22 December 2017

He Probably was Dead Before They Set Him on Fire

In The End of American Lynching, Ashraf H. A. Rushdy writes the following:

The most manifest expression of that mob-mindedness – the mass spectacle lynching…was coming to an end by the early to mid-1930s.  There continued to be gruesome lynchings from the early to the late 1930s…Nonetheless, there was a difference from the era of spectacle lynchings, as the mobs were indeed smaller and the press coverage more condemnatory.  Public opinion was changing, and lynchings were no longer as effective a form of terrorism and spectacle as they had been prior to the Depression.

NAACP Headquarters, New York City. Via Library of Congress (loc.gov).One of those gruesome lynchings occurred in 1938 Crisp County, Georgia, where John Dukes was dragged and burned to death.  Maybe that "changing public opinion" was the reason local residents and officials wanted to act like it was hardly a lynching.

Macon Telegraph (Georgia)
Monday, 11 July 1938 -- pg. 1 [via GenealogyBank]

'All Quiet' as Arabi Inters Lynch Figures

…Simultaneously, Arabi's Negro population held last rites for John Dukes, elderly Negro who shot Marshal [Freeman O.] Epps fatally yesterday in resisting arrest for drunkenness, and suffered lynching at the hands of an enraged mob a little before sundown.

…Sheriff's deputies from Cordele left in charge here overnight after the slaying of the town's only law officer reported "everything quiet" and "business as usual."

…"Marshall Epps and the old Negro were good friends," one pointed out.  "The town lays the whole thing to liquor, and nothing else."

Dukes shot Epps when the latter was summoned by other Negroes on word he was "drunk and raising a row," in the Negro section of town.  Epps returned the fire before falling and wounded Dukes twice.

Lynching Minimized
"It wasn't hardly a lynching, anyway," another resident observed.  "Dukes was unconscious and dying when the boys came to get him, and he probably was dead before they set him on fire."

The article continued by adding Dukes "was a good man and well liked by Arabi's white people," and concluded by noting no arrests were made, and the sheriff said he believed the incident "closed as far as I am concerned."

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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