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Crossing the Tracks: An Oral History of East and West Wilson, North Carolina

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin

Mattie Bynum Jones

On January 15, 2014, we conducted an interview with Mattie Bynum Jones at the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum of African American History as part of the East Wilson Oral History Project.  The questions that were asked involved how the East Wilson neighborhood has changed over the past half century.  Mrs. Jones was born in 1926 in Wilson, and lived in East Wilson until she graduated from C. H. Darden High School in the mid-1940s.  She came back to the area in the early 1990s after retiring from teaching in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Mrs. Jones spent her childhood near the area of South Pender Street (formerly Stantonsburg Road).  She discussed with us how the church and schools played a huge part in the development of children in East Wilson, which was typical for many black communities throughout the South.  It is interesting to note that Mrs. Jones said she never really experienced any racial discrimination in her youth or many differences in society until she became an adult and held jobs in other parts of Wilson.  Before she left Wilson, Mrs. Jones held jobs at a local taxicab company and hotel.

The house and community that Mrs. Jones lived in no longer exists.  In the late 1960s, the city extended Hines Street with an overpass across the railroad tracks into East Wilson, where the street merged with Nash Street a couple blocks west of U.S. 301.  Many homes were demolished to build this new road, and in their place new housing projects were built.

After graduating from Darden High School, Mrs. Jones got married and went to New York City for a brief period.  She eventually settled in Philadelphia, where she raised her family.  She related to us that she experienced or saw more forms of racial discrimination in the North than she ever saw in witnessed in Wilson.  She moved numerous times while her children were still school-age so that they could attend the best schools in Philadelphia.  Before settling on a job teaching special education students, Mrs. Jones worked at the Spiegel branch in Philadelphia, which was a direct advertising and catalog company that is still in existence today.  She was also involved in union organizing while working at Spiegel.

After retiring from teaching, Mrs. Jones moved back to Wilson, though not in the East Wilson community.  She never completely left the area, as she made numerous visits to Wilson over the years with her family.  She also expressed to us that even though the racism that persisted before and during the civil rights movement no longer exists, some forms of racial discrimination still prevail in the South and in the nation as a whole.

The interview with Mrs. Jones offered us a look into a part of Wilson that does not exist anymore and probably never will again.  The thoughts and observations from her generation are quickly fading away.  It is imperative that we preserve these memories of East Wilson so that current and future generations will never forget this important period of our history.