Violence

He is a Wilson negro and a bad one at that.

One hundred years ago today:

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 12.15.26 PM.png

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 16 March 1919.

  • Kit Shaw
  • Luther Barbour — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 809 East Nash, John Barber, 27; wife Ethel, 26; mother Sallie, 59, teacher; and brother Luther, 32. Luther is described as single.

Suffer the little children: death by violence.

Well into the twentieth century, children faced harrowing odds against reaching adulthood. Disease, accidents, and violence bore them away with stunning regularity. In the 1910s, 17% of American children died before age 5, a figure that was higher for Southern and African-American children.

Few Wilson County children who died in that era were buried in marked graves. In town, original burials were in Oaklawn or the Masonic cemetery. The Oaklawn graves were exhumed and moved to Rest Haven in the 1940s, and headstones, if they ever existed, have been lost over time. By allowing us to call their names again, this series of posts memorializes the lives of children who died in the first twenty years in which Wilson County maintained death records. May they rest in peace.

——

Though it appears that there was relatively little intentional homicide, death by gunshot was a dispiritingly common occurrence:

  • On 16 March 1910, Mary Lillie Loyd, 10, of Wilson, daughter of Bettie Loyd, died “from gunshot wound, accidentally fired.”
  • On 23 October 1911, Ida L. Speights, 7, of Wilson, daughter of J.C and Rebecca Robinson Speight, died of a “gun shot accidentally by Fred Davis carelessly handling gun among children.” (In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Green Street, Jake Speights, 45, laborer; wife Rebecca, 30; and children Eva, 14, Lennie, 12, Joseph, 10, Ida, 5, Bessie, 3, and Addie, 1.)

Wilson Daily Times, 27 October 1911.

  • On 28 January 1913, Floyd Anderson, 6, of Toisnot township, son of Charlie Anderson, “was accidentally shot by his brother a boy 8 years old.” (In the 1910 census of Rocky Mount, Township #12, Edgecombe County: Charlie Anderson, 24, and wife Viola, 20, both farm laborers, and sons Thomas, 4, and Floyd, 3.)
  • On 24 March 1914, James Scott Johnson, 8, of Elm City, son of James and Lola Batten [Battle] Johnson, died of an “accidental gunshot wound, self-inflicted.” (In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: James Johnson, 35, drayman for wholesale grocery; wife Lola, 34, washerwoman; and children Laurenzell, 6, and James S., 4.)
  • On 5 July 1914, Clinton Sylvester Ayers, 6, of Wilson, son of William and Zilfie Dew Ayers, died of a “gunshot wound, accidental.” A second death certificate, for Sylvester Ayers, 6, of Spring Hill, gives the cause of death as “gunshot wound in knee, death from shock after operation, accident.” (In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Red Hill Road, William T. Ayres, 54; wife Zilphia, 45; and children David J., 15, Lillie, 11, Albert, 9, Walter, 7, Solomon, 4, and Clinton S., 1.)
  • On 2 January 1917, Minnie Barnhill, 11, of Wilson, daughter of Marcellus and Mary Barnhill, died from a “rifle bullet through brain by another person, accidental.”
  • On 31 January 1917, Eugenia Abram, 11, of Toisnot township, daughter of Tom and Sallie Bunn Abram, died from a “hemorrhage from gun shot wound (accidental).” (In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Tom Abram, 25, sawmill laborer; wife Sallie, 22; and daughters Genie, 4, Mary, 2, and Savannah, 1.)
  • On 18 November 1918, Simon Moore, 13, of Saratoga township, son of Marcellus and Lissie Rountree Moore, was “accidentally killed by gunshot wound.” (In the 1910 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: Marcelas Moore, 26; wife Lissie, 24; and sons Simon, 4, and Henry, 2.)
  • On 22 July 1919, Lewis Henry Williams, 15, of Toisnot township, son of Czaar and Annie Williams, died of “accidental gun shot in abdomen.”
  • On 24 March 1920, Mary Brown, 16, of Wilson, daughter of Willie and Mary Brown, died of a “stab wound above left nipple, homicide.”
  • On 20 May 1920, David Jackson Moore, 4, of Wilson, son of Andrew Moore and Minnie Mercer Moore, died of “gunshot of head, accident.”
  • On 8 July 1921, Ira Owens, of Wilson, son of Mack and Mary Gardens Owens, died as a result of “punishment received while at work on county road.” [In other words, Owens was beaten or otherwise abused to death while serving on a road crew, a sentence imposed by a county court.]

Artis’ Cafe padlocked.

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 11.15.18 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 13 February 1939.

  • June Scott Artis — A history of Stantonsburg gave the date of the cafe’s opening as 1947, which apparently was off by at least a decade. It remained in business into the 1960s.
  • Edgar Artis, June S. Artis’ son.
  • Walter Ward — The 6 February 1939 edition of the Wilson Daily Times reported that Ward pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a 15 to 18-year sentence.
  • H.B. Swenson — H.B. Swinson died 28 January 1939. Per his death certificate, he was “murdered, knife wound of breast”; was born 18 April 1913 in Greene County to Allen Swinson and Henrietta Applewhite of Greene County; lived i Stantonsburg; and worked in farming.

Old Ed.

Ed Dupree lived a colorful life.

On a Saturday night in February 1936, three white men — Offie Page, Floyd Page and Gwin Pullman — pulled up outside Dupree’s Railroad Street house, called him to the car and forced him in at gunpoint. Fighting off blows, Dupree dived through the rear window as the vehicle neared Stantonsburg Street. When the police caught up with the trio, they found a toy pistol and a pointing finger — Dupree, the men said, was the responsible for Pullman’s arrest for possession of five gallons of unlawful liquor.

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 9.18.05 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 9.18.24 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 4 February 1936.

Almost three years later, Dupree was in court facing his fifth bootlegging charge in the last twelve months. Nettie Williams testified that Dupree had offered to pay her to take responsibility for the half-gallon of liquor police had found at his house. Police testified that they discovered alcohol poured into a bucket and stashed in “trap doors” in the outhouse and about the house. Ed Dupree’s daughter Mary testified that Nettie had brought the liquor in and dumped it when the cops arrived. The recorder — essentially, a magistrate — was not persuaded. He sentenced Dupree to six months “on the roads,” i.e. on a chain gang, and resurrected a six-month suspended sentence on top of that.

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 9.11.21 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 9.11.43 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 17 January 1939.

——

In the 1930 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson township, Wilson County: at 420 South Lodge Street, rented for $20/month, bottling plant laborer Egar [sic] Dupree, 55; wife Bettie, 31; children Wilder, 11, Esther, 9, Mary E., 7, and Edgar Jr., 5; and roomer Cornelia Hicks, 22.

Per the 1930 edition of Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Edw. Dupree was employed by Barnes-Harrell Company, bottlers of Coca-Cola. W. Offie Page was a clerk at P.L. Woodard & Company, an agricultural supply company. The directory also lists Floyd S. Page, a salesman with Wilson Auto Sales, and Floyd T. Page, a switchman. (At least twice — in 1939 and 1943 — the Daily Times printed notices that recent references to arrests of “Floyd Page” did not refer to car salesman Floyd. I suspect that switchman Floyd was the party involved in the kidnapping of Ed Dupree.)

Goffney bound over.

The Times published a blow-by-blow of the preliminary hearing Wilson mayor E.F. Killette held over the homicide of Blanche Williams. Joe Goffney entered a plea of not guilty, but Killette found sufficient evidence to hold him over for trial in the Superior Court.

Joe Brodie testified first. Goffney, who was married, came with Williams to the house in which she lives. Brodie was in the back room when the shot rang out. Williams staggered out and fell to the floor. Goffney ran out, shouting that he had not known the gun was loaded. Brodie sent for Dr. Mitchner, who declared Williams dead.

Nellie Williams testified that Goffney and Blanche Williams had entered the house laughing and talking. She was in the next room lacing her shoe when she heard the gun fire and heard Goffney say, “I didn’t say a word — or I will kill all of you.” Nellie Williams ran out of the house with one shoe on.

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.18.32 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.18.48 PM.png

Clifton Johnson also testified that Goffney and B. Williams entered the house talking and laughing. Johnson said he saw the gun on the center table when he entered and did not know to whom it belonged. (Neither Brodie nor N. Williams corroborated this, saying that as far as they knew there had been no gun in the house.) Goffney picked up the gun and said “let me see it.” Johnson’s back was turned to them when Goffney fired. Goffney did not say anything “out of the way” to Williams. The remark about “killing them all” came after the shooting. Goffney told them to get a doctor, then left the house. He gave Johnson the gun, who threw it away.

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.19.07 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.19.24 PM.png

“Colored physician” William Mitchner testified that he found Blanche Williams on the porch dead. The bullet had struck her in the chin, breaking her lower jaw, and exited the back of her neck, possibly fracturing her spine. In his opinion, Goffney was standing directly in front of Williams when he fired, and the bullet’s trajectory was slightly downward.

Clifton Johnson was recalled to testify that he and Goffney were on the same side of the table, and he was behind Williams.

Goffney testified that Clarence Johnson carried concealed weapons. [Is this Clifton? Or a different man?] Clarence had placed a magazine and .32 cartridges on the table.

Officer Weathersbee testified that he and Officer Sikes asked Johnson for the gun, and Johnson said he had thrown it in the pea patch. Johnson admitted the gun was his, and it had not been found.

Clarence Johnson denied telling Weathersbee the gun was his. He did not own a gun. Goffney was mistaken when he said Johnson had pulled the gun from his pocket and that there had been a magazine on the table. Johnson works at an express office and borrowed a holster from a fellow employee. He did not borrow a gun. The holster is in a bureau drawer at his house. Mayor Killette interjected that the holster had been found between the bed[frame] and mattress in Johnson’s room. Johnson could not explain why he borrowed a holster.

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.19.41 PM.png

Joe Lee denied seeing Goffney take a pistol from Johnson’s pocket. Apparently, Nettie Williams did, too. Johnson’s mother testified that he did not own a gun and had not brought one to the house the night of the killing.

Johnson’s lawyer F.D. Swindell argued that in the excitement of the moment, it was perfectly natural for Johnson to throw away the gun Goffney gave him. The only evidence that the gun was his was Goffney’s testimony, which was inherently biased.

The mayor was satisfied that Johnson had borrowed the pistol and bound him over as a material witness and for carrying a concealed weapon. He fined Johnson $75 and set his bond for $500. Goffney was sent to jail to await trial.

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.19.56 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.20.14 PM.png

Wilson Times, 30 September 1921.

  • Joe Goffney — Was Joe Goffney convicted? I have not found a follow-up, but the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists: Goffney Joseph tobwkr [tobacco worker] h 206 Manchester. This is likely the Joseph Goffney listed in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Lemon Barnes, 51; wife Dollie Ann, 51; children Ida, 26, Lemon Jr., 20, Mattie, 17, Charlie, 15, and Howard, 12; stepsons Cornelius Neal, 11, Paul Goffney, 17, and Joseph Goffney, 15; and grandson Sylvester Barnes, 6.
  • Blanche Williams — Per her death certificate, Blanch Williams was 24 years old; single; resided on Stantonsburg Street; and worked as a common laborer. She was born in Wayne County, North Carolina, to Wash Smith and Laura Williams, and Selena Craig of Goldsboro was informant. Her cause of death: “revolver wound of head (probably accidental).” [A 26 September 1921 Times article about the shooting reported that Williams was married and lived in Goldsboro, but had come to Wilson to work briefly in domestic service. She had planned to return to Goldsboro the week she was shot. She had been “going with” Goffney while in Wilson, and jealousy was believed to be at the root of the violence. Unnamed witnesses heard Goffney tell Williams, “If you go with that man, I will kill you,” as they walked to Joe Lee’s home. As Williams walked out of the house to return home, Goffney called her back in and shot her.]

  • Joe Brodie — possibly Josephine Brodie listed in the 1922 city directory as a student living at 303 Mercer Street.
  • Nellie Williams
  • Clifton/Clarence Johnson — perhaps the Clifton Johnson listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory as a porter living at 118 Ashe Street.
  • Dr. Mitchner — William A. Mitchner.
  • Joe Lee — possibly Joseph Lee listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory as a factory hand living at 115 Manchester Street. [However, the 26 September Times article identified Joe Lee and Joe Brodie as the same person, a woman.]
  • F.D. Swindell — lawyer Fred D. Swindell.
  • W.A. Finch — lawyer William Atlas Finch.
  • Mayor Killette — mayor Edwin F. Killette Sr.
  • Officer Weathersbee
  • Officer Sikes

Like most negroes, she was full of superstition.

In 1891, Rev. Owen L.W. Smith‘s sister, Millie Smith Sutton, shot and killed his wife Lucy Smith at point-blank range, believing that Lucy had poisoned her son.

img.jpeg

Wilson Advance, 9 July 1891.

On 5 November, the Advance reported that Smith had been found “mentally deranged” at the time she killed Smith and was committed to the insane asylum in Goldsboro.

The Wilson Mirror offered more on 11 November:

This tragedy had sequels.

Six years later, Sutton’s walking companion, Nettie Vick Jones, was stabbed to death on the street by her husband, A. Wilson Jones.

Ten years later, on 22 November 1901, the Times reported that Sutton had been released from the hospital and had returned to Wilson and, with Carrie Pettiford, had threatened the life of her brother’s newest wife, Adora Oden Smith. (In the 1900 census, Carrie was a boarder in the Smiths’ home.) Both were arrested.