Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics

Pre-election street fracas?

A “pre-election fracas”? What happened? And why did eight of black Goldsboro’s leading lights — including my great-great-great-uncle Matthew W. Aldridge and cousin William S. Hagans — feel compelled to take to the newspaper, hat in hand?

Goldsboro_Daily_Argus_11_18_1896_letter_re_fracas_Hagans_Aldridge

Goldsboro Daily Argus, 18 November 1896.

I didn’t find anything in the Goldsboro papers to which I have access, but two weeks before this letter was published, newspapers across the country ran a sensational story about Negroes “taking control” of Goldsboro after a “clash with whites.” The alleged cause? “An incendiary speech” made by none other than John Frank Baker, “a colored Republican of Dudley,” and husband of Mary Ann Aldridge Baker.

Independence_KS_Daily_Reporter_11_4_1896_Frank_Baker_clash

Independence Daily Reporter (Kansas), 4 November 1896.

Four months later, Frank Baker was assassinated, shot dead as he went about his work in a Dudley grocery.

Were Matthew Aldridge and William Hagans and their peers moved to pour oil on the waters because they feared the fallout from Baker’s outspokenness? (I have yet to find anything that touches on what he actually said.) Their letter is frustratingly vague about the events that gave rise to a “race riot” in Goldsboro, speaking only of the aftermath of a recent election. The message is difficult to digest, greased as it is with deferential supplications to the “better class of our white citizens” and anxious apologies for the “slight ripple upon the formally [sic] smooth surface” of race relations in Wayne County. Reading from a 21st century vantage point, it is easy to dismiss this letter as Uncle Tommery. There is an undoubted and substantial element of self-preservation and middle-class conservatism at work here, but their fear was surely real and well-placed.

——

  • Clarence Dillard (1862-1933), Howard University Theology ’83, came to Goldsboro as a Presbyterian minister and was principal of the colored graded school during this period. He was active in Republican politics and was co-editor of a short-lived African-American newspaper in Goldsboro, The Voice. Goldsboro’s first African-American high school was named for him.
  • A. Sasser was likely Arnold Sasser (1866-1939), who was listed as an undertaker in the 1900 census of Goldsboro.
  • A.M. Smith, I can’t identify.
  • William S. Hagans (1869-1947), son of a prominent farmer, moved between Goldsboro and Washington, where he would soon serve as secretary to African-American United States Congressman George H. White.
  • B.G. Hogans was likely Benjamin H. Hogans (1865-1926), a teacher, a trustee of Saint James AME Zion Church and, later, a mail carrier. He was born in Orange County, North Carolina, and came to Goldsboro as a child. [Hogans’ niece Annie Irene Hogans married Daniel Simmons, first cousin of my great-grandmother Bessie Henderson.]
  • Matthew W. Aldridge (1857-1920) was a grocer and erstwhile teacher who was active in city politics as alderman and poll-holder in the heyday of the Black Second era.
  • William E. Highsmith (1851-1930) was a farmer.
  • Henry Williams, like Hogans, was a pallbearer at the funeral of William Hagans’ father Napoleon Hagans, conducted in part by Clarence Dillard just ten weeks before this letter was published. Beyond that, I have not been able to identify Williams.

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Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Other Documents, Politics, Rights

So that we may know their strength.

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:

Ransom Miller testimony

In April 1870, the House of Representatives investing the matter eported 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

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Agriculture, Births Deaths Marriages, Business, Education, Land, Migration, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Politics

William Scarlett Hagans.

William Scarlett Hagans, born about 1869, was the second of Napoleon and Appie Ward Hagans‘ sons. He is first found as “Snowbee” in the 1870 census of Nahunta, Wayne County, North Carolina, in a household headed by “Poland Hagans” with wife Apcilla.  (Next door was Jonah Williams, brother of Adam Artis.  Artis married Napoleon’s half-sister Frances Seaberry; they were my great-great-great-grandparents.) Two years later the censustaker reported Napoleon’s stepfather, Aaron Seaberry, with the family.

William and older brother Henry E. Hagans attended primary  school in Goldsboro. William then departed for Howard University in Washington, DC, where he completed the preparatory division in 1889, the college department in 1893 (when he was one of six graduates), and the Law Department in 1898 (from whence he received a Bachelor of Arts degree.)

In a glimpse at young William’s social life, here’s a brief from the 20 October 1888 edition of the Washington Bee: “A company of young ladies and gentlemen, composed of Misses Mamie Jones, Ella Perry, Mary Dabney, Emma Ingrim, Louise Chapman, Mamie Dorster and Messrs. St. Clairlind, E. Williston, W.S. Hagans, Benjamin Henderson, J.W. Whiteman, James Usher, H.L. Hyman, L.A. Leftwich, spent an evening of pleasure at Miss E. Alley Thornton’s residence with her uncle, Rev. W.H. Howard, No. 77 Defrees street northwest.”

On 27 September 1894, the Goldsboro Daily Argus printed an article about the confused state of affairs among Wayne County’s Republicans, noting that “old-line leaders” like Napoleon Hagans, Rev. C. Dillard and E.E. Smith opposed “fusion” with Populists. The piece also noted that Will S. Hagans had been nominated to “legislature.”

The 1895-96 Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction included a report from A.L. Sumner, principal of the State Normal School at Goldsboro, who noted that the school enrolled 172 students from 13 counties. “The Dorr Lyceum [a mandatory Friday evening lecture] was placed under the supervision of Prof. W.S. Hagans. In this association the students were taught to appreciate, write and speak the masterpieces of our literature, to write essays and debate, and were made acquainted with the meanderings of parliamentary usage.” The school’s catalogue for that year listed as faculty Sumner, Miss L.S. Dorr, and W.S. Hagans, who taught Classical Latin, Natural Philosophy, Theory and Practice of Teaching, Arithmetic, North Carolina History, etc. [Sumner was also editor of the Headlight, a Baptist-affiliated newspaper that published wherever Sumner moved for work.]

Per the 21 May 1896 issue of the Mecklenburg Times, at the state Republican convention, W.S. Hagans was elected alternate delegate to the national convention.

On 20 March 1897, the Raleigh Gazette, in an article about a reception in Goldsboro for African-American state senator W. Lee Person of Hickory, noted that Professor W.S. Hagans “spoke in high terms of commendation and praise of the Senator and his colleagues, and assured them that the colored people of Goldsboro were wedded to them, and would ever honor them for the record made for their race in the General Assembly of the State.”

On 5 June 1897, the Raleigh Gazette commented: “We certainly regret to hear that our friend, Prof. W.S. Hagans of Goldsboro, was not endorsed for the postmastership there. He certainly is worthy of the place. We hope to see him appointed to some good salaried place in Washington yet.”

On 27 June 1898, William S. Hagans, 27, married Lizzie E. Burnett, 23, in Nahunta, probably at the Hagans house. Presbyterian minister Clarence Dillard officiated and neighbor J.D. Reid, brother H.E. Hagans, and sister-in-law J.B. Hagans officiated. Burnett was a member of the large and locally prominent Burnett family, but her parentage is not clear.

BURNETT -- Lizzie Burnett Hagans

Lizzie E. Burnett Hagans

Lizzie Burnett Hagans gave birth to a daughter Daisy in about 1898. She died in infancy.

The 19 January 1899 edition of the Washington Evening Star ran a breathless review of the season’s judicial reception at the Taft White House. The lengthy recitation of invited guests included Mr. W.S. Hagans.

On 21 March 1899, Henry Hagans and William S. Hagans received proceeds from the partition of about 476 acres in Nahunta township, Wayne County, belonging to the estate of the late Napoleon Hagans.

William and Lizzie Hagans welcomed a daughter, Susan A., in September 1899. The child was named for Lizzie’s mother. (And the A perhaps was for “Apsilla,” William’s mother.)

On 11 October 1899, William purchased from Minnie and Effie Morgan a lot on Oak Street in Goldsboro adjoining that of Lizzie E. Hagans.

On 28 October 1899, the Colored American noted that William S. Hagans “has returned from Goldsboro, where he attended the funeral of a relative. Mrs. Hagans accompanied her husband here, and apartments have been taken at No. 1524 O street northwest.” (Whose funeral?!?!)

On 9 December 1899, in a short article titled “Mr. White as Host,” The Colored American informed all that “Thanksgiving tide was made more joyous by the genial and whole-souled hospitality dispensed on Thursday evening of last week by Congressman George H. White at his handsome home, 1418 18th street northwest. … Those who sat at the festal board were Register [of U.S. Treasury] J.W. Lyons, Recorder H.P. Cheatham, Ex-Senator John P. Green, Major Charles R. Douglass, Messrs. John H. Hannon, Henry Y. Arnett [clerk to Cheatham], S.E. Lacy, W.S. Hagans, Lewis H. Douglass and R.W. Thompson.”

A month later, on 13 January 1900, the Colored American announced that “Mr. W.S. Hagans has returned from a holiday visit to his home at Goldsboro NC.  The great prominence of Congressman White and the voluminous mail occasioned by it, is keeping Mr. Secretary quite busy these days.”

On 24 February 1900, the Washington Bee ran “A Pen and Pencil Club: Washington’s Literati Form an Organization for Mutual Improvement and Promotion of Good Fellowship” a “brilliant coterie of journalists and writers” met at the Southern Hotel and organized the nucleus of  the Pen and Pencil Club. Editor T. Thomas Fortune was placed on the honorary roll, reserved for “prominent out-of-town scholars and penman.” Active members L.H. Douglass [Lewis Henry Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass and Civil War Union officer], J.W. Cromwell [John Welsey Cromwell, educator, lawyer, journalist], C.R. Douglass [Charles Remond Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass], C.A. Fleetwood [Christian A. Fleetwood, major, U.S. Colored Troops], E.L. Thornton, T.J. Calloway [Thomas J. Calloway, journalist], E.E. Cooper [Edward E. Cooper, editor, Colored American], W. Calvin Chase [William Calvin Chase, lawyer, editor of the Washington Bee], A.L. Manly, Paul H. Bray, S.E. Lacy, F.G. Manly, J.N. Goins [journalist], J.G. Clayton, J.H. Wills, W.L. Pollard, John T. Haskins, W.M. Wilson, W.O. Lee, A.O. Stafford [Alphonso O. Stafford, folklorist, teacher], W. Bruce Evans [physician and educator], W.L. Houston [William L. Houston, attorney], Lucien H. White [music critic, editor], H.P. Slaughter, Kelly Miller [mathematician, “The Bard of the Potomac”], C.W. Williams, J.H. Paynter [John H. Paynter, journalist/author], W.C. Payne [vice-presidential candidate, National Liberty Party, 1904], W.S. Hagans, R.H. Terrell [Robert Herberton Terrell, lawyer, teacher and later judge] and others.

In the 1900 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County, the censustaker recorded William B. Hagins (November 1872), wife Lizzie E. (April 1874), and daughter Susan (August 1898).  William is listed as white; his wife and daughter as black.

On 3 May 1900,  in an article titled “Hagan’s Win Out,” the Goldsboro Weekly Argus noted that Will S. Hagans had been elected to the Republican district executive committee and his brother Henry E. Hagans as a delegate to the national convention.

In 1902, W.S. Hagans, age 34, registered to vote in Wayne County under the state’s grandfather clause. He named “Dr. Ward” as his qualifying ancestor. David G.W. Ward, a physician in Wilson County, was William’s maternal grandfather. William could have named his father Napoleon (as did his brother Henry), and I am certain the choice was deliberate.

On 7 October 1902, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that “leading negroes have issued a call for a negro convention to be held on October 16 in Raleigh to put out a ticket against the Republicans. The call expresses indignation at the treatment negroes are receiving at the hands of Republicans and heaps abuse on Senator [Jeter C.] Pritchard, who, they declare, must be defeated at all hazards. The following negroes sign the call: Jas. E. O’Hara, Scotland Harris, H.P. Cheatham, W. Lee Pearson, R.W.H. Leak, W.S. Hagans, S.G. Newsom, W.F. Young.”

Daughter Eva Mae Hagans was born 1 January 1903 in Goldsboro.

On 31 January 1903, the Colored American shone a spotlight on Goldsboro, “a progressive little town of 8000 inhabitants. It is historic,” it claimed, “for the peaceful relations existing between the races. The chief occupation of its people is trucking. Yet we have negroes who are rapidly forging their way to the front along all industrial lines. Our people own thousands of acres of forming land, as well as excellent city property…. Prof. H.E. Hagans, the principal of our State Normal School and also a farmer, is worth $20,000. Mr. W.S. Hagans, who is one of the most successful agriculturalists, is worth $20,000. …”

On 9 May 1903, The Colored American reported “Mr. W.S. Hagans, who has made a host of friends among Washingtonians by his genial bearing and sterling qualities, will indulge in an extensive hunting expedition in and about his North Carolina home during the Xmas holidays.  He will have as his guests Congressman White and Recorder Cheatham.”

Wm S Hagans in Goldsboro with dogs

William S. Hagans, perhaps with hunting dogs, Goldsboro.

On 13 January 1904, William S. Hagans purchased 38 acres in Wayne County from J.D. Reed [sic] and wife. Reid grew up with William near Fremont and was principal of the Colored Graded School in the nearby town of Wilson.

On 20 January 1904, W.S. Hagans and wife Lizzie deeded 25 acres to J.W. Johnson. This land had been purchased by Napoleon Hagans in 1883 from J.W. Aycock and wife Emma, B.F. Aycock and wife Sallie, and O.L. Yelverton and wife Susan G. for $270. The property was located on the “public road leading from Sauls Crossroads to Bull Head.”

On 9 June 1904, West Virginia’s Charleston Advocate ran an editorial by R.H. Thompson titled “In the National Field/ The Lily-White Situation in The South as Viewed through Northern Glasses.” In it, he decried the state of the Republican Party.  “… The action of the North Carolina republican convention was a crime. The summary turning-down administered to such war-horses as John C. Dancy, Henry P. Cheatham, James E. Shepard, Samuel H. Vick, J.E. Taylor, Isaac Smith, W.S. Hagans and others has been an outrage that requires an emphatic prefix to fittingly characterize it. Not a solitary colored man of all of North Carolina’s able gallery of political lights was chosen as a delegate to the national convention. Time was when the race’s political sun set in the piney woods and moonshining camps in the Blue Ridge mountains, but the ill-fated ascendancy of Jeter C. Pritchard and his coterie of lily-whites has gradually dimmed the luster of the Tar Heel Negro constellation, now there are few so poor to do it reverence. George H. White was wise in moving his lares and penates to the hospitable shores of New Jersey, and it is a mercy that the tired frame of John Hannon went over to its lasting place ere his failing eyes witnessed the downfall of the house of cards he and his faithful allies had created as so ruinous a cost. …”

Daughter Flora Irene Hagans was born in 1904, and Rosalie Lorene Hagans in 1907.

On 16 May 1907, William S. Hagans contributed a lengthy column to the Washington Post entitled (and subtitled): “At Issue with Adams/ Goldsboro Man Reviews Politics in North Carolina/ Hopeless for Republicans/ ‘Lily White’ Faction Arraigned for Treatment of Colored Vote – Conventions Held on Trains to Trick the Negroes – Ingratitude Alleged – 20,000 Colored Votes Will Not Submit.” Which pretty much sums up the article, which is aimed at rebutting comments made in an interview with Judge Spencer B. Adams of North Carolina. “Where you find the negro voting at all, he is doing as he has always done — voting the Republican ticket or the ticket that goes by that name. He is just as much a Republican in this State to-day as every, but that he is not so enthusiastic cannot be denied. This can be easily explained. It has been the custom in this State ever since the enfranchisement of the negro for him to follow the lead of a few white men calling themselves Republicans. He expected and got this leadership before the adoption of the Constitutional amendment in 1900, which disfranchised a large majority of colored citizens. Those who happened to be spared from the operations of this new law still looked for this same leadership but found it not — a clear case of being left in outer darkness.”

At the heart of Wayne County Superior Court proceedings stemming from the suit in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis (1908) was a dispute over 30 acres of land.  Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from W.J. Exum.  In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold it to Napoleon “Pole” Hagans.  In 1896, after Napoleon’s death, the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans.  In 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother.  In 1908, William S. Hagans sold the 30 acres to J.F. Coley.  Coley filed suit when Tom Artis laid claim to it, arguing that Napoleon had sold it to him.  Tom claimed the 800 lbs. of cotton he tendered to Napoleon (and later, son William S. Hagans) was interest on a mortgage, but William Hagans and other witnesses maintained the payment was rent.  William Hagans testified that his father was in feeble health in 1896 when he called his sons together “under the cart shelter” to tell them he would not live long and did not know to whom the land would fall.  William testified that Pole asked them to let “Pig” stay on as long as he paid rent, and they promised to do so.  The court found for Coley and against Artis.

On 4 February 1909, the Goldsboro Weekly Argus announced that Will S. Hagans, “one of our best-known and most reputable colored citizens and who owns one of the best farms in the county, has been invited by the inaugural authorities at Washington to officiate as a marshal at the inauguration of President-elect Taft.” The article noted that the selection was particularly significant as Hagans had been “squelched” the local Republican chairman who selected “lily-white” delegates to the convention.

On 17 April 1909, the Indianapolis Freeman printed a nice, but erroneous, article lauding well-educated negro farmers and citing as prime example William S. Hagans, a Harvard graduate. William, of course, was no such thing. He was a proud graduate of Howard University. [Might his half-brother, Indianapolis physician Joseph H. Ward, have commented upon this mistake?]

On 19 May 1909, the Charleston (West Virginia) Evening Chronicle announced that Prof. William S. Hagans of Goldsboro would address the exercises of the Agricultural Literary Society during the tenth annual commencement at North Carolina Agricultural & Mechanical College for colored youth in Greensboro May 23-27.

On 3 June 1909, the New York Age reported that W.S. Hagans of Goldsboro had delivered the principal address at the exercises of the Agricultural Literary Society. Hagans was “one of the most successful and prosperous farmers” in North Carolina.

In the 1910 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County: W.S. Higgins [sic], 38, wife Mrs. W.S., 36, and children Sussie A., 11, Eva, 9, Flora, 6, and Loraine, 3.  All are listed as white.

Son William Napoleon Hagans was born 16 May 1910.

On 14 December 1911, the Greensboro Daily News covered a meeting of 750 members of the Grand Lodge of F. & A. A.M. “Prominent negroes” attending included Archdeacon H.B. Delaney, Prof. W.S. Hagans, C.C. Spaulding and ex-Congressman H.P. Cheatham.

On 7 August 1912, Will S. Hagans was listed on page 9 of the “List of Coloed [sic] Pole Tax paid by May the first for Nahunta Township,” which is now found in Wayne County Voting Records at the North Carolina State Archives.

Sometime during 1913, William Hagans moved his family from Goldsboro to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They settled in a rowhouse at 650 North 35th Street, and William entered the real estate business. Lizzie was probably already pregnant with their seventh child, but neither she nor the boy would live to know their new city. On January 11, 1914, Lizzie gave birth to a stillborn son, whom she and William named Henry Edward, after William’s brother. Eleven days later, Lizzie died of double pneumonia and nephritis, conditions brought on or exacerbated by her having carried a dead fetus for five weeks. She and little Henry were buried in the same grave in Eden Cemetery, just outside Philadelphia.

On 25 November 1914, the Weekly Argus ran a lengthy letter to the editor from “one of Wayne County’s best known colored citizens and properous land owners, as was his father before him” — none other than Will S. Hagans. After a self-effacing reference to “looking after his little affairs,” William gave a number of flattering nods to prominent citizens and to “the magnificent new court house.” He proclaimed his fondness for Goldsboro and asserted that only a desire to give his children the “very best school advantages” had compelled his move North. (One suspects, however, that much more in the state’s tense political climate was at play.)

Gboro_Weekly_Argus_11_25_1914 WS Hagans Good Citizen

On 26 January 1916, William Hagans sold his first cousin William M. Artis and wife Hannah two tracts on Turner Swamp in Nahunta township totaling 68 acres.

In the 1920 census of Philadephia, Pennsylvania, at 643 North 34th [sic, should read 33rd] Street, 49 year-old widowed real estate broker William S. Hagans and his children Eva M., 17, Flora I., 15, Rosalie L., 12, and William N., 9, all described as mulatto and born in NC.  Hagans owned this home, a three-story rowhouse in the Mantua neighborhood that is still standing.

William Hagans' children after 1913

William’s children Rosalie, Eva, Susan, Flora and William, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, circa 1916.

The 10 November 1921 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Court of Common Pleas awarded $750 to Lillian Wolfersberger, who sued William S. Hagans for injuries received at 36th and Powelton. Wolfersberger, who was blind, was being led across the street when she was struck by Hagans’ vehicle.

In its 29 December 1925 issue, the Pittsburgh Courier announced that William S. Hagans was elected president of the Citizens’ Republican Club with no opposition. “Mr. Hagans is popular and competent and a banner year is anticipated by the Citizens.” He was reelected to the office several times.

On 16 March 1929, according to the Pittsburgh Courier, the Citizens’ Republican Club president William S. Hagans appointed a committee to discuss ways to form a “Big Brother movement” in Philadelphia. “The need for such an organization is apparent because the white society have no provision for handling Negro cases.”

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, at 643 N. 33rd Street, widowed real estate broker William S. Hagans, 59, and children Flora I., 26, public school teacher; Lorena,23, real estate stenographer; and William N., 19, all described as white.  All born in NC, but children’s mother’s birthplace listed as NY.  The house was valued at $8000.  The Haganses were the only “white” family on the block.  All others were Negro.

On 18 January 1930, the Pittsburgh Courier ran an article lauding the Citizens’ Republican Club’s hosting a “fanfest and fed” for “varsity football players of color” from Philadelphia high schools. Dr. Charles Lewis, “father of the Howard-Lincoln classic … for the first time

In 1930, Alfred Gordon, M.D. published an essay titled “Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School” in a slender volume called Philadelphia: World’s Medical Centre. After setting forth the history of the hospital, Gordon named W.S. Hagans as a member of its Board of Managers.

The Scranton Republican on 15 October 1931 reported that Governor Pinchot had announced the termination of 43 employees in an reorganization of the department of labor and industry. Among them: William S. Hagans, special investigator, Philadelphia, whose salary was $1000.

On 18 January 1932, the Delaware County Daily Times reported that a special committee of the Pennsylvania State Negro Council had presented to the state superintendent of public schools a resolution calling for the establishment of a vocational school in Philadelphia. William S. Hagans, president of the Citizens Republican Club was a committee member.

On 27 September 1932, the Harrisburg Telegraph reported that the Republican state chairman had appointed a Colored Voters Advisory Committee for the current campaign. Members included William S. Hagans of Philadelphia.

In 1933 in Philadelphia, William married Emma L. Titus. The Great Depression dealt the couple crippling blows, and William lost his home and other holdings. In the 1940 census of Philadelphia, at 650 – 57th Street, realtor William Hagans, 65, was renting an apartment for $40/week with wife Emma, 40, a public school teacher, and mother-in-law Ellen Titus, 70. (Assuming this address is North 57th, William’s final home was a flat in a three-story rowhouse just two blocks from the house my grandmother later owned at Wyalusing and North 56th.)

William Scarlett Hagans died in 1946 in Philadelphia.

Wm Scarlett Hagans portrait

William S. Hagans.

Personal photographs courtesy of W.E. Hagans and W.M. Moseley. Other sources as cited.

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Agriculture, Free People of Color, Land, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics

Our colored friend has grown richer.

Image

ImageGoldsboro Messenger, 21 October 1880.

These propaganda pieces are part of a single article published to demonstrate that the rising tide of Democratic rule had floated all boats as land values increased while taxes fell. (In other words, the end of Republican rule meant more money in the pocket, as well as a foot on the neck of African-Americans.)

Two of the “colored friends” noted were my kin — my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Aldridge and Napoleon Hagans, the brother of my great-great-great-grandmother Frances Seaberry Artis. (And Washington Reid’s nephews William and Henry Reid, sons of John Reid, married Adam Artis’ niece Elizabeth Wilson and daughter Cora Artis, respectively.) Aldridge, Hagans and Reid (as well as Artis, Frances’ father Aaron Seaberry and Betty’s father John Wilson) were all prosperous free-born farmers.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics, Rights

Remembering J. Frank Baker.

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:

Gboro_Headlight_11_5_1896_F_Baker

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_Trib_3_24_1897_F_Baker

Raleigh Daily Tribune, 24 March 1897.

The tone set, the Goldsboro papers picked up the report:

Gboro_Weekly_Argus_3_25_1897_Frank_BakerGoldsboro Weekly Argus, 25 March 1897.

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?]

Gboro_Weekly_Argus_4_29_1897__F_Baker_

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.

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Photo from Baker article posted at http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/116365/.

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