This week – a week which saw nearly eighty lynchings of black citizens across but a few decades of history – we examine three specific lynchings. Two took place in Mississippi, the state probably responsible for the most lynchings on record, and another from Illinois, a state known more for its Jim Crow laws and “sundown towns” than lynchings. Regardless, the similarities between the South and Midwest are striking.
Between the Civil War and World War II, the black community, especially in the South, was terrorized by an epidemic of lynchings. As opposed to public executions, the point of lynching was to avoid the court of law, judge and jury. Often times, the victim, in a holding cell for an offense, was kidnapped by a mob before even being arraigned. According to a recent report issued by the Equal Justice Initiate, there were 4,075 lynchings of black Americans across the South between 1877 and 1950. 1In this case, “The South” pertains to the dozen states where the most lynchings occurred: Mississippi (614), Georgia (595), Louisiana (559), Arkansas (491), Alabama (363), Texas (344), Florida (307), Tennessee (238), South Carolina (184), Kentucky (170), North Carolina (122), and Virginia (88). See the EJI site here.
An Innocent Man Lynched (1900)
New Orleans, June 10 – A mob willfully and knowingly hanged and burned an innocent man, as well as another who was probably innocent, near Mississippi City, Miss., between midnight and 1 o’clock this morning. The lynching was the result of impatience on the part of the people of Biloxi, a nearby town, over the failure of the officers of the law to produce the man who a week ago murdered Christina Winterstein, a schoolgirl who was returning to her home near Biloxi after attending the commencement exercises of her school.
The crime was an unusually atrocious one ever for outrages of this nature, and naturally suspicion pointed to some unknown negro as the perpetrator. Many arrests were made, and two of the suspects, Askew and Russ, were placed in the Mississippi City jail for safe keeping. The proof against neither was more than remotely circumstantial. In the case of Askew, the District Attorney made an examination and practically declared the man innocent.
The next night Askew was taken from the jail by a mob and tortured with fire to extort a confession. After the terrible ordeal the mob virtually declared the man guiltless, as they returned him to jail.
Yesterday the District Attorney, at a public meeting at Biloxi, obtained a pledge from the citizens not to molest the prisoners if they were returned for examination. It is stated on good authority that he thought the men could prove their innocence, and the citizens were aware of his views. Some refused to pledge themselves, and yesterday afternoon it was openly asserted that it was out of the question to think of postponing the matter any longer, as the crime merited a lynching.
Last night a crowd went to the jail, secured Askew and Russ, hanged them, fired into their bodies, and then built a fire under them.
–New York Times, June 11, 1900
Negro Dragged from Cell and Tortured to Death (1903)
Belleville, Ill., June 7 – With the dawn of Sunday the full import of the wild night’s work done by a mob of fully two thousand citizens stood revealed today. David Wyatt, a negro schoolteacher, who made an attempt to assassinate Charles Hertel, County Superintendent, in his office last evening, had been taken from a supposedly impregnable jail, hanged to a telegraph pole in the centre of the public square and his body burned.
Two hundred men, armed with sledge hammers, marched up to the jail in the night and attacked the rear doors with vigor. In half an hour the doors gave way to repeated hammer blows. Wyatt was confined in the lower section of a double tier of cells. The chilled steel bars were cut away with chisels, and when the door swung open a mighty shout informed the waiting crowd that the negro was in the hands of his pursuers.
Wyatt was six feet three inches tall and of powerful build. He tried to defend himself but he was doomed to quick death. His head was mashed almost to a pulp before he was dragged out of his cell.
A rope was placed about his neck and the dying negro was dragged down stairs and into the street. Hundreds of men jumped upon him and literally kicked and tore the bleeding form to shreds. Two men climbed the telegraph pole. Willing hands tossed up the loose end of the rope and the battered body of the negro quickly swung free in the air. Yelling like mad men, the mob surged around the victim. Knives were drawn and the body was slashed right and left.
Volunteer runners appeared with cans of benzine and gasolene. Signs and pickets from neighboring fences were tossed into a pyre and flames shooting as high as the improvised gallows soon enveloped the negro.
All this was done while the mob knew that the negro’s victim was alive and had a fair chance to recover. The excuse given is that the lawless element among the negroes has been doing all sorts of deviltry, and that it was determined to teach the negroes a wholesome lesson.
Wyatt’s crime was provoked by the refusal of Superintendent Hertel to renew his teaching certificate. The negro demanded favorable action, and on its refusal fired one shot at the superintendent while he was sitting at his desk.
–New York Herald, June 8, 1903. 2The New York Herald stated that no city authories took measures to stop the lynching. The mayor, it is said, ordered the militia to stand down. He also ordered the fire department not to turn the hoses on the mob “on the grounds that it would make people angry.” Additionally: “For an hour and a half after the assailants got inside the jail the sounds of heavy blows were heard through the windows, which had been shattered by boys.” The police refused to use their revolvers as they were “afraid somebody would be hurt.”
Mob Violence Dealt to Pair (1934)
Clarksdale, Miss,. June 9 – Two bodies hanging from a rickety trestle three miles east of Lambert, Miss., this morning gave mute witness to Mississippi justice.
The bodies were those of Joe Love and Isaac Thomas, negroes, lynched at sundown, yesterday. The bodies were left hanging all night on orders of Greek Rice, district attorney. An inquest was held at the spot this morning. A verdict of “death at the hands of persons unknown” was returned.
Torn from the custody of Mississippi officers near Hushpuckena at 6 o’clock last night, the negroes were dead an hour later. More than 150 men were in the mob that stopped the officers. They brandished guns, and disarmed the officers.
One of the negroes’ ears was chopped from his head, before he died. They are said to have confessed an attempted assault on a Mississippi planter’s wife.
–Birmingham Post, June 9, 1934.
Eyewitness Tells of Clarksdale Lynching
Despite the reluctance of witnesses to openly discuss the lynching of two Mississippi negroes that took place here yesterday, the local newspaper was able to secure the following eye-witness account of the affair from a man who, nevertheless, refuses to give his name for fear of retaliation by townsmen:
I saw them hang two negroes last night.
The negroes screamed and prayed, but they died.
Just before they died they called on the Lord to help them.
“It won’t do you no good to pray, niggers, where you’re goin,” someone in the crowd shouted to them.
Some of the men wanted to cut them up. “We better not waste too much time,” someone else said, “’cause the sheriff will be along any time.”
It was getting pretty dark when we got to a bridge over a small creek near Lambert. “Here is a good spot to get rid of them niggers,” a fellow in the car with them said.
We all stopped. There must have been close to 200 men from around the neighborhood. The negroes were thrown out of the car. Ropes were tied around their necks.
They screamed louder.
“Cut out that crying you black So and So’s,” someone shouted.
One of the negroes was hit in the ear. He fell down.
“Oh Lordy, save me,” he shouted. Someone kicked him. He got up swaying from side to side as if drunk.
The crowd dragged the negros to the edge of the bridge.
“Push them off,” a voice cried.
They were pushed.
Swinging down you could hear their necks crack. It made me right sick for a minute.
The bodies started swaying around, spinning back and forth.
Around and around they spun, sort of like two black tops on a string.
“Shall we cut them down now?” someone asked.
“Hell, no,” another man said. “Leave them up there for crow-bait.”
For awhile no one said anything. Everybody just stood still and watched them swing. Finally we started movin’ away. I went home. I couldn’t eat no supper.
I still saw them bodies swinging.
–Dubois Express, June 9, 1934.
Over Seventy Other Lynchings This Week
What follows is a list of all known lynchings of black Americans between June 6 and June 12, 1881-1938.
It should be in the forefront of your mind that the “crimes” listed are only what the victims of the lynchings were accused of committing. They were allowed no trials, and thus they were not guilty in the eyes of the law. Certainly some may have done what they were accused of doing, but in a constitutional society that values law and order over mob rule, each and every lynching was a miscarriage of justice and a horrible wrong.
1884 Unnamed Negro Russell VA Black Male Hanged Murder of a 8 year-old white boy 1884 Unnamed Negro Santa Rosa FL Black Male Knife cuts Assaulted young white woman from a respectable family 1886 Alfred Long Davidson NC Black Male Hanged Killing a white man and his wife and robbery and arson 1886 Charles WhitleyPrince Frederick MD Black Male Hanged Assault of young white girl 1887 M. W. Washington DeSoto LA Black Male Hanged Entered white the bedroom of two white girls 1892 Wm. Kaneker Franklin FL Black Male Hanged/riddled with bullets Outrage on an 11 year-old white girl 1899 William Hill Bibb AL Black Male Hanged Accomplice in murder of a married white woman, a farmer’s wife 1902 Cain Ford Colleton SC Black Male Unreported Murder of a 19 year-old married white woman 1903 David Wyatt Belleville IL Black Male Hanged, Beaten Murder of countey superintendent of education 1909 Mick Morris Leon FL Black Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Murder of a white man, a sheriff 1919 James E. Lewis Mobile AL Black Male Shot Race hatred 1932 Henry Woods Hamilton FL Black Male Shot and cut Robbery and murder of a white police officer
1881 Unnamed Negro #1 of 3 Sevier AR Black Male Hanged Murder of an old white man, a wealthy farmer 1881 Unnamed Negro #2 of 3 Sevier AR Black Male Hanged Murder of an old white man, a wealthy farmer 1881 Unnamed Negro #3 of 3 Sevier AR Black Male Hanged Murder of an old white man, a wealthy farmer 1888 Thomas Bryson Pope AR White Male Riddled with bullets Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman 1890 Unnamed Negro Shelby AL Black Male Unreported Assaulted widowed white woman 1893 Ira Dumas Weakley TN Black Male Unreported Assault on a white girl, a farmer’s daughter 1894 Lewis Williams Copiah MS Black Male Hanged Attempted outrage of a 10-11 year-old white girl 1895 Unnamed Negro Columbia FL Black Male Unreported Improper proposals to a white woman, wife of a prominent citizen 1906 James Davis Citrus FL Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man and the man’s black servant 1919 Mark Smith Abbeville SC Black Male Shot Shot white deputy sheriff 1923 Henry Simmons Palm Beach FL Black-Bahamian Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Murder of a white man, a policeman 1932 Luke Murray Ironton OH Black Male Unknown Threatened white men with knife
1885 John Evans Suwannee FL Black Male Unreported Rape of an elderly white woman 1889 John Forbes Nottoway VA Black Male Hanged/Riddle with Bullets Criminal assault upon a white woman 1900 Simon Adams Muscogee GA Black Male Shot in the river Entered white girl's bedroom 1903 Banjo Peavey Houston GA Black Male Hanged/Riddle with Bullets Murder of a prominent young white man 1903 Unnamed Negro #1 of 5 Smith MS Black Female Killing of a white man and wounding another white man 1903 Unnamed Negro #2 of 5 Smith MS Black Male Killing of a white man and wounding another white man 1903 Unnamed Negro #3 of 5 Smith MS Black Male Killing of a white man and wounding another white man 1903 Unnamed Negro #4 of 5 Smith MS Black Male Killing of a white man and wounding another white man 1903 Unnamed Negro #5 of 5 Smith MS Black Male Killing of a white man and wounding another white man 1907 James W. Wilson Claiborne LA Black Male Shot Attempted assault on a white woman, a planter’s daughter 1911 Dave Winston Macon TN Black Male Riddled with bullets Murder of a white man 1927 Owens Fleming Phillips AR Black Male Shot Murder 1934 Isaac Thomas Quitman MS Black Male Hanged Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman, wife of a planter 1934 Joe Love Quitman MS Black Male Hanged Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman, wife of a planter
1881 Shade Thompson Barbour AL Black Male Hanged Sexual assault on a young white girl 1892 Charles Hill McCracken KY Black Male Hanged Assault on an unmarried white woman 1895 Unnamed Negro #1 of 2 Suwannee FL Black Male Shot Aided alleged rapist 1895 Unnamed Negro #2 of 2 Suwannee FL Black Male Shot Aided alleged rapist 1895 William Collins Lafayette FL Black Male Hanged/RwB Attempted assault of an unmarried white girl 1896 Walter T. Starks St. Mary LA Black Male Hanged/RwB Robbery and attempted murder of a married white woman 1897 William Andrews Princess Anne MD Black Male Beaten, Stabbed, Hanged Rape 1900 Ed Russell Harrison MS Black Male Hanged/RwB Rape and murder of a 13 year-old white girl 1900 Henry Askew Harrison MS Black Male Hanged/RwB Rape and murder of a 13 year-old white girl 1902 Fred Tinsley Warwick VA Black Male Hanged Unknown offense 1907 Lee Fox Sunflower MS Black Male Hanged Killing a white man
1883 Henry Colbert Fulton KY Black Male Shot Attempted rape of a white woman 1888 James Foster Henderson KY Black Male Hanged Rape of 8 year-old black girl 1894 Mark Jacobs Bienville LA Black Male Beaten Being successful; jealousy 1899 Robert Alexander Marion FL Black Male Drown Murder of a white police officer 1923 Unnamed Negro Benton MS Black Male Unreported Killing a white man, a construction worker 1938 Washington Adams Lowndes MS Black Male Beaten Owed a small debt to a white man
1881 John Taylor Rockingham NC Black Male Hanged Assault on a married white woman 1882 Milan Howard St. Tammany LA Black Male Hanged Outraging a married white woman 1888 Dennis Williams Madison FL Black Male Hanged/RwB Shot and seriously wounded a white man 1891 William Turner Lincoln MS Black Male Hanged Criminal assault on a married white woman 1898 Unnamed Negro Morehouse LA Black Male Riddled with bullets Assaulted white police officer and resisted arrest 1899 Simon Brooks Panola MS Black Male Hanged Outraged and murdered a black woman 1900 Renny Jefferson Thomas GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Found under the home of his employer, a prominent white farmer, by his 15 year-old daughter 1902 Harrison Gillespie Rowan NC Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a 25 year-old unmarried white woman 1902 James Gillespie Rowan NC Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a 25 year-old unmarried white woman 1906 Wood Ambrose Jefferson Davis MS Black Male Shot Shooting a white man 1909 Frank Samuels Colleton SC Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a young white man 1909 Quillie Simmons Colleton SC Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a young white man 1910 Unnamed Negro Escambia FL Black Male Riddled with bullets Attempted assault on an unmarried white girl; mistaken identity
1882 George Beckett Monroe MS Black Male Hanged Attempted outrage on a 7 year-old white girl 1882 John Johnson York SC Black Male Hanged Outraged a 15 year-old white girl 1883 Aaron Harris Clarke MS Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man, an Irish peddler 1885 Howard Cooper Towson MD Black Male Hanged Assault, rape, attempted murder of a white girl 1894 Unnamed Negro Pierce GA Black Male Skinned alive Assaulted daughter of well-to-do white farmer 1898 Father of Moses Ricks Monroe AR Black Male Unreported Complicity in the outraging of a married white woman, a farmer’s wife 1900 Seth Cobb West Baton Rouge LA Black Male Hanged Making threats against two white men 1903 Frank Dupree Rapides LA Mullato Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man 1933 T. J. Thomas Baker GA Black Male Hanged and shot Fighting with young white men
References [ + ]
|1.||⇡||In this case, “The South” pertains to the dozen states where the most lynchings occurred: Mississippi (614), Georgia (595), Louisiana (559), Arkansas (491), Alabama (363), Texas (344), Florida (307), Tennessee (238), South Carolina (184), Kentucky (170), North Carolina (122), and Virginia (88). See the EJI site here.|
|2.||⇡||The New York Herald stated that no city authories took measures to stop the lynching. The mayor, it is said, ordered the militia to stand down. He also ordered the fire department not to turn the hoses on the mob “on the grounds that it would make people angry.” Additionally: “For an hour and a half after the assailants got inside the jail the sounds of heavy blows were heard through the windows, which had been shattered by boys.” The police refused to use their revolvers as they were “afraid somebody would be hurt.”|