race

The South is all right.

On the eve of the civil rights movement, Wilson Daily Times editor John D. Gold penned this soothing editorial meant to reassure his readers (or the white ones, anyway) that there was no trouble “between the races” in the South, that colored people know “the Southern white man is his friend,” and that Negroes are loyal and faithful around the house and farm. The piece is rubbish, but includes views of Charlie Thomas, who worked for the Golds as a house servant and at the newspaper, and Dick Pender, who worked for the Golds and, most especially, for Joshua Barnes. (Pender died in 1896; Gold had to reach way back for him.)

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 May 1948.

Held for murder of neighbor.

The Rocky Mount Telegram‘s headline blares “WILSON NEGRO,” and the article identifies both the alleged shooter and his victim as black. However, the Wilson Daily Times‘ 28 January 1938 coverage of the incident reveals that both Charles Davis and Lawrence Lamm were, in fact, white.

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Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram, 28 January 1938.

Lamm’s death certificate, marriage license, and census records confirm that he was white. (The Daily Times‘ piece revealed that the bad blood between Davis and Lamm stretched back “since a day over a decade ago when Lamm is alleged to have bitten off Davis’ father’s ear in a quarrel.” On 8 September 1938, the Daily Times reported that the defendant, whose actual name, was Charles Smith, was found not guilty on a directed verdict as the evidence determined that he had acted in self-defense.)

A deep kudos (and recommended reading, no. 4).

Last week, the MacArthur Foundation awarded a “Genius Grant” to writer-historian Saidiya Hartman.  Per the Foundation, Hartman “is a scholar of African American literature and cultural history whose works explore the afterlife of slavery in modern American society and bear witness to lives, traumas, and fleeting moments of beauty that historical archives have omitted or obscured. She weaves findings from her meticulous historical research into narratives that retrieve from oblivion stories of nameless and sparsely documented historical actors, such as female captives on slave ships and the inhabitants of slums at the turn of the twentieth century.”

She’s also, obviously, a role model for me, both for her purpose and the beautiful language with which she brings it to light. If you don’t know Hartman, see here a transcript of her NPR interview with Farai Chideya following publication of Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, and here, the MacArthur Foundation’s fantastic video of Hartman discussing her work, then read both Lose Your Mother (2007) and Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019).

Studio shots, no. 116: Josephus and Minnie Taylor Johnson family.

The unsuccessful legal battle of Josephus Johnson to have his children educated in white Wilson County schools is chronicled here. As noted in earlier posts, despite admitted remote African ancestry and the verdict of the North Carolina Supreme Court, the Johnsons continued to live as white people in their community and beyond.

Here are Minnie Etta Taylor Johnson, Josephus S. Johnson, and their oldest children Carl, Arthur and Fannie.

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And three of the Johnsons’ sons as adults:

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Carl Johnson (1903-1978).

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Luther Johnson (1908-1985).

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James Clinton Johnson (1911-1962).

Photos courtesy of Ancestry.com users Mary Barber, Joe Whisnant, and welderpbr.

Detroit Drewry.

Overwhelmingly, the residents counted in 1870 in Wilson County’s first post-Civil War were North Carolina natives. African-Americans were even more likely than whites to have been born in-state. A handful reported birthplaces in Virginia and South Carolina, but only one, George Drewry, was born outside the South. The 1870 census of Saratoga township lists Drewry, 21, with wife Rixy, 22, and son Frank, 7 months, both born in North Carolina.

Drewry apparently lived in Wilson County only briefly, as he married Rixie Tayborn in Nash County in 1869, and the family is listed in Nash in 1880. I have found nothing to explain how or why Drewry migrated to Wilson County.

Here are the available facts:

In the 1850 census of Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan: Hannah Drury, 49, born in England; with Henry Luker, 11, Frances Drury, 9, Louisa Drury, 8 and George Drury, 2, all born in Michigan.  All were described as white. [After Henry Luce Luker, first husband of Hannah Carlton, died in Detroit in early 1838, a probate court judge granted letters of administration to John Drury [Drewry], who had become her second husband on 11 July 1838. It appears, however, that John Drewry died before 1850.]

In the 1860 census of Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan:  Hannah Drewry, 50, Henry Luker, 21, and George Drewer, 11, all described as white.

On 15 February 1869, George Drewry, son of Hannah Drewry, married Rixey Taybron, daughter of Allen and Elizabeth Taybron, in Nash County. Both were described as colored. [Which begs the question of whether George Drewry passed for “colored” in order to marry in North Carolina.]

In the 1870 census of Saratoga, Wilson County, as above, all described as mulatto.

In the 1880 census of Ferrell township, Nash County: farmer Geo. Drewry, 30, farmer, born in Michigan; wife Abi Rixie, 35, described as “bilious”; and children Virginia, 8, Morris, 2, Denniss, 3 months, and Alcy, 4, all described as mulatto.

On 15 March 1885, George D. Drewry, 36, married Amanda Tayborn, 34, daughter of Allen Tayborn, in Wilson County. [Mandy Taybron was the sister of Drewry’s first wife, Rixie Tabron.]

In the 1900 census of Farrells township, Nash County: George Drury, 52; wife Mandy, 49; and children Virginia, 27, Octavia, 19, Nora, 17, Granville, 15, Qinly, 13, Charlie, 11, and Belinda, 2.

In the 1910 census of Mannings township, Nash County: George Drury, 62, born in Michigan; wife Mandy, 39; and children Octavia, 28, Belinda, 13, and Charles, 20, plus grandchildren Ida, 5, and Maggie, 2, all mulatto.

In the 1920 census of Ferrells township, Nash County: Dewit J. Levy, 34; wife Octavia, 37; step-daughters Ida, 14, and Maggie Wiggins, 12; father-in-law Geo. W. Drewry,72, widower; sister-in-law Jennie Drewry, 46; and step-daughter [niece?] Blonnie Drewry.

George Drewry died 20 March 1921 in Ferrells township, Nash County.  Per his death certificate, he was the widower of Rixie Drewry; colored, about 80 years old; and born in Canada to an unknown father and Mary Ann Drewry, both of Canada. He was buried in the Pulley burying ground.  Informant was Morris Drewry.

 

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.

He yelled at her to stop.

In which a warrant is sworn out for the arrest of an African-American man who yelled at and frightened a white child standing in the path of his wagon. I have not found further reference to this “crime.”

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Kinston Daily Free Press, 20 January 1903.

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  • Will Farmer — probably, in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: teamster George Farmer, 51; wife Bettie, 46; and children George N., 21,  teamster; Miner, 19; Aulander, 18, drayman; Willie, 17; Johney, 15; and Emma, 12.
  • Finch Mill Road

Snaps, no. 43: Mattie Taylor.

The genealogies of African-American families are often complex in ways that may surprise us. The fact that many African-Americans had white male ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries does not raise eyebrows. That many also descend from white female ancestors who lived in that time period is less well-known. The descendants of Elizabeth Taylor are one such family.

Taylor was born about 1815, probably in southern Nash County, North Carolina. She had at least five children, some of whom were white and others mixed-race, including daughter Abi Taylor.

Mattie Taylor (ca. 1877-1971), daughter of Abi Taylor.

In the 1850 census of Nash County, North Carolina: Elizabeth Taylor, 35, and children Mary Ann, 14, Hilliard, 12, Abi, 6, Bryant, 4, and Harry, 1 month. Abi and Harry were described as mulatto; the others white.

In the 1860 census, Kirbys district, Wilson County: Elizabeth Taylor, 42, farm laborer, and children and grandchildren Abia, 18, Bryant, 14, Jackson, 12, Kinchen, 10, and McDaniel, 7.  All were described as white except Abia, Jackson and Kinchen, who were mulatto.

In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County:  Abi Taylor, 35, and children James, 20, Levi, 14, Mike, 12, Sallie, 7, Martha, 3, and Richard, 1.

John Sharpe married Sallie Taylor on 20 April 1889 in Wilson County.

Mike Taylor, 20, of Gardners township, Wilson County, married Estella Pender, 18, of Toisnot township, Wilson County, on 18 January 1890 at Amos Pender‘s.

In the 1900 census, Gardners township, Wilson County: John Sharpe, 32; wife Sallie, 26,  and children Lossie, 7, Suckie, 5John, 2,  and Jennie, 5 months, plus Sam Sharpe, 20.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on the Elm City Road, John Sharp, 43, wife Sallie, 37, and children Lossie, 16, Mathosie, 14, Johnnie Jr., 12, Geneva, 9, and George, 7.

In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: on Rocky Mount Road, Mattie Taylor, 36, and children Gray, 14, Benjamin F., 8, Lee R., 7, Mary, 6, Annie, 2, and Hilliard, 6 months.

In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County:  Mattie Taylor, 30, and children Levy, 14, Mary, 13, Annie, 12, Hilliard, 10, Archie, 7, Joseph, 5, and Marvin, 3, plus Abi Taylor, 75.

In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: on New Wilson and Raleigh Road, farmer John Sharp, 53; wife Sallie, 48; and children Sardie, 24, Johnie, 22, Eva, 19, and George, 16, and daughter-in-law Mollie, 26.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Mike Taylor, 46, wife Estella, 35, and son James, 20.

On 12 December 1928, Mike Taylor, 57, married Elizabeth Evans, 45, in Wilson.

On 5 December 1929, Lee Taylor, 26, of Saratoga township, son of Mattie Taylor, married Sallie Barnes, 22, daughter of Cornelius and Maggie Barnes, in Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: three households in a row on an “improved dirt road,” Emmit Taylor, 30, and wife Clauddie 27; Arthur Taylor, 21; Hillard Taylor, 53, wife Annie, 48, and children Walter, 24, and Moses, 14; Lee Taylor, 26, wife Sally, 23, widowed mother Mattie, 56, her children Archie, 16, Joe, 15, and Marvin, 12; and widowed grandmother Abbie Taylor, 91.

In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: John Taylor, 65, wife Sallie, 59, and boarder Monroe Whitley, 45.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Mike Taylor, 60, wife Elizabeth, 41, and son Carlie, 12.

Abie Taylor died 24 October 1930 in Saratoga township, Wilson County.  Per her death certificate, she was 94 years old; was born in Nash County to unknown parents; and was the widow of Rutherd Taylor. Informant was Hilliard Taylor. [There is no evidence that Abie Taylor ever married, though she is sometimes listed as a widow in census records.]

Mike Taylor died 6 March 1932 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 May 1870 to Archie Taylor and Abie Taylor and was married to Elizabeth Taylor.  Informant was Mazie Taylor.

Hilliard Taylor died 24 August 1944 in Saratoga township, Wilson County.  Per his death certificate, he was 65 years old; was born in Wilson County to Wash Powell and Avie Taylor, both of Wilson County; and was married to Gussie Taylor. Informant was Walter Taylor.

Sallie Sharpe died 4 March 1955 at her residence at 314 South Goldsboro Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 May 1874 in Wilson County to Cage Archey and Abby Taylor and was buried at New Vester cemetery, Wilson County. Informant was Mrs. Lossie Mitchell, Lucama, N.C.

Mattie Taylor died 11 October 1971 at 129 Narroway Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was a widow; was born 15 August 1876 to an unknown father and Abbie Taylor, and was buried in Rest Haven cemetery.  Informant was Mrs. Mary T. Bynum.

Photograph courtesy of Ancestry.com user ________.

Your father probably taught you to do this.

In 1924, “White Barbers of Wilson” placed an ad in the Daily Times complaining of white customers — women, even — patronizing African-American barber shops. Hair-cutting had  long been dominated by black men, and white barbers keenly felt the loss of caste that their trade entailed. After chastising “the public” for going to “dark skin shops,” they shook a challenging finger: “Ladies and gentlemen, we believe when you see the thing the way we do you will be a full blooded Southerner, and join the ranks of a true born American citizen.”

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Wilson Daily Times, 5 September 1924.

Carolina Posse Kills Ex-GI.

The lynchings of two Wilson County men are recorded at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The name of the first, killed in 1887, is unknown. The second man, shot to death in 1946, was J.C. Farmer, a 19 year-old veteran of World War II.

Farmer and some friends were in Sims, a village in the western part of the county, playing around while waiting for a bus to take them into Wilson for a Saturday night out. Constable Fes Bissette confronted the group, ordering Farmer to get into his squad car. When Farmer refused, Bissette hit him in the back of the head with a blackjack, drew his gun and tried to force Farmer into the car. The two scuffled. Seizing control of the gun, Farmer shot Bissette through the hand and fled. An hour later, 20 to 25 white men, including Alcoholic Beverage Control agents armed with submachine guns, cornered Farmer near his mother Mattie Barnes Farmer‘s house and opened fire.

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New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, Va.), 17 August 1946.

Though the scant news accounts available are silent, it appears that Farmer was driven ten miles to Wilson to Mercy Hospital, where Dr. Batie T. Clark pronounced him dead from a “gun shot wound chest” about 30 minutes after arrival. Clark also noted on Farmer’s death certificate, by way of explanation: “shot by officer of law in gun duel” though it is not at all clear which member of the posse’s shot hit Farmer, and there had been no “duel.” (Also, who transported Farmer to town — his family or law enforcement? Why was he seen by Badie Clark, a white doctor, rather than, say, Joseph Cowan, who was Mercy’s African-American staff physician? Here’s a guess: Dr. Cowan didn’t dare.)

In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress issued We Charge Genocide: An Historic Appeal to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People, a “record of mass slayings on the basis of race.” Among the litany of such state-sanctioned crimes committed from 1945 to 1951 was the killing of J.C. Farmer.

Equal Justice Initiative’s 2015 Lynching in America report mentioned J.C. Farmer’s murder in the chapter described racial terror directed at African-American veterans: “No one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. Thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service.” Farmer’s death was just one of a wave of such lynchings in 1946.

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In the 1930 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Josh Farmer, 51; wife Mattie, 46; and children William A., 21, Josh W., 17, Waneta, 14, Lonnie D., 12, Robert, 10, Albert H., 6, and J.C., 3.

In the 1940 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Jack Farmer, 59; wife Mattie, 55; and children Authur, 24, Jack Jr., 23, Robert, 20, Harry, 16, J.C., 13, and Juanita Barnes, 22, and her children Mattie Lee, 3, and Marjorie, 1.

J.C. Farmer registered for the World War II draft on 21 October 1944, was honorably discharged on 16 August 1945, and was dead 13 days’ shy of a year later.

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For the hanged and beaten. For the shot, drowned and burned. The tortured, tormented and terrorized. For those abandoned by the rule of law.

We will remember.

With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. With courage because peace requires bravery. With persistence because justice is a constant struggle. With faith because we shall overcome.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice