Civil rights

An Open Letter to the Citizens of Wilson …

In May 1950, the Negro Citizens’ Committee paid to place an open letter in the Wilson Daily Times explaining the lawsuit it had filed against Wilson City Schools. Takeaways below.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 May 1950.

  1. The N.C.C. was comprised of African-Americans from every Wilson County township and across the economic spectrum. 
  2. The group neither solicited nor accepted aid from outside the county.
  3. Members represented 15 churches, eight social organizations, 13 fraternal orders, and nine unions. [Nine unions?? Who were these groups?]
  4. The group was founded to advocate for improved schools for African-American children in each of Wilson County’s three educational administrative units — Wilson City, Wilson County, and Elm City Public Schools. N.C.C. worked for the success of a bond referendum, believing it would result in improved schools for Black children.
  5. The committee visited each Black school and discovered “shocking conditions.” After compiling data detailing vast disparities in per-pupil investment and expenditures, N.C.C. appealed to the local school boards and the State to make improvements. None were made.
  6. In later 1949, after personal appeals went nowhere, N.C.C. retained counsel, who requested meetings with the three boards. N.C.C. was careful to emphasize that it was not seeking the same facilities as white students enjoyed, but “certain minimum essential needs.” Meetings with Wilson County and Elm City went well; Wilson City ignored the request.
  7. N.C.C. understood that if Wilson City did not budget for improvement of African-American schools in the proceeds from the current bond, there would not be another in the next ten years, which was too long to wait for upkeep already overdue, especially when Wilson City had “approved a several-hundred-thousand-dollar expenditure for a vocational building for white high school pupils while the Negro pupils are not provided with facilities that would earn accreditation ….” [Some of you may remember this vocational building as the Annex across the street from Coon Junior High School, the former all-white high school in Wilson. Despite its cost, it was poorly constructed and in bad shape by time I attended classes there in 1977.  It closed in the 1980s, lay vacant and festering for another 20+ years, and was finally demolished about 2006.]
  8. N.C.C. reassured white citizens that it was not seeking school desegregation. Rather, it sought to end discrimination against Black students in per-capita spending.
  9. A partial list of inequities in city schools: (a) none of the Black elementary schools had an auditorium, including the new one [Elvie Street School] under construction; (b) because there is no cafeteria in one elementary school [presumably Vick], lunch is prepared in a former janitor’s closet and served to children in their classrooms; (c) the elementary schools do not qualify for accreditation because of their physical plants; (d) two elementary schools [Vick and Sallie Barbour] employed double-shift scheduling to accommodate enrollment; (e) the only auditorium for Black children is at the high school and is a “fire-trap” that can only accommodate about a third of the high school students; (f) the Black schools have a “deplorable transportation system” for children living outside city limits but inside Wilson township [children inside were expected to walk], with only two buses to serve three schools and resulting in eleven-hour days for some children.
  10. Having tried for two years to avoid litigation, N.C.C. saw no other way. Chiding the Daily Times for suggesting Wilson Schools would settle their complaints if they withdrew their complaint, reminding readers they had already waited two years. 

“Wake Up, Negro, and Secure Your Position in Tomorrow’s World.”

Though some decades past its peak popularity, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association still retained a fervent following in the 1940s when Solomon Fitzhue delivered two speeches in Wilson.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 April 1948.

Arkansas native Fitzhue was active in Ohio’s division of U.N.I.A. into the 1960s.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 April 1948.

The 105th anniversary of the school boycott.

Today marks the 105th anniversary of the resignation of 11 African-American teachers in Wilson, North Carolina, in rebuke of their “high-handed” black principal and the white school superintendent who slapped one of them. In their wake, black parents pulled their children out of the public school en masse and established a private alternative in a building owned by a prominent black businessman.  Financed with 25¢-a-week tuition payments and elaborate student musical performances, the Independent School operated for nearly ten years. The school boycott, sparked by African-American women standing at the very intersection of perceived powerless in the Jim Crow South, was an astonishing act of prolonged resistance that unified Wilson’s black toilers and strivers.

The school boycott has been largely forgotten in Wilson, and its heroes have gone unsung. In their honor, today, and every April 9, I publish links to these Black Wide-Awake posts chronicling the walk-out and its aftermath. Please read and share and speak the names of Mary C. Euell and the revolutionary teachers of the Colored Graded School.

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the-heroic-teachers-of-principal-reids-school

The teachers.

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what-happened-when-white-perverts-threatened-to-slap-colored-school-teachers

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And here, my Zoom lecture, “Wilson Normal and Industrial Institute: A Community Response to Injustice,” delivered in February 2022.

C.S. Darden writes the Secretary of War.

Four months after the United States entered World War I, Wilson-born attorney Charles S. Darden (then living in Los Angeles, California) wrote Secretary of War Lindley Garrison on behalf of African-American men who had tried to enlist in the military’s “Aviation Department.” “I was informed, some time ago,” he wrote, “through the News Papers, that applications from young colored men would be acceptable to the government …, and I am now unable to understand where the local Recruiting Officers of of [sic] that Department get their instructions to the contrary.”

Signal Corps Captain Thomas H. McConnell responded quickly and succinctly: “At the present time no colored aero squadrons are being formed and applications from colored men for this branch of the service cannot be considered for that reason.”

United States War Department. Letter from Secretary of War to Charles S. Darden, August 11, 1917. W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Thanks to Patricia Freeman to bringing this letter to my attention!

Save Your Spaces.

I’m honored to join these amazing women at Save Your Spaces Cultural Heritage and Historic Preservation Festival to talk about successes and challenges in the critical work of preserving African-American cemeteries.

If you’re intrigued by local history, have stories to tell or histories to preserve, are curious and want to learn more about cultural heritage and create ways to preserve it, please join us March 4 at Create ATL, 900 Murphy Avenue SW, Atlanta.

Irene Barron, Wilson’s Rosa Parks.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 July 1943.

Meet Irene Barron, American hero.

Twelve years before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, Irene Barron sat down in the white section of a Wilson bus and held her ground. Barron’s action followed James Parker‘s similar refusal by three months and suggests concerted action.

——

Do you know of Irene Barron? I am seeking more information about this freedom fighter.

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for the clipping.

George Applewhite and the Lowry Gang.

When searching for information about the men and women enslaved by Council Applewhite, I ran across this transcription, which appears to reflect an article published on 8 July 1875 in the Norfolk Virginian:

THE FOLLOWING HISTORY OF GEORGE APPLEWHITE, THE ROBESON COUNTY OUTLAW RECENTLY CAPTURED IN GOLDSBORO IS GIVEN BY THE MESSENGER.

George Applewhite was born in Wilson County and was the slave of Council Applewhite. His half brother, Addison Applewhite, lives in Goldsboro. His mother now lives near Stantonsburg. George was afterwards given in marriage to Mr. William R. Peacock of Wythe and apprenticed to learn the plastering trade. He is a dark mulatto stoutly built about 34 years old. In 1866 he accompanied Mr. Peacock to Robeson where he worked in turpentine. It was there he married a sister of Henderson Oxendine, one of the Lowery Gang who was afterwards hung at Lumberton. Applewhite’s wife now lives in Robeson County being thrown by marriage in association with the outlaws then warring on the citizens of Robeson County he soon became one of the gang and is said to have been a most desperate character. In 1869 he was arrested on charges of being an accomplice in the killing of Sheriff Reuben King for which he was tried and convicted and sentenced to be hanged in Columbus County.

A Wilson County man rode with Henry Berry Lowry?

[NOTE: What follows is an abbreviated account of George Applewhite’s involvement with the Lowry Band. I strongly urge you to seek out a more in-depth understanding of the Lowry War, which was rooted in the increasing marginalization of Native people and free people of color in the antebellum period and fierce conflict arising from conscription of Native men to work for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  As an introduction to the themes of resistance, revenge and redistribution of wealth that intertwine in this period, please see North Carolina Museum of History’s Community Class Series: Henry Berry Lowrie, Lumbee Legend, which features, among others, the incomparable Lumbee historian Malinda Maynor Lowery.]

After a series of raids and murders of both Native and white men, on March 3, 1865, Allen Lowry and his son William were put to a sham trial, found guilty of theft, and summarily executed. Their deaths sparked the infamous seven-year Lowry War.

George Applewhite arrived in Robeson County after the War began, and his 1868 marriage to Henry Lowry’s first cousin, Elizabeth Oxendine, presumably drew him into the conflict.

On 23 January 1869, Applewhite allegedly shot and killed former sheriff Reuben King during a robbery attempt. Applewhite and seven others were arrested in the fall of 1869. In April 1870, he and Steve Lowry were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. They were sent to Wilmington, North Carolina, to a secure jail in which Applewhite’s brother-in-law Henderson Oxendine was being held, but escaped with the help of Henry Lowry’s wife, Rhoda Strong.

In October 1870, after a raid on a neighbor’s still, a posse cornered the gang at Applewhite’s house. Applewhite was injured in the resulting firefight, but escaped into Long Swamp with others. Henderson Oxendine was captured at Applewhite’s house the following February and hanged in March. In April, Applewhite was ambushed outside his house. Though shot in the neck and back, he escaped. (His children told his attackers he had been shot twice in the mouth, but spit both bullets out.) His brother-in-law Forney Oxendine was arrested. Applewhite holed up at Henry Berry Lowry’s cabin, which came under attack on April 26. Applewhite and Lowry escaped the gun battle and spent several weeks raiding before breaking Forney Oxendine out of jail.

Officials arrested Betsy Applewhite and other family members of the Lowry band in an effort to draw the men out into the open. Lowry threatened retaliation against Robeson County white women, promising “the Bloodiest times … that ever was before.” On July 17, the Lowry band ambushed a police guardsman, resulting in several deaths.

Charlotte Democrat, 18 July 1871.

Shaken citizens demanded a release of the Lowry gang’s wives, and a truce of sorts took hold.

Eight months later, in February 1872, the Lowry Band raided Lumberton, escaping with more than $20,000 from private safes. Henry Berry Lowry was never (officially) seen again, creating a mystery that only burnished his legend to cultural icon. Applewhite, too, disappeared.

The long-winded heading of the New York Herald‘s extensive excerpts from correspondent George Alfred Thompson provides a rough summary of the entire saga (at least from the standpoint of white Robeson County), and the detailed map accompanying the article marked George Applewhite’s cabin with the letter B just south of Shoeheel, or modern-day Maxton. M, between his house and the railroad, marks the place he was shot in 1871.

The Swamp Angels. — The Blood Trail of the North Carolina Outlaws. — How Lowery Avenged the Murders of a Father and a Brother. — Cain’s Brand the Test of Admission to the Gang. — A War of Races. — The Outlaws in the Swamp-The Judge on the Bench-The Ku Klux on their Nightly Raids. — Lowery Breaks Prison Twice. — Sheriff King, Norment, Carlisle, Steve Davis and Joe Thompson’s Slave Murdered by the Band. — Killing the Outlaws’ Relatives When They Cannot Catch the Gang. — A Promise That Was Kept: “I Will Kill John Taylor — There’s No Law for Us Mulattoes.” — Aunt Phoebe’s Story. — The Hanging of Henderson Oxendine. — Outlaw Zach McLaughlin Shot By an Impressed Outlaw. — The Black Nemesis.

New York Herald, 8 March 1872.

Applewhite was arrested in Columbus, Georgia, late that fall. The Herald‘s breathless report mentions that he had committed a “terrible murder in the eastern section of the State at the close of the Civil War,” but this appears to be a misattribution. Applewhite was not in Robeson County at that time.

New York Herald, 6 November 1872.

But was this in fact George Applewhite? I have found no follow-up to this pronouncement, and no report of his extradition to North Carolina. Rather, in July 1875 Applewhite was arrested in Goldsboro, where he had been living for years under the pseudonym Bill Jackson. Two African-American men, Bryant Capps and William Freeman, violently apprehended him, and he was jailed in Columbus County, N.C.

Weekly Telegraph and Journal & Messenger (Macon GA), 13 July 1875.

Applewhite obtained top-notch counsel, who exploited a technicality to win his release under state’s Amnesty Act, which pardoned persons found responsible for political violence in the years after the Civil War. The Act had been intended to shield Ku Klux Klansmen from prosecution and contained a provision excepting Steve Lowry, alone of the Lowry Band, from its protection. (The General Assembly likely assumed Henry Lowry and Applewhite were dead.) After a North Carolina Supreme Court ruling on the issue of whether Applewhite’s appeal of his conviction and death sentence had rendered him eligible for amnesty, Applewhite was freed.

Raleigh’s Daily Sentinel published a sympathetic portrait of Applewhite shortly after his release, outlining his background and questioning his culpability in the crimes attributed to him.

Daily Sentinel (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 June 1876.

Applewhite did return to Goldsboro. His wife Betsy and children remained in Robeson County, and he remarried in 1880. His date of death is not known.

——

George Applewhite, “The North Carolina Bandits,Harper’s Weekly, 30 March  1872, p. 249.

On 10 September 1869, the Wilmington (N.C.) Journal published descriptions of “the Robeson outlaws,” including George Applewhite:

Though Applewhite is described elsewhere as a dark mulatto, Herald correspondent George Alfred Thompson sought to demonize him by resorting to exaggerated stereotypes:

“George Applewhite is a regular negro, of a surly, determined look, with thick features, woolly hair, large protuberances above the eyebrows, big jaws and cheek bones and a black eye.

“He is a picture of a slave at bay. Mrs. [Harriet Beecher] Stowe might have drawn ‘Dred‘ from him.”

And: “Applewhite was an alert, thick-lipped, deep-browed, wooly headed African, with a steadfast, brutal expression.”

This pixelated image of Applewhite, the only version I could find on line, is the only known photograph of the man.

——

George Applewhite was born in the Stantonsburg area of what is now Wilson County about 1848 to Obedience Applewhite and Jerre Applewhite.

George Applewhite married Elizabeth C. Oxendine on 15 August 1868 in Robeson County, North Carolina.

In the 1870 census of Burnt Hall township, Robeson County: Betsey Appelwhite, 28; her children John, 12, Robert, 10, Emilie, 4, and Adeline, 2; and brother Furney Oxendine, 20.

In the 1880 census of Burnt Hall township, Robeson County: Betsy Applewhite, 38, described as a widow; and children Mariah, 15, Addena, 11, Forney, 6, and Polly, 4.

In the 1880 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County, North Carolina: George Applewhite, 32, plasterer, living alone.

On 12 September 1880, George Applewhite, 32, of Wayne County, son of Jerre and Beady Applewhite (father dead; mother living in Wilson County), married Martha Hodges, 16, of Wayne County, daughter of Graham and Mary Hodges, in Goldsboro, Wayne County.

The last reference to George Applewhite I’ve found is this account of Christmas Day fight between Applewhite and Arthur Williams:

Goldsboro Messenger, 31 December 1883.

Rest in power, Fred Valentine.

My chosen family lost yet another patriarch in the closing days of 2022. Fred L. Valentine Sr. passed away in Washington, D.C., on December 26, surrounded by family. An outfielder for the Washington Senators and Baltimore Orioles, “Uncle Fred” spent a stand-out summer with the Wilson Tobs in 1958, where he met his future wife, Helena Smith, and demanded desegregation of the whites-only section of Fleming Stadium after the “colored section” collapsed under an overflow crowd of African-American fans.

The Valentines became close friends of my parents and, as I wrote here, their children were “play cousins” of my sister and me. I honor Fred Valentine’s memory, and send love to his beloved wife, daughters, son, and grandson.

Fred Valentine as a Tob. Photo detail courtesy of North Carolina Baseball Museum, Wilson.