The Anniversary of Duck Hill – A Weekly Look at Historical Lynchings

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.

duckhillpaper

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.

Photo of McDaniels, likely still alive.
Photo of McDaniels, likely still alive.

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)

Likely a photo of McDaniels (left) and Townes (right) following their lynchings at Duck Hill.
Likely a photo of McDaniels (left) and Townes (right) following their lynchings at Duck Hill.

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

Flag announcing lynching, 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.

April 11

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

April 12

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

April 13

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

April 14

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

April 15

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              

April 16

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

April 17

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   [ + ]

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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