Ida Wells was exiled from her home in 1892 under penalty of death for
writing articles about lynching in her small newspaper.
1892 was the worst year
for lynchings in America. With
vigilantes still acting as judge and jury in
the Old West, and the continued racial
tensions in the South, 161 blacks and 69
whites were hanged during this one
On March 9, 1892 a cold-blooded
lynching took place in Memphis,
Tennessee. Three young colored men, in an altercation at their place of
business, fired on white men in self-defense. They were imprisoned for
three days, then taken out by a mob, shot and
lynched. Thomas Moss, William Stewart and
Calvin McDowell were energetic business men who had built up a flourishing
Their business had
prospered and that of a rival white grocer named Barrett had declined.
Barrett led the attack on their grocery which resulted in the wounding of
three white men. No effort whatever was made to punish the murderers of
these three men.
Wells, editor of Free Speech, wrote an article condemning the
a white mob destroyed her printing press. They declared that they intended
to lynch her but, fortunately, she was visiting Philadelphia at the time.
This only led Ida to write more on the topic and to begin the Anti-lynching
Campaign, a movement to end mob violence against African-Americans, that
would last through the 1940s.
However, her property was soon destroyed and
she was exiled from her home under the penalty of death for writing the
following editorial which which was printed in her paper.
Speech, in Memphis,
Tennessee, on May 21, 1892:
“Eight Negroes lynched
since last issue of the ‘Free Speech’ one at Little Rock,
Saturday morning where the citizens broke (?) into the penitentiary and
got their man; three near Anniston, Ala., one near New Orleans; and three
at Clarksville, Ga., the last three for killing a white man, and five on
the same old racket—the new alarm about raping white women. The same
hanging, then shooting bullets into the lifeless
bodies was carried out to the letter. Nobody in this section of the
country believes the old threadbare lie that Negro men rape white women.
If Southern white men are not careful, they will over-reach themselves and
public sentiment will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached
which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.”
The Memphis Daily Commercial Appeal called her a "Black scoundrel,"
White businessmen threatened to lynch the owners of her newspaper, and
creditors commandeered the newspaper's offices and sold the equipment.
1892 ended up being the worst year for
lynchings in America, with 69 whites
hanged, and 161 blacks put to death at
the hands of lynch mobs.
the turn of the century, the
had instituted official legal entities throughout the states and most of
vigilante groups had disappeared. From there on out, almost all
lynchings that occurred in the 20th
century were either racially or politically motivated.
international response, condemning the U.S. for
foreign citizens residing in the U.S. resulted in the State Department
having to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to foreign
governments. Between 1887 and 1903 a total of $480,000 was paid to
the governments of China, Italy, Great Britain and Mexico alone. During
this time, Americans traveling abroad routinely encountered critical
commentaries in foreign newspapers and magazines condemning the common
lynching in the United States.
could America, these foreign critics asked, champion human rights abroad
when it failed to prevent and punish the most brutal human rights
violations at home?
Between the years 1880 and 1905, not
one person was ever convicted of any crime associated with these killings.
Lynchings are, in effect, the most
extensive series of unsolved murders in American history.
In 1901, George Henry White, the last
former slave to serve in Congress, proposed a bill that would make anyone
involved in a
lynching a federal crime. He pointed out that
the time was primarily being used by white mobs in the south to terrorize
African Americans. He supported his proposal by showing statistics
that of the 109 people
lynched in 1899, 87
were African Americans. However, the bill was defeated.
On October 8, 1902 a town mob of 500 in Newbern,
Tennessee lynched two black men by the names of Garfield Burley and Curtis
Brown. Burley had confessed to killing a well-known young farmer
Tennessee named D. Fiatt over a horse trade. Later,
when Burley demanded that the trade be declared off, Fiatt refused and
Burley shot him down when Fiatt was on his way home.
When Burley was apprehended by a posse he implicated
Curtis Brown as an accomplice. When the mob appeared and demanded
possession of the prisoners, Criminal Court Judge Maiden pleaded to the
group to allow the law to deal with the case, stating that the two men
would be placed on trial the very next day. However, the mob would not
The prisoners were taken to a telephone pole, where they
were securely tied face to face and strung up.
In August 3, 1906, the mob numbered into
the thousands when five black men -- Nease and John Gillespie, Jack
Dillingham, Henry Lee and George Irwin, were lynched in Salisbury, North
Carolina. Accused of murdering members of a local family by the name
of Lyerly, the victims were tortured with knives before being hanged and
then riddled with bullets. The authorities in North Carolina, alarmed at
what was one of the largest multiple
lynchings of the 20th century, took
unusual steps to punish the leaders of the mob. After the Governor
ordered the National Guard to restore order, local officials arrested more
than two-dozen suspected leaders. One of the killers, George Hall, was
convicted and sentenced to 15 years at hard labor in the state
penitentiary. The New York Times predicted that, by taking these
measures, North Carolina's Governor Glenn was not improving his political
On January 9, 1907 an atypical lynching victim
was taken from the Floyd County Jail in Charles City, Iowa. James
Cullen, a wealthy, white, sixty-two year old contractor had murdered his
wife and fifteen year old stepson, Roy Eastman the day before. The
mob was orchestrated by young men, perhaps acquainted with the ill-fated
Eastman. When the group of several hundred men, rammed down the
doors of the jail with a rail iron, the sheriff and several deputies
offered only feeble resistance. Seizing Cullen, they hanged him from
the local Main Street Bridge. By 11:30 p.m. a crowd of at least 500
residents, including women and children, had gathered to view the swaying
body of James Cullen
from the bridge.
In 1908 eight black men were
lynched on June 24th
Texas. The trouble began when a local man named Dean was shot and six black men
were arrested in connection with the crime. Soon, a mob stormed the
jail, taking the six men and
hanged them all on the
same tree. Later the same evening another black man was found shot,
and the next morning two more African-American corpses were found
trees near the town.
August 1st of the same year, four men were hanged simultaneously in Logan
County, Kentucky. Joseph Riley, and Virgil, Robert, and Thomas Jones
were discontented sharecroppers in Russellville, Kentucky, with whom a man
named Rufus Browder was a friend and lodge brother. When Browder and
James Cuningham, the farmer for whom he worked, had an argument, Browder
turned away when Cunningham cursed him and struck him with a whip.
Cunningham then drew his pistol and shot Browder in the chest. Browder, in self-defense, returned the fire and killed Cunningham. After
having his wounds tended to, Browder was arrested and sent to Louisville
for his own protection.
Subsequently, the three Jones men and Riley were conducting a lodge
meeting in a private home when police entered and arrested them for
disturbing the peace. In fact, they were arrested for having expressed
approval of Browder's actions and discontentment with their employers. On August 1, 1908 one hundred men entered the jail and demanded the
prisoners. The jailer complied, and the four men were hanged from the same
tree. A note pinned to one of the men read, "Let this be a warning to you
niggers to let white people alone or you will go the same way."
vigilante mob killed a notorious killer named
Jim Miller, also known
as Killin’ Jim. Miller, who was sometimes known as “Deacon Jim” for
his Sunday preachings, killed more than 30 men in
as one of the first known “killers for hire.” When the law finally
caught up with him, he was sentenced to death, but Miller only laughed. The finest criminal lawyers in the
were on his payroll, and he soon bragged that he would be released after
his attorney filed their appeals. However, a crowd of
vigilantes did not wait for these
legal procedures to take place. They knew that
Miller, who had often
bragged of his many killings, might cheat justice through his highly
On the night of April 19, 1909, a lynch mob broke into the jail in Ada,
Miller and three others out to a livery stable. Though
the other men begged for their lives, Jim “The Killer”
Miller showed no
signs of fear. He only asked that his diamond ring be given to his
wife and that he be permitted to wear his black Stetson while he was being
vigilantes granted these wishes. Then
Miller, standing on a box, displayed his last act of bravado,
shouting “let ‘er rip!” He then voluntarily stepped off the box to
be jerked by the rope around his neck which was tied to a rafter in the
stable. He dangled as the other three were strung up. The
bodies were left
some hours in order to allow a local photographer to take enough photos of
lynchings. These photos sold for
many years in Ada,
to tourists. The only surviving photo shows Miller
with the others, his black hat on his tilted head.
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