Wilson Daily Times, 21 June 1922.
Wilson Daily Times, 21 June 1922.
On 2 August 1900, in the wake of the Wilmington Massacre, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that effectively disenfranchised its African-American voting population. This disenfranchisement was the point, not a by-product. For more than a year prior to the vote, politicians and press across the state made that point clear in speeches and editorials, including this one that the Wilson Daily Times ran 123 years ago today.
First, the text of the Suffrage Amendment:
Then, a breezy — and nakedly racist — explanation of the amendment’s purpose and impact. The literal bottom line: “The white people are determined to make white supremacy permanent in North Carolina.”
Wilson Daily Times, 10 April 1899.
Local heroes Josephus Daniels and Charles B. Aycock were central figures in North Carolina’s white supremacist campaign and the physical and political violence it engendered. The Suffrage Amendment, whose passage was as much their legacy as anyone’s, long outlived both of them, standing until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Mirror published this favorable account of a Klan rally in Elm City in 1924:
Wilson Mirror, 6 December 1924.
Wilson Daily Times, 24 January 1925.
I’m not sure what to make of this. Who was Socrates A.E. O’Neil of Wilson? What was the Ethiopia International School? And what was the “wrong sort of propaganda”?
A search for information about O’Neil primarily yielded newspaper articles, all remarkably consistent in tone over the span of more than twenty years. The first reference I found was in a 1918 Baltimore Sun ad Rev. Socrates O’Neil of God Charitable International Ethiopian Organization, Inc., Baltimore, Maryland, placed touting his 37-cent pamphlet, “Negro Problem Solved.”
Baltimore Sun, 5 November 1918.
In 1922, the Shreveport Journal published a partial transcript of one of O’Neil’s speeches, presumably delivered to a white audience. It’s eye-popping. (The piece also resolves one question: O’Neil’s Ethiopian School was 60 miles north of Wilson in Weldon. Whew.) Asserting that he aspired to fill the late Booker T. Washington’s shoes, O’Neil declared that “southern white people are better to negroes than northern white people,” Black people “need to be educated with [his] common sense ideas or driven on old boss’s farm to learn common sense,” he was “representative of white supremacy and teach it in my school with Biblical authority,” and “[t]he lynching question will be abolished, if science is accurate, when the negroes, men and women, morally live in their own places.”
Shreveport Journal, 8 December 1922.
Shreveport Journal, 4 January 1923.
A 1925 New York Age piece took O’Neil apart.
New York Age, 8 August 1925.
Finding North Carolina Negroes insufficiently grateful, Bishop O’Neil headed south, but ran into trouble. He was arrested for theft in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1931.
Baltimore Afro American, 29 August 1931.
In November 1932, O’Neil was convicted of larceny in Savannah, Georgia, and sentenced to two months on the chain gang.
He bounced back. A year later, O’Neil delivered a speech in Biloxi, Mississippi, in which he described the Ku Klux Klan as “a help to the negroes.”
Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), 13 November 1935.
In 1939, O’Neil — whose real name may have been Abelard E. O’Neil — was sent to prison in Indiana on an intoxication charge. This is the last I found of him.
Palladium-Item (Richmond, Ind.), 18 April 1939.
From The News and Observer, today’s headline: “Daniels family removes statue of racist ancestor in Raleigh“:
“Frank Daniels Jr. of Raleigh, retired president and publisher of The News & Observer, said in a statement Tuesday that his grandfather’s bigoted beliefs overshadowed his other accomplishments, including, Daniels said, ‘creating one of the nation’s leading newspapers.’”
“’Josephus Daniels’s legacy of service to North Carolina and our country does not transcend his reprehensible stand on race and his active support of racist activities,’ Daniels said. ‘In the 75 years since his death, The N&O and our family have been a progressive voice for equality for all North Carolinians, and we recognize this statue undermines those efforts.’”
… to the unvarnished:
… to the grotesque:
Wilson Advance, 31 October 1884.
The Wilson County Historical Association erected a marker for Josephus Daniels near the county courthouse. It makes no mention of his most efficacious role — spearhead of the disenfranchisement and general subjugation of North Carolina’s African-American citizenry. Despite repeated calls for its removal, notably led by the indefatigable Castonoble Hooks, the marker stands.
I amplify Mr. Hooks’ voice here: TAKE IT DOWN.
Update, 18 June 2020: Today, the city of Wilson quietly removed the historical marker honoring Josephus Daniels today and returned it to the Wilson County Historical Association.
“Wilson removed Josephus Daniels marker: Family cited his ‘indefensible positions on race,” Wilson Daily Times, 18 June 2020.
In the 1890s, the Wilson Times resorted unabashedly to racist tropes and appeals to white supremacy to exhort white men to vote the Democratic ticket.
Wilson Times, 18 September 1896.
Wilson Daily Times, 16 October 1896.
Wilson Times, 16 October 1896.
Wilson Advance, 3 November 1898.
In 1924, “White Barbers of Wilson” placed an ad in the Daily Times complaining of white customers — women, even — patronizing African-American barber shops. Hair-cutting had long been dominated by black men, and white barbers keenly felt the loss of caste that their trade entailed. After chastising “the public” for going to “dark skin shops,” they shook a challenging finger: “Ladies and gentlemen, we believe when you see the thing the way we do you will be a full blooded Southerner, and join the ranks of a true born American citizen.”
Wilson Daily Times, 5 September 1924.
“Crossing the railroad tracks, the Klansmen went down Green into the colored section of the city. Quite a few colored people were crowded on the sidewalks. For the most part, they remained silent and regarded the parade with passive interest. The booted men went as far as Pender Street, then turned up to Nash, and came down Nash through the central part of the business district.”
Wilson Mirror, 14 November 1924.
The Klan’s second-to-last march in Wilson, in June 1988, ended in a hail of rocks and ignominy. Jeered and vilified as they stomped toward the courthouse, their intended display of force and intimidation ended in a pell-mell scurry away from a decidedly nonpassive crowd of angry African-Americans throwing hands. The Christian Knights returned September 4 to finish their march, but their show of defiance was undercut by the phalanx of law enforcement officers mustered to usher them along the parade route. Drawn both by curiosity and the police chief’s earnest, but borderline unconstitutional, warnings about searching spectators, I witnessed a cautious procession of perhaps two dozen chanting Klansmen, sweating in rainbow-bright satin robes. Under the watchful eye of a rooftop sniper, they shouted half-heartedly from the courthouse steps before beating a retreat back down Tarboro Street.
Here’s the Daily Times‘ brief coverage:
And here are photos I took that day:
Wilson Mirror, 7 November 1924.
“Prisoners escaping from Wilson Jail. The Re-pop-li-can sheriff and deputy of Wilson eat peanuts while the prisoners escape.”
News & Observer (Raleigh), 21 October 1898.
In the months leading up to the cataclysmic election of 1898, the News & Observer almost daily published political cartoons drawn by Wayne County native Norman Jennett. Former Wilson resident Josephus Daniels had purchased the paper in 1894 and immediately converted it into the organ of the white supremacist Democratic party. In collaboration with Daniels, whom history records as “progressive,” Jennett created a series of panels ridiculing Republican and Populist political figures and featuring stereotypical caricatures of their African-American allies. Riding in the wake of terrorist Red Shirts, the Democrats swept elections, sparking a wave of fury that would ignite the Wilmington Riots and effectively disenfranchise most African-Americans for decades to come.
W.J. “Jack” Cherry, a Populist, was the incumbent sheriff of Wilson County; W.D.P. Sharpe was running against him on the Democratic ticket. (I have not been able to identify the deputy.) Days before the election, the Wilson Advance ran this doggerel:
Wilson Advance, 2 November 1898.
And the jail break?
Wilson Advance, 11 August 1898.