Washington’s Southern Tour (Booker T.’s, that is)

“Wilson, NC – Nov. 1
Special to the News and Observer
This afternoon the two-forty-five train from the South with the negro educator, Booker T. Washington, and his party, arrived in Wilson. The party was met by hundreds and hundreds of the best colored citizens of the town and whisked away on automobiles and other vehicles to the handsome home of S.H. Vick – possibly the wealthiest colored man in the State – where a grand reception awaited the party. The procession was headed by a brass band of sixteen members from St. Paul’s Industrial (colored) School of Lawrenceville, Va. He will deliver an address in the auditorium of the colored school tonight”

-From The News and Observer, Nov. 2, 1910.

Washington’s tour of North Carolina began in Charlotte on Oct. 28 and ended in Wilmington on Nov. 4. Other stops on his train tour included Concord, Salisbury, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Reidsville, Durham, Rocky Mount and New Bern.

Washington’s Durham hosts toured him by numerous African-American-owned businesses, including North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association, the Durham Hosiery Mill, Union Iron Works Company and the Whitted Wood Working Company. Washington wrote of his visit to Durham in The New York Independent the following spring.

“Arriving there about four o’clock on a bright afternoon in October, I found every preparation that was necessary to sweep me from my feet with the conviction that sure enough this was the city of cities to look for prosperity of the Negroes and the greatest amount of friendly feeling between the two races of the South. In one town on my way I had actual roses strewn in my path, but here, if all I saw and heard was genuine, were the real roses that I had been seeking now for more than thirty years.”

Washington’s stop in Salisbury coincided with a visit by Vice President James Schoolcraft Sherman to the town. Sherman, who had been traveling the state for three days, asked to meet with Washington.

In his book Booker T. Washington and the Struggle Against White Supremacy: The Southern Educational Tours, 1908-1912, author David H. Jackson Jr. writes of the meeting.

“At noon, Washington’s railcar backed up against Sherman’s and ‘the two distinguished Americans chatted cordially for a few minutes, while the crowd cheered vociferously,’ The New York Age reported. Sherman told Washington that he, too, ‘was down here converting sinners.’ “

Miss Twitty, the cackling character witness

“North Carolina’s closest version of the Scopes Monkey Trial of Tennessee [was]  Pentuff v. Park….  J.R. Pentuff, a [Concord] minister who was outspoken in opposition to Darwinism, was lampooned in a Raleigh newspaper [in 1926] … and he sued for $60,000 in damages….

“A lot of embarrassing facts came out about Rev. Pentuff during the trial….. He had claimed his hen, Miss Twitty, could lay multiple eggs a day, which isn’t possible. It was something he said just to sell more eggs.

“Pentuff claimed he deserved enhanced libel protection, because giving a minister a bad reputation would take away his livelihood. He actually won at the state Supreme Court, [but] later a jury of mostly farmers threw out the case and gave Pentuff zero.”

—  John Wertheimer, author of “Law and Society in the South: A History of North Carolina Court Cases” (2009), describing for North Carolina Lawyers Weekly (June 22, 2009) the book’s strangest or most surprising case.”

The offending editor: Oscar J. “Skipper” Coffin, who would soon leave the Raleigh Times to become head of the journalism department at Chapel Hill.