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Lynchings & Hangings - Page 5

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Ida Wells

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 violent year.






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 grocery business.


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.


When Ida Wells, editor of Free Speech, wrote an article condemning the lynchers, 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.


The Free Speech, in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 21, 1892:


“Eight Negroes lynched since last issue of the ‘Free Speech’ one at Little Rock, Ark., last 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 program of 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.


Vigilante Days Muray by Anton Refregier on San Francisco Library1892 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.


By the turn of the century, the Old West had instituted official legal entities throughout the states and most of the vigilante groups had disappeared. From there on out, almost all of the lynchings that occurred in the 20th century were either racially or politically motivated.


The international response, condemning the U.S. for lynching 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 practice of lynching in the United States.


How 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 lynching at 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 near Dyersburg, 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 listen. 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 prospects.


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 hanging from the bridge.


In 1908 eight black men were lynched on June 24th near Hemphill, 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 hanging from trees near the town.


On 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."


Notorious killer Jim MillerAnother 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 Texas and Oklahoma 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 West 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 paid lawyers.


On the night of April 19, 1909, a lynch mob broke into the jail in Ada, Oklahoma and dragged 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 hanged. The 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 hanging for some hours in order to allow a local photographer to take enough photos of the lynchings. These photos sold for many years in Ada, Oklahoma to tourists. The only surviving photo shows Miller hanging with the others, his black hat on his tilted head.





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