Religion has always played a large role in race relations throughout American history. This week, we’ll take a closer look at three separate lynchings, all of which have racial overtones. First, we’ll hear from a Presbyterian minister who urged his congregation to lynch a black man for allegedly killing a fellow parishioner’s daughter. That same grieving father, also a reverend, pleaded with his congregation and friends to not seek revenge. In another case, a white minister witnessed a lynching and begged the mob to stand down. In yet another, a black man was lynched while singing the hymn “Nearer My God To Thee.”
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.
Fiery Sermon By Pastor Leads to Lynching (1903)
Wilmington, Del., June 23 – A fiery sermon by a pastor was blamed today for the lynching last night of George White, negro, accused ravisher and murderer of Miss Helen S. Bishop.
The Rev. Robert A. Elwood, pastor the Olivet Presbyterian church, preached a sensational sermon on the probable lynching of White last Sunday evening. The text of the sermon was widely distributed and this was believed today to have had much influence in the lynching of White which followed.
Rev. Elwood took his text from Corinthians V., 13: “Therefore put away from among ourselves that wicked person.” In referring to the urgency for a speedy trial for the negro, Rev. Elwood said:
“I call your special attention to that part of my text found in the constitution which says: ‘In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.’
“On the day of this terrible crime the officials arrested a man supposed to be guilty. He was taken before a magistrate and held without bail. Tonight he is in jail with armed guards parading about for his protection, waiting until the middle of September. Is that speedy? Is that even constitutional?
“O, honorable judges, call the court, establish a precedent, and the girls of this state, the wives of our homes and the mothers of our fireside and our beloved sisters will not be sorry and neither will you.
“And honorable judges, if you do not hear and heed these appeals, and that prisoner should be taken out and lynching, then let me say to you with full realization of the responsibility of my words, even as Nathan said to King David of old, after his soldiers had killed Uriah, ‘Thou art the man,’ so I would say to you. The responsibility for lynching would be yours for delaying the execution of the law.
“If the judges insist that the trial of the murderer of Miss Bishop be delayed until September, then should he be lynching? I say, Yes.”
The father of the murder victim is also a minister. Prior to the lynching the Rev. E.R. Bishop, had issued a letter begging the people to permit the law to take its course. Rev. Bishop’s letter said:
“Dear Friends: Mrs. Bishop and our children join me in this expression of the deepest gratitude for your Christian sympathy and tender ministrations in our agonizing grief. Though comparatively strangers, you have been as dear friends whose hearts had been proved by years of acquaintance. You have helped us bear our sorrow, made hundredfold more intense by the most revolting crime. Our cup of bitterness is full and we ask you to join us in our appeal to all citizens of our commonwealth to refrain from violence. The officers believe they have all the evidence necessary to convict the prisoner, and without doubt as soon as the court can reach his case he will receive his sentence and pay the full penalty for his atrocious crime. If he can be legally tried this will be so. By all means let justice be swift, but if not, then let us wait calmly until the law in its majesty may remove the vile wretch from society.
“In the meanwhile the culprit is shut up with his guilty conscience, a hell of itself, and knows he must meet the demands of law and justice with his life. Any other course of procedure would bring a kind of glory for those of his class, would intensify the suffering of the afflicted family, possibly endanger the life of a delicate woman, and certainly would dishonor the laws of our commonwealth. Let us not try to atone for one crime, no matter how hellish, by committing another. Sincerely yours,
Mrs. Bishop, mother of the murdered girl, is in a state of extreme nervousness. White was put to death within a few hundred yards of the Bishop home, and the glare of the fire and howls of the mob could be plainly seen and heard at the house.
Prior to the lynching, White was incarcerated in the Newcastle County workhouse. A crowd of several hundred whites advanced into the reception hall and demanded admittance to the jail. Their demand was refused by the guards an they were deluged by a stream of water by the fire fighting equipment of the institution. This did not lessen the eagerness of the besiegers, who immediately began an assault upon the iron doors. Chief of Police Black shouted to the crowd:
“The first man that comes into this corridor will be killed.”
The leader of the mob grasped one of the heavy sledgehammers and as he attacked the steel grating he cried: “Then you had better kill me for the first one.”
Another man shot out the cluster of incandescent lights in the vestibule. The mob and guards exchanged shots, but did not aim at each other.
Peter Smith, a 12 year old boy, and another youth, name not known, were wounded during the fusillade. Smith was shot in the back. The bullet which struck him evidently came from a pistol in the crowd, as it is claimed by the prison warden that his guards fired over the heads of the lynchers. Smith is not expected to live. The other injured youth was shot in the nose and is expected to live.
While about 300 men and boys were storming the front of the jail, several thousand sympathizers were lined up outside, and, while they took no active part in the attack, were plainly in favor of lynching White.
After forcing their way into the lower corridor on the west wing the crowd surged up to the front row of cells on the third floor. The leaders, who had the sledges and rivet cutting appliances, were calm and determined and cut straight to the cell of the man they were after.
That no other doors were demolished is due to the leaders, who told Chief Black and Warden Meserve that they intended to get the negro if they had to break every steel door in the place, and argued that it was a useless expense to the county to have unnecessary damage done to property.
The officials saw the strength of this argument and informed the leaders that White was in cell No. 13 on the front row, third story. This was enough and the door to this row of cells was at once attacked.
“This is the only door between us and our man,” shouted one of the mod, “and if you will stand back we will cut it open in an hour.”
It was just 22 minutes of 12 o’clock when the mob with yells, curses, and cheers rushed into the corridor occupied by White. Here more trouble was encountered, for in smashing the lever box the mechanism was damaged and the door to the cell of white could not be opened.
Warden Meserve then rushed into the cell corridor to prevent the mob from taking the wrong man. He saw that the men with hammers were about to demolish the cell door and told them how to disconnect the door so it could be operated.
As soon as the door to White’s cell slid open there was a deafening cheer, and cries of “Don’t hurt him; hang him; don’t hit him; burn him at the stake. Take him to the place where he murdered Miss Bishop, for we have driven a stake there and will burn him.”
White fought desperate for his life, and knocked down the first man who approached him. One of the leaders of the mob threw his arms around the negro, thus protecting him. At this time the narrow corridor was so tightly packed by the mob that it was impossible to get the prisoner out.
A rope was tied around his legs and he was lowered to the mob below, who dragged him to a previously selected site at Price’s Corner.
When he found that his case was hopeless the negro confessed to having committed the deed, and did not spare himself in telling of it. He prayed fervently to God and seemed anxious to do as much talking as possible in the few minutes he had to live.
Another strong rope was brought and the negro was wrapped in its coils from shoulders to feet. His lops were moving while this was going on, and he seemed to be trying to finish his statement.
The crowd was in a hurry to get through with its work, and called out for the executioners to hasten. After the rope had been adjusted the negro was fastened to the stake and the torch was applied to the straw.
The flames leaped up and licked the man’s bare hands. He was held erect by one of the lynchers until his clothing was burning fairly, when he was pushed into the bed of the fire. He rolled about and his contortions were terrible, but he made no sound.
Suddenly the ropes on his legs parted and he sprang from the fire and started to run. A man struck him in the head with a piece of fence rail and knocked him down. Willing hands threw him again into the flames. He rolled our several times, but was promptly returned. While this was going on shouts, cheers, and gibes went up from the crowd.
When the negro had ceased to show signs of life the body was placed on its back and fuel was piled up on it, and a roaring fire was soon consuming it.
Whites Are Called Demons (1903)
Wilmington, Del., June 28 – The lynching of the negro, George F. White, was the chief topic in two churches here today. In the negro church some violent sentiments were expressed by a negro pastor, and in a white church the utterances of a week ago by the white pastor were indorsed by the congregation.
In the first African Methodist Episcopal church the Rev. Montrose W. Thornton said:
“The white man, in face of his boasted civilization, stands before my eyes tonight the demon of the world’s races, a monster incarnate, and in so far as the negro race is concerned seems to give no quarter. The white is a heathen, a fiend, a monstrosity before God, and is equal to any act in the calendar of crime. I would sooner trust myself in a den of a hyena as in his arms.
“With a court, law, and officers of law in his hands the despised negro can expect no mercy, justice, nor protection. The negro is unsafe anywhere in this country. He is the open prey at all times of barbarians who know no restraint and will not be restrained.
“There is but one part left for the persecuted negro when charged with crime and when innocent. Be a law unto yourself. You are taught by this lesson of outrage to save yourself from torture at the hands of the blood seeking public. Save your race from insult and shame. Be your own sheriff, court, and jury, as was the outlaw Tracy. Die in your tracks, perhaps drinking the blood of your pursuers. Booker T. Washington’s charity, humanity, advice of forgiveness, love, industry, and so on will never be reciprocated by white men.”
The Rev. Robert A. Elwood, the Presbyterian minister who has come in for much criticism for his sermon of last Sunday night, in which he suggested lynching in case the negro escaped speedy punishment at the hands of the law, did not refer to the lynching or the criticisms today. These criticisms were answered by his congregation today when resolutions were read during the services expressing firm belief in the pastor’s honesty, integrity, and Christian character.
Thousands of persons visited today the scene where White was burned. They came from all the small towns in the vicinity, and hundreds journeyed from Chester, Pa., and Philadelphia.
The burning took place in a freshly plowed field, about fifty feet from the roadway, which was hidden by high bushes. The field has been tramped almost as smooth and hard as asphalt by the thousands of persons that have visited the farm. The only evidence that remains of the word of the mob are three cobblestones, on one of which this inscription has been placed in indelible ink:
“Here is all that remains of White.”
The bushes behind which the murder was committed have been cut down for a distance of several yards and carried away by relic hunters. Many of those who visited the scene today, among them a large number of young men, carried away a sprig or a branch of the bushes.
Mob Ignores Minister’s Plea (1913)
Americus, Ga., June 21 – Four negros are wounded and one is dead tonight as a result of shooting today of Chief of Police William C. Barrow. The dead negro, William Redding, is purported to have fired at Chief Barrow as the Chief was attempting to arrest him for intoxication.
Redding was taken to jail after his altercation with Chief Barrow but was soon seized by a mob of 500 who strung him up to an overhead cable. Shooting at him then began from every direction and four other negroes, all innocent bystanders, were wounded, one of them apparently fatally. Miraculously, no whites were wounded.
Before the shooting began, Rev. Robert Bivins, pastor of the Furlaw Lawn Baptist Church, pleaded with the leaders to spare the life of the negro. His pleadings lasted during the twenty minutes required to string the body up to the cable, and then yells of the crowd and the shots from many pistols drowned out his voice.
Negro Burned Alive Singing ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ (1921)
Moultrie, Ga., June 20 – Unable to wait until July 8th, the date set by court for the hanging of John Henry Williams, a small crowd of white men took him from an armed force of twenty officers and burned him at the stake Saturday.
Williams had just been convicted by the court of first degree murder and sentenced to be hanged. He left the court room, with ten officers on either side.
When he appeared on the steps of the court house shouts came from the crowd, “Let’s get him.” The officers gave up the man without a struggle and the mob rushed him to the spot where it is said he killed a twelve year old white girl. Williams denied his guilt at the trial and even after he was tied to a tree trunk near the edge of a big pond.
Members of the mob scattered to gather enough wood to pile around their victim and drew gasoline from their automobiles in order the make the fire hotter.
So quietly was the seizure affected and arrangements for the lynching made that only a few persons arrived at the pond on the outskirts of the town by the time everything was ready.
For nearly an hour they tormented Williams, poked him in the ribs, cursed him, spit on him and called him vile names in the effort to draw a confession. Finally when several hundred persons reached the spot a match was applied.
Flames flared up and found their way to Williams’ body. Now and again he cried aloud and his body went through horrible contortions. For a time the winds carried the flames and smoke directly in his face so that he could not speak.
Later the winds shifted and members of the mob, unaffected, recognized the hymn he sang as, “Nearer My God to Thee.”
At the trial today the jury was out less than one minute when it returned the verdict of guilty.
Nearly Eighty Other Lynchings This Week
What follows is a list of all known lynchings of black Americans between June 20 and June 26, 1863-1940. 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.
Year Victim City State Race Sex Form Alleged Offense
1881 E. Hairstone Stokes NC Black Male Hanged Outraging a white woman; assaulting two white girls, one 8 years-old died 1881 J. Lindsey Stokes NC Black Male Hanged Outraging a white woman; assaulting two white girls, one 8 years-old died 1883 Wesley Warren Giles TN Black Male Hanged Ax murder of a white man, a store clerk 1895 Frank King Ashley AR Black Male Hanged-strangulation Shot a church deacon, black, and being “on intimate terms” with the deacon’s wife 1899 Daniel Patrick Jackson MS Black Male Riddled with bullets Assaulting an unmarried white woman 1903 George Kincaid Bolivar MS Black Male Hanged Wounding two white men 1904 Charlie Harris Tallapoosa AL Black Male Shot Altercation with a white man 1904 Ephraim Pope Wilcox AL Black Male Riddled with bullets Attempted criminal assault on a young white woman 1905 Simon Ford Lewis TN Black Male Riddled with bullets; possibly burned Rape of a white woman 1921 Louis Wimberly Rankin MS Black Male Hanged Raping a white woman, wife of a prison guard 1922 Robert Collins Pike MS Black Male Hanged Attacking a young white woman 1940 Everett Williams Haywood TN Black Male Trauma Attempting to register to vote; encouraging blacks to vote
1863 Robert Mulliner Newburgh NY Black Male Hanged Rape 1882 Nathan Lucid Panola MS Black Male Hanged Rape of a white woman; indecent assault 1889 Andy Caldwell Fairfield SC Black Male Shot Assaulting a married white woman and shooting her daughter 1896 Leon Orr Morgan AL Black Male Hanged/RwB Outrage on a 9 year-old white girl, daughter of a prominent farmer 1897 George Bradley Monroe AL Black Male Shot Murder of a 70 year-old white man, a wealthy farmer 1902 Wiley Campbell Choctaw AL Mulatto Male Hanged/RwB Attempted criminal assault on an unmarried white woman 1913 William Redding Sumter GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Shooting of a white police chief 1920 Philip Gaithers Effingham GA Black Male Burned and shot Murder of an unmarried 17 year-old white woman 1930 Dan Jenkins Union SC Black Male Riddled with bullets Attacked two young white women, one 16 years-old and the other 23 1940 Jesse Thornton Crenshaw AL Black Male Shot Failure to refer to white police officer as “Mr.”; Speaking disrespectfully of a local white police officer
1879 Daughter of Sam Faulkner Henry KY Black Female Shot Unreported. Race prejudice. 1879 Henry Russell Henry KY Black Male Shot Unreported. Race prejudice. 1879 Sister of Sam Faulkner Henry KY Black Female Shot Unreported. Race prejudice. 1883 Harry Reed Limestone AL Black Male Hanged Ax murder of a white man, a store clerk 1883 Kyle Walker Limestone AL Black Male Hanged Ax murder of a white man, a store clerk 1893 Daniel Edwards Dallas AL Black Male Hanged/RwB Fathering a child with a young, unmarried white woman 1893 William Buckley Marion MS White Male Shot Testifying against white caps 1894 Henry Capus Columbia AR Black Male Hanged/RwB Criminal assault on a young white woman 1895 John Barnwell Orangeburg SC Black Male Shot Race prejudice 1895 William Stokes Colleton SC Black Male Riddled with bullets Attempted assault of a white woman 1898 Charles Washington Putnam TN Black Male Hanged Criminal assault on a married white woman 1900 Jack Thomas Suwannee FL Black Male Hanged/RwB Attempted rape of a white woman, a widow 1903 George White Wilmington DE Black Male Burned, Mutilated, Shot Assault of white girl 1905 Pierce Moberly Lauderdale MS Black Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Killing a young white man, a farmer, and stole a mule and a horse 1909 Wm. Carroker Talbot GA Black Male Hanged Murder of a prominent young white planter 1935 R. D. McGee Stone MS Black Male Hanged Attacking an 11 year-old white girl
1881 Jeff — Union LA Black Male Hanging Attempted outrage of an unmarried white girl 1896 Manly Bennett Gibson TN Black Male Hanged Attempted criminal assault on an unmarried white woman 1900 James Barco Sumter FL Black Male Shot Unknown 1904 Joe Scott Bibb AL Black Male Riddled with bullets Murder of a black man 1915 George Toor Kemper MS Black Male Unreported Stealing cotton seed and threatening white farmers 1924 Marcus Westmoreland Spalding GA Black Male Shot Unknown 1924 Penny Westmoreland Spalding GA Black Female Shot Unknown
1877 — Green Lonoke AR Black Male Shot Murder of three white men 1877 Riley Covington Mississippi AR Black Male Drawn and quartered Murder of two men 1890 Henry Watson Breckinridge KY Black Male Hanged Attempted rape of a 12 year-old white girl, daughter of a well-known citizen 1894 Fayette Franklin Mitchell GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Assaulted white women *1895 John Frey Jefferson LA White Male Hanged Arson of a black woman’s home 1896 William Westmoreland Lowndes AL Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man 1897 William Gardner Monroe FL White Male Shot Race prejudice 1903 Charles Jones Campbell TN Black Male Hanged/RwB Criminal assault on an unmarried 12-16 year-old white girl, from a prominent family 1912 Annie Barksdale Dooly GA Black Female Hanged/RwB Murder of a white woman, wife of a prominent planter 1917 Shepherd Trent DeSoto FL Black Male Shot Attempted assault upon a white woman 1934 Dick Wilkerson Coffee TN Black Male Shot Slapping a white man
1888 Ned Clark Worth GA Black Male Riddled with bullets Insulting proposals to a 13 year-old white girl; attempted rape of 13 year-old white girl 1889 Unnamed Negro Irwin GA Black Male Hanged Attempted rape of a married white woman 1892 Henry McDuffie Columbia FL Black Male Riddled with bullets Theft of cattle and murder of a black deputy sheriff 1894 Caleb Gadly Warren KY Mulatto Male Hanged Attempted outrage on a married white woman, his employer’s wife 1894 Edward White Lamar AL Black Male Hanged/RwB Criminal assault on a white woman 1897 John M. Moses Copiah MS Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man, a farmer 1900 Jordan Hines Pike GA Black Male Shot Unknown 1903 Jack Harris Monroe AR Black Male Hanged Assaulted a white planter, his landlord 1906 Unnamed Negro Kemper MS Black Male Unreported Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman, a store proprietor 1909 Albert Reese Randolph GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Murderous assault with an ax on a 20 year-old white girl
1880 Jack Williams Union KY Black Male Hanged and shot Murder of a white man 1884 Aleck Leach Lowndes MS Black Male Hanged/RwB Making disparaging remarks about respectable white women 1889 Andrew McKnight Union SC Black Male Riddled with bullets Making indecent remarks about “respectable [white] ladies”; altercation with a white man 1889 Harry Ardell Bullitt KY White Male Hanged Murder of a “Polish Jew peddler” 1890 Andrew Robinson Clinch GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Attempted rape of 11 year-old white girl, daughter of a respectable farmer 1890 John Coleman Caddo LA Black Male Shot Murder of a black woman 1896 Perry Young Montgomery MS Black Male Hanged/RwB Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman and assaulting her husband with a baseball bat 1898 George Scott Logan KY Black Male Hanged Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman 1900 Robert Davis Polk FL Black Male Shot Ax murder (decapitation) of a white man 1903 Garfield McCoy Baker GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man, a farmer 1903 George McKinney Baker GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man, a farmer 1903 Wiley Anette Baker GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man, a farmer 1904 Starling Dunham Webster MS Black Male Hanged - strangulation Criminal assault on three white girls; raping a 14-16 year-old white girl 1913 William Robinson Quitman MS Black Male Hanged Murder 1919 John Hartfield Jones MS Black Male Hanged Criminal assault on a young white woman
* Incredibly interesting case – more details here.
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.|