Wilmington Messenger, 28 July 1900.
George White’s secretary was cousin William S. Hagans.
Wilmington Messenger, 28 July 1900.
George White’s secretary was cousin William S. Hagans.
Today marks the 115th anniversary of George H. White’s Phoenix speech, delivered as the North Carolina representative bade farewell to Congress. The full text of the speech is available here, but here are his final ringing and prophetic words:
“This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised, and bleeding, but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious, loyal people — rising people, full of potential force.
“Mr. Chairman, in the trial of Lord Bacon, when the court disturbed the counsel for the defendant, Sir Walter Raleigh raised himself up to his full height and, addressing the court, said:
“Sir, I am pleading for the life of a human being.
“The only apology that I have to make for the earnestness with which I have spoken is that I am pleading for the life, the liberty, the future happiness, and manhood suffrage for one-eighth of the entire population of the United States.”
More times than I might have imagined, see here and here and here and here and here, members of my extended family have figured in litigation that made its way to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Here’s another such case:
William Hooks v. William T. Perkins, 44 NC 21 (1852).
In 1845, the Wayne County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions bound brothers Rufus Artis and Thomas Artis to William Hooks to serve as apprentices until age 21. At the time of their indentures, Rufus’ age was reported as 7 and Thomas’ as 18. In 1849, after the court determined that Thomas was, in fact, only 15 when apprenticed, a judge ordered his indenture amended to correct his true age. Hooks, apparently, never got around to it. Meanwhile, William Perkins hired Thomas. Deprived of the young man’s labor, Hooks attempted to enforce the court order, and Perkins took up Thomas’ cause. Arguing that Thomas was bound to serve him until his true age of 21 — regardless of the age listed on his indenture — Hooks sued Perkins for damages for the period from November 1848 to February 1849 during which Perkins would not turn Thomas over. The state Supreme Court held that Hooks should have amended Thomas’ indenture to reflect his actual age at the time it expired, per the court order. Having failed to do so, Hooks was not Thomas’ master when Perkins hired him and was not entitled to damages.
Notwithstanding the court’s findings, Rufus, 11, and Thomas Artis, 20, were listed in the household of farmer William Hooks, along with another apprentice, W.H. Hagins, 15, in the 1850 census of North Side of the Neuse, Wayne County. (William Perkins does not appear in the county’s census at all.) Worse, by 1860, Rufus Artis had lost ground, as the census of Nahunta, Wayne County, lists him as a 17 year-old — rather than the 21 or 22 year-old he actually was — in Hooks’ household, along with Polly Hagans, 15, and Ezekiel Hagans, 13. In other words, what Hooks could not get out of Thomas Artis, he appears to have extracted from his younger brother.
Rufus Artis eluded the census taker in 1870, but he was around. On Christmas Eve 1874, he married Harriet Farmer in Wayne County. The family appears in the 1880 census of Nahunta, Wayne County: Rufus Artis, 46, wife Harriet, 30, and daughters Hannah, 13, and Pennina, 9. The family lived very near a cluster of three other sets of extended Artis families descended from Vicey Artis, Celia Artis, and Vincent Artis, none of whom were not known to have been related. (Or, at least, not closely so.) In the 1900 census of Nahunta, Rufus and Harriet, their children grown and gone, shared their home with Harriet’s mother, 73 year-old Chanie Farmer. Daughter Pennina had married Curry Thompson, son of Edie Thompson, on 11 October 1893 in Wayne County. They had two daughters, Harriet (1895) and Appie (1896). On 10 January 1917, Harriet Thompson married John Henry Artis, born 1896 to Richard Artis and Susannah Yelverton Artis. Richard, of course, was the son of Solomon Williams and Vicey Artis, and the brother of my great-great-great-grandfather Adam T. Artis.
In 1868, Francis E. Shober was elected as a Democrat to the Forty-first United States Congress from North Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District. However, the election was contested by his Republican opponent, Nathaniel Boyden, who accused Democrats of placing ballot boxes at the polls that were not clearly marked; of intimidating and threatening Republican voters; and circulating a race-baiting forged document – purporting to come from the chairman of the National Republican Executive Committee – designed to discourage freedmen from voting for Boyden: If we can elect Grant we will not need the negro vote again, and we can assure you our next Congress will inaugurate a system of colonization that will remove the negro from your midst. … By all means, get the negroes to register and enroll, so that we may know their strength.
House and Senate reports are the designated class of publications by which congressional committees formally report and make recommendations to the Senate or House concerning, among other things, their investigative or oversight activities. These reports are publicly distributed as part of the official U.S. Serial Set record of each Congress. Documents related to Boyden v. Shober appear in the 41st Congressional Serial Set. Among several others, Ransom Miller gave testimony in the matter in Salisbury, North Carolina:
In April 1870, the House of Representatives committee investigating the matter reported that although there was probably some minor intimidation and fraud, there was not enough to change the results of the election. Shober was seated and re-elected in 1870.
Adapted in part from http://ncpedia.org/biography/shober-francis-edwin
In which my grandmother schools me on her grandmother and voting:
Harriet Nicholson Tomlin Hart (1861-1926)
Me: How did she work that? How did Harriet get to be the first black woman to vote?
Grandma: Well, because her husband [T. Alonzo Hart] was a lawyer.
Grandma: He was a, whatchacall – a real estate lawyer. And he taught her how to read and write and do everything after he married her. Or while he was marrying her. Or something. And when time came for women to vote, she was the first black – he carried her down to the polls, and she was the first black woman to vote. And then at that time, you know, they gave you a quiz.
Me: Right. Right. Right. For black people to vote. Yeah. ‘Cause did your parents – well, did your father vote?
Grandma: Oh, yeah. Papa voted. He voted. And the people in my home, Lisa, fought in the streets [Statesville, North Carolina]. It was dange – I mean, we could not go outside the house on election night. The people — “Who’d you vote for?” “I’m a Democrat.” “I’m a Republican.” Pam-a-lam-a-lam! [Swings fists, and I break into laughter.] People acted like they were crazy! Papa didn’t allow us out the house. “You better be getting on home!” ‘Cause they were terrible.
Me: And now you got to drag people out to vote. And then you hear people going: “I’m not gon vote now. What’s the point? I blah-blah-blah.”
Grandma: Yeah. When I came here [Newport News, Virginia] you had to pay poll tax.
Grandma: It wasn’t a whole lot, but it was ridiculous.
[My grandmother cast her last ballot — at age 100 — for Barack Obama in 2008.]
Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.
In 1899, North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment that created new literacy and property restrictions on voting, but exempted those whose ancestors had the right to vote before the Civil War. The intent and impact of the amendment was to prevent generally poor and often illiterate African-Americans from voting, without disfranchising poor and illiterate whites:
Public Laws of North Carolina, 1899, chapter 218.
(Sec. 4.) Every person presenting himself for registration shall be able to read and write any section of the constitution in the English language and before he shall be entitled to vote he shall have paid on or before the first day of March of the year in which he proposes to vote his poll tax as prescribed by law for the previous year. Poll taxes shall be a lien only on assessed property and no process shall issue to enforce the collection of the same except against assessed property.
(Sec. 5.) No male person who was on January one, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, or at any time prior thereto entitled to vote under the laws of any states in the United States wherein he then resided, and no lineal descendant of any such person, shall be denied the right to register and vote at any election in this state by reason of his failure to possess the educational qualification prescribed in section four of this article….
In 1902 — 112 years ago today — my great-great-grandfather John W. Aldridge, a steadfast if low-key supporter of local Republican politics, took pen in hand for a tight-jawed letter to the editor of a newspaper in the state capital:
Raleigh Morning Post, 15 October 1902.
The following “colored” men were among those who registered to vote in Wayne County in 1902. In accordance with Section 5, each was required to name the ancestor who “grandfathered” him in. Despite his very public protest, and his brothers’ successful registrations, John W. Aldridge’s name does not appear:
Joseph Aldridge, 36, Brogden, Robert Aldridge.
M.W. Aldridge, 45, Goldsboro, Robert Aldridge.
Robert Aldridge, 33, Brogden, Robert Aldridge.
Marshall Carter, 42, Brogden, Mike Carter. [Marshall Carter’s son Milford married John W. Aldridge’s daughter, Beulah.]
Williby Carter, 22, Brogden, Mike Carter. [Williby was Beulah Aldridge Carter‘s brother-in-law.]
H.E. Hagans, 34, Goldsboro, Napoleon Hagans. [Napoleon and Henry Hagans were the half-brother and nephew, respectively, of Frances Seaberry Artis, wife of Adam T. Artis.]
W.S. Hagans, 31, Nahunta, Dr. Ward. [William was another son of Napoleon. “Dr. Ward” was his white grandfather.]
John H. Jacob, 52, Brogden, Jesse Jacob. [Jesse and John Jacobs were the father and brother of Jesse A. Jacobs Jr., who married Sarah Henderson.]
Wiley Mozingo, 76, Goldsboro, Christopher Mozingo. [Wiley Mozingo’s daughter Patience Mozingo married Noah Artis, son of Adam T. Artis. His granddaughter Ora B. Mozingo married John W. Aldridge’s son, John J. Aldridge.]
The myth goes something like this: John Frank Baker was the first black man elected to Congress from Wayne County. He never made it to Washington, assassinated as he attempted to board a train north for his swearing-in.
Something about this didn’t sit right with me.
Wayne County was part of the so-called Black Second, the Congressional district that encompassed most of northeast North Carolina’s majority-black counties during Reconstruction and into the early 20th century. The history of African-American political activity in the district is extensive and well-documented, and I couldn’t recall having read of Baker. A Google search quickly refreshed my recollection. North Carolina voters sent four black Congressmen to Washington in the nineteenth century: John Adams Hyman of Warren County (1875-1877), James Edward O’Hara of Enfield (1883-1887), Henry Plummer Cheatham of Littleton (1889-1893), and George Henry White of Tarboro (1897-1901). No Baker.
As his headstone reveals, J. Frank Baker died 20 March 1897, the same month that George H. White was sworn into the 55th Congress, having defeated white Democratic incumbent Frederick A. Woodard of Wilson. [Sidenote: My junior high school was named for Woodard.] Clearly, Frank Baker was never elected to Congress. Why, then, was he killed?
To call newspapers of the era racist is to say “the sky is blue.” Articles about African-Americans were condescending and mocking at best, derogatory and vicious most times. Objectivity was not a hallmark of journalism in the late 19th century in general, but if their names appeared in the local paper, African-Americans could generally expect the worst. Notwithstanding this general bleak picture, when consumed with a grain of salt, early newspapers can be an invaluable source of otherwise unrecorded information about black Americans.
Frank Baker’s murder was covered in detail in the Goldsboro Headlight and the Weekly Argus, the rival newspapers operating in Wayne County at the time. Even before his death, however, his fiery advocacy seized the attention of the white community. This story was picked up by papers across the country:
Goldsboro Headlight, 5 November 1896.
I don’t know what Baker was speaking about or why his words touched off such a response — if, in fact, “150 negroes” actually took the streets like this. It is clear, though, that he was a powerful and polarizing figure in Wayne County. And four months later he was dead. A Raleigh newspaper broke the story:
Raleigh Daily Tribune, 24 March 1897.
The tone set, the Goldsboro papers picked up the report:
Assuming that the basic description of the murder is correct, we learn that Baker was not boarding a train when he was killed. Rather, he was minding customers at his grocery store, located near the railroad warehouse in Dudley. (The Headlight reported that the store belonged to Ira W. Hatch.) He was shot at fairly close range, but a room full of people saw nothing. Nonetheless, a wholly unbelievable statement attributed to his brother, W.B. Baker, placed the responsibility for Frank’s death on his own head. The reporter then emphasizes the “deadly hatred” that Baker engendered among his neighbors by insisting on legislation incorporating the town of Dudley. [Sidenote: don’t you have to love Bishop Henry McNeal Turner?]
Goldsboro Weekly Argus, 29 April 1897.
A month later, the wheels of justice were spinning uselessly, as newspapers indignantly proclaimed the innocence of two white men implicated — but not actually charged — in the crime. A week after W.B. Bowden’s good name was cleared, J. Will Grady was released when the “facts of his innocence were established.” On 27 May 1897, the Headlight tersely noted that the governor of North Carolina had offered a reward for the capture of Frank Baker’s killers. That’s the last I’ve found on the subject.
John Frank Baker was born about 1845. I don’t know much about his early life, but in 1879 he married Mary Ann Aldridge, daughter of J. Matthew and Catherine Boseman Aldridge, and likely first cousin to my great-great-grandfather John W. Aldridge. Frank Baker was not a Congressman. Nonetheless, he made his mark in Wayne County as an African-American politician capable of stirring the masses and willing to take on unpopular causes in an era in which even voicing opinions was a daring undertaking. He is not forgotten.
Photo from Baker article posted at http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/116365/.
I don’t know if I’m an Armwood or not, but (1) my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Henderson’s second wife, Louisa, was Henry Armwood’s cousin, (2) I’ve got a DNA match with one of Henry Armwood’s descendants, and (3) Inez Armwood Watson always said we were kin. Either way, I claim him just on the strength of the moxie he displayed when he, a tenant farmer, fought back against the landowner who sought to cheat him of his cotton.
Herring v. Armwood, 130 NC 177 (1902).
B.W. Herring filed this suit in Duplin County, North Carolina, to recover from William Henry Armwood two bales of cotton worth $81 that he alleged belonged to him. Armwood responded that the cotton was worth much more than $81 and that it was not Herring’s. Further, countered Armwood, he rented the farm on which the cotton was raised under this contract: “I, B.W. Herring, do hereby agree to rent my farm to Henry Armwood for the year of 1899 for five bales of cotton of the first picking, weighing five hundred pounds, or the equivalent in money. I do also agree to dig marl to the amount of two thousand bushels, more or less, and Henry Armwood agrees to haul the same and scatter on the land.” Armwood was to use the marl in lieu of commercial fertilizers to improve the land and increase crop yield. However, Herring refused to dig the marl, and Armwood’s crops suffered.
At trial, Herring testified that Armwood paid only three of five bales of cotton he owed in rent. Armwood took two more bales raised on the rented land to Ruffin Cameron’s to be ginned and those bales were seized. Herring’s testimony is somewhat confusingly recounted in the opinion, but he seems to assert that he did not agree to dig any marl for the 1899 crop, but that he used it as an experiment in 1898 on about 16 of the 40 acres he rented to Armwood. Armwood countered: “It was agreed that the two thousand bushels of marl shoul dbe hauled on the crop for 1899. I lived on the plaintiff’s land in 1898, and hauled marl for 15 or 16 acres. The crops were increased by the use of the marl 50 to 75 per cent. I hauled the marl from Mr. Dan Lee Flowers. He had the bed, and furnished Mr. Faison Hicks, Mr. Ab Herring, Andrew Barfield, and others in the neighborhood. My crop was decreased by the failure to use the marl at least 50 per cent.” Herring objected to this testimony on the grounds that it was too remote, and the trial judge sustained the objection. Though Dan Lee Flowers testified in support of Armwood, the judge rendered a verdict and judgment for Herring. Armwood appealed.
The North Carolina Supreme Court neatly framed the issue: “The sole question involved in this appeal, when stripped of its technical paraphernalia, is whether an action for damages will lie for a breach of contract in failing to furnish fertilizers, whereby the yield of the crop was decreased, because such damage or failure in the yield will be too remote.” And decided: “… the conclusion is irresistible that a lessening in the yield would be the natural result of a failure to use the marl, if marl be beneficial to the growth and development of the crops, and that the lessened yield would be incidental to such breach, and therefore plaintiff would be liable.” Further, everybody knows that fertilizers increase yield and marl can greatly increase production. “… [i]f damages be recoverable for a breach of contract which decreased the yield, they can also be recovered for a breach of contract whereby the yield was not increased.” Armwood had a right to present his proof to the jury. Error in the lower court, and a new trial awarded.