The New York Times - 1918Racial tensions were high in America following World War I. In 1919 alone, 25 race riots, mostly by whites, rocked the nation’s cities. More than 70 blacks are known to have been lynched following the war. Resentment came to a head when whites returning from the war found blacks holding jobs normally reserved for whites. The growing black population in Winston-Salem heightened tensions in the city. The Ku Klux Klan, which enjoyed resurgence after the war, marched through local neighborhoods.
Southern Race Riot Costs Five Lives: Army Tank Corps Called to Quell a Lynching Mob in Winston-Salem, N.C. Battle with Home Guards, Jail-Storming Crowd Overcomes Them, as Well as Police and Fire Companies
Winston-Salem, N.C., Nov. 17. – The death toll in the riot here tonight which followed efforts of a mob to storm the jail and lynch a negro prisoner had been increased to five—a woman spectator, a city fireman, and three Negroes. The police believe that a detailed search tomorrow will show that at least seven persons were killed.
This building tension came to a head on Saturday November 16, 1918, as white couple Jim and Cora Childress strolled toward Pulliam’s store about one half mile from there home. As she and her husband reached the Southern Railroad trestle, over what is now Inverness Street, they were accosted by a black man who hit Jim over the head with a pistol, robbed Cora of $2.25, dragged her down into a ravine and allegedly raped her.
On Sunday afternoon, November 17, a large group of whites gathered on Courthouse Square and rumors of lynching began. By evening, the crowd had grown estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000. There was a lot of drinking and some of the crowd began to break into hardware stores and steal firearms to force a jailbreak. The Mayor, other civic leaders and even Cora Childers appeared and tried to reason with the crowd...to no avail. The crowd was chanting “We want that nigger! We want to lynch him.”
|Forsyth County Court House|
The crowd broke and ran down 4th Street into the black residential section. Gunfire was heard throughout the night until about 3:00 AM Monday morning. Several black residents were killed for whom death certificates exist. Eyewitnesses say that many other blacks were killed as well, but their bodies were stuffed into culverts or thrown onto railroad boxcars and sent out of town.
The Mayor summoned National Guard troops from Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh who patrolled the streets. A tank was set up on the square. By daylight on Monday, while the night of gunfire and violence had ended, gatling machine guns were set up on Fourth Street aimed toward the black residential area in anticipation of a counterattack that never came.
Russell High was taken by authorities to Raleigh early Monday morning for his protection. He served time for his weapons violation and was never seen in Winston-Salem again.
In the following days, a number of people were charged with inciting a riot and attempting to break into a public jail, which was then a capital offense. Sixteen white men were convicted and given sentences ranging from 6 to 14 months on the county road gang. One black man was convicted of the murder of a Southern Utilities Company worker and executed in Raleigh.
Strange thing about the World War I era South, thousands of whites riot, a few whites are killed, most probably from bullets from guns fired by whites, a number of blacks die, no one knows how many, tanks and gatling guns are deployed to defend against blacks who haven't done anything, and only one black man is convicted and executed for murder of one white man. And we wonder why we have racial tension.