Nease Gillespie, Jack Dillingham, John Gillespie

Nease Gillespie, Jack Dillingham, John Gillespie
Accused of the Lyerly murders and never allowed the right to a trial, three were lynched by a mob at Salisbury, NC, 1906. John was only 15 years old. The predominant voice in the press was complicit in this tragedy. (Dillingham, seated on left - Nease Gillespie seated on right, with John standing directly behind him)

How the Book Began

I came across a brief mention of the Lyerly ax murders while looking into my family history, informed by a distant cousin of something I'd never heard from closer relatives. Once I started asking for details, it was an aunt who finally informed me of the lynching, as well as the fact that its victims' guilt had never been questioned. When she showed me a copy of an original news story she'd saved many years, one supposed to have detailed the case against the accused, I knew there was much more to this than the press was telling. And so I began an investigation that lasted over ten years.

Addie Lyerly

Addie Lyerly
Around midnight Friday, July 13, 1906, Addie, awakened by smoke, descended the stairs of her Rowan County home to find her parents and younger siblings drenched in blood and the bedroom on fire.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

More on the Story

After discovering her parents and younger siblings had been attacked, Addie awoke her two other sisters, and together they worked quickly to extinguish the smoldering flames. Then, carrying six-year-old Alice, still barely alive, all three set out to find help from a neighbor.
A message to the Salisbury sheriff, telegraphed from nearby Barber Junction railroad station, was soon heard round the country. And the media blitz began.

Even without embellishment, the facts of the Lyerly murders were enough to make the coldest blood boil. But they also presented the perfect opportunity for the newly-crowned Jim Crow-dominated press to justify its recent coup, which virtually rescinded the rights former slaves had barely begun to enjoy. It didn't take reporters from Charlotte and Salisbury long to lay blame for the murders on the Lyerly's tenant farmers, focusing on an argument over crop payment they'd had months earlier.

So, what started out as an investigation of the ax murders and lynching, turned into a study of early 20th century press as well – revealing how the majority of reporting in the South was contaminated by the political agenda of white supremacy.

Named after the lynching games children played in the aftermath of the tragedies, A Game Called Salisbury is more than just the story of a regional tragedy. It serves to illustrate one of the more devastating residual effects of Raleigh News and Observer editor Josephus Daniels' 1898 white supremacist campaign tactics. Daniels, who went on to serve as Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Navy, dominated and contaminated most of North Carolina’s press with racist propaganda, creating much of the mindset on, and the myths of, "race" that remain intact today.

Future posts will include some of the images and tactics Daniels deployed to destroy the lives of African Americans and create his Jim Crow empire.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review Excerpts

"If Slaves in the Family evoked a distant past, this story reaches beyond the limits of living memory to reclaim a recent, and tortured, Southern past. We should all read this book to understand the scar that racial oppression left on our courts, our communities, and our families."

"This is history, memory, and mystery that will haunt the reader for a long time."

- Glenda E. Gilmore Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, Yale University

"...Faulknerian in its revelations and observations of human nature, clearly spotlighting the question of real responsibility not just for active human evil, but also for spawning its activity.... Wells shows us that lynchings were (and are) the tip of the iceberg, the cruel result of calculated manipulation of our base human natures and our cowardliness in not confronting evil when we see it, either now or then. While this book lacks Twain's humor, it rivals his incisiveness."

-Tex Wood, author (Likable Sins) and English Professor, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College

"Author does dogged detective work about a family murder."

"One of the most chilling recent books about local history comes to our eyes via self-publication. In 'A Game Called Salisbury' (Infinity Publishing), Susan Barringer Wells presents the story of a series of murders and retributive lynchings that had taken place within her family a century ago. The book is exhaustively researched and compellingly related. To be passionate about a subject is one thing; to tell the story in a fresh and focused way, as Wells does, is a rarer achievement."

- Rob Neufeld, Asheville Citizen-Times

"The study's emphasis on the media's role in the lynchings is of particular interest. Drawing on a range of newspaper accounts, Wells shows how journalists presupposed the men's guilt and fueled whites' desire for revenge. She also underscores the legal system's disservice to the murder suspects.... Wells's description of the scant punishment mob members notable for its exposure of the class prejudice that coexisted with racial prejudice in early twentieth-century North Carolina. A Game Called Salisbury makes for engaging, albeit disturbing, reading."

- Elizabeth Crowder, The North Carolina Historical Review

"The author says in the Preface that the book was `a little about me,' but, in reality, the book is all about her, for throughout the book, the reader is entranced by her ability to delve into the grisly details of her ancestors' violent deaths, yet maintain objectivity, and compassion for the alleged murderers, whom she also labels as victims. Though she is not a trained historian, in this way she is able to maintain a historian's distance. But Wells tends to inject into the discussion her political opinions about events in today's era, which is a bit distracting. Still, overall, the book is well worth reading. It complements Alexander S. Leidholdt's study (`Editor for Justice') of lynchings in Virginia and the rise of Louis I. Jaffe, a Virginian Pilot editor, as a national crusader against the crime."

- Tommy Bogger, professor of History and Director of the Harrison B. Wilson Archives at Norfolk State University, for the Virginian Pilot