This week, we take a closer look at one of the most publicized lynchings of the twentieth century – the double lynching at Duck Hill, Mississippi. Additionally, we’ll recall well over fifty other lynchings of black Americans that took place in the second week in April, between 1877 and 1941.
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.
Two Negroes Are Lynched By 500 Whites (1937)
Pair Killed in Mississippi After Pleading Innocent to Murder Charge
Winona, Miss., April 13 – While women, and even little children, looked upon the gruesome scene, two negroes accused of murdering a white merchant, were tortured with fire and lynched by a frenzied mob of nearly 500 persons near Duck Hill, this afternoon.
A third negro suspected by the mob in the slaying of George Windham, a county storekeeper, was severely whipped and run out of the county after narrowly escaping the mob’s vicious vengeance.
Roosevelt Townes, who had confessed, Sheriff E. E. Wright said, that he shot Windham, was tied to a tree near Windham’s store, tortured slowly to death with flames from a blow torch.
A negro, identified only as “Bootjack” McDaniels, indicted with Townes in the Windham slaying, was shot by members of the mob, and his body burned.
Townes and McDaniels were taken from Sheriff E. E. Wright and two deputies early this afternoon as they were being led from the courtroom to be returned to the jail to await trial Thursday.
“It was all done quickly, quietly and orderly,” said Deputy Sheriff A.J. Curtis, one of the officers overpowered by the mob.
Curtis said that when the prisoners were led out of the courthouse door, a group of men milling about the courtyard closed in on the sheriff, his two deputies and the prisoners.
“Two men grabbed my arms and pinned them behind me,” he said. “The other officers were overpowered in the same way. There was no other form of violence, and no effort was made at shooting,” the officer said.
Curtis said the men were not masked, but said he did not recognize any of the men.
The negroes were handcuffed, and placed in a waiting school bus. Members of the mob piled into the bus, and others into automobiles. The caravan sped northward toward Duck Hill and to the site of George Windham’s small store, where the white man was fatally shot through a window last December.
As the caravan proceeded along the highway, the line of cars lengthened. One Winona citizen who would not permit the use of his name said “there must have been 500 men there before it was all over.”
The caravan sped northward toward Duck Hill as the negroes screamed for mercy. The bus stopped near the small country store where Windham was fatally shot through a window one night last December. Then the negroes were tied to a tree and tortured.
Townes’ eyes were gouged out with an ice pick and a blow torch was applied to parts of his body before he died.
McDaniels was flogged by members of the mob who took turns with chain and a horsewhip. Still alive, he was riddled with buckshot.
Everett Dorroh, Negro farmer, happened to be passing the scene and was attracted by the crowd. Before he had fathomed what was going on or had a chance to leave, he was named by someone in the mob as an accomplice in the white man’s murder.
Dorroh was flogged and told to run. Buckshot was fired at him and some entered his leg but he somehow managed to escape with his life.
Reaction to Duck Hill on the State Level
Governor Hugh White hastily wired Chairman Summers of the house judiciary committee that he regretted the occurrence and that a full investigation would be made of the lynching.
“This terrible thing will be immediately investigated by the grand jury,” said Circuit Judge John F. Allen, of Kosciusko, who was presiding at the regular criminal term of circuit court here when the negroes were arraigned.
Judge Allen said he would hold a conference with the district attorney, and that plans for investigating the double lynching would be made immediately.
“We are justly proud of the fact that Mississippi has not had a lynching in fifteen months,” Governor Hugh White boasted in an address before the Farm Chemurgic Conference here [Jackson, MS] this afternoon.
A minute later he was called from the conference to learn from his secretary that two Negroes had just been lynched at Duck Hill.
-Associated Press, April 14, 1937 (compiled from several different articles)
Reaction on the Federal Level
Images of the lynching – as horrific and brutal as they were – were offered for sale by Campbell’s Studio out of nearby Grenada, Mississippi. Though many area whites purchased the photos, the studio declined to sell them to the NAACP. Nevertheless, these photographs were the first lynching photos to appear in the national press. Both Time and Life featured them in 1937 issues. Other newspapers later followed suit – though nobody would sell them to black organizations or press. 2Amy Louise Wood Lynching and Spectacle (University of North Carolina Press, 2009) 220.
As news of the lynchings spread across the country, Congress began to finally take notice. US Representative Joseph Gavagan, a Democrat from New York, sponsored a bill calling for the federal prosecution of those taking part in lynch mobs. The bill would also fine or imprison local police who refused or failed to protect prisoners from being lynching.
Three days after the lynching, the House passed the bill in a landslide. It was, however, hung up in the Senate for months. When it was finally on the floor, Southern senators held the longest filibuster seen in over fifty years, lasting six full weeks. “We shall at all cost,” said Senator Allen Ellender from Louisiana, “preserve the white supremacy of America.”
Southern Democrats charged that the South “has been deserted by the Democrats of the North.” They compared the bill to the dreded New Deal, as well as civil rights and communism. It was ultimately withdrawn, defeated in the Senate. 3Jason Morgan Ward Defending White Democracy (University of North Carolina Press, 2011) 22.
To this date, the United States has never passed a federal anti-lynching bill.
Charged With Stealing Meat (1915)
Valdosta, Ga., April 17 – Caesar Sheffield, a negro prisoner in the town jail at Lake Park, was taken from the prison last night and shot to death by unknown parties. No trail has been found of the slayers.
Sheffield was arrested yesterday charged with stealing meat form the smokehouse of Elder B. Herring and put in jail to await trial. The prison was forced open by unknown parties and cries were heard from the negro about 9 o’clock last night. Moses Oppenheim, who went to investigate the cries, was driven back and shots fired in his direction, was unable to identify the men who were making off with the prisoner. Sheffield’s body was found this morning in a field near the railroad station at Lake Park.
-Atlanta Constitution, April 18, 1915
1880 J. N. Tucker St. Helena LA Black Male Shot Murder of a white man 1896 Jim Fountain Jefferson MS Black Male Shot Race prejudice 1901 Kennedy Gordon Bulloch GA Black Male Shot Attempted assault of white girl 1902 Unnamed Negro Natchitoches LA Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man, a deputy sheriff 1909 Horace Montgomery Yazoo MS Black Male Hanged Threatened to kill a white man, a constable 1909 John Smith DeSoto FL Black Male Hanged Attempted criminal assault on young unmarried white woman
1880 James Black Dinwiddlie VA Black Male Hanged "Felonious assault” on a married white woman 1883 John Collins Bertie NC Black Male Hanged Attempted outrage on a white girl 1885 John Burks Tishomingo MS Black Male Hanged/RwB Criminal assault on a 60 year-old married white woman 1887 Jerry Wallace Jefferson MS Black Male Hanged Murder of a black man, a preacher 1888 Jerry Smith Lake TN Black Male Unreported Attempted criminal assault on a white girl 1894 William Lewis Wilcox AL Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of young white man, a prominent planter 1896 Reddick Adams Russell AL Black Male Hanged Assault and robbery of a white man, a merchant
1878 — Isaac Iberia LA Black Male Hanged Arson of a sugar house and sugar gins 1885 Bud Farris Obion TN White Male Hanged Theft and Implicated in murder 1885 Freeman Ward Obion TN Black Male Hanged Theft and Implicated in murder 1887 John Thomas Obion TN Black Male Hanged Outraged a young white girl 1891 Alexander Foote Princeton WV Black Male Hanged Murder 1893 Ed — Clay GA Black Male Burned and shot Murder of a white man, a Quitman Co. merchant 1896 John Jones Monroe MS Black Male Hanged Outraging a 2 year-old white girl 1910 Thomas O'Neil Lauderdale MS Black Male Stabbed in throat and body Killed a white man, a jailer and former sheriff 1919 Andrew Ruffin Jenkins GA Black Male Shot Complicity in the murder of two white police officers 1919 Joe Ruffin Jr. Jenkins GA Black Male Shot Complicity in the murder of two white police officers 1919 William Williams Jenkins GA Black Male Shot Complicity in the murder of two white police officers 1937 Robert "Boot Jack" DanielsMontgomery MS Black Male Shot Murder of a white man, a store keeper 1937 Roosevelt Townes Montgomery MS Black Male Burned Murder of a white man, a store keeper 1941 Robert Melker Gaston NC Black Male Shot Altercation with white man
1877 Unnamed Negro Neshoba MS Black Male Unreported “Attempting to commit a nameless crime” 1882 Henry Ivy Dallas AL Black Male Hanged Murder of an old white man 1882 Sam Acoff Dallas AL Black Male Shot Murder of an old white man 1889 Steve McIntosh Ouachita LA Black Male Unreported Outrage and murderous assault of a 13 year-old girl, probably black 1894 Seymour Newlin Bellefontaine OH Black Male Hanged Assault on white woman 1897 Jesse Evans Hinds MS Black Male RwB Attempted criminal assault on two white girls, ages 12 and 14 1910 Albert Royal Turner GA Black Male RwB Suing a white man 1910 Charles Jackson Turner GA Black Male RwB Testifying in case suing white man and attempted assault of a white woman 1921 George Marshall Lauderdale MS Black Male Hanged Threatening a white man, a merchant
1885 Aaron Jones Pointe Coupee LA Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man 1890 Charles Bass Newton MS Black Male Shot Unreported 1902 Henry Young Thomas GA Black Male Shot Unknown
1883 Tom Bailey Franklin MS Black Male Outraging and murdering a young black girl 1889 Hector Junior Iberia LA Black Male Unreported Killing one white man and seriously wounding his son 1890 Samuel Moody Logan KY Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of his father 1891 Will Skaggs Warren KY Black Male Shot Murderous assault on a white man 1894 Henry Montgomery Marshall TN Black Male Hanged Larceny and threatening to burn homes 1900 Moses York Tunica MS Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man, an Italian fruit vendor 1907 Charley Straws Avoyelles LA Black Male Hanged/RwB Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman 1915 Ceasar Sheffield Lowndes GA Black Male Shot Stealing meat from a smokehouse 1927 Willie Autrey Calcasieu LA Black Male Shot Peeping into windows
1878 Ben Evans Madison AL Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man, a butcher 1878 Ephraim Hall Madison AL Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man, a butcher 1878 Mike White Madison AL White Male Hanged Murder of a white man, a butcher 1881 Lewis Whittaker Gadsden FL Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man, a leading citizen 1905 John Barnett Lee AR Black Male Hanged Murder of a black man 1907 Frederick Kilbourne E.Feliciana LA Black Male Hanged Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman 1915 Caesar Sheffield Valdosta GA Black Male Shot Theft
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.|
|2.||⇡||Amy Louise Wood Lynching and Spectacle (University of North Carolina Press, 2009) 220.|
|3.||⇡||Jason Morgan Ward Defending White Democracy (University of North Carolina Press, 2011) 22.|