Drapped the wrong one.

Casual violence among young men is not new. Unsurprisingly, historically newspapers have sensationalized such violence when it involved black men, playing into the stereotypes and fear-mongering of the era.

I recognize the viciousness of this propaganda.* I also recognize articles reporting violent crime as invaluable, if distorted, glimpses into the lives of ordinary African-Americans during a period in which they were poorly documented. Beyond the basic facts of the terrible crime reported here, what can we learn?

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 30 July 1907.

  • “on the Owens place” — This reference to the owner of the farm on which the events took place indicates the protagonists were likely sharecroppers or tenant farmers. The Saratoga Road is today’s U.S. Highway 264-A (formerly N.C. Highway 91.)
  • “a negro dance and barbecue supper was given by Robert Hilliard” — Hilliard, who was Black, hosted a Saturday night party on the farm, perhaps in a barn. He sold barbecue — surely Eastern North Carolina-style, with a vinegar-and-red pepper sauce — and sandwiches to patrons from a stand near the road.
  • “a wheezy fiddle” — the source of music for the dance. (Who was the fiddler? Was he locally renowned? Was there accompaniment? Was fiddling a common skill? I can’t name a single one from this era.)
  • “‘Hilliard is the n*gger I wanted to drap.” — The meaning and usage of this now-extreme pejorative has shifted over time. Here, it is almost, but not quite, neutral. More interesting, to me, is the now-archaic pronunciation “drap” for the  verb “drop.”

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  • Will Scarborough 

On 29 January 1903, Will Scarborough, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ashley and Ellen Scarborough, married Lucy Anderson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Bob and Winnie Anderson, in Wilson County. Jack Bynum applied for the license.

Will Scarborough died 6 August 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was the son of Ashley Scarborough and Ellen [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived in Stantonsburg; and was buried at Saint Delight cemetery, Walstonburg. Informant was James E. Best, Stantonsburg.

  • Robert Hilliard

On 1 November 1900, Robert Hilliard, 20, of Wilson County, son of Jack and Laura Hilliard, married Ailsy Bynum, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of West and Sopha Bynum, in Gardners township, Wilson County.

Robert George Hilliard Sr. died 27 February 1944 at his home at 211 Finch Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jack Hilliard and Laura [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; was engaged in farming; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mattie Moore, 211 Finch Street, was informant.

  • Riley Faison  

On 8 May 1902, Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, at “Mr. Frank Barnes Plantation.” A.M.E. Zion elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony in the presence of Mattie V. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.

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*See Brent Staples’ opinion piece in the 11 July 2021 New York Times, “How the White Press Wrote Off Black America.”

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

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