Al and Tallulah Dahlen were passionate yard sale devotees. Over the years they bought many items. Monday, their son Tom, a retired career Winston-Salem police officer, called me and began describing one of those items.
He said that it was an old document, badly deteriorated, dated 1882. He began reading the document to me: “Tribute of Respect…Unanimously adopted by the Board of Commissioners of Winston, N.C at their regular meeting April 4th 1882…Whereas, it has thus pleased the wise disposer of all things to summon by death one of our number…”
Without thinking I said out loud “Israel L. Clement”.
Tom said “Yes, that’s right. How did you know? I guess it means that this is a fake.”
“Just the opposite,” I said. “You’re holding a very important piece of local history.”
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As reported by the weekly newspaper the Union Republican, late on Saturday afternoon, August 7, 1880, two black women got into a fight. A Winston police officer was summoned. He attempted to arrest one of the women, but she resisted, so he called for backup. The policemen eventually overwhelmed her and took her to the calaboose. But a crowd of black citizens had gathered at the scene and some of them were angry at what they perceived as excessive force applied by the policemen.
The crowd broke up into small groups and left, discussing what had just happened. One group ended up at the courthouse square, where others began to join them. Tom Pfohl, a white city tax collector, panicked and asked the captain of the Forsyth Rifles to order his men to the square.
At that point, realizing what might happen if armed militia confronted the crowd, two black men went to a nearby hotel where Major A. J. Pinkham, another white city tax collector, lived and asked him to intervene. Major Pinkham went to the square and persuaded the people to disperse. By the time that the Riflemen arrived, the event was over. There was no one there.
At that point, the mayor, A.B. Gorrell, arrived on the scene and ordered the Riflemen to leave. The Union Republican reported that that Saturday night turned out to be one of the quietest ever in Winston.
But there were those who had their own agenda. Three black men, all tobacco workers, were arrested. Two, James Henly, who worked at Leak & Wilson, and Spencer Tunstall, who worked at Brown & Brother, were charged with interfering with a police officer. Horace Jeffers, who worked at Bitting & Whitaker, was charged with inciting to riot. In a separate article, the editors of the Union Republican delivered a self-righteous lecture to the black community on the proper way for citizens to behave.
A few days later, the charges against Jeffers were dropped when the arresting officer testified that Jeffers had actually assisted him in making the arrest. And despite a passionate appeal by prosecutors for stiff sentences for the others in municipal court, they were all released under $500 peace bonds. The Union Republican’s editors were forced to eat crow with a headline that simply said “No Riot”.
Shortly afterward, several of the town’s leading white citizens, including Darius H. Starbuck, the local superior court judge; J.W. Goslin, publisher of one of the weekly newspapers; and others sent a petition to the mayor suggesting that the town hire a black police officer as a way of avoiding such incidents in the future. They even suggested a specific individual, Israel L. Clement, one of the most respected men in the community.
The mayor’s reply was that he and the town commissioners were way ahead of the petitioners. They had already offered Clement a place on the police force. Clement had asked what the pay was and pointed out that he could not afford to take the job as he made considerably more working as a roller in Hamilton Scales’ tobacco factory. So the petition was dismissed.
But behind the scenes it was decided that there were other ways to solve the problem. In 1881, Israel Clement ran for a seat on the town commission in the third ward and won, thus becoming the first black Winston town commissioner. Reconstruction was long over. This was not something enforced by outsiders. It was a simple and rational solution to a local problem.
Union Republican, April 6, 1882
Unfortunately, barely a year into his first term, Israel Clement died, thus triggering the “Tribute of Respect”. It would be almost a decade before another black man was elected to the town commission.
Rufus E. Clement, a janitor, and later a grocer on Depot Street, near Seventh Street; and J.B. Gwynn, who operated a grocery store in the 900 block of North Main Street served during the 1890-91 term.
Aaron A. Moore, a marble cutter, served during the 1892-93 term.
In 1894, Rufus Clement was reelected and was joined on the board by J.G. Lattie who is listed in the city directories as “janitor, Colored Graded School”.
Again, unfortunately, the 1890s saw a couple of brief but severe economic depressions, which triggered racial tension between the white underclass and successful middle class blacks, affecting most of the South. Winston’s run of black elected commissioners came to an end in 1896. There would not be another black man elected to the local board until 1947, when the Reverend Kenneth Williams won a seat in the third ward.
In all, a total of five black men (Israel Clement, Rufus Clement, J.B. Gwynn, Aaron Moore and J.G. Lattie) won a total of six elections in the 19th century.
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On Tuesday morning, Tom Dahlen brought the “Tribute of Respect” document to the North Carolina Room at the Central Forsyth County Public Library. For me, it was a treat to see the actual document, which I had previously only read about in Robert Neilson’s history of city government, a two volume set published in 1966 to commemorate the bicentennial of the founding of Salem in 1766.
Tom filled out and signed a donor agreement, specifying that the donors of the document be identified as his parents, Al and Tallulah Dahlen. As soon as I was able to gain access to our very busy workroom computer, I used our high resolution scanner to digitize the document at 600 dots per inch, resulting in a 4645 x 7984 pixel tiff file of 111.3 megabytes saved using Adobe Photoshop’s sRGB IEC61966-2.1 color format. That will enable us to share the image with the community at a wide range of sizes and resolutions.
The document itself is being catalogued and will be stored in our locked cage in an acid free lightproof container, thus significantly retarding its deterioration. Anyone who now has or later comes into possession of such documents is invited to take advantage of our facilities for digitizing and preserving such items. You can call our information desk at 336-703-3070, or contact our NC Room Library Supervisor Billy King at email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a medium resolution version of the document. If you click on it, it should expand into a quite readable image.
The document is signed by Mayor A.B. Gorrell. He was the founder of the Farmer’s Tobacco Warehouse. He built his house on Fifth Street, at the southwest corner of Poplar, which was the beginning of the later famous “Millionaire’s Row”, which extended along Fifth from Poplar to Summit Street.
A.B. Gorrell, Mayor
The other signature on the document is that of James A. Gray, Sr., a current member of the board of commissioners who was elected by them to be the board secretary. It is likely that the document itself is in his handwriting. He was one of the founders, in 1879, of the Wachovia National Bank.
James A. Gray, secretary of the 1882 Winston board of commissioners and cashier of the Wachovia National Bank
Unfortunately, we do not have a picture of Israel Clement. That is not a permanent situation. Almost certainly, someone has a picture of the man of honor. If you are that person, please contact us via the methods described above.
We hold several print copies of Robert Neilson’s history of local government. An online version, originally created by J.R. Snyder and somewhat modified at a later date, can be found at the City of Winston-Salem site http://www.cityofws.org/Home/DiscoverWinston-Salem/Articles/CityGovernmentHistory