A small item on page 2 on Jan. 11 announced the end of arguments in the trial, and that sentencing would likely be carried out later in the day. The Sentinel never mentions the man’s name again.

The Journal, which also had a piece on Jan. 11 about closing arguments, likewise dropped the story.

For the verdict in the Comer case, we must turn to the Western Sentinel, another daily that covered the city.

“ACQUITTAL OF ERNEST COMER IN MURDER CASE” reads the page 1, left-hand headline. “Defendant shakes hands with jurors after verdict of ‘not guilty’ is reached,” a subheading clarifies.

It took about 15 minutes.

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The takeaways here are significant, not the least of which is that the city of Winston-Salem held off a lynch mob in a time when, in other parts of North Carolina, these vigilante groups were often successful in violently murdering young black men.

But while city leaders banded together to save Russell High, three other black people were slain in the city that night, and none of the newspapers saw fit to even carry their names or causes of death.

There’s a connection, too, with the Black Lives Matter movement: a systemic devaluation of the African-American population and a deep chasm between outcomes for black and white.

Though he was never seen in Winston-Salem again, Russell High walked away from this one. But more than 100 black people were lynched in North Carolina in the years between 1877 and 1950, according to a report by the Equal Justice Institute. What would have happened to High if Cora Childress had positively identified him as her attacker.

A serious question: Why did Chief Thomas bring High back to jail after the meeting at the Childress house?

Another interesting aspect of the saga is the nature in which it unfolded in the press: an uneven patchwork of reporting by primitive newsrooms as chaos descended on their city, the speed at which the information reached the furthest corners of the country and the degree of accuracy in which it arrived, the framing of the issues according to bias or custom, sensational omissions of uncomfortable subjects at a time when American race relations were in an overtly oppressive state.

This phenomena, also, is not entirely relegated to the past.

4 COMMENTS

    • The writer confused Joseph F. Smith (who was president of the LDS Church and the nephew of the founder) with Joseph Smith the founder of the Church. This confusion can only have come about from a very large dose of ignorance. As I told probably thousands of people as an LDS missionary, Joseph Smith was 14 when he had the first vision in 1820. That would put him at 112 and should cause people to look into how he lived so long. It also shows a great ignorance of American history, not knowing that Brigham Young, the American Moses, lead the Mormons to Utah. Such ignorance on the part of someone writing about history is inexcusable. Joseph F. Smith didn’t die until November 19th, 1918, so he was still alive when the lynching took place.

      Of course the problems with this article just keep compounding. The war would not end until November 11, 1918 and if the writer does not know that they are ignorant of way, way too much.

      Lastly “first draft in history” is just rubbish. Both the Union and the Confederacy drafted during the American Civil War. This was a cause of lots of anti-confederate agitation in North Carolina, and caused anti-draft riots that often involved attacking African-Americans by Irish immigrants in New York City.

  1. Hey guys — yep, I glossed over my research in that passage, where I was trying to add some context.
    Changed Joseph Smith to John L. Sullivan, the bareknuckle boxer. Apologies and regrets for the error.

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