Two Bright Spots In the Nighttime
There was a time long ago in the days of Jim Crow when evil men pulled robes over their heads and skulked through the darkness with meanness on their minds. Such was the case on a frosty Thursday evening in the Mount Airy Community of Dodge County on March 2, 1950. Out of the brilliance of a near full moon lit night appeared two shining stars of good and right, who liberated an innocent man from the wrongful vengeance of a miscreant mob.
Flogging of both black and white people had been on the rise in the early months of 1950. Johnny Graham, white, and Riley Dykes, black, were beaten by persons unknown. Little or no efforts were made by local law enforcement to apprehend the perpetrators.
Sixteen-year-old Harold Barrentine, who later would become a Dublin accountant and businessman, was on his way to a party near his home. He had heard the rumors about floggings, but paid no mind to them as he had more important thoughts like any sixteen- year-old boy would. While he was attending the party, Harold fortunately noticed a caravan of vehicles carrying some twenty-five or more hooded men who were headed toward the farm house of Jesse Lee Goodman, a farm hand who worked for Otho Wiggins. Harold ran as fast as he could to warn Mr. Wiggins of his fears about Jesse Lee.
Meanwhile, a hooded squad of scoundrels forced open the lock on the front door of the Goodman home and burst into the first bedroom, where they found Clydie Mae Goodman and her two children shivering in fear for their lives. Then the horde descended upon another bedroom where they found Goodman and another child asleep. Allowing Goodman to put on only a few clothes, the fiendish throng drug him into the wintry woods.
Goodman remembered the leader, whom he called "the King." "He had a large red shoulder patch and a big cross or star on his sleeve," Goodman testified. "He was the boss. He gave the orders," Jesse Lee told law enforcement officers. Jesse went on to tell how the leader asked about some oil he had. Goodman told his captors that he had gotten the oil from his boss, Mr. Otho Wiggins. Without any regard for the truthfulness of Goodman's statements, the assaulters began to mercilessly beat and flog ol' Jesse. After a momentary pause, the whipping was about to resume.
That's when Otho Wiggins showed up.
Otho loaded his .22 caliber rifle, dismounted his truck, and focused his spotlight on the source of the commotion. Seeing cars and some people he thought he recognized and with full comprehension of what was unfolding before his eyes, Wiggins opened fire and kept on discharging his rifle until its chamber was empty. He reloaded and began firing again, some sixteen shots in all. Cowering behind Fords and Chevrolets, a few poltroons fired back without hitting their marks.
"When Mr. Otho started shootin' the man next to me shoved me in a car and jumped in on top of me," Goodman recalled. "Then he made me get in the seat and stay down low," Jesse stated before his antagonists dumped him out of the car and fled the scene. Goodman told authorities that his captors promised that they would seek revenge against Wiggins.
Wiggins would later say, "When I began firing, both men and cars took off in every direction."
N.A. Barrentine, Harold's father, accompanied Wiggins to report the incident to Dodge County Sheriff, O.B. Peacock. Apparently afraid of the Klan's retribution against himself, Sheriff Peacock stated the matter was none of his business and that they should report the case to the F.B.I. Peacock later jokingly told the editor of the Eastman Times-Journal, "I don't want the Klan getting after me. Otho didn't ask me to go. He just told me about it."
Editor Edwin T. Methvin, a long time opponent of the Ku Klux Klan, blasted Sheriff Peacock for his apathetic handling of the matter. Methvin, in cooperation with the F.B.I., launched a personal crusade to rid the county of the barbarian organization. Methvin did praise Wiggins in an editorial by stating, "We regret the marksmanship of Otho Wiggins was not better and that he succeeded in only dispersing the mob of hooded and robed men that attacked his Negro farm hand in Dodge County the other night. Mr. Wiggins made a gallant try, though, he deserves congratulations."
Also incensed with the violent acts was Superior Court Judge Eschol Graham, who called the Grand Jury into a special session to deal with the Klan, bootlegging and some problems with the local school board, the former two not being related to the latter. Wiggins, Goodman, and Barrentine all testified about what they saw and heard that night.
Harold Barrentine in identifying a 1939 Chevrolet belonging to Alfred Crumbley testified, "I see those cars almost every day and I would know them anywhere." Jesse Lee identified a 1949 pickup owned by Theo Lewis. Otho Wiggins confirmed the testimony of Barrentine and Goodman that the culprits were Klansmen by saying, "We saw the white robes and they had hoods over their heads." Their testimony led to the arrest of Crumbley, Lewis and a third suspect, one F.M. Smith.
Overnight, Otho Wiggins and Harold Barrentine became heroes to many. Sadly, they became scoundrels to others. Their fear of reprisals was real and warranted.
Otho Wiggins, who never had a single moment of remorse for his actions, wrote a letter to editor Methvin, which he promptly published to bolster his crusade. In thanking the members of the hooded order Wiggins wrote, "Since you have become the ones who have taken the law into your own hands, I don't suppose your wives and children will suffer nervousness or loss of sleep from such an occurrence." Otho sarcastically complimented the bravery of a mob of white men who would go into a person's house, regardless of race or creed, and drag him from his bed and beat him. Wiggins concluded his mocking missive by apologizing, "I extend to you loyal members of the hooded brotherhood my humble apology for being such a poor shot with my rifle. Hope to see you soon. Signed Your neighbor, Otho Wiggins."
It was on that cold, cold night more than sixty years ago when Jim Crow flew away into the starry skies where Otho Wiggins and Harold Barrentine shined as the brightest spots of mercy and kindness in the Dodge County nighttime.