race

Parker refuses to give up his seat on the bus.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 April 1943.

Meet James Parker, American hero.

In April 1943, Parker boarded a Wilson city bus on Saturday evening. He sat down in the white section and remained firmly ensconced when the driver asked him to move. The driver, James Batchelor, abandoned his route to drive the bus to the police station, where Parker was arrested and charged with violating North Carolina’s “passenger law,” which allowed for the designation of colored and white sections in commercial transport vehicles. Parker was adjudged guilty and given a thirty-day suspended sentence provided he remain “in good behavior.” Per the Daily Times, Parker was the first person to challenge Jim Crow laws in Wilson County in 25 years.  

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

White personnel make way for Dr. Ward and staff.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 March 1924.

In early 1924, Wilson native Dr. Joseph H. Ward, a major in the Army Medical Corps and a pioneering physician in Indianapolis, was appointed first African-American chief surgeon and medical director of a Veterans Administration hospital. The appointment was poorly received by many in Tuskegee, Alabama, and the displacement of former personnel by a nearly all-Black staff was initially stiffly resisted.

The re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan.

On 21 December 1920, Dr. Frank S. Hargrave penned a letter to the editor of the Wilson Daily Times expressing quiet alarm about anonymous invitations sent to white men to become members of “the most powerful secret organization in America,” the Ku Klux Klan.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 December 1920.

Though not framed as a direct response, the Times published a tepid editorial a week later in which it cautioned against the rise of secret societies comprising the “worst,” not the “best” men in the county. “We just throw this out as food for thought, for we believe we know some of the gentlemen who are members of the Ku Klux Klan, and we believe also that they would not have joined if they had for one moment suspected that they had a single member in the fraternity with brains so small and intelligence so little” as to have written J.D. Gold an unspecified note — perhaps the invitation to which Dr. Hargrave referred?

Wilson Daily Times, 31 December 1920.

As we now know, Gold gave the “best men” of Wilson too much credit. By the end of the decade, the Klan held its regular meetings in the white Odd Fellows Hall upstairs at 208 South Goldsboro Street, along with all of the other white-only benevolent and fraternal organizations except the Masons.

For the minstrel-loving public.

Some of the fine entertainment on offer at Wilson Theatre in 1924.

Wilson Mirror, 19 October 1924.

Lee “Lasses” White was an American entertainer who gained fame in the early 1900s doing minstrel shows and wrote one of the first copyrighted twelve-bar blues, “N*gger Blues.”


Sheet music cover, 1913.

Wilson Mirror, 23 December 1924.

“The Mouth-Piece of Mirth and Melody.”

“Super-Minstrels”

Clippings courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Southern chivalry?

This short bit appears in a Cleveland Gazette column reporting Cincinnati, Ohio, happenings:

Cleveland Gazette, 4 August 1894.

What happened here?

Joe Ward of Indianapolis is Dr. Joseph H. Ward, though he was not yet a doctor in 1894. In fact, he was newly graduated from high school and just about to commence his medical studies. This passage from an 1899 Indianapolis Freeman feature mentions Ward’s return to North Carolina after graduation.

I am surprised that Mittie Ward Vaughn was in Wilson as late as 1894 — I’d assumed she was in Washington, D.C., with her daughter Sarah Ward Moody‘s family. I’m more intrigued, not to say perplexed, by the reference to an incident involving his wife.

First, Joseph Ward had a wife in 1894? His first marriage of which I am aware was to Mamie Brown in Indianapolis in 1897. It ended in divorce. Then, in 1904, he married Zella Locklear.

Let’s assume there was an earlier wife, though, and the incident happened to her. (In other words, the encounter was personal, not a third-party incident to which Ward was reacting.) Mrs. Ward sassed a white woman for whom she was working (in Wilson?), the white woman’s husband “smacked down” Mrs. Ward, and Mrs. Ward was arrested and fined $12.50 for her impertinence???

I have not found any references to Ward’s visit in Wilson newspapers, but will continue to search for further details.

Lane Street Project: Who gets to speak for the dead?

“Underneath America lies an apartheid of the departed. Violence done to the living is usually done to their dead, who are dug up, mowed down, and built on. In the Jim Crow South, Black people paid taxes that went to building and erecting Confederate monuments. They buried their own dead with the help of mutual-aid societies, fraternal organizations, and insurance policies. Cemeteries work on something like a pyramid scheme: payments for new plots cover the cost of maintaining old ones. ‘Perpetual care’ is, everywhere, notional, but that notion relies on an accumulation of capital that decades of disenfranchisement and discrimination have made impossible in many Black communities, even as racial terror also drove millions of people from the South during the Great Migration, leaving their ancestors behind. It’s amazing that Geer survived. Durham’s other Black cemeteries were run right over. ‘Hickstown’s part of the freeway,’ Gonzalez-Garcia told me, counting them off. ‘Violet Park is a church parking lot.'”

I’m inspired — and encouraged — by Friends of Geer Cemetery and Friends of East End Cemetery and others doing this work for descendants. Please read.

“Whosoever live and believeth in me, though we be dead, yet, shall we live.”

Negro white supremacist given 24 hours to leave.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 January 1925.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Who was Socrates A.E. O’Neil of Wilson? What was the Ethiopia International School? And what was the “wrong sort of propaganda”?

A search for information about O’Neil primarily yielded newspaper articles, all remarkably consistent in tone over the span of more than twenty years. The first reference I found was in a 1918 Baltimore Sun ad Rev. Socrates O’Neil of God Charitable International Ethiopian Organization, Inc., Baltimore, Maryland, placed touting his 37-cent pamphlet, “Negro Problem Solved.” 

Baltimore Sun, 5 November 1918.

In 1922, the Shreveport Journal published a partial transcript of one of O’Neil’s speeches, presumably delivered to a white audience. It’s eye-popping. (The piece also resolves one question: O’Neil’s Ethiopian School was 60 miles north of Wilson in Weldon. Whew.) Asserting that he aspired to fill the late Booker T. Washington’s shoes, O’Neil declared that “southern white people are better to negroes than northern white people,” Black people “need to be educated with [his] common sense ideas or driven on old boss’s farm to learn common sense,” he was “representative of white supremacy and teach it in my school with Biblical authority,” and “[t]he lynching question will be abolished, if science is accurate, when the negroes, men and women, morally live in their own places.” 

Shreveport Journal, 8 December 1922.

Shreveport Journal, 4 January 1923.

A 1925 New York Age piece took O’Neil apart. 

New York Age, 8 August 1925.

Finding North Carolina Negroes insufficiently grateful, Bishop O’Neil headed south, but ran into trouble. He was arrested for theft in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1931. 

Baltimore Afro American, 29 August 1931.

In November 1932, O’Neil was convicted of larceny in Savannah, Georgia, and sentenced to two months on the chain gang.

He bounced back. A year later, O’Neil delivered a speech in Biloxi, Mississippi, in which he described the Ku Klux Klan as “a help to the negroes.”

Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), 13 November 1935.

In 1939, O’Neil — whose real name may have been Abelard E. O’Neil — was sent to prison in Indiana on an intoxication charge. This is the last I found of him.

Palladium-Item (Richmond, Ind.), 18 April 1939.

First clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III; City Court Criminal Minute Books, Savannah, Georgia, Court Records, 1790-1934, database online, http://www.ancestry.com.