Lynchings Both Fueled and Discouraged by Religion – This Week in Lynchings

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,

E.A. Bishop.”

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.
Chicago Record-Herald

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.
Chicago Record-Herald

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.
Atlanta Constitution

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.
Baltimore Afro-American


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

June 20

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

June 21

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 

June 22

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

June 23

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

June 24

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

June 25

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

June 26

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   [ + ]

Has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, writing 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, decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.