On 4 September 1945, the “Colored News-Briefs” column of The Hopewell Times, included this brief passage:
That Graham Whirley‘s death by gunshot was not reported salaciously says a lot about the regard in which he was held both inside and out of his community in Hopewell.
Three days later, the Colored News-Briefs column carried a detailed account of Graham’s funeral, held at New Vine Baptist Church in Charles City County the previous Tuesday:
“Will My Mother Know Me There?” — we’ll come back to that.
This brief piece was published 14 September. I haven’t yet found follow-up articles that reveal details of Graham Whirley and Charles Williams’ fatal encounter or of the outcome of Williams’ trial. What I have found, however, are numerous examples of the esteem in which Hopewell’s working-class African-American community held this relatively young man.
The first mention, on 8 December 1936, was a sweet one — “Miss Susie Whirley of Richmond was in the city last week visiting her brother at his home in City Point.” Though Graham’s social life — party attendance and motor excursions — received remarks (especially when he was courting a woman called Miss Carrie B. Lightly,) his singing brought the most notice. Time after time, the colored news noted that he had “rendered” a beloved hymn at a Baptist church in or around Hopewell:
- 17 September 1937, at the funeral of Sarah Washington at Harrison Grove Baptist Church, Prince George County, “I Know She Will Know Me”;
- 24 November 1943, at the service for Leroy Claiborne at Harrison Grove, an unnamed solo;
- 4 February 1944, at the homegoing of Mrs. Ada C. Jones at Mount Hope Baptist Church, “When I Reach My Heavenly Home“;
- 30 May 1944, at the funeral of Elijah Miller at First Baptist Church, Bermuda Hundred, “There’s a Bright Side Somewhere”;
- 19 January 1945, at the service for Mrs. Maria Hutchinson at Harrison Grove, Graham’s favorite, “Will My Mother Know Me There?”;
- 30 January 1945, at the service for Mrs. Lena Stith Jones at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, “I Shall Meet My Mother There”;
- 13 April 1945, when Joe Myrick (stabbed to death by his wife) was funeralized at Union Baptist, again “There’s a Bright Side Somewhere”; and
- just two weeks later, at Robert Cottrell’s homegoing, “He’ll Know Me There.”
In the middle of this, on 22 May 1944, the column announced that “Mr. and Mrs. Graham Whirley of City Point have returned after spending their honeymoon in Baltimore, Maryland.” That, of course, was where his half-brother John Whirley and sister Matilda Whirley Brinage lived. Just sixteen months after he remarried, Graham Whirley, taxi driver and sought-after soloist, was dead. Despite his move across the James River, he had never left his home church, and he is buried at New Vine.