gun violence

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.

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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.

Carolina Posse Kills Ex-GI.

The lynchings of two Wilson County men are recorded at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The name of the first, killed in 1887, is unknown. The second man, shot to death in 1946, was J.C. Farmer, a 19 year-old veteran of World War II.

Farmer and some friends were in Sims, a village in the western part of the county, playing around while waiting for a bus to take them into Wilson for a Saturday night out. Constable Fes Bissette confronted the group, ordering Farmer to get into his squad car. When Farmer refused, Bissette him in the back of the head with a blackjack, drew his gun and tried to force Farmer into the car. The two scuffled. Seizing control of the gun, Farmer shot Bissette through the hand and fled. An hour later, 20 to 25 white men, including Alcoholic Beverage Control agents armed with submachine guns, cornered Farmer near his mother Mattie Barnes Farmer‘s house and opened fire.

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New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, Va.), 17 August 1946.

Though the scant news accounts available are silent, it appears that Farmer was driven ten miles to Wilson to Mercy Hospital, where Dr. Batie T. Clark pronounced him dead from a “gun shot wound chest” about 30 minutes after arrival. Clark also noted on Farmer’s death certificate, by way of explanation: “shot by officer of law in gun duel” though it is not at all clear which member of the posse’s shot hit Farmer, and there had been no “duel.” (Also, who transported Farmer to town — his family or law enforcement? Why was he seen by Badie Clark, a white doctor, rather than, say, Joseph Cowan?)

In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress issued We Charge Genocide: An Historic Appeal to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People, a “record of mass slayings on the basis of race.” Among the litany of such state-sanctioned crimes committed from 1945 to 1951 was the killing of J.C. Farmer.

Equal Justice Initiative’s 2015 Lynching in America report mentioned J.C. Farmer’s murder in the chapter described racial terror directed at African-American veterans: “No one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. Thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service.” Farmer’s death was just one of a wave of such lynchings in 1946.

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In the 1930 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Josh Farmer, 51; wife Mattie, 46; and children William A., 21, Josh W., 17, Waneta, 14, Lonnie D., 12, Robert, 10, Albert H., 6, and J.C., 3.

In the 1940 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Jack Farmer, 59; wife Mattie, 55; and children Authur, 24, Jack Jr., 23, Robert, 20, Harry, 16, J.C., 13, and Juanita Barnes, 22, and her children Mattie Lee, 3, and Marjorie, 1.

J.C. Farmer registered for the World War II draft on 21 October 1944, was honorably discharged on 16 August 1945, and was dead 13 days’ shy of a year later.

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For the hanged and beaten. For the shot, drowned and burned. The tortured, tormented and terrorized. For those abandoned by the rule of law.

We will remember.

With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. With courage because peace requires bravery. With persistence because justice is a constant struggle. With faith because we shall overcome.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

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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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.

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.

 

 

A pistol duel.

Kinston Daily Free Press, 27 December 1918.

Sherman Bridgers, 21, married Susan Moore, 19, on 25 March 1903 in Saratoga township, Wilson County.

Jesse Price, 23, of Stantonsburg, son of William and Susan Price of Nash County, married Hattie Barnes, 22, of Stantonsburg, daughter of Nelson and Ellen Barnes, on 26 December 1906. Nathan, Sidney and Mittie Locust were witnesses to the ceremony.

In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: odd jobs ditcher Sherman Bridgers, 28; wife Susan, 26; and children Rosa L., 6, Willie, 4, Georgiana, 2, and Nathan, 2 months.

In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: odd jobs farm laborer Jesse Price, 24, and wife Hattie, 23, and lodger John Floyd, 34, a widower and farm laborer.

On 12 September 1918, Gen. Sherman Bridgers registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 19 March 1882; lived on route 4, Wilson; farmed for I.M. Washington;  and his nearest relative was Willie Bridgers.