Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August 14, 1921: Jerome Whitfield

Today we learn about a lynching in North Carolina through the pages of The Daily Free Press (Kinston, N. C.) dated August 15, 1921:


Brute Criminally Assaulted Respected Young White Woman Across Line in Jones County and is Summarily Dealt With Shortly After His Apprehension—Confessed His Awful Deed

Jerome Whitfield, a negro brute who assaulted the young wife of a respected Jones County farmer Saturday afternoon near Haskins Chapel, met the usual fate Sunday about noon a short distance from the home of the victim and the scene of the fiendish crime. An all-night search in which hundreds of enfuriated [sic] citizens from three or four counties joined, brought no results, but the criminal was caught about 11 o'clock Sunday. The Sheriff of Jones County was said to have been on the scene shortly after the brute was carried to the place where his dastardly attack was made, but is said to have been unable to get close to the culprit and to have been given to understand that the affair was not for the orderly course of the law to handle.

The details of the crime were particularly revolting. The young mother was at the time of attack carrying her infant in her arms, the assailant who was a tenant on the farm of the husband, grabbed the child and hurled it into a clump of bushes where it lay while he accomplished his terrible designs. The first thought of the mother when released was for the child. She found the baby and hastened to her home, meeting her husband coming from the field where he had been at work; after relating the terrible story she collapsed.

The story as gathered by The Free Press follows:

Jerome Whitfield, a negro about 25 years of age, criminally assaulted the young wife of Pompie Irving of Jones County, Saturday afternoon between 5 and 6 o'clock, dragging her from the public highway with a year old babe in her arms into the woods, where he accomplished his outrageous purpose.

Mrs. Irving, who has resided in the community for a number of years is a young woman about 19 years of age, of high ideals and possessing the best traits of character, left her home just before five o'clock to visit her brother, only a short distance away.

When about midway between her home and her proposed destination, at a point where the woods are very thick and a heavy growth of corn is on the opposite side of the road, she saw the negro approaching her, but this did not especially excite her, as Whitfield was a tenant on her husband's farm. When they came in passing distance of each other, the negro seized her baby from her arms and threw it on the ground and then began dragging her down a ditch which led from the road through very thick woods. Mrs. Irving is of small statute [sic] and naturally had but little resistance  to offer her assailant. The method that Whitfield employed to suppress her screams was by putting his fingers inside her mouth between her gums and the outer surface of her face, and in this manner by stretching her mouth open soon had his victim at his will and at the same time threatening her own life and that of her baby's.

The news of the crime spread like wild-fire and within an hour or two hundred of infuriated citizens from three counties or more were pressing forward with all possible haste to the scene of the crime. A strict vigilance of the negro's home and all roads, paths and woods surrounding the community was kept up all through the night. The search for the brute never slackened at any moment but at all times and by everybody was pressed with increasing energy and vigor.

All during the morning hours of the day automobiles by the score continued to arrive and by the time of the capture of the negro possibly 3,000 armed men were in the search.

A few minutes past 11 o'clock the culprit was discovered by Tobe Banks and two or three others crouching under a small clump of bushes near a corn patch. He was ordered to throw up his hands at the point of two double barrel shot guns, whereupon he was searched and his hands tied behind him. He was placed in an automobile and was rushed to the scene of his crime. He was found about 7 or 8 miles from the place where he committed his dastardly act. He requested that he be taken by his home where he could see his wife and children but this request was promptly refused. It was reported that he confessed his guilt to his captors. When he was brought before Mrs. Irving for identification, without any hesitancy she exclaimed "he is the man." He is reported to have replied, "What, me!"

No further time was lost in taking him to a place not more than a quarter of a mile from the Irving home where he was swung up by a rope tied to his hands and his body literally riddled with bullets.

The maddened citizens then dispersed to their homes.

In The Independent (Elizabeth City, N. C.) August 19, 1921 edition is a little tidbit mentioning the lynching:

—A Jones county mob observed the Sabbath in great shape last Sunday by taking a Negro named Jerome Whitfield, hanging him to a tree and riddling his body with a thousand bullets. The Negro was accused of criminal assault on Mrs. Elizabeth Irving, 19-year-old wife of a Jones county farmer.

Our final article is found in The Kinston Free Press (Kinston, N. C.) dated August 20, 1921:

Will Complete Inquest 
Jones County Lynching at Adjourned Hearing   

There have been no developments in the lynching case in Jones since the negro Jerome Whitfield was done to death at the hands of infuriated citizens Sunday. An inquest was called but after some deliberation adjourned to meet again on Saturday. No findings were announced, according to reports from Sheriff Westbrook's office and no further attempts to place the responsibility have been made.

It is always hard to know what is true and what is written to elicit more furor when reading these accounts of  lynching. The Kinston papers are the only ones that mention a baby, it may be that it was information that only they had since the crime happened there, or it was something added to add more wood to the fire. According to other articles he did have a noose placed around his neck and hanged. They also quote Mrs. Irving as saying to the mob, "Please don't kill him here in the yard," and the mob responding "We won't."

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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