In 1925, 1401 East Nash Street was just beyond eastern city limits. I have not been able to find anything else about Old Cabin Lunch. I’m not at all sure it was a Black-owned business, though it was located in an African-American residential area. Three years later, the address was the location of William Wells‘ auto repair garage.
This poorly maintained cemetery is just outside Wilson County in Wayne County, but many of the dozens buried here were Wilson County residents.
This photo taken in December 2019 depicts a recent rough cut, with sedge broom mowed to the ground and weedy trees chopped and stacked in brush piles. The marked graves include those below.
Polly Watson cemetery under a low winter sun.
Father Calvin Sutton Born 1858 May 2 1922 Gone But Not Forgotten
On 23 December 1875, Calvin Sutton, 21, married Sylvania Simmons, 22, in Wayne County.
In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Calvin Sutton, 25; wife Silvania, 26; children Hattie, 3, and twins Joel B. and Josephin, 1; mother Dolly, 55; brothers Dallow, 18, and Henry, 16; and sister Mary, 12.
In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Calvin Sutton, 45; wife Silvania, 49; and children George, 18, Walter, 16, Mary, 13, and Roscoe, 10.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Upper Black Creek Road, farmer Calvin Sutton, 54; wife Sylvania, 58; daughter Hattie Taylor, 33; and grandchildren Olivia, 9, Viola, 7, Lillie M., 5, Georgiana, 4, and Mittie, 2; plus adopted grandson Frank McNeal, 16.
Calvin Sutton died 3 May 1922 in Great Swamp township, Wayne County. Per his death certificate, he was 68 years old; was born in Wayne County to Doll Sutton and T. Dollie Ward; and was born in Polly Watson cemetery. George Sutton was informant.
Mother Sylvania Sutton Dec 5 1851 Died 1916 Gone But Not Forgotten
In the 1860 census of Indian Springs district, Wayne County: cooper George Simmons, 40; wife Axey J., 38; and children Riley B., 19, Simon, 15, Susan A., 17, Zach, 10, Silvania, 9, Bryant, 7, H.B., 5, and Gen. Washington, 2.
In the 1870 census of Brogden township, Wayne County: farmer Geo. Simmons, 52; wife Annie, 47; and children George, 24, shoemaking shoes, Zachariah, 22, Silavant, 20, Bryant C., 18, Hillary B., 16, and Washington, 12.
Sylvania Sutton died 4 August 1916 in Springhill township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was about 65 years old; was married; her father was George Simmons; and she was buried in Watson graveyard.
George Washington Sutton and Mary Artis Sutton
On 17 October 1900, George Sutton, 20, of Springhill township, married Mary Jane Artis, 19, of Wayne County, in Springhill township, Wilson County. L.H. Horton, Walter Sutton, and Mary Sutton were witnesses.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Upper Black Creek Road, farmer George W. Sutton, 29; wife Mary J., 26; and children Walter C., 8, Mamie M., 6; William Mc., 4; and Anderson M., 1.
In the 1920 census of Great Swamp township, Wayne County: farmer George Sutton, 39; wife Mary J., 36; and children Walter, 18, Mamie, 16, McKinley, 14, Anderson, 10, Richard, 6, and Jarvis, 3.
In the 1930 census of Great Swamp township, Wayne County: farmer George Sutton, 49; wife Mary J., 46; and children Mamie, 26, McKenly, 24, Anderson, 21, Richard, 16, Jarvis, 14, Bessie, 8, Chester, 4, and Georgia L., 1.
Mary Jane Sutton died 11 January 1936 in Lucama, Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born in 1884 in Wayne County to Bennie and Doomie Artis; was married to George Sutton; and was buried in Polly Watson cemetery.
On 28 November 1936, George Sutton, 55, of Wilson County, son of Calvin and Sylvania Sutton, married Fannie Morgan, 49, of Great Swamp township, Wayne County, daughter of John and Jane Roundtree, in Wayne County.
In the 1940 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer George Sutton, 58; wife Fannie, 52; children Mamie, 36, Richard, 27, Jarvis, 23, Bessie, 18, Chester, 14, and Georgia, 10; plus father-in-law John Roundtree, 83.
George Washington Sutton died 8 February 1968 in Fremont, Wayne County. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 October 1881; lived on Ward Street, Fremont; was a widower; and was born to Calvin Sutton and Sylvania Simmons. Informant was Mamie Lee Sutton. He was buried in Polly Watson cemetery.
James Revell Born June 1, 1867 Died July 31 1926
James Revell, 22, of Springhill township, son of Sanders and Hannah Revell, married Clarkie Hinnant, 21, of Springhill township, daughter of Em. Boyette and Hannah Hinnant, on 9 May 1890. London Revell applied for the license, and Free Will Baptist minister Nash Hortonperformed the ceremony.
In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer James C. Revell, 30; wife Clarky, 28; and children Nancy, 9, James T., 7, Robert, 5, and Violia, 2.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer James Revel, 40; wife Clorca, 39; and children Nancy, 18, James T., 16, Viola, 11, Lunn, 9, and Jefferson J., 7, and cousin Lessie Barnes, 12.
In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on a branch off the Fremont and Kenly Road, farmer James Revell, 52; wife Clarkie, 50; and children Viola, 20, London, 18, Jefferson, 16, and Manley, 5.
In the 1930 census of Beulah township, Johnston County: farmer James T. Revell, 37; mother Clarkey, 61; sisters Nancy, 39, and Viola, 32; brother Manley, 18; and nephews James L., 5, and William F. Sheard, 1.
James Revell died 16 August 1948 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 30 September 1909 in Johnston County to James Revell and Clarkie Hinniant; was married to Annie D. Revell; was a truck driver; and was buried in Polly Watson cemetery.
Dudley E. Smith
Dudley E. Smith Oct. 16 1855 Oct. 15 1947
Douglas Smith married Mittie Speight on 5 February 1885 in Wayne County, North Carolina.
In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: day laborer Dudley Smith, 53; wife Mittie, 32; and children Polly, 13, Moses, 6, and Herbert, 4.
In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: on Main Street, brickyard laborer Dudley Smith, 54; wife Mittie, 33; and children London, 12, David, 7, and Minnie, 4.
In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Dudley Smith, 63; wife Mittie, 48; and children Minnie, 14, and Hastie, 7.
In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Mittie Smith, 51; son Thomas, 19; and father Dudley, 70. [Dudley Smith was Thomas Smith’s father, but Mittie Smith’s husband.]
In the 1940 census of Buck Swamp township, Wayne County: on Pikeville-Nahunta Road, Dudley Edward Smith, 85; wife Mittie, 65; and son Jack, 27; son-in-law Booker T. Sherard, 35, and daughter Minnie, 34; granddaughters Virginia, 15, and Viola Edward, 14; and grandson James Richard Edward, 12.
Dudley Smith died 3 September 1947 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 100 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to unknown parents; was married to Mittie Smith, age 73; was a farmer; and was buried in Polly Watson cemetery. Joe Wells was informant.
Joseph F. and Pollie S. Wells
Father Mother Wells Joseph F. Sept. 21, 1883 Pollie S. Aug. 6, 1886 June 14, 1964 Thy Will Be Done Oh Heavenly Father
In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: day laborer Jason Wells, 51; wife Arrena, 30; and sons Joseph E., 16, Johnie H., 17, Shelly, 2, and Carlton, 9 months.
Joseph E. Wells, 21, of Cross Roads township, son of Jason Wells, married Polly Smith, 18, of Cross Roads, daughter of Dudley and Mittie Smith, on 31 October 1904 in Lucama. Isaac Rich applied for the license.
In the 1910 census of Lucama, Cross Roads township, Wilson County: on Main Street, Joseph Wells, 25; wife Polly, 20; children Joseph O., 6, and Clyde L., 3; and cousins Lissie, 18, and William A. Deans, 1.
In 1918, Joseph Elijah Wells registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 21 September 1883; lived in Lucama; farmed for W.H. Tomlinson; and his contact was Pollie Wells.
In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Joe Wells, 32; wife Pollie, 28; and Joe Jr., 7, Willie, 5, and Roy, 2.
In the 1930 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Joseph E. Wells, 47; wife Polly, 41; and son Mack, 20.
In the 1940 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Joe E. Wells, 56; wife Polly, 52; Lessie Best, 28; and farmhand James A. Kent, 10.
Joseph Elijah Wells died 12 October 1866 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 September 1896 in Wilson County to Jason and Lena Wells; was a widower; worked as a farm laborer; lived at 105 South Reid Street, Wilson; and was buried in Polly Watson cemetery. Joseph O. Wells Jr., Buffalo, New York, was informant.
Cherry Speight Born Oct. 24, 1845 Died Nov. 1, 1921 Rest with God
In the 1880 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County, North Carolina: Cherry Speight, 34, and children Manda, 15, Dempsy, 13, Annaky, 10, Nathan, 7, Francis, 5, and Louder, 1.
In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Nathan Speight, 55; wife Cherry, 40; and children Sallie, 14, Charity, 13, and Dread, 6.
In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Nathan Speight, 65; wife Cherry, 63; and children Cherry D., 19, Dred, 17, and Mamy, 3.
Cherry Speight died 1 November 1921 in Cross Roads township, Wilson township. Per her death certificate, she was 75 years old; married to Nathan Speight; was born in Greene County to unknown parents; and informant was Frank Hall.
Junius Banks July 31, 1884 Jan 24, 1933 I have not forgotten you.
The ninety-sixth in a series of posts highlighting buildings inEast Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this house is: “1927; 1 story; William Wells house; bungalow with gable roof and engaged porch; built by Nestus Freeman; Wells was an auto mechanic.”
The house lies within the boundaries of the first phase of the Freeman Place housing redevelopment project and is the sole remaining pre-World War II house between Carroll Street and U.S. Highway 301.
In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Wells Mazie tchr h 1209 E Nash; (also) Wells Wm auto repr RFD No 4 h 1209 E Nash;
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Wells Wm (c; Mazie H) prop Wells Garage h 1209 E Nash
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1207 [sic] East Nash, owned and valued at $1500, auto mechanic at garage William Wells, 34; wife Mazie, 32, public school teacher; son George, 7; brother-in-law George Cooper, 46, tobacco factory laborer; and sister Aldreta Cooper, 26, cook.
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Wells Wm (c; Mazie H) (Wells’ Garage) h 1209 E Nash; (also) Wells’ Garage (c; Wm Wells) 1401 E Nash
Charles Rudolph Bridgers died 15 January 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 7 months, 5 days old and was born in Wilson to Jessie Bridgers and Margaret Kittrell.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: renting for $8/month, Jessie Bridgers, 32, truck driver for furniture company; wife Margaret, 27; and children Elizabeth, 6, and Jessie Jr., 5.
In 1940, Jessie James Bridgers registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 6 July 1905 in Halifax, N.C.; his contact was wife Margarette Bridgers; and he worked for J.W. Thomas and V.C. Martin at Thomas Yelverton in Wilson.
In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bridgers Jesse (c; Margt; 4) furn repr h 1209 E Nash
Wilson Daily Times, 19 January 1946.
In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Currie David (c; Rematha) lndry wrkr h 1209 E Nash
In a 3 September 1993 Wilson Daily Times article, “City OKs Owner Occupancy-Based Redevelopment”:
“City Council unanimously approved the Redevelopment Demonstration Project Area plan Thursday night despite concerns expressed by some property owners.
“The city proposes to redevelop the two-acre area bounded by Nash, Carroll, Atlantic and Wainwright streets through housing acquisition, demolition and new construction activities. The redevelopment plan calls for construction of 12 new single-family homes for owner occupancy.
“The sole existing house to be spared demolition — and the only owner-occupied unit — is at 1209 E. Nash St. Charity Speight and her husband own that property.
“‘I was very concerned that no one came to talk to us,’ Mrs. Speight told council. ‘I feel we should have some input too.’ She said the house was rehabilitated two years ago. Even with those improvements, the house will not meet the standards of the new houses to be constructed on the rest of the block. Mrs. Speight said she and her husband are still paying off the rehabilitation loan and cannot afford to put more money into home improvements.”
A notice of conveyance published in the Times a year later made clear the exclusion of the Speights’ home from the city’s redevelopment project:
The assertion that the first school in East Wilson opened in 1910 is incorrect. Here are references to African-American education in 1869, 1871, 1877, 1883, 1890, 1895, 1897, and 1897. (Further, the colored graded school was not called the Sallie Barbour School until the late 1930s.)
Per this article, the Episcopal school operated from 1891 to 1912 and perhaps into the 1920s.
The school taught 50-90 students per year until 1909, when two teachers served 203 pupils.
A permanent school space eventually was built was next door to the church at South and Lodge Streets. “We used to call that Little Washington,” Marie Wells Lucas said. (And thus cleared up a mystery about the location of that neighborhood.)
Families provided firewood to heat the school.
In 1934, Carolina Builders bought the lot on which the church and school stood.
The Episcopal church and school.This photo of John Boykin, Rev. Robert N. Perry and John H. Clark was taken below the stained glass windows in the church’s gable end.
Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C. (1922).
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: wheelwright Mack Wells, 40; wife Cherry, 38; and children Bertha, 11, Willie, 9, Clifton, 6, Lillie, 4, and Marry, 2.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 624 Viola, blacksmith Mack Wells. 57; wife Cherry, 55, washing and ironing; children Clifton, 25, blacksmith, and Marie, 22, washing and ironing; and granddaughter Minnie Green, 8.
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory; Wells C Malachi (c; Cherry) gunsmith h 615 Viola. Also, Wells, Marie school tchr h 615 Viola
On 25 December 1934, Joe Lucas, 20, of Nash County, son of John Lucas, married Marie Wells, 30, of Wilson, daughter of Mack and Cherry Wells, at Mack Wells’ on Viola Street.
Charles Malacih [Malachi] Wells died 22 August 1939 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 October 1862 in Nash County to Dennis Wells of Nash and Nellie Adams of Nash; was married; resided at 615 Viola; and was a self-employed machinist at Wells Machinery. Informant was Clifton Wells, 700 Warren Street, Wilson.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 615 Viola Street, owned and valued at $1500, Cherry Wells, 74; machine shop blacksmith William, 47; lumber mill laborer Joseph Lucas, 43; Marie W., 42, teacher; and John D. Lucas, age illegible.
Cherry Wells died 22 September 1951 at 615 Viola Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was a widow; was about 86 years old; and was born in Edgecombe County to Jones Williams and Olive [no last name given]. Informant was Marie Lucas, 615 Viola.
Clifton Wells died 6 August 1971 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 19 July 1894 to Charles M. Wells and Cherrie Hines; resided at 501 North Carroll Street; was self-employed at C.M. Wells General Repair; and was married to Maggie Young. Informant was Marguerite Wells Murrain, Goldsboro.
Marie Wells Lucas died 6 October 1997 in Wilson, aged 99.
South and Lodge Streets, today, per Google Maps.
Photo of church and school courtesy of Patrick M. Valentine’s The Episcopalians of Wilson County: A History of St. Timothy’s and St. Mark’s Churches in Wilson, North Carolina 1856-1995 (1996).
Lula B. Moody, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), 3 July 2000.
Lula B. Moody, 81, of 131 S. 6th St., Allentown, died Saturday, July 1, in her home. She was the wife of Edward Moody. Born in Wilson, N.C., she was a daughter of the late William and Ora (Wells) Grantham. She was a member of Union Baptist Church, Allentown. She was a member of the Negro Cultural Center, Allentown, and was formerly a Cub Scout Den mother for Pack 98, Allentown. Survivors: Husband; sons, Albert Johnson of Philadelphia, Edward Jr. of Bradford, McKean County, William H. of York, York County; daughters, Orabell, wife of Sandy Owens, Millicent Turner, and Shirley, all of Allentown, Addie Elure of Columbia, S.C., Gladys, wife of Daniel Parsons, with whom she resided; 26 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.
On 4 February 1905, William Grantham, 25, of Toisnot township, son of William and J. Grantham of Wayne County, married Ola Wells, 22, of Toisnot township, daughter of Creecie Wells, in Toisnot township.
Coroner’s report of the Inquest held over Dennis Williams (Col.), Dec. 19th, 1899
North Carolina, Wilson County }
Record of the examination of witnesses at the Inquest over the dead body of Dennis Williams (col)
The examination of W.D. Crocker M.D., Arch’d Robinson, W.M. Mumford, Edmund Williamson, John Henry, Horton Wells, Jason Wells (col), Alfred Moore taken before the undersigned, Coroner of said County, this 18th day of December 1899 at the Court House in Wilson, upon the body of Dennis Williams then lying dead, to-wit Archibald Robinson, being duly sworn says:
I went down to Mr. Moore’s Thursday night a little after dark. Mr. Moore not at home, but stayed there until a little after eight, went out and hurried towards home, just as I got close to the grave yard I heard a noise sound like some one struggling, I thought at first some one was trying to scare me heard noise about 100 years from Mr. Mumfords house. Saw man laying beside road, just a got against him I turned to left but walked by his feet and look down to see if I knew him, but made no stop. I met Edmund WmSon between where man was lying and Mr. Mumfords house. Just as I crossed the bridge I met him he spoke and I spoke and I stop after I passed him to see if he could recognize him and he stop and called to me that here is a man that seemed to be drunk or hurt come back and see if we can see what is to matter with him. I came back to injured man and found that Edmond knew him and found that he was injured. I and Mr. Mumford went to the depot and let some of the [illegible] Dr. W.D. Crocker went to see him. They took him up and carried him over to a vacant house about 350 years away where the doctor dressed his wounds. The man was total unconscience and stayed so, as far as I heard. Don’t know anything more about it. Archibald (X) Robinson
Edmund Williamson being duly sworn says:
I was acquainted with Dennis Williams. Did not recognize him that night at first, but did afterwards. There was right much blood on ground, where he was found. Do not know why he was there. Edmund (X) Williamson.
Wash Mumford, being duly sworn says:
Dennis came up to my house drunk, Thursday night drunk, like he always came, have learn him for 20 years, came to my gate, but Dago wouldn’t let him in. I was out in yard cutting out my beef. I forbid him to come in my yard for he was drunk, he walked off to one side, leaning up against walling. About 8 or 10 minutes, talking to him self. Had some words and he walked away cursing. He was not very offensive and went off as soon as I told him to go. Went off in direction to where he was afterwards found. Heard that he was hurt about 15 minutes after he left my house. I heard him meet some one, and heard him curve some one, and heard other party say he would kill him if he cursed him, and almost immediately afterwards heard blows. Mr. Wells and my son was with me. After I found out he was hurt, took my cart, and help them carry him off and dress his would. Found a bar rail and a fence rail where he was hurt, was blood, and hair on rails. Wash (X) Mumford
Horton Wells, being duly sworn says:
I was at Mr. Mumford, when Dennis same to his house Thursday night. I heard nothing more than Mr. Mumford testified to. /s/ J.H. Wells
Jason Wells, being duly sworn, says:
I am barber, my business is at Lucama. Went home a little early Thursday night. I saw Dennis at depot Thursday. He was drunk. I saw him between sun set and dark, didn’t see him after I went home. Didn’t see him have any money, but heard him say he had some. I took a drink with him, some time in the day he was not drunk then. Never saw him after he was hurt. Jason (X) Wells
Alfred Moore, being duly sworn, says:
The man was found dead about a half miles from my house. /s/ Alfred Moore
Dr. W.D. Crocker, being duly sworn says:
I practice medicine at Lucama I saw Dennis Williams in Lucama Thursday about sun down very drunk and he spoke to me, did not know him at that time. Had him searched next morning, did n’t find any thing except some candy, When I saw him at about half past ten he was unconscience, and had one cut on head near 6 in in length, cut to skull. I couldn’t detect any fracture in skull. He had both arms broken about five in from wrist, one bone in each arm. I think the cause of his death was from the two wounds on the head. I think the wounds were made by a rail. He was never conscience, and his pulse was very week. His folks took him home Friday and he died the next day. He also had a bruise on back of his head. /s/ W.D. Crocker
John Henry Battle, being duly sworn, says:
I live in Lucama, work with Mr. J.L. Hays. I saw Dennis Williams, about dark Thursday night, didnt see him during day. He was going out of town, with a man called Black Jack, coming out towards Barnes cross roads. I thought Dennis was drunk. Black Jack didn’t seem to be as drunk as Dennis, but I though he was drinking, Dennis wanted to go out in the country, and Black Jack didn’t want to go. Don’t know whether he went or no, both seemed to be in good humor. Didn’t see Dennis any more until he was found hurt, and haven’t see Black Jack since. /s/ John Henry Battle
John K. Ruffin, Coroner
Jason Wells — Jason Wells, 47, of Cross Roads, married Rena Reaves, 22, of Cross Roads, on 19 October 1897 in Lucama. Witnesses were Henry Odham, Joseph Newsom, and LinseyWells. In the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: day laborer Jason Wells, 51, wife Arrena, 30, and children Joseph E., 16, Johnie H., 11, Shelly, 2, and Carlton, 9 months. Jason Wells died 18 October 1934 in Cross Roads township. Per his death certificate: he was born in 1851 in Nash County to Dennis and Nellie Wells; was married to Rena Reaves Wells; worked as a farmer until 1931; and was buried in Lamms cemetery. Rena Reaves Wells was informant.
Edmund Williamson — in the 1880 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Edmund Williamson, 50, wife Thaney, 44, and children William, 25, Nicie, 23, Eliza, 22, Eddie, 21, Ally, 19, Pollina, 17, Dolly Ann, 15, Isaac, 12, and Raiford, 7.
John Henry Battle — in the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: day laborer Columbus Battle, 24, wife Minnie, 20, and brother, John H., 23, also a day laborer.
Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.
The Rev. Dr. Willie Oliver Wells Sr.–- pastor of Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, in Cocoa, Florida, for more than 50 years, well-known civil rights leader, and great servant of the Lord in church and civic affairs –- died on November 4, 2015. He was 84.
Rev. Wells was an inspiring leader who identified with the struggle for decency, justice and security for all people. The U.S. Army veteran served the church and his country with fearless courage and was a champion of all causes he believed to be right. His kind, friendly spirit will be missed, especially by those who worked closely with him.
Rev. Wells rendered faithful service and will long be remembered for his many contributions to the betterment of our community. Not the least of these is the part he played in the development of affordable housing for local residents, equal opportunity employment, and his leadership and courageous support of racial justice.
Rev. Wells was born on April 11, 1931, in Miami. He was the youngest of seven children born to Lillie and Rev. Oliver W. Wells Sr., pastor of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, Fort Lauderdale.
He graduated from Dillard High School in 1949 and attended Bethune Cookman College on a football scholarship. During his sophomore year, his father passed, and he entered the U.S. Army. He attended leadership school in Virginia, and was stationed in Germany for two years. Afterwards, he attended Fisk University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. Also, he attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, and graduated with a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1955.
In 1955, he married Annie Ruth Collins of Cocoa. The couple lived in Tennessee, and he was pastor of Westwood Baptist Church, Nashville, for two years.
In 1959, when there was a vacancy for a pastor at Greater St. Paul Baptist Church, Rev. Wells was selected to fill that position. Then, the couple moved to Cocoa.
At that time, blacks were barred from public beaches, parks, restrooms and restaurants, in Brevard County and elsewhere. Rev. Wells worked to change the oppressive “Jim Crow” laws. During the early 1960’s, Rev. Wells was a Freedom Rider who led non-violent civil protests. He was an original member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference -–along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–- and during his lifetime Rev. Wells spearheaded many projects to combat racism, poverty, drug abuse and crime. He was instrumental in bringing about desegregation in Brevard County, where he led anti-segregation campaigns and held various civic leadership positions.
He served as president of the Brevard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, vice-president of the Florida branch of the NAACP, and chairman of the Redevelopment Commission of the City of Cocoa.
Rev. Wells established the Community Action Agency of Brevard, which provided low-income day care centers; Project Uplift, a fund for interest free loans to the church’s members; and in 1968, he constructed two low-rent apartment complexes, Shull Manor in Melbourne and Tropical Manor in Merritt Island. In 1978, Dr. Wells led Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in building a $1.2 million complex.
Dr. Annie Ruth Wells passed in 2008. Rev. Wells retired as pastor of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in 2011. He leaves to mourn his passing his four children, Rev. Willie Oliver Wells Jr. (Jimmie Lee), Rev. Oliver W. Wells (Linda), and Annette O. Wells, all of Cocoa; and Dee Dee Wells (Michael) of Maryland; and 10 grandchildren.
Florida civil rights leader Rev. W.O. Wells had roots in Wilson County. His grandfather Burt Wells was born in Toisnot township circa 1872 to Alexander and Nancy Joyner Wells and migrated to south Georgia in the late 1800s. Burt Wells’ son Oliver W. Wells, born in 1895 in Willacoochee, Georgia, was Rev. W.O. Wells’ father.
On 28 May 1868, Ellick Wells, son of Kain and Milly Wells, married Nancy Joyner, daughter of Polly Joyner, at Harris Winstead’s in Wilson County.
On 19 December 1868, Isaac Wells,son of Cain and Milly Wells, married Clarky Farmer, daughter of Ben Dowley and Ellen Dowly, at C.C. Barnes’ in Wilson County.
In 1868, Cain Wells obtained a license to marry Sarah Braswell, daughter of Quincy Braswell. The license was not registered with the Wilson County clerk and, presumably, the couple never married.
Toney Wells, son of Cain and Milly Wells, married Laura Ethridge, daughter of Julia Ethridge, in Liberty township, Nash County, on 30 January 1869.
In the 1870 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: Ellick Wells, 26, Nancy, 18, Clara, 2, and Milly Batchelor, 70.
Nancy died in the early 1870s, and, on 3 August 1879, Alex Wells, 33, married Easter Parker, 22, in Wilson County.
In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Al’x Wells, 35, wife Easter, 19, and children Delpha, 10, Birt, 8, and Arnold, 7.
Delphia Wells married William Drake on 1 July 1888 at A.F. Williams’ in Toisnot township.
In perhaps the early 1890s, Burt Wells and perhaps his father Alex moved from Wilson County to south Georgia. The 1900 census of Pearson township, Coffee County, Georgia, shows: Alexander Wells, 60, born in North Carolina, with his wife of seven years, Mary Ann, 40. Burt is not found in the 1900 census, but the World War I draft registrations of his oldest sons Willie, Oliver and Dewey show that they were born in Coffee (now Atkinson) County, Georgia.
In the 1910 census of Pearson township, Coffee County, Georgia: farmer Burt Wells, 45, wife Susie, 34, and children Sindy, 15, Elisah, 14, Willie, 12, Oliver, 11, Duey, 10, Oscar, 8, Delphy, 7, Squire, 6, Arnold, 4, Felton, 2, boarder Solomon Street, 21.
In the 1920 census of Pearson township, Atkinson County, Georgia: on Columbine Road, Burt Wells, 50, wife Lela, 30, and children Dewey, 22, Arnel, 13, Felton, 10, Osie, 3½, and Odom, 1 1/2.
In the 1930 census of Military District 1026, Atkinson County, Georgia: North Carolina-born Bert Wells, 60, wife Lelia, 37, and children Ocie, 13, Odom, 11.