25 February 2018

When an Event Involving My Relative Sparked a Lynching (Part III)

[Part I is here.] [Part II is here.]

Recently, I have been studying and compiling information about lynchings in Georgia.  So when I came across the article about my second cousin, James Francis Hammock, he was actually not the subject of my search.  The victim of the mob violence, John Shake, was.

It most likely was on the second read-through of the article that I made the connection.  I distinctly remember my jaw dropping, and a small amount of anxiety creeping up within me.  Later, a sense of relief came in a wave when I realized J. F. Hammock was not directly involved in the brutal hanging of John Shake.  Next came the wondering of how my cousin felt about what happened.  The genealogist side took over, and I got lucky.

NewsPressFL28Jul1913DEPLORES LYNCHING.

Notwithstanding Victim Was Negro Who Shot Him.
Macon, Ga., July 28. – G. [sic] F. Hammock, a Dunbar merchant who is in the hospital here, deplores the lynching Sunday of John Shake, a negro, by a Houston county mob for shooting Hammock, while robbing his store.

Hammock will recover.

[News-Press (Ft. Myers, Florida) – 28 July 1913 – via Newspapers.com]

I won't lie.  Finding this blurb in the newspaper made me feel better.  But, truth be told, I can't really know for sure how genuine the comment was.  The clipping is simply something to be added to the whole body of research.

I chose not to dissect the original article detailing the alleged crime, as I believe knowing that it all happened in 1913 Georgia is enough.  If you are unsure of my meaning of this, may I humbly suggest the time period and environment is definitely worthy of study.  My opinion of the alleged criminality of John Shake is this:  maybe the decision to shoot at Hammock was one of opportunity.  If John Shake was truly caught trying to rob the store, he likely saw no way out.  He might have felt, believed, known, that his life was over no matter what he did.  So his best option was to try to escape the untenable situation.

What can I do to help the cause? "Tell the world the facts."

I've been reading some of the brave work done by anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett.  So much – yet too much for this space – is worth quoting.  Hopefully the following will be sufficient:

The Negro does not claim that all of the one thousand black men, women and children, who have been hanged, shot and burned alive during the past ten years, were innocent of the charges made against them…

But we do insist that the punishment is not the same for both classes of criminals.  In lynching, opportunity is not given the Negro to defend himself against the unsupported accusations of white men and women.  The word of the accuser is held to be true and the excited bloodthirsty mob demands that the rule of law be reversed and instead of proving the accused to be guilty, the victim of their hate and revenge must prove himself innocent.  No evidence he can offer will satisfy the mob; he is bound hand and foot and swung to eternity.  Then to excuse its infamy, the mob almost invariably reports the monstrous falsehood that its victim made a full confession before he was hanged.



Does any of this matter today? Should it matter at all?

I can only answer those questions for myself:  yes, it matters, and it should.  Some may argue I'm applying presentism, interpreting past events in terms of modern values.  I respectfully disagree.

Slavery had been abolished with the ratification of the 13th amendment almost 48 years prior to the lynching of John Shake.  African Americans quickly proved they could be an integral part of society; they ran businesses and held public office during Reconstruction.  But southern states chose to enact harsh laws that enforced segregation and rolled back many of the meager freedoms African Americans had gained.

The law of the land had been circumvented.  Because African Americans had gotten too "uppity," mobs of people felt it necessary to teach them their place.  On a constant basis, and to the death.

This is not only wrong now, it was wrong then.


A Promise Kept

I've said my piece regarding the lynching of John Shake and my cousin's part in it, but I promised to return to the map shared in the first post.  Here it is again:

1933HoustonCountyHwyMap

Even though I wasn't around in 1913, and John wasn't around when I grew up, I look at this map and see our crossed paths.

I was born in Wellston, though the name was changed to Warner Robins before my birth.  The Houston Medical Center stands roughly seven miles from the Dunbar Community.  Before I left my hometown a few years ago, I was living at Centerville – my apartment being roughly four miles from the Dunbar Community.

I've been to the swampy, muddy banks of the Ocmulgee River.  I can picture the scene in my mind.  The map above is dated 1933, but you have to believe those same pathways existed twenty years before.

I'll bet I've walked where those bloodhounds and groups of men – swelling to the number of 100 – feverishly searched and hunted for their prey.  I might have even stood on the once blood-soaked ground below where John Shake took his last breath.  This research experience, some 105 years after the fact, hit home for me.

Post (Post?) Script

It just so happens I am finishing this post on the 150th anniversary of the birth of W. E. B. Du Bois.  A link to an article written by Ibram X. Kendi came with my Twitter feed this morning.  The article is entitled The Soul of W. E. B. Du Bois, and it's about Du Bois's famous collection of essays called The Souls of Black Folk.  I confess to having never read this collection of Du Bois writings, but Kendi's article convinced me to do so.  The Souls of Black Folk is now waiting on my kindle.  A portion of The Soul of W. E. B. Du Bois combines words penned by Du Bois and Kendi:

“Let there spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deep to reap the harvest wonderful,” Du Bois prayed at the end of Souls, in the section he called an afterthought. “Let the ears of a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is a mockery and a snare.” Looking at the harvest of black thought since Souls, his prayers have been answered. But looking at our drear days when human unity remains a farce, his prayers have yet to be answered.


24 February 2018

When an Event Involving My Relative Sparked a Lynching (Part II)

[Part I is here.]

So, who was J. F. Hammock? And given the use of initials, am I sure this was my relative?

James Francis "Jinks" Hammock was born 6 February 1877 in Houston County, Georgia to William Warren Peavy (1849-1899) and Scynthia A. Hammock (1854-1905).  A year after Jinks was born, for reasons that would require telling a whole other story, he was being raised by his maternal grandparents.  So James Francis Peavy became James Francis Hammock.

The Peavys of that area of Houston (later Peach) County called the town of Byron home.  This was not far from the community of Dunbar, where the lynching of John Shake took place.  Even on a present-day map, you can see Peavy Road and Dunbar Road are less than four miles from each other.

Census records for 1880, 1900, 1920, 1930, and 1940 place J. F. Hammock in Militia District 771 (locally known as Upper Fifth), which contained the community of Dunbar.  It was also noted on the 1920 census that he was residing on a farm on Dunbar Road.

1921 Map of Houston County, Georgia Archives (http://vault.georgiaarchives.org/)

A December 1909 obituary dedicated to the memory of his grandmother Sarah Hammock, specifically placed J. F. at the community of Dunbar.

James Francis Hammock married Minnie Lewis Avant on 29 July 1910.  The couple had daughter Sara nearly one year later.  This "wife and little daughter" family of J. F. follows exactly the narrative of the Macon Telegraph article.

If this wasn't enough to convince me the J. F. Hammock in the article about the lynching of John Shake was my second cousin James Francis, the document that would was his World War I Draft Registration (via FamilySearch).  In the space for notes to be made about the physical description of James Francis Hammock was this:  Lame arm from gun shot wound.  The card was dated September 1918, five years after the lynching of John Shake.

jfhammock1918wwidraftcard

Just to button things up, James Francis Hammock died 18 January 1960, just a month after his wife.  The couple was buried at the Liberty Methodist Church graveyard in the Walden community of Bibb County, Georgia (where Minnie was from).  The church also was where James and Minnie were married.

LibertyUMCNo035

Now, who was John Shake?

NAACP Headquarters, New York City. Via Library of Congress (loc.gov).It truly bothers me greatly to admit I have no clue.  I have searched for him in census records from 1870 to 1910 in Houston and surrounding counties in Georgia.  Strange not to find a single mention of a man who supposedly was born around 1863 and lived in the same area all his life (or at least about 50 years, it was claimed).  I'm inclined to think the news articles were wildly inaccurate regarding this man who had his life taken from him in 1913.  Given he was a black man in the Jim Crow South, I guess it should be expected.

Conversely, I was able to locate no fewer than 19 records (including census, newspaper, military, cemetery, and marriage) regarding cousin James without leaving my home! The dichotomy between the lives of the two men brought together at that single point in time cannot be overstated.

To be clear, according to MonroeWorkToday, the lynching of John Shake is referenced in the Tuskegee University Archives database, in A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930, and in Fitzhugh Brundage's Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930.  But we may never know if the original newspaper source was faulty.

One more tomorrow.

23 February 2018

When an Event Involving My Relative Sparked a Lynching (Part I)

I've been thinking about how to write this series of posts for days.  Sitting here now, I'm still unsure what the final product will be.

So here we go.  The short of it is this:

On a summer night in 1913, my second cousin caught a supposed burglar attempting to rob his store at Dunbar, Houston County, Georgia.  The apparent perpetrator fired a gun at my cousin, wounding him in two places.  Afterwards the shooter fled the scene.  Neighbors came to the aid of my cousin, who was shortly thereafter taken to a hospital in the next county over.  A large group of men gathered and set out to find the person they believed attempted murder.  After some hours, they caught their man.  Upon returning to the community where the crime was committed, the group hung the crook and filled his body with bullets.

That is how I interpreted the published newspaper accounts that contemporaneously described the event.  As you can see, the alleged crime committed by the alleged criminal escalated from attempted burglary to attempted murder in no time flat.

What follows next is a transcription of the first newspaper article I read, in its entirety.  See if you get the same out of it that I did.  I'm including a map of some pertinent places mentioned in the article, and I will elaborate on what those locales mean to me in a later post.

1933 Houston County Highway Map, Georgia Archives (http://vault.georgiaarchives.org/)

Macon Telegraph (Georgia)
Monday, 28 July 1913 - pg. 1 [via GenealogyBank's Newspaper Archive]

MaconTelegraph28Jul1913LYNCH NEGRO WHO FIRES ON MERCHANT

Houston Posse Is Rewarded After All-Day Search.

STRUNG UP AT DUNBAR

John Shake Had Shot J. F. Hammock.

CAUGHT ROBBING STORE

When Dunbar Merchant Interrupted Negro Burglar at His Work, Latter Fires On Him, Wounding Him in Wrist And Breast -- 100 Men Take Up Chase.

Eighteen hours after he had shot and seriously wounded J. F. Hammock, a merchant at Dunbar, thirteen miles south of Macon, in Houston county, when interrupted while in the act of robbing the store of Hanson and Hammock, John Shake, a fifty-year-old negro, was run down by a posse composed of one hundred Houston county men and lynched yesterday afternoon about 5 o'clock, a short distance from Dunbar. His body was strung up to a tree and was riddled with bullets.

J. F. Hammock, who was shot by the negro, is not fatally hurt, though at Williams sanitarium, in this city, last night it was stated he was weak from loss of blood and had suffered considerably from the shock. The charge from a shot gun had struck him on the left wrist, fracturing the bones and had also lodged in the breast, though the latter wound is not thought to be serious.

Hears Noise at Store.
It was about 11 o'clock Saturday night, an hour after the store at Dunbar had been closed, that Mr. Hammock, who lives with his wife and little daughter, three hundred yards from the store, heard a noise like someone breaking into the store. Two or three previous attempts having recently been made to burglarize the store, Mr. Hammock decided to investigate and, slipping up to the building, he saw a man inside.

"Come out of there; I have you," Mr. Hammock shouted, but the negro did not come as directed. Instead he secured a shotgun from inside the store and, searching about, found some shells with which to load the weapon. Then he appeared in the doorway and fired. Mr. Hammock fell to the ground wounded, and the negro fled.

Recognizes the Negro.
Mrs. Hammock, who heard the shot, quickly ran to her husband's assistance and called for aid. Mr. Hammock had recognized the negro as John Shake, a man about 50 years of age, who had lived around Dunbar practically all of his life and who had been under suspicion for some time as the party who had attempted to rob the store before.

A short time after the shooting a posse was formed and the search for the negro began. During the day the posse was augmented by others until it finally numbered one hundred men, all bent on running the negro down and avenging the attempt on the life of their friend and neighbor. The posse was divided into small groups of men, who were strung out across the county. Finally about 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon the negro was found in a swamp on the river bank, near Wellston, about 10 miles below Dunbar. The negro was captured and brought back to Dunbar, arriving there about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon. He confessed that it was he who had done the shooting and without further ado he was strung up.

Wounded Man Brought Here.
While the posse had gone in pursuit of the negro, a call was sent to Macon for L. H. Burghard's ambulance and the injured man was brought to the Williams' sanitarium for medical attention, reaching this city at 4 o'clock yesterday morning.

Mr. Hammock is one of the best known men of Houston county, and has a wife and little daughter. The shooting aroused his friends to a high pitch of indignation.

Another article from another Georgia city's newspaper, The Augusta Chronicle, was published under this headline:

STRING HIM UP IN THE VERY HEART OF NEGRO SETTLEMENT:  Angry Georgia Mob Riddles Body of Black Who Shot Down Merchant Near Macon.

The same tale is basically told, with the addition that bloodhounds were used to track John Shake, and he was found in neck-deep swamp water.

An article out of Florida's Miami Herald began this way:

CHASED WITH BLOODHOUNDS, THEN HANGED

Fate of Negro Thief Who Mortally Wounded J. F. Hammock of Dunbar, Ga.

NEGRO WAS CAUGHT ROBBING STORE, AND RATHER THAN BE CAUGHT EMPTIED A SHOTGUN INTO HAMMOCK'S BODY -- HAMMOCK IS IN CRITICAL CONDITION IN MACON HOSPITAL.

AshevilleCitizenTimes28Jul1913Finally, the Asheville Citizen-Times of North Carolina published under this brazen falsehood:

GEORGIANS LYNCH NEGRO WHO KILLED A MERCHANT

The second to last line of the article did admit, "It is thought he [Hammock] will recover."

As you ponder the plight of John Shake, I leave you (for now) with this cautionary quote from Fitzhugh Brundage, author of Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930 --

For all of the information that newspaper accounts provide, their serious limitations also must be recognized.  Because the majority of extant newspapers from the period are white newspapers, they reflect the harsh racial attitudes of the day, and their accounts of lynchings, the alleged crimes that prompted lynchings, and the portrayals of mob victims must be treated with great caution…[W]hite descriptions of both the alleged offenses and the character of lynching victims cannot be accepted without question.

Be back tomorrow.

12 February 2018

Usual Crime, Usual Penalty: the Lynching of Jack Hilsman

According to MonroeWorkToday, the lynching of Jack Hilsman is referenced in A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930 and Fitzhugh Brundage's Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930.

Macon Telegraph (Georgia)
Wednesday, 25 July 1900 [via GenealogyBank]
THE USUAL CRIME; USUAL PENALTY
Jack Hilsman Was Lynched at Knoxville.
ASSAULTED A GIRL
WAS TO BE BROUGHT TO MACON JAIL
Had Been Identified By the Young Lady and By a Negro Woman Who Saw Him Fleeing From the House – Betrayed His Employer's Confidence.
Jack Hilsman, the 25-year-old negro who was confined in Macon's jail last week for safe keeping, but who was taken to Knoxville and given a commitment hearing Monday on the charge of assault, was lynched Monday night, having been taken from the Crawford county officers by a number of the neighbors of the farmer whose daughter was the object of the negro's attack.
The negro had been committed to jail by Justice K. P. Lowe of Knoxville, and was to have been brought back to Macon yesterday for safe-keeping.
The negro's crime occurred last Thursday at Musella, a small village about twelve miles from Knoxville.  The negro had been employed on the plantation of Mr. James Mitchell.  Mr. Mitchell was away from the residence on Thursday and the young lady was alone in the house, her two sisters being engaged at the dairy, some distance away.  The negro discovered these facts and he entered the house.  He seized the young lady, but before he could overpower her she made such outcries as to attract the attention of her sisters, and others nearby.  The brute ran away, but a posse was hastily formed, and he was pursued and caught within a few hours.
He was brought to Macon, it being about as near to this place as to Knoxville, but he was taken to Knoxville for a commitment hearing on Monday.  He stoutly denied his guilt, but he was identified by the young lady and by a negro woman who saw him running from the house, and he was sentenced to jail.  It was not known that he was in any danger of being lynched, as only four men from the neighborhood of Musella were noticed about the court house at Knoxville during or just after the trial.  The sheriff and his deputies were taking the negro to the jail, after the court had decided that he was probably guilty as charged, and on the way the four men from Mr. Mitchell's neighborhood rushed in and sought to take charge of the prisoner.  They were quickly repulsed.
The incident caused great excitement, however, and as the posse moved on toward the jail a considerable crowd gathered.  It seems that there were in and about the town, hidden out, a large number of people from the district in which the crime had been committed.  Some had been just out of town, in the woods, it is understood, and when the trouble began they all rushed in and joined the gathering mob.  Before the posse had gotten to the jail quite a formidable crowd had gathered, and they made an assault on the posse.  After a determined scuffle, the crowd overpowered the guards and got the prisoner.  Not a shot was fired.
The crowd seemed to have formed its plans fully beforehand.  They carried Hilsman out to a negro settlement about half a mile from town, and there hung him in full view of the negro cabins.  They riddled the body with shots.
…Sheriff Handcock and County Treasurer L. A. Hatcher pleaded with the crowd, but to no avail.
The body was still hanging early yesterday morning.
The lynching was an orderly affair, in its way, and after the scuffle in which the negro was captured there was no undue demonstration.  The shots were fired into the negro's body immediately after he was hung, and then the crowd dispersed.
Jailer Phil Stephan said:
…"The sheriff and I both suspected that the negro would be lynched and we made unusually slow progress in turning him over, hoping that the train might leave him.  The negro begged us most piteously not to let him go, and we were tempted to telephone the governor, but since the judge and sheriff had sent for the prisoner to stand his commitment trial, we thought it beyond our jurisdiction to interfere.  When they led the negro out I remarked to the servants, who were looking on in silence, 'Look at him well, he'll never come back.'"
While I don't pretend to know for certain the true details of what transpired between Mr. Hilsman and Miss Mitchell, I can't help but think of the following quotes from anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett:
With the Southern white man, any m├ęsalliance existing between a white woman and a colored man is a sufficient foundation for the charge of rape.
…the same crime committed by white men against Negro women and girls, is never punished by mob or the law.  A leading journal in South Carolina openly said some months ago that "it is not the same thing for a white man to assault a colored woman as for a colored man to assault a white woman, because the colored woman had no finer feelings nor virtue to be outraged!" – from The Red Record


Note: the above title is available for free with kindle.


From NY Public LibraryA simple search on Google will give you the statistics. The Tuskegee Institute kept track of lynchings in America from 1882 - 1968. There were 581 in Mississippi, 531 in Georgia, 493 in Texas, 391 in Louisiana, 347 in Alabama, and so on. Total from all states: 4,743. That's more than one lynching and victim a week.

I feel a little like I should try to explain why I would give the horrible acts – those committed by the criminal, as well as those committed on the criminal – voice on this blog. There are no (at least to my knowledge) statistics showing the accuracy of the lynchers. How many times was an innocent person hung, riddled with bullets, and mutilated in the name of "justice?" I mean, we probably agree there are innocent people sitting in jail right now – with supposed checks and balances in place. Imagine when there were none. Shouldn't those innocent people be remembered?

Now, make no mistake, sometimes the lynching party "punished" the right person. As in, sometimes the true perpetrator was indeed apprehended – and then disposed of, often in a barbaric fashion. Even if you take the literal "eye for an eye" death penalty approach, I would not be surprised if that would have been an applicable punishment in only an infinitesimal number of cases. People were lynched for stealing, people were lynched for "insubordination," people were lynched for literally being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And let us not be cowards and leave out the racism debacle that lingers to this day. So another reason for giving voice to these past atrocities is in the same vein of "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

As a family historian, I am saddened to think (1) these revolting deeds took place, and (2) while statistics are easy to find, the names and stories of the individual victims are much harder to locate. A list of lynching victims will unfortunately never be complete. I hope that in a small way, posts such as these will serve as a memorial to those who were victims of Judge Lynch and his frightful law.

11 February 2018

Mayor of Griffin, Georgia Said He Would Have Helped to Hang Him

Oscar Williams was lynched at Griffin, Spalding County, Georgia in the summer of 1897.  A Bibb County sheriff was actually supposed to transport Oscar to Atlanta (unharmed, of course), but he failed at his duty.  Yet the county was apparently so proud of the part played in the unfortunate ordeal they devoted 5 newspaper columns across 2 pages – plus an illustration – to conveying the whole story.  The title of the article was Hemp and Lead.  Illustration below.

williamswhenmobfinished

One line from the above referenced article that stood out to me was this: A mob recognizes no law.  Here's a shorter rendition of what happened to Oscar Williams:

Columbus Daily Enquirer (Georgia)
Friday, 23 July 1897 [via GenealogyBank]

OSCAR WILLIAMS HUNG AT GRIFFIN.

Crowd of Citizens Capture the Rapist and Swing Him to a Limb.

HIS BODY FULL OF BULLETS.

Well Known Citizens of Griffin in the Mob, but the Coroner's Jury Declared That the Deceased Came to His Death at Hands of Parties Unknown

Griffin, Ga., July 22. – Oscar Williams, the negro brute who outraged the little five year old daughter of Mr. Campbell, of Henry county on Saturday, July 10th, was lynched here this morning at six o'clock.

Sheriff Herrington, of Bibb county, had Oscar Williams in charge and was on his way to Atlanta where he proposed to turn the prisoner over to the Atlanta jail for safe keeping, but Oscar was compelled to stop over in Griffin and made to pay the penalty of his hellish crime committed just twelve days ago.

On the arrival of the 6:13 Central train a large crowd had gathered at the depot and when the train came to a halt twenty or more determined young men boarded the train and began a search for Williams.  The crowd was met by Sheriff [Herrington] and told that Oscar Williams was not on the train, but the people thought different and made a search that at first looked like the sheriff was giving them the straight tip, but finally Oscar was found concealed in the water closet and very tenderly and carefully taken out, placed in a buggy and driven out Broadway just outside the western city limits, followed by some two hundred men and boys, where he was hanged with a cotton well rope.  The rope was tied in hangman's style and thrown over an oak limb, when Oscar Williams was drawn up five feet above ground.  The other end of the rope was tied to a near by tree, and then five hundred bullets were shot into his body in less than half a minute.  His legs were tied below the knees…and his hands fastened with handcuffs.

It just took twenty minutes from the time the train reached Griffin until the crowd began leaving the dead and mangled body of the brute hanging in the air.

There were no masks worn or any effort made to conceal anything by the determined crowd.

Sheriff Herrington and his deputy saw they were powerless to save their prisoner and after seeing that he had been successfully lynched they returned to Macon on the 9:15 train.

This makes the second negro lynched in Spalding county in less than ten months for outraging young white girls and strange to say both crimes were committed in Henry county.

The Enquirer-Sun's representative failed to ascertain just how the people here knew Oscar Williams was coming through on the early morning train, but as their is a well regulated telephone line down the Central road all the way to Macon the news could have been received that way.  At any rate the news reached here in time for a good crowd to gather to avenge the outrage committed on a poor helpless five year old child.

Mr. Campbell, father of the unfortunate child, reached here before the body was cut down and identified the lynched negro as the brute who committed the crime.  Oscar Williams confessed that he did commit the crime.

At 11 o'clock this morning the body was cut down and there was at once a rapid division of the rope among the spectators.  It was cut into small pieces and distributed as far as it would go.  Some of the men were content with pieces of the dead negro's shirt, trousers or suspenders, and desires were expressed even for pieces of his body for a memento.

Men, women and children, black and white, were gathered about the scene of the lynching all the morning.  The whites were not slow in saying the right thing had been done and the negroes, if they thought differently, very wisely refrained from saying so.

The body, after it was cut down, was carried to the city hall where it was viewed by thousands who came too late to see it swinging.  The negro's relatives at Zebulon have been wired to know if they want the remains.  If not the burial will take place at the county poor farm.

It is an open secret that the lynching was done by some of the best citizens of Griffin.  There have been rumors current that the men who took the law into their own hands were farmers, but the facts do not support this.  Eye witnesses to the whole affair say confidently that in the mob there were not a half dozen men live outside the city.

The verdict of the jury empannelled [sic] by Coroner Williams was as follows:

"We the jury empannelled [sic] to inquire into the cause of the death of Oscar Williams, find that he came to his death by hanging and shooting at the hands of parties to us unknown…"

Mayor W. D. Davis, of Griffin, when asked about the lyncing [sic], said:

"Under my path of office, if it had occurred in the city limits, I would have done all I could to protect the negro.  I was in bed at the time, but if I had known it was outside the city limits I would have helped to hang him."

Sheriff M. M. Morris had no expression of regret to make…

According to MonroeWorkToday, the lynching of Oscar Williams is referenced in A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930 and Fitzhugh Brundage's Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930.

Article referenced at top may be viewed online here >>> Georgia Historic Newspapers


From NY Public LibraryA simple search on Google will give you the statistics. The Tuskegee Institute kept track of lynchings in America from 1882 - 1968. There were 581 in Mississippi, 531 in Georgia, 493 in Texas, 391 in Louisiana, 347 in Alabama, and so on. Total from all states: 4,743. That's more than one lynching and victim a week.

I feel a little like I should try to explain why I would give the horrible acts – those committed by the criminal, as well as those committed on the criminal – voice on this blog. There are no (at least to my knowledge) statistics showing the accuracy of the lynchers. How many times was an innocent person hung, riddled with bullets, and mutilated in the name of "justice?" I mean, we probably agree there are innocent people sitting in jail right now – with supposed checks and balances in place. Imagine when there were none. Shouldn't those innocent people be remembered?

Now, make no mistake, sometimes the lynching party "punished" the right person. As in, sometimes the true perpetrator was indeed apprehended – and then disposed of, often in a barbaric fashion. Even if you take the literal "eye for an eye" death penalty approach, I would not be surprised if that would have been an applicable punishment in only an infinitesimal number of cases. People were lynched for stealing, people were lynched for "insubordination," people were lynched for literally being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And let us not be cowards and leave out the racism debacle that lingers to this day. So another reason for giving voice to these past atrocities is in the same vein of "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

As a family historian, I am saddened to think (1) these revolting deeds took place, and (2) while statistics are easy to find, the names and stories of the individual victims are much harder to locate. A list of lynching victims will unfortunately never be complete. I hope that in a small way, posts such as these will serve as a memorial to those who were victims of Judge Lynch and his frightful law.

10 February 2018

Blood at the Root: a Racial Cleansing in America (Book Review)

Title:  Blood at the Root: a Racial Cleansing in America
Author: Patrick Phillips
Publication: 2016, W. W. Norton Company
Hardcover noted as having 320 pages. I read the Kindle edition.
Short Synopsis: In the fall of 1912, the entire African American community of Forsyth County, Georgia was literally run out of and banished from the county by the white population. An all-white county remained for decades, even close to a century. The book explores why and how this happened. It's a dark read, but one that is important (I believe) for the citizens of the United States, even to this day.

What Happened

In early September 1912, nineteen-year-old Mae Crow, who had been missing, was found in the woods of Forsyth County, Georgia.  This daughter of well-known citizens of Oscarville, Leonidas Alonzo and Azzie Jane Bennett Crow, had been savagely beaten and left for dead.

The next day, the Forsyth County sheriff arrested three young African Americans:  Rob Edwards, age 24; Oscar Daniel, age 18; and Ernest Knox, age 16.  Rob Edwards didn't stand a chance.  He was almost immediately lynched – killed without due process.

Image by B. McDowell
via FindAGrave
On 23 September 1912, Mae Crow – "one of the most beautiful girls in all of Forsyth" – died from her injuries.  When nightfall came after her funeral, "all hell broke loose in Forsyth County." Groups of white men on horseback – night riders – went into the African American community and told them to get out of the county, "or stay and die like Rob Edwards." The night riders used whatever means were necessary, including "posted notices, scrawled letters, rifles, torches, and sticks of dynamite."
By the end of October, the night riders had forced out all but a handful of the 1,098 members of the African American community – who left in their wake abandoned homes and schools, stores and livestock, and harvest-ready crops standing in the fields.
A contemporaneous Georgia newspaper article (19 October 1912 Savannah Tribune) stated this:
Trouble Brewing In Hill Country 
CLASH OF RACES FEARED IN NORTHEAST GEORGIA
          Many Blacks Are Being Driven Away by Angry Whites…
Gainesville, Ga., October 13. – (Special) – Resulting from the recent reign of terror in Forsyth county, racial hostilities have broken out in northeast Georgia that threaten to become as serious as conditions during the period which followed the close of the civil war…
GAINESVILLE INVADED BY NEGROES
Gainesville is being invaded as a haven of refuge by hordes of Negroes from Forsyth and neighboring counties, who have been driven from their homes by indignant whites.  The Negro sections of the city have been flooded with safety-seeking Negroes, and scores of shanties and dwelling houses shelter as many as six or more families.
All roads entering Gainesville from the southeast are flanked by improvised camps, sheltering the fleeing blacks and many families are forced to live temporarily in the wagons in which the fled from their homes…
Anonymous letters have been sent almost every planter in the hill country, demanding the dismissal of all Negro laborers, and their ejection from the premises.  Most of these missives threaten arson and dynamiting of the houses in which the Negroes live as penalty for disobeyance [sic].  In many instances, mobs of whites appeared at the Negro homes on farms and openly demanded evacuation of the shacks and shanties…
And this from the west coast (5 November 1912 Riverside, California Independent Enterprise):
NEGROES LEAVE GEORGIA
Driven Out by Whites Because of Recent Outrages
CUMMINGS, [sic] Ga., Nov. 4. – Because of recent outrages alleged to have been committed on white women by negroes in Forsyth county, many negroes have been driven out of that district, regardless of their standing, good, bad or indifferent…Hundreds have already gone and others are departing, among them many peaceable, hard-working blacks, some of whom own land.  Not only have the negroes been warned, but leading white farmers have been given notice that their houses and barns would be burned or dynamited if they did not get rid of their negro tenants and laborers…
Meanwhile, the two African American teenagers accused of killing Mae Crow had been taken to Atlanta for safekeeping.  Oscar Daniel and Ernest Knox were given a trial in Forsyth County – it lasted a single day.  The two were convicted and sentenced to hang.  Georgia law of the time stated executions were to be private events.  But this happened:

Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)
26 October 1912 [via GenealogyBank]
FENCE WAS BURNED TO SEE A HANGING
Three Thousand People Crowded the Hillsides, Back of Militia, at Cumming Yesterday…
Not Enough Negroes Left in That Part of Forsyth County to Arrange a Funeral – Gallows Yard Turned Into Open Space by Crowd of People.

Cumming, Ga., Oct. 25. -- After a mob of citizens burned a fence erected about the gallows, more than 2,000 persons witnessed the hanging today of Ernest Knox and Oscar Daniels, convicted negroes, on a charge of assaulting and causing the death of a white girl. Militia from Atlanta were on guard for the third time in six weeks to preserve order.

Special to The Chronicle.
Cumming, Ga., Oct. 25. – Amid the cheers of thousands of spectators, gathered about a hollow square, 200 yards from the gallows, Oscar Daniels and Ernest Knox, negroes, paid the death penalty here today for assaulting and causing the death of a young white woman near Cumming, in Forsyth County, September 8th, less than seven weeks ago.  They were convicted three weeks ago yesterday.
Militia Criticized.
The failure of the state militia at Cumming to enforce the state law providing the private executions was criticized by state officials today, who declared the hanging should have been delayed until another fence could have been erected in place of the one burned by the citizens just before the arrival of the troops…
The double trap was sprung by Sheriff W. W. Reid at 11:19 o'clock, and twenty minutes later the two bodies were cut down and placed in a single pine box to be buried by the county as criminal paupers this afternoon.  They will not be accorded a funeral by members of their own race, as there are practically no negroes left in Forsyth County, and the few remaining are afraid to venture out on such a mission…
Only…attendants, county officers, newspaper representatives, members of the dead girl's family and soldiers were permitted within the 200-yard area.  Two companies of Atlanta militiamen formed a dead-line and kept the thousands of morbidly curious – men, women and children – out of reach of the scaffold.  But they were satisfied to stand on the surrounding hillsides and view the spectacle from a distance.  Estimates of the crowd vary, but it is not exaggerating to state that no less than 3,000 persons assembled here – the first legal execution in Forsyth County in more than half a century…
Gallows Fence Burned.
Efforts of county officials to have the hangings conducted privately, as required by law, were futile.  Because of the smallness of the jail, which would not permit the erection of a gallows, within the structure, a wooden scaffold was constructed in a field a half mile from the courthouse.  This was surrounded by a fence fifteen feet high, forming an inclosure [sic] about thirty feet square.
About midnight a mob went to the site of the scaffold, tore down the high fence and made a monster bonfire of the lumber and timbers.  This morning only a heap of charred embers was left of what had been the fence.  The scaffold was not molested.
Ordinary H. V. Jones early this morning ordered the fence rebuilt, but when he undertook to secure lumber with which to rebuild it, not a dealer in town could be found who would sell the material…
A year after the executions, Forsyth County still maintained its all-white status.  An article in Georgia's Marietta Journal dated 24 October 1913 stated the following:
It may be that Hon. Henry L. Patterson [of Cumming], judge of the superior court of the Blue Ridge Circuit, will remove with his family to Marietta some time soon…
Judge Patterson, so it is said, is to leave Cumming because it is impossible to secure house servants since the negroes have all been run out of the county.  Last year the anti-negro crusaders banished the colored people from Forsyth as St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland.  There is not a negro left to remind the people that there is a continent of Africa…
National attention was gained again after nearly two more years passed:

Trenton Evening Times (New Jersey)
28 August 1915 [via GenealogyBank]
GEORGIA COUNTY EXILES NEGROES
ATLANTA, Ga., Aug. 28. – As a result of trouble in Forsyth County and in the neighboring territory between whites and blacks, all negroes have been barred from entering the county.  This was brought out clearly by the experience of Hudson Moore, a prominent resident of Atlanta, who went to Cummings [sic] on legal business and took along with him a negro nurse and negro chauffeur.  While he was in the court house he heard a commotion outside, and hurrying out he found a crowd of several hundred gathered around the two negroes threatening them with dire vengeance if they did not leave the county at once.  Moore at once intervened, and after a talk with the crowd he took the two negroes in his automobile and hurried them out of the county, a distance of fifteen miles, and left them there while he returned to complete his business.
While more articles exist that could be cited, I imagine the newspapers stopped reporting at some point.

75 years later, a national renewed interest in the whiteness of Forsyth County, Georgia was born.  Two "Brotherhood" marches took place there in January 1987.  The first was stopped short of its goal due to such resistance (vile hatred) by the people of the county, as well as an underwhelming police presence.  The second, also known as the "Freedom" march, and even more prominent than the first, was a success (to the degree the marchers could say it was completed).  Among the leaders of the procession were famed Civil Rights activists such as Hosea Williams and Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr.

What even more people of my generation likely remember, however, was the visit to Forsyth County by Oprah Winfrey.  She took her young show there the month after the Brotherhood and Freedom marches.  The white nationalists and racists were on display for all the world to see.  And I would be surprised if any of them were around in the time of the death of young Mae Crow.

Patrick Phillips, the author of Blood at the Root: a Racial Cleansing in America, arrived at Cumming as a school-aged boy in the 1970s.  I dare say he was raised a bit differently than many (most?) of his fellow county residents.  In fact, his parents fought for awareness and change by marching on the side of Brotherhood and Freedom in 1987.

PBS News Hour spoke with Mr. Phillips in January 2017.  One thing he said stood out to me – "…sometimes the gains of one generation are given back in the next."

That same report shared this final fact:  "The population of Forsyth County, Georgia is less than 4% black.  In 2000, it was less than 1% black."

A few passages from the book I took note of and highlighted:

  • Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. – Lewis Allan, 1937
  • In 1907, W. E. B. Du Bois had put into words what every "colored" person in Georgia knew from experience, which was that "the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves…And tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police."
  • But of all their methods, torches and kerosene worked best, since a fire created a blazing sign for all to see and left the victims with no place to ever come back to.
  • Having such a man in the White House emboldened white supremacists across the nation and particularly in the South, which [President Woodrow] Wilson had once called home.

Highly recommended.

03 January 2018

Swift Vengeance Served on John Smith of Laurens County, Georgia

The main reason I wish to share the following newspaper article is it contains the name of the subject's father.  Especially with African American research – even after emancipation – this information is not always easy to come by.  The intent is not to gratuitously disparage Mr. Smith.

But first, a suggestion on newspapers as a source as they pertain to accounts of lynchings – especially in the South.  Basically, be aware and verify when possible.  Be aware of the time and context.  White newspapers, generally speaking, were biased in favor of white people (oftentimes the alleged wronged party).  Fitzhugh Brundage, in Lynching in the New South, writes this:

For all of the information that newspaper accounts provide, their serious limitations also must be recognized.  Because the majority of extant newspapers from the period are white newspapers, they reflect the harsh racial attitudes of the day, and their accounts of lynchings, the alleged crimes that prompted lynchings, and the portrayals of mob victims must be treated with great caution…[W]hite descriptions of both the alleged offenses and the character of lynching victims cannot be accepted without question.

NAACP Headquarters, New York City. Via Library of Congress (loc.gov).On to the article.

Macon Weekly Telegraph (Georgia)
Friday, 29 July 1881 – pg. 2 [via GenealogyBank]

SWIFT VENGEANCE ON A BLACK SCOUNDREL IN LAURENS COUNTY. – We find the following in the Dublin Post:

On last Monday night, Mr. R. T. Dominy was absent from home on an all night's fishing excursion, having left his young wife and little children with no other protection than that of his wife's mother, Mrs. Colley.  About midnight, after the family had been asleep for some time, Mrs. Dominy felt some one touch her foot.  But she was so overcome by drowsiness that she could not rouse herself at first.  But presently she felt a hand upon her so plainly that she called her mother, whereupon she heard the party crawl under her bed.  She asked her mother to get up and look after one of her children, pretending that she did not know that an intruder was in the house.  When the mother appeared with the lamp she beckoned her to the bedside and whispered that some one was under the bed.  Mrs. Colley was incredulous at first, but finally looked, when there met her horror-struck gaze a buck negro with no garment on but a shirt, holding some of the baby's clothing over his face, it is supposed to escape detection.  She screamed to him to get out, which he did in hot haste and ran off a short distance, but then returned to get his pants which had been left at the outside of the window.  The sequel renders it impossible to get those who know most to talk much, but from all we can gather we are perfectly satisfied that a few cool men of good judgement set their wits to work to find out the guilty negro.  From the tracks and from what the ladies could tell and other testimony they satisfied themselves that John Smith, alias John Cellam, a bad negro about twenty years of age, living with his father, Henry Smith, on the Fisher place near Mr. Dominy's, was the one they wanted.  They did nothing hastily or rashly, but took two days to investigate.  On Thursday night about midnight they went to Henry's house, called him up and asked for John.  Henry told them he was sleeping in the shed room.  They thundered at the door but failed to rouse him, so they broke down the door and shot him to death before he waked.

From NY Public LibraryA simple search on Google will give you the statistics. The Tuskegee Institute kept track of lynchings in America from 1882 - 1968. There were 581 in Mississippi, 531 in Georgia, 493 in Texas, 391 in Louisiana, 347 in Alabama, and so on. Total from all states: 4,743. That's more than one lynching and victim a week.

I feel a little like I should try to explain why I would give the horrible acts – those committed by the criminal, as well as those committed on the criminal – voice on this blog. There are no (at least to my knowledge) statistics showing the accuracy of the lynchers. How many times was an innocent person hung, riddled with bullets, and mutilated in the name of "justice?" I mean, we probably agree there are innocent people sitting in jail right now – with supposed checks and balances in place. Imagine when there were none. Shouldn't those innocent people be remembered?

Now, make no mistake, sometimes the lynching party "punished" the right person. As in, sometimes the true perpetrator was indeed apprehended – and then disposed of, often in a barbaric fashion. Even if you take the literal "eye for an eye" death penalty approach, I would not be surprised if that would have been an applicable punishment in only an infinitesimal number of cases. People were lynched for stealing, people were lynched for "insubordination," people were lynched for literally being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And let us not be cowards and leave out the racism debacle that lingers to this day. So another reason for giving voice to these past atrocities is in the same vein of "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

As a family historian, I am saddened to think (1) these revolting deeds took place, and (2) while statistics are easy to find, the names and stories of the individual victims are much harder to locate. A list of lynching victims will unfortunately never be complete. I hope that in a small way, posts such as these will serve as a memorial to those who were victims of Judge Lynch and his frightful law.