Strung from a tree and shot to death.

The story broke 86 years ago today. Twenty-nine year-old Oliver Moore, accused of raping two small white girls, had been dragged from a Tarboro jail by a mob of 250. After hauling him across the line into Wilson County, the crowd strung Moore from a tree with plow lines and shot him to pieces. (He may have been “maltreated” — castrated — beforehand, but that was just a rumor.) Officially, it was the first lynching in North Carolina since 1921, and the first ever in Wilson County. The sheriff was chagrined. “… I shall not hesitate to bring the leaders to justice,” he declared. “If I find them.”

North Carolina’s relatively progressive governor, O. Max Gardner, professing outrage from his vacation spot, called Moore’s lynching a disgrace, but dawdled over a decision to have the state lead an investigation into the murder. The first coroner’s jury threw up its hands.

SRL 8 21 1930

Statesville Record & Landmark, 21 August 1930.

Governor Gardner offered a $400 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the lynchers, and Wilson County’s solicitor uttered strong protestations of his intentions to see this thing through.

However.

“Not a clue,” said the Edgecombe County sheriff. The mob had been quiet and swift and manned with utter strangers who’d been shrewd enough to remove their license plates.

SRL 8 21 1930 2

Statesville Record & Landmark, 21 August 1930.

And four days later, the matter wrapped.

Officials were “unable to place the blame.” There was not a clue. On the other side of the state, Statesville’s newspaper of record expressed disappointment in the outcome and wagged a disapproving finger at Down East folks who apparently strongly supported “mob murder.” (Memory of the notorious 1906 Gillespie-Dillingham triple lynching just down the road in Salisbury had apparently faded into the ignominious past.)

SRL 8 25 1930

Statesville Record & Landmark, 25 August 1930.

——

Though newspaper reports emphasized that the crowd had taken Oliver Moore into Wilson County — presumably to shake the jurisdiction of Edgecombe’s hapless deputy sheriff — his death certificate was filed in Edgecombe and described his place of death as “near Macclesfield.” The coroner duly noted Moore’s sex, race and marital status, then skipped the rest of the personal preliminaries to bluntly record a cause of death: “riddled with bullets and shot from hands of unknown mob (lynched).”

S123_1058-1771

I have not identified Oliver Moore in any census. The Morgan family, however, lived in Township 9 (also known as Otter Creek township), which shares several miles of border with Wilson County approximately 12-15 miles east of Wilson. Oliver’s brother, who refused (did not dare?) to claim his body, may have been the Andrew Moore, 23, listed with his young family in the 1920 census of Otter Creek.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 4.29.29 PM

We do not know who, in fact, attacked the Morgan sisters. We never will. We do know, however, that justice was not served.

For a minute analysis of the lynching of Oliver Moore, offering details of the alleged rape, the kidnapping of Moore, the response of local citizens and media, and a social and historical outline of Edgecombe County, see the Chapter “North Carolina Slips Back” in Arthur F. Raper’s The Tragedy of Lynching, published in 1933 by the University of North Carolina Press.

2 comments

  1. Compelling! Deeply inspired by Ida B. Wells as I quietly champion such works that unearth the deplorable historical events of U.S. lynching of African Americans, with a mission to amplify their voices venerating their deaths; this post BRAVO. #RiteOn

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s