Dr. Mitchner’s ordeal.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 April 1938.

In late March or early April 1938, white newborn baby was found abandoned under a tree on Hines Street in Wilson, and died a short time later. The police quickly identified Mittie E. Lucas, reported as a 43 year-old widowed seamstress in the 1940 census of Wilson, as the child’s mother and Jesse Hamilton, also 43 and a married former policeman, as its father. Lucas and Mary Fuller, an African-American midwife, were charged with the baby’s homicide, and Hamilton was charged with abortion along with black physician William A. Mitchner. The four criminal cases were consolidated.

It is not difficult to imagine Mitchner’s terror. He testified that Lucas called on him on February 2 and, in 30 years of medical practice, he had never before examined a white woman. He denied attempting an abortion, asserting that he told Lucas he didn’t “do that kind of work and not to let anyone else do it.” He admitted referring Lucas to Dr. Clarence Dillard Jr., an African-American doctor in Goldsboro, but claimed he did not know whether Dillard were an abortionist, he just “wanted to get rid of them and stop them from coming to me.” [In fact, just four months later, newspapers would breathlessly cover a trial in which Dillard was accused of performing an abortion on a young white woman pregnant by her black boyfriend.] More than a dozen character witnesses stood for Mitchner, including “prominent negro undertaker” Camillus L. Darden and “prominent local druggist” Doane Herring, who was white.

On 26 April 1938, the Daily Times reported that Recorder McLean had dismissed charges against Mitchner, concluding that the other defendants’ actions after visiting Mitchner suggested that he “would do nothing for them.”

The charges against Lucas, Hamilton and Fuller dragged on. Lucas’ brother, U.R. Moore, posted her bond at the end of April, but Fuller and Hamilton remained in jail. After several court continuances, startling news broke on 8 February 1939 after the state rested its case. Witnesses testified that Hamilton admitted that he was the baby’s father; that Hamilton went to a Negro doctor for “medicine” and that the doctor had refused to do what was “intimated”; that Lucas had given the infant to Fuller to place with “some rich person or some hospital”; and that Fuller had placed the child under a tree and called a neighbor to the scene. However, the solicitor conceded that he could not establish if the baby had died of exposure [or, presumably, died of natural causes]. Thus, he could not establish homicide. (And as Lucas seemingly delivered a full-term child, nor could he show that Lucas had obtained an abortion.) With this failure, he proferred a nolle prosequi, i.e. dropped charges, against Lucas and suspended five-year sentences to Hamilton and Fuller if they pleaded no contest.

——

Perhaps, in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Mary Fuller, 56, laundress; daughter Mildred, 22; and boarder Texanna Whitley, 23, and her children Cleo, 7, and Charlie, 2.

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