Lynchings, Race Riot, and Texas Justice – This Week in Historical Lynchings

Once again, we take a closer look at some of the sixty or so racially-motivated lynchings of black Americans that took place between May 9 and May 15. Included is the lynching of George Hughes and the riot and burning of the black section of Sherman, Texas that followed. We’ll also examine a possible case of mistaken identity, as well as two more cases where the lynching victim was ceased by the mob while under the “protection” of the authorities.

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.

The Lynching of George Hughes and the Sherman, Texas Riot (1930)

In May of 1930, around 1,000 white people broke in on a court proceeding in an attempt to lynch George Hughes, a black man on trial. Though their efforts were thwarted at first, they succeeded not only in lynching him, but in burning down several blocks of the black section of the city. This is the story, as told through the papers as well as the report of the Texas Ranger on the scene.

Unable to Blast into Jail, Mob Burns it to Kill Negro
(from Columbus Enquirer-Sun, May 10, 1930)
Sherman, Tex., May 9 – A mob today burned the $60,000 Grayson county court house, cremating George Hughes, negro, after unsuccessfully attempting to seize him from officers.

New York Times, May 10, 1930. justice.
New York Times, May 10, 1930.

Hughes, who had pleaded guilty to assaulting a white woman, died in a vault in the court house in which he had been placed for safety by Texas Rangers and local officers; when the mob stormed the building during the trial, crying for his life.

Driven back three times by officers who hurled tear gas bombs and fought with fists and clubs, but did not shoot into the crowd, the mob finally set fire to the court house. An earlier attempt to dynamite the structure had failed.

Three youthful leaders of the mob were seriously wounded in a clash with the guardsmen. Two of them were shot and one may die. Jed Brown, 18, was shot in the chest and physicians held little hope for his recovery.

Statement from Frank Hamer, Texas Ranger
On the morning of the 9th of May the negro [George Hughes] was brought into the court room, the jury was empanelled, the trial proceeded to get under way. It was while the first State witness was on the stand testifying, that the crowd made a rush on the District Court room to get the prisoner and in their attempt to do so, two double doors opening into a hallway near the District Court room were broken down. The district Judge ordered the prisoner locked up in the District Attorney’s vault and then we immediately proceeded to disperse the mob which we did by the use of our guns, without firing, and tear gas bombs. The District Judge and other officials then decided that a change of venue should be ordered in the case. The crowd mad two other attempts to rush the court room on the second floor and was beaten back each time.

I instructed my men that the next time they rushed the courthouse that I would fired on the mob, but for them to hold their fire until I gave orders to shoot. In a few minutes the mob attempted to rush the court room again, coming up the stairways, and I fired a shotgun loaded with buckshot, wounding two men, so it was reported to us, this stopped the mob.

I had heard a number of them say prior to the time that I fired on them, that “you can’t shoot us.” It never occurred to me what they meant until a newspaper man came upstairs and showed me a message that he said he had received over the A.P. wires reading as from the Governor, “protect the negro if possible, but do not shoot anybody.” I informed him that I had received no such message, however, at this time, this report seemed to have been well circulated among the crowd.

Frank Hamer
Frank Hamer

I saw the District judge and told him about the report and informed him that I didn’t believe the Governor would issue such orders, because we probably could not hold the prisoner if such order was issued. One of the agitators walked to the foot of the stairway and asked me if I was going to give the prisoner up to them, I told him we were not, he says, “well we are coming up and get him,” I said, “any time you feel luck, come on, but when you start up the stairway once more, there is going to be many funerals in Sherman.” For twenty or thirty minutes, things were quiet.
They started breaking out windows down stairs, the sheriff and deputies had previously gone down stairs, leaving myself and men to guard the negro and the stairways. Then all at once the flames from the lower story of the courthouse swept up the stairways and on up to the ceiling over our heads to the second floor. And myself and men barely escaped the burning building. The flames cut us off from the vault and we could not have opened the vault if we could have gotten to it, as we did not know the combination, so we came out and down into the crowd. Flames from the burning building was pushing everybody off the square.

Full report here.

The Fire and the Burning
(Continued from the Columbus Enquirer-Sun, May 10, 1930)
Meanwhile, another crowd battled a detachment of guardsmen on the Square when they attempted to drive the crowd from the grounds of the wrecked court house.

The negro quarter of the city was deserted and appeals were sent to neighboring towns to rush police officers here to assist Sherman authorities.

The flame of an acetylene torch was directed against the vault by the mob which did not believe Hughes had burned to death. Previously, two attempts to blast open the vault failed. Seven sticks of dynamite were placed under the vault door and exploded but failed to open the door. A can of blasting powder was set off and this explosion also failed to shake the structure.

Sheriff Vaughan said the Negro was given his choice of running for his life, after the courthouse fire began, or being shut in the vault, and that he chose the vault. When last seen alive by the officers he was sitting on a chair in the vault, his head bowed upon his folded arms. [This seems to contradict Frank Hamer’s statement.]

The burned out Court House in Sherman.
The burned out Court House in Sherman.

The same newspaper continues the story the following day, picking up just after the court house fire burned itself out.

Texas Mob Runs Amuck; Burns Blocks of Negro Homes
Sherman, Tex., May 10 – Culminating an orgy of mob-madness, a mob early today set fire to a negro drug store and nearby erected a funeral pyre for George Hughes, 41-year-old negro attacker of a white woman, who was suffocated or otherwise killed in a fire which destroyed the Sherman court house yesterday.

The body was recovered at 11:45 o’clock last night from the vault in the court house. It was dragged through the narrow opening made by an acetylene torch and dynamite blasts, and a chain wrapped around it.

When the men who went into the vault shoved the body through the hole and dumped it to the ground two stories below, women screamed and clapped their hands and a great cheer went up from the mob.

The chain was fastened to the rear of an automobile and it was started through the streets toward the jail, dragging the body, as the maddened mob cheered wildly, and started for the Negro section. Through the streets the mob dragged the body and the journey ended at a large Negro store which housed a drug store, beauty shop, undertaker, tailor and other enterprises. A tree was near by.

The body was strung up to the tree and boxes piled beneath. A fire was lighted. Then the drug store was set on fire.

After virtually destroying the drug store, the mob surged down a three block section of the Negro district, a stampede of humanity run amuck. Clubs, bricks, bottles, and fists were wielded against windows and doors. Virtually every store was entered and its interior looted and wrecked.

Near 2am, most of the mob dispersed, and harassed officials believed that most of their grief was over. Just then, a fresh fire broke out and the overtaxed fire department went clanging again to the Negro district. About seven hundred white persons, in knots of twenty to fifty each, were on the streets at that hour.

Every negro had disappeared from the Negro section, even from the districts which were not burning. The frightened men, women and children were reported to be huddling in brush thickets on the outskirts of Sherman.

Later this morning, hundreds of curious persons invaded Sherman. Highways were covered by solid strings of automobiles bringing visitors to this city which, because of its numerous colleges, churches and fine public buildings, is known as “The Athens of Texas.”

A fuller account of the lynching and riot can be had here.

Believes Wrong Man Lynched (1901)

Birmingham, Ala., May 11 – A Negro supposed to be James Brown, accused of assaulting Miss Della Garrett of Springsville, was shot and killed by a number of white men near Leeds, near her, to-day. The coroner is of the opinion that the wrong man has been killed.”
-Chicago Record-Herald, June 20, 1901.

Mississippi Mob Kills and Burns Vicksburg Negro (1919)

Vicksburg, Miss., May 14 – Lloyd Clay, aged 24, a Negro, alleged to have attacked a young white woman, was lynched and then his body burned tonight by a mob of between 800 and 1000 persons.

The mob broke into the county jail, overpowered Sheriff Frank Scott and twelve deputies, and took the negro to the heart of the city. Here, after his head had been saturated with oil and a lighted match applied, he was strung up from the limb of a tree and a fire built beneath him. A fusillade of shots then was fired into his body.

Clay was arrested after he is alleged to have attacked a white girl in her room early today. In the struggle with her assailant, who fled, the girl tore a piece of cloth from his coat.

This was used to give bloodhounds a clew to the fugitive and Clay was tracked down and later identified by the girl.

M.G. Cockrill, a deputy sheriff; Charles Lancaster and Bennie Stafford, spectators, were wounded in the fighting.

Authorities tonight said the lynching was the culmination of feeling aroused here by a recent series of attacks upon white women and girls in this section.
-Chicago Tribune, May 15, 1919.
More information can be found here.

Florida Killers Drag Negro From Ambulance (1941)

Quincy, Fla., May 13 – The body of A.C. Williams, 22, Negro charged with assaulting a 12-year-old white girl, was found on a bridge five miles north of here today, several hours after he had been abducted form authorities for the second time. He had been shot to death.

Williams was taken from the Gadsden County jail last night by four white men. Later he was found in the home of another Negro with several bullet wounds in his body, and suffering from a beating about the head. his assailants apparently thought he had been killed.

Sheriff Luten had Williams placed in an ambulance for transportation to Tallahassee, Fla., hospital, after a physician said he had a good chance to recover.

The ambulance left without guards after the sheriff said he did not “anticipate any more trouble,” and on the way was stopped by “a group of persons” who took Williams from the vehicle.

Will Webb, Negro driver of the ambulance, said the vehicle was halted by “four or five men,” and the wounded man was pulled out and taken away.

“One of them said they wanted the man I had in the ambulance and they didn’t want any trouble,” he said. “I told them they wouldn’t get any trouble out of me, because I didn’t even have a pocket knife.”

He said he did not recognize any of the men.
-New York Post, May 13, 1941.

riddled Flag announcing lynchings, 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.

Sixty Other Lynchings This Week

What follows is a list of all known lynchings of black Americans between May 9 and May 15, 1882-1941.
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.

Year	Victim	  City State	Race	Sex	Form    Alleged Offense

May 9

1884	Miles Petty		 Hardin	KY	Black	Male	Hanged		Outraged an unmarried white woman
1885	Scipio Atchison		Chilton	AL	Black	Male	RwB		Threats to kill white men looking for his son
1896	William Hardee		 Coffee	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Flogged white boy; choked a white boy
1902	Nicholas Deblanc	 Iberia	LA	Black	Male	Hanged		Attempted criminal assault on a white girl, daughter of a prominent citizen
1904	Rufus Bobo		 Panola	MS	Black	Male	Shot		Killing a black woman
1921	Samuel Ballinger       Bradford FL	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Murder of a white man, a deputy sheriff
1926	Parker Watson	       Pinellas FL	Black	Male	Shot		Committed nine robberies

May 10

1888	Thomas Reney	         Warren	KY	Black	Male	Hanged		Poisoning 20 horses belong to his former white employer
1893	Heyward Barksdale	Laurens	SC	Black	Male	Hanged		Attempted outrage of 12 year-old white girl
1895	Brad Hampton		 Taylor	FL	Black	Male	RwB		Plotting against white women
1896	W. H. Paschall		 Fulton	KY	Black	Male	Hanged		Murderous assault on a white man, a marshal
1897	Charles Jackson	 East Feliciana	LA	Black	Male	Hanged		Attempted train wrecking
1901	Charles Winston	      Jefferson	AL	Black	Male	Shot		Mistaken for a black man accused of assaulting a young unmarried white college girl
1903	Unnamed Negro	      Wilkinson	MS	Black	Male	Unreported	Arson
1934	Unnamed Negro	        Laurens	SC	Black	Male	RwB		Shot and seriously wounded a white deputy

May 11

1893	George Halsey		  Smyth	VA	Black	Male	Hanged		Rape and murderous assault
1897	Amanda Franks		Madison	AL	Black	Female	Hanged		Poisoning white family causing one death
1897	Mollie Smith		Madison	AL	Black	Female	Hanged		Poisoning white family causing one death
1900	William Lee		 Hinton	WV	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Attempted rape
1902	Horace Mullen	        Coahoma	MS	Black	Male	Unreported	Unknown
1902	James Underwood	          Meigs	TN	Black	Male	Hanged		Threatening to murder two white men, prominent citizens
1921	Leroy Smith		  Desha	AR	Black	Male	Unreported	Attacked white man and young white woman
1926	Henry Patterson		    Lee	FL	Black	Male	Shot		Frightening a white woman

May 12

1891	Asbury Green	    Centerville	MD	Black	Male	Beaten, Hanged	Rape
1900	Henry Harris		Rapides	LA	Black	Male	Hanged		Attempted criminal assault on a 18 year-old unmarried white woman
1901	Lee Key			Johnson	AR	Black	Male	Shot		Terrorizing other blacks
1909	John Rist		   Pike	MS	Black	Male	Hanged		Unknown
1913	Samuel Owensby		  Troup	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Murder of a prominent white planter
1914	Earl Hamilton		  Caddo	LA	Black	Male	Hanged/stabbed	Assault (rape) of a 10 year-old white orphan girl
1933	William Kinsey		 Warren	GA	Black	Male	RwB		Murder of a “leading white farmer”

May 13

1888	Dave Southall	  Pointe Coupee	LA	Black	Male	Shot		Attempted murder of a white man
1890	Phillip Williams     Assumption	LA	Black	Male	Hanged		Entered a married white woman’s bedroom
1892	Mills Luther	     Mercer Co.	WV	Black	Male	Unknown		Murder
1894	Coot Williams	       Suwannee	FL	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Murder of two white women
1894	Spencer Atkins		  Lamar	AL	White	Male	Shot		For helping to suppress lawlessness
1897	Pressley Oates		   Pope	AR	Black	Male	Hanged		Theft of meat from a white man’s smokehouse
1900	Samuel Hinson		Neshoba	MS	Black	Male	Hanged		Assaulted (nonsexual) a married white woman
1906	William Wommock		  Dodge	GA	Black	Male	RwB		Assaulted 50 year-old white widow woman
1910	Doc McClain	   Little River	AR	Black	Male	Hanged		Assaulted young white man, a planter
1911	John McLeod		Emanuel	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Murder of a white deputy marshal
1925	John West	       Seminole	FL	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Criminal assault on a 3 year-old white girl

May 14

1884	Hardy Grady	      Effingham	GA	Black	Male	Hanged		Attempted outrage on a married white woman
1892	Henry James		Pulaski	AR  Black-mulattoMale	Hanged/RwB	Outraging a 5 year-old white girl
1894	Samuel Wood		  Scott	VA	Black	Male	Shot		Hiding prostitutes
1897	James Cooper		Neshoba	MS	Black	Male	Hanged		Altercation with a white man, his landlord
1900	Jeff Davis	       Hernando	FL	Black	Male	Shot		Implicated in the murder of a white man
1900	John Hill	       Hernando	FL	Black	Male	Shot		Implicated in the murder of a white man
1900	William B. Wilson      Richmond	GA	Black	Male	HangedRwB	Murder of a young white man, a popular baseball player
1915	Unnamed Negro		 Kemper	MS	Black	Male	Shot		Writing an insulting note to a young white woman
1919	Lloyd Clay		 Warren	MS	Black	Male	Hanged/burned/RwB	Entered a white woman’s bedroom
1921	Rawls Ross		 Coweta	GA	Black	Male	Shot		Murder of white deputy sheriff
1941	A. C. Williams		Gadsden	FL	Black	Male	RwB	Attempted criminal assault on a 12 year-old white girl

May 15

1882	Eugene Azar	     St. Martin	LA	Black	Male	Hanged		Murder of a young man
1882	Joseph E. Jenkins    St. Martin	LA	White	Male	Hanged		Murder of his brother-in-law
1886	Daniel Mann		   Polk	FL	White	Male	Hanged		Murder of a white marshal and wounding another officer
1886	Louis Mann		   Polk	FL	White	Male	Hanged		Murder of a white marshal and wounding another officer
1887	Thomas F. McNair	  Butts	GA	White	Male	Shot		Unknown
1892	“Red” Smith	      Naugatuck	WV	Black	Male	Unknown		Murder
1894	Nero Young		 Marion	FL	Black	Male	Hanged		Assault on a young white girl
1904	John Cumming	       Columbia	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Rape of a 15 year-old white girl
1919	James Waters	        Johnson	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB	Assaulting young white girl or wanting to leave his white employer

For more information concerning the lynching data, please see our page here.

References   [ + ]

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.