07 October 2019

Negro Woman Mary Conley Lynched for Trying to Protect Her Son

According to MonroeWorkToday, the lynching of Mary Conley / Connelly 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. Her case is also recorded in Kerry Segrave's Lynchings of Women in the United States.

Atlanta Constitution (Georgia)
Thursday, 5 October 1916 - pg. 9

Negress Taken From Leary Guardhouse and Riddled With Bullets.

Arlington, Ga., October 4. -- (Special.) Mary Conley, the negro woman whose son, Sam Conley, killed E. M. Melvin, a prominent white planter, near here Monday, was taken from the guardhouse in Leary some time during the night and lynched. Her body, riddled with bullets, was found by the roadside by parties coming into Arlington during the early morning hours.

When Melvin reprimanded Sam Conley for the way the latter was neglecting his work the negro's mother showed resentment. It is claimed that Melvin then grappled with her, whereupon Sam Conley picked up an iron scale weight and struck the white man on the head. Melvin died a short time later.

Conley escaped, but his mother was captured and put in jail here.

The lynching was very quiet. The mob had no difficulty in breaking into the guardhouse, which was unguarded, the officers not anticipating trouble.

Conley Captured.
Albany, Ga., October 4. -- (Special.) -- Sam Conley was captured at Pretoria, in the western part of Dougherty county, last night by Joseph Tolbert, who turned the negro over to Sheriff Tarver. Conley entered Tolbert's store to buy food...
I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Melvin physically "reprimanded" Sam, eliciting the "resentment" from his mother. Then Mr. Melvin put his hands on Mary, spurring the tragic events that followed.

Sam Conley was convicted of voluntary manslaughter the following year.

The following article was, I think, meant to denounce the lynching. The author didn't miss an opportunity to denigrate African Americans, though.

Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)
Sunday, 8 October 1916 - pg. 6 [via GenealogyBank]
Oh, Georgia! -- And Must You Stand Sponsor for This Also?

...If ever the story of a lynching carried on the face of it utter condemnation of and disgust for the mob, this one does...

A white farmer was "reprimanding" his negro farm boy, when the boy's mother "interfered"; whereupon the farmer "grappled" with her, and the woman's son then struck the farmer with an iron weight, which blow resulted in the farmer's death.

And for this a mob took the boy's mother from jail, where she has been placed -- though on what charge is not quite clear -- and shot her to death...

If, however, we abandon those discreet and diplomatic terms, and assume -- merely for sake of the argument, as well as in deference to our own common sense and experience -- that the farmer was whipping the negro boy, that the mother flew to his rescue and that the son, in return, went to his mother's aid, we shall, in all probability, have a better idea of just what occurred. And, perforce, we shall not fail to be impressed with the thought that the mother -- black and ignorant and but a few generations removed from the savage, as she was merely betrayed the traits of the mother-animal of all species.

As for the offspring well, he is a murderer, and the law will deal with him. Provided, of course, the mob gives the law a chance.

But the thought that will not down is this: That the mother-animal, even among the brutes, has been famed in song and story for defense of her offspring...

But it is for this no more, no less, in its last analysis -- that "another Georgie mob" has put a black mother to death; a negro mother who followed a mother's natural instinct, and "interfered."

God help us! we seem to go from bad to worse. And small wonder; for where the mob spirit is permitted to prevail, without even so much as a general public protest, who can say where it will stop?

Oh, we know there are those who will continue to say such protests as this are calculated to "encourage" the negroes. And, therefore, they themselves decline to protest, and even go so far as to condemn those who do.

But we have no patience with this sort of talk, and no fear of it. For we know, and such as they know, that to condemn the mob is not to defend its victims -- it is merely to defend the state of law and civilization.

...We do not believe that the most hardened defender of lynching will defend this killing even though the victim of it be a negro mother, instead of a mother bear...

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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