Mississippi ‘Race Riot’; Lynched for Miscegenation; The Wrong Man Hanged – This Week in Historical Lynchings

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

October 26, 1906
livingwith
Our first story comes to us out of Toyah, Texas, where a black man was killed for being married to a white woman.

“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.

____________________

Negroes Ambushed

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.

[…]

Further Details

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

The wounded:
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:

Negro Lawlessness

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.

____________________

A posse in early 1900s Georgia poses with the body of an unknown lynching victim.
A posse in early 1900s Georgia poses with the body of an unknown lynching victim.

____________________

May Have Hanged Wrong Man

October 25, 1898

On that same day, this article ran in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

wrongman

Flag announcing lynching, flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters on 69 Fifth Ave., New York City. 1936.
Flag announcing lynching, flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters on 69 Fifth Ave., New York City. 1936.

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

October 24

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

October 25

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

October 26

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

October 27

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

October 28

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

October 29

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

October 30

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   [ + ]

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.
Top