‘Satisfied With Even a Disagreement’ – The Repercussions of the Post Office Lynching Trial (1898)

For the past week, we’ve been looking at the 1898 lynching of Frazier Baker, the black postmaster of Lake City, South Carolina. We’ve discussed the lynching itself, the investigation, and trial. Today, we’ll explore the results of the trial as well as the fate of the town of Lake City, its lyncher and the surviving members of the Baker family.

In our last post, we left off with the jury entering into deliberations.

The jury had spent a little more than a day deliberating the arguments against those accused of lynching postmaster Frazier Baker. According to the press at the time, nearly everybody expected a full acquittal. Instead, the jury could not come to a decision.

On April 22nd, the day the jury returned their decision, the story that went out on the wire to be carried by hundreds of newspapers across the country typically read:

Jury Failed

Agreement Reached in Lake City Case.

Charleston, April 22. – The jury in the Lake City lynching case today reported its inability to agree after being out twenty-five hours. In dismissing the jury, Judge Brawley was again moved to tears as he referred to the crime. The case goes over until the next term for re-trial. 1The Raleigh Times; Raleigh, North Carolina; Sat, Apr 22, 1899 – Page 1. Link.

Most newspapers printed this verbatim. Others added their own copy, especially concerning the judge’s reaction.

The Asheville Daily Gazette was one of the very few papers to cover the trial on a daily basis. It’s likely that they had at least one reporter on the ground. Like others, they reported that “no agreement could be reached, the final count showing five members hanging out for acquittal.”

However, on Judge Brawley’s words concerning the crime, they printed:

“Before dismissing the jury, Judge Brawley spoke on lynching fever which has prevailed in the state. He said that this was a white man’s state, and if the whites, with all the machinery of the law at their command, were until to rule the state without resorting to mob rule, it was time to confess their weakness and incapacity to govern.” 2Asheville Daily Gazette; Asheville, North Carolina; Sun, Apr 23, 1899 – Page 1. Link.

Other papers, such as the Herald out of El Paso, Texas, painted the judge as condoning the lynching. This was far removed from the images of him shedding tears over the crime.

Judge Condones Crime

And Says That the Men Who Placed Baker in Position Must Share the Responsibility

Charlston, S.C., April 22. – […] Judge Brawley … alluded to the barbarity of lynching and said that this particular crime was a reproach to the United States and to civilization, but he expressed the opinion that there must have been some great provocation for the crime, and the parties who placed Postmaster Baker in position at Lake City could not escape a just measure of responsibility for the terrible crime. 3El Paso Herald; El Paso, Texas; Sat, Apr 22, 1899 – Page 1. Link.

The whole story was a combination of both accounts. In fact, the version to go out over the wire was almost a perfect encapsulation of both, though without the El Paso Herald‘s grossly misleading title:

Judge Brawley delivered an impressive address to the jurors after hearing their announcement. During the course of it he criticized lynchings most severely. He said the officials who appointed Baker postmaster could not escape a share of the responsibility for the fearful crime that had been committed.

Continuing, he commented upon the increase in instances of mob violence that had become conspicuous during the last few years and he urged upon the jurors to go to their homes and to impress upon the people of South Carolina the necessity of putting a stop to the terrible crimes such as that committed at Lake City.

The white people of the state, he said, now had the control of affairs absolutely in their hands, and continued instances of mob law would be an everlasting reproach to them. 4The Wilmington Morning Star; Wilmington, North Carolina; Sun, Apr 23, 1899 – Page 4. Link.

The Aftermather

Prosecution: Satisfied with Even a Disagreement

The repercussions of the trial came quickly for some, and more slowly for others. A few days after the trial, one of the members of the prosecution returned to his home in New York and was interviewed for the press.

He was, he said, “satisfied with even a disagreement of the jury, since it instanced the progress of an enlightened sentiment in the state.” South Carolina, he figured, might fully acquit all whites who were accused of lynching. That it ended with five jurors pulling for a guilty verdict was progress.

This former Attorney General, however, was hardly a progressive. He called only for a “lynch law for crimes against women,” but was against it “under other circumstances.” Further, he was “opposed to the appointment of negroes to post offices in the south, but is opposed also to mob law, arson and murder.” This was hardly a radical stance for equality – even by the standards of 1899. 5Asheville Daily Gazette; Asheville, North Carolina; Tue, Apr 25, 1899 – Page 1. Link.

Back in Lake City: ‘Like the Return of a Victorious Army’

The accused lynchers returned to Lake City a few days after the close of the trial. On April 30, 1899, when they disembarked from the train at the depot, they were met by “nearly two thousand people,” claimed an observer. There was, “a terrible amount of handshaking and hugging and kissing, and there was great rejoicing throughout the time. It was like the return of a victorious army home from the front.”

Two of the Lake City Lynchers Put Out of the Methodist Church

During the trial, two of the accused lynchers turned state’s evidence. The prosecution hung nearly their entire case upon the words of Joe Newham and Early Lee, who described in fine detail how they, along with half a dozen other white men from Lake City, lynched Frazier Baker and his one year old daughter, Julia. It was likely because of this that they were ousted from the local church.

The papers told the story:
There was a time when Joe Newham and Early Lee were members of the Methodist Church, in Lake City. They paid their dues and were in good standing, but the names of the pair were stricken from the list last Sunday.

Deputy Marshall Reed, who went to Lake City with the defendants in the Lynching case to secure bond, said yesterday that he attended service at the Methodist Church on Sunday. The Rev. Mr. Kirton, who is the editor of the Dewey Eagle, is its pastor. After the service, Mr. Kirton announced that Newham and Lee would have to quit the congregation.

The wife of Lee was also a member of the church, though she was not disturbed. The pastor said she had a bad husband and had suffered much on that account.

It was not told whether the men had been turned out of the church for having been implicated in the lynching or for having told about it when the case went to trial. At any rate, the record has been relieved of their names. 6The Manning Times; Manning, South Carolina; Wed, May 3, 1899 – Page 1. Link.

Enter: Lilian Clayton Jewitt, ‘This Chit of a White Girl’

From the ending of the trial until late summer, 1899, Lavinia Baker, wife of the lynching postmaster, lived with her surviving children in Charleston, South Carolina. It was during this time that Lillian Clayton Jewitt, an aspiring Boston novelist and political activist took an interest in the Baker family.

Jewitt advocated for a national anti-lynching law, and thought that the Bakers could put a face on the subject. Already, two separate Boston groups – one white and one black – were raising money to help the Baker family establish a new life in Charleston, South Carolina. The 24 year old idealistic Ms. Jewitt, however, wanted to bring them to Boston.

On July 16, two and a half months after the trial, Jewitt held a public meeting in Boston. With both whites and blacks in attendance, she insisted that the fight to end lynching had to begin immediately.

“Let them see the people who are bring persecuted and shot down. Bring the Baker family here to Boston. Let them see the helpless children, the maimed and destitute mother, whose husband and little one were killed because the former was a servant of our government.

“If this does not do it, I am very much mistaken in the people of New England. You can do it, you should do it, and if necessary I will agree to go to Charleston myself and bring the Baker family here.”

Though Ms. Jewitt’s heart was in the right place, not everybody appreciated her efforts. The Colored National League, for instance, had been working on this very idea before anyone had heard from, as one of their leaders put it, this “chit of a white girl who sprang up overnight.”

Boston’s black community was divided on the issue, and mostly upon lines of class. Southern blacks now living in Boston tended to side with Ms. Jewitt, while the wealthier black Boston natives did not.

This back and forth continued through the month of July. But in early August, Lillian Jewitt stole away from Boston, taking a ship to Charleston. There, she met Lavinia Baker and promised to bring her north and support her. The very next day, the entire Baker family boarded a Boston-bound train with Ms. Jewitt. 7Roger K. Hux, “Lillian Clayton Jewett and the Rescue of the Baker Family, 1899-1900”
Historical Journal of Massachusetts Volume 19, No. 1 (Winter 1991). Link.

Questionable Notoriety

As they made their way north, the Southern press was apoplectic over the move. Generally, it was understood that only the South knew how to deal with the black population. A Yankee woman coming down to take charge was crossing a line.

Miss Jewitt Takes to Boston the Family of the Lynched Negro Postmaster Baker

Charleston, S.C., August 5 […] Miss Jewitt said her plans for the future were not yet formulated, but she proposes to hold mass meetings throughout the north to arouse popular sentiment against lynching and mob law generally.

She did not regard her movement as an issue between the races but was advocating the cause of humanity, irrespective of color or condition. She said she was educated in Virginia and had some knowledge of the southern people, and she was well aware that the better elements in the south joined heart and soul with the better elements in the north in demanding a halt in the commission of the outrages that recently have shocked the world.

She said that since her Boston address was made she had received many threatening letters from the south, but to these she paid no heed, knowing that they did not come from a source worth of serious consideration.

Additionally, the same paper interviewed a “colored minister” of Charleston, making it a point to include his dissenting opinion. Rev. J.L. Dark declared “That Miss Jewitt does not represent the better class of white or colored people in Boston.” He claimed that “she and those who stand with her merely want to get control of the Bakers to make notoriety and money for themselves.” 8The Wilmington Messenger; Wilmington, North Carolina; Sun, Aug 6, 1899 – Page 1. Link.

Promotional photo used by the Baker family, sold to raise money.

The South continued to follow Ms. Jewitt and Mrs. Baker’s travels and speaking engagements. Before arriving in Boston, they stopped in Providence, Rhode Island, speaking before a crowd numbering 3,000. There, 11 year old Lincoln Baker, the son maimed in the attack, was brought forward so the crowd could see the work of the lynchers.

Arriving in Boston, they spoke at the People’s Temple on a sweltering August day. The auditorium grew so hot that Mrs. Baker actually fainted under the heat. Despite the speeches and plight of the family, however, very little money was raised to support them.

Many in Boston were unhappy with Ms. Jewitt’s impromptu voyage to Charleston. And while they were anti-lynching, they had no real idea what to do with the Baker family now it their midst.

As the weeks went on, their speaking engagements continued, and their proceeds dwindled. By September, they were barely making enough to continue the speaking tour of New England. 9Hux, 21.

Too Bad For Boston

The Baltimore Sun, not usually known for its editorial rhetoric, tore into Ms. Jewitt, while casting a glorious white glow over the Southern States.

Boston, it seems, was willing to gather in great numbers to gaze upon the unfortunate and to make their arrival within her cultures precincts the occasion of the violent tirade against the South and the Southern people. […]

The poor and plundered South and its maligned white people have to care for a vast number of colored families. They have voluntarily assumed the burden of educating the race, and Boston cannot care for a single family.

It is time now for that city to “give us a rest” and cease proclaiming itself as the friend of the oppressed. 10The Baltimore Sun; Baltimore, Maryland; Mon, Sep 25, 1899 – Page 4. Link.

The Final End

The Bakers, nevertheless, remained in Boston as well as in the public eye, though only for a year. She was interviewed here and there, and spoke on occasion. By winter of 1899, she had lost all contact with Ms. Jewitt and was more or less on her own (and at the mercy of donations).

While Lillian Clayton Jewitt seems to have disappeared form the public record after the autumn of 1900, the Baker family’s fate is well documented.

The tuberculosis epidemic that ran through Boston in 1908 claimed the youngest child, Millie, then fifteen years old. Over the next twelve years, Sara, Lincoln and Rosa all died, likely of the same cause. Then, in 1942, the only surviving Baker child, Cora, now age 56, died of a heart attack.

The last surviving member of the Baker family was the matriarch herself, Lavinia. Following the death of Cora, she moved back to Florence County, South Carolina, the scene of the lynching five decades prior. Her last days were lived out in Cartersville, in the west end of the county. 11Hux, 22.

The Baker family moved to Boston in 1899, with Lavinia returning South in 1942. Across those forty-three years, the state of South Carolina witnessed at least 90 lynchings – only four of which were not racially motivated against the black community.

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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.