Violence

“The colored people say they will not stand for it”: the 100th anniversary of the Wilson school boycott.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the resignation of 11 African-American teachers in Wilson, North Carolina, in rebuke of their “high-handed” black principal and the white school superintendent who slapped one of them. In their wake, black parents pulled their children out of the public school en masse and established a private alternative in a building owned by a prominent black businessman.  Financed with 25¢-a-week tuition payments and elaborate student musical performances, the Independent School operated for nearly ten years. The school boycott, sparked by African-American women standing at the very intersection of perceived powerless in the Jim Crow South, was an astonishing act of prolonged resistance that unified Wilson’s black toilers and strivers.

The school boycott is largely forgotten in Wilson, and its heroes go unsung. In their honor, today, and every April 9 henceforth, I publish links to these Black Wide-Awake posts chronicling the walk-out and its aftermath. Please read and share and speak the names of Mary C. Euell and the revolutionary teachers of the Colored Graded School.

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2016/01/07/we-tender-our-resignation-and-east-wilson-followed/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2018/03/30/the-heroic-teachers-of-principal-reids-school/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2016/12/10/a-continuation-of-the-bad-feelings/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2017/04/02/what-happened-when-white-perverts-threatened-to-slap-colored-school-teachers/

https://afamwilsonnc.com/2018/02/11/604-606-east-vance-street/

Fined $10 for cursing out the boss in the street.

Wilson Mirror, 9 May 1894.

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Julia Battle, 19, of the Town of Wilson, daughter of Lewis Battle, married Thomas Day, 24, of the Town of Wilson, on 30 November 1892 at the bride’s father’s house. Presbyterian minister L.J. Melton performed the ceremony in the presence of J.J. Wilson and J.W. Rogers.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Thomas Day, 33, tobacco stemmer; wife Julia B., 27, laundry woman; and boarders James Barham, 25, teamster, John H. Gregory, 19, tobacco stemmer, and Donald Rankin, 17, tobacco stemmer.

 

Slapped a colored girl.

Slapping black women was epidemic in Wilson in the first few decades of the 20th century. Here, W.D. Ruffin was ordered into court for slapping a “colored girl,” known only by her surname Reid, who allegedly pushed ahead of him in a line at the post office. Clerk W.O. Flowers complained that “the older colored people are more respectful and will wait their turn but that a number of negro boys and girls make themselves obnoxious by endeavoring to shove their way ahead of some one else.” He claimed he was waiting in line when Reid pushed in. He told her he was in front; she argued that she had a right to be there. Ruffin: “Be quiet.” Reid stood her ground, and Ruffin “brushed her cheek with his hand.”

Wilson Times, 9 July 1919.

 

Surprise verdicts?

Just after Christmas 1948, an all-white jury acquitted Woodrow Taylor, a white service station operator, in the murder of Hugh Bynum, a black man.

In a nutshell: Bynum and Taylor had a “conversation” about a pack of cigarettes. Bynum stepped out of the store. Taylor followed and asked, “You don’t think I’ll kill you?” Bynum said no. Taylor went back in and returned with a shotgun. Again: “You don’t think I’ll kill you?” And shot Bynum in the chest. Or, “the gun went off” — Taylor said it fired accidentally when he tried to set it down on a “cold drink crate.” And he denied aggressively questioning Bynum. The jury believed him.

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Wilson Daily Times, 29 December 1948.

Bynum was not the only black man whose manner of death went before a jury that day. On 7 October 1947, William Cooper was thrown into the street at Nash and Pender Streets when M.O. Tripp, driving drunk, struck his wagon. Cooper died two weeks of later of injuries sustained, and Tripp was charged with manslaughter. The Daily Times reported the verdict in this case the next day. Surprise.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 December 1948.

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In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Lynn Bynum, 70; wife Lena, 50; and children Patience, 18, Lynn, 8, Harvey, 6, Hubert, 5, and Bunny, 3.

In 1940, Hubert Bynum registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born in 1915 in Edgecombe County; resided at Route 1, Stantonsburg, Wilson County; and his contact and employer was his first cousin Jack Bynum. He was described as “feeble-minded” with a “displaced eye.”

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In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: William F. Cooper, 43, delivery man for ice and coal company; wife Lillie, 30, cook; and step-daughter Anna Bobbitt, 16.

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She slapped him. He slapped back and kicked, too.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 January 1943.

The story is not only astounding for the audacity of Henry Barefoot‘s stand in his own defense, but also for the even-handedness of justice meted out to the juvenile, even if it left the judge indignant.

(Meanwhile, undertaker Columbus E. Artis and Lemore Hannah appeared before the bench on charges of operating an unlicensed taxi.)

  • Henry Barefoot — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 308 Lane Street, presser Linwood Barefoot, 43; wife Bertha, 38, laundress; and sons John, 18, hospital kitchen helper, Stanley, 15, Norris, 13, Henry, 12, Curtis, 12, Jerome, 8, and Marvin, 5. (It is worthwhile to note that Henry left Wilson sometime after this incident. When he registered for the World War II draft at age 18, he was living in Baltimore, Maryland.)
  • Columbus E. Artis
  • Lemore Hannah — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 709 Vance Street, Lemore Hannah, 30, furniture store worker; sister Ruth, 20, factory worker; daughter Ollie, 7, and Camilla Hannah, 2.

 

The Klan comes to Wilson.

“Crossing the railroad tracks, the Klansmen went down Green into the colored section of the city. Quite a few colored people were crowded on the sidewalks. For the most part, they remained silent and regarded the parade with passive interest. The booted men went as far as Pender Street, then turned up to Nash, and came down Nash through the central part of the business district.”

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Wilson Mirror, 14 November 1924.

The Klan’s second-to-last march in Wilson, in June 1988, ended in a hail of rocks and ignominy. Jeered and vilified as they stomped toward the courthouse, their intended display of force and intimidation ended in a pell-mell scurry away from a decidedly nonpassive crowd of angry African-Americans throwing hands. The Christian Knights returned  September 4 to finish their march, but their show of defiance was undercut by the phalanx of law enforcement officers mustered to usher them along the parade route. Drawn both by curiosity and the police chief’s earnest, but borderline unconstitutional, warnings about searching spectators, I witnessed a cautious procession of perhaps two dozen chanting Klansmen, sweating in rainbow-bright satin robes. Under the watchful eye of a rooftop sniper, they shouted half-heartedly from the courthouse steps before beating a retreat back down Tarboro Street.

Here’s the Daily Times‘ brief coverage:

And here are photos I took that day:

 

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Wilson Mirror, 7 November 1924.

A feud of long standing.

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Wilson Advance, 4 March 1881.

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Turner Eatman, 22, married Cherry Woodard, 18, on 9 April 1873 in Wilson, Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township (south of Nash Road), Wilson County: farmer Turner Eatmond, 30; wife Cherry, 23; and brother David, 15.

No Calvin Barnes is found in the neighborhood of John W. Farmer or Turner Eatmon in the1880 census.

Waylaid and murdered.

The Independent (Elizabeth City, N.C.), 28 January 1921.

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In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Carolina Street, laborer Haddie Swinson, 29; wife Ianthia, 31; and children May Bird, 6, Glasco, 5, and James B., 3.

Haddie Davis Swinson, a merchant, was shot in the head on 21 January 1921.

Boy runs amuck, cuts principal.

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 18 January 1920.

  • Carl Lucas
  • Walter Washington — Probably this man: Walter T. Washington died 9 November 1968 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 September 1896; resided at 811 East Edenton Street, Raleigh; was married to Verdie Parrish Washington; was the son of Hillary Washington and Georgianna Sasser; and was a retired schoolteacher. He was buried in National Cemetery, Raleigh.

Turner Battle, “impudent” or else “quiet,” is shot over words.

On Monday, 16 January 1899, Marion Greely Ward shot Turner Battle inside D.G. Liles’ bar in downtown Wilson. Ward, who was white, ran a little restaurant at the rear of Liles’ saloon, and Battle cooked for him. The News & Observer of Raleigh ran the story first. The angle taken by Josephus Daniels’ paper is not surprising. Battle is “large,” “powerful” and “impudent,” and Ward was a “weak, small man” who had fired him for “bad conduct.”

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 17 January 1899. 

The Wilson Advance ran coverage in its early edition the next day. The recited facts are choppy, but seem to indicate that Ward owed Battle money and, when Battle asked for it, Ward accused him of an overnight theft of whiskey. When Battle denied it, Ward called him a damned lie and, when Battle returned the insult, Ward pulled a pistol and shot three times. Two bullets hit Battle in the chest.

Wilson Advance, 19 January 1899.

By the evening post, Battle, who “seemed to be a quiet kind of negro,” was dead.

Wilson Advance, 19 January 1899.

Contrary to the News & Observer, Ward initially fled, but after a brief turn as a fugitive, he turned himself in. The trial was held quickly, and more facts (or, in any case, testimony) emerged. In summary: on Friday, 13 January, Ward opened his restaurant in Liles’ bar and on Saturday hired Battle to cook. Over the weekend, Ward complained to Liles that Battle had stolen from him, and he intended to discharge him on Monday. When Battle arrived Monday morning, Ward fired him. Kinchen Liles testified that he heard someone say “goddamn” and, before he could hustle out of the refrigerator and around the bar, three shots rang out. John White, “a negro of unsavory reputation,” testified that Ward told Battle that before he could pay him for Saturday’s work, Battle needed to bring back the stolen goods. Battle: “I did not steal your stuff.” Ward: “You’re a damned lie.” Battle: “You’re another.” Ward then ran behind the counter, grabbed his gun and shot three times, with White knocking up the pistol on the last shot. Battle staggered out, sat down and was taken home. He was either a “fussy, disagreeable negro, impudent and mouthy” or a “quiet, good one.” Ward, of course, was described as quiet and possessed of an excellent reputation.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 February 1899.

To date, I have found no record of the verdict in this trial.

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Possibly, in the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Hardy Bell, 65, farm laborer, wife Lucinda, 48, and children Wilson, 17, Isabella, 13, and Ellen Bell, 7; plus Turner, 4, Julia, 10, William, 8, Lucinda, 6, Anna, 3, and infant Battle, 10 months.

Also, Turner Battle, 26, of the Town of Wilson, son of Isaac and Lovinia Battle, married Sarah Taylor, 18, of the Town of Wilson, daughter of Nellie Taylor, on 18 February 1894. Missionary Baptist minister W.T.H. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of C.C. Gaffney, Henry Moore and George McCown. [Note that if this is the same Turner Battle, his killer’s trial was held the week of his first wedding anniversary.]

Probably, in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: teamster John White, 26, and wife Jane, 20.