Mistaken Identity, Petty Crimes, and Sexual Mutilation – This Week in Historical Lynchings

In today’s post, we’ll take closer looks at several lynchings that occurred this week in history. Using period newspapers, we’ll first cover yet another case of mistaken identity discovered far too late. Then, a short piece about a man lynched for stealing mules. Following that, we’ll hear from an eyewitness to a horrific mutilation, and finally another short article about a man lynching for passing an “indecent” note to a white girl.

We’ll also hear from not one but two United States Senators from South Carolina as they defend the unconstitutional practice of lynching.

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.

Rape Victim Witnesses Lynching of “Attacker” (1903)

Eastman, Ga., July 14 – Ed Claus, a negro, was lynched near here tonight, while his victim, Miss Susie Johnson, was looking on. Claus was captured after being chased through seven counties by fifty farmers.

Claus attacked Miss Johnson last Thursday as she was returning from a small school which she teaches. The negro kept her prisoner for several hours, and she was found next morning by a searching party. A posse was organized and the negro was trailed from here almost to Savannah before he was overtaken.

He was brought here tonight by his captors and taken to the home of Miss Johnson. The young woman identified him, and when asked what she wanted done with him, she said:

“He ought to be killed.”

The negro was then tied to a tree and the members of the mob fired at him until he was literally cut to pieces.

Not quite two weeks later, the same newspaper (the Chicago Record-Herald) ran a piece explaining that it was a case of mistaken identity:

Savannah, Ga., July 26 – Several days ago a negro, supposed to be Ed Claus, was lynched near Eastman, Ga., for assaulting Miss Susie Johnson, a young school teacher. The negro protested he was not Claus and asked for time to prove his statement. But the mob was merciless.

It now transpires that the negro was not Claus and had never seen Miss Johnson. Claus, who assaulted the girl, has been located near Darien, Ga., and officer passed through here tonight to secure him. It is believed Claus will be taken from the officers and lynched.
-Chicago Record-Herald.

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Negro Hanged as Mule Thief (1914)

Lake Cormorant, Miss., July 14 – James Bailey, a negro, was hanged today by a mob of about twenty masked men. He had been accused of the theft of three mules.
-Atlanta Constitution

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Indescribable Tortures Were Inflicted on Williams (1921)

From Moultrie, Georgia, scene of the burning of the Negro Williams, the [Washington] Eagle has obtained the following facts by an eyewitness. It is clearly shown that sworn officers of the law were leaders in mob violence and burning, acting with impunity.

Says the Eagle‘s Correspondent:
“There are many things about the Williams burning more disgraceful than have been published. A sick woman and her child, who had nothing to do with the matter, were beaten into insensibility and left to die because of hoodlumism of the mob. Colored churches were burned, all colored farmer’s fences were torn down and wealthy colored farmers chased form their homes.

“Williams was brought to Moultrie on Friday night by sheriffs from fifty counties. Saturday court was called. Not a single colored person was allowed nearer than a block of the courthouse. The trial took half hour. Then Williams, surrounded by fifty sheriffs, armed with machine guns, started out of the courthouse door toward jail.

“Immediately a cracker by the name of Ken Murphy gave the Confederate yell: ‘Whoo-whoo- let’s get the nigger.’ Simultaneously five hundred poor pecks rushed on the armed sheriffs, who made no resistance whatever. They tore the Negro’s clothing off before he was placed in a waiting automobile. This was done in broad daylight. The Negro was unsexed and made to eat a portion of his anatomy which had been cut away. Another portion was sent by parcel post to Governor Dorsey, whom the people of this section hate bitterly.

“The Negro was taken to a grove, where each one of more than five hundred people, in Ku Klux ceremonial, had placed a pine knot around a stump, making a pyramid to the height of ten feet. The Negro was chained to the stump and asked if he had anything to say. Castrated and in indescribable torture, the Negro asked for a cigarette, lit it and blew the smoke in the face of his tormentors.

“The pyre was lit and a hundred men and women, old and young, grandmothers among them, joined hands and danced around while the Negro burned. A big dance was held in a barn nearby that evening in celebration of the burning, many people coming by automobile from nearby cities to the gala event.”
-Washington Eagle. 2Since it seems likely that a touch of hyperbole might have been used, more information about the lynching can be found here.

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Lynched for ‘Indecent’ Note (1934)

Bolton, Miss., July 16 – Accused of writing an “indecent and insulting” letter to a young Hinds County white girl, James Sanders, 25-year-old negro, was riddled with bullets late today by a mob of armed citizens.
-Atlanta Constitution

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The Lynching of Rubin Stacy (1935)

Incredibly clear photo of the hanged body of Rubin Stacy, after he was lynched in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Incredibly clear photo of the hanged body of Rubin Stacy, after he was lynched in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Rubin Stacy was lynched in Florida on July 19, 1935. Though one of the later lynchings, his murder was celebrated by the townspeople who posed for pictures with his body. Most of the available photos feature young girls and women.

The NAACP used one of the photos in material in support of the federal anti-lynching bill. This bill ultimately failed (with the help of one of the senators mentioned below).

Rubin Stacy: Image taken from an NAACP pamphlet.
Image taken from an NAACP pamphlet.

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Once in awhile a high-profile official was found to be in favor of lynching. It’s rare, however, for such support to come from a United States Senator and former state governor. Coleman Livingston Blease served four years as South Carolina’s governor (1911-1915), and was then elected to the US Senate in 1924, a position he held for six years. During those years, he tried to push through a Constitutional amendment that would not only bar mixed raced couples, but punish them. This article ran on July 12, 1930 in the New York Telegram.

A Southern Statesman (1930)

The question whether lynching is justifiable is figuring in the United States Senatorial campaign in South Carolina, unbelievable as it may seem.

Senator Coleman L. Blease, up for re-election, discussed the subject in a campaign address.

“Whenever the Constitution comes between me and the virtue of white women in South Carolina, I say to hell with the Constitution, Blease is quoted as having said recently at the scene of a recent lynching where he was seeking the local vote.

When he was Governor, he added pridefully, he did not call out the militia to protect Negroes against mobs, and asked that when a suspect was caught he not be notified until the next morning.

It would be difficult to equal such a statement for sheer barbarity and demagogism.

It is a deliberate invitation to the people of South Carolina by an acknowledged leader, who boasts that he has held more political offices than any other man in the history of the State, to supersede normal legal processes with lynch law and mob violence.

And there has been plenty of that in the South in recent weeks.

We cannot believe that such savagery reflects the views of the people of South Carolina.

Obviously men like Blease have no place in the Senate or in any other public office. It will be interesting to observe whether the decent people of South Carolina are willing to bear the stigma of having him again represent them.

Blease lost in the primaries to James F. Byrnes – 50.9% to 49.1%. Byrnes then ran in the general election unopposed. Incidentally, Byrnes was a Roman Catholic and a progressive, supporting FDR’s New Deal in the Senate. However, it seems his progressiveness did not come into play concerning lynching.

Byrnes spoke in favor of lynching on the floor of the Senate when anti-lynching measures were proposed. He believed that lynching was necessary in order to hold the “negro in check.”

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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.

Nearly Ninety Other Lynchings This Week

What follows is a list of all known racially-motivated lynchings between July 11 and July 17, 1877-1935. 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. 3For more information on all of this, please see our post here.

Year	Victim	              City State	Race	Sex	Form                 Alleged Offense

July 11

1881	Henry Smith		Prairie	AR	Black	Male 	Hanged				Outrage and murder of a 14 year-old white orphan girl
1888	William Henry Smith	  Wythe	VA	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Criminal assault on a married white woman, “respectable lady”
1889	Felix Keys	      Lafayette	LA	Black	Male	Unreported			Ax murder of his wife
1889	Prince Luster	     Tishomingo	MS	Black	Male	Hanged				Seduction of an insane white girl
1892	Elmer Edwards	      McCracken	KY	White	Male	Shot				Opposing a mob
1894	Unnamed Negro #1 	DeSoto	MS	Black	Male	Hanged				Unknown
1894	Unnamed Negro #2 	DeSoto	MS	Black	Male	Hanged				Unknown
1896	James Porter		Webster	LA	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Suspicion of murder of a white farmer
1896	Monch Dudley		Webster	LA	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Suspicion of murder of a white farmer
1898	John Henry James      Albemarle	VA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB			Criminal assault of an unmarried white woman
1899	George Jones	    St. Charles	LA	Black	Male	Drown				Horse theft
1904	Kitt Bookard	       Berkeley	SC	Black	Male	Stabbed				Quarreled with a young white man, cursed him, and threatened to paddle him
1906	Edward Pearson	        Emanuel	GA	Black	Male	Hanged				Found under a white girl’s bed
1908	Unnamed Negro	          Jones	GA	Black	Male	Shot				Attacking a white man with a knife
1926	James Clark	        Brevard	FL	Black	Male	Hanged				Unknown

July 12

1882	Wm. Ritter	      Henderson	KY	Black	Male	Hanged			Rape and murder of a 12 year old black/mulatto girl
1884	Willis Hardin		  Troup	GA	Black	Male	Hanged			Rape of a white woman
1885	Harris Trustall	      Lafayette	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Attacking two white girls, the eldest being 19 years-old
1892	Henry Purvine	      McCracken	KY	Black	Male	Shot			Unreported
1893	Henry Fleming		Lowndes	MS	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Stabbing to death a white man
1893	Robert Larkin		 Marion	FL	Black	Male	Hanged			Rape of a unmarried 18 year-old white woman of “high social standing”
1902	Will Jackson		 Panola	MS	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Killing a white boy
1914	Rosa Richardson	     Orangeburg	SC	Black	Female	Hanged/RwB		Murder of 13 year-old white girl
1915	Will Lozier	      Abbeville	SC	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB 		Murder of a young white man, son of a well-known farmer

July 13

1877	George Jackson		 Ashley	AR	Black	Male	Burned			Outraged and murdered a young white girl
1884	Ned Mack	      Oktibbeha	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Poisoning a 12 year-old and 14 year-old white boys
1884	Newton Carpenter      Oktibbeha	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Poisoning a 12 year-old and 14 year-old white boys
1888	Jim Torney	      St. Clair	AL	Black	Male	Unreported		Eloped with 16 year-old white girl, daughter of a well-to-do farmer
1891	Samuel Gillespie	 DeSoto	MS	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Aided larcenist
1893	Allen Butler	  Lawrenceville	IL	Black	Male	Hanged			“Producing a criminal abortion”
1893	Meredith Lewis	     Tangipahoa	LA	Black	Male	Hanged			Murder of his first wife
1898	Sidney Johnson	     Tuscaloosa	AL	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Criminal assault on a widowed white woman and an attempted criminal assault on a 16 year-old white girl
1904	Unnamed Negro	      Concordia	LA	Black	Male	Hanged			Assaulting a white man, a saw mill foreman
1911	Morris Daniels	       Colquitt	GA	Black	Male	Shot			Attempted criminal assault on an aged white woman

July 14

1879	John Breckinridge      Nicholas	KY	Mulatto	Male	Hanged			Outraged an unmarried white woman
1879	Lucian Weaver	      Jefferson	TN	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Rape of a married white woman
1884	Richard May		Daviess	KY	Black	Male	Hanged			Attempted rape of a young white woman, daughter of a prominent farmer
1887	Jim Riser		   Winn	LA	Black	Male	Shot			Unreported
1888	Frank Stone	      St. Clair	AL	Black	Male				Attempted outrage on a married white woman, wife of a railroad section foreman
1889	Swan Burnes	     Tishomingo	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Killing a young white man
1892	Julien Mosely	          Desha	AR	Black	Male	Hanged			Rape of his 17 year-old stepdaughter
1894	Charles Marie	       Harrison	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Attempted outrage on an unmarried 16 year-old white girl
1894	William Bell		Dickson	TN	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Barn burning
1895	Jack Ware		Calhoun	AR	Black	Male	Hanged			Murder of a white man
1895	Jim Ware		Calhoun	AR	Black	Male	Hanged			Murder of a white man
1898	Alexander Johnson	   Drew	AR	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Murder of a rich planter and merchant
1898	James Redd		   Drew	AR	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Murder of a rich planter and merchant
1903	Unnamed Negro		  Dodge	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Assaulted young unmarried white woman
1908	Hugh Jones	       Hardeman	TN	Black	Male	Hanged			Attempted rape of an unmarried 17 year-old white girl
1913	Sam Townes		Bolivar	MS	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Killing his wife and a black man, and fatally shooting a member of a posse, a white man
1914	James Bailey		 DeSoto	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Stealing three mules
1915	James Jackson	       Bleckley	GA	Black	Male	Hanged			Murder of three white men, including a white marshal
1915	Peter Fambrough        Bleckley	GA	Black	Male	Unreported		Complicity in murder of a white marshal
1915	Peter Jackson	       Bleckley	GA	Black	Male	Shot			Complicity in murder of a white marshal
1922	Jake Davis		 Miller	GA	Black	Male	Hanged and shot		Fathering a child with a white woman

July 15

1881	— Spence	          Caddo	LA	Black	Male	Hanged			Entering the bedroom of two white women
1882	David Cook		Kershaw	SC	Black	Male	Unreported		Attempted rape of a white woman
1886	Jake Braswell		Bulloch	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Rape and mutilation of 6 year-old white girl
1888	John Humphreys	       Buncombe	NC	Mulatto	Male	Hanged			Criminal assault on 13 year-old white girl
1889	Jim Tillman		Grenada	MS	Black	Male	Unreported		Reporting persons for violating gaming laws
1893	John Cotton		Lincoln	AR	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman
1895	Ira Johnson	     Greenville	SC	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Killing of a young white man
1897	Anthony Williams       Lawrence	TN	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Rape and murder of a 15 year-old white girl
1898	John S. Durrett	     Tuscaloosa	AL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Plotting to avenge the lynching of a black man
1901	Alexander Herman       Lawrence	AL	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Murdered a black woman and cremated her body
1901	Lewis Thomas	       Richland	LA	Black	Male	Hanged			Assault on a white man, a merchant, and member of a “Black Mafia Society”; stealing a bottle of pop
1915	Thomas Collins	      Avoyelles	LA	Black	Male	Hanged			Assaulting a white man, a marshal
1919	Robert Truett	      Humphreys	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Insulted a white woman; made indecent proposals to a white woman
1933	Unnamed Negro		Lowndes	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Improper proposals to a white girl, daughter of a farmer; insulted a white woman
1935	Bert Moore		Lowndes	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Attempted criminal assault on a white woman, wife of a farmer
1935	Dooley Morton		Lowndes	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Attempted criminal assault on a white woman, wife of a farmer
1935	Joe Spinner Johnson	   Hale	AL	Black	Male	Unreported		Leader of the Sharecroppers Union

July 16

1881	Silas Lee		Lincoln	LA	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Attempted rape; discovered naked under two white girl’s bed
1884	Joe Robertson		 Greene	AL	Black	Male	Hanged			Attempted rape of a young, unmarried white woman
1891	Will P. Walker		Decatur	TN	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Outraged a young white woman
1892	Manuel Monday		Grenada	MS	Black	Male	Hanged			Rape and murder of an 8 year-old black girl
1893	Unnamed Negro	         Shelby	AL	Black	Male	Unreported		Murder of two white women
1894	Marion Howard	          Allen	KY	Black	Male	Hanged			Criminal assault on an under 10 year-old white girl
1895	Robert Haggard	  	  Clark	KY	Mulatto	Male	Hanged			Attempting to criminally assault a young unmarried white woman
1902	Unnamed Negro	       Escambia	FL	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB		Unknown
1903	Dennis Head		  Aiken	SC	Black	Male	Shot			Refusing to give information on an escaped murderer
1908	Albert Godlin	      Catahoula	LA	Black	Male	Hanged			Inciting arson of a white man’s cotton gin
1908	Miller Gaines	      Catahoula	LA	Black	Male	Hanged			Arson of a white man’s cotton gin
1908	Sam Gaines	      Catahoula	LA	Black	Male	Hanged			Arson of a white man’s cotton gin
1917	Poe Hibbler		Pickens	AL	Black	Male	Hanged			Entering the home of a white farmer; attempted criminal assault on a white girl, a farmer’s daughter
1934	James Sanders		  Hinds	MS	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Writing an indecent and insulting letter to a white girl

July 17

1877	Simon Jenkins		  Amite	MS	Black	Male	Shot			Unreported
1896	Dan Dicks		  Aiken	SC	Black	Male	Hanged			Attempted outrage on married white woman
1897	— Edmonson	     Lauderdale	AL	Black	Male	Beaten with rocks and clubs; hanged	Concealed a black man accused of murder and rape
1902	Jim Gaston		 Attala	MS	Black	Male	Shot			Incendiarism
1902	Monroe Hallum		 Attala	MS	Black	Male	Shot			Incendiarism
1902	William Ody		 Tunica	MS	Black	Male	Burned			Criminal assault on an unmarried white woman, daughter of a planter
1903	John Adams	       Bradford	FL	Black	Male	Hanged			Rape of a respected black 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.
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