03 January 2018

Swift Vengeance Served on John Smith of Laurens County, Georgia

The main reason I wish to share the following newspaper article is it contains the name of the subject's father.  Especially with African American research – even after emancipation – this information is not always easy to come by.  The intent is not to gratuitously disparage Mr. Smith.

But first, a suggestion on newspapers as a source as they pertain to accounts of lynchings – especially in the South.  Basically, be aware and verify when possible.  Be aware of the time and context.  White newspapers, generally speaking, were biased in favor of white people (oftentimes the alleged wronged party).  Fitzhugh Brundage, in Lynching in the New South, writes this:

For all of the information that newspaper accounts provide, their serious limitations also must be recognized.  Because the majority of extant newspapers from the period are white newspapers, they reflect the harsh racial attitudes of the day, and their accounts of lynchings, the alleged crimes that prompted lynchings, and the portrayals of mob victims must be treated with great caution…[W]hite descriptions of both the alleged offenses and the character of lynching victims cannot be accepted without question.

NAACP Headquarters, New York City. Via Library of Congress (loc.gov).On to the article.

Macon Weekly Telegraph (Georgia)
Friday, 29 July 1881 – pg. 2 [via GenealogyBank]

SWIFT VENGEANCE ON A BLACK SCOUNDREL IN LAURENS COUNTY. – We find the following in the Dublin Post:

On last Monday night, Mr. R. T. Dominy was absent from home on an all night's fishing excursion, having left his young wife and little children with no other protection than that of his wife's mother, Mrs. Colley.  About midnight, after the family had been asleep for some time, Mrs. Dominy felt some one touch her foot.  But she was so overcome by drowsiness that she could not rouse herself at first.  But presently she felt a hand upon her so plainly that she called her mother, whereupon she heard the party crawl under her bed.  She asked her mother to get up and look after one of her children, pretending that she did not know that an intruder was in the house.  When the mother appeared with the lamp she beckoned her to the bedside and whispered that some one was under the bed.  Mrs. Colley was incredulous at first, but finally looked, when there met her horror-struck gaze a buck negro with no garment on but a shirt, holding some of the baby's clothing over his face, it is supposed to escape detection.  She screamed to him to get out, which he did in hot haste and ran off a short distance, but then returned to get his pants which had been left at the outside of the window.  The sequel renders it impossible to get those who know most to talk much, but from all we can gather we are perfectly satisfied that a few cool men of good judgement set their wits to work to find out the guilty negro.  From the tracks and from what the ladies could tell and other testimony they satisfied themselves that John Smith, alias John Cellam, a bad negro about twenty years of age, living with his father, Henry Smith, on the Fisher place near Mr. Dominy's, was the one they wanted.  They did nothing hastily or rashly, but took two days to investigate.  On Thursday night about midnight they went to Henry's house, called him up and asked for John.  Henry told them he was sleeping in the shed room.  They thundered at the door but failed to rouse him, so they broke down the door and shot him to death before he waked.

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.

02 January 2018

Only Negro Voter Killed: a Georgia Civil Rights Cold Case Project

MariettaJournal1946-07-28Maceo Snipes was an honorably discharged World War II veteran when he went to cast his vote in the 1946 Georgia Democratic primary for governor.  He was also a black man.

Earlier that year, federal courts struck down the usual "whites only" voting rule for primaries in Georgia.  Eugene Talmadge, one of the candidates for governor, denounced the decision "as a threat to segregation, [and] promised to restore the white primary and to keep blacks in their place in Jim Crow Georgia." [Source]

In spite of threats from the Ku Klux Klan, Maceo Snipes bravely became the first African American to cast a ballot in Taylor County, Georgia.  Days later, he was dead.  Erica Sterling wrote for The Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory University in August 2014:

The day after Snipes voted, four white men arrived in a pick-up truck outside of his grandfather’s farmhouse, where Snipes and his mother Lula were having dinner. The men, rumored to be members of the local Klan chapter, called for Snipes, who came outside to meet them. During their encounter outside the house, Edward Williamson, who sometimes went by the name of Edward Cooper, shot Snipes in the back.

There are varying stories as to how Mr. Snipes got to the hospital, but he got there.  Then he waited while the doctor worked on other patients.  (I wonder how many of them had gun-shot wounds.)

Approximately six hours lapsed from the time Williamson shot Snipes until the doctor performed surgery to remove the bullets, the family would later say. The story that still resonates from that day in the Snipes family carries the same theme of medical neglect found in other Georgia civil rights cold cases: Not long before he died, Snipes was talking actively with his family. The white doctor at one point said Snipes would need a transfusion, then said it would be impossible because there was no “black blood” available at the hospital…Without a transfusion, Snipes died from his injuries two days later, on July 20.

Because of the rumored threat to the lives of anyone daring to attend the funeral for Maceo Snipes, he was reportedly buried in the middle of the night in an unmarked grave in Butler, Taylor County.

NAACP Headquarters, New York City. Via Library of Congress (loc.gov).News Article from the Time

Marietta Daily Journal (Georgia)
Sunday, 28 July 1946 – pg. 5 [via GenealogyBank]

Only Negro Voter In Rupert Killed
ATLANTA, July 27. – (UP) – The Walton county lynching of four Negroes follows by one week the death of Macio Snipes, a Negro war veteran at Rupert, Ga.

Snipes was the only Negro to vote at Rupert in the Georgia primary that returned white supremacy candidate Eugene Talmadge to the Governor's chair.

A coroner's jury ruled that he was killed by one of four white men who called at his home.

The fact that he was the only Negro voter in the precinct, said the jury, was only a coincidence.  The jury said the men went to his house to collect a debt.

The killer/s also claimed self-defense; the coroner's jury called the shooting justified.

[Note: the "Walton county lynching" mentioned in the above article refers to the Moore's Ford lynching of George Dorsey, Mae Murray Dorsey, Roger Malcolm, and Dorothy Malcolm – the "last mass lynching in America."]

Links to more about the killing of Maceo Snipes:
· Answers Sought in 1946 Ga. Killing (Washington Post article dated 13 February 2007)
· Killing and Segregated Plaque Divide Town (New York Times article dated 18 March 2007)
· U.S. Department of Justice Notice to Close File (updated 29 September 2016)

The Tuskegee Institute, under its founder Booker T. Washington, recorded data on lynchings.  The guidelines used to decide if a killing was to be deemed a lynching were the following:  “There must be legal evidence that a person was killed. That person must have met death illegally. A group of three or more persons must have participated in the killing. The group must have acted under the pretext of service to justice, race or tradition.” [Source: 100 Years of Lynchings]

Some might not consider the murder of Maceo Snipes to be a lynching.  I do.