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.
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.
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 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.
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
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
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
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
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”
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
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
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 [ + ]
|1.||⇡||In 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.|