01 December 2017

4 Members of the Padgett Family Go Down in a Hail of Bullets

A mother and father.  A son and a daughter.

DailyHerald1907-05-23Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi)
Thursday, 23 May 1907 -- pg. 4 [via GenealogyBank]

RACE RIOT CAUSES THE DEATH OF FIVE

Reidsville, Ga., Is Scene of a Bloody Tragedy.

WAS OUTCOME OF AN ASSAULT

Besides the Five Perons [sic] Killed, Six Others Were Wounded – Great Indignation Is Felt in the Neighborhood – Trouble Feared.

Reidsville, Ga., May 22. – Two negroes lynched and three other persons dead, and six others injured is the net result of a criminal assault made Tuesday night on Mrs. Laura Moore, a widow, about 6 miles from here, by a negro.

From the best information it was learned that about 15 citizens surrounded the house of Sim Padgett, a negro whom they suspected of harboring another negro, Mack Strickland, who had assaulted a Mrs. Laura Moore, a respectable widow lady living in the neighborhood and demanded of Padgett's wife to search the house.  Permission was given, but when the possed [sic] advanced to within 30 feet of the house, Padgett and the other negro men on the inside of the building opened fire on the posse, instantly killing John Hare and seriously wounding Barton Preston, also shooting James Daniels' eye out and wounding him in the shoulder and arm.  Dr. J. L. Kennedy, county commissioner, also received a wound.

The fire was returned by the members of the posse, killing Sim Padgett and one of his girls, about 10 years old, and wounding two other girls, about 6 and 13 years of age, also shooting one of Padgett's boys, aged 20, through the lungs, and one, aged 22, through the hip.

The news spread like wildfire, and by 10 o'clock there were 500 men on the scene with rifles, shotguns and pistols.

A searching party started in pursuit of the two negroes who escaped from the house after the shooting, and one of them was captured and taken before Mrs. Moore, but she failed to identify him as her assailant.

Padgett's wife and son, who were severely wounded, were taken to Reidsville jail.  On the way the officers were overtaken by about 75 men, and the prisoners were demanded.  There was no other alternative and the prisoners were taken by the mob.  The woman was told to run and as she did so, was riddled by bullets.  Her son was wounded so he could not run and was shot to pieces in the public road.

For the taking of the 1900 U.S. Federal census, Sim Padgett and family were residing in the Hog Wallow district of Tattnall County, Georgia (Reidsville being the county seat).  It appears Sim had moved his family from South Carolina just 5 – 7 years prior:

Padgett, Sim P. (head) b. Jul 1865, SC – m. 14 yrs – farmer
Padgett, Sula (wife) b. 1867, SC – m. 14 yrs
Padgett, Wilford (son) b. Jun 1887, SC
Padgett, Arthur (son) b. Apr 1889, SC
Padgett, Sim (son) b. Jul 1891, SC
Padgett, Sula/Suda (dau) b. Jul 1891, SC
Padgett, Dosia (dau) b. Sep 1893, SC
Padgett, Ben (son) b. Sep 1895, GA
Padgett, Mary A. (dau) b. May 1898, GA
Padgett, Dell (dau) b. Dec 1898, GA

Without further research, it's difficult to know for sure which of the children lost their lives that fateful day.  Some sources suggest the son and daughter killed in the mob violence were Wilford and Dosia Padgett.  Gene Nash, in the book All of God's Children, provides in a brief summary:  "He [Sim Padgett] was attacked and his entire family was killed except for one young man who barely escaped."

The recounting I would suggest to you for further reading is part of Dayna D. Daniely's 2014 dissertation, Jean Toomer's "Portrait in Georgia": The Lynching of African-American Females in Georgia from 1871-1946.  (The applicable text begins on page 74.) Here, it's reported that Ben and Mary were the child victims caught in the crossfire.  Furthermore, Arthur Padgett was eventually the one to be tried for the original crime of assault on the widow Laura Moore.  He was found not guilty.

What. A. Mess.

As an aside:  if you, like me, were unaware of Jean Toomer's poem, here it is:

Portrait in Georgia

Hair--braided chestnut,
   coiled like a lyncher’s rope,
Eyes--fagots,
Lips--old scars, or the first red blisters,
Breath--the last sweet scent of cane,
And her slim body, white as the ash
   of black flesh after flame.

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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