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Lynchings & Hangings - Page 7

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An elephant was hanged in Tennessee in 1916The lynching mania continued resulting in one of the most bizarre hangings in history - that of an elephant on September 13, 1916 in Erwin, Tennessee. According to circus posters of the day, Big Mary, at 5 tons, was said to be the biggest elephant in captivity and was one of the stars of Sparks World Famous Shows. Though the details of her crimes have gotten lost in history, Ripley's Believe It Or Not reported in 1938 that Mary was responsible for killing 3 people, while rumors said as many as eight. What is known for certain is that the elephant killed her trainer, Walter "Red" Eldridge, on September 12th.  Attempts to shoot her to death failed so it was decided to hang her from a railroad derrick car until she was dead. A crowd of between 2,500 to 5,000 witnessed the vigilante justice.

 

Though not as often hanged as black men, women were also the targets of vicious lynchings, such as that of Mary Turner in Valdosta, Georgia in May, 1918. Turner, whose husband had been killed at the hands of a mob, made the mistake of making “unwise” remarks after he was killed. Mr. Turner had not committed any type of offense, however another black man had killed a white farmer and in retaliation, many of the white citizens of Valdosta lynched eleven black men before they shot and killed the man they were after. Mr. Turner was one of those men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time during the mob’s frenzied vendetta.

 

After her husband’s murder, Mary, who was eight months pregnant, vowed to avenge those who killed her husband. For her remarks, a mob of several hundred white men and women determined they would “teach her a lesson.” Turner's ankles were tied together and she was hanged upside down from a tree, doused with gasoline and and burned. After her clothes burned off and while she was still alive, a man sliced open her abdomen with a hog splitting knife. Her unborn infant fell from her womb, gave two screams, then had its head crushed by mob members who stomped on it.

 

Mary Turner’s body was then riddled with bullets. Turner and her child were hastily buried about ten feet from the execution site. Their graves were marked by an empty whiskey bottle and a cigar. After the lynchings more than 500 African-Americans left the vicinity of Valdosta, leaving hundreds of acres of untilled land behind them.

Walter White, who later investigated the lynching for the NAACP, was told by one eye witness, “Mister, you ought to’ve heard that n***er wench howl.” The lynching was recounted in numerous articles and editorials and discussed in Congress. It became a rallying point to obtain federal anti-lynching legislation. A month later, on July 26, 1918 President Woodrow Wilson issued a national appeal to stop lynching, stating:

“There have been lynchings, and every one of them has been a blow at the heart of ordered law and human justice. No man who loves America, no man who really cares for her fame and honor and character, or who is truly loyal to her institutions, can justify mob action while the courts of justice are open and the Government of the United States and the nation are ready and able to do their duty.

“I therefore very earnestly and solemnly beg that the governors of all the States, the law officers of every community, and above all, the men and women of every community in the United States, all who revere America and wish to keep her name without stain or reproach, will cooperate, not passively merely, but actively and watchfully to make an end to this disgraceful evil.”

During World War I, lynching declined but the very year it ended in 1918, they started up again, as evidenced by this statement in the Charleston newspaper: “There is scarcely a day that passes that newspapers don't tell about a Negro soldier lynched in his uniform.” The next year, more than seventy black men were lynched, including ten black soldiers, still in uniform. The “Red Scare” of 1919 was overshadowed by the racial violence and lynching fever that was termed, by James Weldon Johnson, as "the Red Summer." During that summer there were twenty-six race riots in such cities as Chicago, Illinois; Elaine, Arkansas; Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas; and Omaha, Nebraska. More than one hundred black people were killed in these riots, and thousands were wounded and left homeless.

 

 

 

Racial tensions were at an extreme in Omaha, Nebraska; the influx of African Americans from the South and a perceived epidemic of crime created an atmosphere of mistrust and fear that led to the lynching of William Brown.

 

Brown had been accused of assaulting a white woman. When police arrested him on September 28, 1919 a mob quickly formed which ignored orders from authorities that they disperse. When Mayor Edward P. Smith appeared to plead for calm, he was kidnapped by the mob, hung to a trolley pole, and nearly killed before police were able to cut him down.

 

The rampaging mob set the courthouse prison on fire and seized Brown. He was hung from a lamppost, mutilated, and his body riddled with bullets, then burned. Four other people were killed and fifty wounded before troops were able to restore order.

 

Between 1919 and 1922, statistics show that another 239 African-Americans were lynched. What is unknown is the number of the man more killed by individual acts of violence and unrecorded lynchings. No one was ever punished for these crimes.

 

Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Riot, 1921On June 1, 1921, one of the worst race riots in history occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Black Wallstreet,” the name fittingly given to one of the most affluent black communities in America, was bombed from the air and burned to the ground by mobs of envious whites. In a period spanning fewer than 12 hours, the thriving black business district in north Tulsa lay smoldering, 3,000 black Americans were dead, and over 600 successful businesses were lost.

 

Behind the destruction was the Ku Klux Klan, working in consort with ranking city officials and many other sympathizers. It cost the black community everything, and not a single dime of restitution nor insurance claims were ever awarded the victims. Many of the dead were buried in mass graves around the city; some were thrown into the river, and others were thrown into a coal mine.

 

In 1922, another anti-lynching bill was drafted which passed in the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate and again, the tragedies continued to occur. In the 1930’s, the depression fueled the hunt for racial as well as political scapegoats.

Souvenir photos and postcards of lynching become a lost genre of American photography when the Postmaster General finally banned such postcards from going through the mail in the mid 1920s. Small town photographers, who had made large profits from the thousands of penny postcards, are disappointed to lose a large part of their business. Though lynching photography continued, they at least stopped going through the mail.

In 1925, Price, Utah saw the last lynching of a black man in the American West. Robert Marshall, an intenerant miner was hanged after two white boys said they had seen him near the scene where a white man was murdered. A thousand people watched the hanging but not one person would testify before a grand jury as to who carried out the lynching.

 

The drama of these horrible spectacles seemed to increase over time with the lynch leader often dressed in a garish costume, and bandying about numerous objects, such as lynch ropes, the American flag, guns, and gasoline, in or to create an atmosphere of even higher excitement. Further, the sadistic nature of the crowds also increased. Such was the case when James Irwin was lynched on January 31, 1930. Accused of the murder of a white girl in Ocilla, Georgia, Irwin was taken by a rampaging mob and as people cheered and children played during the festivities, his fingers and toes were cut off, his teeth pulled out by pliers and then he was castrated. He was then burned alive in front of hundreds of onlookers. Afterwards, onlookers fired rifles and handguns hundreds of time into the corpse and pieces of the body were taken as souvenirs of the event. No one was ever punished for this barbaric killing.

 

On the night of August 7, 1930, three young African Americans -- Thomas Shipp, age nineteen; Abram Smith, age eighteen; and sixteen-year-old James Cameron, faced the hideous wrath of a lynch mob in the Ku Klux Klan-dominated town of Marion, Indiana. Only Cameron survived. The black youths had been involved in the robbery-inspired murder of Claude Deeter, 23, a white factory worker from nearby Fairmount, Indiana, and were accused of sexually assaulting Deeter's white girlfriend, nineteen-year-old Marion resident Mary Ball. While the latter charge was never proven, such charges, however groundless, were easily assumed by racist whites and frequently served to incite lynch mobs to commit even greater atrocities.

 

Marion Indiana Lynching, 1930 headlinesBoth Shipp and Smith were snatched from a jail cell only a block and a half from the giant oak tree where their bodies were soon to hang lifeless, beaten and hanged to death by the furious mob. Cameron was badly beaten and nearly suffered an identical demise, but was saved at the last moment by the intervention of a "voice" from the crowd. "That boy didn't have anything to do with any killing or raping!" shouted the voice. Cameron's mysterious benefactor was never identified. Later James Cameron would go on to write a book entitled, A Time of Terror, from which the following account was taken.

 

"Thousands of Indianans carrying picks, bats, ax handles, crowbars, torches, and firearms attacked the Grant County Courthouse, determined to "get those goddamn N***ers." A barrage of rocks shattered the jailhouse windows, sending dozens of frantic inmates in search of cover. A sixteen-year-old boy, James Cameron, one of the three intended victims, paralyzed by fear and incomprehension, recognized familiar faces in the crowd — schoolmates, and customers whose lawns he had mowed and whose shoes he had polished — as they tried to break down the jailhouse door with sledgehammers. Many police officers milled outside with the crowd, joking. Inside, fifty guards with guns waited downstairs.

 

"The door was ripped from the wall, and a mob of fifty men beat Thomas Shipp senseless and dragged him into the street. The waiting crowd ‘came to life.’ It seemed to Cameron that ‘all of those ten to fifteen thousand people were trying to hit him all at once.’ The dead Shipp was dragged with a rope up to the window bars of the second victim, Abram Smith. For twenty minutes, citizens pushed and shoved for a closer look at the ‘dead n***er.’ By the time Abe Smith was hauled out he was equally mutilated. ‘Those who were not close enough to hit him threw rocks and bricks. Somebody rammed a crowbar through his chest several times in great satisfaction.’ Smith was dead by the time the mob dragged him ‘like a horse‘ to the courthouse square and hung him from a tree. The lynchers posed for photos under the limb that held the bodies of the two dead men.

 

"Then the mob headed back for James Cameron and ‘mauled him all the way to the courthouse square,’ shoving and kicking him to the tree, where the lynchers put a hanging rope around his neck. Cameron credited an unidentified woman's voice with silencing the mob and opening a path for his retreat to the county jail and, ultimately, for saving his life. Mr. Cameron has committed his life to retelling the horrors of his experience and ‘the Black Holocaust‘ in his capacity as director and founder of the museum with the same name in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Under magnification, one can see the girls in this photo clutching ragged swatches of dark cloth.


"After souvenir hunters divvied up the bloodied pants of Abram Smith, his naked lower body was clothed in a Klansman's robe — not unlike the loincloth in traditional depictions of Christ on the cross. Lawrence Beitler, a studio photographer, took this photo. For ten days and nights he printed thousands of copies, which sold for fifty cents apiece."

 

 

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