Education, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

The class of ’52.

Sixty-five years later …

co 52

Wilson Daily Times, 29 May 1952.

When I was home earlier this month, my dad and I did a count. About one-third of his graduating class of 75 has lived to see this anniversary. The Class of 1952 included parents of several of my close childhood friends. Though none of us attended, we were blessed to grow up under the Darden umbrella.

Best wishes to the ’52 Trojans! May you celebrate many more!

North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin

It felt like a weight fell off of her.

Papa asked Mama would she come back ‘cause the café wasn’t doing nothing, and she’d put all her money out, so she told Papa she’d come back home. And she come back, and, I don’t know, she seemed kind of puny and sickly. Papa said, “Well, a old man came here and he said he – Well, you come back just like the man said.” And she said, “What man?” And he said, “Well, somebody told me, said go out there and see somebody called a rootworker,” or, well, he didn’t call it rootwork, but see some person like that. And said maybe he could make her come back. And he said — well, I don’t know what he paid him, but anyway, he said he gave him stuff and told him to bore a hole in a tree on the north side and put that stuff in it and take and put a corkscrew in it. To make it stay in there. And for him to, I think he told me, for him to wet on it for nine mornings or something like that, and she would come back. Well, she come back, and she said, “Well, how come you didn’t take the mess out?” Well, he was arguing about it, saying something about it, and what I did, I got the ice pick. And went out there to – we had a peach tree and a apple tree. It was in the apple tree, and I went out there and looked around sure enough it was a corkscrew, great big one ‘bout like that there, stuck up in there, and I took that icepick and picked it out. And it come out this little trashy stuff in this cloth. And it was part of Mama’s underclothes. [We laugh.] And I think it come off – you know at that time they had a lot of lace and stuff — and one of them little pieces cut off where was the lace was up there, and he wrapped it up and put in that…. Least the man fixed it for him and told him how to bury it in the hole. And Mama, and I don’t know whether it was so or not, but she said when that stuff come out of that hole, felt like a weight fell off of her. I’ll never forget that thing. And the tree died. So, I said I don’t know whether it killed the tree, but it didn’t kill her. And Mama told me if that thing stayed there long enough [inaudible] in that mess, she’d a died.

For a scholarly in-depth study of hoodoo and root work, see Katrina Hazzard-Donald’s Mojo Workin’: The Old African American Hoodoo System.

Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Free People of Color, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Religion

Jonah Williams and the Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Association.

I’ve blogged often about Jonah Williams, prominent farmer, respected preacher, and brother of my great-great-great-grandfather Adam T. Artis. I was pleased, then, to find copies of the minutes of the early annual sessions of the Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Association, which oversaw several churches that Jonah helped establish and/or lead. Jonah participated in five sessions before his death in 1915, and the minutes of two survive. I’ve extracted pages from those documents here.

JWms Turner Swamp 1

London’s Church was just north of the town of Wilson (in what would now be inside city limits.) The church is most closely associated with London Woodard, an enslaved man who was purchased by his free-born wife, Penny Lassiter. Just after the Civil War, London founded an African-American Baptist church, which seems to have been the precursor to the London’s Church organized under the Primitive Baptist umbrella in 1897.

As shown below, Jonah was involved in the establishment of nearly every church in the Turner Swamp Association, including Turner Swamp (1897), Barnes (1898), Little Union (1899), and Rocky Mount (1908). Turner Swamp still meets at or near its original location just north of Eureka in Wayne County. Barnes is likely Barnes’ Chapel Church, now located at 1004 Railroad Street in Wilson. [CORRECTION: Barnes Chapel was close to Stantonsburg, in southwest Wilson County.] I had never heard of Little Union church, but a Google search turned up a list of churches within 15 miles of “Bel-Air Forest (subdivision), North Carolina,” Little Union among them. (Which is a little spooky because that’s the neighborhood in which I grew up and I didn’t input that reference point.) Unfortunately, the site’s map is blank. However, another search disclosed a recent obituary that referred to the decedent’s efforts to rebuild Little Union Primitive Baptist Church in Town Creek, North Carolina. I have not been able to find current references to Rocky Mount Primitive Baptist Church.

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Jonah moved from the Eureka area about 10 miles north to Wilson in the late 1890s. Though I knew of his association with Turner Swamp, I was not aware until finding this document that he had also been pastor at London, much less two other churches.

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Romans 7:4 — Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

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The approximate locations of the churches in Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Association. Top to bottom: Rocky Mount, Little Union, London’s, Barnes’ and Turner Swamp. As the crow flies, the distance from Rocky Mount to Eureka, where Turner Swamp is located, is about 30 miles.

TS Ass map

This news brief probably made reference to baptisms Jonah conducted at London Church, which stood a few miles from the south bank of Contentnea Creek.


Wilson Daily Times, 6 June 1911.

North Carolina, Photographs

Landscape, no. 1.

The first of a new series of posts, many drawn from my Tumblr, that attempt to evoke the settings of my family’s lives through photographs.


Wilson, North Carolina, April 2011.

I was at home, prowling the streets on a limpid blue morning, when out of the corner of my eye, this window.  I wheeled around, parked and nosed about.  The house was a shotgun, one of hundreds built in East Wilson pre-World War I to house a flood of ex-farmers trading tobacco fields for tobacco factories.  The house had been abandoned as a regular home, but showed signs of fairly recent usage as a shelter for the homeless or perhaps those otherwise wanting to keep their business out of sight.  The door had been ripped from an interior room and laid against an empty window frame, which faced the street on the broadside of the house.  The door’s cool, lemony yellow was a calming contrast to the rough grayness of the house’s siding.  When I went home next, the house was gone.

© Lisa Y. Henderson

Births Deaths Marriages, Business, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs


Aunt Ninas stone

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about looking for my cousin Nina Frances Faison Hardy‘s unmarked grave and wanting to honor her by placing a stone. Today, I got a text from my cousin and an email from my mother with photos. My cousins’ business, Eastern Carolina Vault Company, installed the marker today and, after 45 years, A’nt Nina’s final resting place is no longer lost.

Eastern Carolina Vault at work

My cousins L., left, and T., right, and a helper install Nina Hardy’s gravestone today at Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson NC. When A’nt Nina arrived in Wilson from Wayne County circa 1910, she lived for a while with Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs, who reared L. and T.’s great-grandfather Jesse “Jack” Henderson and his nieces, my grandmother and her sister Mamie.

North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Eureka! … Not.

I was flipping through an old notebook and came across this abstract of entries in the 1912-1913 city directory of Wilson, North Carolina:

Taylor, Bertha, laundress, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Greenman, h Stantonsburg rd nr Rountree av

Taylor, Hennie, dom, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Jordan, lab, h Stantonsburg rd nr Rountree av

Taylor, Mack, driver, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Mattie, laundress, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Robert, barber, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Roderick, barber Paragon Shaving Parlor, h 114 w Lee

The house at 114 West Lee Street belonged to my great-grandfather Michael (“Mike,” not “Mack”) Taylor. Bertha, Hennie, and Mattie were his younger daughters. Roderick was his only son. Jordan and Greeman, over on Stantonsburg Road, were Mike’s niece Eliza’s husband and son. But who in the world was Robert Taylor?

Robert … Robert … An epiphany! Of course! This was Robert Perry, son of Mike’s wife Rachel‘s sister Centha Barnes Perry! The boy grew up in Mike and Rachel’s household and quite naturally he was sometimes known as Robert Taylor! … Right?

Well, perhaps, but this is not him. Robert Perry was only 9 years old in 1912. Not only would a child not have been plying a trade at that age, he would not be counted among the adults included in a city directory. (Even Rachel was omitted, as “dependent” homemakers did not make the cut either.)

So, who was this Robert Taylor who both lived in Mike Taylor’s house and worked in the same trade as Mike’s son Roderick?

Census records do not show an African-American Robert Taylor in all of Wilson County in the 1900 or 1910 censuses. In 1920, however, there is Robert Taylor, age 36, a laborer, with wife Mary G., age 29, living at 611 Green Street. Now this is really puzzling.

Two years earlier, when Roderick Taylor registered for the World War I draft, he stated his birth year as 1883, his occupation as barber, and his address as 611 East Green Street. There is no “Roderick Taylor” listed in the 1920 census, but in 1930, at 610 [sic, house numbers shifted in the early 1920s] Green Street, there is barber Roderick Taylor, 45, wife Mary J., 39, and three children.

While it is conceivable that there were both a Robert Taylor and Roderick Taylor of the same age, living in the same houses, with wives of the same name and age, and working in the same profession, it seems unlikely. Rather, in an era in which “Roderick” was rare name, an inattentive census taker or canvasser might easily have heard “Robert” when making his inquiries. Absent further independent evidence that a Robert Taylor existed, I conclude that Roderick’s doppelgänger is a figment of error.

North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

A photo.

A nice surprise came in yesterday’s mail — a copy of another photo of Aint Nina Faison Kornegay Hardy, courtesy of J.M.B. A handwritten note on its back identifies the two boys leaning into her and the date, 18 September 1939 — 75 years ago today.


Here you can clearly see her right leg and ankle swollen over the sides of her shoes, evidence of the chronic pain and debility she suffered. Lymphedema, perhaps. Or maybe chronic venous insufficiency. Conditions difficult to treat even now, and then impossible. Always, though, that sweet smile.

Births Deaths Marriages, Education, Migration, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

The rise of the Grand Chancellor; or “There was something unusual in that green looking country boy.”

In which the Indianapolis Freeman enlightens us regarding Joseph H. Ward‘s journey from Wilson, North Carolina, to Naptown:

Joseph H Ward Grand Chancellor Ind Freeman 7 22 1899

Joseph Ward early years 7 22 1899 Ind Freeman_Page_1

Joseph Ward early years 7 22 1899 Ind Freeman_Page_2

Joseph Ward early years 7 22 1899 Ind Freeman_Page_3

Indianapolis Freeman, 22 July 1899.

A few notes:

  • Joseph Ward’s mother might have been too poor to send him to school, but his father Napoleon Hagans, had he chosen to acknowledge him, certainly could have, as he sent his “legitimate” sons to Howard University.
  • The school in LaGrange at which he worked was most likely Davis Military Academy:  “By 1880 a second school for boys … Davis Military Academy, was founded by Colonel Adam C. Davis. “School Town” became La Grange’s nickname as the military school would eventually have an enrollment of 300 students from every state and even some foreign countries. The school also had a band, the only cadet orchestra in the country during that time. The school prospered, but an outbreak of meningitis closed it in 1889.”
  • Dr. George Hasty was a founder of the Physio-Medical College of Indianapolis, which Joseph Ward later attended.
  • Joseph graduated from High School No. 1, later known as Shortridge, an integrated institution.
  • A “tour of the south”? Really?
  • Do student records exist from the Physio-Medical College? The school closed in 1909.
  • Joseph’s first wife was Mamie I. Brown, an Indiana-born teacher. The 20 October 1900 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder reported: “Mrs. Mamie Ward, through her attorney O.V. Royal, was granted a divorce from her husband, Dr. J.H. Ward, in the Superior Court no. 1, and her maiden name was restored. Both parties are well known in society circles.” Four years later, Joseph married Zella Locklear.
North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

A reckoning. And recommendation.

I know I have a romantic view of old East Wilson (old, as in before it was ravaged by the crack trade), and though I know that’s attributable to my very safe and happy childhood there, I am reminded of just how shallow my rosy recollection is. One of my cousins, 20 years older than I, has just published a memoir. The early pages of Sherrod Village are set on streets I walked and peopled by folks I knew in East Wilson. Barbara Williams Lewis’ grandmother was my great-great-grandmother’s sister; they were two of the “innumerable” children of Adam T. Artis. (Her mother, in fact, is who described them to me that way.) I thought I would recognize so much in Barbara’s book. But I didn’t.
Children are shielded from so much ugliness (if they’re lucky) and understand so little of what they see. The ragged pasts of sweet old people are not always apparent in their mild presents. Nonetheless, I had believed that my truth was true. I had, perhaps, counted on it. I’d thought that I’d viewed East Wilson as a palimpsest. Instead, though my family’s story there involved poverty and insecurity and pain, I processed little beyond the surface of my own memories of crepe myrtles, corner stores and swimming lessons at Reid Street Center. I knew the history of the place, but not the lives of its people. Fifteen pages into Sherrod Village, I wrote to Barbara that I was “staggered.” I finished the book in the same state of astonishment. I HAD NO IDEA, I told her. No idea. And I thanked her.
North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin

Where we lived: 1109 Queen Street, Wilson.

My father: Let’s go back to when I remember when we moved to 1109 Queen Street. When I was about six years old. And we had what they call a shotgun house. Three rooms. Front room, middle room, and a kitchen. And to get to the kitchen, you had to go out on the back porch and come through. Now there were some people who had a door cut in between the middle room and the kitchen, so you wouldn’t have to go out on the back porch. But they said if you cut that door somebody in your family would die. [Laughs.] So we wouldn’t cut the door. All of us slept in the middle room. See, we did have a bed in the front room later on, but first we slept in the middle room. And we had, like, what they called a day bed. You pull it out. And me, Lucian, and Jesse slept in that bed. And Hattie Margaret and Mama slept in the other bed. And then we had a laundry heater in the middle. We had to make fires every night. Go out –

Me: Laundry heater?

My father: Yeah, well, it was what you’d call a space heater. Laundry heater.

Me: Oh. Okay.

My father: — that you put, well, we used coal. Some people were afraid to use coal because it would get so hot it would turn red. And, you know, sparks would fly and sometimes things would catch on fire. And that’s what we used to heat the iron to iron clothes, too. You’d put ‘em on top of that stove. But we had to make fires every morning. Had to get up. And we had linoleum in there, so the floor’d be cold. So when you walk around you had to walk on your heels when – [we start laughing] – you get up out the bed and go out and get the wood. And then, you know, we had that little slop jar up under the big bed. You had get up to go — then, see, that house didn’t have a bathroom. So the bathroom was outside — the bathroom sat in between the two houses. And you had just a stool. And that stool had a big water tank on the top. And so when you lift the lid up, it would flush. So that was for 1109 and the one right beside it. Probably just had a little partition between. It was probably 1107, and that’s where the Davises, Miss Alliner [Alliner Sherrod Davis, daughter of Solomon and Josephine Artis Sherrod, and actually a cousin], she lived right there at 1107. And then we had the water outside, and it was at her house. So there were two houses that had one toilet and one spigot. So we would go out there and get the water and stuff like that.

Me: And so you said you remember moving in there?

My father: Yeah, we moved from off Elba Street. ‘Cause we moved at night. You know when your stuff a little shaky…. [Laughs.] Somebody come by, it’d be dark, with all your stuff on the truck. And I remember I had a little hat, and it blew off on Green Street [laughs], and I couldn’t stop to get my hat. ‘Cause it was dark when we moved. And that was when I was probably in the first grade. I think it was 1940 when we moved around there in all those little endway houses. C.C. Powell owned the houses, and I don’t know how much we were paying, but we weren’t paying a whole lot. Behind the outhouse, we had built up like a little shed, like. Used to keep pigeons in there. Everybody had pigeons. The ones that go off – we’d see in the movies the ones that take little messages and all. So everybody would have pigeons. And then we had a little, I guess it was a garden. We had a victory garden in the back. I had to take a hoe and a shovel and dig up the backyard. Turn it over. Then Mama would go out there and make some rows and plant tomatoes and stringbeans and squash and stuff like that, and we used that to eat. Now, when I was growing up, at that time, we didn’t have no money. I went to school, all the way through almost, some days I’d go and didn’t have a penny. Not one penny. In my pocket. Not one penny. … And the icebox, it was a little small icebox, and you’d take the ice and put it in the top, and then there was a little hole so when the ice’d melt, it would run down. You’d have to have a little water container underneath. You’d have to empty that everyday. If not, the water would run out on the floor, out on the back porch. And it would always be so clear and just cold, but we had to go to the ice house, and the ice house was out there on Herring Avenue. And I would ride the bicycle out there to get it.

1109 Queen

This house was one of a row of six identical shotgun houses on Queen Street built circa 1925. I took this dim Polaroid image sometime in the very early 1980s, and they were torn down not long after.

Young Rederick 01

My father, age about 10, sitting outside a house on Queen Street. I’m guessing it’s 1107 because the door is on the opposite side of the house. Otherwise, the houses were identical.


Interview of R.C. Henderson by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.