This week, let’s take a quick look at two separate lynchings before having a deeper dive with a third. To begin, a black Texan was lynching by cowboys for miscegenation – marrying a white woman. Next, at least four black laborers were killed by Whitecaps in Alabama who were in the process of running the “blacks” out of the county.
In our main feature, we’ll look at the “race war” that took place in 1898 Mississippi. In the “fighting,” over a dozen black citizens were killed. From a newspaper at the time: “It is impossible to obtain a full list of the killed for the reason that some of the negroes were shot down in the woods and hurriedly buried by the whites where they fell.”
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.
Lived With White Woman; Lynched
“Slab” Pitts had just been released from jail after serving 90 days for violating the Edmunds Act. This act, passed in 1882, was the Anti-Polygamy Act, and was targeted against members of the Mormon Church who refused to give up polygamy.
However, it’s not mentioned in the papers that Mr. Pitts had two wives. In fact, it lists Eva Pitts, his wife, as being his “accomplice.”
Whatever the case, due to the existence of double jeopardy laws, those who served their time for violating the Edmunds Act could not be tried again for being married to the same women.
Following Mr. Pitts’ release, local cowboys took issue with his freedom.
Cowboys Lynched Negro Yesterday
Negro who was Run Out of Town and who was Living with White Woman Lynched by Cowboys at Toyah Texas Yesterday, Cause of Lynching.
Roswell, NM, Oct. 26 – “Stab” Pitts, a negro who was runout of town two weeks ago, after serving 90 days for the violation of the Edmunds act, was lynched by cowboys at Toyah, Texas yesterday.
His accessory, a white woman, followed the negro to Toyah, and they were living together.
The cowboys went in the night and placed a rope around the neck of the negro.
He was dragged to death and then hanged. 2The Charlotte News; Charlotte, North Carolina; Fri, Oct 26, 1906 – Page 1. Here.
The Rock Island Argus and Daily Union out of Illinois ran with the headline: “Cowboys of Southwest Summarily Punish a Worthless Negro by Rope Method.” 3The Rock Island Argus and Daily Union; Rock Island, Illinois;Fri, Oct 26, 1906 – Page 1. Here.
October 30, 1896
Three Were Killed Outright and One Fatally wounded by Alabama Whitecaps.
Birmingham, Ala., Nov 3 – While Jeff Jackson, John Adams, William Taylor and Robert Allison, negro laborers, were working at a sugar cane mill, near Wild Ford, Monroe County, last night, they were fired upon from the darkness by unknown persons. All but Taylor were instantly killed. He will die.
It is supposed to have been done by a gang of Whitecaps who have been engaged in running all negroes out of that section. John Middleton, employer of the victims, had been ordered to discharge them, but he did not heed the warning. 4St. Louis Post-Dispatch; St. Louis, Missouri; Tue, Nov 3, 1896 – Page 5. Here.
Race Riot in Mississippi
October 25, 1898
“Race riot” might not be the most accurate term to describe the night that at least a dozen black citizens were killed by white mobs. Nevertheless, that is the term that most of the papers used in their headlines and copy.
Over the next three articles, we’ll look at how the press described the events leading up to the “riot,” the “riot” itself, and, finally, how the black community itself was to blame for lynchings.
The Most Bloody Race War
Meridian, Miss., Oct 25 – The most bloody race war that has occurred in Mississippi since the existing days of the reconstruction period is raging in Scott county, 50 miles west of Meridian. The war grew out of an assault on Charles D. Freeman, a white man, by Bill Burke, a negro.
Freeman and Burke became involved in a quarrel which ended in Burke assaulting Freeman with a hoe. A warrant was sworn out for the arrest of Burke, and Constable Thompson, with 15 men, went to the house of Burke, who lives a mile from Harperville, at 9 o’clock last night to execute the writ.
When Constable Thompson and his posse arrived they found Burke fortified in his little log hut with 50 or 60 negroes ambushed on the premises, and the officer’s demand for a surrender was answered with a volley.
Officer Sibley, one of the posse, was instantly killed and three others, including Constable Thompson, seriously wounded.
The posse was thrown into confusion by the volleys, but the first was returned, and for a time a desperate battle raged in the dark. The negroes were greatly in the majority, however, and the officers retired and sent runners for help.
When the crowd of white men returned to Harperville after Officer Sibley was killed and several men wounded, the news spread like wildfire. During the night a large crowd gathered from the neighborhood.
They immediately went to Burke’s house and got from his mother the names of all the parties which ambushed the men the night before.
In all there were about 40 negroes, who had gathered to prevent the arrest of Burke, and a list was made up at their dictation. All of them had fled.
Then the pursuit and search for each of the prescribed men began. According to the statement of a reliable citizen, six negroes were found killed by the crowd of armed and determined citizens before the sheriff arrived.
This morning Sheriff J.M. Stevenson was wired from Harperville of the threatening condition of affairs, and he was asked to get together a posse and come at once to Harperville.
When he arrived in the afternoon at Harperville, with 20 or 30 men, he was joined by crowds of citizens until a conservative estimate placed the number in the posse at over 300 men.
Immediately after leaving the house where the first tragedy was committed, the negroes scattered through the surrounding country. The sheriff’s pursuit had reserved itself into a chase of the negroes implicated, and not of a mob, which is keeping together as was first reported .
A reliable telephone message received at a late hour tonight states that three more negroes have been found and killed, making a total of nine to date, with about 40 more to be heard from.
Sheriff Stevenson, realizing the danger apprehended, immediately wired Governor McLaurin at Brandan for aid in quelling the probable disturbance.
The governor procured a special train at Brandon, and, accompanied by a posse of 30 men armed with shotguns, proceeded to Forest. Arriving there early in the evening and finding that there was small danger of the riot assuming proportions beyond the ability of the posse on hand to keep in bounds, he wired Adjt Gen. Henry that it would be unnecessary for him to bring volunteers from Jackson, as he had offered to do.
The posse is operating in the swamps about a mile from Harperville, where most of the fugitives are supposed to be concealed.
There is a message here to the effect that the citizens are apprehensive of armed negroes entering the town tonight, and guards will be sent to prevent a surprise. 5The Watchman and Southron; Sumter, South Carolina; Wed, Oct 26, 1898 – Page 6. Here.
While the previous article states that the black prisoners were guarded by 300 whites to avoid being rescued by black compatriots, the Picayune out of New Orleans had a different take on it.
Twelve Victims of the Mississippi Race War
Eleven dead negroes, one dead white man and one negro and three white men seriously wounded is the result at this writing of the bloody war being waged between the white and black races in the Harpersville neighborhood of Scott county.
Several of the rioters were captured and lodged in jail at Forest today, but the others escaped into the swamps, and ore names are hourly expected to be added to the death list. The following is a partial list of the killed:
Black – Fish Burke, J.E. Gatewood, Henry Anderson, John Gatewood, Hugh Anderson, Sim Haralson and Ben Haralson
White – W.H. Sibley
Black – Ned Pace
White – James Hamilton, M. Johnson, James Armstrong.
It is impossible to obtain a full list of the killed for the reason that some of the negroes were shot down in the woods and hurriedly buried by the whites where they fell.
A member of the posse said they helped bury the negroes in trenches, but neither himself nor any one in his crowd knew their names and they did not care enough about them to inquire.
The Governor Stops a Lynching
Gov. McLaurin went to Harpersville last night and appealed to the whites not to molest the prisoners in custody of the Sheriff. The Governor’s talk had a good effect on the majority of those in the crowd, but some of the hot-headed members did not relish the Governor’s interferences, and told him so in language more plain than polite.
For instance, at a point in the Governor’s speech where he was emphasizing the duty of every citizen to aid in the enforcement of the law, one impudent individual in the audience yelled: “Governor, during the recent yellow fever epidemic, when your services were wanted at Jackson, you could not be found. Where were you then? Now, when your services are not needed, you come and stick your nose into our business. Go back to Brandon.”
The Governor paid no attention to the remark, but continued his argument, and finally persuaded the crowd to permit the Sheriff to take the prisoners to jail. The Governor returned to Brandon this morning.
Two negroes who are under arrest made a full confession.
The funeral of the murdered officer, Sibley, occurred at Harperville today, and was attended by hundreds of people. It was reported here today that two of the murdered man’s brothers were on their way from their home, Yazoo county, at the head of a large crowd, bound for the scene of the race war.
Sheriff Stephenson considered the situation so serious tonight that he decided to take the prisoners to Meridian for safe-keeping.
A large posse was organized, and the negroes will be placed on the 9 o’clock train. 6The Courier-Journal; Louisville, Kentucky; Tue, Oct 25, 1898 – Page 2. Here.
And just like that, the “race war” was somehow over. The very next day, this short article ran in the papers.
Order Has Been Restored
Jackson, Miss., Oct. 26 – The situation at Forest and also at Harperville, Miss., the scene of the recent race riot, is quiet tonight. One more negro was brought in today and lodged in jail. The mobs have disappeared.
Sheriff Stephenson came back from Meridian today, here he safely lodged his prisoners, and went to Harperville. His presence was unnecessary, as law and order has been once more restored. 7The Courier-Journal; Louisville, Kentucky; Wed, Oct 26, 1898 – Page 3. Here.
As the “race riot” was going on, the same Courier-Journal ran this opinion piece about lynching:
Our colored population make continual complaints that they are the victims of lawless bands that put people of their race to death without the form of a trial. The Courier-Journal deprecates mobs and advocates the prompt and orderly enforcement of the law against criminals, whether white or black.
But the colored people ought to understand that when they appeal to the law they must be judged by the law. They must submit to the law. They must aid in the enforcement of the law. When they fail to do this they weaken their own cause and furnish an additional incentive to mob violence.
this remark is not applicable to colored people only, but they have, by their own statements, a peculiar interest in the proper enforcement of the law, because they say they are the most frequent victims of that irregular justice which mobs claim to enforce.
The news columns of yesterday’s papers contained several reports of bloodshed or other race troubles in the South. […]
This spirit of opposition to the enforcement of the law naturally reacts upon the colored people. The old maxim that he who seeks equity must do equity has its analogy in the enforcement of justice.
The mob spirit is unfortunately too prevalent, but is greatly enhanced by efforts to cripple the courts in the enforcement of the law. Violence on one side provokes violence on the other.
But it is not sufficient to refrain from violence. There should be, on the part of all good citizens, irrespective of color, an active co-operation with the authorities in the administration of justice. Whenever the colored people undertake to shield a criminal because he belongs to their race, they make a serious mistake.
It is worse for the negroes than it is for the whites, because they are in the minority. When they provoke a conflict with the whites they get the worst of it, because the latter are generally more numerous and always better equipped and organized, with the machinery of the law in their hands.
The colored people should understand that the law is their best defense, but that it is only so when properly enforced. Instead of resisting the law, they should lend all their influence to have it impartially enforced.
Instead of shielding criminals they should aid in bringing them to justice. And all alike should respect the law and obey it, in which event there is no likelihood of trouble 8The Courier-Journal; Louisville, Kentucky; Tue, Oct 25, 1898 – Page 4 Here and Here.
According to the author, the black community got “the worst of it” because they were outnumbered and because “the machinery of the law” was in the hands of the whites. Despite this, the writer insisted that “the law is their best defense.”
These two statements, one following on the heels of the other, are simply not reconcilable. He seems to be saying that whites can’t be helped. Perhaps he was implying that white people were, by nature, vicious and filled with bloodlust. Maybe the author was admitting that “whites will be whites,” so don’t mess with them. The entire article is truly a piece of mental gymnastics, and yet it’s not too far removed from much of the commentary we still here today.
May Have Hanged Wrong Man
October 25, 1898
On that same day, this article ran in the Chicago Daily Tribune:
Over Sixty Other Lynchings This Week
What follows is a list of all known racially-motivated lynchings between October 24 and October 30, 1877-1950. 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. 9For more information on all of this, please see our post here.
It must also be remembered that this list is incomplete. Not only were there unreported lynchings, but the databases I draw from are understandably inadequate.
Year Victim City State Race Sex Form Alleged Offense
1882 Charles Thurber Grand Forks ND Black Male Hanged Assault on white women 1884 Unnamed Negro #1 of 4 St. Tammany LA Black Male Hanged Murder of three white men (father, son, and nephew) 1884 Unnamed Negro #2 of 4 St. Tammany LA Black Male Hanged Murder of three white men (father, son, and nephew) 1884 Unnamed Negro #3 of 4 St. Tammany LA Black Male Hanged Murder of three white men (father, son, and nephew) 1884 Unnamed Negro #4 of 4 St. Tammany LA Black Male Hanged Murder of three white men (father, son, and nephew) 1898 John Anderson Chambers AL Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a 40 year-old white man, a farmer 1901 William Morris Washington LA Black Male Burned Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman, robbery, and attempted murder 1904 George F. Blount Norfolk VA Black Male Shot Assault on a white police officer 1906 Thomas Crompton Wilkinson MS Black Male Hanged Murder and mutilation of a white man, a farmer 1921 Edward Kirkland Allendale SC Black Male Shot and burned Murder of a prominent white planter, his employer, following an altercation over rent
1889 Joe Harold Lowndes MS Black Male Hanged Assault on a white woman 1894 Lige Helton Sevier TN White Male Shot Helping protect a friend from the whitecaps 1898 Jim Mackey Edgefield SC Black Male Riddled with bullets Murder of a married white woman—intended to kill her husband 1898 Luther Sullivan Edgefield SC Black Male Riddled with bullets Murder of a married white woman—intended to kill her husband 1898 Wash Mackey Edgefield SC Black Male Riddled with bullets Murder of a married white woman—intended to kill her husband 1898 Ben Haralson Scott MS Black Male Shot Killing a white man 1898 Fish Burke Scott MS Black Male Shot Killing a white man 1898 Henry Anderson Scott MS Black Male Shot Killing a white man 1898 Hugh Anderson Scott MS Black Male Shot Killing a white man 1898 J. E. Gatewood Scott MS Black Male Shot Killing a white man 1898 John Gatewood Scott MS Black Male Shot Killing a white man 1898 Sim Haralson Scott MS Black Male Shot Killing a white man 1901 Gains Gordon Quitman TX Black Male Hanged Robbing and Murdering a prominent white farmer 1911 Wade Tyler Orangeburg SC Mulatto Male Shot Assisting the escape of a black man who was accused of criminal assault on a married white woman 1914 Howard Davis Jackson AR Black Male Hanged Murder of the white town marshal 1914 Maysho Miller Monroe MS Black Male Hanged Murderous assault on an unmarried white woman 1921 Samuel Gordon Franklin LA Black Male Hanged Shooting a white farmer after an altercation over a bag of pecans
1899 John Goolsby Bibb GA Black Male Hanged Murderous assault on a white man, a farmer, and Goosby’s former employer 1906 “Slab” Pitts Toyah TX Black Male Dragged and Hanged Marrying a white woman 1924 Frederick Shannon Floyd KY Black Male Riddled with bullets Murdered a white man 1934 Claude Neal Jackson FL Black Male Multiple trauma Rape and murder of 19-20 year-old white girl
1903 Jennie McCall Hamilton FL Black Female Shot Wife of man being sought by mob 1903 Joe Hicks Perry MS Black Male Hanged Entered a white family’s house 1907 — Myers Carroll MS Black Male Shot Being brother of a man accused of being a murderer; refusing to aid a lynch mob 1907 John Walker Houston GA Black Male Riddled with bullets Robbery of white boys of 75¢ and murderous assault on white sheriff 1909 Alexander Hill West Carroll LA Black Male Hanged Murder of a white hog farmer 1909 Joseph Gilford West Carroll LA Black Male Hanged Murder of a white hog farmer 1917 Fred Johnson Orleans LA Black Male Shot Robbery 1919 Henry Booth Gibson TN Black Male Riddled with bullets Insulted a white woman
1891 — Snowden Lincoln LA Black Male Hanged Incendiarism 1891 Jack Parker St. Tammany LA Black Male Hanged Murder of a black man by burning him to death 1905 Augustus Goodman Decatur GA Black Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Murder of white sheriff and a black woman 1907 Charles German Quitman MS Black Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Criminally assaulting a young white girl, daughter of a farmer 1909 Unnamed Negro #1 Kemper MS Black Male Unreported Murder of a white [Assyrian/Jewish] man, a peddler 1909 Unnamed Negro #2 Kemper MS Black Male Unreported Murder of a white [Assyrian/Jewish] man, a peddler 1909 Unnamed Negro #3 Kemper MS Black Male Unreported Murder of a white [Assyrian/Jewish] man, a peddler 1909 Unnamed Negro #4 Kemper MS Black Male Unreported Murder of a white [Assyrian/Jewish] man, a peddler
1891 Unnamed Negro Bossier LA Black Male Unreported Attempting to outrage a white girl/woman, daughter of a wealthy planter 1892 Allen Parker Monroe AL Black Male Hanged Arson of a gin house and 15 bales of cotton 1895 Henry Hillard Tyler TX Black Male Burned alive Assault and Murder of a white woman 1906 George Estes Lauderdale TN Black Male Hanged Murder of white police officer and wounding another 1911 Will Ollie Marshall TX Black Male Hanged Criminally attacking a white woman
1890 Will Lowe Lowndes GA Black Male Riddled with bullets Rape or attempted rape of 14-year-old white girl, daughter of a prominent planter 1890 Owen Jones Pulaski GA Black Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Rape of young white girl 1894 Edward Martin Crittenden KY White Male Hanged Member of a gang of thieves and arsonists; refusing to inform on another man 1896 Jeff Jackson Monroe AL Black Male Shot Race prejudice 1896 John Adams Monroe AL Black Male Shot Race prejudice 1896 Robert Allison Monroe AL Black Male Shot Race prejudice 1896 William Taylor Monroe AL Black Male Shot Race prejudice 1899 George Wells (Mills) Weir KS Black Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Murder of a white man 1926 Bud Nelson Jefferson AR Black Male Riddled with bullets Murder of a white man, son of a planter 1926 Joe Lockhart Russell AL Black Male Shot Criminal assault of a white woman
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 Charlotte News; Charlotte, North Carolina; Fri, Oct 26, 1906 – Page 1. Here.|
|3.||⇡||The Rock Island Argus and Daily Union; Rock Island, Illinois;Fri, Oct 26, 1906 – Page 1. Here.|
|4.||⇡||St. Louis Post-Dispatch; St. Louis, Missouri; Tue, Nov 3, 1896 – Page 5. Here.|
|5.||⇡||The Watchman and Southron; Sumter, South Carolina; Wed, Oct 26, 1898 – Page 6. Here.|
|6.||⇡||The Courier-Journal; Louisville, Kentucky; Tue, Oct 25, 1898 – Page 2. Here.|
|7.||⇡||The Courier-Journal; Louisville, Kentucky; Wed, Oct 26, 1898 – Page 3. Here.|
|8.||⇡||The Courier-Journal; Louisville, Kentucky; Tue, Oct 25, 1898 – Page 4 Here and Here.|
|9.||⇡||For more information on all of this, please see our post here.|