Hangings - Page 7
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In its sporadic occurrences over the
lynching continued to be a vehicle of
terror and a last resort in opposition to the drive for political and
civil rights through the 1950s, 1960s, and beyond.
The NAACP hoped that the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt
in 1932 would finally bring an end to lynching A new bill was drafted in
1935 that would punish sheriffs who failed to protect their prisoners from
lynch mobs. However, Roosevelt would not speak out in favor of the bill,
arguing that white voters in the south would never forgive him and he
would lose the next election.
When the corpse of Brooke Hart, a San Jose youth, was
discovered in San Francisco Bay on November 26, 1933, a mob materialized
to punish the alleged kidnappers and murderers, Thomas H. Thurmond and
John “Jack” Holmes. The lynchers
rammed open the jail door, assaulted the guards, and dragged Holmes and
Thurmond to St. James Park, beating them into near unconsciousness.
Holmes's clothes were sheared from his body, and Thurmond's pants were
drawn down to his ankles. A gathering of some six thousand spectators
Governor James Rolph's doublespeak was typical of many
politicians: "While the law should have been permitted to take its course,
the people by their action have given notice to the entire world that in
kidnapping will not be tolerated."
Southern trees bear a
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is a fruit for the
crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
From Billie Holiday's 1938 song Strange
On December 6, 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt used one
of his first national radio addresses to call lynch law “collective
murder” and to condemn those “in high places or in low who condone lynch
law.” Alluding to the growing number of federal anti-lynching
legislation supporters, he stated that a new generation of Americans
“seeks action . . . and is not content with preaching against that vile
form of collective murder — lynch law — which has broken out in our midst
anew." Though Roosevelt spoke out against
lynching, he still would not support the
On October 26, 1934 Claude Neal was lynched in Marianna,
had a traumatic effect on the nation’s approval of
lynching. The young black man was lynched
after confessing to the murder of Lola Cannidy. The methods
used to extract the confession cast doubt on its validity. Ms. Cannidy, a
young white neighbor, was supposedly having an affair with Neal. To ensure
Claude’s safety he was kept in an Alabama jail. The lynch mob took him
from the authorities and subjected him to ten hours of excruciating
torture before he was put to death.
A member of the
party described the
lynching in great detail:
“After taking the n***er to the woods about four miles from Greenwood,
they cut off his penis. He was made to eat it. Then they cut off his
testicles and made him eat them and say he liked it. Then they sliced his
sides and stomach with knives and every now and then somebody would cut
off a finger or toe. Red hot irons were used on the n***er to burn him
from top to bottom.” From time to time during the torture a rope would be
tied around Neal’s neck and he was pulled up over a limb and held there
until he almost choked to death when he would be let down and the torture
begin all over again. After several hours of this unspeakable torture,
“they decided just to kill him.”
body was then tied to a rope at the rear of an automobile and dragged over
the highway to the Cannidy home. Here a mob estimated to number somewhere
between 3000 and 7000 from eleven southern states were excitedly waiting
his arrival. when the corpse was rolled into the dust, it was horribly
mutilated by the onlookers. It5 was then taken back to Marianna,
where it was hung to a tree on the northeast corner of the courthouse
square. Pictures were taken of the mutilated form and hundreds of
photographs were sold for fifty cents each. Neal’s fingers were sold as
souvenirs to the bloodthirsty crowd who arrived too late to witness the
What made this situation even more
deplorable is the fact that the Florida press had advance notice of the
lynching and reported it in their
newspapers. However, not one official at the local, state, or federal
level tried to prevent the lynching. Neal’s
lynching was followed by a race riot in
the town of Marianna in which white rioters attempted to drive all blacks
out of the city.
While the Neal lynching
may have been the last "spectacle" lynching
in the nation, many other
of a less publicized nature would follow. In fact, Marianna would be the
site of another lynching less than 10 years
July 19, 1935, a woman named Marion Jones in Fort Lauderdale, Florida made
a complaint against a black man who had appeared at her door.
In no time, Rubin Stacy was picked up by authorities and
while he was being escorted to the Dade County jail in Miami, Florida, he
was forcibly taken by a white mob. The mob returned the thirty-two year
old man to Fort Lauderdale and
hanged him outside Jones’ home. However, the investigation revealed that Stacy was nothing more than a
homeless tenant farmer who had gone to the Jones home, asking for food. When Marion Jones saw him, she became frightened and screamed. The
white mob had never even given Stacy the chance of discovering the facts
before he died at the end of a rope.
Even the appearance in the newspapers of these
lynchings failed to change Roosevelt's
mind on speaking out for another anti-lynching bill proposed after
Stacey's murder. Though the proposed bill received more support than
it had in the past, it was defeated. However, the national debate
taking place over the issue helped to bring attention to the crime of
lynching to the American public.
lynchings or legal hangings, the spectacle of death was most
often a public event until 1936. The last legal execution made
public occurred in the early morning of August 14, 1936 when a crowd of
20,000 gathered to watch the public hanging of
Rainey Bethea in Owensboro, Kentucky. Bethea, a 22-year-old black
man, had been convicted of the rape and murder
of a seventy-year-old white woman. Hundreds of reporters and
photographers, some from as far away as New York and Chicago, were sent to
Owensboro to cover what was supposed to the country's first
conducted by a woman.
The county sheriff was a woman named Florence Thompson, a widow and mother
of four, deliberately had the scaffold erected so that thousands
could witness the execution. The execution was widely publicized, as much
for the execution itself, as the fact that the executioner was to be the
first female to ever act as such.
So many people invaded Owensboro
for the spectacle that terrified local blacks fled the town, especially
threats from many of the drunken white revelers. As the crowd waited all
night to witness the execution at dawn, parties developed among the
anxious crowd, as snacks were hawked by the many children in the festive
The large crowd
included over 200 sheriffs and deputies from various parts of the U.S.,
and other than just six black people, the throbbing mass was made up of
completely whites. Except for those elbowing for a better
position, the crowd remained fairly well behaved.
Before Bethea’s arrival, the hangman tested the
knot and when it snapped open, a loud cheer went up from the onlookers. But, of Sheriff Florence Thompson, there was no sign.
Shortly after sunrise Bethea walked out of the jail,
accompanied by a Catholic priest, Father Lemmons, and two deputies.
When he arrived at the top of the gallows he was
given the chance to give his last words, but instead, he
stood silent as Father Lemmons raised his hand to hush the crowd.
Phil Hanna, who'd supervised 70
pulled a long black hood over Bethea's head and the noose placed around
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