23 May 1887. A man and a woman, both African-American, argue near the railroad crossing at Vance Street in Wilson. Shots ring out. The woman, Mittie Strickland, falls to the ground, fatally struck. The man, said to be Caesar Wooten, flees.
Within weeks, the governor of North Carolina offers a $200 reward for Wooten’s capture.
Raleigh News & Observer, 2 June 1887.
In response, toothy dark-skinned men all across North Carolina and Virginia are hauled into police stations.
Greensboro Morning News, 10 June 1887.
Wilson Advance, 30 June 1887.
Wilmington Morning Star, 26 July 1887.
By August, at least eight men have been falsely identified and arrested as Wooten.
Raleigh Weekly State Chronicle, 4 August 1887.
And then … nothing. For four years. Until:
Wilson Advance, 30 April 1891.
The final tally: 27 false arrests before Wooten was captured in Atlanta.
Wilson Advance, 21 May 1891.
And, finally, a conviction:
Raleigh State Chronicle, 8 November 1891.
Map of Wilson, 1882. The tiny red X at the railroad marks the approximate spot of Mittie Strickland’s murder.
[Sidenote: Wooten was appointed top-notch legal defense in that time and place. Frederick A. Woodard (1854-1915) was elected to the United States Congress two years after Wooten’s trial. Sidney A. Woodard was his brother and law partner. Avowed white supremacist Charles B. Aycock was appointed United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina in 1893 and elected governor in 1901.]