Entire Black Family Murdered in Unsuccessful Manhunt (1932)

We typically refrain from posting on the weekends, but in some cases, such as the anniversaries of important events, we make exceptions.

On this day in 1932, five black citizens of Tate County, Mississippi were murdered by an illegal mob called up by the Sheriff whose son had been killed. He oversaw the lynchings himself and put an end to the violence a few days later – a few days too late.

Though he was publicly responsible for the lynchings, and though he knew exactly who was in the lynch mobs, there was never the notion that these killings were illegal or even immoral.

Through the use of nearly a dozen period newspaper accounts, we’ll trace the story from its beginnings to its final conclusion several months later.

Five Negroes Shot, Three Fatally, by Group Hunting for Man (1932)

Search Pushed for Slayer of Dixie Deputy
Senatobia, Miss., Oct 17 – Three negroes were slain and two others seriously wounded last night by a posse hunting Jesse Williams, 45, negro, accused of killing Deputy Sheriff Walker Williams Sunday afternoon.

County Jailer J.T. Dixon said the posse surrounded the home of a negro, “Judge” Crawford, at midnight and two shots were fired from the house. The posse returned the fire, killing Crawford and two of his sons and wounding Crawford’s wife and another son.

The posse is combing the Tate County hills for Williams, aided by bloodhounds.

Slain with Own Gun
The deputy, a son of Sheriff C.A. Williams, was slain with his own gun, the jailer said, after he had arrested Williams for robbery.

His slayer invaded a church of his race nearby and broke up services by shouting, “I have just killed a man.”

The pastor stopped preaching and the congregation fled. 1The Lincoln Star; Lincoln, Nebraska; Mon, Oct 17, 1932 – Page 1. Here.

The following day, an article came across the wire detailing the confusion.

Tate County Courthouse, Mississippi.
Tate County Courthouse, Mississippi.

Senatobia, Oct. 17 – Widely conflicting reports tonight said that from three to seven negroes had been killed by enraged posses scouring the hills of Tate county for Jessie Williams, 46-year-old negro who killed Deputy Sheriff Walker Williams yesterday.

At least two other negroes and a deputy sheriff were wounded.

District Attorney Milton Thompson said that he knew of only three negroes who had been killed. Perry Poe, newspaper man of Coldwater, said that he had seen the bodies of four and heard reports that possemen had killed three more.

[…]

A posse was hastily organized by Sheriff C.A. Williams, father of the slain deputy, a trail was followed to the home of Judge Crawford, a negro farmer.

“Reports made to me indicate the posse was fired upon from within the Crawford home, one of the shots slightly wounding Deputy Max Lloyd,” Milton Thompson [prosecutor for the district] said.

[…]

“My office will make an investigation of the entire matter,” Thompson said, “and our evidence likely will be turned over to the grand jury next week.”

After the shooting at the Crawford home, the posse turned its attention to the Tate county hills near here, where they believed the negro, Williams, might be hiding. Several trails proved false, but bloodhounds from Clarksdale were being relied upon to locate the fugitive.

Governor Conner, reached by newspaper men at Cleveland, Miss., said he would order troops to Tate county, if necessary, but local officials indicated that they were not ready to make a request for outside aid. 2Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Tue, Oct 18, 1932 – Page 10 Here.

The posse, as can be seen above, was illegally raised by the bereaved Sheriff, and included at least one deputy. The police and paper seemed to justify the murders of what turned out to be five black citizens with the claim that their illegal mob was fired upon.

A day later, the Sheriff began to understand that his manhunt had the potential to set of a race war.

Mississippi Posse Quits Search for Deputy’s Slayer

Senatobia, Miss., Oct 18 – Angry citizens, who killed a number of negroes in searching for the slayer of Deputy Sheriff Jeff Walker Williams, abandoned the hunt today under persuasion of Sheriff C.A. Williams, father of the slain officer.

“Go to your families and let my officers find this negro,” the sheriff told the men who fired on a cabin yesterday and killed at least three persons.

[…]3The Lincoln Star; Lincoln, Nebraska; Tue, Oct 18, 1932 – Page 13. Here.

By 1932, lynchings had greatly decreased. A mass lynching such as this made headlines across the nation. But when the Sheriff called off the mob that he had personally raised, the press had to fill their columns with speculation and rumor.

Jesse Williams, the accused murderer, was rumored to be seen that Sunday “kneeling over the grave of his father and placing dirt form the grave in his shoes on a superstition that it would throw the bloodhounds off of his track.” 4Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Thu, Oct 20, 1932 – Page 1Here.

A day or so later, the public could focus upon the trial. This was not, of course, the trial of the mob who lynched several black citizens of Tate County – all of whom were known to the Sheriff. It was, instead, the trial of the few black people not lynched who were somehow suspected of being involved.

While Jesse Williams was still at large, his son, Steve Williams, only fifteen years old, was thrown in jail. A day or so later, he was joined by Prince Scott, apparently the only eyewitness to the killing of the Deputy Sheriff.

Senatobia, Oct 20 – Sheriff C. A. Williams and his office force is making every effort to capture Jesse Williams, the negro who Sunday afternoon shot and fatally wounded his son, Jeff Walker Williams, when he went to the negro house to question him concerning a robbery committed in the neighborhood the night before.

Prince Scott, a negro who came after the officers to make the investigation of the robbery and who was the only eye witness to the killing, was captured and placed in jail here today for questioning. He [originally] fled when he saw that Deputy Williams was dead and, could not be found until today.

His statement coincides with that of Steve Williams, 15 year old son of Jesse Williams as to the slaying.

Steve confessed that he fired the first shot from the house with a shot gun when he saw Deputy Williams search his father. When Williams turned to see who was shooting, Jesse Williams took the pistol and began firing. Young Williams ran three hundred yards before the bullet found its mark. 5Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Fri, Oct 21, 1932 – Page 13. Here.

Two days later, on October 22nd, Steve Williams was before the grand jury. He was brought back to the Tate County jail, where the Sheriff vowed to “provide a special guard for the negro involved in the slaying of his son.” 6The Monroe News-Star; Monroe, Louisiana; Mon, Oct 24, 1932 – Page 1Here.

By October 27th, the grand jury indicted both Steve and his father, Jesse Williams. Steve was “charged with being an accessory to the crime,” while his father “was indicted on a first degree murder charge.” 7Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Fri, Oct 28, 1932 – Page 11Here.

Though Steve was still in custody, Jesse remained at large. A few weeks later, the Tate County board of supervisors offered a $700 reward for the capture of Jesse Williams. This was made up of $100 from the state, $100 from the county itself and $500 from various other parties. 8Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Sat, Nov 12, 1932 – Page 2Here.

A month later, Jesse Williams was arrested.

Accused Slayer of Deputy Found

Sheriff Returns Black Accused of Murdering Tate Deputy
Memphis, Tenn., Dec 13 – Sheriff C.A. Williams of Tate county, left Memphis today for an unknown destination with Jesse Williams, negro, wanted for the slaying of the Sheriff’s son, Deputy Jeff Walker Williams, last October.

Sheriff Williams declared he was “going to see that the negro gets a fair trial” and said he was withholding the name of the jail in which the negro will be confined to prevent possible mob violence. 9Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Wed, Dec 14, 1932 – Page 1Here.

The trial was held in the Spring of 1933 in the Tate County Circuit Court. By April 27th, it had concluded.

Hang Negro For Killing Deputy

Jesse Williams Found Guilty of Slaying Son of Tate County Sheriff
Senatobia, April 27 – Jesse Williams, 50 year old Tate county negro, will hang June 9, for the slaying of Deputy Sheriff Walker Williams, son of Sheriff C.A. Williams. Williams was found guilty by a jury last night and sentence was pronounced by Judge John Kuykendall.

Tate County Courthouse, Mississippi.
Tate County Courthouse, Mississippi.

The first witness to take the state for the state was C.O. Pate, local undertaker, who testified Deputy Williams was shot in the back of the head. The examination showed that there was a small hole in the back of the head where the bullet entered and the bullet came out the left eye, entirely removing the eye-ball. Former Sheriff W.G. Cocke testified for the state that he saw the place where Williams fell and that it measured 297 steps from where the argument first started.

Jesse Williams took the witness stand in his own defense and stated that he had never seen Deputy Williams before the day of the fatal shooting and that he did not know who he was and thought that he was being robbed. He was standing with his hands up when Deputy Williams’ attention was attracted and that he then grabbed the young deputy about his body and attempted to hold him when he was shot through the stomach.

He then scuffled wiht the deputy for the pistol, finally securing the gun, he ran him for a distance of about two or three hundred yards, shooting at the deputy. 10Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Fri, Apr 28, 1933 – Page 2
Here.

Despite Jesse Williams’ claim that he believed he was being robbed, he was sentenced to death. His son, Steve Williams, who claimed to have fired the first shot (though that seemed to go unmentioned in his father’s trial) had his day in court shortly thereafter.

Negro Gets Life for Tate Crime

Steve Williams, Negro, Sentenced for Part in Slaying of Deputy
Senatobia, April 28 – Steve Williams, 15-year-old negro boy, was given a life sentence today in circuit court by Judge John Kuykendall when he pleaded guilty to aiding in the slaying of Jeff Walker Williams, son of Sheriff C.A. Williams, last fall.

Steve Williams was charged with firing the first shot when he saw his father, Jesse Williams, arrested by the young deputy. It was at this part of the killing that the attention of Jeff Walker Williams was attracted and he turned to ascertain the cause of the shot and was grabbed by Jessie Williams and his gun with which he was killed taken from him. 11Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Sun, Apr 30, 1933 – Page 19. Here.

On June 9th, Jesse Williams was hanged. He had spent the last few days, according to the Clarion-Ledger, “singing and praying in his cell waiting for his execution day.” 12Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Wed, Jun 7, 1933 – Page 5Here.

Two days later, he was executed.

Negro Is Hanged For Killing Deputy

Senatobia, Miss., June 9 – Spending the night reading the Bible, then eating hot cakes for breakfast at daybreak, Jesse Williams, negro, was hanged in the Tate County courtyard here at 6a.m.

He was convicted of slaying a young deputy sheriff, Jeff Walker Williams. 13The Anniston Star; Anniston, Alabama; Fri, Jun 9, 1933 – Page 1. Here.

But What of Justice?

This, it seems, is the end of the story. Justice, as it was legally understood in the 1930s, was officially dealt. The murderer was executed and the accomplice was sentenced to life in prison.

But what of the victims? What of the entire Crawford family? Though possibly guilty of aiding and abetting Jesse Williams, they certainly took no part in the actual murder of the Deputy Sheriff. If they had gone to trial, they would not have been executed – Steve Williams was not.

Instead, they were lynched with the approval of the Sheriff. Granted, he was a grieving father, but he was also the Sheriff. It was his duty to see that law and order was kept. In this, he failed. In this, he was an accomplice to four murders.

Sheriff Williams and at least one of this deputies were part of the lynch mob who killed the Crawfords (and possibly more). They took part in the slayings and, if they did not commit the murders themselves, knew who did.

Never at any time did anyone in the local press suggest that those responsible for the lynchings be held responsible for their actions.

Assessing the Lynchings

According to the Beck Tolnay Lynching Database, five black Americans were lynched in Tate County, Mississippi on October 16, 1932. These were Judge Crawford and his wife, Annie, 56 and 54 years old; their two children, Algiers and Earnest, 29 and 19, respectively, as well as Tom Scott, 20 years old.

The Tate County District Attorney, Milton Thompson, claimed that only three had died. According to the Clarion-Ledger:

Thompson said the posse returned the fire, killing Crawford, one of Crawford’s sons, and a son-in-law. Crawford’s wife and another son were also wounded, the latter probably fatally. Thompson said he did not know whether the second son had died since he was not located. 14Clarion-Ledger; Jackson, Mississippi; Tue, Oct 18, 1932 – Page 10. Here.

However, a newspaper reporter by the name of Perry Poe claimed to have seen four bodies. 15The Lincoln Star; Lincoln, Nebraska; Tue, Oct 18, 1932 – Page 13. Here. Given that the fourth body was that of Tom Scott, the probable son-in-law, this leaves the fate of Annie Crawford seemingly unknown.

She was, by all accounts, “seriously wounded,” but there appears to be no account of her recovery or death. After the mob was called off, the press stopped reporting on the lynchings and focused upon the manhunt for Jesse Williams.

Missing Sources

Beck Tolnay have access to sources that I don’t. Nowhere in my research did I find the names or ages of anyone apart from Judge Crawford. And yet, the database names all of them. As they list all five as “probable lynchings,” it leads me to believe that Annie eventually died from her wounds.

Since my sources are limited and their information is specific and thorough, I’ll default to their findings. It seems most likely that Annie Crawford met the same end as her husband, her sons and son-in-law. All were murdered by the mob called up by the Sheriff. None received justice. Even in 1932, justice wasn’t even considered.

References   [ + ]

Eric
Eric has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, he wrote the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, he decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.
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