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*The birth of James Woodard is celebrated on this date in 1855. He was a Black laborer, sharecropper, and landowner.
James H. Woodard was born into slavery in Godwin (Wilson County), North Carolina. His mother’s name was Wadie, and he had several brothers and sisters. His father, Amos Woodard, served in the 14th Heavy Artillery (U.S. Colored Troops). At 13, his mother, Wadie, died, and he ran away from the plantation, hiding in the forests through the day and venturing into hog pens at night. He survived by eating whatever was in the troughs. According to family legend, James was discovered by a Quaker boy named Johnny Gill, who introduced James to his father. The Gills created a safe place where James could live, and he remained lifelong friends with the family.
On Jan. 22, 1887, Woodard (then 28 years old) applied for a marriage license to be married to Sarah Hodges, a twenty-one-year-old black woman whose parents were Isham and Francis Hodges. Sarah’s parents were residents of Cumberland County, North Carolina. David D. Smith, minister of Freewill Baptist, married them in a ceremony at the Hodges’ home in Black River. The couple had the following children: [William] Henry, born January 1885; Francis W. [Wadie], born Nov 1887; Levander, born Dec. 1890; Hattie B., born August 1896; and Leanna C., born June 1899. Also, a cousin named Margret Draughon lived with the family. She was born in April 1879.
Woodard shoed horses, made and sold turpentine, harvested fruit orchards (grapes, pears, apples, and plums), and ran a sugar cane mill. Sarah Hodges Woodard was a midwife. Around 1918, Woodard, with his friend Johnny Gill went to the Cumberland County courthouse to bid on Black River land that was up for auction, and Gill was willing to help. Later that year, Sarah Hodges Woodard died of influenza on November 1, 1918, and was buried at Bluff Church in Dunn, NC.
According to the 1920 Black River, District 48 Census, James Woodard was a landowner with mortgaged property who was an employer and a farmer. Land records verify that in 1920 Woodard had acquired over 100 acres in Black River and listed the property as Woodard’s Place. He also helped to build a school for blacks and donated land and timber to build a church in the area. On Aug. 1, 1920, Woodard married his second wife, Sarah Murphy of Wade, N.C. She was the daughter of Alex Murphy and Hermia Murphy.
On Oct. 17, 1925, Woodard, and his son-in-law, in a mule-drawn buggy, were struck by a car driven by two white men, Lonnie Penny and Howard Norris. James Woodward died a few minutes after the smash; his son-in-law survived. After the accident, on Oct. 19, 1925, Penny and Norris were held without bail in the Cumberland County jail. Penny was charged with manslaughter, and on Nov. 25, 1925, in the North Carolina Superior Court, a jury found him not guilty.
After his death, Sarah Murphy Woodard had some very difficult times. According to officials, the county confiscated Woodard’s Place because of debt, a practice of the American legacy of racial land redistribution. According to Cumberland County Court Records, all the land James had owned at the time of his death was supposedly sold at a public auction at the courthouse door at Fayetteville on Dec. 23, supposedly to pay his debts in 1929. The legacy of the James Woodard family lives on through his successful and talented great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Dr. Algeania Freeman, Great Granddaughter