Court Actions

Her chicken came home to roost.

Culpeper (Va.) Exponent, 30 March 1922.

Lila Thompson and Annie Graham were close neighbors on Ashe Street. Within 30 months of their dispute, both were dead of tuberculosis.

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  • Liler Thompson — In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Thompson Lila (c) tobwkr h 124 Ashe. Lila Thompson died 14 October 1924 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 24 years old; was born in Sampson County to Henrietta Clark; was married to Walter Thompson; lived at 1005 Washington Street; and was buried in Rountree cemetery.
  • Annie Graham — In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Burley Graham, 16; mother Annie, 30, widow; sister Margrette, 14; and cousin Walter Bryant, 19; all born in South Carolina. Annie Graham died 27 July 1924 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was about 40 years old; was born in Lake City, South Carolina, to Daniel and Martha Martin; was the widow of James Graham; lived at 130 Ash Street; and worked as a maid for the Briggs Hotel. Burley Graham was informant. (Annie Graham’s daughter, also named Annie Graham, aged three months, died five days earlier. Per her death certificate, her parents were James Hall and Annie Graham. Mary Graham was informant.)

Charles S. Darden’s groundbreaking legal work against segregation.

In 2018, the City of Los Angeles nominated the Cordary Family Residence and Pacific Ready-Cut Cottage at 1828 South Gramercy Place, Los Angeles, California, for historic-cultural monument designation. 

Page 13 of the nomination form contains this arresting statement: “Until recently the case of Benjamin Jones and Fanny Guatier, Plaintiffs v. Berlin Realty Company, a corporation, Defendant, has been an obscure footnote to history. But observers are now not just rediscovering the case itself, but also reminding us that the legal arguments against racial covenants used by Plaintiffs’ attorney Charles S. Darden in this case — and adopted by the Los Angeles Superior Court judge in ruling favorably for the Plaintiffs — preceded and foresaw what became the notable winning argument of later precedent-setting “Sugar Hill” case that took place in Los Angeles in 1945.” That case, involving actors Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers‘ fight against racially restrictive covenants, is credited with being the first to cite the 14th Amendment as justification for overturning such covenants. That recognition, however, more properly belongs to Jones and Gautier — and the arguing attorney, Wilson’s own Charles S. Darden — which has been overlooked because it did not rise to California’s Court of Appeals. Read more about Darden’s innovative arguments below.

A suit for seduction.

The Indianapolis Journal, 28 January 1896.

A suit alleging seduction claimed a tort action under the law. Here, Nathan Blackwell, acting in the place of deceased Edwin Blackwell, filed to recover damages for the seduction by Walter Kersey of his niece (or cousin?) Mary Ella Blackwell, a minor. (I do not know if their “relationship” was consensual or forced, but it likely resulted in a pregnancy.) Kersey, like the Blackwells, was a migrant to Indianapolis from Wilson County and was about twenty years Mary Ella’s senior.

A year later, Mary Ella married a man three times her age.  On 27 January 1897, Mary Ella Blackwell, 17, born in North Carolina to Edwin and H. Blackwell, married Thomas Parsons, 50, born in North Carolina to Jefferson Parsons and Zilphia Burns, in Indianapolis.

But the relationship did not last: in the 1910 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: Hattie Blackwell, 43, widowed laundress, and children Mary, 29, divorced laundress, and John, 23, coal yards worker, single. All were born in North Carolina. 

The story of a 27 year-old murder.

In August 1912, 17 year-old Nash County boy Lieutenant Hawkins was found stabbed to death on his employer Iredell Williams’ farm near the Wilson County line. His body had lain in a pasture overnight. The Wilmington Morning Star reported that two men, Paul Powell and Oscar Eatmon, were quickly arrested.  

Eatmon was convicted “of having something to do with the killing.” (What?) He served five years in state prison and returned to Wilson. Meanwhile, Paul Powell’s brother Dempsey Powell, also involved in the incident, left the state. When he returned in May 1939 for one of his brothers’ funeral, he was arrested and charged with Hawkins’ murder. 

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1939.

A mere five days later, the Nashville Graphic reported that Powell had been acquitted. Eatmon was the star witness. Eatmon, Hawkins, Powell and others had argued on their way home from church. A fight broke out, and Hawkins was slain. Eatmon was taken into custody as a witness, but “at a preliminary hearing talked too much and was arrested in connection with the crime.” Powell  returned to North Carolina about 1933 and saw and talked to Eatmon, but Eatmon had not reported him. When Powell came back in 1939, Eatmon alerted authorities. 

All good until cross examination. Defense attorney I.T. Valentine confronted Eatmon with a sworn statement from the 1912 trial record. Eatmon had testified then that another boy, named Wiggins, had stabbed Hawkins, and Powell had only pulled Wiggins off the victim. After reviewing this bombshell, the judge directed a “not guilty” verdict, and Powell’s ordeal was over. 

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  • Dempsey Powell — in the 1900 census of Jackson township, Nash County, N.C.: Ichabod Powell, 50, farmer; wife Mary A., 50; children Mary A., 20, Martha, 18, Joseph, 16, Margarett, 14, Geneva, 12, Billie P., 11, Dempsey H., 9, and Paul J., 6; and nephew Henry Lassiter, 28. In the 1910 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer William T. Powell, 38; wife Mary, 21; brother-in-law Dempsie, 16; and sister-in-law Martha, 6. On 14 February 1912, Dempsey Powell, 19, of Old Fields township, son of Tom and Clarky Powell, married Bessie Hedgpeth, 18, of Oldfields township, daughter of Dock and Clara Hedgpeth, in Wilson County. [Is this the same Dempsey?]
  • Paul Powell — Paul Powell died 21 July 1966 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 30 May 1894 in Nash County to Jabe [Ichabod] Powell and Mary Ann Lancaster [Lassiter]; lived at 1304 Carolina Street; and was never married. 
  • Oscar Eatmon — in the 1910 census of Jackson township, Nash County, Oscar Eatmon is a 16 year-old farm laborer living with his widower father Jarman Eatmon.
  • Lieutenant Hawkins — in the 1910 census of Jackson township, Nash County, Lieutenant Hawkins is a 14 year-old farm laborer living with his parents Bynum and Julia Hawkins.
  • I.T. Valentine — Itimous Thaddeus Valentine, later an associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The murder of Willie Black.

When the registrar filed 48 year-old Willie Black‘s death certificate on 6 February 1933, she recorded his cause of death as “gun shot wounds inflicted by parties or party unknown to the Coroner Jurry.”

However, on 27 January 1933, the Wilson Daily Times reported Willie Black’s widow Sarah Black and her “paramour” Robert Collins had confessed to the crime. On 7 February 1933, the paper reported that a grand jury had returned an indictment against Sarah Black for first degree murder in the slaying of her husband. Collins was also charged.

Sarah Black went on trial in May. 

Elijah King testified that he heard two gunshots in the direction of the railroad. He went to the police station, then returned with officers to the Norfolk and Southern railroad, where they found a dead man lying about 150 yards from Rountree Bridge road. [Rountree Bridge road was most likely the continuation beyond city limits of what was then Stantonsburg Street and is now Black Creek Road. Rountree Bridge crossed Contentnea Creek three miles southeast of Wilson.]

Acting Coroner Ashe Hines testified that the body bore two gunshots wounds, one at close range behind the right ear and the other in the back. 

Willie Black’s son, also named Willie Black, testified next. He was Sarah Black’s stepson. His father and stepmother had been married about two years before, and they quarreled frequently. On the night of the murder, Black Jr. saw Sarah talking with a preacher who lived nearby. His father was not at home, and Black Jr. thought he was at work.

Willie Black Jr. got home about 7:30 PM and found a lamp burning in his parents’ bedroom. He went to James Stancil’s store and stayed until about 9:00 PM, then went home and went to bed. Sarah Black came home about 10:00 PM, and ten minutes later the police arrived. Willie Jr. asked, “Where’s Papa?,” and the police took him and his stepmother to view the body where it lay. Sarah Black cried a little. The police questioned them about a single gauge shotgun.

The night before the shooting, Willie and Sarah Black had argued about the pigtails he brought home for dinner. Sarah Black: “I do not like them.” Willie Black: “If you don’t like them, you can thrown them out.” Sarah Black: I don’t even know why I married you. Willie Black Jr. admitted he and his stepmother had argued, too, but denied ever pulling a knife on her or threatening her.

Officer Lloyd Lucas testified that he had questioned Sarah Black, and she told him that she was a burial society meeting and then a prayer meeting during the time WIllie Black was supposed to have been killed. Lucas denied trying to intimidate Sarah Black or “wring a confession out of her,” but allowed he might have said “damn.”

Robert Collins, who was alleged to be Sarah Black’s lover, was charged with the actual killing and was to be tried after Black’s trial.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 May 1933.

Which happened immediately. The next day’s edition announced that Collins turned state’s evidence and testified to this sorry chain of events:

Robert Collins lived in Happy Hill and had known Sarah Black three to four years. About a week before the murder, at Sarah Black’s sister’s house, Sarah had told him she was tired of Willie Black and wanted him out of the way. She would furnish him with Willie Black’s own gun and would pay him with money and clothing. (Williams Lumber employees testified that they saw Sarah come to talk to Collins at work.) On the night of the shooting, Sarah hid Willie’s shotgun in a ditch. She and Collins followed Willie as he walked down the railroad, and Collins shot him in the back. Black kept walking. Sarah Black asked if Collins was going to shoot him again, and Collins said he could not. She then took the gun and shot her husband down. Collins and Sarah Black went to the Black home, then separated. When confronted by the police, Collins confessed and took all the blame for himself.

The jury deliberated about two-and-a-half hours before delivering its decision. Guilty. As to both. Collins was immediately sentenced to 29 years and Sarah Black to the electric chair. 

[But stay tuned.]

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, day laborer Chas. Hines, 38, and wife Isabella, 38; step-daughter Mary Jane Bryant, 18; cook Jane Black, 35, widow, and her children William, 14, Clara, 4, Lucy, 1, plus day laborer Ed Black, 21, all boarders; and day laborer William York, 75, boarder.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, widow Jane Black, 45, house servant, and children Willie, 24, Caria, 14, Lucy, 11, Samuel, 7, and Gertrude, 3. 

In 1918, Will Black registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in February 1883; lived on Goldsboro Street, Wilson; was a laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company; and his contact was wife Matilda Black.

On 27 August 1928, Matilda Black died in Castalia township, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was about 36 years old; married to Will Black; lived in Wilson; was born in Nash County to Richard Taylor and Dianah Hill; and was buried in a family cemetery. Will Black was informant.

Will Black, 40, of Wilson, son of Fred and Jane Black, married Sarah Kittrell, 25, of Wilson, daughter of Ed and Rosa Kittrell, on 11 August 1930 in Wilson. Disciples minister Fred Williams performed the ceremony in Wilson in the presence of Mae H. Young, Jas. H. Knight and Clara Ward.

Pop-bottle blow.

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News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 August 1944.

Robert Evans was arrested and charged with murder after flipping a glass bottle back at Walter T. Woodard.

Two weeks later, Evans was free. Judge J.J. Burney had directed a verdict of acquittal — meaning the prosecution has not proved its case under any reasonable interpretation of the facts.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 September 1944.

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“Blow on head with Bottle Instant death”

Trustee’s sale of Suggs’ land.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 October 1928.

Trustee J.S. Duncan posted a notice of the sale of three lots on which Daniel C. Suggs and wife Mary A. Suggs defaulted payment.

The first lot was one and a half acres between Railroad Street and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, adjacent to Contentnea Fertilizer Factory.

The second lot was six acres north of Contentnea [Cemetery] Street adjoining Calvin Blount, John RatleySamuel H. Vick, and “the colored cemetery.”

The third lot was at the intersection of Railroad and Suggs Streets.

Statement of disbursements.

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  • Charles Darden

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Charles H. Darden, a blacksmith turned undertaker, was Wilson’s leading African-American businessman in turn-of-the-century Wilson.

  • Sylvester Seabury

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  • Mike Taylor

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Mike Taylor was the son of Abi Taylor, above.

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  • James Artist

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  • George Artice

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  • Fred Davis

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Fred M. Davis was a Missionary Baptist minister.

  • Daniel Battle
  • Henry Newsom
  • Ben Bell
  • Austin Linsey

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  • Charles Darden

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  • Patrick Williamson

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  • Small Blount

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  • Caesar Wooten

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Caesar Wooten murdered Mittie Strickland during an argument on Vance Street near the railroad track, launching a four-year manhunt.

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  • Charles Bynum
  • Bettie Privett
  • Alice Privett

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In November 1888, Charles Bynum was tried and convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of Henry Privett, brother of his girlfriend Bettie Privett.

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Mack Bynum was the father of Charles Bynum, above.

Wilson Mirror, 26 December 1888.