of the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C. 

Wedding scenes.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 3 January 1942.

Robert E. Vick, son of Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick, was a groomsman in the Atlanta wedding of Alice Clarissa Clement, whose father Rufus E. Clement was president of Atlanta University, and Robert Joseph Foster of Monroe, Louisiana. Vick is seated bottom right in the right-hand photograph.

Many thanks to S.M. Stevens for the referral.