Crime

The death of John Henry Evans.

The cause of death on John Henry Evans‘ death certificate is fairly laconic: “brain injury due to auto accident.”

Newspaper accounts detail a more complicated story. About eight o’clock on the evening of April 11, Evans and J.D. O’Neal, on whose land he lived, were driving wagons to fertilizer to O’Neal’s farm near Lamm’s School [today, near the intersection of Interstate 95 and U.S. 264.] The men stopped on the shoulder of the road to talk to O’Neal’s brother. Both wagons were lit with lanterns. Erwin Stewart of Durham smashed into other wagons in a Graham truck and flipped over in a ditch. According to witnesses, Stewart’s truck had only one headlight working and had drifted partly on the shoulder of the road. The wagons were demolished, one mule was badly injured, and John Henry Evans was first thought dead. He was rushed to the “colored hospital.” As his death certificate notes, Evans lingered for five days before succumbing to injuries to his head.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 April 1929.

For all the carelessness hinted at in the initial report, a month later, Stewart was acquitted of a manslaughter charge in Evans’ death.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 May 1929.

Spo’ty Odie.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 October 1914.

Fresh off serving thirty days on a chain gang for being homeless, 16 year-old Odie Williams showed up in court on larceny charges in his dandy finest — knee pants, black silk stockings, white slippers with rubber bottoms (sneakers?) — received his one-year sentence … and escaped.

Beyond his clothes, Williams’ description is poetic — “slick and neat,” white teeth, “medium dark ginger cake complexion,” and “mouth shaped like the rim of a jug” (whatever that may be.) I don’t know if he was ever caught. I sincerely hope he wasn’t.

Exum dies after being struck with brick.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 July 1934.

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In the 1920 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County, N.C.: farmer Jesse Artis, 37; widowed mother Loucinda, 67; sister Ada, 35; brother Claud, 30; and nephew Leslie Exum, 13.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Exum Leslie (c) r 310 N Reid

On 11 December 1929, Leslie Exum, 23, of Wilson, son of Will and Ada Exum, married Beulah Artis, 20, of Nahunta township, daughter of W.M. and Etta Artis, in Nahunta township, Wayne County, N.C. A.M.E. Zion minister J.E. Kennedy performed the ceremony in the presence of C.E. Artis of Wilson, V.E. Manly of Mount Olive, and E.G. Boney of Mount Olive. [Leslie Exum and Beulah Artis were cousins. His maternal grandfather Jesse Artis was the brother of her father William M. Artis, making them first cousins once removed. Columbus E. Artis, their great-uncle and uncle, respectively, was a witness to the ceremony.]

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 307 North Reid, hospital orderly Henry A. Best, 38; wife Anney C., 40, laundress; children Thelma, 13, Dubsette, 8, and Reatha, 6; and lodgers Leslie, 23, taxi driver, and Bertha Exam, 20.

Leslie Exum died 4 July 1934 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 27 years old; was born in Wayne County to Willie Exum and Ada Artis; lived at 304 North Reid Street; was married to Beulah Exum; and worked as a taxi driver.

 

There was never the least overt act indicating an implication to lynch him?

Wilson Daily Times, 1 February 1914.

A January 31 News & Observer article tells the fuller background story. J.D. Holland of Wake County was out plowing a field near his house when he was robbed at gunpoint of his knife, a gold watch, and one dollar. “Mr. Holland was taken unawares by the negro and at the point of a pistol was first forced to give up his property and then take off all his clothes and plough several furroughs of land. The robbery was not at all welcomed by Mr. Holland, but the work of imitating Adam was very disagreeable to the Wake farmer.” This humiliation was equally disagreeable to Holland’s neighbors, who quickly formed an armed posse to hunt for a Black man “of yellow complexion, weighing about 160 pounds and wearing a slightly dark moustache.” They made one false capture before encountering Tip Barnes walking on railroad tracks near Millbrook and locking him in a store.

When the sheriff arrived, he found a “small crowd of citizens” gathered, who “merely wanted to see that the negro was placed behind bars.” Barnes, however, claimed a hundred armed people milled about all night, hollering “Lynch him!” Barnes further claimed that he could not be the culprit, as he had only arrived in Raleigh the previous morning, having skipped town when he and another man got in some trouble in Wilson. Though the reporter expressed doubt, as reported above, Barnes did in fact have an airtight alibi. He was in Wilson at the time of the robbery, being questioned by Wilson police about a completely different crime.

The news bureau took care to debunk two rumors, perhaps in the interests of lowering public temperature. First, it urged, the robber had not humiliated Holland by forcing him to strip naked and continue plowing. Nor was it true that Barnes “had narrowly escaped lynching” at the time of his arrest.

Tip Barnes, who was well-known to law enforcement, escaped imprisonment (false or otherwise) in this instance. Eight years later, however, he was convicted of the murder of his wife, India Barnes, in Wilson.

The odyssey of Tate’s pool room.

This excerpt from a news account of a commissioners’ meeting caught my eye. Barber Noah Tate‘s application for a pool room license was denied, and Alderman Lewis cried discrimination. What kind of discrimination was being decried by an elected official in Wilson in 1919?

Wilson Daily Times, 6 September 1919.

An article published nearly eighteen months before yields context. On 7 May 1918, the Times reported, “The city fathers last night refused to renew the license to the pool rooms and to the bowling alleys of the city, and the remarks regarding the places where cider is sold were also far from complimentary. … The meeting was opened by the reading of a resolution by … business men setting forth the fact that both white and colored frequent these places and thus remove from the busy marts of trade and industry labor that should be employed in producing something other than thriftless habits and viciousness.” Mayor Killette railed against the shiftless and bemoaned the legal victory that allowed a local man to sell cider made from his own apples. “The gist of the argument [against pool rooms] was that the colored pool room was full of men who should be at work producing something for their families and helping to make something rather than being consumers merely and drones upon the body politic. They were corrupting because it was almost impossible to prevent gambling in these places and in addition to shiftlessness it encouraged vice and vagrancy. A number of employers stated that their help could be found in the pool room below the railroad, and the bowling alley came in for equally critical remarks as a place to encourage loafing and bad habits.” The matter was put to vote, and no’s were unanimous. [The “colored pool room,” by the way, may have been Mack Bullock‘s establishment at 417 East Nash. See Sanborn map detail, below.]

In June 1919, Luther A. Barnes, the white proprietor of a pool hall at the New Briggs Hotel, and the subject of intense criticism during the May debate received his license over the objection of the mayor. Perhaps this turn of events sparked Commissioner Lewis’ objection to Tate’s rejection three months later?

Noah Tate finally got his pool room in 1921. 

Wilson Daily Times, 8 July 1921.

“Over the railroad,” specifically, was 105-107 North Pettigrew Street.

The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map shows that Tate Pool Room was located in a brick building just north of Nash Street on the railroad side of the street. 

A modern aerial view at Google Maps shows that the rear of present-day 419 East Nash Street consists of two extensions. The first, with the striated roof below, sits in the footprint of Tate’s pool room and may even be the same building. 

 

At street level, two bricked-up windows are visible, as well as the original roofline. The building appears to have been cinderblock though, which was not commonly used in Wilson in the era of Tate’s business.

Noah J. Tate did not long enjoy his victory; he died in 1926.

Fire bug activities.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 February 1944.

  • Samuel Randolph Foster 

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 707 Vance, Andrew Pierce, 55, nurse at home (usually barber); wife Lossie, 55, in hospital; daughters Alice, 35, and Hester, 27; sons Boise, 29, cafe [cook?], and Binford, 14; daughter Ruby, 19, “cook school;” and grandchildren Randolph, 9, and Montheal Foster, 7, and Mickey Pierce, 1.

Samuel Randolph Foster registered for the World War II draft in Durham, N.C., in 1945. Per his draft card, he was born 19 February 1927 in Wilson; lived at 403 Henry Street, Durham; was a student at Hillside High School; and his contact was Sam Foster, 403 Henry Street. He was 5’7″, weighed 141 pounds, with brown eyes, black hair and a birthmark in the bend of his right arm. [In fact, per his birth record, Foster was born in 1931 in Wilson to Samuel Foster and Hester Pierce, which would make his age consistent with that in the Times article. In other words, Foster was 14 years old when he was inducted into the Army at Fort Bragg in September 1945.]