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.”
“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.
“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: