INFAMOUS LYNCHINGS

The practice of lynching has been part of American history since before America was a nation. Early victims included eccentrics guilty of being different, those who were accused or suspected of violating prevalent societal mores, and Native Americans of all ages and various tribal groups.

Timeline:

1630 | 1642 | 1678 | Pre-Civil War Lynchings | 1851 | 1859 | 1865 

| Post-Civil War Lynchings | 1880 | 1889 | 1891  | 1893 | 1899 | 1904 | 1906  

| 1907  |1910 | 1911 | 1912 | 1915 | 1916 | 1918 |  Two Towns: Kirven and Rosewood  

|1930 |1942 | 1955 |1959 | Civil Rights Movement |

 











John Billington, 1630

Arriving with the original band of pilgrims at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower in 1620, Billington's journey to America had been anything but pleasant. Because Billington was supposedly prone to "blasphemous harangues," ship's captain Miles Standish had the offender's feet and neck tied together as an example of a sin-struck man possessed of a Devil's tongue. Ten years later, Billington became the prime suspect in the murder of John Newcomen -- a neighboring settler done in at close range by a powder-filled blunderbuss. Billington was summarily hanged by an angry mob of pilgrims.

 

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Unknown Native American, 1642

Under the regime of Director Kieft, a friendly village of harmless, unsuspecting "Indians" (an estimated 120 men, women, and children) near the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (later to become New York City's borough of Manhattan) -- were butchered with bayonets while they slept. But according to an eyewitness named DeVries, a most revolting atrocity involved a male straggler, about twenty-five years of age, who'd had his left hand and legs hacked off, and was found alive in daylight the next morning "supporting his protruding entrails with his other hand."

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Thomas Hellier, 1678

Guilty of "flapping his hands and arms" and "behaving in a peculiar manner," the 14-year-old white boy Thomas Hellier became a suspect in a rash of thefts and was sentenced to a life of bondage on a Virginia plantation. Never agreeable to his servile status, Hellier was sold several years later to a harsh taskmaster named Cutbeard Williamson. After Williamson, Williamson's wife, and a maid were murdered with an axe while they slept one night, Hellier was assumed to be the murderer and hanged by a mob on August 5, 1678. His body was lashed with chains to a tall tree overlooking the James River where it remained for several years until it rotted away.

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Pre-Civil War Lynchings

During the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century prior to the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865, lynching by mobs occurred under many guises. Although most instances of the practice remained undocumented until the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and the black newspaper The Chicago Defender began to keep records during the 1880s, enough were recorded to give historians and sociologists some inkling of "what kind" of lynching events took place. The term "lynch" first came to be associated with vigilante "justice" when linked to Revolutionary War militia officer and farmer Charles Lynch of Bedford County, on Virginia's western frontier. Colonel Lynch organized an extralegal military tribunal that sentenced suspected Tories and Tory sympathizers to punishments of "tar and feathering," flogging, and, in extreme cases, hanging to death from a walnut tree standing in his yard. Following the Revolutionary War, Lynch was exonerated for his wartime activities by Virginia's lawmakers.

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John Jenkins, 1851

Jenkins, an Australian of bad reputation, was a victim of San Francisco's first "vigilance" committee -- the loose organization from which the term "vigilante" originated. Caught in the act of stealing a safe, Jenkins along with three other Australians from Sydney (said to be a criminal gang various called the "Sydney coves" or "Sydney ducks") were subjected to a mock trial in June1851. Marched to San Francisco's Custom House, they all had nooses put around their necks and were hanged on the spot. A second San Francisco "vigilance" committee formed in 1856 and lynched James P. Casey (a murderer who had shot and killed a newspaper editor named James King of William, who had been "boldly assailing all evildoers") and Charles Cora (an "Italian gambler" who had shot and killed a U.S. marshal named Richardson in November 1855). A mob of about 6,000 persons either helped to perpetrate or witnessed the lynching of the two men. Casey and Cora were seized and hanged from projecting beams rigged on the roof of a building on Sacramento Street. Before the mob dissipated, two more unidentified men were hung from the beams for unknown reasons and perhaps, "for good measure."

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Josepha, 1851

Part of the Anglo fear of Mexicans, as with Negroes, was based on the alleged sexual prowess of the darker-skinned people. The "greaser" women were supposedly corrupting the white men. In the mining country of central California, a prostitute named Josepha was hanged by an angry mob after a passion death occurred in which she was involved.

The historian H.H. Bancroft lists an extraordinary number of Mexicans who were whipped or lynched to death during the 1850s.

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John The Slave, 1859

On Tuesday, July 19, 1859, John, the only Negro slave owned by Giles Kiser, was lynched. The incident happened in Saline County -- located in a seven-county area of Missouri called Little Dixie because of its decidedly Southern character and culture. In fact, during three days of that steamy July, whites in Saline County lynched to death four slaves accused of unrelated crimes in four different locations. The mistreatment of Negro slaves by whites was a chronic practice in Little Dixie during the tumultuous times preceding the Civil War. Black oral tradition spoke of one especially brutal Saline County master who, as an object lesson, chained a recalcitrant slave to a hemp brake on a bitterly cold winter night, where he slowly froze to death. John was accused, on scanty circumstantial evidence of the May 14 murder of Kiser's business partner, a man named Benjamin Hinton who also owned a slave. Fear of slaves escaping, or being freed by abolitionists, or a pervading anxiety based on a rumor that John was the leader of a slave-led insurrection, probably exacerbated the situation. Taken by a screaming mob to a ravine in a quiet grove about two hundred yards from the courthouse in Marshall, Missouri, John was made barefoot and stripped to the waist, then chained to a walnut tree. All the time he talked rapidly to his captors. According to the Marshall Democrat, the slave "had an intelligent and open countenance, and conversed very freely with all those who indicated a willingness to hear him while chained at the stake." The frantic man now claimed that he had an accomplice in the murder of Hinton, but the charge caused no one in the mob to halt the awful work. While the slave talked, white men gathered dry wood and other combustibles. These they piled around John's bare feet at the base of the tree. Only when the mob set fire to the wood did John seem to comprehend that he was to be burned alive.

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Saxe Joiner, 1865

In the closing days of the Civil War, with the Union Army steadily advancing south, a slave named Saxe Joiner was lynched. Joiner was owned by and living in the home of Dr. James E. Hix, a South Carolina physician. Also living in the large house on Mountain Street in Unionville were the physician's wife Martha, their three children, and an unmarried young white woman, eighteen-year-old Susan Baldwin. Baldwin was probably a boarder or employed by the family. Joiner was an unmarried mulatto, aged about twenty-six, a skilled carpenter, and although it was illegal in the state of South Carolina to teach a slave to read and write, he was also literate. What got him in trouble was writing letters. A house slave who may have believed in the paternalistic ethos of slavery, Joiner might have felt it was his duty to protect the white women of the household in a desperate hour. On Sunday morning, February 19, 1865, Joiner wrote a note to Martha Hix. He told Mrs. Hix not to "grieve" about the approaching federal troops because he had a "safe place" for her -- perhaps a hideaway in the house, in town, or in the countryside. A neighbor referred to this act as "impertinent" but well meaning -- by writing it Joiner was behaving as a devoted slave should behave. Because Mr. Hix was his wife's protector, and didn't object, no other white man was likely to trespass upon his role and take action either. But that evening, Joiner wrote a second note to Miss Baldwin, telling her not to worry because he would "protect" her too from the Northern troops. After Dr. Hix discovered the note to Susan Baldwin, Saxe Joiner was immediately arrested and spent that Sunday night in the town jail on Main Street. After a trial that produced what was considered in the community to be a too lenient verdict, instead of being freed, Joiner was kept in jail by a series of legal maneuvers. But community outrage against Joiner was high: He had insulted a white woman! Many townsmen figured the mulatto to be engaged in a carnal affair or were incensed that Joiner might in actuality be able to protect the Baldwin woman better than THEY could, given the Confederacy's impending demise. At approximately 9:00 P.M. on the night of March 15, 1865, an armed mob of white men wearing disguises and dressed in Confederate uniforms broke into the Unionville jail. The mob surged into Joiner's cell after getting the keys, tied the prisoner up, and hauled him outside. Within moments Joiner was dead -- hanged from a convenient tree

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Post-Civil War Lynchings

Following the Civil War and the founding of the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee, the lynching of African-American and other "colored" people known as Negroes grew to epidemic proportions. During the late 1860s and early 1870s, so-called "nigger hunts" in the Deep South probably claimed thousands of lives -- although most are unknown, unrecorded deaths. The practice of lynching also targeted Dixie's white men and women for interfering with "Judge Lynch justice" against the Negroes, and for aiding the escape of runaway or other slaves (i.e. abolitionists). Underlying the dynamics of eleven Italians becoming lynched scapegoats in 1891 New Orleans, following the murder of a popular policeman, were economic considerations grounded in race and ethnicity. Sometimes economic motives to lynch were more obvious -- as with the lynching of union activists. Lynching in the Wild West experienced its most brazen period primarily depicted as the extralegal killings of suspected desperados while also featuring waves of indiscriminate terror waged against Hispanic peoples (chiefly Mexicans), Chinese immigrants, and Native Americans. The lynching of Mexican civilians by duly commissioned Texas Rangers and self-appointed vigilante groups claimed the second largest group of American ethnic-racial victims with a documented 605 individual cases occurring between 1848 and 1928. Other victims of the pervasive practice included Australian immigrants to America's Far Western states, people with disfigured faces and queer folk -- perhaps those effeminate or single men suspected of sexual indiscretions committed against women or children if not also known homosexuals.

After 1880, the lynching of African-American men, women, and children began to acquire its most sinister and ritualistic form. Negroes become primary targets of white bigots defending the bankrupt premise of white supremacy in its various guises. Unlawful executions occasionally became mass entertainment "spectacle" events bolstered by a burgeoning consumerism.

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A Lynching In Denver's Chinatown, 1880

The “ethnic cleansing” of Chinese (including Chinese-Americans) from the American West was one of the  darkest chapters in our nation's history. Writes John Higham in Strangers in the Land, “No variety of anti-European sentiment has ever approached the violent extremes to which anti-Chinese agitation went in the 1870s and 1880s.” Many of the estimated 200 American lynchings victimizing people of Asian descent occurred during this dark era.

In 1880, many Chinese lived in Hop Alley, Denver's Chinatown. In October of that year an anti-Chinese riot resulted in the lynching of a Chinese man and the injuring of many others. A mob of approximately 3000 people had gathered in Hop Alley, consisting of  “illegal voters, Irishmen and some Negroes.” Only 8 Policemen were on duty at the outbreak of the riot. Firemen brought in to disperse the crowd hosed them with water but this only made them angrier. The mob began to destroy Chinese businesses, to loot Chinese homes and to injure many Chinese. According to the Rocky Mountain News,  the Chinese quarter was “gutted as completely as though a cyclone had come in one door and passed out the rear. There was nothing left...whole.” During this vicious mob attack, a man named Look Young, was dragged down Denver's 19th Street by rioters. According to a physician, he died “from compression of the brain, caused by being beaten and kicked.” Look was twenty-eight years old and employed at the Sing Lee Laundry. He left behind a wife, father, and mother in China, who were wholly dependent upon him for support.

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The Lynching of Katsu Goto, 1889

Katsu Goto (1862-1889) was a merchant, interpreter and lynching victim. He spoke fluent English and was a contract laborer who took over a store  in Hanokaa, Hawaii, a plantation village. His customers not only were Japanese, as he was, but also Hawaiian and Haole (white). White plantation owners disliked him, and his popularity with the community created competition with shopkeepers loyal to the white Protestant overseers.

On October 19, 1889 a fire broke out at the nearby Overend Camp and Goto and seven other workers were accused of arson.  But he never had a trial.  On the night of October 28, Goto was ambushed and killed by four men.  His body was found swinging from a telephone pole the next day.  After a lengthy investigation, the perpetrators were arrested, tried, and sentenced to O'ahu Prison.

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New Orleans, 1891

  The fate of numerous Italian Americans was no different than that of other ethnic groups targeted by lynch mobs. The most infamous lynching of Italians occurred on March 14, 1891 in New Orleans. This event claimed eleven victims and was one of the largest multiple lynchings in American history. The catalyst for this tragedy was the unsolved murder of popular city police superintendent David Hennessy. Hennessy’s murder led to a roundup of the “usual suspects” -- in this case Italians. Those detained, immigrants from Sicily and the southern portions of Italy -- possessed swarthy complexions and were viewed with suspicion and contempt by the white protestant elite ruling New Orleans. Akin to Negroes, Italians were “not quite white” and subject to a racial prejudice only slightly subtler -- mingled with a baseless and deliberately orchestrated Mafia scare associating most Italian Americans with a vast criminal organization that did not exist in the New Orleans of that era.

  The morning of March 14 was bright and sunny. By ten o’clock, a crowd of thousands was gathered by the Parish Jail, with many of them shouting, “Yes, yes, hang the dagoes!” The prison was soon attacked by a carefully selected band culled by the mobs’ leaders comprised of about twenty-five well-armed men. With battering rams ringing in their ears, the prisoners were both trapped and doomed. In the prison yard where several Italians were clustered together at one end, the hit squad of lynchers opened fire from about twenty feet away. More than a hundred rifle shots and shotgun blasts were fired into six helpless men, tearing their bodies apart. When the firing stopped, the squad inspected their victims. A man saw Pietro Monasterio’s hand twitch and yelled, “Hey, this one’s alive!” “Give him another load, “ another gunman answered. “Can’t, I ain’t got the heart.” Then one of the men walked up to the body, aimed a shotgun point-blank, and literally blew the top of Monasterio’s head away. Someone laughed. There were two or three cheers. One or two men turned their faces away, looking sick.

  So it went. Joseph P. Macheca, Antonio Scaffidi, and Antonio Marchesi were shot while turning to face their pursuers. Marchesi was struck in the head by a bullet. As he raised his right hand to shield himself a shotgun charge blew off and went on to disintegrate the top of his skull. Yet he did not die until nine hours later, lying all the time where he fell.

  More gunmen found Manuel Polizzi. Sitting on the floor in a corner of a cell, muttering to himself. Dragged by five men into a corridor he was shot two or three times while staring with wild eyes at nothing in particular. Antonio Bagnetto was found in another cell, pretending to be dead. He too was shot. Several of the men’s corpses were displayed to the mob outside the prison and hung on lampposts for all to see. Witnesses said that the cheers were nearly deafening.

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Henry Smith, 1893

The February 1, 1893 murder of Henry Smith in Paris, Texas was the first blatantly public, actively promoted lynching of a southern black by a large crowd of southern whites. Smith, an insane ex-slave, allegedly killed Myrtle Vance, the three-year-old daughter of a brutal Texas policeman after the policeman had assaulted him. Although the child had not been sexually molested, a local clergyman, Bishop Haygood, fueled the growing hysteria with lurid tales of how the child had been "taken by her heels and torn asunder in the mad wantonness of gorilla ferocity." The suspect was captured in Arkansas. He confessed on the train back to Paris, Texas. Newspapers announced his capture and the details of his return, and thousands of onlookers thronged the stations where the train carrying Smith stopped. At one station, speeches were made by the leaders of the Paris citizenry. Then, according to an eyewitness account:

The train arrived at Paris at twelve o'clock and was met by a surging mass of humanity. The Negro was placed upon a carnival float in mockery of a king upon his throne, and, followed by an immense crowd, was escorted through the city so that all might see the most inhuman monster known in current history. His clothes were torn off piecemeal and scattered in the crowd, people catching the shreds and putting them away as mementos. The child's father, her brother, and two uncles then gathered about the Negro as he lay fastened to the torture platform and thrust hot irons into his quivering flesh. It was horrible -- the man dying by slow torture in the midst of smoke from his own burning flesh. Every groan, every contortion of his body, was cheered by the thickly packed crowd of 10,000 persons, the mass of beings 600 yards in diameter, the scaffold being the center. After burning the feet and legs, the hot irons -- plenty of fresh ones being at hand -- were rolled up and down Smith's stomach, back, and arms. Then the eyes were burned out and irons were thrust down his throat. The men (including the 12-year-old brother) of the child's family having wreaked vengeance, the crowd piled all kinds of combustible stuff around the scaffold, poured oil on it and set it afire. The Negro rolled and tossed out of the mass, only to be pushed back by the people nearest him. He rolled out again and was roped and pulled back.

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Sam Hose, 1899

The lynching of Sam Hose (sometimes erroneously called Sam Holt) in Newnan, Georgia involved a murder prompted by a quarrel over wages. White folks  believed that Hose, a laborer on Alfred Cranford's farm, had split open the skull of the respected white farmer with an ax and then injured his children and raped his wife near where the bleeding corpse lay. The alleged crimes, the chase, and the lynching occurred in and around places like Palmetto, Newnan, and Griffin -- small southern towns like any other within forty miles of Atlanta. Easy access to train and telegraph lines ensured that the lynching of Hose would be an "event" not just in the rural Georgia Piedmont but in the self-proclaimed capital of the New South as well. Local and regional newspapers took over the publicity, promotion, and sale of the event with the kind of sensationalized narrative pattern that would come to dominate the reporting of spectacle lynchings up until the 1940s. DETERMINED MOB AFTER HOSE, HE WILL BE LYNCHED IF CAUGHT began the story in the Atlanta Constitution on April 14, 1899. Information about Cranford's demise had been supplied to the media by Mrs. Cranford, the wife of the murdered man and the alleged rape victim. She demanded an active role in planning the lynching, expressing a desire to witness Hose's torture and death and a preference for a slow burning. As expressed, her story was contradictory -- she claimed to have tricked the "stupid" Negro with a Confederate bill when he tried to "rob her" after arguing about wages due him from her husband. When Hose was caught, and after the lynching had taken place, another local newspaper printed the details: "In the presence of nearly 2000 people, who sent aloft yells of defiance and shouts of joy, Sam Hose was burned at the stake in a public road. Before the torch was applied to the pyre, the Negro was deprived of his ears, fingers, and other portions of his body with surprising fortitude. Before the body was cool, it was cut to pieces, the bones were crushed into small bits and even the tree upon which the wretch met his fate was torn up and disposed of as souvenirs. The Negro's heart was cut into small pieces, as was also his liver. Those unable to obtain the ghastly relics directly, paid more fortunate possessors extravagant sums for them. Small pieces of bone went for 25 cents and a bit of liver, crisply cooked, for 10 cents."

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James Kimble Vardaman, Mississippi Governor

Widely known as "The White Chief," James Kimble Vardaman strategically blended outlandish claims of racial superiority with a near evangelical commitment to a violent Jim Crow society. He hated the wealthy landed class of white society and the entire Black race with near-equal vehemence. Ironically, the widening of the electorate in Mississippi provided Vardaman with a constituency - disaffected and uneducated poor whites - that, in turn, provided his single-minded platform of racial hatred with the legitimacy of elected office. Influenced as a populace by The White Chief's propaganda, Mississippi led the nation in lynching well into the 1930s. A keystone event inaugurating this philosophy occurred during Vardaman's initial 1904 campaign for governor. Subsequent to a lynch mob in the town of Rocky Ford, Mississippi chaining African-American J.P. Ivy to a woodpile and dousing him with gasoline prior to roasting him alive, soon-to-be governor Vardaman offered a few choice and well-received words. "I sometimes think that one could look upon a scene of that kind and suffer no more moral deterioration than he would by looking upon the burning of an 'Orangoutang' that had stolen a baby or a viper that had stung an unsuspecting child to death."

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Negroes Barbequed, 1904

Suspected of killing a white plantation owner, Luther Holbert - a Negro sharecropper - attempted to escape from his home in Vardaman's Mississippi with his wife before a lynch mob could dispense its own form of "justice." Catching up with the Holberts, the mob bound the couple to convenient trees. While the mob's ringleaders forced the Holberts' to hold out their hands in order that their fingers could be chopped off one by one -- the audience of 600 spectators enjoyed treats like deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey in a festive atmosphere. Next, the Holberts' ears were amputated and those severed appendages, along with the disconnected digits, became much-prized souvenirs. Mr. Holbert was beaten severely enough so that his skull was fractured and one eye was left dangling from its socket. When someone in the crowd produced a large corkscrew, that instrument was used to alternately bore into husband and wife, each time gouging out "spirals...of raw, quivering flesh" when withdrawn. Finally, the tortured man and woman were burned alive like Christian martyrs. This final imagery - juxtaposed against a tableau of picnic treats -- demonstrates the sheer dehumanization of lynching for both victim and perpetrator.

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Ed Johnson, 1906

The first time that convicted Tennessee rapist Ed Johnson was offered an appeal to his death sentence, his lawyers decided against it. "It was the judgment of all present that the life of the defendant, even if the wrong man, could not be saved; that an appeal would so inflame the public that the jail would be attacked and perhaps other prisoners executed by violence." This was a rational fear because the night that Johnson was arrested, a crowd of over 1,000 men attempted to lynch him at the Chattanooga jail.  He escaped thanks to the foresight of the jailers, who secretly transported him to Nashville.  As the date of execution approached, Johnson had a change of heart and filed two petitions for a writ of habeas corpus.  On the afternoon of March 19th, 1906-the day before his scheduled hanging-the second appeal was allowed and his execution was stayed.  He became a federal prisoner but it was an imprisonment that would not last through the night.  As word got out about the appeal, the community decided not to allow federal intervention and a crowd was assembled at the prison.  With minimal resistance from the sheriff and jailers, who were later tried and convicted for their contempt, the crowd easily broke Johnson out and took him to a bridge two blocks away.  Johnson was strung up on an arc light only to fall  when the rope broke or slipped.  The mob members then pulled Johnson up  again.  As the noose choked him, he was shot repeatedly.

 
 

Charles City, Iowa

  It was Iowa’s last lynching. On January 9, 1907, a mob of several hundred men, some masked with handkerchiefs and others undisguised, rammed down the doors of the Floyd County Jail in Charles City, Iowa, with a rail iron. A sheriff and several deputies offered only feeble resistance as the mob seized one of the prisoners, James Cullen. After Cullen had been so procured, a crowd of at least 500 residents of Charles City, including women and children, witnessed Cullen’s hanging from the local Main Street Bridge by 11:30 p.m.

  Mr. Cullen was atypical for a lynching victim. A wealthy, white, sixty-two-year-old contractor, he’d murdered his wife and Roy Eastman, his fifteen-year-old stepson -- the previous day. An outraged mob, its actions largely orchestrated by young men perhaps acquainted with the ill-fated Eastman, took their unlawful revenge in a Midwest town oft-noted for progressive Republican “reformist” political sentiments. In a macabre coincidence, another man named James Cullen had been lynched to death decades previously in rural Maine.        

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Antonio Rodriguez, 1910

In the American Southwest, people of Mexican descent often fell prey to the virulence of mob violence. On November 3, 1910, white citizens of the small ranching community of Rock Springs, Texas lynched a young Mexican cowboy to death for supposedly murdering an "Anglo" woman. Antonio Rodriguez was captured and taken a mile outside of town only to be tied to a mesquite cactus, doused in kerosene, and burned alive.

According to the white community of Rock Springs, Rodriguez had stopped at the Henderson ranch and killed Mrs. Clem Henderson after the two had had an argument. The crime, in the minds of "Anglos," was particularly heinous - rumors circulated that Rodriguez had committed the murderous act as Mrs. Henderson's five-year-old daughter looked on. His guilt, based solely upon a third-hand description of the suspect delivered over the telephone and supplied to mob members by the slain woman's husband -- would never have been established by a fair-minded court of law and in actuality, was almost certainly a tragic case of mistaken identity. 

Widely publicized in the Mexican press, the lynching in Texas led to large anti-American demonstrations in both Mexico City and Guadalajara. While damage to American property was minor and injuries to a very few American citizens were slight, coverage of the lynching and the reaction to it was wildly sensationalized except for articles published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Rooting out the facts, only the Ledger condemned the atrocity committed against Antonio Rodriguez rather than emphasizing the minimal losses to white Americans living in Mexico. It editorialized "whether he [Rodriguez] was guilty or innocent the mob Öwith incredible barbarity, burned him alive. Can it be wondered that the newspapers at the capitol of Mexico demand 'Where is the boasted Yankee civilization?'" (Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 13, 1910). 

In Texas, publicity of the lynching and riots provoked attacks of Mexicans. Because Mexicans "displayed an impudent attitude" they were attacked in Galveston. In construction camps and ranches in Webb, Duval, LaSalle, Dimmit and Starr Counties, Anglos attacked Mexicans who were reportedly "sullen and threatening since the burning of Rodriquez at Rock Springs." Anti-Mexican sentiment in Texas was widespread. An excerpt from a letter to U.S. President William Howard Taft from F.W. Meyer, a hattier from Bonney, Texas, was typical. "Because Ö an admitted low lifed mexican Criminal, who murdered a Texas Woman and destroyed an American HOME, the Mexicans murder good Americans because said greaser got his just dues Ö" [sic], he wrote.

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Zachariah Walker, 1911

Zachariah Walker, a black man from Virginia, had traveled to Coatesville, Pennsylvania to work in the Worth Brothers Steel Company. As was common among the factory workers - European-born immigrants and migrant blacks alike - Walker passed the afternoon of Saturday, August 12, 1911 drinking alcoholic beverages in downtown Coatesville with his coworkers. While walking back to his temporary lodgings to get some sleep, Walker was probably somewhat inebriated when he took out his pistol and fired it in the general direction of two Polish steelworkers who were approaching him on the road from the opposite direction. Although his shots failed to strike either man, Edgar Rice, a security guard employed by the Worth Brothers factory -- heard the shots and came out to apprehend Walker. A scuffle ensued. It soon escalated, with both men drawing their weapons. Walker got his shot off first, killing Rice, before heading off drunkenly in a homeward direction. Not making it, he slept in a neighboring barn until the next morning.

Rice's body was soon discovered. After the Polish immigrants helped establish Walker as his probable murderer, search parties began the hunt for him. Two men from the search party found Zachariah Walker early the next morning. Sober again, he'd been walking down a dirt road heading out of town. Climbing into a cherry tree, the terrified Walker eluded capture for several hours as he watched men passing beneath the tree and doggedly searching for him. Giving up all hope of survival, Walker attempted to commit suicide. Shooting himself in the head, he succeeded only in shattering his own jaw, and was carried to the town hospital after falling from the tree and being discovered.

When Walker awoke at the hospital, he confessed to the killing of Edgar Rice in self-defense. A deputy was left to guard him at the hospital. (Contained by a straitjacket and bound by shackles -- Walker's left ankle was chained to the footboard of his hospital bed.) The town sheriff, Charles Umsted, a big man of six foot three and over 250 pounds, was familiarly known as "Jumbo" or "Jummy" and had a reputation for toughness and a well-honed facility for surviving the fiercely contested elections for town police chief. Umsted was up for re-election in September, and on the night of August 13, as the crowd around him grew, he saw a chance to earn a few votes. Taking care to speak loudly enough for bystanders to eavesdrop, he avowed that Walker had boasted about killing Rice, and he made no mention of Walker's claim of self-defense. Before concluding his staged monologue, with an increasingly roused crowd gathered around him, Umsted virtually promised the mob that he would not intervene in the event of a lynching. "I would be the devil if somebody should happen to go after that fellow -- Gentleman, allow me to say that I am not going to get hurt." 

Encouraged by such prompting, a mob broke into the hospital and kidnapped Walker. His ankle, still chained to the bed, dragged the footboard behind him. The mob dragged Walker toward a farmhouse near the outskirts of town. When Umsted arrived at the hospital, Walker's agonized screams were still audible in the distance, but he made no effort to follow them. Instead, he walked casually back to town. Writes Robert F. Worth, a descendant of the steel mill owning family, in the Spring 1998 issue of The American Scholar: The mob's leaders dragged Walker half a mile, stopping in a clearing bordered by split-rail fences just beyond the Newlin farmhouse. It made a good theater, and the all-white crowd -- now nearly four thousand strong -- poured up from the road to take their places. As men ran back and forth from the barn with dry straw and firewood, Walker shouted from the fence railing: "For God's sake, give a man a chance! I killed Rice in self-defense. Don't give me no crooked death because I ain't white!" But the fire was soon blazing up, illuminating the faces not only of men but also of women and children, who had been drawn by the commotion on the way home from church. 

Within minutes, Walker was hurled onto the pyre, his body quickly enveloped in flames. The crowd roared its approval, and those close to the fire hunched forward, according to a newspaper report, "eagerly watching the look of mingled horror and terror that distorted his blood-smeared face." As the flames scorched his skin, Walker let out a series of awful screams that were heard, according to later testimony, almost a mile away. He seemed close to death when he managed, somehow, to crawl out of the fire. Still breathing, he reached the fence, his back -- as one boy later testified -- "all raw with burns. The onlookers paused in shock for a moment; no one had anticipated this. Then several of them beat him or pushed him with fence rails back into the flames. Shrieking with pain, Walker managed to struggle out a second time, still shackled to the burning footboard. According to witnesses, when he was pushed back in again, his flesh was visibly hanging from his body. To the crowd's amazement, Walker struggled out of the fire a third time. This time they allowed him to crawl almost to their feet, astonished and horrified by what one reporter called "the revolting spectacle his maimed and half-burned body presented to them." Finally, several men swung a rope around his neck, holding it taut at both ends, and pulled him back into the coals. His resistance gone, Zachariah Walker gave one last terrible scream and collapsed. His body was soon obscured by a wall of fire, and the smoke carried the smell of roasting human flesh into the night sky. 

The following day, the Coatesville Record remarked on the politeness of the crowd: "Five thousand men, women, and children stood by and watched the proceedings as though it were a ball game or another variety of spectator sport." Boys had stopped for cold soda afterward at the Coatesville Candy Company to retell the story. Many returned to the site the next day to gather fragments of bone and charred flesh as souvenirs.

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Dan Davis, 1912

  On May 25, 1912, Dan Davis, an Afro-American man charged with the attempted rape of a Euro-American woman was lynched by burning alive. There was some disappointment in the crowd and criticism of those who had bossed the arrangements, because the fire was so slow in reaching the Negro. It was really only ten minutes after the fire started that the smoking shoe soles and twitching of the Negro's feet indicated that his lower extremities were burning, but the time seemed much longer. The spectators had waited so long to see him tortured that they begrudged the ten minutes before his suffering really began.

 The Negro had uttered but few words. When he was led to where he was to be burned he said quite calmly, "I wish some of you gentlemen would be Christian enough to cut my throat," but nobody responded. When the fire started, he screamed, "Lord, have mercy on my soul," and that was the last word he spoke, though he was conscious for fully twenty minutes after that. His exhibition of nerve aroused the admiration even of his torturers.

  A slight hitch in the proceedings occurred when the Negro was about half burned. His clothing had been stripped off and burned to ashes by the flames and his black body hung nude in the gray dawn light. The flesh had been burned from his legs as high as the knees when it was seen that the wood supply was running short. None of the men or boys wanted to miss an incident of the torture. All feared something of more than usual interest might happen, and it would be embarrassing to admit later on of not having seen it on account of being absent after more wood.

  Something had to be done, however, and a few men by the edge of the crowd, ran after more dry-goods boxes, and by reason of this "public-service" gained standing room in the inner circle after having delivered the fuel. Meanwhile the crowd jeered the dying man and uttered shocking comments suggestive of a cannibalistic spirit. Some danced and sang to testify to their enjoyment of the occasion.

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Leo Frank, 1915

The lynching to death of Leo Frank represents one of only four cases of a Jewish-American being lynched in United States history. (There was a case of a double lynching of a Negro and a Jew in Tennessee in 1868; there were two other cases of American Jews lynched in the 1890s.) Frank, the manager of an Atlanta pencil factory, was accused of murdering teenaged employee Mary Phagan in 1913. Despite evidence linking the factory's African-American janitor, Jim Conley, to the heinous crime, a jury of Frank's Atlanta peers found him guilty and Frank was sentenced to death by hanging. Not only did the prosecution ignore evidence pointing to Conley; it used Conley as its main witness to condemn Frank. This was a unique moment in southern legal history - the testimony of a black man in Jim Crow society used against a white defendant. Subsequent appeals were denied, with even the United States Supreme Court refusing to hear the case.

Jim Slaton, then the governor of Georgia, alone stood between Frank and the fulfillment of his death sentence. In the face of overwhelming evidence contrary to the guilty verdict, Slaton commuted Frank's death sentence to life in prison. Public outcry was enormous, and on August 16, 1915, 25 armed men kidnapped Frank from prison, drove him 100 miles outside Atlanta to Mary Phagan's home town of Marietta, and hung him from a tree. For U.S. Senator Tom Watson, the malevolent Georgia Populist, Frank's violent death -- he refrained from using the word lynching -- "put Jew Libertines on notice." Ironically, at an earlier stage of his career, Watson had professed his intention to "make lynch law odious to the people." By 1915 he defended lynch law and warned: "The next Jew who does what Frank did is going to get exactly the same thing we give Negro rapists."

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Jesse Washington, 1916

On May 15, 1916, seventeen-year-old Jesse Washington was mutilated and burned to death on the city hall grounds in Waco, Texas. 

Washington was arrested one week earlier for raping and beating to death the wife of a white farmer in Robinson, Texas. Washington confessed to both crimes. Ironically, in an effort to prevent locals from taking the law into their own hands, Samuel S. Fleming, the sheriff for Washington's home county of McLennan, transferred the suspect to the "safety" of the Dallas County Jail to await trial. 

The trial began and concluded on May 15. It took the all-white jury a total of four minutes to find Washington guilty and to sentence him to death. Before the death penalty could be administered by the state, however, a band of the courtroom spectators grabbed Washington, put a chain around his neck, and dragged him to a elevated arboreal setting "natural" amphitheatre near the city hall where another group from the mob had begun to build a bonfire. They poured coal oil over Washington. Then, throwing the other end of the chain around his neck over a nearby tree branch, the mob hoisted him into the air, only to lower his body onto the pile of wood and lighting both man and tinder on fire.

After a couple of hours, men from the crowd shoved the charred remains of Washington into a bag and pulled it behind a car all the way home to Robinson, Texas. Back in Waco, the mob hung the sack in front of a blacksmith's shop for viewing before the constable cut it down and sent Washington's remains to a Waco undertaker. A huge crowd of approximately 15,000 people witnessed the "spectacle" lynching of Jesse Washington; entrepreneurs hawked a variety of beverages and snacks while the African-American youth was being tortured to death. A series of infamous photographs documenting the lynching were converted into taken by an enterprising photographer and converted into postcards. An estimated 50,000 of these grisly souvenirs were later sold or traded.

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The Porvenir Massacre, 1918

Porvenir means “future” in Spanish, but in a tiny tejano village called Porvenir the future was extinguished. It happened during a single tragic episode of white-on-brown racial and economically motivated violence. 

Isolated from population centers by the Sierra Vieja mountainous crest along the northern Rio Grande (a few miles upriver from Pilares, Chihuahua) Mexican descent tejano people herded goats, raised vegetable gardens, and were preparing to plant cotton and corn as staple crops during the coming Spring. But enmity existed between the local Anglos, mostly sheep and cattle ranchers, and the villagers living in Porvenir. The “Mexicans” were reviled for using available grazing lands mainly for “subsistence living” – deemed to be a “waste” by envious Anglos. Such enmity was kept concealed beneath the surface of cordial human relations much of the time – as long as the tejanos remained subservient in their dealings with their Caucasian neighbors. 

An aggravating factor was also the turbulent times. Between 1910 and 1920 in Texas, conflict with the border peoples and the Anglos often boiled over. Many times white lynch mobs and bands of Anglo ruffians sought tejanos to victimize – occasionally in reprisal for violence committed by Mexican or tejano outlaws against whites (be it white persons or property). Sometimes mere accusations of such brown-on-white violence were used to justify preemptive attacks against innocent tejanos. So-called Anglos were seldom lacking a racist motive, as “Manifest Destiny” – control of Texas lands by whites – was an underlying doctrine held dear. 

On Christmas Day, 1917, bandits suspected to be Mexican, possibly acting in concert with the legendary Pancho Villa, raided the huge 125,000-acre ranch and robbed the employee store owned by prominent Anglo Luke Brite centered in northwest Presidio County, Texas – about fifteen miles from the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexican border. Two of the raiders and two Mexican mail hack passengers were killed as a consequence of the raid. The next month, Company B of the Texas Rangers led by Captain J.M. Fox tried to mount a reprisal. Soon his attention focused on the “bad reputation” of the “Mexicans” inhabiting Porvenir as given him by local ranchers. Writes Texas historian and author Glenn Justice, “The ranchers agreed with Fox that Porvenir was a bandit’s nest that needed to be cleaned out.” The store at Brite’s Ranch was the nearest to Porvenir – a hard day’s ride distant on horseback, so the villagers occasionally purchased sundries there. According to Justice, at 1:00 a.m. on January 24, 1918, about forty Americans, some wearing masks, surrounded Porvenir and roused the sleeping tejanos. Writes Justice, “The pitiful residents were rounded up and held at gunpoint while the Rangers searched their jacales – the crude mud huts housing most of the villagers. In one jacal, they found two rifles and a shotgun. They found a holstered pistol hanging near a cot in the house of John Bailey, the lone Anglo living in Porvenir. The Rangers confiscated all of the guns. Following the search, they released all the villagers except Roman Nieves, Eutimio Gonzales, and Manuel Fierro. The Rangers held the trio for questioning because they wore Hamilton Brown shoes, a brand carried by the Brite store and stolen during the raid.” (Although this is not proof that the shoes were stolen as Nieves, Gonzales, and Fierro might well have purchased them from the store as they claimed.) While the trio from Porvenir was released the next day, and Fierro headed for Mexico – Nieves and Gonzales returned to Porvenir, according to Justice. But sadly, this wasn’t the end of it. Shortly after midnight on January 28, 1918 (exactly two weeks earlier according to eyewitness Juan Bonilla Flores, whose father was killed in this mass lynching), the night was bitterly cold. Marched barefoot over the chilled, cactus-strewn ground, 15 men and male teenagers culled from the ranks of the pleading villagers were marched to the base of a small rock bluff about half-mile distant from the village and mercilessly shot to death. Flores’s father Longino had been shot many times. Flores recalled, “His face was gone and his head nearly severed. All of them were like that – nearly unrecognizable.” The list of the victims at Porvenir included landowners Manuel Morales, 47, who possessed a deed to 1,600 acres, Roman Nieves, 48, who possessed a deed to 320 acres, Longino Flores, 44, Alberto Garcia, 35, Eutimio Gonzales, 37, Macedonio Huertas, 30, Tiburcio Jaques, 50, Ambrosio Hernandez, 21, Antonio Castanedo, 72, Pedro Herrera, 25, Viviano Herrera, 23, Severiano Herrera, 18, Pedro Jimenez, 27, Serapio Jimenez, 25, and Juan Jimenez – the youngest victim at age 16.

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Two Towns

Kirven, Texas 1922

On May 4th, 1922, after the last full day of school in Kirven, Texas, 17-year-old Eula Ausley was taken from her horse, carried into the thick brush, sexually mutilated and then beaten to death. Her disappearance was noticed immediately and family members organized a search party to investigate. Her nearly decapitated, naked body was found soon after and the search became a manhunt. The members of the hunt, which one estimate put at 1,000 men, combed through the woods, armed with whatever weapons they could find, looking for something which might lead to the killer or killers. Early into the search, the disgruntled wife of a black search party member alerted neighbors that her husband, McKinley "Snap" Curry, had come home on the afternoon of the murder bloodied from what he claimed was a rabbit hunt. Curry now became the hunted. Despite the fact that Sheriff Horace Mayo already had two white suspects who were enemies of Eula's family in custody, Mayo changed the focus of the investigation. He arrested Curry and apparently forced a statement which implicated two other men, 19-year-old Johnny Cornish and 46-year-old Mose Jones, that had been arrested on the suspicion that they were friends with Curry. A mob consisting of most of the search party assembled outside the jail to sate its hunger for vengeance. After midnight on May 6th, the mob forced its way into the prison and dragged the three black suspects out of their cells. They were driven to a lot between the old Baptist Church and the Methodist Church in Kirven. The gruesome ritual began. Approximately fifty men started gathering wood and a heavy plow was dragged into the lot to act as an anchor for the burning Negroes. But, as these preparations were being made, the crowd became anxious for a quicker punishment. Curry, Jones and Cornish were taken from the cars and thrown to the ground in front of the crowd. A knife appeared as the three men on the ground probably had the dreadful realization that some of these farmworkers had gained experience in the gelding of calves. Accounts vary as to what happened next. All agree that Curry was castrated. In an interview with filmmaker Gode Davis during June of 2000, 104-year-old Hobart Carter, Cornish's best friend in 1922, revealed that Cornish might also have been castrated. When enough wood was available, the bloodied Curry was bound to the plow's seat and doused in gasoline. The wood was stacked up all around him and a match was applied. The flames consumed him and within ten minutes he was dead and his flesh was nearly all burnt to a crisp. Next, Jones was brought forward. As the metal of the plow was too hot to touch, a water soaked rope was used to tie up Jones hands and drag him back and forth through the fire. Witnesses say that when he would come out on one side of the fire, members of the lynch mob would beat him back in. Supposedly, Jones made one attempt to break free from the ropes and ran directly into Eula's uncle, Otis King. King then hit him with a radius rod from a Model T Ford, dislodging an eye from its socket. Jones was then pulled back into the fire and died. Cornish, having seen the slow, painful deaths of his friends, cursed the sadistic lynchers. After being pulled through the flames only a few times, Cornish grabbed the plow and stuck his head deep into the fire, inhaled, and died. The three dead bodies were then piled up, doused again with kerosene and oil and lit afire. Whatever ashes the wind did not sweep up that morning were taken home as souvenirs. The hardened livers of the men were also recovered from the fire and then sliced up so they could be divided among the spectators.

With the three alleged murderers lynched before a crowd of between 500 and 1,000, the bloodlust should have ended. It did not. Terror reigned for days afterwards as aftershocks of the three burnings claimed more lives. On the morning of May 8th, Shadrick Green, a friend of Cornish and Jones who was said to have been fishing with the two on the fourth, was found hanging from a tree. He was naked with his neck broken and his body was riddled with bullets. It seems as if after this lynching, open season was declared on all Negroes and yet, ironically, whites were just as terrified as blacks. White paranoia suspected that legions of armed blacks were approaching Kirven to retaliate for the lynchings. Whites began to leave all their lights on in their houses so no imagined black murderer could sneak in during the night. Blacks, on the other hand, left all their lights off attempting to avoid the notice of the actual roaming bands of armed whites. The mobs roamed the streets killing any blacks they could find. Survivors claimed that hanged blacks were found daily and that other bullet-ridden bodies were discovered in outhouses, fields and shallow graves. By June 9th, 1922, the rash of murder and lynching had ended but the effects on Kirven were grim and lasting. Many of the town's workers disappeared as nearly the whole black population left the area. The oil economy dried up. Now, Kirven is a vestigial place almost a ghost town.

A recent investigation and book, Flames After Midnight: Murder, Vengeance and the Desolation of a Texas Community, by Monte Akers, concluded that Mose Jones and Johnny Cornish were innocent. McKinley "Snap" Curry is now believed to have accepted $15 to assist two men in murdering Eula Ausley. The two men, Claude and Audey Prowell, were the same two men in custody when Curry was arrested. Their bloody tracks led from the murder site to their house but they were released after four black men, Curry, Jones, Cornish and Green, had already paid the price.

Rosewood, Florida 1923

On the afternoon of New Year's Day 1923, a search party knocked on the door to Sam Carter's house. They were looking for a recently escaped black convict named Jesse Hunter accused of assaulting a white woman in Sumner, Florida. At the end of the day, 45-year-old Sam Carter, a blacksmith, was to be the one hanging from a tree. Carter, who lived midway between Rosewood and Sumner, was reportedly seen with Hunter after his escape. The mob came to Carter's place to see what information he had that could help and to determine the extent of his implication. Carter admitted to housing the accused and to helping him escape in his wagon. He then led the search party to the place where he and the fugitive had parted ways. Bloodhounds sniffed the surrounding area, unable to pick up a scent. The dogs' failure incensed the mob. White frustration quickly turned to anger. Carter was suspected of fooling them. They questioned him further and when they found his answers unsatisfactory, Carter was tortured, shot repeatedly and hanged from a tree. Some witnesses claimed that the accused whom Carter admitted to helping was actually the white lover of the allegedly assaulted woman. Their story said that her lover beat her after an argument and that she blamed a black man to diffuse suspicion surrounding her extra-marital affairs. The testimony of these black eyewitnesses was not to be heard and the white mob kept searching for Hunter. 

After a shootout at the Carrier house in Rosewood that left at least two whites and two blacks dead, whites surrounded the town inhabited mostly by blacks and began to burn every building in sight. Houses, churches and schools were laid to waste. As Lexie Gordon ran from her burning home, the white mob shot her dead. Those that escaped hid in the woods and watched as flames consumed all that they knew. Some survivors claimed that countless others that escaped the shootout died from gunshot wounds after they made it to the woods. This assertion is most likely true as the mob found many traces of blood both inside the house and leading away from it. The next day, January 5th, James Carrier became the second lynching victim. James' mother and brother were among those killed at the shootout and he had been inside the house at the time. Carrier was thought to have information about the gunmen in the shootout and was being pursued by the mob. He entrusted himself to a white acquaintance to protect him but the man turned him over as soon as the band of 30 armed whites arrived. Carrier was interrogated but refused to name others besides Hunter. He was brought to the graves of his freshly deceased brother and mother and shot several times. His body was found stretched across one of their graves. The entire remaining black community of Rosewood narrowly escaped the next day on a train to Gainesville and the rest of the town's structures were torched. Today nothing remains of Rosewood save a sign and the charred remains of a few buildings.

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Marion Indiana, 1930

On the night of August 7, 1930, three young African Americans -- Thomas Shipp age nineteen, Abram Smith eighteen, and sixteen-year-old James Cameron -- faced the hideous wrath of a lynch mob in the Ku Klux Klan-dominated town of Marion, Indiana. Only Cameron survived. The black youths had been involved in the robbery-inspired murder of Claude Deeter, 23, a white factory worker from nearby Fairmount, Indiana, and were accused of sexually assaulting Deeter's white girlfriend, nineteen-year-old Marion resident Mary Ball. While the latter charge was never proven, such charges, however spurious, were easily assumed by racist whites and frequently served to incite lynch mobs to commit even greater atrocities. Both Shipp and Smith were snatched from a jail cell only a block and a half from the giant oak tree where their bodies were soon to hang lifeless, beaten and hanged to death by the furious mob -- their grisly fate documented in a graphic if also infamous photograph. Cameron was badly beaten and nearly suffered an identical demise, but was saved at the last moment by the intervention of a "voice" from the crowd. "That boy didn't have anything to do with any killing or raping!" shouted the voice. Cameron's mysterious benefactor was never identified.

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Henry Argo, 1930
 

In the wee hours of the morning on May 31st, 1930, a dubious accusation of rape gave lynch law yet another victim-a 19 year old Negro, Henry Argo.  The murder took place inside the Chickasha, Oklahoma courthouse after Argo was accused of rape by a white sharecropper's wife. People of both races in the town questioned her claim. Argo was thought of as a half-wit by the black community.  As night fell, a mob gathered outside demanding that Argo be turned over to them.  The National Guard was called to Chickasha to disperse the near-frenzied crowd, but the lynching was guaranteed once people realized that the Guardsmen were armed only with blanks.  The mob began to use violence against the Guardsmen for interfering in the punishment of this black rapist. They threw sticks and stones, fracturing the skull of one Guardsman, and burned a National Guard truck after forcing the collected Guardsmen into a retreat. Around 3 am, one of the members of the mob climbed up the courthouse wall, leaned through a second-story window and shot Argo in the top of the head.  As the accused rapist lay there bloodied, the sheriff arrived and dismissed the Guardsmen.  At 6 am, the sheriff permitted a group to come in and see Argo's body. George Skinner, husband of the woman who had accused Argo, soon stabbed the dying boy in the chest.  Seven hours later, Argo died-after being refused at the local hospital.  A witness later remarked, "Stickin' that boy was just like stickin' a hog.  He only had to stick him once." No one-including Skinner who committed murder right before the eyes of the  local sheriff-was ever convicted on any charges.

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Cleo Wright, 1942

On January 25, 1942, a few weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a black oil-mill worker knifed Grace Sturgeon, a white soldier's wife, in her home. When apprehended, Cleo Wright also knifed a marshal, and was shot repeatedly. Hours later, while his victims were recuperating in a hospital, and Wright lay dying in an unsecured jailhouse, he was seized by an angry Sikeston, Missouri all-white mob. Dragged through the streets behind a car and later doused with gasoline, Wright was burned alive in the middle of Sikeston's black community. Such brazen savagery at a time when unity against a supposedly barbaric totalitarian enemy was considered a matter of national survival ignited public censure nationwide--though not--significantly-- in Sikeston.

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The Whole World to See
Emmett Till, 1955

While visiting his mother's family in Greenwood, Mississippi during the steamy August of 1955, black Chicagoan 14-year-old Emmett Till ran headlong into segregated southern society with devastating repercussions. Mumbling "Bye, Baby" while wolf whistling at the white wife of the general store's owner upon leaving a store, the teenager became marked for death. The following Saturday night, rousted from sleep, Till was taken by a posse of white men seeking to avenge the "honor" of the woman Till spoke to in the store. They castrated him and beat him to death before tying him to the propeller of a cotton gin, submerging him in the swampy waters of the Tallahatchie River. When his body surfaced and was transported back home to Chicago for the funeral, Emmett's mother, Mamie Till, insisted on an open casket so that the whole world could see what they had done to her baby. The black press covered the story, which was eventually picked up by the national press, and across the country white and black Americans saw the boy's bloated corpse. A trial commenced back in Mississippi, significant not in its verdict (all of the men were found not guilty by an all-white jury,) but in the witnesses who testified. Black witnesses came forward and in open court pointed out the guilty men, despite the risk to themselves that such action would entail.

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Mack Charles Parker, 1959

During the wee hours of April 24, 1959, Mack Charles Parker was lynched in Poplarville, Mississippi. An African-American, Parker had been confined to the Pearl River County Jail in Poplarville after being charged with the rape of a pregnant white woman. Broken out of jail and tortured and shot to death by a white supremacist mob, Parker's mutilated corpse was discovered May 4, 1959 on the Louisiana side of the Pearl River -- about two and a half miles south of the Bogalusa Bridge.

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The Civil Rights Movement 

It cannot be said that one event alone spurred a people to action and that the Civil Rights Movement was born. Instead, the Movement developed out of the post-World War II society in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. The Movement did not start when the Supreme Court eliminated "separate but equal" educations with its Brown v. Board of Education decision, nor did Rosa Parks or the students of the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins inaugurate it. Instead, each individual struggle and its subsequent achievement altered the tone of society and the expectations of present and future generations. Those opposed to anything but a separate and inherently unequal society saw such developments as an assault on order and their very way of life. As a reaction to and an attempt to strike fear into the hearts and minds of the Black population against "nigger loving" concepts of racial equality, southerners revived the ever-effective lynching, which had been in decline, to combat the achievements of Civil Rights workers. Lynching served as a reminder to all Southern blacks that they existed in the Jim Crow South. The violent deaths inflicted both on locals who attempted to work within their own community as well as on "outside agitators" from such Civil Rights organizations as the Congress of Racial Equality attempted to maintain the status quo of Southern society through the implicit threat of the lynch mob. Lynching, however, had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of silencing the black population and dissuading them from organizing, several well-publicized lynchings galvanized the Civil Rights movement, introduced a national audience to the violence inflicted by an archaic social order, and even forced the federal government to become involved in what had been a state government concern.

 

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