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, 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 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.