Civil rights

You have never known the cruelties of these people.

Three months after the Confederacy surrendered, the Goldsboro field office of the Freedmen’s Bureau received this shocking letter from an African-American resident of Wilson. Austin F. Flood poured his anguish and anger into four pages detailing the outrages of authorities against freedmen in the county. Though some of the perpetrators of violence were former Confederates, Flood pointed a steady finger at so-called Union men who also terrorized and abused formerly enslaved men and women.

record-image_undefined-13.jpg

Wilson July the 16 to 1865

Dear Sir

I take the opportunity of writeing you these few lines because I under stand you to be the head ruler ove this Steate in Millitary act. And this I write to you secretly in feare of my life. For in the present condision we can not helpe our Selves. Because thes people has every advantege of us and they are makeing use of it. The free men are under very good beheaveior here; And yet they cant see any peace at all. The rebes is about take the Town because we cant help our Selves Because we are without any thing to Protect us. For they sent the cunstable around to every free man s houses and taken all the wepons they said by General Schorfield. they were com manded to do it. And thuse we gave them up because we thought it was demanded of us by him. And not with Standing I thought at the Same time in a certain [illegible] that he was giveing them

record-image_undefined-14.jpg

a Stick not only to breake my head But also his even the heads of all the Northren People whom I love as my Self. Yea I say more then love them. Therefore I look to them for protection. Why am I keept from my libberties Because you have never known the cruilties of these People Who says they are Union men when they are not. For am I acquainted with bot Heavenly an National union and it is as much imposible to mix union and secess as it is to mix Oil an Water. Ive been watching them for twenty-eight months and there is but three union principles about the place and that is Wilie Daniel an Lawyer Langston — T.C. Christmond. These are all that I can look opond as Such. And if these officers be Union men Why do they keep all your ordinances conceiled frome us And try so harde to place a Yoke of thiere own opond us when this is not your Militry rules. They receives your commans and make thiere own laws. Taken down the free men an striping them without liefe or licens. Carring them to Jail and Whiping them [illegible]

record-image_undefined-10.jpg

The cunsable Thom Hadly a few days a go or rather at neight took a man at his work And carid him to his house and Striped him with out Law And this thing are going continuely in the Country Wm Batts stroped two this Weak and gave them a bige dink I surpose not to say anything about it. Johnathan Bullock discharging two loads after a yonge man to make him go home to his Master to work. The Cunstable are ruled more by the rebs then he is by the officers as they so call in nam. But not in principle. They say that have every thing in thiere hands to do as they please. And a Negro shall not be equill with him. Before he shall they will kill him. And this they have stated to do. We have to pay taxes and yet we have no priverledge. We dar to walk almost after night without being put in Jail. And the rebs going where he pleases. And they have gon so far that we are almost a fraide to Stay in the house after night Last Friday night the town was in a larm with the cry of a free [illegible] Men who disguised them Selves

record-image_undefined-15.jpg

And wente to the house wher he staid and routed him. And as he jumped out the window. A pistol was fired on him. And by the time he tuched the grown one struck him with a gun. And by that time there four on him Choping with sabers an beating on him with greate stick. And hollowing murder an help nor man could go to him. Willie Dannel atempted to go to him And they threatened his life for they had sentenals out to keepe others off. Ben Lanston and the Cunstaple: Sid Clark Van Winman and Rube Winman. And they have almost ruin him. And it never will be no better untill you send men here and put this place to rights. And this is what has never been done. For the men that was sent here worked every thing to our disadvantage and I’m [in] the faviour of these People. I writ you these things secretly. Please send to our releife for we are here in this place And I will more then thank you.  Yours, A.F. Flood

——

  • General Schorfield — Gen. John McAlister Schofield,
  • Wilie Daniel — Willie Daniel (1820-1897), wealthy planter and merchant, owner of 18 enslaved people as reported in the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County, neutral during the Civil War
  • Lawyer Lanston
  • T.C. Christmond — not Thomas F. Christman, who died in 1861.
  • Thom. Hadly — Thomas Jefferson Hadley IV (1838-1917), Confederate captain.
  • Wm. Batts
  • Johnathan Bullock — Jonathan Bullock (1822-??), farmer.
  • Ben Lanston
  • Sid Clark — Sidney Phineas Clark (1841-1896), born in Connecticut, Confederate captain.
  • Van Winman — Van Buren Winbourn (1838-1889), Confederate private.
  • Rube Winman — Reuben Winborne (1832-??), brother of Van, Confederate private.
  • A.F. Flood — I’ve been able to find little about Austin F. Flood, a Missionary Baptist minister who was born in slavery, probably in Pitt County, North Carolina. His letter indicates that he had been observing conditions in Wilson for 28 months, which would put his arrival in about March 1863. A year and two days after penning this letter, he filed a petition with the Bureau seeking an officer to arrest a “villain” in Greenville. Shortly after, he and Frances Delany registered their 16-year cohabitation with a Pitt County justice. In the 1870 census of Greenville, Pitt County: Austin Flood, 47; wife Francis, 35; children Della, 18, John, 16, Warren, 15, Louisa, 13, Josaphine, 8, Netta, 2, and Hetta, 5 months; and Dorey Paten, 17, hosler. Flood remained in Greenville the rest of his life. He was active in local Republican politics and Baptist leadership, helping establish several churches in the Pitt County area.

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 16, Unregistered Letters Received Aug 1865-Feb 1868, http://www.familysearch.org

Gratitude.

Screen Shot 2019-06-27 at 10.06.20 PM.png

Screen Shot 2019-06-27 at 10.06.49 PM.png

THANK YOU.

I am humbled by the outpouring of donations to Freeman Round House and Museum made in response to my Facebook Birthday Fundraiser. I surpassed my first goal — $250 — in about an hour. I upped it to $400, and y’all blew past that one, too. Some of you grew up in Wilson and know intimately the people and places I blog about. More know Wilson only through the love letter that is Black Wide Awake.

Thank you for reading and following and commenting and encouraging my documentation of the community that raised me. Thank you for caring about the preservation of the history of a place you may never have seen. Thank you for the gift of money, so fundamental to the support of the little museum dedicated to telling the stories of Wilson’s African American community.

THANK YOU.

Sankofa: remembering Marie Everett.

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 9.42.31 PM.png

For hundreds of years, the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and aphorisms. Sankofa is often illustrated as a bird looking over its back. Sankofa means, literally, “go back and get it.” Black Wide Awake exists to do just that.

I had never heard of Marie Everett until I read Charles W. McKinney’s excellent Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. I’m not sure how it is possible that her struggle was so quickly forgotten in Wilson. However, it is never too late to reclaim one’s history. To go back and get it.  So, here is the story of the fight for justice for Everett — a small victory that sent a big message to Wilson’s black community and likely a shudder of premonition through its white one:

On 6 October 1945, 15 year-old Marie Everett took in a movie at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Wilson. (The Carolina admitted black patrons to its balcony.) As Everett stood with friend Julia Armstrong at the concession stand, a cashier yelled at her to get in line. Everett responded that she was not in line and, on the way back to her seat, stuck out her tongue. According to a witness, the cashier grabbed Everett, slapped her and began to choke her. Everett fought back. Somebody called the police, and Everett was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The next day in court, Everett’s charge was upgraded to simple assault. Though this misdemeanor carried a maximum thirty-day sentence and fifty-dollar fine, finding her guilty, the judge upped Everett’s time to three months in county jail. As Wilson’s black elite fretted and dragged their feet, the town’s tiny NAACP chapter swung into action, securing a white lawyer from nearby Tarboro and notifying the national office. In the meantime, Everett was remanded to jail to await a hearing on her appeal. There she sat for four months (though her original sentence had expired) until a court date. Wilson County appointed two attorneys to the prosecution, and one opened with a statement to the jury that the case would “show the niggers that the war is over.” Everett was convicted anew, and Judge C.W. Harris, astonishingly, increased her sentence from three to six months, to be served — even more astonishingly — at the women’s prison in Raleigh. (In other words, hard time.) Everett was a minor, though, and the prison refused to admit her. Branch secretary Argie Evans Allen of the Wilson NAACP jumped in again to send word to Thurgood Marshall, head of the organization’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall engaged M. Hugh Thompson, a black lawyer in Durham, who alerted state officials to the shenanigans playing out in Wilson. After intervention by the State Commissioner of Paroles and Governor R. Gregg Cherry, Everett walked out of jail on March 18. She had missed nearly five months of her freshman year of high school.

The Wilson Daily Times, as was its wont, gave Everett’s story short-shrift. However, the Norfolk Journal & Guide, an African-American newspaper serving Tidewater Virginia, stood in the gap. (Contrary to the article’s speculation, there was already a NAACP branch on the ground in Wilson, and it should have been credited with taking bold action to free Everett.)

Norfolk Journal & Guide, 23 March 1946.

Sankofa bird, brass goldweight, 19th century, British Museum.org. For more about the Carolina Theatre, including blueprints showing its separate entrance and ticket booth for African-Americans, see here.

The 101st anniversary of the school boycott.

Today marks the 101st 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 is largely forgotten in Wilson, and its heroes go 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.

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2016/01/07/we-tender-our-resignation-and-east-wilson-followed/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2018/03/30/the-heroic-teachers-of-principal-reids-school/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2016/12/10/a-continuation-of-the-bad-feelings/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2017/04/02/what-happened-when-white-perverts-threatened-to-slap-colored-school-teachers/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2018/02/11/604-606-east-vance-street/

Recommended reading, no. 3.

My well-worn copy.

May I recommend Charles W. McKinney’s excellent Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina? Published in 2010, this fine-grained and meticulous monograph examines the many grassroots groups — including farmers, businessmen, union organizers, working class women — who worked together and separately to drag Wilson County into and through the civil rights movement.

Carolina Posse Kills Ex-GI.

The lynchings of two Wilson County men are recorded at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The name of the first, killed in 1887, is unknown. The second man, shot to death in 1946, was J.C. Farmer, a 19 year-old veteran of World War II.

Farmer and some friends were in Sims, a village in the western part of the county, playing around while waiting for a bus to take them into Wilson for a Saturday night out. Constable Fes Bissette confronted the group, ordering Farmer to get into his squad car. When Farmer refused, Bissette hit him in the back of the head with a blackjack, drew his gun and tried to force Farmer into the car. The two scuffled. Seizing control of the gun, Farmer shot Bissette through the hand and fled. An hour later, 20 to 25 white men, including Alcoholic Beverage Control agents armed with submachine guns, cornered Farmer near his mother Mattie Barnes Farmer‘s house and opened fire.

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 11.02.26 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 11.02.42 PM.pngScreen Shot 2018-06-25 at 11.02.59 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 11.03.25 PM.png

New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, Va.), 17 August 1946.

Though the scant news accounts available are silent, it appears that Farmer was driven ten miles to Wilson to Mercy Hospital, where Dr. Batie T. Clark pronounced him dead from a “gun shot wound chest” about 30 minutes after arrival. Clark also noted on Farmer’s death certificate, by way of explanation: “shot by officer of law in gun duel” though it is not at all clear which member of the posse’s shot hit Farmer, and there had been no “duel.” (Also, who transported Farmer to town — his family or law enforcement? Why was he seen by Badie Clark, a white doctor, rather than, say, Joseph Cowan, who was Mercy’s African-American staff physician? Here’s a guess: Dr. Cowan didn’t dare.)

In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress issued We Charge Genocide: An Historic Appeal to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People, a “record of mass slayings on the basis of race.” Among the litany of such state-sanctioned crimes committed from 1945 to 1951 was the killing of J.C. Farmer.

Equal Justice Initiative’s 2015 Lynching in America report mentioned J.C. Farmer’s murder in the chapter described racial terror directed at African-American veterans: “No one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. Thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service.” Farmer’s death was just one of a wave of such lynchings in 1946.

——

In the 1930 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Josh Farmer, 51; wife Mattie, 46; and children William A., 21, Josh W., 17, Waneta, 14, Lonnie D., 12, Robert, 10, Albert H., 6, and J.C., 3.

In the 1940 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Jack Farmer, 59; wife Mattie, 55; and children Authur, 24, Jack Jr., 23, Robert, 20, Harry, 16, J.C., 13, and Juanita Barnes, 22, and her children Mattie Lee, 3, and Marjorie, 1.

J.C. Farmer registered for the World War II draft on 21 October 1944, was honorably discharged on 16 August 1945, and was dead 13 days’ shy of a year later.

——

For the hanged and beaten. For the shot, drowned and burned. The tortured, tormented and terrorized. For those abandoned by the rule of law.

We will remember.

With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. With courage because peace requires bravery. With persistence because justice is a constant struggle. With faith because we shall overcome.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

God bless Wilson and her worthy people.

One hundred nineteen years ago today, the Wilson Times ran a letter sent from Monrovia, Liberia, by Rev. Owen L.W. Smith, U.S. consul to that West African country. Largely a sycophantic roll call of Wilson’s elected officials, halfway through Smith suddenly jabs. Praising a hospital director, he commented that all had “the appearance that better things are coming, notwithstanding the ‘Jim Crow Car’ law, the election franchise act, and the constitutional amendment. But I believe you will let me vote.” He then drops a few lines describing Liberia’s system of suffrage. It’s not universal, but. Touché.

ggeern.jpg

Wilson Times, 9 June 1899.

Work and that woman has kept me right.

Martha Tyson Dixon‘s husband Luke D. Dixon consented to a Federal Writers Project interview, too. His story, starting with his Africa-born grandparents, is electric.

“My father’s owner was Jim Dixon in Elmo County, Virginia. That is where I was born. I am 81 years old. Jim Dixon had several boys — Baldwin and Joe. Joe took some of the slaves his pa gave him, and went to New Mexico to shun the war. Uncle and Pa went in the war as waiters. They went in at the ending up. We lived on the big road that run to the Atlantic Ocean. Not far from Richmond. Ma lived three or four miles from Pa. She lived across big creek — now they call it Farrohs Run. Ma belonged to Harper Williams. Pa’s folks was very good but Ma’s folks was unpleasant.

“Ma lived to be 103 years old. Pa died in 1905 and was 105 years old. I used to set on Grandma’s lap and she told me about how they used to catch people in Africa. They herded them up like cattle and put them in stalls and brought them on the ship and sold them. She said some they captured they left bound till they come back and sometimes they never went back to get them. They died. They had room in the stalls on the boat to set down or lie down. They put several together. Put the men to themselves and the women to themselves. When they sold Grandma and Grandpa at a fishing dock called New Port, Va., they had their feet bound down and their hands bound crossed, up on a platform. They sold Grandma’s daughter to somebody in

“Texas. She cried and she begged to let them be together. They didn’t pay no ‘tension to her. She couldn’t talk but she made them know she didn’t want to be parted. Six years after slavery they got together. When a boat was to come in people come and wait to buy slaves. They had several days of selling. I never seen this but that is the way it was told to me.

“The white folks had a iron clip that fastened the thumbs together and they would swing the man or woman up in a tree and whoop them. I seen that done in Virginia across from where I lived. I don’t know what the folks had done. They pulled the man up with block and tackle.

“Another thing I seen done was put three or four chinquapin switches together green, twist them and dry them. They would dry like a leather whip. They whooped the slaves with them.

“Grandpa was named Sam Abraham and Phillis Abraham was his mate. They was sold twice. Once she was sold away from her husband to a speculator. Well, it was hard on the Africans to be treated like animals. I never heard of the Nat Turner rebellion. I have heard of slaves buying their own freedom. I don’t know how it was done. I have heard of folks being helped to run off. Grandma on mother’s side had a brother run off from Dalton, Mississippi to the North. After the war he come to Virginia.

“When freedom was declared we left and went to Wilmington and Wilson, North Carolina. Dixon never told us we was free but at the end of the year he gave my father a gray mule he had ploughed for a long time and part of the crop. My mother jes

“picked us up and left her folks now. She was cooking then I recollect. Folks jes went wild when they got turned loose.

“My parents was first married under a twenty five cents license law in Virginia. After freedom they was remarried under a new law and the license cost more but I forgot how much. They had fourteen children to my knowing. After the war you could register under any name you give yourself. My father went by the name of Right Dixon and my mother Jilly Dixon.

“The Ku Klux was bad. They was a band of land owners what took the law in hand. I was a boy. I scared to be caught out. They took the place of pattyrollers before freedom.

“I never went to public school but two days in my life. I went to night school and paid Mr. J.C. Price and Mr. S.H. Vick to teach me. My father got his leg shot off and I had to work. It kept me out of meanness. Work and that woman has kept me right. I come to Arkansas, brought my wife and one child, April 5, 1889. We come from Wilson, North Carolina. Her people come from North Carolina and Moultrie, Georgia.

“I do vote. I sell eggs or a little something and keep my taxes paid up. It look like I’m the kind of folks the government would help — them that works and tries hard to have something — but seems like they don’t get no help. They wouldn’t help me if I was bout to starve. I vote a Republican ticket.”

NOTE: On the wall in the dining room, used as a sitting room, was framed picture of Booker T. Washington and Teddy Roosevelt sitting at a round-shaped hotel dining table ready to be

“served. Underneath the picture in large print was “Equality.” I didn’t appear to ever see the picture.

This negro is well-fixed for living at home. He is large and very black, but his wife is a light mulatto with curly, nearly straightened hair.

——

This is the image that Luke Dixon’s interviewer so studiously ignored. The event it depicted, which scandalized white America in 1901, is the subject of Deborah Davis’ recent book, Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation (2012).

I have not found Luke Dixon or his parents in the censuses of Virginia. There is no “Elmo County,” Virginia, but New Port may have been Newport News, which was little more than a fishing village in the antebellum era.

Dixon apparently attended night school at Wilson Academy, but it is not clear when. Joseph C. Price headed the school from 1871 to 1873, when Samuel H. Vick was just a child. Vick assumed the helm at age 21 after graduating from Lincoln University.