Protest

What happened when white perverts threatened to slap colored school teachers.

4 2 1921

New York Age, 2 April 1921.

In local lore, this incident has been conflated with the Charles Coon slapping incident of 1918. The teachers “Burns” and “Izell” were probably Georgia M. Burke and Mary C. Euell. Euell had been at the center of the Coon matter. Capable, courageous Mr. Bowser, “very much of a man,” was likely Burt L. Bowser, who owned a small restaurant. The Gay Brothers, Charles and Allen T., operated a dry goods store at 216-220 East Nash Street.

Now That He Is Safely Dead.

A Dead Man’s Dream

Now that he is safely dead,
Let us praise him.
Build monuments to his glory.
Sing Hosannas to his name.

Dead men make such convenient heroes.
For they cannot rise to challenge the images
That we might fashion from their lives.
It is easier to build monuments
Than to build a better world.

So now that he is safely dead,
We, with eased consciences will
Teach our children that he was a great man,
Knowing that the cause for which he
Lived is still a cause
And the dream for which he died is still a dream.
A dead man’s dream.

Carl Wendell Hines, Jr.

——

Carl W. Hines Jr. penned this devastating poem in 1965 on the occasion of the assassination of Malcolm X, but it is often, and perhaps more appropriately, associated with the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Hines was born in Wilson in 1940, son of Carl W. Hines and Ruth Johnson Hines and grandson of Walter Scott Hines and Sarah Dortch Hines.

A continuation of the bad feelings.

This article captures the apparent exasperation of Wilson school officials with the sizable “element” of the African-American community that refused to send its children to public school after Superintendent Charles Coon slapped a black teacher. The “Anti-Reidies” appointed local pastors Robert N. Perry and Spurgeon D. Davis to head their new schools at such time as they were able to open. (An occasion the health department was doing its part to thwart.) The basis of black opposition to J.D. Reid is sorely understated here, and the Reidites claim of public dislike of successor Clarissa Williams misses a larger problem with Reid himself. (Reid rebounded from this setback with a key role in the establishment of Wilson’s only black-owned bank, only to fall again spectacularly.) See here for a fuller account of the Mary Euell incident and its aftermath.

The Independent School (one, not two) in fact opened a week after this article ran and operated for the next ten years.

no-10-7-1918

News & Observer (Raleigh), 7 October 1918.

Moral laxity and lack of interest in race.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 10 October 1931.

William Henry Alexander Howard was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1872. He graduated from Georgia Industrial School (now Savannah State University) and taught there under the direction of Nathan B. Young. Later recruited by Young to teach at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical College in Tallahassee, Howard had a stellar 20-year career as professor of economics and sociology, Dean of Mechanical Arts, and innovator of FAMC’s military training program. In 1923, however, Young was ousted in the wake of suggestions that FAM diversify its curriculum by adding more academic courses, and Howard was appointed interim president with a mandate to crackdown on rebellious students.

It seems odd that less than five years later, Howard had fallen from the ranks of college teaching and administration and was working as a high school principal in Wilson. Perhaps his initial connection to the school was via Daniel C. Suggs, who was president of Georgia Industrial in the first decade of the 1900s.

In the 1880 census of Montgomery, Alabama: Rich. Howard, 35, domestic servant, wife Emma, 32, children Mary M., 12, Alberta E., 10, and Wm. Henry A., 8, and two other relatives.

In the 1920 census of Leon County, Florida: Wm. H.A. Howard, 47, college teacher, wife Frances, 36, and daughter Harriett, 8.

In the 1928 city directory of Wilson, William H.A. Howard is listed as principal at Wilson High School and living at 108 Pender Street.

In the 1930 census of Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina: William H. Howard, 58, public school teacher, wife Frances, 39, daughter Harriett, 19, and Samuel Gibson, 24. [Did William leave Wilson, then return? Did his wife and daughter ever live there? Or did they maintain a household in Raleigh of which William was nominally a member?]

William H.A. Howard died 16 December 1932. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 August 1871 in Columbus, Georgia, to Richard and Emma Howard; was married to Frances Howard; worked as a school teacher and high school principal; lived at 407 Reid Street; and was buried in Wilson. His daughter Harriett Howard of Raleigh was informant.

Rev. Foster flays white Methodism.

Rev. Richard A.G. Foster, a native of Whiteville, North Carolina, did not stay long at Wilson’s Saint John A.M.E. Zion, but he certainly made his mark there and elsewhere.

PC 11 5 1938

Pittsburgh Courier, 5 November 1938.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 21 January 1939.

PC 5 13 1939

Pittsburgh Courier, 13 May 1939.

NYA 10 19 1940

New York Age, 19 October 1940.

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Telegram from Negro Ministers of New Haven to W.E.B. DuBois, 21 April 1945; W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Pitt Cour 8 22 1964

Pittsburgh Courier, 22 August 1964.

(For more about The Men of Tomorrow, see here.)

Framing Bill Grimes.

Here is a fuller — and more lurid — account of the Bill Grimes incident:

Wilm_Morning_Star_9_1_1868_Bill_Grimes

Wilmington Morning Star, 1 September 1868.

As set out in Lowcountry Digital History Initiative’s on-line educator resource material, on November 10, 1868, in an article entitled “Spirit of the Southern Democracy,” the Cincinnati Daily Gazette ran an unattributed excerpt from a letter :

“A gentleman writing from Edgecombe county, North Carolina, to a friend in Philadelphia, on the 28th ult., says: ‘Cases are frequently reported to me of physicians refusing to attend the sick, because their relatives were Republicans, or expressed their intention to vote for Grant and Colfax. One man came into my office and told me that his little boy died on Monday for want of medical aid. No physician in the part of the country where he lived would attend the boy, because he was a Radical; one store keeper kept him from eight o’clock in the morning until two o’clock in the afternoon, and would not sell him any thing, because he persistently said he would vote for Grant. One man asked me to send for a Northern physician, because the faculty of the country would not attend his wife, and she was at the point of death. Did I tell you about the affair in Wilson county, a few weeks ago? The authorities, all rebels, and equal to Ku-Klux, arrested a colored man named Grimes, on the charge of burning a barn, but Grimes proved himself to any reasonable and unprejudiced mind perfectly innocent. But he is the leader of the Union League, and they wanted to rake him up, as he had made a severe speech against them and in favor of the Radicals the day before. A delegation of colored men came for me twenty miles. I went.

“‘I asked for a hearing for Grimes in my presence. It was not granted. I offered to bail him. This offer was rejected. A rebel drew his revolver on me in the court house, behind my back. Some one more prudent stopped his shooting. I left, telling them I would have Grimes out, and the next morning they released him to prevent my having the gratification of doing it, so I was told. Grimes wouldn’t promise them to vote for Seymour and Blair, but the next day he raised a company and went to the Raleigh Convention.'”

——

The gentleman from Edgecombe County was not identified.

Who comprised the delegation of colored men?

Former New York governor Horace Seymour was the Democratic nominee for President in 1868. He lost to Ulysses S. Grant. Francis P. Blair of Missouri, Seymour’s vice-presidential candidate, gained notoriety for stump speeches in which he cast pro-Reconstruction Republicans as a “a semi-barbarous race of blacks who are worshipers of fetishes and poligamists” and wanted to “subject the white women to their unbridled lust.”

The “Raleigh Convention” was the state nominating convention.

We tender our resignation. (And East Wilson follows.)

COLORED PEOPLE INDIGNANT.

Eleven Colored Teachers Resign from the Colored Graded School Alleging Discourteous Treatment on the part of Principal Reid and that Mr. Coon Slapped One of Them.

This afternoon a delegation of colored teachers from the Wilson colored school, six in number of eleven that have resigned with Rev. Weeks, pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, colored, and Rev. H.B. Taylor, pastor of the Presbyterian church colored, with a petition addressed to the Board of Education of Wilson County and setting forth therein the reasons for their resignations as teachers from the school.

It seems that the trouble originated when Mr. Coon slapped one of the teachers as she alleged in the face when she was called into his room at the instance of Reid to be reprimanded for a disagreement regarding the opening of the school on Easter Monday, April the first, when the new daylight law went effect.

The teacher alleges that on that particular morning the teachers endeavored to open school on the new time and Principal Reid was late.

When the janitor called him he answered let the teachers and the children wait.  School was opened on the old time, and this teacher alleges that she dismissed her pupils when they finished their work at the regular hour at 2:25.  She further says that Reid asked her whether she was dismissing school on the old time or the new time and she replied: “I am dismissing on the new time, since these children have been here since 7:30 in the morning.”

She alleges that Reid replied that is your fault, and preferred charges against her to Mr. Coon, and Mr. Coon sent for her to come to his office in the Fidelity building at five o’clock which she did.  She alleges the slapping took place then.

The resolutions follow:

Wilson, N.C., April 9, 1918.

To the Board of Education of Wilson County, Superintendent of Schools of Wilson County, and Principal of the Colored Graded School of Wilson; and to All Whom It May Concern:

On account of the discourteous treatment of Prof. J.D. Reid, the principal of the Wilson Colored Graded School, to us as teachers under his direction, and on account of the terrible ordeal through which one of us, a teacher in the above stated school had to go on account of the unchristian and unmanly procedure of the principal, J.D. Reid; which aforestated ordeal if told would cause every man who respects pure womanhood to look upon the above-stated principle, J.D. Reid, as the worst specimen of manhood possible to find.

And further on account of the incompetency and untruthfulness of the above mentioned principal, J.D. Reid, which we are prepared to prove, and which he attempts to hide from the superintendent, Board of Education, and the public in general by a high handed, ironclad and abusive rule over those who serve under him;

We, the undersigned teachers of the Wilson Colored Graded School who have tried in every way to help him, but in return have only been treated as a chain-gang crew under criminal offense, have lost respect for the above mentioned principal, J.D. Reid, and tender our resignation.

Done at the Wilson Colored Graded School, this 9th day of April, 1918.

Miss M.C. Euell, Miss J.B Pride, Miss M.L. Garrett, Miss S.R. Battle, Miss G.M. Battle, Miss G.M. Burks, Miss L.B. Davis, Miss M.M. Jennings, Miss S.D. Wiseman

Since that time two other teachers who live here in town have sent in their resignations, namely: Mrs. Walter Hines and Miss Elba Vick.

Both the Colored Ministerial Union and the Negro Business League have appointed a special committee to take up the matter with the graded school board.

Committee from the Ministerial Union: Revs. H.B. Taylor, president; A. Bynum, Chas. T. Jones, Robert N. Perry and A.L.E. Weeks.

Committee from the Business League: S.H. Vick, chairman; B.R. Winstead, Walter S. Hines, Rev. H.B. Taylor, and Robert N. Perry.

The committee of the Ministerial Union communicated with the Graded School Board on yesterday and is expecting a reply in the very near future.  — Wilson Daily Times, 11 Apr 1918.

——

The Board’s reply – that Coon and Reid were blameless – was not surprising.  The response of Wilson’s black community, however, was.  Following their teachers, parents pulled their children out of the public graded school and established a private alternative in a building owned by S.H. Vick.  Financed with 25¢ a week tuition payments and elaborate student musical performances, the Independent School operated for nearly ten years.

THE ACTORS

  • J.D. Reid — Judge James Daniel Reid (1872-) was the son of Washington and Penninah Reid.
  • M.C. Euell — Mary C. Euell was not a native of Wilson County and, not surprisingly, apparently did not remain in the city long after this incident. I am continuing to search for more about her.  — LYH
  • J.B. Pride
  • M.L. Garrett
  • S.R. Battle — Sallie Roberta Battle Johnson (1884-1958) was a daughter of Parker and Ella Battle. She later worked as business manager of Mercy Hospital.
  • G.M. Battle — Glace (or Grace) Battle (circa 1890-1972) was another daughter of Parker and Ella Battle. She later married Timothy Black.
  • Georgia M. Burke
  • L.B. Davis
  • M.M. Jennings — Virginia-born teacher Mary Jennings, 28, boarded with the family of Hardy Tate at 208 Pender at the time of the 1920 census.
  • S.D. Wiseman
  • Mrs. Walter Hines — Sarah Elizabeth Dortch (1879-1967) married Walter S. Hines (1879-1941) in 1907 in Boston, Massachusetts. Born in Goldsboro, Wayne County, she was the daughter of Ralph Whitmore Dortch and Mary Burnett Dortch.
  • Elba Vick — Elba Vick, born 1893, was a daughter of Samuel and Annie Washington Vick. She married Carlos C. Valle in Wilson on 12 June 1922. (And also in Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County, on 20 December 1921. Carlos was reportedly living in Durham County, and his parents Celedonio and Leticia Valle lived in New York.) In the 1930 census of Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee: Puerto Rico-born lodge secretary Carlos C. Valle, 37, wife Elba, 33, and children Melba G., 6, and Carlos Jr., 4.
  • Halley B. Taylor
  • A. Bynum
  • Charles T. Jones  — Barber and minister, Rev. Charles Thomas Jones was born in Hertford County in 1878 to Henry and Susan Copeland Jones. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County, at 667 Nash Street: minister Charlie Jones, 41; wife Gertrude, 39; children Ruth, 61, Charlie, Jr., 14, Elwood, 12, Louise, 10, and Sudie, 4; and mother-in-law Louisa Johnson, 65. He died in Wilson in 1963.
  • Robert N. Perry — Rev. Robert Nathaniel Perry was a priest at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church.
  • A.L.E. Weeks
  • Samuel H. Vick
  • B.R. Winstead — A teacher turned barber, Braswell R. Winstead (circa 1860-1926) was the son of Riley Robins and Malissa Winstead of Wilson County. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Braswell Winstead, 60, wife Ada E., and daughter Ethel L., 13, at 300 Pender Street.
  • Walter S. Hines
  • Mary Robertson
  • Celia Norwood — Celia Anna Norwood (1879-1944), daughter of Edward Hill and Henrietta Cherry, was a native of Washington, North Carolina. She died in Wilson.
  • Olivia Peacock — Born about 1895, Olivia Peacock was the daughter of Levi H. and Hannah Peacock. She later married Eugene Norman.
  • Sophia Dawson — Born about 1890 to Alexander D. and Lucy Hill Dawson, Sophia Dawson married Wayne County native Jesse Artis, son of Jesse and Lucinda Hobbs Artis.
  • Delzell Whitted — Helen Delzelle Beckwith Whitted (1888-1976) was the wife of Walter C. Whitted.
  • Lavinia Woodard — Lavinia Ethel Grey Woodard (1891-1921) was the daughter of Ruffin and Lucy Simms Woodard.
  • Eva Speight — Eva Janet Speight (1899-1944), native of Greene County, later married David H. Coley.
  • Hattie Jackson
  • Rose Butler
  • Clarissa Williams
  • Mrs. J.D. Reid — J.D. Reid married Eleanor P. Frederick on 17 October 1899 in Warsaw, Duplin County, North Carolina. By 1925, despite the disapproval of the community, she was principal of the Wilson Colored Graded School, later known as the Sallie Barbour School.

THE COVERAGE

The shocking stance taken by Wilson’s black community reverberated throughout eastern North Carolina, compelling the principal of a colored graded school in Greenville to intervene. He was quickly pulled up short though, and the Wilmington Dispatch crowed over his discomfiture.

Wilmington Dispatch 4 23 1918 JD Reid

Wilmington Dispatch, 23 April 1918.

This was a serious matter indeed; Mary Euell pressed charges. On 30 April, 1918, the Wilson Daily Times printed an account of Charles L. Coon’s initial court appearance that was surprisingly detailed and sympathetic toward Euell. (A posture possibly motivated by Coon’s dismissive alleged comments about its editor, Gold.) In summary, Euell and her lawyer arrived before the magistrate only to find that Coon had come and gone, having obtained an earlier court date of which Euell was not notified. Euell’s counsel (who was he?) was granted permission to make an astonishing statement in which he declared that Euell was prosecuting Coon in order to make sure that the public was made aware of what had happened, to assert her rights to protection under the laws of the State of North Carolina, and because rumors were flying that she was a troublemaker who, among other things, had protested against riding in the “colored section” of a train.

Euell then made a statement to the press summarizing the facts of her encounter with Coon and Reid. In a nutshell: Reid called her a liar; she protested; Coon shouted, “Shut up, or I’ll slap you down;” Euell stood her ground and chastised Reid; Coon delivered a blow.

WDT_4_30_1918_Coon_chargedWilson Daily Times, 30 April 1918.

Within weeks, the story had spread from coast to coast. Cayton’s Weekly, published in Seattle, Washington (“[In the interest of equal rights and equal justice to all me for ‘all men up.’ A publication of general information, but in the main voicing the opinions of the Colored Citizens.”) printed this startling editorial:

Cayton's

Cayton’s Weekly, 4 May 1918.

The New York Age got wind of matters a week later, reporting excitedly that Reid had been hounded out of Wilson for his role in the affair:

NY_Age_5_11_1918_JD_Reid_run_out_of_town

New York Age, 11 May 1918.

Belatedly, the Age also published a brief bit about the warrant for Coon’s arrest, including a quotation from Coon himself:

NY_Age_5_18_1918_warrant_for_Coon

New York Age, 18 May 1918.

Ultimately, Coon plead guilty to simple assault and was fined one penny, plus costs. Despite the mass resignation and boycott in April by teachers, students and the black community at large, he and the Wilson public school administration soldiered on. In September, they announced a new staff for the colored graded school and appointed Clarissa Williams principal in J.D. Reid’s stead.

Wilson_Daily_Times_9_24_1918_C_Wms_Princ

Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1918.

The New York Age came back with stronger reporting to cover the opening of the Industrial, or Independent, School, as it was called. Hattie Henderson Ricks, who was 7 years old in the spring of 1918, recalled: “First of the year I went to school, and [then] I didn’t go back no more to the Graded School. They opened the Wilson Training School on Vance Street, with that old long stairway up that old building down there — well, I went over there.”

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New York Age, 23 November 1918.

Two months later came a progress report on the “school started to protect womanhood” and a request for support:

NY_Age_1_18_1919_school

New York Age, 18 January 1919.

A year after Coon’s slap, the Age continued to report on the courageous stand taken by Wilson’s African-American community, noting that a fundraiser had exceeded its goals, and the school was “flourishing.”

NY_Age_4_5_1919_independent_school

New York Age, 15 April 1919.

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Postcard image of Wilson Colored Graded School, J. Robert Boykin III, Historic Wilson in Vintage Postcards (2003).

Oral interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

If I can’t get it in the car, I don’t want it.

“The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) conducts research and supports policy initiatives on anti-civil rights violence in the United States and other miscarriages of justice of that period. CRRJ serves as a resource for scholars, policymakers, and organizers involved in various initiatives seeking justice for crimes of the civil rights era.” In the summer of 2013, students from Northeastern University Law School’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic traveled to Wilson to research the murders of Otis Newsome, a World War II veteran shot to death while attempting buy brake fluid at a filling station in Wilson on March 27, 1948, and J.C. Farmer, a 19 year-old veteran murdered by Alcoholic Beverage Control officers following a dispute with a self-deputized constable in 1946. Visit CRRJ’s website to find trial documents, media reports, and the Clinic’s essay concerning their findings in the Newsome case.