Kenansville, NC Prison Camp Fire, Mar 1931

Eleven Convicts Burned To Death

Lose Lives When Fire Destroys Prison Camp in North Carolina

Kenansville, N.C., March 7 (UP).-Fire today claimed the lives of 11 Negro convicts near here. They were quartered at the Duplin county prison camp, several miles away.

The 11, trapped in their steel and wooden cages, died screaming in the dark hours of early morning while guards and citizens worked frantically to release as many as possible before the steady progress of the flames. Fifty-two prisoners were locked in the stockade, and through the heroic efforts of Owen Baisben and three other guards, 41 were saved.

The flames spread from the camp kitchen to the sleeping quarters of the men. Camp Superintendent John Best sounded an alarm over the camp’s single telephone line, and practically all of Kenansville’s citizens went to the aid of the threatened men.

Four camp guards worked to open cell doors. Thirty white and 11 Negro prisoners, screaming, were turned out as rapidly as keys could be applied to locks, but the doomed men lodged in a cell near the kitchen were beyond the reach of rescuers.

An inquest was deferred today by Coroner B.H. Bridges pending the arrival of L.G. Whitley, state penal inspector, and County Attorney Rivers Johnson.

The Charleston Daily Mail, Charleston, WV 8 Mar 1931

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