Court Actions

Colored insurance organization sued.

Samuel Vick‘s Lincoln Benefit Society did business well beyond Wilson. In 1909, Annie Graham, executrix of the estate of Fred Graham of Wilmington, North Carolina, sued Lincoln for a $500 benefit the company refused to pay out, claiming the Grahams paid the final premium to an unauthorized person.

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Wilmington Morning Star, 16 July 1909.

Stabbed while asleep.

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Wilson News, 20 July 1899.

Another version:

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Wilson Daily Times, 21 July 1899.

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  • Warren Barnes — probably, in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Warren Barnes, 50, ditcher; wife Agnes, 38, “stimmer”; and children Addie, 18, Willie, 17, and Jinnet, 11. Warren Barnes died 10 January 1918 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was about 70 years old; married; worked in a tobacco factory; and was born in Wilson County to Dink Barnes and Judia Barnes. Agnes Barnes was informant.
  • Mrs. Warren Barnes — Agnes Barnes died 21 March 1934 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 62 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to Agnes Powell; and was the widow of Warren Barnes. Addie Lee of 204 Pettigrew Street was informant.
  • Claude Jones

 

Disturbing the peace.

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Wilson Advance, 9 July 1896.

Basically: Will Bullock, who worked at Best’s stables, was holding a horse for Ed Exum outside Batts’ bar. A drunk white man was found lying on the sidewalk, and “Prof. J. Louis Murphy” attempted to put him in Exum’s buggy. Bullock protested and, after some words, Murphy slapped him. Bullock flew at him, and Jim Holloway, accidentally or voluntarily, joined in. All three were arrested and fined, but appealed.

  • Will Bullock — probably, in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Georgia-born day laborer Will Bullock, 29; wife Martha, 27; and son Clarence W., 2, and Walter N., 8 months; half-siblings Alice, 12, and Mack Scott, 10; and boarder Will Bullock, 29.
  • Jim Holloway

Lucas delivers retribution.

The facts are little muddled, but the message is clear. James Lucas was sentenced to 30 days of roadwork after assaulting principal J.D. Reid (not C.L. Reed) for failing to defend Mary Euell from Charles L. Coon’s abuse.

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The Union (Wilmington, N.C.) Labor Record, 25 May 1918.

The 1920 census records two African-Americans named James Lucas in Wilson. One was a 16 year-old boy, the other was, at 610 Lodge Street, lumber company laborer James Lucas, 27, with wife Mattie, 30, and children Jack, 13, and Georgia Belle, 11.

An accounting.

A financial statement prepared by the state bank commissioner on 1 August 1933 concerning the Commercial Bank, which had closed 23 September 1929. The defendants listed appear to be the bank’s shareholders. (As account holders, they were also victims of the shady business practices that led to the bank’s collapse.)

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Wilson Daily Times, 5 August 1933.

B.C. Griffin, Judge Fleming, Edwin W. Fisher, Mayme B. Ford, Cora Farmer, Stattie Cannon, James H. Ford, Jasper Coley, John F. Battle, Lucrean Barnes, Ethel L. Barber, Sallie M. Barbour, J.W. Black, Columbus E. Artis, S.D. Artis, Georgia Crockett Aiken, Julia Burnette Harrell, Ed Humphrey, Ruth E. Hooker [Coppedge], Amos Johnson, Levi H. Jones, Tempsie Jones, Columbus Mitchell, Laura Wardill McPhail, Raiford J. McPhail, J.O. Plummer [likely John O. Plummer of Warren County, father of E. Courtney Plummer Fitts], William Hines, Eleanor [Elna] J. Farmer Hooker, Louis Thomas, Charles S. Thomas, Turner Stokes, Isaac A. Shade, D.B. Swinson, J.D. Reid, Eleanor P. Reid, Alfred F. Rector (white; listed in the 1930 city directory as a ticket agent for the A.C.L. Rail Road Company), Joe Rogers, Lyda Rountree, Levi H. Peacock, L.T. Lucas (probably white), Green Taylor, E.A. Taylor, Samuel H. Vick, Christine Venters, James Whitfield, Marie Williams.

Thirteenth violation.

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Wilson Daily Times, 21 April 1939.

Like many who operated “cabarets” — Negro or not — Herbert Woodard supplied adult beverages to clients who sought them. Wilson was a dry county, however, and “liquor by the drink” was unlawful.

[Illegal or not, corrupt police “allowed” liquor sales by a handful of bootleggers who were expected to pay for the privilege. Herbert Woodard’s repeated arrests suggest that he was either unwilling to make payoffs or was not among the chosen few.]

 

Sankofa: remembering Marie Everett.

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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.

Wheeler family tragedy.

Misfortune dogged the Wheeler family for decades.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 March 1896.

Sidney Wheeler was a man, not a boy, and married nine months after this mishap. On 23 December 1896, Sidney Wheeler, 24, married Lou Armstrong, 20, in Wilson. W.T.H. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of Richard Renfrow, S.A. Smith and Janie Booth.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: day laborer Sidney Wheelus, 27; wife Lula, 23; and son Sidney, 8 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Sidney Wheeler, 40, barber; wife Lou, 40, private cook; and children Sidney, 9, Dave, 7, Floyd, 4, and Emma, 2.

In March 1910, Sidney Wheeler Jr. accidentally shot his sister in the head while playing with a gun. She died instantly. Their mother was away from home cooking supper for Frederick Woodard’s family; their father presumably was also at work. The Wheeler girl’s name is unknown. The 1900 census lists only one child; the 1910, only one daughter, Emma, who lived to adulthood. Though described as eight years old, Sidney Jr. was more likely about ten.

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 17 March 1910.

Fourteen months later, Sidney Wheeler Jr. (still described as eight years old) was charged with assault with a deadly weapon against General Tyler, “another colored boy.”

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Wilson Daily Times, 19 May 1911.

The Daily Times published two articles about the incident. The second doubled down on the sensationalist editorializing, but there seems little question that Sidney Jr. engaged in unusually violent behavior.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 May 1911.

Six months later, a Raleigh paper picked up a local-interest bit from Wilson and printed it using the exaggerated dialect and descriptions saved for negro anecdotes. In a nutshell: Anderson Dew visited Sidney Wheeler”s barber shop. With half his face shaved, Dew attempted to spit. Wheeler warned there was no spitting while he was shaving. Further, there was the matter of Dew having  testified against Wheeler on a liquor charge. Dew distracted Wheeler’s attention, then jumped from the chair and ran off to tell this tale.

The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh, N.C.), 7 November 1911.

Sidney Wheeler died 8 March 1912 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 35 years old; was born in Nash County to Richard and Annie Wheeler; worked as a barber; was married; and resided at 710 Vance Street. Lula Wheeler was informant.

Six and-a-half years after their father died, Sidney Wheeler Jr.’s younger brother Dabbie fetched up in court on a breaking and entering charge. As he had already done time on a county road gang, the judge sentenced him to five-to-ten in the state penitentiary.

News & Observer, 7 September 1918.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Hackney Street, college cook Lula Wheeler, 49, widow, and children Richard, 12, Emma, 10, John, 8, and Sammie, 6.

Dabbie Wheeler died four years into his prison term of tuberculosis of the shoulder joint and bowels. He was 17.

Dabbie Wheeler died 21 June 1922 at the State Penitentiary in Raleigh, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 27 August 1904 in Wilson to Sidney Wheeler and Lula Armstrong and worked as a laborer. He was buried in Chapel Hill.

Ten months later, Sidney Wheeler Jr. escaped from a prison camp near the Rocky Face Mountain quarry in Alexander County, North Carolina. I have found nothing further about him.

Alamance Gleaner, 5 April 1923.

Lulu Wheeler died 5 May 1925 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 August 1878 in Elm City to Emma Armstrong; she was the widow of Sid Wheeler; she resided at 523 Church Street; and she did housework for Atlantic Christian College. Emma Wheeler was informant.

Shaw secures a debt.

To secure debt of $54.55 and an additional loan of $100, Spencer S. Shaw agreed in the event of default to convey to Hawley & Revell an iron gray mule, a Hackney top buggy, five hogs, a one-horse wagon, and several farm tools.

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In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Spencer Shaw, 40, wife Tabitha, 41, and children George A., 17, James R., 11, Hattie, 9, Joeseph G., 6, Seth T., 5, and Albert S., 2.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson and Raleigh Branch Road, Spencer Shaw, 51, wife Bitha, 49, and children James R., 21, Joseph T., 16, Seth T.,14, Albert S., 11, Merlin S., 9, Willie H., 7, and Alice M., 5.

In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Shaw Avenue on Springhill Road, farmer Spencer S. Shaw, 60; wife Bitha, 60; and children Albert, 22, Marlie, 19, Willie, 16, and Alice, 14.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 January 1920.

In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Buckhorn Road, farmer Spencer S. Shaw, 70; wife Bitha J., 70; sons William H., 26, and Seth T., 34; daughter-in-law Georgeanna, 24; and grandchildren Alice M., 4, Seth T. Jr., 2, and Franklin S., 6 months.

Book 72, Page 292, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County Courthouse, Wilson.

Divorce actions, no. 3.

Third in a series abstracting some of the folders of actions filed in Wilson County Superior Court. (The allegations of misdoing summarized are derived from court pleadings and were not necessarily true.)

  • Alice Barnes v. Alonzo B. Barnes

February term, 1905. Married November 1897. Defendant Alonzo Barnes abandoned plaintiff in 1900.

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Lonza Barnes, 21, of Stantonsburg township, son of Stephen and Adline Barnes, married Alice Brooks, 22, of Stantonsburg township, daughter of Gray and Darkis Brooks, on 1 December 1897 at Darkis Brooks.

  • Nellie Barnes v. John T. Barnes

Married 10 April 1893. Defendant John Barnes abandoned plaintiff on 3 June 1893. Couple has one living child. Defendant now living in open adultery with Jennie Ruffin, alias Barnes.

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John T. Barnes, 20, married Nellie Campbell, 19, on 7 April 1894 in Wilson County.

  • Jenny Barnes v. Amos Barnes

May term, 1875. Married 4 November 1870. Plaintiff charged that on 1 September 1874 defendant beat her with a large switch or stick in a cruel and inhumane manner and that he had transmitted to her venereal diseases that kept her confined to her bed and unable to work for long periods. Defendant denied all. Witnesses subpoenaed were Willie Strickland, Jacob Strickland, Mintus Woodard, Mary Hines, Balaam Bynum, Jane Bynum and William Mercer.

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Amos Barnes, 22, married Jennie Woodard, 18, on 4 November 1872 in Wilson County.

  • Daniel Barnes v. Mariah Barnes

Fall term, 1882. Married May 1877 in Black Creek township. Defendant Mariah abandoned plaintiff Daniel in January 1880, had committed adultery with Henry Barnes and Isaac Dew, and given birth to “a bastard.” Witnesses subpoenaed were Jack Hooks, Sarah Barnes, Henry Barnes and Isaac Dew.

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Daniel Barnes, 24, married Mariah Barnes, 18, on 18 May 1878 in Black Creek township.

  • Handy Barnes v. Annie Barnes

Married April 1903 in Edgecombe County. On 4 July 1903, defendant Annie committed adultery with Van Edwards and abandoned plaintiff.