Negroes to receive lifetime pension for amputated feet.

When I stumbled upon this article, I was not sure if the terrible incident it described involved African-Americans from Wilson County. (It turns out they were not.) I did know, however, that state legislator Troy T. Barnes of Wilson co-sponsored a bill to award the victims pensions, and I knew I wanted to know more.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 March 1935.

A review of the widespread state news coverage reveals:

  • In December 1934, Woodrow Wilson Shropshire, 19, was sentenced to 120 days on a chain gang for drunkenness and drunk driving. In January 1935, Robert Barnes, also 19, was sentenced to a year “on the road” for possession of a stolen camera. Both were sent to a Mecklenburg County labor camp.
  • In January 1935, Shropshire and Barnes were placed in solitary confinement for alleged insubordination and cursing at a guard. The men were chained in a standing position against a wall for eight hours a day for four days. During the cold nights, they slept in an unheated room with little covering. The camp doctor failed to check on them as required by law. Both suffered severe damage to their feet that led to gangrene.
  • In early March, Wilson and Barnes were taken to Central State Prison in Raleigh where their feet were amputated. The following week, the state legislature opened an investigation into the matter. 
  • Per testimony, the men originally been held at Mecklenburg County camp #411. When they attempted to warm themselves at a fire without permission during frigid January temperatures, a guard warned them away and Shropshire cursed him. Because camp #411 had no solitary confinement, they were moved to camp #413. Barnes, Shropshire, and a former prisoner named John Reid testified that a prison guard beat Barnes unconscious for spitting on the floor. The men were fed half a biscuit twice a day and a small amount of water. Prison officials claimed the men’s feet had been damaged by erysipelas, a strep bacterial infection. And/or their gangrene had been caused by the men stuffing rags too tightly between their skin and shackles. (“It is astonishing,” [testified prison physician] Coleman, “how some prisoners will mutilate themselves to escape work.”]
  • The investigation turned up an additional atrocity — the secret burials of Black convicts in a Watauga County cornfield during construction of the Boone Trail state highway in 1930. (The men had been reported as escapees.) Legislators had questions about the laws concerning prisoners in state camp, the limits (or lack thereof) on the kind of punishment guards could mete out, and the practice of transferring prisoners to camps with “little dark houses” used for solitary confinement. Three state representatives, including Barnes of Wilson, sponsored a bill providing a lifetime pension for Shropshire and Barnes.
  • In early April, the camp superintendent, camp physician, and three guards were arrested and charged with crimes including neglect, torture, maiming, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Shropshire was taken by ambulance from Raleigh to testify before a Mecklenburg County grand jury; Barnes was still too weak from his injuries.
  • The committee’s recommendation, issued in late April, was conservative. North Carolina penal camps could continue using whips and “dark cells” to punish prisoners. On the bright side, Shropshire and Barnes were to receive prosthetic feet and jobs in the highway or prison departments. 
  • By mid-May, the State had spent $500 for four sets of artificial limbs for the two men, but neither was strong enough to use them.
  • The trial got underway in mid-July. Surprise — all defendants were acquitted!
  • Shropshire made good progress adjusting to his prosthetics. He declined a job in Raleigh, preferring to return to Mecklenburg to be near family, and the State promised to find him a job there. Barnes continued to struggle. In 1940, when he registered for the World War II draft, he was described as unemployed. His card noted “both feet amputated below knees.” 

Sanders slain by Officer Hartis.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 October 1935.

In his 2005 memoir Son of the Rough South, journalist Karl Fleming painted a dark picture of police officer Philemon Ray Hartis in the late 1940s, a dozen years after he shot Ernest Sanders to death. In a chapter titled “My First Bad Cop,” Fleming introduced Hartis as the detective whose job it was to follow what was happening across the tracks in “n*ggertown” and in other pockets of the town’s demimonde, who ran white madames and black bootleggers as informants, who hoarded the dirty secrets of the white upper class, and who smacked around any black body he deemed deserving.

Earnest Sanders’ death was ruled a justifiable homicide, “shot by policeman.”

An affray.

Wilson News, 5 October 1899.

A restatement:

Bud King protested when ordered to leave Watson’s Warehouse. K.P. Watson hit him with a barrel stave. King snatched up a brick, but fled when J.S. Farmer intervened. Watson and Farmer shot at King while chasing him, but missed. King went to the police, who charged all three with affray (basically, fighting in public.) A judge split court costs among the three defendants and fined Watson and Farmer five cents. King drew a three-dollar fine, which he could not pay. He went to jail.

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.

Six weeks later, white man charged with murder of Lovett Cameron.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 May 1927.

Lovett Cameron died six weeks after Tom Moore struck him in the head with a glass bottle at Rose Bud crossroads, near the modern-day Bridgestone Firestone plant.

I have not been able to find Cameron’s death certificate or anything further about his murder.



Application for parole.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 September 1942.

A.M.E. Zion minister Russell Buxton Taylor filed this notice of application for parole of his son William G. Taylor, who had pled guilty four months before on a prostitution charge.

A prostitution charge? Was he charged with being a prostitute or a john?

As it turns out — neither.

William Taylor had originally been charged with raping an unnamed African-American girl. A judge agreed to accept his guilty plea on a prostitution charge, however, and sentenced him to 12 months in jail, to be served performing road work.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 May 1942.

All over 25 cents.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 July 1912.

Benjamin J. Stott and Handy Hodge were sharecroppers, or perhaps tenant farmers, on D.J. Scott’s farm in southern Wilson County. As they walked to work on a Saturday morning, Hodge confronted Stott about 25 cents Stott owed Hodge’s son, and Stott shot Hodge through the thigh with a .38.

After Hodge’s wound was treated, he and Stott decided to get in front of the law and hustled to a Wilson justice of the peace with a watered-down version of events. They were given moderate fines and released. However, Crossroads law enforcement got wind of the fracas, arrested Stott, and charged him with shooting Hodge and carrying a concealed weapon. He was “tried” by a justice of the peace (apparently, something akin to a probable cause hearing) and released under a hefty $200 bond to appear in county Superior Court. 


  • B.J. Stott — In the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamin Stott, 49, and wife Lucinda, 39. 
  • Handy Hodge — in the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: next door to the Stotts, farmer Handy Hodge, 52; wife Roxie, 50; children David, 16, and Handy, 13; and widowed aunt Jennie Newsom, 80.



A lynching in Wake County.

Hickory Daily Record, 6 November 1918.

*T R I G G E R  W A R N I N G*

On its face, this account of this terrible crime has no bearing on Wilson County.

More details emerged in newspapers over the next few days, however, and on November 9, the Greensboro Daily News reported: “From the few facts available the affair was one of genuine old-fashioned lynching. [George] Taylor was identified by Ms. [Ruby] Rogers, it was said about 1.30 Tuesday afternoon. Immediately thereafter J.T. Bolling (who, with Buddie Mitchell, of Youngsville, and Dudley Price, it was said, made the arrest at Wilson) and Oscar Barham started to Raleigh with the prisoner.

“About a quarter of a mile from Buffaloe bottom [near Rolesville] about 400 yards from where the negro was strung up, four men wearing blue hoods, completely masking their faces and bearing a single barrel and double barrel shot gun, are said to have met the negro and the officers and carried the party into the adjoining woods.

“There the party was held until Tuesday night when the mob took the negro and hanging him by the feet on a bent pine tree, slashed and cut him up and filled him with over 100 bullet holes. He was left hanging from 7.25 Tuesday night, when the firing was heard until about 9 o’clock Wednesday morning when Sheriff Sears’ office was notified.

Taylor was arrested near Wilson and tied in the foot of an automobile with a pistol pressing against his ribs, he was brought to Mrs. Rogers for identification. At first she is said not to have been positive, but later to have been convinced. When asked after the lynching she said there was no doubt but that he was the man. When he was brought before her Dr. Young of Rolesville said the negro was forced to repeat the words her assailant used and he changed his voice, later she heard him talking in the yard in his natural voice she became positive it was the man. J.T. Bolling the man from and with whom the negro was taken said that after the identification the negro confessed to the crime.”

George Taylor’s murder is the only recorded lynching in Wake County.