Entertainment

Drapped the wrong one.

Casual violence among young men is not new. Unsurprisingly, historically newspapers have sensationalized such violence when it involved black men, playing into the stereotypes and fear-mongering of the era.

I recognize the viciousness of this propaganda.* I also recognize articles reporting violent crime as invaluable, if distorted, glimpses into the lives of ordinary African-Americans during a period in which they were poorly documented. Beyond the basic facts of the terrible crime reported here, what can we learn?

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 30 July 1907.

  • “on the Owens place” — This reference to the owner of the farm on which the events took place indicates the protagonists were likely sharecroppers or tenant farmers. The Saratoga Road is today’s U.S. Highway 264-A (formerly N.C. Highway 91.)
  • “a negro dance and barbecue supper was given by Robert Hilliard” — Hilliard, who was Black, hosted a Saturday night party on the farm, perhaps in a barn. He sold barbecue — surely Eastern North Carolina-style, with a vinegar-and-red pepper sauce — and sandwiches to patrons from a stand near the road.
  • “a wheezy fiddle” — the source of music for the dance. (Who was the fiddler? Was he locally renowned? Was there accompaniment? Was fiddling a common skill? I can’t name a single one from this era.)
  • “‘Hilliard is the n*gger I wanted to drap.” — The meaning and usage of this now-extreme pejorative has shifted over time. Here, it is almost, but not quite, neutral. More interesting, to me, is the now-archaic pronunciation “drap” for the  verb “drop.”

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  • Will Scarborough 

On 29 January 1903, Will Scarborough, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ashley and Ellen Scarborough, married Lucy Anderson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Bob and Winnie Anderson, in Wilson County. Jack Bynum applied for the license.

Will Scarborough died 6 August 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was the son of Ashley Scarborough and Ellen [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived in Stantonsburg; and was buried at Saint Delight cemetery, Walstonburg. Informant was James E. Best, Stantonsburg.

  • Robert Hilliard

On 1 November 1900, Robert Hilliard, 20, of Wilson County, son of Jack and Laura Hilliard, married Ailsy Bynum, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of West and Sopha Bynum, in Gardners township, Wilson County.

Robert George Hilliard Sr. died 27 February 1944 at his home at 211 Finch Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jack Hilliard and Laura [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; was engaged in farming; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mattie Moore, 211 Finch Street, was informant.

  • Riley Faison  

On 8 May 1902, Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, at “Mr. Frank Barnes Plantation.” A.M.E. Zion elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony in the presence of Mattie V. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.

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*See Brent Staples’ opinion piece in the 11 July 2021 New York Times, “How the White Press Wrote Off Black America.”

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

An explanation.

In January 1917, the Daily Times published an explanation cum apology to its white readers. The night before, its social column had led with announcement of a dance given by the Carnation Club at the Odd Fellows Hall. However, the Club was for “colored people” and the hall was “below the railroad.” (In other words, it was the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows’ hall, not the whites-only hall belonging to the  International Order of Odd Fellows Enterprise Lodge No. 44.) After making this clear, the paper claimed: “of course the notice should not have been placed in the social column for the reason that it was a paid notice and belongs in the advertising columns ….”

Of course. 

Wilson Daily Times, 5 January 1917.

I have not found anything further about the Carnation Club.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Van Arnam’s minstrels in town for one night.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 January 1928.

Per Tim Brooks’ The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media: 20th Century, John R. Van Arnam’s minstrel show was one of the last major troupe’s touring in the United States. Though not shown here, Van Arnam’s posters commonly carried the tag “All New-All White.”

Big colored picture.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 October 1922.

Here’s Turner Classic Movies’ synopsis of Spitfire, which was released by Reol Productions in January 1922: “Guy Rogers, the son of a well-known publisher, sets out to prove his father’s racist critics wrong by putting Booker T. Washington’s philosophy into practice. He goes to a little Maryland Hills town where through his efforts a school and a library are built. He falls in love with Ruth Hill, whose recently widowed father, an ex-schoolteacher, is killed after being involved in horse thievery. ‘Buck’ Bradley, the local dealer in hay and feed, who put Ruth’s father up to the crime, has been made her guardian, and he beats up Guy when he tries to defend her. She nurses Guy back to health, love blooms, and they marry.”

Annual farm family picnic.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 June 1941.

County Extension Agent Carter W. Foster published a reminder of the annual county-wide picnic for farm families, held in 1941 at Yelverton School in far southeastern Wilson County.

Juneteenth.

For fifty or so years after the Civil War, Wilson’s African-American community celebrated Emancipation Day on January 1. The day marked the issuance in 1863 of the Emancipation Proclamation and was decidedly symbolic, as that executive order could not be enforced on behalf of most of North Carolina’s enslaved. Instead, they were freed, as a practical matter, only after the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.

In Texas, freedom did not arrive until June 19 of that year, when a Union Army commander read General Order No. 3 upon arrival in Galveston. African-American Texans have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1866, and, after slowly gaining traction across the country over the last few decades, the holiday is now widely observed. (This very day, in fact, it’s on the verge of becoming a national holiday, which feels performative, if not downright gaslight-y, given where this country is on any and every substantive thing around Black history.)

Juneteenth is a new celebration in Wilson, but it picks up where an old one left off, and I love to see it. Starting June 18, The Spot, an after-school youth center in what was once the New Grabneck neighborhood, is presenting Walk In Their Shoes — “this project will reimagine our existing walking trail into an immersive storytelling experience. Students and families can attend during open walking times and use technology to hear real stories from real people in our community. Around the trail art installments created by SPOT students will give a visual insight to the story and bring it to life.”

On June 26, Mount Hebron Masonic Lodge No. 42 — chartered in Wilson in 1881 — is throwing a party in the iconic 500 block of East Nash Street featuring food, music, art, and dollops of history throughout. (Can you identify the five titans of East Wilson depicted at the top of their flyer?)

Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds — one day only!

Every week or so, a large manila envelope arrives in the mail, postmarked Wilson, N.C. Inside, a sheaf of xeroxed newspaper clippings from late 19th and early 20th century editions of the Wilson Daily Times. Bobby Boykin is the benefactor, and I thank him mightily, especially when gems like this appear:

Wilson Daily Times, 25 January 1921.

Just a few months past the earth-shattering release of “Crazy Blues,” the first blues recording by a Black artist for a Black audience, Mamie Smith and Jazz Hounds would have been a hot ticket anywhere, much less Wilson. The band played three shows in a single day at the Globe Theatre, Samuel H. Vick‘s vaudeville hall/movie theatre on the second floor of the Odd Fellows Lodge on East Nash Street. Darcy Yancey and Isaac Shade were selling tickets at their respective drugstores. 

(If I could time-travel, I’d want not only to see Smith perform at the Globe, but see who saw her perform at the Globe.)

Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds, including Willie “The Lion” Smith on piano, 1920.  Donaldson Collection/Getty Images.

2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the release of “Crazy Blues.” For more about the significance of Mamie Smith’s work, see Daphne A. Brooks’ New York Times piece, “100 Years Ago, ‘Crazy Blues’ Sparked a Revolution for Black Women Fans,” published August 10.

Mamie Smith publicity photo, Apeda Studio, New York, circa 1922, in collection of Old Hat Records.