Memorial to Harry Wilson
End of Watch: July 21, 1919
Rank: Detective Badge No. 622
Age: 29 Years of Service: 3
Location of Death: 220 G Street, NW
Duty Assignment: Detective Bureau
During the 1919 Race Riots, Detectives Wilson and O’Brien responded to 220 G Street, NW, for a person shooting into a crowd from a window.
Sergeant Wilson and Detective O’Brien entered the house. As Sergeant Wilson reached the second floor, he was shot in the heart by a person hiding under a bed.
Detective O’Brien returned fire shooting the suspect in the hip. The suspect, a 17 year old female named Carrie Minor Johnson was arrested.
Sergeant Wilson died on the scene.
Sergeant Wilson was married and had one child.
Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
THE SHOOTING DEATH OF DETECTIVE SERGEANT HARRY WILSON DURING THE 1919 RACE RIOT’S.
NOTE: IN EARLIER TIMES IT WAS A COMMON PRACTICE BY NEWSPAPERS TO IDENTIFY SUBJECTS BY RACE OR IMMIGRANTS BY NATIONALITY. I HAVE DELETED DESCRIPTIONS OF RACE THAT WERE ROUTINELY USED IN MY OTHER WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE “STORIES” IN ORDER TO AVOID ANY CONTROVERSY CONCERNING POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
HOWEVER, IN THIS CASE THE RACE RIOT WAS THE SOLE REASON FOR THE SERGEANT’S DEATH AND IT WOULD BE CONFUSING WITHOUT IDENTIFYING THE SUBJECTS INVOLVED BY THEIR RACE. I AM USING THE TERM “BLACK” TO REPLACE WORDS THAT DESCRIBED AFRO-AMERICANS DURING THOSE TIMES.
IT HAS BEEN MY INTENTION TO PASS ON THE MPDC HISTORY I’VE DISCOVERED IN NEWSPAPERS, AND TO REMEMBER AND HONOR THOSE WHO FELL IN THE LINE OF DUTY. THESE ARE REPORTS OF THE EVENT WRITTEN BY THE WASHINGTON POST AT THAT TIME, AND NOT INTENDED TO OFFEND ANYONE WHO READS THEM NOW.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JULY 22, 1919, PAGE 1
DETECTIVE SERGEANT WILSON VICTIM; OTHER OFFICERS HURT; BLACK RUNS AMUCK, WOUNDING MANY IN FLIGHT
Fighting Spreads to Many Sections After Troops Form a Cordon Around Center of City.
Martial Law Virtually in Force Downtown From White House to Mall and Capitol, Thence to H, K and L streets, NW. One Policeman Wounded—Blacks Fired on Whites From Speeding Autos.
The rioting grew in intensity after midnight and one policeman and two blacks were killed and fully a dozen persons wounded, some fatally, in clashes along New York Avenue and in the Florida Avenue section of the city.
With downtown Washington under the iron hand of the military and the police, race riots that raged from early yesterday evening had claimed at midnight Detective Sergt. Harry Wilson, shot and killed; one black dead, one black fatally shot, one black seriously shot, two white men slightly injured in shooting and between two and three score less seriously injured.
Literally hundreds of disturbers, both white and black, had been locked up in police stations and at midnight thousands of men in soldiers and sailors uniforms and in civilian clothes surged through the downtown district, seeking blacks. Every black found in the street or in street cars was roughly handled.
Fighting Outside the Cordon
But the fatal results of the race war did not come in the down districts where a tight cordon of infantry and cavalry supplemented the police and hemmed in the mob.
While the mob ranged harmlessly from Seventh Street to Fifteenth Street and from H Street to the mall, manhandling a black occasionally police headquarters and the district stations were deluged with demands for men.
In the black district along U Street from Seventh to Fourteenth streets, the blacks began early in the evening to take vengeance for the assaults on their race in the downtown district the night before.
In the early evenings crowds of black men roughly handled half a dozen white men in this section. As the evening progressed the crowds of blacks grew, knives and guns appeared and the serious conflicts began.
Murder of Detective Wilson.
In practically all of the serious clashes of the evening the mobs gathered with lightning speed and melted as rapidly away. In some instances only a few individuals were involved, but the feeling was bitter and the results were serious, in two cases fatal.
Detective Sergeant Harry Wilson was shot and instantly killed just before midnight.
With Inspector Grant and Detective Sergeant Cornwell in an auto he was riding through G street, between Second and Third streets, NW. The officers saw a black woman firing a revolver from a window, and Wilson started for her to stop her. She fired point blank at the detective, according to the officers who were with him, and he died before he could be hurried to a hospital.
Precautions by Pullman
The police authorities said at midnight that every precaution had been taken to keep the town under control, but they declined to hazard any predictions as to when the race disturbances would end.
Superintendent of Police Pullman said that with the aid of the Navy and War department officers he had made such dispositions as he felt must meet the situation. He pointed out the serious conflicts occurred outside of the downtown district. Both Maj. Pullman and District Commissioner Brownlow declared that the outbreaks were “sporadic” and were not due to the activities of the big crowd downtown.
“So far as the downtown district is concerned we have the situation well in hand,” said Maj. Pullman at midnight. “All of the serious outbreaks are outside the cordon of soldiers and police. They are sporadic. We are handling each one as it arises, but the precincts are rushed with demands for help.”
Helped by Regular Troops
Beside the entire strength of the police force, Maj. Pullman had behind him when the night of riot and disorder started, 400 regular army troops including a detachment of cavalry from Fort Myer. With these troops he hemmed in the downtown district.
Many Sections Demand Help.
The police strategy was founded on the belief that the mob forming along Pennsylvania avenue would seek to make its way either to the black district in the southwest or to the U street district.
The strategy was soundly based, but; it overlooked the fact that the mob downtown was not the only disturbing element in town.
From the U street district, from Fourth and N streets, from East Capitol Street, from the southwest—practically every section of the city—came demands for help.
“These demands followed clashes, which in several instances were shootings and in others razor affairs. By the time the police reached each scene the damage had been done, and another clash was demanding attention.
Firing at the Street Cars
Police automobiles dashing through the streets were repeatedly fired on in the street and from windows in the black section.
Street cars were time and again stoned or shot at. It was utterly impossible for the police or for the military force available to guess where the next outbreak was due.
Panting detachments of detectives, policemen and soldiers rushed from one scene to another, each time arriving just too late.
Meantime the downtown crowd was amusing itself. It made several feeble efforts early in the evening to break through the cordon along the mall, between Ninth and Twelfth streets, but rebounded from the marines and police along the line there without trouble.
Mobs Looking for Blacks.
Each rebound, however, brought added strength to the mob, and finally it gave up the effort to pierce the police lines, and surged north on Ninth street.
At F Street a black was roughly handled, and the crowd, filling the street and hooting, turned west.
At midnight it was moving about the F street section looking for blacks. It was in a good humor comparatively, but the police officials saw potentialities of further serious trouble unless it was soon dispersed.
First Fatality in Riot
The dead man, the first fatality of the riots, is Randall Neale, a black 22 years old, of 1458 N street. While he was walking at Fourth and N streets he was shot by an unknown man in uniform, said to be a marine, passing on a street car.
The bullet passed through the black’s lung. He was taken to the Homeopathic Hospital in the house of detention ambulance and pronounced dead by Dr. J. O’Brien. The police have not been able to determine who was responsible for the shooting, which occurred at 9:30.
Robert Broadus, black, 47, of 310 E Street, SW, is thought to be dying at Emergency Hospital from a lung wound and broken jaw. He was found lying in the street near Four-and-a-half and M streets sometime after being shot. There is no clue to his assailant. He was discovered at 10 o’clock.
Black Amuck Shot Five Times.
At Seventh and G streets George Gentry, alias Dent, a black, of 1930 Twelfth Street, went amuck with a pistol while riding north of a Capitol Traction car, ceasing to fire only when shot five times by Headquarters Detective Scrivener in a police automobile.
Gentry, whose wounds are of a most serious nature and who was taken to Washington Asylum Hospital after being booked at Headquarters, confessed that he left his home early in the evening with the intention of “raising hell.”
Jostled while on the platform of the car, which was loaded with white men and women, Gentry opened fire at a crowd on the sidewalk.
Victims of His Bullets.
The direct victims of his bullets were Albert Finlaysen, 17, of 629 Fourth Street, and Ernest Glovanetti, 13, of 470 K Street, both white boys, the first being shot in the hip and the second in the foot. Chauncey Boldridge, 22, 224 Tenth Street, and William Sullivan, 222 O Street, also white, were cut by glass which flew from a shop window, shattered by one of Gentry’s bullets. He was shot as he crouched on the car platform.
At Seventh and T streets, where one of the most extensive fights of the night occurred, Private J.C. Bunn, of the Eighth precinct, was shot through the right shoulder while attempting to place an unidentified black man under arrest.
Was Crack Pistol Shot.
Bunn, who holds a record of the local force as a pistol shot, did not have time to draw his weapon before the black shot him. He was taken to Garfield Hospital, where his wound was dressed, and pronounced not serious. He was able to proceed to his home unassisted.
Iowa Washington, a black, of 1446 T Street, attempted to slash Private Holmes, of the Eighth precinct, in the same vicinity, but his knife was knocked from his hand by Holmes and himself arrested. With him was taken Vincent Busey, a young black, of 1326 Twelfth Street.
Provost Guardsman Shot.
In a riot at Dudley’s beer saloon, 1225 Seventh Street, NW, Sergeant Murphy, of the marines provost guard, was shot in the neck by a black. He was taken to the Emergency Hospital. An unknown black was shot five times. The Second precinct responded to 35 riot calls up to midnight.
From 8 o’clock, when dark was approaching on, riot and bloodshed grew more prevalent in several sections of the city, notably along U Street between Seventh and Fifteenth Streets, and Seventh from K, north to U Streets.
A strong cordon of soldiers, sailors and marines composing a provost guard of 400 with loaded rifles, formed a night–unbreakable barrier between the northwest and southwest sections, and another was distributed along Ninth Street. This carefully distributed body of troops prevented a mob of several hundred whites, service men and civilians, from breaking through into the black quarter of the southwest and a line of cavalry deployed along N street from Seventh street west, kept them in check from a northward foray against the blacks who held possession of the region around Seventh and U streets. The crowd raged up and down, falling afoul of the soldiery and making necessary many arrests.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JULY 23, 1919, PAGE 3
JOHNSON GIRL IS HELD
Black Girl Charged With Killing of Detective Wilson.
ACTION BY CORONER’S JURY
Father Also Held—Both Now in Hospital—Police Officers Praised for His Great Courage—Charles W. Henning Exonerated for Shooting Randall Meade, Called in Time of Duty.
Carrie Minor Johnson, 17 year old black girl, has been charged with the murder of headquarters Detective Wilson, and she and her father, Benjamin J. Johnson, ordered held for action of the grand jury by a coroner’s jury impaneled for an inquest yesterday. Neither of the Johnson’s was present, each having been wounded several times when detectives broke into their house at 220 G street Monday night. At Washington Asylum Hospital it was said their hurts are not so serious as at first supposed.
The fearlessness which marked Wilson’s actions when he and other headquarters men dashed up the steps of the Johnson house from an upper window of which a fusillade of shots had been directed at the street, was brought out by the testimony before Coroner Nevitt of Detectives Hughlett, O’Brien and Grant.
Each told how Wilson, just before being shot, enunciated the phrase that already is being passed about in police circles as the saying of a gallant man: “Let me go first, Pat; I’m younger than you.” This was addressed to Detective O’Brien when Wilson and the two others reached the second floor of the Johnson’s house.
Fired Shots From Under Bed.
Grant was with Wilson when he forced his way into a pitch-dark room on the second floor. For three minutes, Grant said, there was not a sound and Wilson was busy passing his hand under a bed beneath which he thought someone was hiding. Suddenly there were two shots and Wilson collapsed, gasping: “they’re under the bed; they’re under the bed.” Lights were procured and Grant, Hughlett, O’Brien and others pumped revolver shots under the bed till a woman screamed, when they turned it over and found the Johnson girl and her father beneath, both wounded.
At Emergency Hospital, the girl said shortly after the killing of Wilson that “she got scared and fired a revolver.” Later she denied any guilt in the slaying, but the detectives are firm in their belief that she shot Wilson. It was developed at an autopsy on Wilson’s body that he was shot twice, once through the heart and once through the kidney.
Henning Shot in Self Defense
The same jury also sat on the case of Randall Neale, a black of 458 N street, who was shot and killed at 10o’clock Monday night at Fourth and N streets by Charles W. Henning, a home defense man. Henning was exonerated, his act having been performed, according to the jury “in the line of duty and in defense of his life.”
Henning declared he was in an automobile with several other guards when Neale stepped in front of the car, shouted “don’t go so damn fast”, and made as if to draw a revolver. Henning then fired, and as Neale staggered away he was felled by the butt of a marine’s rifle.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JANUARY 14, 1921, PAGE 14
GIRL IS CONVICTED IN WILSON’S DEATH
Clara Johnson Found Guilty of Manslaughter.
MAY REQUEST NEW TRIAL
Defendant Calm at First, but Later Breaks Down and Weeps—Quash Charge Against Father
Clara Johnson, 18 year-old black girl, was found guilty of manslaughter yesterday by a jury before Justice Gould, in connection with the slaying of Detective Sergeant Harry Wilson on July 21, 1919, during the race riots in the capitol.
Upon motion of District Attorney Laskey the court dropped the charge of first-degree murder, which the grand jury had returned against William Johnson, father of the girl. Counsel for the defense were not allowed to use this fact, however, to oppose the charge of the government that the girl shot the detective.
Was Tried on Murder Charge
The girl was tried on a charge of first-degree murder. The jurors compromised on the manslaughter verdict. The girl was calm when the foreman of the jury announced the verdict, but later broke down and wept. She was led from the courtroom by a matron.
The trial began Monday in Criminal Court No. 1, but there was difficulty in obtaining a jury, and the taking of testimony was not begun until Tuesday afternoon. The prosecution, conducted by Assistant District Attorney’s Cromelin and Van Doreu, charged that Detective Wilson was killed as he was entering the Johnson home in search of persons who had fired into the street. After an exchange of pistol shots the detective fell, mortally wounded, and William Johnson and his daughter were discovered by other officers, hiding under a bed. It was testified that an empty cartridge was found in a revolver in their home.
To Ask New Trial.
The government’s difficulty was to prove which, if any, of the defendants fired the shot that killed Detective Wilson. Attorneys B.L. Gaskins and T.M. Watson, who defended Clara Johnson, contended it was not possible to prove what shot struck the officer.
Counsel for the defense gave notice of their intention to ask for a new trial.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JUNE 21, 1921, PAGE 5
RELEASED IN RIOT KILLING.
Carrie Johnson, Black, Freed in Death of Detective Wilson.
Carrie Johnson, black, convicted on a charge of manslaughter before Justice Gould January 3 in connection with the killing of Detective Sergt. Harry Wilson during the race rioting in 1919, was released yesterday when United States Attorney John E. Laskey entered a nolle prossed in the case.
The girl was arrested more than eighteen months ago, and when first tried before Justice Gould an instruction to the jury on self-defense was denied. The case was again opened recently by Justice Siddons, who granted a new trial on the ground that when the shooting occurred the young woman was in terror for her life and acted on that impulse. The defendant was represented by Attorney’s Gaskin and Watson.