Columbus Estell “C.E.” Artis was born in 1886 near Eureka, Wayne County NC to Adam T. Artis and his fourth wife, Amanda Aldridge Artis. Census records and city directories show that he tried his hand at a number of businesses, including grocery stores and “eating houses.” The 1915 directory of the town of Wilson NC described him as an undertaker, but it’s not clear for whom he worked or if he owned his own business at that time. He spent several years in Washington DC during and after World War I, but a 1922 newspaper article makes references to Batts Brothers and Artis as local undertakers, and the 1925 Wilson city directory carries this entry:
ARTIS & FLANAGAN (CE Artis, WE Flanagan) funeral directors 563 E Nash phone 1183
Here’s Artis’ business described in 1979 in National Register of Historic Places Inventory — Nomination Form for “East Wilson Business Area,” Wilson Central Business and Tobacco Warehouse Historic District:
One of only two black funeral directors in Wilson, Columbus Estelle Artis (1886- 1973) had this modest, one-story, three-storefront building [at 567-571 East Nash Street] erected in 1922. His funeral business occupied the 571 store until the mid 1950s when he retired and closed his business; the other two stores have always been used for rental purposes, except for a brief period from ca 1945 until ca 1951 when Artis expanded his funeral home into the 569 store. The stuccoed brick structure has narrow stores at 567 and 569 that contain a simple door and a large adjacent display window, both of which have transoms of clear glass. The store at 571 East Nash Street has a central door with flanking display windows, also with transoms. Unfortunately, all of the windows and three of the window transoms have been boarded up. The blind northwest elevation originally abutted the drug store occupied by Darcey D. Yancy during the 1940s and 1950s; this building was razed in the mid 1960s. The rear elevation of the Artis building has a one central door per store. The southeast elevation wall is adjacent to the Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church, which has maintained offices of the Artis building since 1980.
(Historic designation notwithstanding, Jackson Chapel tore down the buildings in the 1990s to make way for a church expansion and parking lot.)
C.E. Artis’ distinctive, wide-nibbed, angular cursive — r’s slashed diagonally — appears on hundreds of Wilson and Wayne County death certificates. Like James Guess in Goldsboro, with whom he competed to some extent, C.E. Artis was often called upon to bury his kin, including several of his siblings. Among the funerals he conducted were:
+ Vicy Aldrich, 13 Feb 1927. Buried Aldrich cemetery, Dudley NC. Daughter of Adam and Frances Seaberry Artis, Vicey Artis Aldridge was C.E.’s half-sister.
+ Baby Jacobs, 22 Apr 1928. Buried Rountree cemetery, Wilson. Unnamed stillborn son of Hattie Mae Jacobs, who was the granddaughter of Vicey A. Aldridge.
+Napoleon Artis, 9 Sep 1928. Buried family cemetery, Wayne County. Son of C.E.’s half-brother Walter S. Artis, who was son of Adam and Frances Seaberry Artis.
+ Jane Sauls, 16 Dec 1928. Buried Union Grove cemetery, Wayne County. Daughter of Sylvania Artis Lane, who was sister of C.E.’s grandmother Vicey Artis Williams.
+ Mable Barnes, 18 Apr 1929. Buried family cemetery, Wayne or Wilson County. Daughter of C.E.’s brother Robert E. Artis.
+ Ivery Artis, 24 Jul 1930. Buried Wayne County. Son of Morrison Artis, who was first cousin of C.E.’s father Adam T. Artis. Also, Morrison’s first wife, Jane Artis, was Adam’s sister.
+ Alberta Artis, 9 Jun 1931. Buried Wayne County. Granddaughter of C.E. Artis’ paternal aunt Delilah Williams Exum.
+ Lucinda Artis, 23 Jun 1931. Buried Wayne County. Widow of C.E.’s uncle Jesse Artis.
+ Susiannah Artis, 11 Sept 1931. Buried Wayne County. Widow of C.E.’s uncle Richard Artis.
+ Leslie Exum, 4 Jul 1934. Buried Wayne County. Grandson of C.E.’s half-brother Jesse Artis, son of Adam and Frances Seaberry Artis. Leslie’s wife Beulah Artis Exum was daughter of C.E.’s half-brother, William M. Artis.
+ Malinda Artis, 5 Mar 1936. Buried Wilson County. Second wife of C.E.’s brother Robert Artis.
+ Sarah Jacobs Silver, 8 Jan 1938. Buried Wayne County [in fact, in the Congregational Church cemetery]. Silver’s great-niece Hattie Henderson (alias Jacobs) was the granddaughter of C.E.’s half-sister Louvicey Artis Aldridge. Silver also lived on Elba Street in Wilson NC, around the corner from C.E.’s Green Street home.
+ Viola Artis, 1 Feb 1938. Buried Wayne County. Granddaughter of C.E.’s brother Henry J.B. Artis.
+ William Wilson, 5 Mar 1939. Buried Wilson County. Grandson of C.E.’s aunt, Zilpha Artis Wilson.
+ Delilah Exum, 18 Jul 1939. Buried Wayne County. C.E.’s father’s sister.
+ Julius Artis Jr., 18 Dec 1939. Buried Wilson County. Grandson of C.E.’s brother Henry J.B. Artis.
+ Katie Artis King, 22 June 1940. Buried family cemetery, Wayne County. C.E.’s stepmother, his father Adam’s last wife.
+ John G. Reid, 29 Dec 1941. Buried Turners Swamp cemetery, Wayne County. Husband of C.E.’s first cousin, Emma Artis Reid, daughter of Richard Artis Sr.
+ Ada Dixon Sauls, 28 January 1945. Buried Baptist church cemetery, Snow Hill. Wife of C.E.’s cousin, Cain D. Sauls.
+ Liberty P. Artis, 10 Jul 1945. Buried family cemetery, Wilson County. Son of C.E.’s brother Robert.
+ William Artis, 28 Sep 1945. Buried “family (Seabury)” cemetery, Wayne County. C.E.’s half-brother, son of Adam T. Artis and Frances Seaberry Artis.
+ Scott Artis, 6 Apr 1947. Buried Red Hill cemetery, Wayne County. Son of Morrison Artis, son of Sylvania Artis Lane, who was C.E.’s grandmother’s sister.
+ Bettie Reid, 2 Dec 1947. Buried family cemetery, Wayne County. Elizabeth “Bettie” Wilson Reid was C.E.’s first cousin. Her mother, Zilpha Artis Reid, was Adam Artis’ sister.
+ Solomon Shearard, 6 Feb 1948. Buried Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. Husband of C.E.’s sister Josephine. Name generally spelled “Sherrod.”
+ Annie Marie Cooper, 16 Oct 1948. Buried Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. Daughter of C.E.’s youngest sister Alberta.
+ Annie C. Best, 4 Jan 1949. Buried Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. Daughter of C.E.’s half-brother Jesse.
+ Minnie Belle Artis, 4 Apr 1950. Buried family cemetery, Wilson County. Daughter of C.E.’s brother Robert.
+ Walter Scott Artis, 25 Jun 1951. Buried Fort cemetery, Wayne County. C.E.’s half-brother, son of Adam and Frances Seaberry Artis.
+ Noah Artis, 16 May 1952. Buried family cemetery, Wilson County. C.E.’s half-brother, son of Adam and Lucinda Jones Artis.
The Carolina Times, 19 September 1942.