This past Sunday, The Herald did the first of what we hope are several stories on the 1957 murder of State Trooper J.T. Brown of Sanford. We’ve put a call out to anybody who may remember the incident from 50 years back, and we’re trying to set up an interview with the man found guilty of killing Brown and another N.C. trooper (he was still surving in Lillington, last we heard, but was tranfserred to an unknown prison recently).
While looking through the papers from 1957, however, we discovered something about newspaper editors back then — they were really quick to find somebody guilty. In other words, some of the things they printed would get me fired and sued in an instant today.
We’ll start with the headline from the day following Trooper Brown’s murder. The main headline “Lee Patrolman Killed By Unknown Thug” is bad enough, but the subheadline, “Dark-skinned driver slays two troopers; search continues” is the attention grabber. I’m amazed there are no words like “suspect” or “allegedly” … The Herald pretty much says a dark-skinned driver did this heinous crime, which is funny, considering the man who was eventually arrested and sentenced to life in prison twice was as white as the troopers he killed.
Go down further on that front page (you can’t see it in the picture), and there’s an unrelated story from Pittsboro, headlined “White woman raped near Siler City,” which starts with the lead paragraph:
PITTSBORO — James Yarbrough, 33, described by police as a “bad” Negro, was held today on a charge that he accosted two white women on a road near Siler City, and raped one while the other was forced to watch.
We scanned several papers from November 1957, and found amusement in headlines, stories and even advertisements that would shut us down today (ads telling the little lady to stop her cleaning so she can go buy some groceries). When Frank Wetzel was finally arrested in 1958, the Herald referred to him as the cop killing thug … before he was tried by a judge and jury of course.
I really enjoyed looking through these old papers. I know it was a different time, and I don’t fault anybody from the papers, the city or that era for the way things were reported on. That’s just the way it was. It’s a different time now.
I get a lot of people, usually a little older, who tell me the newspaper was a much better product back in those days. I’m not here to debate that, other than to say the Herald is surprisingly more of a local paper today than it was then. But from here on out, I will be able to say that if we did our paper today like we did then, we’d be out of business, and I’d have been in court several times.