Cook column: Setting the record straight for ‘Papa’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 20, 2008

Did Moses Lee Jackson, once a wealthy Salisbury businessman, serve a federal prison sentence for his part in a banking scandal?
It took her five years, but Obern Rodman of Norwood knows without a doubt he did not. It matters to her a great deal. Moses Jackson was her grandfather. She calls him “Papa.”
This year’s credit crisis has parallels in the banking crash the nation experienced in the early 20th century. Obern’s story is timely. – – –
Her determination to set the record straight began 10 years ago when she read a Salisbury Post feature about the house Moses Jackson built in 1908, a house that now faces Old West Innes Street, beside the Department of Social Services.
Owners who had restored the house to its original beauty were selling it again ó “that’s what we do,” one of them said ó and telling tales.
Much of their information Obern knew to be fact. Moses had a meat-packing company and butcher shop on Main Street, as well as a coal-and-ice business and a textile mill that made lace tablecloths.
His property stretched from the railroad tracks on Innes to Grants Creek, including the area around today’s Rowan Regional Medical Center, she says. Toward the back of his land, he had a vineyard. In the winter he let the circus people keep elephants on his land.
Moses was so well known that he’s depicted in Salisbury’s historic mural downtown ó the man wearing a butcher’s apron.
Here’s the part of the 1998 story that stirred Obern up:
But by the late 1920s, Jackson was in trouble, according to the stories. In 1929 he borrowed money from the bank to recover his losses on stocks, served on the bank’s board at the same time (which was illegal) and ended up serving three years in prison.
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Papa in prison? That did not fit the story Rodman knew about her grandfather, who died in 1930 when she was 6.
Truth often gets mutilated as stories pass from generation to generation and from homeowner to homeowner.
Moses Jackson’s story got mixed up with that of his colleague, J.D. Norwood, who did indeed get a three-year prison sentence for his role in the demise of Peoples Bank and the collapse of a mill. Moses got caught up in the charges because he was managing the mill for Norwood at the time and on the board of a bank Norwood headed
Obern was sure Moses was exonerated, and she set out to prove it.
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The Salisbury Post covered the Peoples Bank story thoroughly, so there were stories about it. But which days of which years? Obern got help from Gretchen Witt in the History Room of Rowan Public Library, and a supervisor in federal records in Atlanta found the actual disposition of Moses Jackson’s case and sent Obern a copy.
But the bulk of her research took place at the public library’s microfilm machine, scrolling through Post editions from the 1920s hour after hour, each time staying as long as she dared leave her dog unattended at home in Norwood.
The result of those hours of reading is a thick sheaf of copies bearing the headlines and news of Salisbury in the 1920s.
The trouble started when a Tennessee cotton dealer sued for receivership of Mecklenburg Mills because of an unpaid bill for $298,412.13. A countersuit claimed the cotton was inferior, but that story soon unraveled. Norwood, while chairing the board of Peoples Bank in Salisbury and an owner of the mill, was rumored to have stocked the bank with some $400,000 in Mecklenburg Mills paper. And the mill was broke.
Headlines tell the rest.
June 8, 1923: PEOPLES NATIONAL BANK CLOSED TODAY, Bank Examiner Has Charge of the Bank.
June 12, 1923: … Said to Have Over $400,000 Bad Paper.
Jan. 31, 1924: GRAND JURY INDICTS NORWOOD, DOUGHTON AND JACKSON, Misapplication of bank’s fund is main charge.
Dec. 14, 1925: Norwood Trial Begins in Federal Court In Greensboro This A.M.
June 10, 1926: People’s Bank Cases Ended in Federal Court, Government Takes Nol Pros in Cases against Doughton and Jackson.
The federal prosecutor dropped the case against Moses Jackson, the Post reported:
The closing of these cases ends all indictments against men in connection with the failure of the bank, which was brought about by the collapse of the Mecklenburg Mill Company, of which J.D. Norwood was the head, with M.L. Jackson was manager.By that time, Moses had moved to Washington, D.C., and opened another meat-packing business.
And J.D. Norwood ó once campaign chairman for Sen. Lee Overman and head of the state Democratic Party executive committeeó was in federal prison. He served one year.
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Obern remembers seeing her grandfather only once. He had traveled from Washington for a visit, and she remembers he played checkers with her father, Waverly Rainey, in the parlor.
But even with so little direct contact, she wants to defend the name of Moses Jackson. She was born in the house he built, and her family lived there until 1939. They lost the house because of unpaid property taxes going back to Norwood’s time, when he was supposedly paying the Jacksons’ bills, she says. They moved to Ackert Avenue.
But her heart is tied to Old West Innes Street.
“To me that was always home, because we had some wonderful, happy years there,” she says.
She had 11 brothers and sisters ó Fannie, Sissie, Bill, Bo, Charlie, Mary, Tom, June, Harry, Lee and John.
In those days, women gave birth at home, and Obern recalls being sent outside with Bo when the doctor came. “Doctor West,” she remembers asking once, “have you got us a baby in that satchel?”
Not yet, he said.
On Christmas mornings, she says, the children would come down the grand staircase, the smallest one first, and draw back the parlor door to find a roaring fire and presents for everyone.
Those are stories Obern Rodman cherishes. And they are the stories that should be tied to the house Moses Jackson built.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.