24 February 2019

Body of Lynched Negro, Rufus Moncrief, Found Beside Road in 1917

Here's one where a newspaper seems to imply it's not really a lynching because it might have come at the hands of persons of his own race.

First report : Athens, Georgia, Tuesday Evening September 18, 1917
Body Found Tied to Trees and Riddled With Bullets


Note Tacked by Corpse May Lead to Identity of Perpetrators -- Investigation Now Under Way.

The body of Rufus Moncrief, a negro, was found early this morning tied to three small water oaks and riddled with bullets at the Simpton bridge, two miles from Whitehall. The negro is between 30 and 35 years old and the lynching occurred about 12 o'clock, according to those living nearby, who heard the shots.

Over his head there was tacked a piece of paper on which was written, "You have committed assault on one white girl but you will never do another one that way."

Cause a Mystery.
There is no clue as to who the lynching parties are and it is not definitely known as yet when or where the cause of the lynching originated.

Mr. N. C. Hammonds, of Whitehall, states he heard and saw two cars pass through Whitehall about 12 o'clock and shortly after at the bridge he heard the shots fired.

George Deen, an old negro, who lives on a hill about three hundred yards from the scene, stated he heard shots about midnight, all being fired practically at once, and that in a few minutes, two cars passed his house going in the direction of Watkinsville.

Several parties having seen the two cars, one of which was recognized as a Ford, it is believed that the parties who did the lynching were in these cars, but where they were from and who any of the occupants were could not be learned.

Was Not Hanged.
Arthur Barney, colored, was probably the first to see the body when passing along the road about 7 o'clock this morning. The body was only a few feet away and plainly visible from the highway. The negro was not tied up by the neck, but merely had his hands and feet tied, and then himself tied, with back to the trees.

The negro worked at Mr. R. T. Yarborough's place, located not far from the scene of [the] lynching. He had been working there for four years, and Mrs. Yarborough stated so far as they knew the negro was faithful and reliable -- that he had always been so with them.

Many Flocked to Scene.
As soon as the news of the lynching reached Athens this morning, many cars began visiting the scene and a steady stream of traffic was on the road. It is the first lynching in Oconee county in many years and the affair has created a sensation, especially in view of the several mysteries of the case. It was impossible to get the names of any connected with the case except that of the victim.

Tracks Well Covered.
It seemed the parties committing the act had everything carefully planned, as no clues are known this afternoon. However, the coroner's inquest may throw some light on the situation. Sheriff Clarence Maxey took charge of the note that was found, early this morning.

The negroes of the community cling around the scene as if it has a fascination for them. It is said many have been there since early this morning staring at the body as though they were hypnotized. They talk but little.
Second report : Columbia Record (South Carolina) - Thursday, 20 September 1917

(By Associated Press.)
Athens, Ga., Sept. 20. -- At Watkinsville the coroner's jury in the case of Rufus Moncrief, the negro whose body was found beside the road riddled with bullets, seems to have unearthed a murder, which crime it was attempted to hide behind Ku Klux methods.

The negro, it is practically established, was killed by others of his race after a big gambling meet.

The jury is still in session and some actual witnesses and participants are said to be known.
According to the 1900 Oconee County, Georgia Federal census, Rufus was born about October 1885. His father (Edd) was a carpenter, and his mother (Ida) had -- over the course of her 23-year marriage -- given birth to ten children. Only five were living.

An Oconee County marriage record suggests Rufus (colored) married Mat/Mot Barrett (colored) on 3 May 1908. The couple -- both noted as white -- was later found in Watkinsville for the 1910 census, though they are erroneously listed as father and daughter. No children were present.

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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