20 February 2017

Timeline of Events Leading to the Lynching of Tom Allen

Before he even had a trial.

According to MonroeWorkToday, the lynching of Thomas "Tom" Allen 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.

Here is a timeline of events, based on Georgia newspaper articles, from arrest to conclusion, of the lynching of Tom Allen in Walton County, Georgia.  Beginning with an overview of the alleged assault from the 14 April 1911 edition of the Macon Telegraph.


Unconscious Woman Is Found Half Buried in Mud of Pasture.


Beleef [sic] Is That He Has Already Been Arrested and Spirited Away.

MONROE, Ga., April 13. – Posses tonight are scouring Walton County for the negro who committed a criminal assault on Mrs. Leila McKnight at her home ten miles from Monroe late yesterday afternoon.  Two suspicious characters were arrested today, but it is believed the guilty negro has not been captured.

Mrs. McKnight had gone to a nearby pasture for a cow.  When she failed to return near nightfall her mother went in search of her.  Mrs. McKnight was found lying unconscious in mud, the earth showing she had been dragged a considerable distance.  She had been struck on the head from behind and there were indications that the woman had put up a desperate fight before being overcome.

Sheriff Stark was immediately notified and went to the scene with bloodhounds, but because of the wet condition of the ground the dogs failed to take the scent.  Tracks, however, led to the home of a negro named Tom Allen, and it is believed by many that he has been arrested and will be spirited away to Athens or Atlanta.  Officers in charge of the case, however, state that Allen still is at liberty.

Mrs. McKnight, the victim, is in a critical condition tonight, but had recovered sufficiently to make a statement.  She declared the negro, Allen, was the first to assault her, and that he was followed by another whom she did not know, but would be able to identify.

A mob of several hundred citizens surrounded the jail here tonight in the expectation that Allen would be brought here.  Early in the evening a committee from the mob was permitted to search the jail and found no trace of the prisoner.  Excitement is intense and if the negroes are captured a double lynching is almost certain.

As far as I can tell, no other individual was apprehended in the case.  After his arrest, Tom Allen was immediately transported about fifty miles to Atlanta in Fulton County, for his own protection:

Macon Telegraph
15 April 1911, pg. 6 [Viewable online in its entirety at GenealogyBank.]


ATLANTA, Ga., April 14. – Tom Allen, the Monroe, Ga., negro, accused of attacking Mrs. Leila Knight, near Monroe last night, was brought to Atlanta today by members of the sheriff's posse and lodged in the tower to prevent mob violence.  He will be held here until the time for his trial…

Tom Allen's trial was scheduled for May 26th.

Macon Telegraph
21 May 1911, pg. 9

MONROE, Ga., May 20. – The trial of Tom Allen, a negro charged with criminal assault, has been set for Friday of next week.  It is not believed there will be any interference with the course of justice.

The trial was postponed, however, because the victim was unwell.  Following from 27 May 1911 edition of Augusta Chronicle.  Notice the militia was involved in transporting the prisoner.


Monroe, Ga., May 26. – Because of the ill health of Mrs. Leila Knight, the trial of Tom Allen, the negro charged with criminal assault, which was scheduled for today was postponed until Mrs. Knight could appear.  Allen and his father, accompanied by the four companies of militia from Atlanta, returned this afternoon to Atlanta, where the negro will be held for safe-keeping.

An article published the day before in the Columbus Daily Enquirer states "an appeal to the governor was made" by "authorities at Monroe" for a military escort due to "numerous threats of violence…" The same article described the scope of military support provided.



Atlanta, Ga., May 25. – For the first time since the administration of Governor Allen D. Candler, four companies of the national guard of Georgia, have been ordered to escort a prisoner to trial, remain on guard at the court house, and bring the prisoner back to the county jail of Fulton.

…Including the fourth company from Athens, the total command…will number approximately 200 men…

After the postponement, trial was re-set for June 27th.

Just days before Tom Allen was supposed to have his case heard in Monroe, it became clear the judge was not going to request military support from the governor.  So the defendant's lawyer asked for a change of venue, claiming "the people in Walton county are arming themselves to kill the negro…"

Augusta Chronicle
24 June 1911, pg. 3 [Viewable online in its entirety at GenealogyBank.]


Special to The Chronicle.
Athens, Ga., June 23. – In answer to a petition received by Judge Brand and signed by the cross mark of Tom Allen, charged with assault on Miss Leila Knight, in Walton county, Judge Brand tonight issued the following order:

…[T]he judge is compelled to decline to take jurisdiction of this petition and act thereon…

In other words, request denied.

Via GenealogyBank

As the second trial date loomed, lawyers and court officials still feared bloodshed if Tom Allen was returned to Monroe without military escort.  Article after article reported such.  According to Georgia (1911) law, it's not up to the governor to make the call about whether to provide military support.  County officials must request it if they feel it's needed.  The 25 June 1911 edition of the Macon Telegraph quoted the Georgia code:

"Whenever any judge of the superior court, or a city court, county court, county sheriff, mayor of any incorporated city, town, or village, in this state, whose authority shall rank in the order named, shall have reasonable cause to apprehend the outbreak of any riot, rout, tumult, insurrection, mob, unlawful assembly, or combination to oppose the enforcement of the law by intimidation, force, or violence within the jurisdiction of which such officer is by law a conservator of the peace, which cannot be speedily suppressed or effectually prevented by the ordinary posse comitatus and peace officers, it shall forthwith become the duty of the judge, sheriff or mayor to report the facts and the circumstances to the governor and to request him to order out such portion of the militia of the state as many be necessary to preserve the peace; etc., etc., etc."

The judge in the case was notified of the situation, and according to the same article, he "declared that there exists no necessity for the presence of the military…"

Account of lynching from 28 June 1911 edition of Columbus Daily Enquirer (viewable in its entirety online at GenealogyBank):


Judge and Sheriff Failed to Call on Governor Brown for Troops.


Unless Troops Were Sent to Guard Tom Allen to Monroe – Taken Off Train at Social Circle – Jail Was Stormed Later.

Monroe, Ga., June 27. – Two negroes were lynched in Walton county today as the result of the fury of crowds of Walton citizens, who sought to avenge the criminal assaulting of a prominent white woman in this county some time ago.  Tom Allen, who was directly charged with having committed the assault, was hanged three miles out from Social Circle early this morning soon after the midnight train brought him from Atlanta on his way to Monroe for trial.

Twelve hours later a crowd stormed the Walton county jail at Monroe and secured a negro named Joe Watts, who was charged with having acted suspiciously about the home of Mr. Bud Haw, a prominent citizen, who lives in Blasingames district, this county.

…Tom Allen, colored, charged with having committed criminal assault in the eastern part of Walton county some time ago, and who had been for some time in Fulton county jail for safe keeping, was taken from the officers from Atlanta on the midnight train to Social Circle this morning, and carried about two miles north of the city and hanged to a telephone pole.  His body was riddled with bullets…Allen was to have been tried in Monroe today, but there was no military escorts.

…The bullets, it is said, whizzed with such velocity and force that the large plow line by which Allen was suspended, was cut in two, and the negro allowed to slide down the pole, and was then retied and re-filled with bullets.  There were some 40 people in the crowd, and those who observed them in passing along the roadway said they were the most orderly.

Allen Denies Guilt.
Allen it is said, denied his guilt to the very last and acted in absolute indifference to what was being done to him…

Matt Allen, father of Tom Allen, was not brought to Walton county, but remained in Atlanta.  It was anticipated by Sheriff Stark that, in the event Tom made it through safe he would then bring Matt…


Then there's the aftermath.  Who should get the blame for Tom Allen's murder?

Columbus Ledger
28 June 1911 [Viewable online in its entirety at GenealogyBank.]

Efforts Being Made to Place Responsibility for Lynching of Two Negroes

…Sheriff Stark places the entire responsibility for the lynching on the shoulders of Judge C. H. Brand, through the remarks he made to the citizens of the county when Allen was taken to Monroe the first time for trial under the escort of military force.  As reported by Atlanta newspapers, the time Judge Brand in effect, apologized for the presence of the soldiers.

…Sheriff Stark said it was against his judgement to try to take Allen back without a heavy guard, but that as Judge Brand was over him in authority, he did [not] feel called upon to go over his head in orderingg [sic] out troops.

The governor denied culpability based on the Georgia law explained above, though he did argue he conversed with the judge about the rumors of violence.  Ultimately, the decision to have a military presence was up to the judge.  Following from same article:

Stood Ready to Aid Civil Authorities.
The official information received by me…did not authorize me to order out the military and thus seemingly to place the civil authorities in subordination to the military…  While I was ready and stood willing to aid the civil authorities, the facts as presented to me…did not authorize me, as commander-in-chief of the military forces in this state, to order out the military and send them to Walton county in charge of the prisoner when no civil official of said county, nor the judge of the superior court of that circuit had requested me to do so, but on the contrary, had written me that they would no request such action on my part.

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.

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