Narrative of Eugene Daniel's Murder

"Negro is Lynched by Mob Near Pittsboro"

This clipping from the edition of the Concord Times on September 19th, 1921 is the foundation for the retelling of Eugene's story in this exhibit. It contains the most widely used account of the lynching, which was printed verbatim in the Western Sentinel, Concord Daily Tribune, and the Wilmington Dispatch.

Map of Chatham County c. 1933

A map of Chatham County taken from a soil survey in 1933. Image courtesy of North Carolina Maps. 

Eugene Daniel woke up on the morning of his sixteenth birthday, September 10, 1921. He had no premonition that in just over a week, his hopes to attend college at NC A&T would be extinguished through the loop of a tire chain on the banks of the Haw River (Concord Times). He had worked on the farm with his nine brothers and sisters all his life (1920 Federal Census 14), and he was familiar with life and death. He had witnessed the death of four other siblings in his childhood in the harsh conditions of his father’s farm (1910 Federal Census 16), but he had also witnessed the birth of five more siblings (1920 Federal Census 14). His family was close, and his father, John, was well-respected in Pittsboro where they went to market every Saturday to sell their crops. When Eugene was younger, he would help his father count coins and keep records of their sales. Now that he was older, he did much of the laborious work, unloading and displaying the corn, tobacco, okra, and other yields from their property near the corner of Alston Chapel Rd. and Mark Teague Rd. a couple of miles east of the city.

While Eugene didn’t know his neighbors, the Stones, too well, he never had any problems with them. He knew that their property, just north of the creek that borders the Daniels’ farm, had been in their family since Walter Stone’s great-great-great grandfather had bought the property in 1780 (Poe 34). He knew that there were some rumors that Margaret Stone, the old servant of a Pittsboro family, was the child of Walter’s grandfather when he owned slaves (1870 Federal Census 1). But he didn’t really pay attention to such rumors. They seemed to be the gossip of folks in the city and inconsequential to him. 

Chatham Courthouse, 2017

Image of the Chatham County Courthouse, Eugene's abduction site, taken before dawn on 10/5/2017.

On September 16th, 1921, Eugene went to the Stones to see if he could borrow some twine for his father. It was just after dark when he approached the house. He knocked on the door, but no one answered. Eugene was looking for Walter, but he didn’t know that Walter was out coon hunting that evening (Concord Times). Eugene called out twice to see if he could get a response, but when he leaned up against the door it opened. He entered, determined to find someone to help him. He heard some mumbling from behind a door in a hallway the small farmhouse, so he peeked inside. Gertrude, Walter’s daughter, was sleeping inside. She heard the door creak open, sat up suddenly, and called out her brother’s name, Ernest. Eugene sprinted out of the room and out of the house. He didn’t want anyone to think that he had been there for any other reason than an errand for his father, and he knew that no one in town or in the New Hope Township would excuse a black boy like him in a white girl like Gertrude’s room at night. He was terrified and ran home.

Gertrude was “considerably upset” by the incident, and when she recounted the supposed intrusion to her father, she claimed that a black boy was “leaning over her bed” rather than just in the doorway (Charlotte Observer). Walter, infuriated, immediately notified his neighbors and the local police, who called in bloodhounds the next day to find the perpetrator by scent. The bloodhounds searched all around the Stone property on Saturday while Eugene hid, terrified, in his own home (Concord Times).

His father was worried, but he hoped that everything would calm down and that the bloodhounds would not find their way to the Daniels’ property. John had already had a few incidents in town in which he felt disrespected by white patrons and other merchants, and his wife Ida, a strong and resistant spirit, spat at a white man when he called her a wench as she walked by. John was afraid that these incidents would cause the white townspeople to not allow his son to get a fair chance to explain himself if they found him. After all, some of the white townspeople were muttering about racial conflict and after a few violent incidents in the town in the months before. He didn’t want them to become “determin[ed]…to make an example of the next law violator” (Charlotte Observer).

But Saturday evening, the bloodhounds led the angry party of white citizens to the Daniels’ front door. When Eugene was accosted by the sheriff as to whether he was in Gertrude’s room that night, he confessed that he was, and before he could explain why, the sheriff handcuffed him and brought him to the Chatham County Jail in the middle of downtown Pittsboro (Concord Times). At first, the townspeople were comforted that the supposed lawbreaker was caught (Charlotte Observer), but after dark, their tempers began to rise. Eugene could hear them yelling outside of the entrance to the jail, and the reflection from their torches flickered on the wall next to him. He was terrified. His dad had promised to come get him tomorrow, but he didn’t know if he would last the night if the mob continued in its rage. 

Approximate Site of Lynching of Eugene Daniel

Approximate site of Eugene's murder, taken 10/5/17.

They tried to break in once, but the jailer, W. H. Taylor, earnestly attempted to fight them back (Concord Times). He lived in town just a block from the jail (ancestry.com), and he felt that if Eugene were guilty, a judge would have to declare him so. However, after the third attempt at getting past Taylor, the mob got the keys, stormed Eugene’s cell, and threw him in the back of the automobile of a prominent merchant in Pittsboro at about 2am (Concord Times). They drove him out five miles east, and Eugene was so confused and disoriented that he remained silent as they kicked at him, occasionally crying out when the pain was too much. They arrived at the Moore Springs bridge that spanned over the Haw river and decided upon a “convenient limb” on which to hang and murder Eugene for his “evidently…evil intent” in Gertrude’s room (Charlotte Observer). They left him hanging there after shooting his body multiple times. 

Eugene’s body was discovered the next day around 10am, and 1,000 of the townspeople came out to see the spectacle of his body (Concord Times). When word reached John and Ida, and they rushed to the river to take down their son and give him a proper burial. They took his body to the judge, and as John wrote down his name as informant for the death certificate, the loss of his son overcame him (Death Certificate for Eugene Daniel). 

No one was prosecuted. The townspeople, determined to reinforce the racial status quo of Chatham County, acted as judge, jury, and executioner. John and his dead son did not have a voice at all. The newspapers did not even print his name correctly. Coverage from the Concord Times, the Western Sentinel, the Concord Daily Tribune, The Dispatch, the Fayetteville Observer, the Charlotte Observer, and the News and Observer all printed his name as Ernest Daniels, not Eugene. Not one paper interviewed the family or the victim or explicitly criticized the mob. The juxtaposition of an ad titled “Cotton is King” in the Fayetteville Observer with coverage of Eugene’s death properly demonstrates the tone and tenor of paper coverage of the his murder (Fayetteville Observer). 

Moore Road Remains

Remains of Moore Rd. found in the woods near the approximate site of the lynching. Taken 10/5/17.

But despite the loss of Eugene, who was so full of hope and future, the Daniels had to continue to survive. After John passed away sometime in the 1930s, Ida moved the family to Durham, where she and John met (1900 Federal Census 6). She and her remaining children lived in a little house on 1102 Mason St. in downtown Durham (1940 Federal Census 65). The home no longer exists, now paved over by the development of the area around the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, located just two blocks away.

As for Ida’s children, Aldora, her daughter, was able to attend an all girls college in Durham and receive two years of a college education, and she worked as a house servant for a family somewhere in Durham (1940 Federal Census 65). After Lucetta, another daughter, finished 8th grade, she apprenticed as a presser and worked for a presser downtown (1940 Federal Census 65). Alpha, her son, married and moved to New Jersey (ancestry.com), soon to be followed by Ottis and William, who both passed away in Mercer, New Jersey in 1992 and 2000, respectively (ancestry.com). Charlie, the youngest, was only four when Eugene was murdered. He received a college education from NC A&T in the 1940s and moved to Greensboro (Draft Card for Charles H. Daniel). He lived a long life, and died in Greensboro in 2013 at the age of 96 (ancestry.com). 

Now, at the site of Eugene’s murder, remnants of Moore Springs Rd. still exist, crumbling on the flooded banks where the Haw River meets Jordan Lake. When you stumble upon the crumbling remains of the road, the forest opens up, leading you directly to the approximate the site of the lynching. The site itself is under water, but on the banks, the ground is raised from the land around it, a natural memorial to Eugene’s short life that was taken from him there. 

Narrative of Eugene Daniel's Murder