Innocence, Torture and a Rare Eyewitness – This Week in Historical Lynchings

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.

eyewitness From the  Daily Illini,  June  9, 1934.
From the Daily Illini, June 9, 1934.

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.

June 6

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

June 7

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

June 8

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

June 9

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

June 10

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

June 11

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

June 12

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   [ + ]

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.

One thought on “Innocence, Torture and a Rare Eyewitness – This Week in Historical Lynchings

Comments are closed.

Top