Tragedy in Elm City.

When the Daily Times reported the shooting of Ephraim Joyner on 18 August 1896, several days after the fact, it noted “the wound would probably result fatally.”

Wilson Daily Times, 28 August 1896.

Raleigh’s News and Observer got the story out a day earlier, but gave conflicting information about Joyner. The headline screams “murder” and speaks of searches for the “murderer,” but concedes Joyner was alive when the article went to press.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 27 August 1896.

Did Ephraim Joyner die after all?

It’s not clear. No death records exist for the period, and I have found no further news articles about this incident. However, there is evidence of a man named Ephraim Joyner living in the Elm City area after 1896. If he is the same man, not only did Ephraim Joyner survive the shooting, he lived a good, long life. His son Marvin Ransom was not as fortunate.


In the 1880 census of Cooper township, Nash County, N.C.: brothers and hirelings Ephram, 22, and Dallas Joyner, 16. Also, in the 1880 census of Rocky Mount township, Nash County: Harrett Joyner, 42, and sons Ephram, 21, Dallas, 16, Ballie, 15, and Lon V., 1.

On 9 January 1888, Ephraim Joyner, 25, married Mary Ann Cooper, 22, in Nash County.

Marvin Ransom died 17 June 1928 in Township #1, Edgecombe County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1899 in Edgecombe County to Ephram Joyner of Wilson County and Jennie Shaffer of Halifax County, N.C.; was married to Dicy Ransom; was engaged in farming; and was buried at Cherry Place. Jenny Shaffer was informant.

“Gunshot wound of abdomen wounding intestine in several places. Gunshot wound of perineum & scrotum. Homicide.”

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: widower Eph Joyner, 80, farm laborer and widower, living alone.

Funeral directors argue over girl’s body.

The competition between rival undertakers was ferocious. Martha Lucas died two days after her twelfth birthday. Unbeknownst to the family, a nurse at the “local colored hospital” (later known as Mercy Hospital) called Batts Brothers and Artis undertaking firm to prepare the girl’s body for burial. Later, the Lucas family asked C.H. Darden & Sons to perform the service. When Darden discovered the body missing, they showed up at Batts and Artis demanding possession. Batts and Artis refused to hand her over unless Darden paid transportation expenses. Darden went to court.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 August 1921.

Three days later, Martha’s father Wiley Lucas and Camillus L. Darden also appealed to the court of public opinion. Lucas stated that he, not Darden, had caused the sheriff’s department to file a claim and delivery action on the advice of police when Amos Batts dramatically claimed he would rather die than surrender Martha’s body. (Replevin, or claim and delivery, is a legal remedy that enables a person to recover personal property taken unlawfully and to obtain compensation for resulting losses.) Lucas “emphatically [denied] that any undertakers but C.H. Darden & Sons were instructed to attend to the funeral arrangements, as I knew of no other colored funeral directors in Wilson at the time ….”

C.L. Darden chimed in to direct readers to the magistrate’s record for the facts, noting that Batts had been told he could sue the hospital if he felt aggrieved. “But Batts knows as the public knows — as I can prove if it comes to a showdown — that Artis’ wife, who is head nurse in the institution, solicits in the hospital for the firm of Batts Bros. & Artis, of which her husband is a member of the firm.” “Artis” was Columbus E. Artis, and his wife was registered nurse Ada Artis.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 August 1921.

Batts Brothers and Artis responded three days after that, “that the public may not be misled.”  They denied having refused to give up the girl’s body, contending that they only sought to be paid for services rendered. The firm claimed the trial justice agreed they were entitled to a “small fee,” but, perhaps taking the temperature of public sentiment, they agreed to drop their claim and pay court costs.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 August 1921.

Martha Lucas’ death certificate.

Town taxes, 1929: the colored delinquent list.

Even delinquent tax lists were segregated.

“Colored” owners owing property taxes included owner-occupiers, absentee owners,  investors, and estates. Samuel H. Vick owed the most by orders of magnitude, a sum reflecting his ownership of more than 100 properties across Wilson and his cashflow struggles after the collapse of Commercial Bank and the onset of the Great Depression.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 July 1930.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Efird’s, there on Nash Street.

This ad in a 1934 Wilson Chamber of Commerce brochure depicts a building readily recognizable today in Wilson in its place across Nash Street from Imagination Station. Efird’s was a longtime downtown department store, and my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks spoke of shopping there as a child:

” … then, too, I had a pair of shoes, laced up, way up here, and the children said they was a grown person’s shoes. And Mama made me wear them. But they all teased me ‘bout them shoes, and I told Mama they hurt my feet. And she said, ‘Well, why didn’t you say something ‘bout ‘em? We could have got a larger pair when I bought ‘em.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know what size I wear.’  I said, ‘You let me try them on, but they didn’t hurt my feet then. But when I kept ‘em on a while, they started stinging,’ and they was too narrow or too short, one. I don’t know which it was now. But anyhow, Mama was gon make me wear ‘em, ’cause you wanted some new shoes, and I bought you some, whether you want to or not.’ I said, ‘I didn’t pick ‘em out, you picked ‘em out. They was on the table, and you had me try ‘em on.’

“The grown-up person shoes.” 

“The store was Efird’s, Efird’s, or whatever it is, there on Nash Street. They had a store, one of them where they had a little section for shoes in the back part, and they had a little seat there where you go to try on shoes. It was a white store, and they’d make you put on stockings – they had socks down there for you to put on, to put the shoes on. And you couldn’t put your ‘dirty’ feet in ‘em, and you see some people, look like everybody else done took the shoe off their feet. You can’t get the shoe on if you don’t have the sock on. That’s the way they’d sell it. Like that.

“For clothes, most of the time, they go by the age and the heighth, and they put it up to you, and they measure it like that and those kind of things. You didn’t try it on.”

Adapted from interviews of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1994-1998, all rights reserved; detail of photo of Hattie H. Ricks and Mamie Henderson Jacobs in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Vacation Bible school at Calvary Presbyterian.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 June 1929.

Samuel H. Vick, who helped establish Calvary Presbyterian Church, was an early proponent of the Sunday School movement. In 1929, two hundred children enrolled in classes taught by ten teachers and looked forward to “a dramatic recital by a blind girl, and several Biblical dramatizations by the students.”

[Sidenote: For a summer or two circa 1970, when its new edifice was under construction, Calvary held its Vacation Bible School on the first floor of Mercy Hospital, which had closed in 1964. My cousin and closest friends were church members; I tagged along. My  recollections are fleeting — singing “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” crafts with popsicle sticks and marbles, recess on the front lawn, and an unfortunate accident in which the scab was ripped from my smallpox vaccination scar.]

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.