Court Actions

He is a Wilson negro and a bad one at that.

One hundred years ago today:

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The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 16 March 1919.

  • Kit Shaw
  • Luther Barbour — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 809 East Nash, John Barber, 27; wife Ethel, 26; mother Sallie, 59, teacher; and brother Luther, 32. Luther is described as single.

The collapse of the Vick empire.

A deed of trust is essentially an agreement between a lender and a borrower to give legal title to a property to a neutral third party who will serve as a trustee. The trustee holds the property until the borrower pays off the debt owed to the lender. During the period of repayment, the borrower keeps the actual or equitable title to the property and generally maintains full responsibility for the premises. The trustee, however, holds the legal title to the property and is empowered to sell the property to satisfy the debt if the borrower defaults.  Once the sale is complete, the trustee will distribute the proceeds between the borrower and the lender. The lender gets whatever funds are required to satisfy the debt, and the borrower receives anything in excess of that amount.

On a single day in April 1935, Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick lost nearly all of their wealth, including their home. The Vicks were heavily in debt and had defaulted on their loans.  Trustee Mechanics and Farmers Bank, an offshoot of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (and one of a handful of black North Carolina banks to survive the Great Depression), offered dozens of their properties for sale. On 4 April 1935, as recorded in Deed Book 221, pages 333-341, Home Development Corporation purchased the following tracts — comprising 109 houses and lots, 4 additional vacant lots, and 2 large parcels — for $35,000:

  • Tract 1 — the house and lot at 310 [North] Pender Street.
  • Tract 2 — the house and lot at 313 [North] Pender Street.
  • Tract 2-A — the houses and lots at 401, 403, 407 and 409 Viola Street.
  • Tract 3 — “off of and south of Plank road [East Nash Street], adjoining the lands of Harry Clark and others.”
  • Tract 4 — a 19-room house on Vance Street. [This is likely the building that housed the Independent School.]
  • Tract 5-A — the house and lot at 714 East Viola Street.
  • Tract 5-B — the “Vick Home Place” at 622 East Green Street. [The Vicks regained title to this house, which remains in family hands today.]
  • Tract 5-C — the houses and an empty lot at 711, 713 and 717 East Green Street.
  • Tract 5-D — the house and lot at 716 East Green Street.
  • Tract 5-E — the house and lot at 703 East Green Street.
  • Tract 5-F — the house and lot at 709 East Green Street.
  • Tract 5-G — the houses and lots at 606, 608, 610, 612 and 614 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-H — the houses and lots at 630 and 632 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-I — the house and lot at 620 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-J — the house and lot at 624 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-K — the house and lot at 628 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 5-L — the houses and lots at 617 and 619 East Viola Street.
  • Tract 5-M — the houses and lots at 705 and 707 East Viola Street.
  • Tract 5-N — the house and lot at 623 Darden Alley [now Lane].
  • Tract 6 — the houses and lots at 701 and 703 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 7 — a 5820 square-foot lot on Viola Street.
  • Tract 8 — the house and lot at 508 East Green Street.
  • Tract 9 — the houses and lots at 509 and 511 [East] Green Street.
  • Tract 10 — the houses and lots at 503 and 505 [East] Green Street.
  • Tract 12 — the houses and lots at 529, 531 and 533 East Nash Street.
  • Tract 13 — the houses and lots at 543, 545, 547 and 549 East Nash Street.
  • Tract 25-A — the buildings and lots at 535, 537 and 539 East Nash Street.
  • Tract 25-B — the house and lot at 526 Smith Street.
  • Tract 25-C — the house and lot at 522 Smith Street.
  • Tract 25-D — the house and lot at 516 Smith Street.
  • Tract 25-E — the houses and lots at 523 and 525 Smith Street.
  • Tract 25-F — the houses and lots at 517 and 519 Smith Street.
  • Tract 14 — the house and lot at 518 East Nash Street.
  • Tract 15 — a 53′ by 153′ lot on Church Alley [now Street].
  • Tract 17 — the houses and lots at 402 and 404 Vick’s Alley [now Parker Lane].
  • Tract 18 — the house and lot at 503 South Spring [now Lodge] Street.
  • Tract 19 — a 7200 square-foot lot adjoining Louis Townsend, near Spring Street [now Lodge].
  • Tract 20 — the houses and lots at 406 and 408 Vick’s Alley [now Parker Lane].
  • Tract 21 — the houses and lots at 403, 405, 407 and 409 Vick’s Alley [now Parker Lane].
  • Tract 23 — the houses and lots at 206 and 208 South Manchester Street.
  • Tract 26-A — the houses and lots at 810 and 812 Elvie [formerly, Elliott] Street.
  • Tract 26-B — the house and lot at 1002 Elvie Street.
  • Tract 26-C — the houses and lots at 801 and 803 Elvie Street.
  • Tract 26-D — the house and lot at 811 Elvie Street.
  • Tract 26-E — the house and lot at 908 Elvie Street.
  • Tract 27 — the house and lot at 607 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 28 — the house and lot at 600 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 29 — the houses and lots at 213, 215 and 217 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 31-A — the houses and lots at 903 and 907 Mercer Street.
  • Tract 31-B — the house and lot at 915 Mercer Street.
  • Tract 32 — a lot on Sugg[s] Street.
  • Tract 33 — the house and lot at 700 Suggs Street.
  • Tract 34-A — the house and lot at 309 Hackney Street.
  • Tract 34-B — the houses and lots at 305 and 307 Hackney Street.
  • Tract 35-A — the house and lot at 617 Darden Alley [Lane].
  • Tract 35-B — the house and lot at 623 Darden Alley [Lane].
  • Tract 37 — the houses and lots at 109, 111, 113, 115, 117 and 201 East Street.
  • Tract 38 — the houses and lots at 108 and 110 Ashe Street.
  • Tract 39 — the houses and lots at 114, 116 and 118 East Street.
  • Tract 40 — 40 acres in Wilson township.
  • Tract 42 — the houses and lots at 400, 402 and 404 Hines Street.
  • Tract 43 — the houses and lots at 500 and 502 East Vance Street.
  • Tract 44 — the house and lot at 712 East Vance and the adjoining lot.
  • Tract 45 — the house and lot at 603 Darden Alley [Lane].
  • Tract 46 — the house and lot at 504 [North] Vick Street.
  • Tract 47 — the house and lot at 504 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 48 — the house and lot at 515 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 49 — the house and lot at 201 Stantonsburg Street [now Pender Street S.E.]
  • Tract 16 — the house and lot at 519 Church Street.

Separate deeds filed the same day showed the transfer of (1) a 50-acre subdivided parcel (minus several dozen lots already sold) from trustee E.R. Merrick to Home Development Corporation for $3500 (Deed Book 221, page 332), and (2) 7 lots on Suggs, Vick, Church and Viola Streets from trustee R.L. McDougald to Home Development Corporation for $6000 (Deed Book 221, page 331). Both transactions involved land the Vicks had borrowed against.

Marked with red asterisks, this roughly six-block area shows the locations of 34 properties held in trust by Merchants and Farmers Bank and sold on 4 April 1935. Many were small shotgun houses built for rental to working-class families. Excerpt from page 32 of the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C. 

Reid and Stanback stand trial.

A detailed newspaper account of the trial of J.D. Reid and Henry S. Stanback, who were charged with embezzlement and other crimes that led to the failure of Wilson’s Commercial Bank.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 February 1930.

In summary:

Bank examiners closed Commercial Bank on 24 September 1929 after a suspicious fire. J.D. Reid was the bank’s vice-president, and Stanback, the cashier. They were indicted on six counts. One alleged that Reid and Stanback knowingly permitted others to make deposits to the bank, knowing it was insolvent, specifically these deposits: $66.50 by Alfred Robinson; $57.00 by Camillus L. Darden, treasurer of Saint John A.M.E. Zion; $10.00 by Ed Humphrey; $1100.00 by Edwin W. Fisher, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent; $10.00 by John Clark for Saint Mark’s Episcopal; $400.00 by Jarrette J. Langley; $35.00 by C.E. Artis and Company; and $200.00 by Shade’s Pharmacy.

Reid and Stanback were defended by W.A. Finch, Bryce Little, O.G. Rand, Wade Gardner, and Pete Bell, “Plymouth negro lawyer.”

The State first called certified public accountant C.A. Bean, who testified that he had examined the bank’s records and books on behalf of the North Carolina State Banking Department. Bean testified that pages from the bank’s ledger January 1929 until it closed were destroyed by fire, as well as a number of deposit records. Some documents were found strewn on the floor. He believed the bank was insolvent for four months before it closed. Records shows the bank had $565.84 in cash and checks on hand when it closed, against $72,000 owed to depositors and more than $53,000 in outstanding loans. Bean also found duplicate ledger sheets and a number of accounts under various names controlled by Stanback and Reid (including that of the Wilson Colored Hospital.) Further, he found numerous checks drawn but not charged to Stanback’s account, and well as checks  drawn by Stanback from others’ accounts from 1922 to 1928. Bean testified that Stanback told him one of the special accounts was set up for expenses related to operating the bank. Reid had similarly shady accounts. The bankers’ lawyers objected vigorously to the questions put to Bean.

The state next called several bank customers.

Alfred Robinson, secretary-treasurer of the “Grand Lodge of Negro Masons,” testified that he maintained a personal account and the lodge’s account at the bank. He made deposits in his personal account on September 17 and asked for balance statements for both. Stanback gave him the personal account balance, but said he was too busy to give the lodge’s. He put Robinson off again a few days later, then told him the fire had destroyed records before he could get the information. Robinson said Stanback and Reid told him rats and matches had caused the blaze.

The courtroom was packed with spectators — as many as five hundred, most African-American.

Ed Humphrey testified that he had traveled to Roxboro, North Carolina, with Reid to get a two or three thousand dollar check from Lee Clay. He said Reid offered him $25 to deposit $1880 in the bank, but Humphrey refused.

Edwin Fisher testified about deposits he made on behalf of N.C. Mutual and about a “bogus” deposit slip for $150 that Reid had given him to cover an overage at the bank.

Columbus E. Artis testified that his own balance sheets showed a balance of $1176.67, but the bank’s showed him $14 overdrawn. He further stated that once, when he had a balance of $1800, he had written a check for $500. Stanback had returned it to him unpaid, asking him “not to write such big checks as the bank was a little low on funds owing to the demands of farmers.”

Lee Clay, of Roxboro, testified that Reid had convinced him to transfer $2000.00 from a “white man’s bank” to Commercial about September 1.

Plummer A. Richardson testified in his capacity as officer of a Nash County fraternal organization. He testified that Reid and Stanback blamed the tobacco market for cashflow problems, and he had to make several trips to Wilson to get his checks cashed.

Coverage continued the next day under this headline:

Again, hundreds of dismayed African-Americans crowded the courtroom to hear witnesses pile on evidence against Stanback and Reid. Isaac A. Shade, an eight-year customer, testified that Stanback had explained discrepancies with his pharmacy’s checks as mere mistakes. Shade was later recalled and examined about the Commercial Realty Company, which he claimed to known little about. John H. Clark testified that, upon hearing rumors that the bank would close, he tried to cash out his account, and Stanback had told him that the bank was not open for business. John Melton had $860.00 to his credit when the bank closed. Nestus Freeman testified that he had $3100.00 in the bank when it closed.

H.D. Beverly, “colored superintendent” of a lodge called “Brothers and Sisters of Love and Charity,” testified that  Reid came to his home in Ahoskie, North Carolina, to solicit him to deposit his and the lodge’s money in the bank. Among other things, he said Reid instructed him to allow Stanback to fill out his savings account book to avoid messing up Stanback’s books. He heard the bank was about to fail, but Reid assured him it was not. Andrew Tate also testified.

Marland Jones of Durham testified at length. Jones opened an account after Stanback “kept after him” to do so.  “One morning he went after his money, and it was after the time for the bank to open. Reid came with a sack of money and witness asked what was the matter and if the bank was broke, and Reid said ‘Who said so.’ I wanted to draw out $172.00, and Stanback said that he was short on cash, and I said if you have trouble paying me $172.00, I want all of it.” Jones thought he got the money from Durham, as a Western Union boy came in the office with the money shortly after.

Bertie County depositor N.H. Cherry testified that he had opened an account at Reid’s request and had done so with $500. He later wrote Stanback two letters demanding return of his money. Reid showed up at Cherry’s in person, threatening to “jack up” Stanback for failing to respond and promising to pay Cherry $25 if he kept his money in the bank. Cherry never saw the $25 or his $500 either.

Oscar McCall and Ellen Tate testified about the bank’s shady practices, and Mr. Bean was recalled to testify about irregularities in Hattie Tate‘s account. The State rested, and the defense followed suit, calling no witnesses.

The case went to jury the next day. After just over an hour, they returned two guilty verdicts on the count of receiving deposits knowing that the bank was insolvent. Reid and Stanback were sentenced to five years hard labor, and the remaining charges were deferred to a later date. After abruptly withdrawing their appeals, Reid and Stanback entered state prison by the first of March.

 

Julius Freeman buys land.

On 21 March 1898, Louisa M. Daniel sold Julius F. Freeman a 125-acre tract called the Arky Gardner land in Gardners township. Freeman paid her $500.

Freeman married Eliza Daniel (or Daniels), daughter of Amos and Olive Daniel, in 1873. Was Louisa her kin?

Deed book 46, pages 421-422, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County Courthouse.

The division of the Ned Kent farm.

Ned Kent of Springhill township passed away 22 July 1940. The details of his will are detailed here.

Nearly eight years later, Wilson County Superior Court accepted the report of the commissioners appointed to divide Kent’s land among his many heirs. Born into slavery, he had accumulated 159 acres in southern Wilson County.

Book 150, pages 409-410, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County Courthouse.

The interested parties were: James Kent and wife Nettie; Louise Kent Barnes and husband William Barnes; Narcissus Kent Lucas and husband John Lucas; Percy Kent and wife Cherrie; Cassanda Kent Williams; Jane Boykin; Jennie Lucas and husband W. Fred Lucas; Charlie Kent and wife Victoria Kent; Roscoe Kent and wife Mary; the children of Clara Ann Kent Hamilton (Purcelle Hamilton, Clara Beatrice Hamilton Payne and Matthew Hamilton); Fred Kent’s daughter Thelma Kent Barnes; Ada Kent Williams‘ son Willie Kent; the children of Arcelars Kent (Daisy Kent Williams, Chaney Kent Parker, Helen Kent Lipton, Ned Kent and Jim Kent); the children of James Kent (James R. Kent, Joseph W. Kent, Bessie Hardy, Thaddeus Kent, Johnnie W. Kent, Algie Marie Kent and Flora May Kent); the children of Narcissus Kent Lucas (Pearl Lucas Barnes, Kezzie Lucas Boykin); the children of Percy Kent (Carnell Kent, Lydie Frances Kent Craddock and Davie Nell Kent); the children of Louise Kent Barnes (Nannie Barnes Paschall, Sophie Mae Pulley, Benjamin Barnes, Randolph Barnes, Lydia Barnes Griffin, Gaybella Barnes Harris, Willie Mae Barnes Strickland, Glintle Lee Barnes Finch, Marcus Barnes, Mercedes Barnes, Joya Dennis Barnes, Kay Georgia Barnes and Shirley Barnes); the children of Jane Boykin (Grady Boykin, Willie Foster Boykin, William Gay Boykin, John Henry Boykin, Lillie Mae Boykin; Addie Boykin Miles, Fannie Boykin Clark, Tincie Boykin Williams, and Lydia Boykin Finch); the children of Jennie Lucas (Carrie Lucas Williams, George Lucas, William Lucas, Raspor Lucas, Callie Lucas, Emily Lucas, Chellie Lucas Gastings and Oscar Lucas); the children of Charlie Kent (James O. Kent, Roy Kent, George Kent, James T. Kent, Hubert Kent, Ned Kent, Ruth Kent Hinnant, and Janie Kent Richardson); and Casanda Kent Williams’ son Eddie Williams., plus any “unborn and unascertained children.”

Ned Kent’s farm was divided into 13 lots of just over 12 acres each. Lot #4, which contained the family cemetery, was slightly larger to compensate. A plat map shows an unpaved road running through lots 1 through 6 and a creek running at the edge of lots 7 through 10. Lots 1, 6 and 12 contained dwellings.

Plat Book 5, page 71, Register of Deeds office, Wilson County Courthouse.

The Kent land today, just west of Sullivan Road in far southwestern Wilson County. The road remains unpaved, and the cemetery is well-kept. Per Wilson County, North Carolina Cemeteries — Volume 1, a publication of the Wilson County Genealogical Society, the graveyard contains about 51 graves, including Ned Kent and wife Lydia; their daughter Mary Jane Kent Boykin, her husband John H. and son Grady; their sons Charlie and Marcellus; and others. The tiny creek at the bottom edge of the plat map is now an arm of Buckhorn Reservoir.

A close-up of the Ned Kent family cemetery and the road that runs past it:

Photographs courtesy of Google Maps.

Isaac Isler fights back.

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Wilson Daily Times, 24 April 1939.

In November 1938, Isaac Isler filed suit in county court against three police officers for false arrest and  injuries sustained during a beating in his home. As set forth in the Daily Times on the 12th, Isler’s suit alleged that the officers had entered unannounced and, when he asked for their warrant, began pistol-whipping and beating him with the black jacks, seriously injuring his eye.

On 26 April 1939, the Daily Times detailed the testimony at trial. Dr. T.N. Blackshear testified that Isaac Isler’s eye trouble was caused by red pepper concealed in a handkerchief that Isler rubbed in his eye during his examination. Jailer S.G. Gunter testified that on 3 June 1938, when Isler was jailed, he had not complained of injury, and Gunter had seen no blood on him. Detective Philemon Ray Hartis swore that he had entered the house in search of boys wanted for attacking another Negro. “I fell on the ground and I saw Isler’s wife coming toward me with an iron poker, and his son with a lawn mower handle. And I took out my black jack and lightly tapped him over the head so I could get up.” Chief of Police Clyde Preston Hocutt testified that he had taken the poker from Isler’s wife, and the boy with the lawn mower handle had thrown it down and run away. He denied touching Hocutt. When Isler took the stand, he testified that the three officers had come to his house “looking for some boys or my sons.” He said he was not sure which man had beaten him and only recognized them by their voices. Isler was totally blind “except for a little shade of light.” He had lost the vision of his right war in World War I and most in his left eye since the beating. Isler’s wife Vivie Isler testified that the police were looking for boys who allegedly beat a man and stole his mule, and Officer L.C. Cooper had beaten her husband with the butt of his gun and Hocutt, with his fist. Isler’s son R.D. Isler, who was one of the boys sought, testified similarly to his parents. Dr. Joe Carr testified that he did not recall treating Isler for head wounds, but hospital records show he was treated for head lacerations.

I have not found a report of the outcome of the trial, but I am fairly confident that the judgment was against Isler.

Here is how Karl Fleming described early-1950s Ray Hartis in Son of the Rough South:

” … [Chief Privette’s] knowledge pretty much ended at the edge of “niggertown,” into which he rarely ventured. The job of following what was happening across the tracts fell mainly to Detective Ray Hartis. He was a concrete block of a man, five feet, eleven inches and 200 pounds, with a large head covered with bristly graying hair. He had thick eyebrows, cold gray eyes, red cheeks, and a large pickle of a nose lined with tiny red tributaries — marks of the hard drinker that he was. He was about forty, married but childless, a longtime cop who carried a .38 Smith and Wesson pistol on his hip, and a blackjack in his rear right pocket. …

“He was a loner with the harsh and unapproachable manner of a bitter and disappointed man, disdainful of and not well liked by his fellow cops.

” … we’d cruise back through town and across the Atlantic Coast Line tracks into the little colored business district, only two blocks long. Ray would slow the car down to a crawl, and as we went along, silence would fall over the little knots of black men laughing and talking on the street.

“One sultry night as we cruised the alleys, Ray suddenly stopped the car in front of a shotgun shack and got out.

” ‘Where you going, Ray?’ I asked.

” ‘I heard this son-of-a-bitch is a member of the N-Double-Fuckin’-A-C-P,’ he said. … Suddenly a gray-haired old black man appeared out of the back room rubbing his eyes and pulling on a pair of overalls over his bare shoulders.

” ‘Whatcha doin’, Mistuh Hottis? You got a search warrant?’ he said.

“Ray turned, his face all red, lunged at the black man and slapped him hard across the cheek. Down the old man went on his back to the floor, and Ray said, ‘That’s one side of my goddamned search warrant. You wanna see the other one?'”

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In 1917, Isaac Isler Jr. registered for the World War I draft in Lenoir County, North Carolina. Per his registration card, he was born 11 April 1890 in Georgia; lived in LaGrange, N.C.; farmed for A.T. Rouse of LaGrange; and was single.

On 19 December 1918, Isaac Isler, 28, of Lenoir, son of Isaac and Laura Isler, married Tildy Ann Exum, 18, of Lenoir, in Moseley Hall, Lenoir County, North Carolina.

In the 1920 census of Moseley Hall township, Lenoir County, North Carolina: farmer Isaac Isler, 30, and wife Matilda, 17.

Rufus Isler, aged 20 days, died 11 June 1931 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born in Wilson County to Isaac Isler of Atlanta, Georgia, and Matilda Exum of Wayne County, N.C., and resided at 803 Evans Street, Wilson.

On 11 February 1934, Isaac Isler, 42, son of Isaac Isler and Mollie [unknown], married Hellen Richardson, 28, daughter of Eddie James and Mary J. Abraham, in Wilson. Rev. C.B. Ham, “an ordane minister of the United Holey Church,” performed the ceremony in the presence of Joe James, Mary Abraham, and Jannie James.

Matilda Isler died 2 June 1936. Per her death certificate, she was 24 years old; was married to Isaac Isler; was born in Wayne County, N.C., to Henry Exum of Greene County, N.C., and Harriett Best of Wayne County; was engaged in farming; and was buried in a family cemetery in LaGrange, N.C. Her cause of death? “Probably puerperal sepsis. Saw her once with midwife — She was dying at that time — Baby 10 days old.”

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 510 Hadley Street, Isaac Isley, 46; wife Vivien, 29; and children Charlie, 20, Aron, 19, R.D., 16, Richard, 15, Moses, 10, and Herbert, 9. Isaac had no occupation listed.

On 25 November 1941, Charlie Cleveland Isler, 21, born in Lenoir County, N.C., to Iasiat Isler and Matilda Exon, residing in Norfolk, Virginia, married Naomi Ruth Sutton, 20, of Bertie County, in Norfolk.

In 1942, Aaron Isler registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 28 August 1921 in Wayne County; resided at 510 New Bern Street, Wilson; his contact was Isaac Isler of the same address; and he worked for N.M. Schaum, Acme Candy Company, 904 West Nash Street.

In 1942, Robert Isler registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 26 December 1924 in LaGrange, N.C.; resided at 510 New Bern Street, Wilson; his contact was Isaac Isler of the same address; and he was a student at Darden High School.

In 1942, Richard J. Isler registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 5 May 1925 in Wilson County.; resided at 510 New Bern Street, Wilson; his contact was Isaac Isler of the same address; and he was unemployed.

Isaac Isler died 19 February 1968 and was buried in Wilson’s Rest Haven cemetery.

Photo courtesy of Findagrave.com.

Dr. Mitchner’s ordeal.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 April 1938.

In late March or early April 1938, white newborn baby was found abandoned under a tree on Hines Street in Wilson, and died a short time later. The police quickly identified Mittie E. Lucas, reported as a 43 year-old widowed seamstress in the 1940 census of Wilson, as the child’s mother and Jesse Hamilton, also 43 and a married former policeman, as its father. Lucas and Mary Fuller, an African-American midwife, were charged with the baby’s homicide, and Hamilton was charged with abortion along with black physician William A. Mitchner. The four criminal cases were consolidated.

It is not difficult to imagine Mitchner’s terror. He testified that Lucas called on him on February 2 and, in 30 years of medical practice, he had never before examined a white woman. He denied attempting an abortion, asserting that he told Lucas he didn’t “do that kind of work and not to let anyone else do it.” He admitted referring Lucas to Dr. Clarence Dillard Jr., an African-American doctor in Goldsboro, but claimed he did not know whether Dillard were an abortionist, he just “wanted to get rid of them and stop them from coming to me.” [In fact, just four months later, newspapers would breathlessly cover a trial in which Dillard was accused of performing an abortion on a young white woman pregnant by her black boyfriend.] More than a dozen character witnesses stood for Mitchner, including “prominent negro undertaker” Camillus L. Darden and “prominent local druggist” Doane Herring, who was white.

On 26 April 1938, the Daily Times reported that Recorder McLean had dismissed charges against Mitchner, concluding that the other defendants’ actions after visiting Mitchner suggested that he “would do nothing for them.”

The charges against Lucas, Hamilton and Fuller dragged on. Lucas’ brother, U.R. Moore, posted her bond at the end of April, but Fuller and Hamilton remained in jail. After several court continuances, startling news broke on 8 February 1939 after the state rested its case. Witnesses testified that Hamilton admitted that he was the baby’s father; that Hamilton went to a Negro doctor for “medicine” and that the doctor had refused to do what was “intimated”; that Lucas had given the infant to Fuller to place with “some rich person or some hospital”; and that Fuller had placed the child under a tree and called a neighbor to the scene. However, the solicitor conceded that he could not establish if the baby had died of exposure [or, presumably, died of natural causes]. Thus, he could not establish homicide. (And as Lucas seemingly delivered a full-term child, nor could he show that Lucas had obtained an abortion.) With this failure, he proferred a nolle prosequi, i.e. dropped charges, against Lucas and suspended five-year sentences to Hamilton and Fuller if they pleaded no contest.

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Perhaps, in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Mary Fuller, 56, laundress; daughter Mildred, 22; and boarder Texanna Whitley, 23, and her children Cleo, 7, and Charlie, 2.