Prayers, Pleading and Kerosene – This Week in Historical Lynchings

Over seventy recorded lynchings of black Americans took place this week in history. In today’s post, we’ll highlight five of them, sharing not only contemporary newspaper accounts but postcards made to celebrate the crimes. As usual of most lynchings, most of the victims were taken by force from the “protection” of local authorities. While most of the lynchings took place in the South, we’ll also take a closer look at a rare multiple lynching in Minnesota.

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.

Lynched Two in Louisiana (1901)

Shreveport, La., June 19 – Two of the negroes implicated in the murder of John Gray Foster were lynched by a mob at Benton tonight. One was Frank, commonly known as “Prophet” Smith, who, at the head of the “Church of God” movement in that section, was blamed as being responsible for the sentiment against the whites which led to the death of Foster. The other was F.D. McLand.

At 6 o’clock men began quietly to obtain horses and ride eastward, crossing the river there in twos and threes and ostensibly unarmed. They were all bound for Benton, and had a prearranged plan for meeting with a similar crowd from Bossier to form the lynching party.

The mob appeared before the Benton jail about 9 o’clock and made a demand on Sheriff Thompson for the prisoners. That official at first maintained hist attitude of the last few days, but was overpowered by the lynchers.

Having secured the prisoners, the mob went out on the Arkansas road about a mile and a half from the jail and strung them up. Both negroes made statements before they died denying that they had anything to do with the killing of Foster. While Smith died praying, McLand was silent as he was hanged.

There were about 200 armed men in the mob. The lynchers declare that the death of these negroes was necessary to the preservation of the lives of the white men in that section.
Chicago Record-Herald, June 20, 1901

The Mod Laughed at His Prayers (1913)

Anadarko, Okla., June 13 – While the mob laughed at his prayers and pleas for mercy as the flames leaped up to his body, Bennie Simmons, an 18-year-old negro boy, charged with the murder of Susie Church, 16 years old, near Cogar, was lynched here between 3 and 4 o’clock Friday morning by a mob which was estimated to include probably 1,000 people.

All of the residents of the Cogar neighborhood, where the crime occurred, seemed to be in the mob and sympathy here was with them to such an extent that there was little effort to hinder the mob in its course. The crime was so brutal in character and feeling in the neighborhood was so high that Simmons was rushed to the county jail here immediately after his arrest to avoid the vengeance which had been threatened if the murderer could be found.

All day Thursday the mob was forming at Cogar and the more conservative citizens of the community, who were at first inclined to let the law take its course were swept away by the tide of popular feeling and the impassioned arguments of the mob leaders that such a brute should not be allowed to live even another day and by the time the start was made for Anadarko there was no division of sentiment and all alike were crying for blood.

Postcard made of the lynching of Bennie Simmons.
Postcard made of the lynching of Bennie Simmons.

The sheriff’s office here had been notified that the mob was forming and when assurance had been received that it had actually started for this city, the negro was removed to the old federal prison in “old town.” Little difficulty was experienced by the mob leaders, however, in locating him, and the guards who had been placed over him here made only a perfunctory resistance when the mob reached the old jail and demanded the prisoner.

He was taken out to a wagon bridge northwest of the city and hanged to a big cottonwood tree growing alongside the stream. The coal oil [kerosene] was poured over his body and lighted. The negro prayed and shrieked in agony as the flames reached his flesh but his cries were drowned by the yells an jeers of the mob.

As his cries grew fainter and it became evident that he was losing consciousness, a volley of shots came from the mob, every member of which, heavily armed, emptied his weapon into the swinging body, which was literally cut to pieces by bullets.

The members of the mob then departed for their homes, leaving the body still swinging. When news of the affair spread throughout the city great crowds thronged out to view the gruesome spectacle. The body was still hanging until after 8 o’clock when it was cut down by the sheriff, who is preserving in his office the rope with which the hanging was done.
The Wetumka Gazette, June 20, 1913.

The lynching in Duluth, Minnesota.
The lynching in Duluth, Minnesota.

Three Roustabouts Lynched After Mock Trial in Minnesota (1920)

Duluth, Minn., June 16 – Three circus roustabouts, all negroes, were lynched here last night by a rioting mob of 5,000 for the alleged crime of attacking a 17-year-old white girl.

Isaac McGhie, Elmer Jackson and Nate Green were hanged at intervals of eight minutes after a mock trial had been held by the mob. The three men, held on suspicion of the crime, had been removed from the jail by the mob.

McGhie was the first victim. A noose was placed around his neck at 11:30 last night. He declared his innocence and pleaded for mercy.

A postcard of the lynching.
A postcard of the lynching.

Two Catholic priests begged the crowd to let the law take its course.

Rev. Father E.J. Howard climbed fifteen feet up a telegraph pole and under the dim glare of an arc light prayed for the crowd to release the negroes. He was hooted by the crowd.

McGhie was jerked into the air three times. The rope broke on the first two attempts. He begged for mercy until an impassioned speech was cut short by his third ascent.

Jackson was the next victim, followed by Green. Both declared they were not guilty of the attack.

Officials here said it was the first manifestation of mob spirit in Duluth in years. The storm last night broke slowly. Reports of the attack on the white girl were spread about town by afternoon newspapers. Groups collected in the streets.

“All of a sudden,” Police Lieutenant E. H. Barber said, “the groups melted into one huge mass which came tearing down the street toward the jail.

“We refused to give up the prisoners, of course. Then they go timbers and began wrecking things. We couldn’t stand them off.

“We called on the firemen. They came on the gallop, laying lines as they came. They poured water into the mob, using the highest possible pressure. The outskirts of the mob melted away, but the main body stood firm. Some fo the men were caught in the face and strangled as the water caught them. Most of them just humped their back and went on battering the doors. When they got inside, the men quickly determined that three of the black prisoners were guilty, hauled them out and hanged them.

“As soon as the three were dead the crowd dispersed and all was quiet. It happened so quickly it didn’t look real.”
Brooklyn Times, June 16, 1920. 2For more information on this, please go here.

Another postcard made for retail sale of the Duluth lynchings.
Another postcard made for retail sale of the Duluth lynchings.

Outspoken Negro Killed (1923)

Palm Beach, Fla,. June 13 – The body of Henry Simmons, Negro, riddled with bullets, was found today hanging to a tree on Palm Beach Island. Simmons was a native of the Bahama Islands. He is said to have been an industrious and conscientious worker at a local ice cream plant but he also made enemies because he was outspoken on the treatment of American Negroes by Southern whites.
St. Louis Argus, June 15, 1923.

White Attempts in Vain to Rescue Victims (1927)

Louisville, Miss., June 13 – Two negro brothers, Jim and Mark Fox, accused of having slain their sawmill superintendent after an argument over work hours, were seized by a mob early this morning, paraded through the streets of Louisville and then saturated with gasoline and burned to death at a telephone pole a short distance from town.

The terrified screams of the negroes touched one member of the mob who attempted to extinguish the blaze a moment after it had started, but the would-be rescuer was seized by others and dragged away.
New York Times, June 14, 1927.

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Over Seventy Other Lynchings This Week

What follows is a list of all known lynchings of black Americans between June 13 and June 19, 1879-1943. 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.

June 13

1883	Jordan Corbin	  	  Coosa	AL	Black	Male	Hanged		Murdered white man and shot his wife and son
1885	George Edwards	           Clay	GA	Black	Male	Died of injuries after jumping from tree	Stealing money
1887	Peter Betters	      Jamestown OH	Black	Male	Hanged by black mob				Assault of black woman
1891	Robert Clark	       Sullivan	TN	Black	Male	Hanged						Outrage of a respectable married white “lady”
1893	William Shorter	      Frederick	VA	Black	Male	Hanged and shot					Criminal assault on a white woman
1898	Moses Ricks		 Monroe	AR	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets			Outraged a married white woman, a farmer’s wife 
1910	Elmo Curl		 Panola	MS	Black	Male	Hanged						Shooting a white man, a plantation manager and writing an “improper letter” to a white woman
1910	William Hunter		Lincoln	AR	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets			Entered an unmarried white woman's bedroom
1912	Unnamed Negro		 Wilcox	GA	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets			Murderous assault on prominent a white planter
1913	Bennie Simmons	       Anadarko	OK	Black	Male	Hanged,Burned					Rape and murder of a 16 year-old white girl
1919	Clyde Ellison		Lincoln	AR	Black	Male	Hanged						Attempted attack on a young white girl
1927	James Fox		Winston	MS	Black	Male	Burned						Murder of a white man, a saw mill superintendent
1927	Mark Fox		Winston	MS	Black	Male	Burned						Murder of a white man, a saw mill superintendent

June 14

1883	Granville Warden	Monroe	AR	Black	Male	Hanged				Testifying against a white man in court
1885	Unnamed Negro		 Yazoo 	MS	Black	Male	Hanged				Attempting to outrage a white girl, daughter of a farmer
1893	Warren Ross		 Early	GA	Black	Male	Hanged				Murder of young white man
1895	George Harris	    Montgomery	GA	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Frightening white woman
1899	Edward GraySt.John the Baptist	LA	Black	Male	Hanged				Burglary
1899	Lewis Patrick	      Carteret	NC	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Murder of a white storekeeper and burglary
1913	Jim Williams	       Leflore 	MS	Black	Male	Shot				Killing the cook of a white family and throwing her baby out the window
1915	Jules Smith	     Fairfield	SC	Black	Male	Shot				Attempted criminal assault on a white woman
1915	Samuel Stevens	      Stephens	GA	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Assaulted 16 year-old white girl, daughter of prominent farmer

June 15

1879	Dave Benson	     St. Clair	AL	Black	Male	Hanged				Outraged a married white woman and attempted to ravish two white girls
1882	James Mitchell	    Montgomery	KY	Black	Male	Hanged				Outrage on a married white woman
1899	Dave Clark	       Appling	GA	Black	Male	Shot				Attempting to shoot a white man, a constable
1901	Joe Harris	     Limestone	AL	Black	Male	Hanged				Burning the barn of his white employer
1901	Mose Maxwell	      Suwannee	FL	Black	Male	Shot				Plotting to murder a white man, a farmer and their employer
1901	Thomas Thomas	      Suwannee	FL	Black	Male	Shot				Plotting to murder a white man, a farmer and their employer
1904	Jonah Woods	         Heard	GA	Black	Male	Hanged				Threatening to report black gamblers
1909	Amos Smith	        DeSoto	FL	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Attempted outrage on a married white woman, wife of a prominent citizen
1910	Otho Mitchell	        Holmes	MS	Black	Male	Shot and hanged			Attempted to kill three white men
1915	Loy Haley	     Lafayette	AR	Black	Male	Unreported			Murder of a white man, a young planter
1920	Elias Clayton	        Duluth	MN	Black	Male	Hanged				Rape
1920	Elmer Jackson	        Duluth	MN	Black	Male	Hanged				Rape
1920	Isaac McGhie	        Duluth	MN	Black	Male	Hanged				Rape
1923	Roy Gaines	          Dade	FL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Murder of a white man, the town marshal
1923	William Simmons	          Dade	FL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Murder of a white man, the town marshal
1926	Primus Kirby	          Todd	KY	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Murdered his wife and wounded a white man, a deputy
1943	Cellos Harrison 	Jackson	FL	Black	Male	Beaten				Murder of a white man and attempted robbery

June 16

1888	Washington Ives		 Adams	MS	Black	Male	Hanged				Entering a white woman’s bedroom; attempted criminal assault
1890	George Swayze	East Feliciana	LA	Black	Male	Hanged				Attempting to keep blacks from voting
1894	Owen Ogletree		Monroe	GA	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Attempted rape of white doctor’s wife
1898	Caleb Gaines		Barren	KY	Black	Male	Hanged				Attempted to outrage a young white girl
1899	— Williams		Appling	GA	Black	Male	Unreported			Attempted assault of a married white woman
1911	William Bradford	Newton	MS	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Assault on a white man

June 17

1882	Morgan Hamilton	      Prentiss	MS	Black	Male	Shot				Murder of a 60 year-old unmarried white woman
1887	Benjamin Hance	   Leonardtown	MD	Black	Male	Hanged				Attempted assault on a white woman
1891	Charles Griffin	      Suwannee 	FLBlack-mulatto	Male	Riddled with bullets		Accessory to murder of white deputy sheriff
1898	Ham Thompson		Elmore	AL	Black	Male	Hanged				Murder of three white persons: a wealth farmer, his wife, and her brother
1898	Louis Spier		Elmore	AL	Black	Male	Hanged				Murder of three white persons: a wealth farmer, his wife, and her brother
1898	Reese Thompson		Elmore	AL	Black	Male	Unreported			Murder of three white persons: a wealth farmer, his wife, and her brother
1898	Soloman Jackson		Elmore	AL	Black	Male	Unreported			Murder of three white persons: a wealth farmer, his wife, and her brother    
1900	Nat Mullens	    Crittenden	AR	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Murderous assault of a white deputy sheriff
1927	Joe Upchurch		 Henry	TN	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Murder of a white man, a sheriff
1933	Richard Marshall	 Baker	GA	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	As an example—terrorism

June 18

1882	Henry Huddleston       Franklin TN	Black	Male	Hanged	Raped a white widow woman
1888	Spencer Collins		  Adams	MS	Black	Male	Hanged - strangulation	Rape of a white woman
1892	John Johnson	           Pike	MS	Black	Male	Hanged	Murder of a white man, a merchant
1895	William Chandler      Lafayette	MS	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Attempted criminal assault on a young, unmarried white woman
1901	Abe Barrett	       Harrison	MS	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Assaulting an unmarried 15 year-old white girl, daughter of a prominent citizen
1908	Ernest Williams	         Ashley	AR	Black	Male	Hanged	Obscene language that was offense to black women
1918	George Clayton	       Richland	LA	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Killed a white man and wounding six others
1919	Jim McMillan	           Bibb	AL	Black	Male	Shot	Unknown
1921	John Henry Williams    Colquitt	GA	Black	Male	Burned	Murder of 12 year-old white girl
1925	Robert Marshall     	  Price UT	Black	Male	Hanged	Murder
1934	Otis Parham	     Montgomery	AL	Black	Male	Shot	Killing a 23 year-old white man, a paroled convict

June 19

1888	— Davis	        	    Lee	MS	Black	Male	Unreported			Attempted outrage of a young white girl 
1891	Henry Jones		 Ashley	AR	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Murder of his wife
1901	F. D. McLand		Bossier	LA	Black	Male	Hanged				Murder of a high status white man
1901	Frank “Prophet” Smith	Bossier	LA	Black	Male	Hanged				Murder of a high status white man
1909	Joseph Hardy		 Talbot	GA	Black	Male	Beaten				Incendiarism: made speeches urging blacks not to work for whites
1912	Tom Jackson		 Clarke	AL	Black	Male	Hanged				Murder of a white man, the sheriff’s brother
1913	William Norman		Garland	AR	Black	Male	Hanged and riddled with bullets	Murder and attempted rape of the 14 year-old white girl, daughter of a former circuit judge
1921	Herbert Quarles	      McCormick	SC	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets		Assault on 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.

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