Mamie Robinson Smith was born in Cincinnati on May 26, 1891.
By the time she was only 10 years old, she toured with the Four Dancing Mitchells, a white act.
As a teenager, she danced in J. Homer Tutt and Salem Tutt Whitney‘s Smart Set. In 1913, she left the Tutt Brothers to sing in clubs in Harlem and married William “Smitty” Smith, a singing waiter. William Smith died in 1928.
In 1918, Smith starred in Perry Bradford’s musical review, Made In Harlem, in which she sang the song “Harlem Blues.”
In 1920, Perry Bradford encouraged Fred Hager, Okeh Records A & R director, to record Smith. Despite racist and boycott threats, Okeh, a white recording company, took a risk and did.
Mamie Smith Crazy Blues
That Thing Called Love
In February she recorded two of Bradford’s songs: “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.” A white band accompanied her.
Mamie Smith Crazy Blues
On August 10, 1920 she and Bradford recorded another of his songs: “Crazy Love,” a somewhat reworked Harlem Blues.
According to David Hajdu in a New York Times article, the song “changed the course of music history. [The song was] a boisterous cry of outrage by a woman driven mad by mistreatment [and] …spoke with urgency and fire to Black listeners across the country who had been ravaged by the abuses of race-hate groups, the police and military forces in the preceding year — the notorious “Red Summer” of 1919.”
The song was a hit, selling 75,000 copies in the first month, eventually selling more than two million.
Again according to Hajdu, “It established the blues as a popular art and prepared the way for a century of Black expression in the fiery core of American music.”
Mamie Smith Crazy Blues
Crazy Blues Code
Subjugated groups create hidden ways of expressing themselves. “Crazy Love” did that. The song may simply seem to be a sad one about a woman who has lost her love, but it turns out to be a song in which the woman is driven to literally kill that love, that abusive love.
While the records did sometimes cross racial lines, a genre called Race Records came into being. Race records led to radio stations whose popularity was with the local Black population.
Mamie Smith Crazy Blues
Mamie Smith’s financial success from her recording royalties and performance fees allowed her to purchase a large home in Harlem. According to Barry Kernfeld in his brief bio, “Dan Burley of the Amsterdam News reported “There were servants, cars, and all the luxuries that would go with being the highest paid Negro star of that day.”
Smith and Bradford parted ways because of financial disputes and Bradford sold her contract to Maurice Fulchner, a white manager.
In 1922 she recorded “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None O’ This Jelly Roll.”
Smith continued to tour and performed through the 1920s and into the 1930s.
She toured Europe and also worked in films: Jailhouse Blues (1929), Fireworks of 1930, Paradise in Harlem (1940), Mystery in Swing (1940), Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941), and Sunday Sinners (1941).
Her last concert was at New York’s Lido Ballroom in August 1944. She died on September 16, 1946 . She is buried in Frederick Douglass Memorial Park, Staten Island, NY.
Some rationalize American terrorism toward American Blacks by saying that poverty created the defensive urge in some poor whites, but Bob Dylan may have gotten closer to the truth when he wrote:
A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin, ” they explain
And the Negro’s name
Is used, it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.
Whatever the reason, the arc of justice, if it was bending toward justice, may have bent for some, but hardly for others–if at all.
As the lynchings continued the echoes of States Rights from the Civil War continued to thwart attempts by some to outlaw lynching.
Wade Thomas lynched
December 26, 1920: Wade Thomas was a native of Jonesboro County, Arkansas. On Christmas night 1920, Thomas was armed with a pistol and was playing a game of craps with his neighborhood black friends. Police officer Elmer “Snookums” Ragland raided the game, and shots were fired. Ragland was killed and Thomas was injured. Thomas escaped to the next county but was arrested there and brought back to Jonesboro County.
A coroner’s jury indicted Thomas for murder. Allegedly, Thomas confessed to killing Policeman Ragland, but claimed that he did not shoot until after he had been wounded twice. An angry mob stormed the court and told the judge to leave unless he wanted to witness the lynching. After Thomas was taken from his jail cell, a noose was draped around his neck and he was led to a telephone pole and hung. [Black Then article]
Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill
October 20, 1921: the House Judiciary Committee favorably reported Leonidas C. Dyer’s Anti-Lynching Bill which would impose heavy penalties on persons involved in mob action resulting in the taking of life.
Despite filibusters and ongoing southern Democratic obstruction, the House, controlled by a Republican majority, eventually passed the bill and sent it to the Senate where the like-minded southern Democrats were able to kill the bill.
See Dyer for an expanded chronology of the long sad story.
American Lynching 3
And lynching continued…
Arthur Young & Charles Wright lynched
December 12, 1922: Arthur Young and Charles Wright were accused of killing a local white school teacher. Though items found near the woman’s body belonged to a local white man, police were convinced the perpetrator had to be a black man, and quickly focused on Wright as a suspect. The deep racial hostility that permeated Southern society during this time period often served to focus suspicion on black communities after a crime was discovered, whether evidence supported that suspicion or not. This was especially true in cases of violent crime against white victims.
After several days of violent manhunts that terrorized the black community and left at least one black man dead, police arrested Charles Wright with a friend named Arthur Young. Before the men could be investigated or tried, a white mob seized Mr. Wright as they were being transported to jail and burned him alive.
Four days later, on December 12th, the lynch mob attacked again. As officers were moving Arthur Young to another jail, the mob seized him, riddled his body with bullets, and left his corpse hanging from a tree on the side of a highway in Perry, Florida. [EJI article]
American Lynching 3
January 1, 1923: in Sumner, Florida, Fannie Taylor, a sixteen-year-old married white woman, claimed she had been assaulted by Jesse Hunter, a black fugitive from a prison chain gang. There was no evidence against Hunter, but local white men launched a manhunt in Rosewood, a nearby town of about 200 black people. [Guardian report]
January 2, 1923: a mob of white men kidnapped, tortured, and lynched Sam Carter, a black craftsman from Rosewood, on suspicion that he had helped Jesse Hunter escape. White men continued to terrorize Rosewood searching for Hunter and black residents armed themselves in defense. [Black Past report]
January 4, 1923: hundreds of white men began the burning of Rosewood, Fla. Within three days, the entire African-American town had been burned to the ground. By the time the violence ended, six African Americans and two whites had died. No one was ever prosecuted. Survivors later recounted that Fannie Taylor had made false accusations against Jesse Hunter to conceal her extramarital affair with a white man. In 1994, the Florida Legislature voted to compensate victims and their families.
American Lynching 3
Moore v. Dempsey
February 19, 1923: in Moore v. Dempsey, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that mob-dominated trials violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1919, African-American sharecroppers had gathered in a church at Elaine, Ark., to discuss fairer prices for their products. White men fired into church, leading to three days of fighting and the killing of five white men and more than 100 black men, women and children. A white committee appointed by the governor concluded the black men planned to kill all the whites. More than 700 African-American men were arrested with 67 sent to prison and a dozen to Death Row. The Supreme Court reversed the cases on appeal, concluding the trial had been prejudiced by a white mob outside yelling that if the black men weren’t sentenced to death, the mob would lynch them. The court decision was a major victory for African Americans and the NAACP, which had represented the men. (PBS article)
American Lynching 3
July 13, 1923: US House representative Leonidas Dyer of St Louis stated that he was not surprised at the acquittal of a George Barkwell at Columbia, Missouri on the charge of murder in connection with the lynching of James Scott, a Black. Dyer referred to statistics which, he said, showed that 3,824 lynchings had been recorded during the last thirty-five years and that in all those cases there had scarcely been a conviction. [H of R bio]
American Lynching 3
Ben Hart lynched
August 24, 1923: a 34-year-old black farmhand Ben Hart was killed based on suspicion that he was a “Peeping Tom” who had that morning peered into a young white girl’s bedroom window near Jacksonville, Florida. According to witnesses, approximately ten unmasked men came to Hart’s home around 9:30 p.m. claiming to be deputy sheriffs and informing Hart he was accused of looking into the girl’s window. Hart professed his innocence and readily agreed to go to the county jail with the men, but did not live to complete the journey.
Shortly after midnight the next day, Hart’s handcuffed and bullet-riddled body was found in a ditch about three miles from the city. Hart had been shot six times and witnesses reported seeing him earlier that night fleeing several white men on foot who were shooting at him as several more automobiles filled with white men followed.
Police investigating Hart’s murder soon determined he was innocent of the accusation against him; he was at his home 12 miles away when the alleged peeping incident occurred. [EJI story]
John Carter lynched
May 4, 1927: near Little Rock, Arkansas, two white women – Mrs. B.E. Stewart, age forty-five, and her daughter Glennie, seventeen – were driving a wagon on a rural road, heading toward Little Rock. According to their report a black man approached and assaulted them. Sheriff Mike Haynie organized a posse which found John Carter, a local black man.
Mob members took Carter to a telephone pole and hit him with a revolver. They told him to confess, and then to pray. Before he finished, someone put a rope around his neck and told him to climb on top of a car. When he couldn’t, he was pushed up. Someone drove the car out from under him and he swung in the air. A line of fifty men fired guns, striking Carter with more than two hundred bullets.
Despite a picture of the hanging body, with the crowd of 400+ visible in the background, none of the mob members admitted to being there. A report said Carter had been killed “by parties unknown in a mob.”3
The mob took Carter’s body to Little Rock to burn it. When they got to the city, they tied him to the car’s bumper and dragged him through the city for an hour. The mob eventually stopped at Ninth and Broadway, the center of the black business district. They poured gasoline and kerosene over Carter’s body. They piled on boxes, tree limbs, and pews from the nearby Bethel A.M.E. Church, and lit the fire. More white people hurried to the area. By that point the crowd was about seven thousand men, women, and children watching.
July 15, 1930: Senator Coleman L. Blease‘s advocated a lynch law for Blacks (only) guilty of criminally assaulting white women. “Whenever the Constitution comes between me and the virtue of the white women of South Carolina, I say ‘To hell with the Constitution.’ “
Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith lynched
August 7, 1930: a white mob lynched Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. The two young black men, 18 and 19 years old respectively, had been arrested that afternoon. They were accused of attacking a young white couple, beating and fatally shooting the man, and attempting to assault the woman. Once the men were detained, word of the charges spread and a growing mob of angry white residents gathered outside the county jail.
Around 9:30 p.m., the mob attempted to rush the jail and was repelled by tear gas. An hour later, they successfully barreled past the sheriff and three deputies, grabbed Shipp and Smith from their cells as they prayed, and dragged them into the street. By then numbering between 5000 and 10,000 people (half the white population of Grant County) the mob beat, tortured, and hung both men from trees in the courthouse yard, brutally executing them without benefit of trial or legal proof of guilt. As the men’s bodies hung, members of the mob re-entered the jail and grabbed 16-year-old James Cameron, another youth being held for the crime. The mob beat Cameron severely and were preparing to hang him alongside the others when a member of the crowd intervened and insisted he was innocent. Cameron was released and the mob later dispersed.
Enraged by the lynching, the NAACP traveled to Marion to investigate, and later provided United States Attorney General James Ogden with the names of 27 people believed to have participated. Though the lynching and its spectators were photographed, local residents claimed not to recognize anyone pictured and no one was charged or tried in connection with the killings. A photograph of Shipp’s and Smith’s battered corpses hanging lifeless from a tree, with white spectators proudly standing below, remains one of the most iconic lynching photographs. After seeing the photo in 1937, New York schoolteacher Abe Meeropol was inspired to write “Strange Fruit,” a haunting poem about lynching that later became a famous song recorded by Billie Holiday. [Black Past article]
November 25, 1930: a delegation from the Anti-Lynching Congress, which was meeting in Washington, D.C., delivered a protest to President Herbert Hoover, demanding that he take action to end the lynching of African-Americans. The group was led by Maurice W. Spencer, president of the National Equal Rights League and Race Congress. President Hoover did not respond.
Herbert Hoover was basically sympathetic to the needs of African-Americans in American society, but was not willing to expend any political capital on civil rights. He was very upset, for example, when Southern bigots protested when First Lady Lou Henry Hoover invited the wife of African-American Congressman Oscar DePriest to the White House for tea (along with all the other Congressional wives), on June 12, 1929. He responded by inviting Robert Moton, President of Tuskegee University, to the White House in a symbolic gesture.
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Raymond Gunn lynched
January 12, 1931: authorities arrested Raymond Gunn, an African American man, after he was accused of killing a white schoolteacher.
Following his arrest, police took Gunn to jail in a neighboring county due to threats of lynching. Lynch mobs still formed and attempted to seize Gunn from jail, so officials transported him to another prison with reinforcement from firemen and a tank company of the Missouri National Guard.
On January 12, the morning of Gunn’s arraignment, a mob of about two thousand white men, women, and children gathered outside the courthouse. Despite the previous attacks, the local sheriff did not request assistance from the National Guard. With little resistance from local law enforcement, and sixty members of the National Guard at ease in an armory one block from the courthouse, Mr. Gunn was seized by the mob and burned on the roof of the schoolhouse. [EJI article]
January 14, 1931: black residents of Maryville, Missouri fled the town after the lynching of Raymond Gunn on January 12. More than 20 percent of Maryville’s black population fled the town in fear. Despite investigations initiated by state officials, no one was ever arrested or convicted of any crime related to the lynching of Raymond Gunn. [EJI article]
American Lynching 3
Reuben Micou lynched
April 2, 1933: a mob of white men broke into the Winston County jail in Louisville, Mississippi to lynch a 65-year-old black man named Reuben Micou. Micou had been arrested after he was accused of getting into an altercation with a prominent local white man.
Micou’s body was found in a nearby churchyard, riddled with bullets and bearing injuries suggesting that Micou had been whipped. Seventeen white men were indicted and arrested for participating in the lynching, but in July 1933 the cases against the seventeen men were “indefinitely postponed.” No one was ever tried or convicted for Micou’s murder. [EJI story]
George Armwood lynched
October 18, 1933: a mob of at least 2000 white residents of Princess Anne, Maryland beat, hanged, dragged, and burned George Armwood to death. Armwood, reportedly known to be “feeble-minded,” had been accused of assaulting an 80-year-old woman who was also the mother of a local white policeman. Shortly after being arrested, Armwood was dragged out of the jail and an 18-year-old boy immediately cut off his ear with a butcher knife. The growing mob then beat George Armwood nearly to death and dragged him to a tree, where he was hanged. Afterward, the mob cut down his corpse, dragged it through the streets, hanged it again, and then staged a public burning. The New Journal and Guide reported that “[m]en, women and children, participated in the savage orgy.”
Armwood’s lynching sparked a national outcry and calls for prosecution of the lynchers, yet investigations at the county, state, and federal levels faced obstacles and delays. Inquiries following the lynching were marked by residents’ refusal to identify participants as well as mockery and intimidation of black witnesses. The American Civil Liberties Union, frustrated with the silence, began offering a $1000 reward to people willing to name leaders of the mob.
Even when finally presented with identifying evidence, the county prosecutor refused to act. When the Maryland Attorney General ordered troops to arrest eight named participants, white residents who supported the accused lynchers waged riots of protest. Four white men were ultimately tried for the lynching of George Armwood, and acquitted by all-white juries. [EJI article]
In my first post, Never Forget American Lynching, I gave an overview of lynching in the United States during the 19th century. This post will cover between 1900 and 1921.
As with the previous post, much of the information came from the Equal Justice Initiative‘s laborious research. Having said that, the article does not list every lynching from 1900 to 1921.
George H White
January 20, 1900: Black Congressman, George H White from North Carolina introduced the first bill in Congress to make lynching a federal crime to be prosecuted by federal courts; it died in committee, opposed by southern white Democrats.
John Porter lynched
November 16, 1900: early in 1900 a black family, Preston Porter, Sr and his two sons, “John” and Arthur, moved to the Limon, Colorado area to work on the railroad.
On November 8, a white girl named Louise Frost was found dead in Limon. Newspapers reported that the Porters had left Limon for Denver a few days after the girl was found dead. White authorities focused suspicions on them.
On November 12th, authorities arrested all three and took them to the Denver jail. After four days, newspapers reported that sixteen-year-old Preston “John” Porter Jr had confessed to the crime “in order to save his father and brother from sharing the fate that he believes awaits him.”
Despite the Governor’s order that the risk of lynching was to great to return John to Limon, the Denver sheriff transported John there by train.
John was said to have been reading a Bible and was allowed to pray before his lynching. When the flames reached his body, reports documented his screams for help as he writhed in pain, crying, “Oh my God, let me go men!…Please let me go. Oh, my God, my God!” When the ropes binding John to the stake had burned through, such that his body had fallen partially out of the fire, members of the mob threw additional kerosene oil over him and added wood to the fire. It was reported that John’s last words were “Oh, God, have mercy on these men, on the little girl and her father!”
No investigation into the lynching was conducted and the coroner concluded John died “at the hands of parties unknown.” [EJI article]
Silas Ester lynched
October 31, 1901: authorities in Hadgenville, Kentucky had arrested Silas Ester accusing him of coercing a young boy to commit a crime. At approximately 2:00 am a lynch mob of more than 50 white men tightened a noose around the neck Esters’s neck and dragged him from the LaRue County Jail.
Police officers at the jail had surrendered the keys and made no effort to protect Esters.
In an attempt to escape his fate, Mr. Esters slipped free and began to run away – but made it only 100 yards before his body was riddled with bullets. The mob then placed the rope noose around the neck of his corpse, dragged the lifeless body to the courthouse, and swung it from the top steps. No one was ever held accountable for the lynching of Silas Esters.
Thomas Brown lynched
February 6, 1902: Thomas Brown, a 19-year-old black man, was seized from a jail cell and lynched on the lawn of the Jessamine County Courthouse in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Thomas had been arrested for an alleged assault on a white woman but never had the chance to stand trial.
A mob of 200 white men assembled at the jail and seized Thomas Brown from police. They then hung him from a tree in front of the county courthouse. Though news reports identified the young woman’s brother as a leader of the mob, no one was ever prosecuted for Thomas Brown’s murder and authorities concluded that he “met death by strangulation at the hands of parties unknown.” [EJI article]
Luther Holbert & unidentified woman lynched
February 7, 1904: as hundreds of white people watched and cheered, a black man named Luther Holbert and an unidentified woman were tortured and killed in Doddsville, Mississippi, a Sunflower County town in the Mississippi Delta. Holbert was accused of shooting and killing James Eastland, a white landowner from a prominent, wealthy local family that owned a plantation where many of the area’s black laborers worked. After his shooting, James Eastland’s two brothers led the posse that captured Mr. Holbert and a black woman. Some news reports identified the woman as Mr. Holbert’s wife, but later research suggested she was not; her identity remains unknown.
According to an eyewitness account published in the Vicksburg, Mississippi, Evening Post, Luther Holbert and the unnamed black woman were tied to trees while their funeral pyres were prepared. They were then forced to hold out their hands and watch as their fingers were chopped off, one at a time, and distributed as souvenirs. Next, the same was done to their ears. Mr. Holbert was then beaten so badly that his skull was fractured and one of his eyes hung by a shred from the socket. The lynch mob next used a large corkscrew to bore into the arms, legs, and body of the two victims, pulling out large pieces of raw, quivering flesh. The victims reportedly did not cry out, and they were finally thrown on the fire and allowed to burn to death. The event was described as a festive atmosphere, in which the audience of 600 spectators enjoyed deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey. [EJI story]
Horace Duncan, Fred Coker, and Will Allen lynched
April 14, 1906: two innocent black men named Horace Duncan and Fred Coker (aka Jim Copeland) were abducted from the county jail by a white mob of several thousand participants and lynched in Springfield, Missouri.
The day before, a white woman reported that two African American men had assaulted her. Despite having “no evidence against them,” local police arrested Duncan and Coker were “on suspicion.”
Local law enforcement did little to stop the mob from seizing the two men, though the officers were armed. When the mob dragged Duncan and Coker outside, the gathered crowd of nearly 3,000 angry white men, women, and children began shouting, “Hang them!” and “Burn them!”
At the public square, the mob hanged both men from the railing of the Gottfried Tower, then set a fire underneath and watched as both corpses were reduced to ashes in the flames.
Continuing their rampage, the mob returned to the jail and proceeded to lynch another African American man—Will Allen.
Two days after the lynchings, the woman who reported being assaulted issued a statement that she was “positive” that [Mr. Coker and Mr. Duncan] “were not her assailants, and that she could identify her assailants if they were brought before her.”
Four white men were arrested and twenty-five warrants issued, but only one white man was tried and no one was ever convicted. [EJI article]
Eli Pigot lynched
February 10, 1908: a mob of more than 2,000 white people in Brookhaven, Mississippi lynched Eli Pigot, a black man, accused of assaulting a white woman.
According to news reports, police deputies and armed military guards transported Pigot from Jackson to Brookhaven to stand trial. Upon arrival in Brookhaven, the lynch mob briefly scuffled with the military guards before seizing him, kicking and beating him, and then hanging him from a telephone pole less than a hundred yards from the Lincoln County Courthouse. The mob then riddled Mr. Pigot’s corpse with bullets as it swung from the pole. [EJI article]
August 14, 1908: a race revolt broke out in the Illinois capital of Springfield. Angry over reports that a black man had sexually assaulted a white woman, a white mob wanted to take a recently arrested suspect from the city jail and kill him. They also wanted Joe James, an out-of-town black who was accused of killing a white railroad engineer, Clergy Ballard, a month earlier.
Late that afternoon, a crowd gathered in front of the jail in the city’s downtown and demanded that the police hand over the two men to them. But the police had secretly taken the prisoners out the back door into a waiting automobile and out of town to safety. When the crowd discovered that the prisoners were gone, they rioted. First they attacked and destroyed a restaurant owned by a wealthy white citizen, Harry Loper, who had provided the automobile that the sheriff used to get the two men out of harm’s way. The crowd completed its work by setting fire to the automobile, which was parked in front of the restaurant.
The rioters next methodically destroyed a small black business district downtown, breaking windows and doors, stealing or destroying merchandise, and wrecking furniture and equipment. The mob’s third and last effort that night was to destroy a nearby poor black neighborhood called the Badlands. Most blacks had fled the city, but as the mob swept through the area, they captured and lynched a black barber, Scott Burton, who had stayed behind to protect his home. [Black Past article]
August 15, 1908: at nightfall white rioters regrouped downtown. The new mob marched west to the state arsenal, hoping to get at several hundred blacks who had taken refuge there, but they were driven off by state troops who charged the crowd with bayonets fixed to their rifles. The crowd then marched to a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood and seized and hung an elderly wealthy black resident. After this second killing, enough troops arrived in the capital to prevent further mass attacks. Nonetheless, what the press called “guerilla-style” hit-and-run attacks against black residents continued through August and into September.
February 12, 1909: on the centennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth, African Americans signed a proclamation known as “The Call,” leading to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The interracial group was created to safeguard civil, legal, economic, human and political rights of African Americans.
The appeal took place in response to continued lynchings and the 1908 race riot in Springfield, Ill. Sixty people, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell, signed the proclamation.
After Mr. Johnson was accused of assaulting a white girl, sheriff’s officials anticipated a lynch mob would form and moved him from Bluefield to Princeton. When the move was discovered, an armed mob of white men came to Princeton and seized Mr. Johnson. The local judge urged the mob to let the court conduct a “speedy trial,” and the state governor warned a lynching should not be allowed — but the mob was determined.
After kidnapping Mr. Johnson from police custody, the enraged mob beat Mr. Johnson with clubs and rocks, strung him to a telegraph pole “in the presence of the judge, sheriff, and armed guards” and shot him with hundreds of bullets. Despite their purported efforts to dissuade the mob, police did not attempt to use force to save Mr. Johnson’s life, and the judge did not order any members of the lynch mob arrested.
May 15, 1916: [From Equal Justice Initiative]: after an all-white jury convicted Jesse Washington of the murder of a white woman, he was taken from the courtroom and burned alive in front of a mob of 15,000.
When he was accused of killing his employer’s wife, seventeen-year-old Jesse Washington’ greatest fear was being brutally lynched – a common fate for black people accused of wrongdoing at that time, whether guilty or not. After he was promised protection against mob violence, Jesse, who suffered from intellectual disabilities, according to some reports, signed a statement confessing to the murder. On the morning of May 15, 1916, Washington was taken to court, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death in a matter of moments. Shortly before noon, spectators snatched him from the courtroom and dragged him outside, the “promise of protection” quickly forgotten.
The crowd that gathered to watch and/or participate in the brutal lynching grew to 15,000. Jesse Washington was chained to a car while members of the mob ripped off his clothes, cut off his ear, and castrated him. The angry mob dragged his body from the courthouse to City Hall and a fire was prepared while several assailants repeatedly stabbed him. When they tied Jesse Washington to the tree underneath the mayor’s window, the lynchers cut off his fingers to prevent him from trying to escape, then repeatedly lowered his lifeless body into the fire. At one point, a participant took a portion of Washington’s torso and dragged it through the streets of Waco. During the lynching, a professional photographer took photos which were later made into postcards.
Following news reports of the lynching, the NAACP hired a special investigator, Elizabeth Freeman. She was able to learn the names of the five mob leaders and also gathered evidence that local law enforcement had done nothing to prevent the lynching. Nevertheless, no one was ever prosecuted for their participation in the lynching of Jesse Washington.
After the lynching, the growing mob patrolled the town terrorizing other African Americans, threatening to lynch other black people they encountered – including those who attempted to cut down Mr. Johnson’s hanging corpse. Instead, the mob cut the dead body down, stripped off most of the clothing to keep as souvenirs, and then again hanged the corpse from the same pole.
According to press reports, authorities later acknowledged a growing possibility that Johnson had been wrongly identified and was innocent of the alleged assault. Nevertheless, a grand jury convened to investigate the murder declined to return a single indictment, and no one was ever arrested or prosecuted for his lynching.
Marie Scott lynched
March 31, 1914: a white lynch mob in Wagoner County, Oklahoma, seized a 17-year-old black teenaged girl named Marie Scott from the local jail, dragged her screaming from her cell, and hanged her from a nearby telephone pole. Days before, a young white man named Lemuel Pierce was stabbed to death while he and several other white men were in the city’s “colored section”; Marie was accused of being involved.
It is most likely that Scott (or her brother) was defending herself from a sexual assault by Pierce or others in the white group. [EJI article]
July 28, 1917: up to 10,000 African Americans silently paraded down New York City’s Fifth Avenue to protest lynchings in the South and race Revolts in the North. The NAACP and Harlem leaders organized the protest as the U.S. was going to fight “for democracy” in World War I. One parade banner read: “Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?” (HuffPost article)
Leonidas C Dyer
In April 1918: Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer (R-Missouri) introduced an anti-lynching bill in the House of Representatives, based on a bill drafted by NAACP founder Albert E. Pillsbury in 1901. The bill called for the prosecution of lynchers in federal court. State officials who failed to protect lynching victims or prosecute lynchers could face five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The victim’s heirs could recover up to $10,000 from the county where the crime occurred. (Bio Guide dot Congress bio)
Hayes Turner lynched
May 18, 1918: Hampton Smith was a farmer in Valdosta, Georgia. He often He found labor by paying fines and then forcing the person to work on his farm. He was notorious for abusing those workers. On May 16, someone killed him. A Sidney Johnson was a suspect. During the manhunt for Johnson, at least 13 people were killed. Among those killed was Hayes Turner, who was seized from custody after his arrest on the morning of May 18, 1918, and lynched. [Black Then article]
Mary Turner Lynched
May 19, 1918: Mary Turner the 8-month pregnant wife of Hayes Turner, publicly denounced her husband’s lynching the previous day. A mob hung her upside down from a tree, doused her in gasoline and motor oil, and set her on fire. While Turner was still alive, a member of the mob split her abdomen open with a knife. Her unborn child fell on the ground, where it cried before it was stomped on and crushed. Finally, Turner’s body was riddled with hundreds of bullets. Mary Turner and her child were cut down and buried near the tree. A whiskey bottle marked the grave. No charges were ever brought against the known or suspected participants in these crimes. [Miami Herald article]
July 29, 1918: in response to the increase of racially motivated killings (83 lynchings were recorded in 1918 alone), the National Liberty Congress of Colored Americans asked Congress to make lynching a federal crime. Despite attempts over the next several decades, anti-lynching legislation never passed. (Black In Time article)
Omaha, Nebraska race revolt
September 28, 1919: a major race riot erupted in Omaha, Nebraska. A white mob of about 4,000 people lynched and burned the body of Willie Brown, an African-American who was being held in the county jail. The mayor of Omaha, who was white, was almost lynched by the mob, which set fire to the county courthouse.
The origin of the revolt lay in racial conflict in the extensive city stockyards and meat packing plants. (A similar conflict underlay the East St. Louis race revolt that began on July 2, 1917.) Rumors that Willie Brown had raped a white woman spurred the lynching. Later reports by the police and U.S. Army investigators determined that the victim had not made a positive identification. The riot lasted for two days, and ended when over 1,200 federal troops arrived to restore order. Although martial law was not formally proclaimed, for all practical purposes it existed, with troops remaining in the city for several weeks. [Black Past article]
White mobs descended on the black town destroying homes and businesses and attacking anyone in their path. Terrified black residents, including women, children, and the elderly, fled their homes and hid for their lives in nearby woods and fields. A responding federal troop regiment claimed only two black people were killed but many reports challenged the white soldiers’ credibility and accused them of participating in the massacre. Today, historians estimate hundreds of black people were killed in the massacre. .
When the violence was quelled, sixty-seven black people were arrested and charged with inciting violence, while dozens more faced other charges. No white attackers were prosecuted, but twelve black union members convicted of riot-related charges were sentenced to death. The NAACP represented the men on appeal and successfully obtained reversals of all of their death sentences.
October 1, 1919: a race riot broke out in Elaine, Arkansas. Black sharecroppers were meeting in the local chapter of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. Planters opposed their efforts to organize for better terms and the sharecroppers had been warned of trouble. A white man intent on arresting a black bootlegger approached the lookouts defending the meeting, and was shot. The planters formed a militia to attack the African-American farmers. In the ensuing riot they killed between 100 and 200 blacks, and five whites also died. [Black Past article]
Powell Green lynched
December 27, 1919: after a “prominent” white movie theater owner was shot and killed, authorities arrested 23-year-old African American veteran Powell Green for allegedly committing the crime. While policemen were moving Powell Green from the jail in Franklinton, North Carolina to the larger city of Raleigh, before he could be tried or mount a defense, a mob kidnapped and brutally killed him.
The mob tied Green to a car and dragged him for half a mile before shooting him with dozens of bullets and hanging his body
Newspaper sources suggest this was the case in the lynching of Powell Green; one witness reportedly testified that, though there were five officers in the police vehicle transporting Mr. Green, he was “taken from the car [by the mob] without the least trouble.”
Green’s corpse was found the next morning riddled with bullets and hanged from a small pine tree along a road two miles from Franklinton. According to press accounts, “souvenir hunters” cut buttons and pieces of clothing from the body and later cut down the tree to yield grotesque keepsakes.
Duluth, Minnesota lynching
June 15, 1920: a mob in Duluth, Minnesota attacked and lynched three African American circus workers. Rumors had circulated that six African Americans had raped and robbed a teenage girl. A physician’s examination subsequently found no evidence of rape or assault. [Minnesota Historical Society article]
White terrorist vigilantism
October 5, 1920: four black men were killed in Macclenny, Florida, following the death of a prominent young white local farmer named John Harvey. According to news reports at the time, Harvey was shot and killed at a turpentine camp near MacClenny on October 4, 1920. The suspected shooter, a young black man named Jim Givens, fled immediately afterward and mobs of armed white men formed to pursue him. Givens’s brother and two other black men connected to him were questioned and jailed during the search, though there was no evidence or accusation that they had been involved in the killing of Harvey.
Those three men – Fulton Smith, Ray Field, and Ben Givens – were held in the Baker County Jail late into the night until, around 1:00 a.m. on October 5, a mob of about 50 white men overtook the jail and seized the men from their cells. The mob forced the men to the outskirts of town, where they were tied to trees and shot to death. A fourth lynching victim, Sam Duncan, was found shot to death nearby later in the day. Also with no alleged ties to the killing of John Harvey, Duncan was thought to be an unfortunate soul who had encountered a mob seeking Jim Givens and been killed simply for being a black man.
Three days later, the Chicago Defender, a Northern black newspaper, reported that most of the black community of Macclenny had deserted the area in fear of further violent attacks while whites posses continued to search for Jim Givens. [EJI article]
April 5, 1921: although the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery, African Americans continued to be held as de facto slaves in systems of peonage, a form of debt bondage. “Peons” or indentured servants owed money to their “masters” and were forced to work off their debt, a process that took years. A federal law passed in 1867 prohibited peonage but the practice continued for decades throughout the South. It was notoriously difficult to prosecute those who violated the federal law and those who were prosecuted were often acquitted by sympathetic juries.
Fear of a peonage prosecution led to a brutal spree of murders in rural Georgia in 1921. John Williams, a local white plantation owner, held blacks on his farm against their will in horrific, slavery-like conditions. After federal investigators suspected that Williams was violating the peonage law, Williams decided to get rid of the “evidence” of his crime by killing eleven black men whom he had been working as peons. Williams’s trial began on April 5, 1921, and four days later he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison several years later.
Following the murders by Williams and other local atrocities against black people, Georgia Governor Hugh Dorsey in 1921 released a pamphlet entitled “A Statement from Governor Hugh M. Dorsey as to the Negro in Georgia.” Dorsey had collected 135 cases of mistreatment of blacks in the previous two years, including lynchings, extensive peonage, and general hostility. Dorsey recommended several remedies, including compulsory education for both races; a state commission to investigate lynchings; and penalties for counties where lynchings occurred. Reflecting on the mob violence that had become common throughout the South, Dorsey wrote, “To me it seems that we stand indicted as a people before the world.”
In response, several officials denied the charges contained in the pamphlet and many Georgians called for Dorsey’s impeachment.
Tulsa Race Riot
May 31 and June 1, 1921: The Tulsa Race Riot was a large-scale racially motivated conflict in which whites attacked the Tulsa, Oklahoma black community of the Greenwood District, also known as ‘the Black Wall Street’ and the wealthiest African-American community in the United States, being burned to the ground. During the 16 hours of the assault, over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, and more than 6,000 Greenwood residents were arrested and detained. An estimated 10,000 blacks were left homeless, and 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire.
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