assault and battery

Strange Negro killed in gun battle.

This story, as breathlessly reported by the Wilson Daily Times, hit all the marks for maximum titillation — a strange “big black” criminal, a shoot-out in Darktown, a triumphant police officer. 

Wilson Daily Times, 17 December 1924.

In a nutshell (with facts, or purported ones, augmented by a Wilson Mirror article published the same day): Around midnight, Officers Buck Stallings and Jesse Hamilton were patrolling near the Atlantic Coast Line railroad station when they encountered Pearl Morris, who had just been badly beaten “in a boarding house on East Nash street … formerly known as the Carnation Hotel.” (Though I’ve never seen it called by this name, I am certain this is the Orange Hotel.) The policemen followed Morris to the boarding house; a 25 to 30-year old man standing in the doorway turned and ran inside when he saw them. (Per the Mirror, “The police were informed … of the stranger’s presence in town and also were acquainted with the fact that he was carrying a gun ….”)  The officers confronted the man on the second floor balcony, and he allegedly shot Stallings in the hand. Stallings and Hamilton opened fire; the man unloaded, turned and leapt over the railing. When he hit the ground, he did not move.  (Per the Mirror, a shot sent him “whirling around and crashed him up against the upper porch railing.”) “A colored physician happened to be in the crowd” — William Mitchner, who lived a few doors down? — and declared the man near death. He was loaded into somebody’s car and rushed to Mercy Hospital, but died en route. (Again, the Mirror casts a more dramatic scene: Stallings, despite his injuries, holding back the crowd with his gun until reinforcements arrived.)

The man’s body was taken to police headquarters. A search of his clothing yielded a name, Thomas Leak, and an address in Durham, N.C. He had been shot four times by two guns, with one shot passing through his heart and killing him. Meanwhile, Officer Stallings basked in adulation at the station house, cracking jokes and recounting his adventure. (The Mirror: “His escape from death was little short of miraculous.”)

Without explaining the discrepancy with the information found in his clothes, the Times named the strange man as Willie Leach. The Mirror added that he had come from Columbia, S.C., or Durham, and his suitcase contained “a strange assortment of articles, razors, four or five fountain pens, carton of cigarettes, screw driver, vanity box and numerous other things.”

Within hours of the shooting, a coroner’s jury held an inquest and found the homicide of Willie Leach justified.

 ——

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Green Street, painter David Morris, 34; wife Lillian, 30; and children Pearl E., 12, Charles, 9, Lillian, 7, and David E., 7 months. [The Morrises appear to have lived on the first block of Green east of the railroad in a block that was otherwise occupied by white families.)

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Morris Pearl (c) dom h 114 N Pettigrew

In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Morris Pearl (c) cook h 215 Stantonsburg

Pearl Morris died 16 October 1936 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 28 years old; was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to David Morris of Henderson, N.C., and Lillian Hinson of Boston; and lived at 723 East Nash Street. Mable Phillips, Smith Street, was informant.

Attack on Prof. J.D. Reid.

Feelings ran high in the days after school superintendent Charles L. Coon slapped Mary Euell, an African-American teacher who had been hauled to his office by principal J.D. Reid. So high that three men jumped Reid as he left church the following Sunday.

Per the Wilson Daily Times, 16 April 1918:

As a result of the attack on Prof. J.D. Reid, principal of the colored graded school yesterday while he was coming out of the First Baptist church, colored after the morning services three negroes named Frank Hooker, Henry Lucas and Will Jenkins, the first two were arrested yesterday and placed under bonds of $300 each for their appearance Friday morning before his honor and Will Jenkins he ran away yesterday and was not captured until this morning is now in jail. It is alleged that Will Jenkins had a gun and that it was taken away from him by a colored man by the name of John Spell and thus prevented him from using it. Will denies that he had a pistol of his own. He says that one dropped the pistol and that he picked it up, and that he had no intention of using it on Reid. Reid was not hurt in the assault. It seems that some two blows were struck him before the parties were separated.

This is an aftermath of the trouble referred to last week in this paper growing put of the reproof of the teacher by Mr. Coon, who was called into his office in the Fidelity building at the instance of Reid for alleged failure to obey a ruling regarding the opening of school on the day the new daylight law went into effect. The woman teacher says that Mr. Coon slapped her and that when she called on Reid to protect her that Reid told her to behave herself and held the door to keep her from going out.

Following this assault on the woman leading colored men of the Ministerial Union and Business League made representations to the Board of Trustees of the school preferring charges against Reid and asked them to dismiss him from the position at the head stating that he was entirely persona non grata to their people and that he had lost his usefulness among them as an educator.

The school board had before them here Saturday afternoon Prof. Sam Vick, Rev. Weeks, pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist church and Rev. Taylor, pastor of the Presbyterian church, colored of this city, and Dr. Hargrave, a leading colored physician of Wilson. The board heard the matter and agreed to take the charges under advisement.

In the meantime Prof. Reid informed Mayor Killette that he felt on account of threats that he was in danger of his life and asked for protection. This was promptly given, officers having been stationed at the residence of Prof. Reid for the past tow or three nights. The prompt action of the mayor yesterday will probably stop the assaults on Reid, for he is determined to stop this effort to take the law into their own hands.

In the meantime the colored graded schools in this city are not running. Eleven of the fourteen teachers resigned at the beginning of the trouble and two of the others since. The question was asked by members of the board Saturday if it would pay to reorganize the school for the short space of time the remainder of the session and the answer was returned by the colored men present that they did not think it would.

However as to what action the board of trustees will take towards continuing the school the remainder of the session we are not prepared to say.

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  • J.D. Reid — Reid was forced out of his position as principal, but regained the trust of the community. For a while, anyway. Two years later, Reid was appointed vice-president of the brand-new Commercial Bank, a position he held until the bank failed amid charges of forgery and embezzlement.
  • Frank Hooker — Hooker, a sawyer, was about 46 years old when he clouted Reid.
  • Henry Lucas — Lucas was a brickmason.
  • Will Jenkins — Jenkins was a lumberyard laborer with a history of scapes.
  • John Spell — John S. Spell was a contractor-carpenter.
  • Sam Vick — Samuel H. Vick was Educator, politician, businessman, real estate developer, church leader
  • Rev. Weeks — Alfred L.E. Weeks.
  • Rev. Taylor — Halley B. Taylor.
  • Dr. Hargrave — Frank S. Hargrave.

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.

 

You have broken my arm.

Inhuman.

Last Monday in Taylors township, this county, Jesse Howard, a Negro Republican registrar for the coming election, assaulted his father-in-law Green Ruffin, a respectable inoffensive old man of ninety years of age. It seems that Green’s hog had got out into Jesse’s field and although the crop had been gathered and Green had kept his hog out a long time, yet Jesse became so enraged as to pick up the hog and throw him over the fence, breaking its back. Greene who was cutting cane near by, seeing the hog fall, ran to the fence, still having his cane knife in his hand. When he saw Jesse he expostulated with him when the latter jerked a rail from the fence and struck Greene breaking his right arm. Greene said, “you have broken my arm.” Jesse answered “yes and G__D__ you, I will break the other.” And changing the rail he struck Greene again and broke his left arm.

Jesse was up before M.M. Matthews, J.P. but we have not heard the result. Such outrages as this should not go unpunished.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 October 1896.

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In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Green Ruffin, 36, wife Tamer, 30, and children Ora, 3, and Martha, 2, plus Nicey Watson, 58. In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Green Ruffin, 57, wife Tamer, 47, and children Orah, 14, Martha, 11, and Stephen, 3. [In 1896, then, Green was probably closer to 60 to 70 years of age than 90. Not that that excuses anything.]

On 17 August 1889, Jesse Howard, 22, son of Deal and Rhoda Howard, married Martha Ruffin, 21, daughter of Green and Tamer Ruffin, all of Taylors township.

The couple is not found in the 1900 census. Did Martha leave after Jesse thrashed her father? Was Jesse prosecuted? Did Martha die?

On 5 June 1901, Jesse Howard, 33, son of Delius and Rhoda Howard, married Zillah Woodard, 32, daughter of Alfred and Sarah Woodard.