It never occurred to me to wonder “Why Greensboro?” We grew up regularly rolling 125 miles into the North Carolina Piedmont to visit my grandmother’s sister and the four nieces who lived nearby. Beyond my first cousins, their children were the closest kin we had in age, and we were always excited about a trip to see “Aint” Mamie Henderson Holt. It was not until I began interviewing Mother Dear in the 1990s that I learned that Aunt Mamie had not been the first Henderson to settle in Greensboro.
An introduction: Aint Mollie didn’t have long hair, but it was nice. And curly. And it was thin. And she had that, she wasn’t real light-complected, she was kind of olive-colored. But she was a small-sized woman. She was tall, not like Mama. She wasn’t fat. And she seemed to be real nice.
Mollie was born about 1872 and appears (as “Julia”) in the 1880 census of Wayne County, North Carolina in her parents’ household. Only two years older than Sarah, they were more like sisters or cousins than aunt/niece. In 1889, Mollie married Alex Hall in Wayne County. The couples’ two daughters, Lula and Sadie, were born about 1891 and 1895, respectively, but I have found none of them in the 1900 census. At some point in those decades, Mollie left southern Wayne County, headed west. Before 1902 — and with or without Alex — she was in Guilford County. There (or somewhere near there) on 24 June 1902, she met and married Walter Holt, born about 1875 in Alamance County to William and Margaret Isley Holt. (Julian, North Carolina, by the way, lies a couple of hundred feet inside southeast Guilford County from the Randolph County line. Traveling to Asheboro to marry was probably easier and more convenient than going to Greensboro. How and why Mollie went from rural Wayne County to this equally rural location remains a mystery.)
By 1910, Walter and Mollie and her daughters (known henceforth as Holts) were in Greensboro, living in the Wilmington Street home that my grandmother knew.
And Bazel’s – Mamie’s Bazel, his uncle Walter Holt married Aint Mollie. They didn’t never have no children, but she had two girls before they got married – Sadie and Julia [sic, Lula.] Yeah, them was the girls. Two girls. Sadie died. Julia, too, I believe. I think both of ‘ems dead. Sadie didn’t have no children of her own, but she raised a child. She took somebody’s child and raised. She had a husband, too. What was his name? I remember seeing him once or twice. I don’t believe Julia ever got married, I don’t think. At least she didn’t say nothing ‘bout it. They were older than me. And I think Mama said that Mollie was older than she was, but I reckon they was ‘long there together. Nancy was older than both of them, and A’nt Ella was the youngest one. She and Mama always were together, ‘cause they all played “sisters.” But Sarah was really Mollie and Nancy and Ella’s neice. Their brother Lewis’ child.
She had two daughters, Sadie and Julia. I think that’s what it was. Sadie’s the one stayed in the house on the corner from where we were staying, right there on Wilmington Street. The other one – where’d the other one stay? She was married and stayed in Virginia somewhere. Yeah, Julia. Sadie’s sister. Cousin Mollie, A’nt Molly’s daughter Julia. She had a daughter. Julia was light-complected, but she wasn’t real fair. She had a light complexion. And I didn’t know her husband. I don’t know if I ever seen him. But this child that she took and raised, I want to say took and raised up, she was real dark. They all left and come up to Virginia, I believe it was, Norfolk or somewhere. I know Sadie died in Greensboro, but…. A’nt Mollie, she died there, and I think her husband, I think he left. At least, he was running – he was a fireman on the train, that was his job. He was running between Winston-Salem and somewhere in, I don’t know…. Some part of Virginia or something. He was a tall, brown-skinned man. He was a nice-looking man.
Here is Sadie’s first marriage license. She married Ashley Whitfield of Johnston County in Greensboro a few months after the census above was taken. She used the maiden name Holt and noted that her birth father, Alex Hall, was dead. Her stepfather Walter Holt signed the license as a witness to the ceremony.
In the 1920 census, Walter Holt, age 38, foreman for Southern Rail Road, headed a household that included wife Mollie, 39; nephews Bazel, 23, and William, 20; niece Novella, 18; a boarded named Mildred Smith; and “step daughter” Sadie Holt, who described herself as a widow. I have not found a death certificate for Ashley Whitfield. I did find this though:
Greensboro Patriot, 16 May 1918.
Just over ten years after her first marriage — but having only aged four years — Sadie married Henry Farrow of Pittsboro. Again, she acknowledged her father Alex Hall, but used the surname Holt. (Never mind Whitfield.) Sister Lula Holt and a Jack Ross applied for the license, and Lula signed her name with an X, just as her mother had done. (Why hadn’t she gone to school?)
Some time in the fall or winter of 1922, Mama Sarah left Jesse Jacobs. She and her girls Mamie and Hattie took a train from Wilson to Greensboro to live with Aint Mollie until they got settled. While Sarah worked in a small restaurant, my 12 year-old grandmother enrolled in a Greensboro elementary school. (It was the last stretch of formal education she would have.) In early February 1923, they finally got their own place. But Papa Jesse soon arrived in Greensboro to beg Mama back and, ill and struggling financially, she agreed to go. Aunt Mamie, however, had different plans.
Again, in my grandmother’s words:
We moved in this house, and we hadn’t been in there but ‘bout a week, and Mamie wouldn’t come. She stayed over there with Aint Mollie. And Sadie. And so when she come over one day, and Mama didn’t feel like going to the restaurant where she had over there, and so I sat there looking out the window, and I said, “Mama, here come Mamie with a suitcase.” And I’d went over to the house that day, too. And I thought it was, they played cards then. [Inaudible.] So I went over there to Sadie’s house, and so I said to ‘em, I said, “What, y’all having a party tonight?” And didn’t know Mamie was getting married that night. Mamie didn’t even tell me. And so they said, “Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we gon play some cards.” And they wanted to get rid of me. Because they hadn’t told us nothing ‘bout it. Sadie went with Mamie to the courthouse to get the license and everything, and so Mamie didn’t want to come back to Wilson ‘cause Papa wasn’t good to her.
So they all got married that night and that’s when Mamie come, the next day, with a suitcase. And I told Mama, “Hmm. Is that a suitcase?” And I believe Sadie was with her. Yeah. And so she come to get her clothes. And Mama told her that, “If you don’t go back, I’ll put the law on you and make you go back ‘cause you underage.” And that’s how come Mamie didn’t let her know nothing ‘bout nothing. And, now, she’d just met Bazel, and he told her, “Well, we’ll get married if you want to stay here. We’ll get married.” And so he married her. That night. But I didn’t know they was getting married that night, and so I fussed her out and, “How come you didn’t let me know where I could have stayed to the wedding? I wanted to see you get married.” “Well, it wont no wedding – we was just getting married! Getting that old piece of paper.”
And another time:
But Mamie was up to Sadie’s house, Aint Mollie’s daughter. She stayed up there, ‘cause they all stayed up there and played cards. And she hadn’t seen Bazel but two weeks before they got married. So I went over there that evening after something from the café where Mama was, and I told her that Mama wanted her to come home. So she said, “Well, I’ll be over there tomorrow.” And so the house was all clean, Sadie’s house was all cleaned up, and tables sitting all around the room. Well, they played cards all the time, so I didn’t think nothing ‘bout it, and so they had to wait ‘til I left so Mamie and Bazel could get married. Went and got the license and everything. And didn’t tell me a word about it. And they were getting married that night. So I come on home. I run all the way from over there to Bragg Street. And come home. Didn’t think nothing about it. And so Mama, she didn’t go to the café, the people she had working in there, they was gon open up the café. ‘Cause it wasn’t nowhere but right down the street there, from ‘round the corner. So I stayed there with Mama fixing some breakfast. And so she said she wasn’t hungry, but I said she need to eat something. Well, anyway, she ate a little bit. And I looked out the window, and Mamie was coming with a suitcase. And I said to Mama, “Mamie’s coming up, and she’s got a suitcase! I wonder where she’s going.” Didn’t know she was coming to get her clothes. So she came on in, and she told Mama that she had got married last night and was coming to get her clothes. And Mama told her she ought not to let her have them. “You didn’t tell me nothing ‘bout it. If you was gon get married, and you’d a told me, [you could have] got married and had a little social or something.” And Mama was mad with her because she got married. So Mamie just got her clothes. Some of ‘em. And crammed ‘em in a suitcase and went back over ….
Here’s the license. And, look, sure enough, the marriage took place at Henry (and Sadie) Farrow’s house. And even Aunt Mollie was there, for she is listed an an official witness. Mamie was not 19. She was 15 and, indeed, underage. And Jesse and Sarah Jacobs were not, of course, Mamie’s parents, but her great-aunt and -uncle. (When she reported her mother dead, was Aunt Mamie thinking of Bessie, or convincing the register of deeds that she was free to marry of her own volition?)
Mother Dear returned to Wilson with Sarah and Jesse Jacobs, and Aunt Mamie remained in Greensboro with her new husband, who was Mollie Holt’s nephew by marriage. And that’s how she got there — and stayed.
My last sighting of Mollie Henderson Hall Holt is in the 1928 Greensboro city directory. (The “c” is for “colored.”):
The following year, Sadie Hall Holt Whitfield Farrow died of tuberculosis. She was 38 years old. (Not 29.) Walter Holt was the informant on her death certificate and named himself as her father. Otherwise, he correctly identified her birthplace as Mount Olive (in Wayne County), her mother’s maiden name as Henderson, and her mother’s birthplace as Clinton (or, in any case, Sampson County.) I strongly suspect that Mollie was dead by then, but I have not found evidence.
By 1929, Aunt Mamie’s three oldest children had been born. The Holt branch of the Henderson family had taken root in Greensboro. It still flourishes there, but also in New Jersey and New York and Pennsylvania and Georgia and Texas.
Interviews of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.