Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Trial of Waleatta Wright

Waleatta Wright and Mamie Simmons were summoned to Ypsilanti judge Martin Stadtmiller's court, in the old City Hall on Huron Street, on June 13, 1917.

The charge the two women faced was a serious one. Mamie had been arrested by policeman W. L. Caplin. Stadtmiller found her guilty. In addition to the $4 cost of her prosecution, she was fined $100 [$1,660 today]. She could not pay. Mamie was sentenced to 90 days in the Detroit House of Corrections.

Waleatta, who was black, may have pled innocent. She was not sentenced that day, but the case was sent to trial on June 23. On the 23rd it was adjourned to the 25th at 9 a.m. On June 25 the trial was adjourned again on the motion of prosecuting attorney Lehman (sp?), to June 29, 10 a.m.

On the 29th, Waleatta's case was called at 10 a.m. "All parties in court," notes the court docket, which may have referred to the witnesses, the collection of whom might have been a reason for the trial postponements. The witnesses were carpenter Ed Stitt, DUR lineman Frank Novess and his sons (?) Ross and Robert, paper mill worker Joe Ely, gardener Jerry Ward and his wife, and Clyde Cole and Harold Block. Stitt, Cole, and Ward lived on Norris Street, near the present-day Corner Brewery, which is likely the scene of the offense. The docket indicates that each witness traveled less than one mile to get to court. Each of them was compensated for travel expenses--60 cents.

On the morning of the trial. Waleatta waived a jury trial. "I proceeded to hear and try said cause without a jury," noted Stadtmiller in the docket. "Above witnesses were sworn. No others sworn." The witnesses gave testimony. Stadtmiller concluded, "I found defendant guilty."

Waleatta paid the $15.82 she had accrued in court costs and the $100 fine. Had she not, she would have joined Mamie in the Detroit House of Corrections.

The charge against both women: "using indecent language in front of women and children."


Dusty D said...

This is a new, experimental type of mini-story that uses information I gleaned from one of the volumes of old criminal court dockets in the Archives. If you like, you can tell me if you like it or not and what more info, if any, you would like to see added.

BF said...

Yep. Liked it.

I didn't know the Quirk mansion had been City Hall.

Dusty D said...

Thanks BF :).

Yupperdoodle, that was once City Hall when it moved from that li'l building on Cross Street Bridge. Waitaminute, now, then it moved into the bank building (present location) in....uh-oh, was it 1914? Whoa, Nellie, might have posted a picture from the wrong city hall era, gonna run and check! Eek!

Dusty D said...

(Checked), no, whew, I was right. I misremembered--city hall moved into the Quirk house FROM Cross Street Bridge building in 1914. Then moved from the Quirk House to the old bank building at Michigan and Huron in the mid 1970s.

The original Cross Street Bridge "council house," as it was called, was built around 1860.

So you could say city politics have been heading south since 1860. :D

BF said...


(That was funny, actually.)

I must have known this... but I suffer from, as a friend put it: "A long-term loss of short-term memory."

Dusty D said...

Actually, if this tidbit was "new" info to a person as historically informed as you, it might make a good story! Plus I can use my punchline...and I come up with them so seldomly; I have to get good milage from it! :)

Ingrid said...

Thanks for this story! I live in Stadtmiller's old house, and would be very happy to hear about any other Stadtmiller stories.

Dusty D said...

Wow, that is neat, Ingrid! Very cool to be able to say, "I live in the old [famous Ypsilantian's name] house..."

He was judge for ever so long and there are SO many bound volumes of dockets--thank heavens someone saved those--that I'm sure there are many more to tell! I appreciate your interest! :)

TeacherPatti said...

Holy living fuck! I would have been broke back then for all the times I would have been convicted of this crime :)