Who was Timothy “Frank” Pettis?

Timothy Pettis was a World War I Army veteran, working as janitor for the Bank of Southwestern Oregon. He grew up in Florida, where his father was a Baptist preacher and his mother and sisters were teachers. His marriage at the Coos County Courthouse to a local woman of color was remarkable enough that the Coquille Valley Sentinel wrote a short article about it on April 4, 1924.

Two months later, on the night of July 6, he played pool with some friends, including a white man with whom he had served overseas in the war. He later crossed Front Street to the Right Café, a 24-hour
restaurant that was filled with sailors off the USS Shirk, a destroyer which had just docked that day. Despite prohibition laws, many of the young men had been drinking. A sailor named “Slim” suddenly cried out that Timothy Pettis had a knife (a claim that his companions denied). A local taxi driver who was passing outside the door of the café heard the claim and reported it to the police. When Timothy—who had already exited the café with a friend—saw the police running towards him, he ran to the back of the bank building where he worked, and then down the train tracks on Front Street. He was last seen alive being chased by the police.

On the morning of July 12, a tugboat operator for the local lumber mill found his body floating in Isthmus Slough with no marks of violence on it…except that he had been castrated. Despite statewide attention after an appeal to the governor from local citizens, the murder has never been solved, and Mr. Pettis’s story slipped into obscurity for a century.

An archived presentation of Timothy Pettis’s story, done as part of “Black History Quest,” is viewable on the YouTube channel of Oregon Black Pioneers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLLZQ3lep5U

See the flyer giving details of the memorial walk in honor of Mr. Pettis here: https://ecwo.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/Pettis-memorial-flyer-PDF.pdf