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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

Rev. H. Maurice Barnes

On February 21, 2014, we conducted an interview with Rev. H. Maurice Barnes at the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum of African American History in Wilson, North Carolina, as part of the East Wilson Oral History Project.  We asked him questions about growing up in East Wilson, his experiences with the church and in school, and his insights into how the East Wilson community has changed in his lifetime.

Barnes was born in Wilson in 1956 and grew up in East Wilson.  Over the years he attended various schools, including St. Alphonsus Catholic School, Samuel Vick Elementary School, Coon High School, Woodard, Darden High School, and Fike High School.  While attending junior high and high school, Wilson was still in the process of integrating its schools, and so for a few years Barnes and other children were sent to various schools to help achieve integration.  While growing up, Barnes said that the adults in the community took ownership of the children’s lives, treating each child as a son or daughter of the community.  He said that this is something that you do not see today, and as the schools became integrated and Jim Crow laws were erased from the books, this strong sense of family disappeared.  However, during the days of segregation, Barnes said that there was great pride in the community.  Everything that was needed was on their side of the tracks, and the people of East Wilson did not let racism or prejudice become a barrier to their success.

Barnes also went into great detail in how he received the calling to go into ministry, where he remains today.  Before entering Duke Divinity School to study ministry, he studied criminal justice and law enforcement, and worked in various jobs.  It seemed natural that he went into the ministry because he said that he was raised in the church and that it had a profound impact on him.  That most definitely carried into our interview with him, as it was intertwined with various religious and philosophical overtones as he explained his views on how East Wilson has changed over the years and what can be done to fix many of the problems that the community now faces.