false arrest

There was never the least overt act indicating an implication to lynch him?

Wilson Daily Times, 1 February 1914.

A January 31 News & Observer article tells the fuller background story. J.D. Holland of Wake County was out plowing a field near his house when he was robbed at gunpoint of his knife, a gold watch, and one dollar. “Mr. Holland was taken unawares by the negro and at the point of a pistol was first forced to give up his property and then take off all his clothes and plough several furroughs of land. The robbery was not at all welcomed by Mr. Holland, but the work of imitating Adam was very disagreeable to the Wake farmer.” This humiliation was equally disagreeable to Holland’s neighbors, who quickly formed an armed posse to hunt for a Black man “of yellow complexion, weighing about 160 pounds and wearing a slightly dark moustache.” They made one false capture before encountering Tip Barnes walking on railroad tracks near Millbrook and locking him in a store.

When the sheriff arrived, he found a “small crowd of citizens” gathered, who “merely wanted to see that the negro was placed behind bars.” Barnes, however, claimed a hundred armed people milled about all night, hollering “Lynch him!” Barnes further claimed that he could not be the culprit, as he had only arrived in Raleigh the previous morning, having skipped town when he and another man got in some trouble in Wilson. Though the reporter expressed doubt, as reported above, Barnes did in fact have an airtight alibi. He was in Wilson at the time of the robbery, being questioned by Wilson police about a completely different crime.

The news bureau took care to debunk two rumors, perhaps in the interests of lowering public temperature. First, it urged, the robber had not humiliated Holland by forcing him to strip naked and continue plowing. Nor was it true that Barnes “had narrowly escaped lynching” at the time of his arrest.

Tip Barnes, who was well-known to law enforcement, escaped imprisonment (false or otherwise) in this instance. Eight years later, however, he was convicted of the murder of his wife, India Barnes, in Wilson.

The 28th arrest.

23 May 1887. A man and a woman, both African-American, argue near the railroad crossing at Vance Street in Wilson. Shots ring out. The woman, Mittie Strickland, falls to the ground, fatally struck. The man, said to be Caesar Wooten, flees.

Within weeks, the governor of North Carolina offers a $200 reward for Wooten’s capture.

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Raleigh News & Observer, 2 June 1887.

In response, toothy dark-skinned men all across North Carolina and Virginia are hauled into police stations.

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Greensboro Morning News, 10 June 1887.

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Wilson Advance, 30 June 1887.

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Wilmington Morning Star, 26 July 1887.

By August, at least eight men have been falsely identified and arrested as Wooten.


Raleigh Weekly State Chronicle, 4 August 1887.

And then … nothing. For four years. Until:

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Wilson Advance, 30 April 1891.

The final tally: 27 false arrests before Wooten was captured in Atlanta.

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Wilson Advance, 21 May 1891.

And, finally, a conviction:

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Raleigh State Chronicle, 8 November 1891.


Wooten Strickland

Map of Wilson, 1882. The tiny red X at the railroad marks the approximate spot of Mittie Strickland’s murder.

[Sidenote: Wooten was appointed top-notch legal defense in that time and place. Frederick A. Woodard (1854-1915) was elected to the United States Congress two years after Wooten’s trial. Sidney A. Woodard was his brother and law partner. Avowed white supremacist Charles B. Aycock was appointed United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina in 1893 and elected governor in 1901.]