Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the sixth in a series of excerpts from documents and interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)
Tilithia Brewington King Godbold Dabney was my grandmother’s father’s first cousin. Born 1878 in Wayne County, North Carolina, to Joshua and Amelia Aldridge Brewington, she married Emanuel King in 1898. By 1910, the couple and their daughters Juanita, Elizabeth, Amelia, Maybelle, and Tilithia had settled in Norfolk, Virginia. Tilithia (pronounced “Ti-LYE-a-thy”) and Emanuel soon divorced and, by 1920, Tilithia had married railroad fireman Walter Godbold and was running a little restaurant.
Cousin Tilithia’s Strand Cafe made a deep impression on my grandmother, who laughingly recalled waiting tables during childhood visits and being dazzled by the menu offerings.
Cousin Tilithia also offered lodging. Norfolk Journal & Guide, 12 March 1921.
“I was thinking about Cousin Tilithia Godbold when I was a little girl. She had a restaurant large enough to work in and serve patrons. It wasn’t real big, but they were serving patrons, and Mama carried me up there, and we spent the night there. And whenever she’d come to Wilson she’d stay with us.
“Cousin Tilithia, she lived in Norfolk, and she married this man. That wasn’t her children’s daddy. King was her children’s daddy. Godbold was the man she married later. He lived over in Rocky Mount, and he worked in the roundhouse or something. I think he fixed the train, but he wasn’t the one on the train. And Godbold, Tilithia’s husband, he stayed there in Rocky Mount. ‘Cause Tilithia lived in Norfolk. Her and her five or six girls or whatever it was, and she was running what they call the Strand Café. And it was down on the first floor, and they lived up over it. Go out there, and it was a sleeping compartment. I was over there one time, and I remember it. I think I was about seven or eight years old. Went with Mama over there. We was just running all over the place. She had us waiting tables. I wanted to wait tables. I was wondering, I asked Mama, “Well, why come we couldn’t have a place like that?” And all that food! Look like whatever the food was – I didn’t even know what it was ‘cause we ain’t never had none. It was a whole lot of stuff, look like they had, I didn’t want it, but then I know it looked good, and we ate down there in the café.
“And another time Mama took me on the train to see her. And it was right down in South Philadelphia where we went to their house. Where they was staying. And when I moved up here to Philadelphia, Tilithia’s sister Hattie, she was telling me ‘bout how the daughters were there in Norfolk, her sister and all them. I said, well, I could remember some of them, but I don’t remember what – and I asked where some of the girls was. Some of them in Norfolk and some of ‘em, one’s dead. [Inaudible] the family. We got strayed apart.”
Norfolk Journal & Guide, 9 December 1922.
Norfolk Journal & Guide, 28 May 1927.
She and my grandmother lost touch, but Cousin Tilithia lived until 1965.
Virginian Pilot, 22 November 1965.
Interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson adapted and edited for clarity. Copyright 1994, 1996. All rights reserved.