While nearly every known lynching has a newspaper report behind it, relatively few were photographed. At lynching’s peak in the 1890s, George Eastman was about to change history. When he introduced the Kodak Brownie box camera in the early 1900s, almost anyone could afford to capture photos. It was at this time that an increase in lynching photography can be seen. The three photos presented below are from this time period.
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.
Three Negroes Lynched in North Carolina (1906)
On the night of August 6, 1906, Nease Gillepsie, John Gillepsie, and Jack Dillingham were hanged by a mob. This took place while trial of the three named, along with three others, was in progress.
Like more lynchings, there’s quite a bit to the story. What is detailed below comes from the Raleigh News and Observer, which printed the news as they received it. They also delved into the larger case, its background. The full article, much too long for a blog post, is available here.
Dragged From The Jail And Hanged By The Mob
Salsbury, N.C., Aug 6 – At 11 tonight and infuriated mob of several thousand citizens from Salisbury and the surrounding country overpowered Sheriff D.R. Julian, Jailer J.H. Krider and about fifty others and took from the jail four of the six negroes charged with the murder of the Lyerly family near this city three weeks ago.
The negros were carried by main force to the outskirts of the city, where they were being lynched at this hour.
The military company was called out, but were powerless in the face of the howling mob bent on the destruction of the sextet of criminals.
At the first attack several shots were fired in the jail door and Engineer J.C. McLendon, of Spender, Fireman Sells and Brakeman Mauney were dangerously shot. Private Maxwell, of the Rowan Rifles was also shot in the foot.
The firing of pistols became promiscuous, and militia not having authority from the Governor to shoot, left the scene.
The lights around the jail were knocked out by the mob, after which the prisoners were soon dragged out in the darkness.
Sheriff Julian Pleads Vainly
Sheriff Julian and his assistants plead earnestly with the mob to allow the law to have its course, but to no avail.
The blow to the community is keenly felt though the officers are not blamed.
When the crisis came Sheriff Julian exclaimed, “They have got the prisoners and you men of property in Salisbury will suffer for it.”
The officers made a brave and noble effort, but were outnumbered by the angry crowd. Time after time the mob surged and yelled till the doors flew open.
Then came shriek after shriek from the inmates of the prison.
“They have got them,” came in response from one in the entrance to teh prison, and the infuriated mass of humanity seemed pleased and satisfied.
The officers could have killed many, but there seems to have been no authority for such a course. Parties returning from the scene of the lynching at 12:30 o’clock report that the bodies of the three victims are being burned one mile east of the city.
The location has been the scene of several lynchings. The lynching tonight terminates the trial begun today, but it is not known what steps will be taken by Judge Long and Solicitor Hammer, now on the ground, as to the prosecution of the members of the mob.
The Horrible Culmination
Later – On the way to the scene of the lynching it is stated that the negroes were horribly mutilated by knives in the hands of some of the mob. Reaching the spot selected, the prisoners were given an opportunity to confess.
One of the Gillespies thereupon admitted that he had assisted in the murder of the Lyerly family. This done, one of the doomed men, a rope having been adjusted about his neck, shot up into the air. Snap! went the rope, and the victim fell to the earth in a convulsed heap. Instantly he was seized and again strung up.
This time the cord stood the strain and the negro hung from the gallows of Judge Lynch, struggling a moment, then slowly growing still.
A second and a third man then darted into the air and hung by the side of the first, turning with a slow and horrible movement in the calm air of the night.
A crash of guns rang out, followed by another and another. The mob were pouring volley after volley into the dangling bodies. Then the firing ceased. The work of blood was done. The mob began to retrace their steps.
George Irvine, the fourth negro taken from the jail, was spared. He was returned to prison, and in company with two others, who had been left in jail, Henry Lee and Delia Dillingham, was later taken by officers to Greensboro.
-News and Observer; Raleigh, North Carolina; Wed, Aug 8, 1906
The aftermath of the lynching came quickly and was finely detailed in a long article appearing in the August 8, 1906 issue of the Washington Post. This can be seen here.
This image, likely taken by an amateur, is mostly out of focus. The shutter speeds, much slower than we’re used to today, show the slight movement of the bodies as blur. The tree, however, is crisp, which means the photographer probably used a tripod. It may have been rushed, but some care was taken to set up the shot. There was also enough time for the man on the right to quickly cover his face with his hat, also blurred.
Negro Is Lynched By Mob At Center (1920)
Black Is Said To Have Confessed To Killing White Woman
Center, Tex., Aug 3 – A mob of more than 1,000 men at 3 o’clock this afternoon stormed the county jail, battered down the steel doors, wrecked the steel cell and took out Lige Daniels, a negro charged with the murder of Mrs. Maggie Hall, and hanged him to a limb of a convenient oak tree in the courthouse yard.
The lynching followed a full confession made to the grand jury now in session, and also to the district attorney, J.P. Anderson.
Mrs. Hall, the wife of a well-known farmer living near Center, was brutally attacked and later found unconscious at a lonely point near her home last Thursday night. Her skill was crushed and her body bruised and lacerated. She was brought to a local sanitarium where she died Friday.
Lige Daniels was suspected on account of alleged threats previously made and after his arrest he made a full confession, which was reiterated before the grand jury.
Captain W.A. Bridges, commanding Company L, Seventh Cavalry, received wire instructions to protect the prisoner and to prevent the lynching, but was unable to find any of the members of his company in time for mobilization. Shortly after the lynching the immense crowd dispersed and the town quickly resumed its normal appearance.
Earlier in the day a message was received from San Augustine announcing that in the event the negro was not executed today a sufficient delegation from that county would arrive tonight to successfully attend to the matter.
-The Galveston Daily News; Galveston, Texas; Tue, Aug 3, 1920
Clearly taken by a professional, this photo was well-prepared. It’s fully in focus and everyone was ready for it – smiles and all. By 1920, the shutter speeds had increased enough that motion blur was no longer much of an issue for these types of shots. That said, as the photographer was a professional, a tripod like probably used.
The photograph was made into a postcard. The one presented here is inscribed, but never mailed. It reads: “This is where they lynched a negro the other day. They don’t know who done it. I guess they don’t care much. I don’t, do you?” At the very least, it shows us how quickly even then photographs could be turned into postcards.
Two Negroes Victims Of Lawless Mob (1930)
Marion, Ind., Aug 8 – Quiet was restored in Marion today, after one of the most gruesome lynchings in the state’s history, in which two negroes were hanged in the courthouse yard last night after, allegedly, confessing that they robbed and shot Claude Deeter, 23, to death, and attacked his companion, Miss Mary Ball, 19.
Bodies of the negroes were cut down at daylight today by Sheriff Jacob Campbell, without resistance, after the threatening attitude of thousands of rioters had prevented earlier removal.
The crowd surged forward when Sheriff Campbell cut the bodies down, and penknives came into play as the morbid assemblage sought “souvenir” shreds of clothing from the corpses. Some pulled buttons from the little remaining clothing on the bodies.
Authorities offered no resistance to the crowd, until an ambulance arrived to take the bodies away.
No shots were fired by officers during the lynching debacle, the strongest protest being from William Miller, turnkey [jailer], who under threats of death refused to give up the keys to the cells. None was needed.
“If a shot had been fired, three or four hundred persons, including women and children, woudl have been endangered.” Sheriff Campbell said in reply to criticism of his orders not to shoot.
“Dozens of the ringleaders openly brandished revolvers and one shot would have been the signal for a terrible slaughter.”
At the height of the disorder, the mob, including lookers-on, numbered nearly 20,000, Police Chief Lew Lindenmuth said.
Coroner O.L. Stot held a brief inquest, after which he returned a verdict that Thomas Shipp, 19, and Abram Smith, 19, Marion negroes, had met death as the result of a riot by persons so far unknown. Shipp was directly charged in an earlier verdict with the death of Deeter.
State and local police had the situation in hand today, and believed that no further violence would be forthcoming. A guard was thrown about the negro section of teh city, where an outbreak in reprisal was threatened earlier in the day.
Herbert Cameron, 16-year-old negro who had confessed that he was the third member of the trio who robbed and attacked Deeter and Miss Ball, will recover from the severe beating given him. Mob leaders apparently were satisfied that Smith and Shipp were responsible for the death of Deeter and attack upon Miss Ball, and there was no indication that Cameron was in further danger.
The Lynching Itself
The negro youths were arrested Thursday morning. In the afternoon crowds began forming about the county jail. Word went out all three negroes had confessed. Feeling began running high.
By nightfall, a crowd of 2,500 persons was milling about in the vicinity of the jail. The story of how the negroes had held up Deeter as he drove along a highway, dragging him from his car, robbed and shot him and then attacked Miss Ball, was retold over and over and with each re-telling, the general anger grew in its intensity.
About 9 o’clock, Hoot Ball, father of Mary Ball, entered the jail to talk with Sheriff Jacob Campbell. About the same time a group of men arrived from Fairmont, Deeter’s home town, 11 miles from Marion.
Ball remained in the jai a short time, then walked out into the crowd. He has been ill recently and was weak. The crowd jostled him and he fell. It was teh signal for violence ad within a few minutes the crowd, then numbering about 4,000, stormed the jail.
It was estimated only about 75 men actually took part in the rioting, but hundreds of others packed about the jail shouting encouragement. Sheriff Campbell issued orders to his deputies fire no shots, but police clubs were used freely and several heads were bruised.
The mob attacked in two places, one form teh front of teh jail, the other from the side. Tear gas bombs were tossed from teh jail windows, but the supply soon was exhausted and they stopped the mob only temporarily. One bomb was picked up and hurled back into the jail where it exploded among 45 prisoners.
Using crowbars and hammers, the mob ripped iron doors from their hinges, tore out windows, punched holes in the inside walls and forced its way to the bull pen, where a dozen stricken negro prisoners knelt in prayer.
Shipp and Smith were recognized immediately, dragged from the jail, beaten, kicked and hanged. Smith was taken a block away to the courthouse, shrieking in terror as he went. The rope with which he was hanged was 15 feet too long. The rioters tore the extra part into bis and passed them out as souveniers.
The crowd then returned to the jail for Cameron, who had been missed because no one recognized him among the dozen negro prisoners. All that was known was that he was young, so the mob selected the youngest prisoner they could find and dragged him to the court house. His life was saved by a member of the mob who recognized him as a youth who had been in jail for two weeks. He was returned to the Sheriff.
-The Vidette-Messenger; Valparaiso, Indiana; Fri, Aug 8, 1930
The 16 year old “Herbert Cameron” was actually James Cameron. After serving his sentence, he would go on to devote his life to the Civil Rights Movement, founding America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1991, the state of Indiana pardoned him for his part in the crime.
Nobody was ever charged for the lynching of Smith and Shipp.
With lynching photography, it’s rare to know the origin of the shot. This is an exception. The photo was captured by Lawrence Henry Beitler, who owned a photography studio in Marion. While it’s likely that he took several shots, this seems to be the only one he printed. For ten days following the lynching, Beitler hardly slept, as he was in his studio making prints to sell. They went for $.50 each, netting him at least $500 for a week and a half of work.
The photo did not remain in Indiana, but caught the ire of much of the nation. Like most lynching photos, spectators are shown. However, Beitler’s photo is different. There’s something more to it than mere presence. The spectators are almost the subject, especially the man pointing to the bodies. Beitler presents us with two images – the crowd and the victims – making it nearly impossible to look at both together.
Much more recently, the bottom half of the photo was made into a mural. First displayed in 2007, it was removed after complaints. More here. 2This was probably my first exposure to lynching photography. In 1992, Public Enemy used it for the cover of their “Hazy Shade of Criminal” single.
Over Seventy Other Lynchings This Week
What follows is a list of all known racially-motivated lynchings between August 1 and August 8, 1877-1946. 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. 3For more information on all of this, please see our post here.
It must also be remembered that this list is incomplete. Not only were there unreported lynchings, but the databases I draw from are woefully inadequate. For example – Texas, the state with more lynchings than almost any other, is completely uncounted. I’m working on ways to fix this.
Year Victim City State Race Sex Form Alleged Offense
1879 Unnamed Negro Union LA Black Male Hanged Attempted to rape a white woman 1881 Mike Walls Dyer TN Black Male Hanged Attempted assault on a white woman, a widow 1883 Abraham Booker Hempstead AR Black Male Shot Killing a white man; race prejudice 1883 Alonzo Flowers Hempstead AR Black Male Shot Killing a white man; race prejudice 1883 Eli Gamble Hempstead AR Black Male Shot Killing a white man; race prejudice 1891 Eliza Lowe Henry AL Black Female Shot Burning of the home of a prominent white farmer 1891 William Williams Henry AL Black Female Shot Implicated in the burning of the home of a prominent white farmer 1891 Ella Williams Henry AL Black Female Shot Implicated in the burning of the home of a prominent white farmer 1891 Willis Lowe Henry AL Black Male Shot Burning of the home of a prominent white farmer 1893 — Anderson Franklin LA Black Male Unreported Threatening to poison a well 1893 Unnamed Negro Franklin LA Black Male Unreported Threatening to poison a well 1896 Isidore Mobley Dallas AL Black Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Attempted murder of a prominent white man 1896 William Hunter Dallas AL Black Male Hanged and riddled with bullets Attempted murder of a prominent white man 1901 Belford McCray Carroll MS Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man and his wife 1901 Betsy McCray Carroll MS Black Female Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man and his wife 1901 Ida McCray Carroll MS Black Female Hanged/RwB Murder of a white man and his wife 1908 John Jones Logan KY Black Male Hanged Approved of the killing of a white farmer by a black tenant 1908 Joseph Riley Logan KY Black Male Hanged Approved of the killing of a white farmer by a black tenant 1908 Robert Boyer Logan KY Black Male Hanged Approved of the killing of a white farmer by a black tenant 1908 Virgil Jones Logan KY Black Male Hanged Approved of the killing of a white farmer by a black tenant 1916 Lazarus Rouse Lenoir NC Black Male Shot Making improper comments about white girls 1922 Bunk Harris Garland AR Black Male Hanged Burglary and murder of a white insurance solicitor 1922 John “Cockey” GloverMonroe GA Black Male Riddled with bullets Murder of white deputy sheriff and a black man — later the black man died
1884 John Fitzhugh Rappahannock VA Black Male Hanged Attempted outrage on a married white woman 1899 Man Singleton Grant LA Black Male Riddled with bullets Attempted rape of the wife of a white planter 1901 Charley Bend St. Clair AL Black Male Hanged - strangulation Assault on a 25 year-old white man and attempted criminal assault on his wife 1919 Archie Robinson Clarke AL Black Male Shot Assault of a young white man; demonstrating against whites 1919 Unnamed Negro Clarke AL Black Male Shot Assault of a young white man; demonstrating against whites 1931 Oscar LivingstonPlaquemines LA Black Male Riddled with buckshot Attempted assault on a white girl
1880 Unnamed Negro #1 Mason KY Black Male Unreported Killing a white man 1880 Unnamed Negro #2 Mason KY Black Male Unreported Killing a white man 1896 Henry Waite Franklin LA Black Male Hanged/RwB Outraged and murdered a 19 year-old white girl. A milk maid. 1899 Louis Henderson Early GA Black Male Hanged/RwB Criminal assault on a 6 year-old white girl 1903 John L. Hunter Marshall TN Black Male Shot Unknown offense 1903 John Millikin Marshall TN Black Male Shot Unknown offense 1910 Unnamed Negro Talladega AL Black Male Hanged/RwB Unknown 1921 Lemuel Johnson Brunswick VA Black Male Hanged Murder of a white man, a postmaster 1934 Grafton Page Caddo LA Black Male Beaten to death Attempted rape; insulting a black girl 1946 J. C. Farmer Nash NC Black Male Shot Altercation/scuffle with a white man, a policeman, resulting in the cop getting a bullet wound in the hand
1877 Thomas C. KilpatrickPickens AL White Male Shot Hunting a black man accused of killing a white man 1877 William T. Story Pickens AL White Male Shot Hunting a black man accused of killing a white man 1886 Henry Davis Richmond GA Black Male Riddled with bullets Outraging a 8 year-old white girl, daughter of a prominent citizen 1887 George Evans Leflore MS Black Male Hanged/RwB Killing a black man, a Mason 1892 Allen Carter Cross AR Black Male Unreported Criminal assault on his 14 year-old daughter 1901 William Price Carroll MS Black Male Riddled with bullets Complicity in murder of a white man and his wife 1904 Andrew Dudley Nelson VA Black Male Hanged Attempted criminal assault on two young white girls 1905 "Kid" George Perry MS Black Male Hanged Accessories to the murder of a white man, a convict guard 1905 Edward Lewis Perry MS Black Male Hanged Accessories to the murder of a white man, a convict guard 1908 Will Millen Jefferson AL Black Male Hanged Dynamiting the house of a black coal miner and being an union activist 1912 Sam Verge Sumter AL Black Male Riddled with bullets Accomplice in murdering his 30 year-old white employer, a prominent planter 1923 Howard Flowtow Panola MS Black Male Hanged Attacking a white woman 1926 Johnny Norris DeSoto LA Black Male Riddled with bullets Improper advances to a 10 year-old girl 1935 Bodie Bates Calhoun MS Black Male Hanged Attempting to attack a 22 year-old white girl
1891 Unnamed Negro Pickens SC Black Male Unreported Assaulted a “respectable and crippled [married] white woman” 1914 Oli Romeo St. Tammany LA Black Male Dragged Murder of a white man, a marshal 1915 Will Leach Pasco FL Black Male Hanged/RwB Attempted criminal assault on a 13 year-old white girl 1919 Unnamed Negro Bleckley GA Black Male Hanged Advocating armed black resistence to white supremacy 1931 Neal Quinn Lowndes AL Black Male Riddled with bullets Attempted criminal assault of 11 year-old white girl
1897 Jeff Johnson Cleburne AL Black Male Hanged/RwB Attempted criminal assault on a 14 year-old white girl, daughter of a well-to-do man 1897 John Clark Barbour AL Black Male Hanged Entered the bedroom of a young white girl, his employer’s daughter 1906 Jack Dillingham Rowan NC Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white family (husband, wife, and 2 children) 1906 John Gillespie Rowan NC Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white family (husband, wife, and 2 children) 1906 Nease Gillespie Rowan NC Black Male Hanged/RwB Murder of a white family (husband, wife, and 2 children) 1914 Henry Holmes Ouachita LA Black Male Hanged Murder and robbery of a white man, grocer
1878 Calvin Beatty Williamson TN Mulatto Male Shot Rape of a 6 year-old white girl, daughter of a prominent citizen 1897 Nathaniel Mason Montgomery GA Black Male Riddled with bullets Assaulting a married white woman, wife of a physician 1901 John Pennington Coffee AL Black Male Burned Assault on a married white woman, the wife of a prominent farmer 1902 Henry Benton Claiborne LA Black Male Hanged and shot Criminal assault on a young white “lady”; on a 4 year-old child 1914 Dan Johnson Ouachita LA Black Male Hanged - broken neck Murder and robbery of a white man, grocer 1914 Louis Pruitt Ouachita LA Black Male Hanged - strangulation Murder and robbery of a white man, grocer 1918 "Bubber" Hall Morehouse LA Black Male Hanged Criminal assault on a married white woman, wife of a well known lawyer 1930 Abe Smith Marion IN Black Male Hanged Murder, rape 1930 Tom Shipp Marion IN Black Male Hanged Murder, rape
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.||⇡||This was probably my first exposure to lynching photography. In 1992, Public Enemy used it for the cover of their “Hazy Shade of Criminal” single.|
|3.||⇡||For more information on all of this, please see our post here.|