Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama 1877 - 1920s
Table of Contents
Note About Difficulty of Materials ................................................ 5 Preface ............................................................................................... 7 Timeline ............................................................................................ 8 Introductory Essay ........................................................................ 11 Comment on Sources .................................................................... 23 John Moss and George Hart ......................................................... 29 Charles Humphries ....................................................................... 35 Samuel Harris ................................................................................. 39 Legal Executions Overview .......................................................... 43 Charles Sparks ................................................................................ 53 Other Examples ............................................................................. 59 Concluding Essay .......................................................................... 65 Monuments to Whose History? .................................................. 69 Discussion Questions .................................................................... 75 Resources for Further Information ............................................. 77 Glossary .......................................................................................... 79 End Notes ....................................................................................... 83
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Lee County Remembrance Project 2021
Text by Kelly Kennington, Bo Segrest, Olivia Nichols, Ashley Brown, and Maiben Beard Design by Laura Murray
Funding provided by the Auburn University Concessions Board, Auburn University Department of History, and the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University.
Special thanks to Melissa Blair, Blake Busbin, Jessica Fripp, Elijah Gaddis, Hilary Green, Lavarius Harris, Florence Holland, Daniel LaChance, Guy Emerson Mount, Steve Murray, Holly Pinheiro, Jason Ward, and Betty Weeden for their comments on drafts of the booklet. Thank you to the many researchers who assisted with the Lee County Remembrance Project including Robert Bubb, Carrie Holeski, Regina Strickland, Amy Strickland and Marcia Boosinger. Thank you to the students in Dr. Kennington’s American Legal History class for research assistance, Emily Gideon, Michael Livingston, Nick Phillips, Will Thomas, Lauren Williams, and Stephanie Womack.
Join Us www.leecountyremembrance.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note About Difficulty of Material
**WARNING, the content and images provided in this booklet are offensive and traumatic. Although the content and images in this booklet are difficult to discuss, it is necessary that we confront these ugly truths. We encourage all readers to continue this journey of reading the information despite its challenges. While reading this booklet, should you experience any discomfort, please consider meeting with a local helping professional to discuss your personal reactions to this information. Please review this list of resources that may be helpful in processing the discomfort and trauma presented in this booklet: Dial 911 in the event of a potential life-threatening situation.
• Brother Let’s Talk: brotherletstalk.com
• Angela Nelms Griffith Auburn Marriage and Family Therapy 703 E. Glenn Avenue, Suite C, Auburn, AL 36830 (334) 316-5386
• National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-800-950-6264 Monday through Friday, 10am-6pm EST. • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
• Auburn Psychological Wellness Center 311 N. College St., Auburn, AL 36830 (334) 219-0425 | email@example.com
• No More Martyrs: 205-440-2837 www.nomoremartyrs.org
• Dr. Claudia Calder-Marshall firstname.lastname@example.org
• Psychology Today: www.psychologytoday.com
• Kerry Baharanyi Soul-Affirming Counseling 318 N. College St., Suite G, Auburn, AL 36830 (334) 539-8051
• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-4357 • Therapy For Black Girls: therapyforblackgirls.com • Therapy for Black Men: TherapyForBlackMen.org
• Michelle Crumbly, LPC 621 Old Stage Road, Auburn, AL 36830 (334) 521- 5045 • Shelia Holmes, M.Ed., LPC, NCC Revision Counseling Center 923 Stage Road, Auburn, AL 36830 (334) 384-8158
Note About Difficulty of Material
“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin
Preface This booklet emerged from the ongoing research and education efforts of the Lee County Remembrance Project (LCRP), a group of local citizens affiliated with and inspired by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery. The purpose of the project is to encourage people to learn about and confront the painful history of racial terror in Lee County, Alabama, to identify the legacies that stem from this history, and to reconcile the racial violence that continues to burden our county and country. This booklet tells the stories of the victims of lynchings and legal executions in Lee County and connects them to the broader context of racial terror and violence from 1877-1927. It begins with an introduction to provide background and context for the Lee County stories and ends with discussion questions to reflect upon this history and identify next steps.
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Armed white men kidnapped John Moss from Canaan Church and hanged, shot, and burned his body.
John Johnson executed at the Lee County jail
George Hart transitioned to 11/01/1887 Lee County jail in Opelika for a November 14 trial date where he was projected to be cleared of charges
Samuel Harris was born
Alabama lynching law (Act 119) 12/28/1868 “To suppress murder, lynching, assaults and batteries” passed
Lee County, named after 12/05/1866 Confederate General Robert E. Lee, established out of parts of Macon, Tallapoosa, Chambers, and Russell counties
General Robert E. Lee surrendered, initiating the end of the American Civil War
RECONSTRUCTION 1865-1877 1900
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation
Alabama ratified the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution Alabama ratified the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution Alabama ratified the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution John Moss and George Hart accused of the murder of Ed Waldrup Jr. W.A. Trammell placed George Hart under a “citizen’s arrest” for murder and took him to the Montgomery jail A mob of armed white men broke into the Lee County jail to kidnap and lynch George Hart. Charles Humphries accused of attempted assault of a white woman
Accused of attempted robbery and assault of two white women, a mob of white men pulled Samuel Harris from work and shot him.
Beatrice Dawkins and Samuel Harris’ third child, Samuel Harris Jr., was born
Opelika Confederate Monument dedicated
The first execution conducted in 04/08/1927 Alabama by electrocution
Pomp Dickerson attempted death by suicide
Hill Granberry executed at the 02/06/1914 Lee County jail
The trial of State of Alabama v. Charles H. Sparks began
A group of armed white men 03/18/1900 surrounded Charles Humphries at his relative’s home and shot him more than 40 times. Murder of Jack Ingersoll, allegedly by Charles Sparks Charles Sparks found guilty and sentenced to be hanged The same mob who lynched Samuel Harris captured Harris’ father-in-law, Monroe Dawkins. He escaped near Chewacla Lime Works in Auburn. Charles Sparks executed at the Lee County jail Hubbard Perry executed at the Lee County jail Pomp Dickerson arrested and accused of the murder of Bessie Dickerson, his wife Pomp Dickerson executed at the Lee County jail
Map showing the distribution of the enslaved population of the southern states of the United States compiled from the Census of 1860 by the Department of the Interior on September 9th, 1861
Introduction Slavery and its Legacies On the eve of the Civil War, 435,080 people of African descent were enslaved in Alabama, making up around 45% of the total population of 964,201. Enslaved laborers built the economy of Alabama in the decades before the Civil War, creating enormous wealth and political power for their enslavers. Alabama’s planter class dominated the state’s government and politics by perpetuating a narrative of racial superiority to excuse the horrific treatment, brutality, and dehumanization of Black men, women, and children. Enslavers in Alabama railed against any supposed threat to the continued existence of slavery both because of its economic benefits and because it supported and promoted political power for white Alabamians. By 1860, a growing northern population and continued westward expansion threatened the dominant position of southerners who had controlled Congress and the presidency since the signing of the Constitution. When the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) ended slavery in Confederatecontrolled territories, Confederates in Alabama received the news with deep resentment and anger; they feared losing their power and control.1
Reconstruction After the Civil War and Emancipation, federal troops came to defeated Confederate states like Alabama to help rebuild and integrate freedpeople into society. This period of Reconstruction lasted from 1865-1877 and featured not only the political reunification of the country, but also the exercise of rights by newly freed people of African descent who established churches, schools, and businesses. In the first two years of Reconstruction (1865-1886), known as Presidential Reconstruction, freed persons received minimal protection or assistance. President Andrew Johnson’s goal of speeding up the process meant that he pardoned thousands of former Confederates and rolled back the few existing programs that had granted land to formerly Introduction
enslaved people. In the 1866 congressional elections, newly-elected Republicans shifted the course of Reconstruction efforts in the former Confederate states to demand more immediate social and political changes that they backed with the power of the federal government and
the presence of federal troops. The era
During the Civil War, Black refugees bravely escaped their enslavers and fled to Union lines by the thousands. These refugees presented a challenge to the Union army and its leaders, who struggled to provide food and shelter to refugee populations that included women and children when Black men joined the army. One of the Union’s solutions was to settle these freed people on the plantations of Unionoccupied portions of Confederate states. In particular, women lived and worked on these plantations while men joined the Union army. These women grew cotton and subsistence crops to support the Union and relieve the pressure on refugee camps.4 After the War’s end, Lincoln abruptly returned this land to the Confederates and ended similar programs that bought land for freed people because he hoped for a quick reunion with Confederate states.5 Even more well known was William Tecumseh Sherman’s Special Field Order 15, which promised forty acres of land for settling freedpeople and assistance with borrowing mules to work that land (the origins of the famous line “40 acres and a mule”). Sherman intended this experiment to be a temporary measure meant to relieve the pressure on Union supplies, but the 40,000 freedpeople who settled on 400,000 acres of Georgia coastline felt the painful sting of this broken promise when President Andrew Johnson returned the land to former enslavers in the fall of 1865 using Black soldiers in the eviction process.6
known as Congressional Reconstruction began late in 1866 after this victory, and it ended in Alabama in 1874, when federal troops withdrew from the state. In 1867, the Reconstruction Act gave Congress control over the process for readmitting Confederate States to the Union, including a requirement that these states ratify the new Fourteenth Amendment
(approved in 1868). Alabama revised its 1865 constitution in an 1868 convention that included Black men who helped to draft and then ratify the document. The ratification vote indicates the significance of Black voting rights to
the Reconstruction process, as 63,000 African American voters dwarfed the 6,700 white voters who approved of the new constitution.2 The Fourteenth Amendment included several significant provisions for protecting Black Americans. First, it granted citizenship rights to African Americans, which invalidated an 1857 Supreme Court decision (Dred Scott v. Sandford) that stated the opposite. The Fourteenth Amendment also contained the Due Process Clause, which guarantees that no state can “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”3 The Due Process clause built on the Fifth Amendment’s protections for what is referred to as procedural due process, meaning that all individuals are guaranteed certain legal procedures like the right to Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Application to Vote:
present evidence and be heard in court. Under this new,
Though the 15th Amendment
substantive due process of the Fourteenth Amendment,
granted the right to vote to Black
the Constitution and courts recognized that individuals
men and the 19th Amendment
had certain fundamental rights that could not be abridged
granted Black women this right,
or threatened. This new clause provided protections
white men and women created
for individuals in the face of threats to their lives and
freedoms. Finally, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal
to suppress Black citizens from
Protection Clause guaranteed all citizens the equal
protection of the law. Though intended as a powerful
including poll taxes, literacy tests,
weapon against racial discrimination, Supreme Court
and, most notably, violence and
decisions in the following years narrowed the scope of
lynching. Many residents today still
this clause in ways that failed to protect citizens from
remember these tactics. Opelika
resident Selena Daniel (age 87),
The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, was a
for example, remembers having
to recite a part of the constitution
for the application to vote, and
being called the “N-word” while
standing in line to vote (Selena
Daniel interview, 12/4/20).
by granting voting
Congressional transform society
rights to Black men. (Women’s voting rights would not be constitutionally protected until ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.) At the same time, Congress denied the vote to former Confederates, boosting the political power of formerly enslaved men at the expense of their former enslavers. Black men created a cultural shift when they registered to vote and participated in elections with turnout percentages as high as ninety percent in some places.7 Introduction
Jeremiah Haralson (1846-1916) served as a state senator and representative before his election to represent Alabama’s First District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1875-1877. He held a number of positions with the federal government after leaving office, including customshouse agent and clerk in the Department of the Interior. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. 13
Black Participants in the 1867-1869 Constitutional Conventions and State Legislatures
Black Officeholding During Reconstruction House of Representatives
State House of Representatives
All Confederate States
All Confederate States
Source: Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. xv.
*Tennessee was not required to have a constitutional convention Source: Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. xvi.
This impressive political mobilization allowed them to transform southern society through the founding of state-funded Black schools.8 Another achievement of this new Black political power was the advancement of Black representatives, elected into congressional and senate seats, supporting the basic human rights for all Americans. Alabama had fewer Black elected representatives to national office than other former Confederate states but had numerous state officeholders and sent three Black men, James T. Rapier, Benjamin S. Turner, and Jeremiah Haralson, to the U.S. Congress. The response to Congressional Reconstruction in Alabama was a continued struggle of white violence and intimidation in retaliation for gains made by Black Americans. Formerly enslaved families fought the reinstitution of plantation labor and transformed Alabama’s farm economy into one of smaller family farms, though former enslavers pressured many freedpeople into discriminatory tenant farming arrangements that continued long past the end of Reconstruction. The Freedmen’s Bureau was a federal agency that helped implement fairer contracts, but the late nineteenth-century transition to sharecropping brought nearly endless cycles of debt and poverty for most Black farming families (and a growing number of Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
white families). Some Black families did manage to buy their own land, and numerous mutual aid societies formed to help pool resources and fight off the poverty of tenant or sharecropping agreements.9 Freedpeople also participated in political organizing, improved literacy rates in counties with Black majorities, and served on juries and in law enforcement. Many former Confederates responded with overwhelming violence and terror tactics intended to intimidate the state’s Black population and anyone who supported
Political Party Realignment
them. For example, one Black Alabama
The two major political parties in the United States have experienced multiple realignments that shift their values, their platforms, and their voting coalitions. In 1860 the Democratic Party in the South was the pro-slavery party most inclined toward secession, and most elite white men supported it. Many non-southern Democrats were immigrants and concerned with Black competition for jobs and resources but not necessarily with slavery’s continuation. What united the two groups was their opposition to a large, active federal government. The Republican Party had, since its founding, believed in using the government as a force for good, especially on moral issues. In the 1850s, that had meant opposition to slavery. By the turn of the century that meant support for the Prohibition of alcohol, Sunday closing laws, and other laws that sought to shape peoples’ behavior.
resident reported in 1869 that his vote for a Republican candidate resulted in a visit from Klansmen who beat him, sexually assaulted a young girl visiting his home, and also injured a neighbor.10 Local factions of the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan (Klan), as well as other similar white
threatened the institutions that aimed to assist the formerly enslaved population, including the Union League and the Freedmen’s Bureau. Violence came to a head in the lead up to the 1868 elections when southern Democrats—who at that time represented the interests of former
might retake control of the federal government. The stock market crashed in 1873,
Over the first two decades of the twentieth century, the two parties traded positions on several issues. National Democrats slowly began to embrace more regulation of the workplace for worker health and safety, for example. By the 1920s, the Republicans were describing themselves as the party of business, the party that kept the government out of people’s way (except for Prohibition). In the South, however, the Democrats remained the party of white supremacy. This uncomfortable alliance in the Democratic Party – national leaders and non-southern followers who favored a large, active government in the same party as small government white supremacist southerners – lasted from the 1930s into the 1960s. Only once the Democratic Party became the party to make civil rights legislation a priority did white southerners begin to leave the party. And that departure took place slowly from the 1960s until the 1980s.
ushering in a national financial crisis that made it difficult for President Grant’s administration to continue paying for federal soldiers’ presence in Alabama. Once the Grant administration Introduction
withdrew federal troops from Alabama, the lack of oversight, combined with economic tensions within Alabama, led to a fracturing of the Republican Party in the state. This political fallout provided an opening for white Democrats to regain power. Former members of the Klan shed their secretive robes and hoods and joined new organizations called “White Leagues” that made no pretense of their purpose of terror and intimidation. The Democrats easily regained the governorship in 1874, and Congressional Reconstruction ended nationally in 1877.11
Rise of Racial Terror and Lynching Any accomplishments by Black Americans, such as a successful business establishment or election to a local office, could be met with swift, violent responses. By the 1870s, racial terror was the most common response to any perceived threats to white control in Alabama, and especially, to economic competition by Black southerners. Racial terror is the use of violence and other intimidation tactics by organized groups to maintain white supremacist control of society.12 One of the primary methods of racial terror in the post-Reconstruction South was lynching. Lynchings were violent murders committed by groups of people acting under a pretense of justice or racial policing, usually targeting Black men, women, and children.13 Lynchings also occurred in western American settlements in the decades prior to the Civil War, but were less frequent, less lethal, and more commonly involved white victims.14 In the post-Civil War years, lynchings radicalized into highly organized public spectacles used to reestablish white supremacy and suppress Black civil rights through racial terrorism. Alabama’s 1868 criminal code defined lynching as the murder or assassination “by any outlaw, person or persons in disguise, or mob, or for past or present party affiliation or political opinion.”15 During Reconstruction, Alabama had at least 361 documented lynching victims. Undoubtedly, there are more victims whose stories are lost to the historical record. Although often associated with large numbers of people and with hanging as the primary method of murder, lynchings did not require a certain number of white mob members or the use of any particular form of violence. For example, lynchings could include murders by gun violence or arson. The members of lynch mobs included community members from all walks of life, such as doctors, bankers, store owners, and law enforcement officers, as well as Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
people who participated in a lynching illustrates the
Lynching as a Southern Phenomenon?
wide acceptance of racial terror by white communities
Lynching was most common in
the American South, where the
women and children. The spectrum of ordinary white
Lynchings occurred under a number of pretenses,
legacies of slavery and the sting
with rape being the most publicized justification. Just
under 30 percent of lynching victims were accused
contributed to the paranoia of
of murder.16 Anti-lynching activists like Ida B. Wells
white supremacists desperate to
and Walter White were some of the first scholars to
maintain their powerful position
discover that accusations of rape accounted for only a
in society. Even so, lynchings did
minority of actual lynching cases, and they called out
occur outside of the American
the hypocrisy of the accusation. White’s conclusion that
South. The Equal Justice Initiative
25 percent of lynching victims were accused of sexual
(EJI), a legal advocacy organization
violence matches more recent studies, including EJI’s
based in Montgomery, Alabama,
study of 4,084 lynching victims. Even the suggestion
that sexual desire or sexual advances occurred across
lynchings throughout the country
racial lines could result in a lynching. This violence
occurred because of a racist underlying assumption that
fewer victims (341) outside of
white women were not capable of desiring or consenting
the southern states.19 Despite the
to sexual relationships with Black men. Much of this
smaller numbers, lynchings outside
violence stemmed from a racist belief perpetuated
of the South shared many common
from the time of Europeans’ first contact with people of
characteristics and goals with
African descent that Black men were hypersexual beings
southern lynching, including their
who desired white women, in particular, and from the
levels of violence and their goal of
accompanying racist assumption that white women
maintaining white supremacy.
were in need of protection from Black men.17 This is particularly striking given the reality of white men’s routinized sexual violence against Black women. The hypocrisy of actual white male rapists deploying mythical rhetoric about Black male rapists was not lost on activists like Ida B. Wells in the early twentieth century or Rosa Introduction
Parks in the 1940s and 1950s.18 Lynch mobs targeted the remainder of the victims for lesser alleged crimes, or for any perceived minor transgression of the hardened “color line” white supremacists sought to maintain. Something as simple as a whistle or a brief moment of contact with a woman could be used as an argument for the lynching of a Black man. These false pretenses usually masked underlying economic tensions and fear of Black competition for jobs, land, or other resources. In Lee County, two victims were lynched because of an alleged murder, one victim because of an accusation of attempted murder, and another victim because he allegedly entered the bedroom of a white teenage girl. Although lynch mobs professed to be dispensing justice for these alleged offenses, these mobs circumvented any form of actual justice by denying the accused the opportunity to receive a legal process or present a defense to the accusations. Lynch mobs sometimes enacted rituals designed to mimic the courtroom or other aspects of the formal legal system, including witness testimony, confessions by the accused, and jury pronouncements. Their claims made a mockery of these institutions. Invoking legitimate legal processes highlighted the horror of their performances and revealed their efforts to normalize racial terror as a part of Jim Crow era law. By routinely tormenting, maiming,
and murdering Black victims, lynch
“The active ingredient in a lynching is silence. Like
mobs violated the basic constitutional
all forms of theater, a lynching depends on what
guarantee against cruel and unusual
is left unsaid; it creates a mood, an atmosphere.
punishment. The bottom line was that
The silence that settles in after the euphoric act of
“Race, rather than the alleged offense,
violence, which all have witnessed, tells a minority
sealed lynching victims’ fates.”20
group that it has been forsaken. It is this element
Lynchings sometimes involved public
of a suggestive and creeping threat, in which the
spectacles, with large crowds gathered
state apparatus and a silent majority are complicit,
to witness and celebrate the violence. In
that has the power to demoralize a community as
these instances, the torture and murder
much as the physical acts of violence.”
of the victim became the entertainment
Aatish Taseer, Anatomy of a Lynching
of the community event, complete with
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
selling refreshments, making off with souvenirs, and taking photographs that later became circulating postcards. Communities gathered this way to witness these violent killings as a means of demonstrating community support for white supremacy that masqueraded as a form of justice. These white crowds believed they were there to witness the restoration of community order after that order had been violated by the victim of the lynching. The sheer indifference to Black humanity and the complete lack of accountability for these violent murders speaks to the centuries of silence surrounding Black suffering.
Responses to Lynching and Racial Terror Lynching entered the national conversation through the work of activists pushing for federal protections, though politicians from both political parties did little to address the wave of violence that swept the southern states in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although most lynchings occurred in the former Confederate states, white residents and politicians outside of the South allowed and encouraged this violence by their acceptance and inaction. Despite an 1868 Alabama statute criminalizing lynching, the state and local government offices did not enforce the associated penalties.21 When Congress debated federal anti-lynching legislations—the first bill was introduced in 1918—southern leaders managed to argue that these laws were an example of federal government overreach into local affairs. In addition, southern white leaders implicitly or even explicitly suggested that lynchings were a necessary response to the supposed epidemic of sexual violence against white women. Even President Theodore Roosevelt suggested that the continuation of lynching came as a result of rape.22
A national movement against lynching emerged in the early twentieth century, building
on the work of pioneering activists and investigators. Ida B. Wells-Barnett and others wrote frequent, gut-wrenching arguments against the cruelty of lynching and racial discrimination in newspapers and pamphlets. Wells-Barnett, in particular, placed much of the blame for lynching on white economic insecurities and white fears of Black economic competition.23 Local Black communities also organized to protect people from lynch mobs, hide alleged fugitives, and demand retribution from state and local governments. They faced the threat of violence and Introduction
terror to do so. Opposition to lynching was the catalyst for the 1910 founding of the National Association for the Advancement
(NAACP), one of the strongest legal and political advocacy groups of the twentieth century. Walter White, the In 1934, Howard University students stood with nooses around their necks during a joint protest with the NAACP at the National Crime conference where leaders had refused to discuss lynching as a national crime. Photos by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images.
investigated lynchings by using his light complexion to participate in undercover operations that duped
white lynch mob members.24 The group’s news publication, The Crisis, was where W.E.B. Du Bois published his influential pieces against all aspects of racial terror and discrimination. The NAACP helped to organize the numerous student-led protests demanding accountability of those involved in lynchings and bringing awareness to its grossly illegal act and violation of the 14th amendment. The involvement of young people in the campaign against lynching added a powerful chorus of voices to the
Federal Anti-Lynching Bill: The 1920s saw the rise of support for antilynching legislation in Congress, and the House of Representatives passed the Dyer Anti-lynching bill in 1922. The bill died in the Senate after southerners led a filibuster. The bill has returned to the floor for debate and votes in the years since this initial stalling. The Senate tabled similar legislation, now renamed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, in 2020. Lynching is still not a federal crime.
dangerous struggle against lynching. In the 1930s, support for anti-lynching campaigns spread into the southern states, with calls for an end to the practice even from people who continued to support white supremacy. Economic concerns motivated some white southerners to call for an end to lynching and its damage to southern states’ national reputations. Rates of lynching declined considerably in Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
the 1940s, due largely to increased opposition to the practice throughout the nation and to the decline in Black populations in the southern states following the Great Migration. Black southerners fled the system of Jim Crow discrimination and the terror of lynchings in the decades following World War I. The thousands of families who moved to the North, Midwest, and West in this era made up part of the movement known as the Great Migration. Although this migration was not solely due to racial terror, the combined push factors of lynching and Jim Crow, and the pull to northern cities with booming industrial economies, led to a considerable drop in the Black population of the southern states. This population decline, as well as the NAACP and other organizations’ campaigns against lynching and racial violence, helped make lynchings increasingly rare by the mid-twentieth century decades.
Legacies The legacies of lynching and other forms of racial violence and terror in the American South are everywhere in the United States today. America’s collective failure to acknowledge the deep and continuing wounds of this history only guarantees the continuation of racial inequality and divisions in southern communities. To reconcile the legacy of racial violence and terrorism, it is vital to recognize and account for these past wrongs in American Society. By reading this resource and participating in discussions about this painful legacy of Lee County’s history, you are taking that first important step on a longer journey toward achieving racial justice.
During the early twentieth century, the hangman’s noose became one of the most recognized hate symbols targeting African Americans in the United States. In the late 1980s, resident of Opelika and former member of Lee County Alliance, Oscar Penn (62), remembers nooses being found on Black laborers’ city trucks to intimidate and threaten the laborers after a 1987 protest. More recently, on November 20th, 2019, an electrical cord tied as a noose was found in a common area of a dormitory at Auburn University. These hate crimes are directly linked to racial terror lynchings and are examples of the legacy of racial terrorism today.
Clipping from the New York Times, New York City, New York, November 21, 1886
Published: November 21, 1886
Comment on Sources
“Those who commit the murders write the reports.” It is impossible to talk about journalism between 1877-1927 without talking about the courage and instrumental power of Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells-Barnett moved to Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 18 and began writing about racial injustices in 1877, after she was dismissed as a school teacher for criticism of racially segregated schools. When her friend, Thomas Moss, was lynched in Memphis, Tennessee in 1892, Wells-Barnett began confronting the atrocities of lynching and the inaccurate reporting and defamation of victims by white journalists. She traveled across the South gathering eye-witness testimonies and reports from family members of lynched victims, building investigative reports that she published in her co-owned newspaper, the Memphis Free Press and Headlight. After reporting that popular justifications for lynching - the need to protect white women - did not explain most lynchings Library of Congress and usually referenced consensual relationships, white mobs destroyed the Free Press and Headlight newspaper offices. Wells-Barnett continued her investigative journalism in Chicago, Illinois, where she used facts to challenge racist lies and boldly confront the reality of mob violence.25 Two of most well-known reports are Southern Horrors: Lynch Law and all its Phases (1892) and A Red Record (1895). In recognition of her “outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching,” Ida B. Wells-Barnett was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize on May 4, 2020.26
One of the challenges of understanding the history of lynching in America is the lack of documentation that has survived. The main written sources available to study lynchings are newspapers from the time period. But newspapers are not complete or consistent in their accounts. White reporters dominated the major newspapers of this era and excluded Black people from contributing to them. Threats of violence and intimidation, as well as a lack of financial resources, kept Black newspapers from investigating and reporting on most
We Will Never Know Their Stories
lynchings. The Lee County cases are
We will never be able to know the full stories of the people who died at the hands of lynch mobs or understand the richness of their individual lives. Because these brutal murders snuffed out the lives of their victims before any sort of legal process could occur, there will always be empty pages in the narratives of these crimes. This unrecoverable truth serves to further the lynch mobs’ goal of dehumanizing these individuals.
an example of this disparity. Only one known Black newspaper reported on one of the Lee County lynching victims’ stories out of the hundreds of existing Comments on Sources
newspaper articles on the Lee County cases published in white newspapers. Of the white newspaper reporters, many were sympathetic to the lynch mobs or supported the use of racial terror to uphold white supremacy. White newspaper editors tended to publish rushed stories that emphasized the violence of a crime and named the person who might be responsible. By naming an alleged perpetrator before any arrest or investigation, these newspaper contributors became complicit in lynchings that bypassed the legal system by encouraging the paper’s readers to consider their own forms of vigilante violence. This practice fed the fire of potential lynch mobs to seek “justice” with extralegal killings before the person could be tried in a court of law. Newspaper editors wanted to sell newspapers and gain readership in their communities. Because the era of lynching coincided with the rise of popular crime novels, newspapers searching for sales were quick to try to cash in on the public’s hunger for stories of crime and violence. In their rush to sensationalize crimes and name the suspected offenders, they influenced the public’s opinion on the matter, whether they intended to or not. The consequences of their words were often violent and immediate for the people they named as suspected criminals, leading to generational trauma and pain for Black families of people targeted for lynchings. Many of the lynching victims were taken from local jails or courthouses before receiving a trial or sentencing. Newspapers sometimes indicated that the mob only acted in cases where an alleged criminal was not likely to be convicted or when the trial process took too long. These weak explanations fall apart in a Lee County case like that of John Moss, who was pulled from Canaan Church in Waverly and lynched by a white mob before any legal process could take place. Studies of the numbers of legal executions in states like Alabama during this time period also belie this explanation.
Map developed by the 1931 Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching using data compiled by Professor Monroe Work in the Department of Records and Research at Tuskegee Institute. American Map Company, New York.
Newspapers also circulated their stories of alleged crimes and subsequent lynchings far Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
outside of the community where the events occurred as a means of further sensationalizing these stories and publicly exploiting the alleged criminals. Newspapers all over the country picked up stories of Alabama’s lynchings and the supposed offenses committed by these victims of mob violence. Most of these far-flung articles are nearly identical because they likely came from a single report sent out to as many places as possible. This era saw newspapers sharing stories with one another on a variety of topics, including sensationalized violence like lynchings.27 Few legal records exist of these crimes because public officials usually failed to hold members of the lynch mobs responsible for the violence they committed. Reports of lynchings would sometimes suggest or name community members who were likely to have participated, but even those individuals named would rarely be prosecuted or convicted for their offenses. Arrest records of Alabama convicts held in the state prison system are one way to view alleged criminal activity, but these sources do not include lynch mob participants. As a result of these challenges, studying lynching requires extreme caution in reading and interpreting much of the evidence. Newspaper reports, though often the main group of surviving records, should not be taken as accurate and trustworthy without considering the silencing of Black voices, as well as how the views of editors and reporters likely shaped their telling of the stories. Newspapers knew that sensationalized stories of violence and retribution led to increased revenue. In their pursuit of readership and subscription dollars, white reporters propagated and shaped the dominant narrative of lynching. The fight to document the reality of lynchings during this era was led by Black scholars, activists, and journalists. At great risk to their lives, Black men and women confronted the horrors of lynching and challenged the narrative fed by white newspapers. For example, Monroe Nathan Work joined the Tuskegee Institute in 1908 to head up the Department of Records and Research. Professor Work’s efforts included a focus on documenting lynchings by publishing an annual Tuskegee Lynching Report starting in 1912, as well as working closely with groups like the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching and the Atlanta-based Commission on Interracial Cooperation.28 On the national level, the NAACP hung a flag out of the window of their Fifth Avenue offices in New York City declaring “A Comments on Sources
Man was Lynched Yesterday” to remind the world of lynchings.29 These efforts, and many more, were instrumental in raising attention to the reality of racial terrorism and are essential in today’s modern historical narratives of lynching in America. Lynchings destroyed the lives of the victims but also inflicted lasting trauma on their surviving friends and family members. Families’ remembrances of loved ones lost to lynch mobs are an important part of the record of lynching as well. These traces are more difficult for professional historians and researchers to access because they have been passed down through oral traditions and stories, family Bibles and diaries,
Portrait of Monroe Nathan Work from The National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race.
and other evidence that does not always get preserved in modern archives and libraries. But their perspectives are essential to understanding the story of lynching in America.30 Examples of the specific family evidence for Lee County’s lynching victims are yet to be discovered, but that does not make the suffering of these victims’ families and communities any less horrific. When each of these four Lee County men died, newspapers disregarded their stories and legal officials and white communities silenced their families, who mourned their loss and collectively remembered their loved ones. The Lee County Remembrance Project is one piece of remembering, but the stories of the families and friends of George Hart, John Moss, Charles Humphries, and Samuel Harris should always be remembered and recognized even if they are not accessible in local libraries and archives.31
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
On April 28th, 2018, the Montgomery Advertiser issued a national apology printed on the front page titled, Our shame: The sins of our past laid bare for all to see. It read “The Advertiser was careless in how it covered mob violence and the terror foisted upon African-Americans from Reconstruction through the 1950s. We dehumanized human beings. Too often we characterized lynching victims as guilty before proven so and often assumed they committed the crime.... Part of our responsibility as the press is to explore who we are, how we live together and analyze what impacts us. We are supposed to hold people accountable for their wrongs, and not with a wink and a nod. We went along with the 19th- and early 20th-century lies that African-Americans were inferior. We propagated a worldview rooted in racism and the sickening myth of racial superiority.”
Comments on Sources
Location of Lynching: Caanan Church/Cemetery, Waverly (Jamesville)
Date: John Moss: November 3rd, 1886 George Hart: November 5th, 1887
Age: While exact ages are unknown, John was “no more than twenty years”, and George was between 20-22 (the Times, Opelika, November 3rd, 1886)
Brief: John and George were cousins and, in 1886, worked on the Waldrup family property. Both men were lynched over an accusation of murdering Edmond Waldrup Jr. (age 21). Clipping from the Times & News, Eufaula, Alabama, November 10, 1887, pg. 2.
John Moss & George Hart In 1886-1887 just outside of Waverly, Alabama, cousins John Moss (age 18-20) and George Hart (20-22) were lynched. Their case epitomizes a gross indifference to Black humanity and the use of lynchings to perpetuate fear and terror within the Black community. Their story spanned a period of more than a year and involved numerous interactions with a judicial system that failed to protect the two Black men or their community. On October 27, 1886, Edmond Waldrup Jr. (age 21), youngest son of Sarah Waldrup and Edmond Waldrup Sr., went out for a walk and did not return home. The next morning, a search party found Edmond’s body dead in one of the Waldrup family fields near the surrounding woods. The search party included two Black men, cousins John Moss and George Hart, both of whom
What’s in a Name? At first, newspapers reported John’s surname to be Moss. Shortly after, it changed to John Hart, the same last name as his cousin George. Newspapers were frequently indifferent to Black humanity, often not caring to report names or descriptive information accurately, if at all. Instead, newspaper reporters used demeaning, dehumanizing descriptions to further perpetuate racial stereotypes and fear of Black men. The opposite was true for white residents. The media portrayed white Edmond Waldrup Jr. as, “young Ed Waldrup,” seemingly painting the 21 year old as an innocent child. Despite George Hart being the same age, and John Moss even younger (18-20 years old), neither were ever described as young, nor was any information provided on their parents.
worked on the Waldrup property. Mr. Moss and Mr. Hart were quickly accused of his murder, though newspaper accounts differ in their rationale for the accusations. According to the final reports, “John Hart [Moss] was first to report that the body had been found, and where it was. Suspicion at once rested upon the negro…”32 Both Mr. Moss and Mr. Hart immediately fled the region for safety while armed white men began “scouring the county in search of the murderers.”33 Regional newspapers immediately picked up the story and declared Moss and Hart “guilty.” Newspapers described Mr. Moss and Mr. Hart as cousins, though it is unclear whether or not they were actually blood relatives. Regardless, the newspapers sought to keep the two names synonymous with this murder. Newspapers from the onset of the first reports named Mr. Hart John Moss & George Hart
as the murderer, and soon described Mr. Moss as his accomplice. Mr. Moss’ alleged role in the murder was described differently in contradictory reports, with one reporter even suggesting that Mr. Moss murdered Waldrup.34 Certain reports provided details about the murder that go far beyond any insinuation by other papers. For example, the Prattville Progress reported on November 26, 1886, that Mr. Moss and Mr. Hart “were simply the leaders of an organized gang whose purpose was to murder a whole neighborhood for money.”35 Exaggerations of broader threats, especially with this type of economic undertone, were a common justification for lynch mob violence. On November 3, 1886, the armed party tracked down John Moss in Wetumpka and took him back to Waverly, where a bailiff and guard held him in Canaan Church and, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, “intended to carry him to Opelika jail the next morning.”36 That evening between fifty and sixty white men broke into the church to lynch John Moss. Despite his pleas of innocence, the white mob tortured him, hanged him with a metal chain, and burned his body, just 200 yards from the church and half a mile from where the Moss Clipping from the Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, November 6, 1886.
and Hart family lived. In the following weeks, fear, violence, and anger
deepened in Waverly. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that in the wake of the lynching of John Moss and the community’s desire to capture George Hart, residents armed themselves and rumors festered of murder and robbery “on an extensive scale.” These rumors led to the arrest of ten Black community members, without evidence, on conspiracy to murder.37 Two residents, Anthony Williamson and Carrie Trammell, were held on bond for $1,000 and $300 (or more than $27,000 and $8200 in 2020 dollars), respectively.38 Mr. Barlow, who operated a farm with the labor of leased convicts in Tallapoosa County, paid their bonds and “put them to work on his farm.” Barlow used the payment of their bond as means to hold Mr. Williamson and Ms. Trammell in a state-sanctioned status of coerced labor that strongly resembled convict Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
leasing. The Lee County community lynched John Moss only eight days after Waldrup’s disappearance, and in less than a month had initiated legal prosecutions of other Black residents with no other justification. The journalist who reported the story for the Advertiser drew clear connections between these arrests and the fear over Mr. Moss and Mr. Hart. On the same day the article appeared, the pursuers captured George Hart. Several publications describe how W.A. Trammell of Lee County, a neighbor who used his familiarity with Mr. Hart to make a citizen’s arrest, tracked down Mr. Hart by following a local Black resident who, on November 21, led him directly to Hart. Trammell carried out a “citizen’s arrest,” and as an Opelika newspaper reported on November 24, 1886, “His identity and guilt seems unquestionable.”39 When word spread that Trammell Clipping from the Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, November 21, 1886, pg. 5.
had found Mr. Hart, local citizens quickly organized a lynch mob. Trammell telegraphed Governor Thomas Seay for instructions
and took Hart to the Montgomery jail due to the high threat of violence in Lee County. The November 30, 1886, edition of the Montgomery Advertiser reported that two brothers of Ed Waldrup visited Mr. Hart in the Montgomery jail. It reads, “They all recognized him and identified him as George Hart. They asked him why he committed the crime, and he denied that he had any hand in it.”40 Authorities held him in the Montgomery jail for nearly a year, where they coerced and threatened Hart into making a full confession. Two attempts to transfer Mr. Hart to the Lee County jail in Opelika were met with violence and such a high threat of lynching that, on both occasions, authorities moved him back to the Montgomery jail before nightfall. In early November 1887, a full year after local community members accused George Hart of murder, authorities transferred him to the Opelika jail for a third time in anticipation of his upcoming trial date on November 14, 1887. When word spread that he was in the Lee County jail, and that the newspaper predicted an acquittal, “certain men who knew the facts in the John Moss & George Hart
case felt indignant at the prospect of the prisoner’s escape from the death sentence. So they determined to take the law in their own hands and see that the punishment was meted to him swift and sure and terrible. And so it was.”41 On November 5th, 1887, a mob of more than sixty armed white men knocked on the jail door to awaken Sheriff Thomas L. Gordon. Many sheriffs either participated actively in these violent killings or passively allowed these murders to
Convict Lease System The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1865. It prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude but exempted those convicted of crimes. This exception allowed for similar violations, such as paying a person’s bond after an arrest and expecting the person to work to repay that money, to appear protected by law. Between 1875 and 1928, the state of Alabama profited from a form of prison labor known as the convict-lease system. Under this system, individuals and companies paid fees to state and county governments in exchange for the labor of prisoners. Following a conviction, the state transported a prisoner directly to a work site, such as a farm, lumberyard, or coal mine, and the prisoner remained there for the duration of their sentence. More than 95 percent of county prisoners and 90 percent of state prisoners were people of African descent. By the 1880s, nearly all state and county prisoners under the convict-lease system in Alabama worked in coal mines located around Birmingham. Alabama was the last state in the nation to abolish convict leasing in 1928.
happen by failing to protect the victims while in their custody. One report stated that Sheriff Gordon refused to hand the keys to the cell over to the men, who overpowered him. Another newspaper claimed that Gordon was sleeping when the mob knocked before rushing in to take Mr. Hart. Without any effective resistance, the mob entered the jailhouse and took George Hart.42 After kidnapping George Hart, the mob forced Mr. Hart to the same tree— still scarred from the metal chain used
a year before—where they had murdered John Moss. That evening, on November 5th, 1887, the white mob, likely with many of the same participants as the year before, hanged and shot George Hart. In his pockets were pictures of President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland (Cleveland was in his first term as President and had passed through Montgomery on a goodwill tour while George Hart was imprisoned there. It is not clear if Hart made some kind of appeal to Cleveland or not) and, “in his left coat pocket a small testament and a letter from his wife, bearing date of October 30, bearing the postmark of Notasulga.”43 The Times further reported a placard pinned to his back that read “The man that cuts this negro down will swing from the same limb. He was put there by one hundred men. Negroes who act right will certainly be treated right, but when they get out of their place they will swing to this tree.”44 The next morning, the murderers left a note on the steps of Canaan Church near the site of the lynchings. It read, “George Hart Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
will be found swinging to the same limb that you found John Moss swinging to. He was put there by a crowd of one hundred men.”45
Three days after George’s death, the Birmingham News reported,
“While our people condemn lynch law, they have no sympathy for George Hart.”46 This sentiment pervaded reports of the lynching. While nearly all newspapers claimed they did not support lynching on a grand scale, most attempted to justify the death of George Hart. In Dadeville, the Tallapoosa New Era of November 10, 1887, argued that while “Such acts as this are greatly to be deplored,” the community could not have been expected to wait around for justice longer than a year. The article suggests that in this case a lynching was to be expected.47 Despite “condemning lynching law,” the community and its justice system took no action against any member of either mob. The Weekly Advertiser reported on November 24, 1887, that a special grand
Clipping from the Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, November 6, 1886, pg. 4.
jury had been impaneled to investigate the men involved in the mob that lynched George Hart. Despite numerous names listed in newspaper articles, the Special Grand Jury “respectfully report that after due and diligent enquiry… we have been unable to elicit anything concerning or implicating any person or persons, and the perpetrators remain to us unknown. Therefore, believing that we have exhausted every means in our power to discover the guilty party or parties, we respectfully ask to be discharged.”48 The grand jury’s denial of justice to George Hart was typical for lynching victims and indicates the range of ways that white communities participated in perpetuating this violence.
The Media Through constant coverage, white Alabama newspapers used their media influence to sustain the calculated aggression that began at the discovery of Waldrup’s body. The constant naming of Hart and Moss as murderers before any sort of trial could take place encouraged the lynch mob to declare George Hart and John Moss guilty. These media outlets named the two men without clear or consistent information, often contradicting their accounts and leaving large gaps in the information. Newspapers all over the country picked up and reprinted stories written for the Montgomery Advertiser and other Alabama newspapers. The suspected guilt, the chase, and the lynching of John Moss and George Hart gained a certain level of national attention, with stories reprinted in the New York Times, and throughout Kansas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, North Dakota, and the nation’s capital, to name just a few examples. John Moss & George Hart
Location of Lynching: Phenix City, Alabama
Date: March 18th, 1900
Age: unknown (two articles reported his age as 22 years old, but many more reported Humphries to be “young.” We believe he was between the ages of 16-22.)
Brief: Charles Humphries was accused of attempted assault on a white woman on the property of his employer. He was shot by more than forty men on March 18, 1900.
Clipping from Birmingham News, Birmingham, Alabama, March 19, 1900, pg. 5.
Charles Humphries Charles Humphries died at the hands of a Lee County lynch mob on March 17, 1900. The details of his brief life, his alleged crime, and his violent murder are scarce. The numerous newspaper accounts relating his story contradict each other and are clearly intended to sensationalize the supposed crime. This story exemplifies both the sensationalism of racial terror and the silences of the historical record surrounding racial terrorism at the turn of the twentieth century. The reports allege that about ten miles from Columbus, Georgia, near Phenix City, Alabama, Mr. Humphries attempted to attack the teenage daughter of a farmer named McCoy (who was sometimes reported as Frank, Fee, or T.T. McCoy). The daughter’s name was not given. According to newspaper reports, Mr.
Clipping from Buffalo Review, Buffalo, New York, March 19, 1900.
Humphries worked on the McCoy farm and was allegedly in the teenage girl’s bedroom. Some accounts suggest that Mr. Humphries was in the bedroom and startled her when she entered; other newspapers suggest that she was sleeping when he broke into her bedroom. Reports claimed that family members came running to help the teenage girl after hearing her scream, and they observed a man leaving her bedroom who someone in the family identified as Charles Humphries. According to the reports, a “posse” of white men, likely including McCoy and his neighbors, searched through the night to find Mr. Humphries. When they located him at a friend’s home, the reports all state that Mr. Humphries confessed and the lynch mob shot Clipping from Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 19, 1900. Charles Humphries
him as many as forty times. The story of Mr. 35
Humphries’ murder appeared alongside news of similar lynchings, next to general news, or with routine daily advertisements. Mr. Humphries’ alleged crime and swift response mirrors the story of the Lee County teenager Zelus Mizell, whose trial lasted forty minutes and resulted in a twenty-year prison sentence after being accused of assaulting a white woman.
Fear of Interracial Sex Charles Humphries’ alleged crime of an attempted assault of a young farmer’s daughter speaks to a common theme in racial terrorism and lynching. Fear of interracial sex, and especially of Black men interacting with white women, was rampant long before the era of lynching. Even an alleged smile or a whistle at a white woman could instigate a white mob to murder a young Black man. One of the most well-publicized lynchings, the case of Emmett Till in 1955, was in response to the teenage Till’s brief interaction with a white woman. In reality, sexual violence was much more commonly committed against Black women by white men. Prior to the Civil War, there was no legal category of rape of a Black woman, providing no protection to Black women from abuse and rape by white men. Countless examples of white men’s abuse and rape of enslaved women dominate the sources from the era prior to the Civil War. In comparison, rape of a white woman was a capital crime in Alabama until well into the late 1950s, which was later than any northern state. The white obsession with Black men’s sexuality contributed to the mob’s response to Charles Humphries’ alleged interaction with McCoy’s daughter.
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
One lengthier piece in the Savannah Morning News added additional context for Mr. Humphries’ lynching, including the assertion that he was “22 years of age and had borne a good reputation.”49 Part of the reason for the lynching, according to this report, may have been because several barns in the area of the McCoy farm had been burned by unknown arsonists who they claimed were local Black residents. The insinuation in this brief additional paragraph is that the fear and heightened tensions surrounding a series of half a dozen barn burnings contributed to a heightened atmosphere of racial terror and violence. No one was ever held accountable for the murder of young Charles Humphries.
How old was Charles Humphries? Of all the articles published on Humphries’ murder, the Morning News out of Savannah, Georgia, is one of the articles that suggest a specific age for Charles Humphries. However, at least a dozen articles refer to Charles Humphries as “young.” Yet, numerous reports suggest a specific age for the McCoy daughter. Her age starts at 16 years of age and works down to 13 years of age. Not only does it reflect the lack of accuracy by newspaper reporters, but their efforts to perpetuate a narrative that makes Black men seem more dangerous, and white women more innocent and therefore more deserving of protection.
Clipping from the Eufaula Daily Times, Eufaula, Alabama, March 20, 1900, pg. 4.
Clipping from the Opelika Industrial News, Opelika, Alabama, March 23, 1900, pg. 1.
The Weekly Advertiser (Montgome
Location of Lynching: Salem, Alabama
Date: November 3, 1902
Age: 24 years old (born in 1878)
Married: to Beatrice Dawkins in 1898. Beatrice and Samuel had three children together. Annie P. Harris was born in 1899, and Mark Harris was born in 1900. Beatrice was four months pregnant when Samuel Harris was lynched. In February 1903, she named her baby boy, Samuel Harris Jr.
Brief: Samuel Harris was accused of an attempted robbery and attempted murder of Virginia and Catherine Meadows near Salem, Alabama, on November 3, 1902. He was shot by more than 125 armed white men.
Samuel Harris Samuel Harris was lynched in Lee County on November 3, 1902. Unlike the other lynching victims, Samuel Harris was old enough to appear in the census for Lee County in 1900, which listed him as a literate farmer who rented his family’s farm in Wacoochee, Alabama.50 In November 1902, Mr. Harris was twenty-four years old and employed on the Meadows plantation six miles outside of Salem, Alabama. He was married to Beatrice Harris (Dawkins), and the couple had two children, Annie P. Harris (three-years-old), and Mark Harris (twoyears-old). When a lynch mob shot Samuel Harris, Beatrice was around four months pregnant. She gave birth to a baby boy who she named Samuel Harris Jr. on February 20, 1903. On the morning of November 3, 1902, Virginia Meadows and Catharine “Cattie” Meadows, the wife and teenage daughter of farmer George Meadows, were assaulted in their home with an axe in what authorities deemed an attempted robbery. Though several reports detail that the drawers and cabinets of the house had been rifled through, nothing was reportedly stolen. According to Montgomery’s Weekly Advertiser, Mrs. Meadows’ skull was crushed and Miss Meadows’ skull was fractured, though other reports suggest she was hit
Numerous newspaper reports
suggest Virginia Meadows suffered lifeending injuries. Yet, Mrs. Meadows lived until February 14th, 1925 – outliving her entire family, including her children.
only in the arm.51 Samuel Harris was picking cotton in the Meadows’ fields when he allegedly left to commit the crime. According to newspaper reports, Mr. Harris was presumed guilty because of the “smut” on his hands and face, which, depending on the newspaper, appeared to match the fingerprints on the back of Meadows’ chimney, or showed evidence of him disguising his identity before breaking into the Meadows home.52 That afternoon, a mob of more than 125 white men, including the Chief of Police, seized Samuel Harris from work and dragged him in front of Cattie Meadows. According to the Weekly Advertiser, the “vast throng of men” silently arranged themselves on all sides of Mr. Harris while he was brought to the door and confirmed Samuel Harris
guilty by Meadows.53 Mr. Harris denied all guilt “until the first shot was fired” and was then shot, repeatedly.54 Reports of Mr. Harris’s murder gloat about the “speedy vengeance” served on him after the mob “hurled him into eternity.”55 Without any evidence, local authorities placed Beatrice Dawkins, Samuel Harris’s wife, under arrest and “charged with complicity” in the crime.56 Soon after, Monroe Dawkins, Beatrice’s father, was also implicated in the attacks on the two Meadows women. The mob captured Mr. Dawkins, who protested his innocence, and who the Montgomery Weekly Advertiser reported had “a fine reputation in the community.” According to this report in the Weekly Advertiser, Dawkins pleaded with the mob to “go with him to his white friends who would vouch for his character and prove his innocence.” Dawkins was last reported seen with the mob near the Chewacla Lime Works and after that “no trace of him has been found.”57 Later evidence from census records indicated that Mr. Dawkins escaped this attempted lynching. Clipping from Pine Belt News, Brewton, Alabama, November 6, 1902, pg. 3.
Shortly after the murder of Samuel Harris, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that Governor Jelks
ordered Sheriff Hodge and the Prosecutor C.A.L. Samford to look into the matter thoroughly. The same report indicated that “The Lee County officials have been impressed with the Governor’s determination to punish the guilty parties if they can be found.”58 Almost a month later, a separate investigation sought to catch the members of the mob who the Governor believed had lynched Monroe Dawkins. Although the sheriff did not immediately respond to the Governor’s request for an investigation, the Prosecutor, C.A.L. Samford, assured the Governor that he would investigate. This report described Dawkins as “a good negro, peaceable, law-abiding and of good deportment.”59 Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Remains of old lime kilns, Chewacla Limeworks, Lee County, AL. Historic American Buildings Survey, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Remains of convict quarters, Chewacla Limeworks, Lee County, AL. Historic American Buildings Survey, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The Governor’s efforts to find and punish the members of these lynch mobs relied on the involvement of local officials, including the prosecutor and the sheriff. The need to involve the sheriff in finding the lynch mob members is perhaps ironic, given the fact that it was often the sheriff ’s lack of action to protect alleged criminals that resulted in their lynchings. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the Governor regarded lynching as a flagrant violation of law and order, and if possible, sought to punish the guilty parties.60 The newspaper further reported: “The Governor said yesterday that while the Constitution required that he see the laws were properly executed, he was powerless unless the solicitor and the sheriff did their whole duty. Governor Jelks said: “If the new Constitution had given the Governor the power to relieve sheriffs from the discharge of their duties and appoint their successors, lynching would be broken up without delay. In almost every case, he said, sheriffs can prevent lynchings if they try to do so.” 61 If Governor Jelks knew that the Sheriff ’s lack of actions to protect Harris and Dawkins resulted in their attacks, one has to wonder how serious the Governor was about finding and punishing the people responsible. Despite newspaper reports of this effort, no records of any charges, testimonies, or accusations against the people who participated in the murder of Samuel Harris or the attempted murder of Monroe Dawkins have been located.
The Montgomery Times (Montgomery, Alabama) · 11
Clipping from the Montgomery Times, Montgomery, Alabama, July 11, 1912, pg. 6.
Legal Executions in the Era of Lynching
History of Legal Execution Statutes In the era of slavery, most crimes involving enslaved individuals did not result in capital punishment. Enslavers handled most crimes committed by enslaved persons internally on the farm, homestead, or plantation, and the punishment was usually physical torture such as whipping. This system is sometimes referred to as “plantation justice.” When crimes did rise to the level of formal prosecution, enslaved defendants rarely faced execution. Most punishments involved whipping or sale outside of the jurisdiction (a painful punishment for those separated from family). In cases where the state executed an enslaved man or woman, the state compensated the enslaver with a payment to mitigate their financial losses.62 After the Civil War and Reconstruction, capital punishment statutes expanded in Alabama. The number of capital crimes grew to include crimes involving new technologies like railroads, such as deliberately tampering with tracks or train robberies. Treason, first degree murder, arson, robbery, and rape were punishable by death in Alabama from its inception. Rape remained a capital crime in Alabama until the mid-twentieth century. Even crimes such as setting off dynamite and kidnapping for ransom could be punished with death in Alabama’s 1923 code. The 1923 Code of Alabama set the punishment for lynching someone as death or imprisonment for five years, and the same code explained that abetting a lynching could carry up to twenty-one years in prison. Starting in 1885, a sheriff or other law officer who allowed for a victim to be taken and lynched faced a fine of between $500-$2,000 and up to two years of hard labor, though the state rarely, if ever, enforced this penalty.63
Legal executions took place in public throughout much of the nineteenth century, and
that practice continued far longer in the southern states than in their northern counterparts. The first Alabama law specifying that executions should occur “closed from public view” was Legal Executions in the Era of Lynching
in 1886, a date that coincided with the era of racial terror lynchings. Starting as early as 1843, the law stated that executions should take place in an enclosed yard, but the statutes included the loophole that if the prison yard was not suitable, the officer could select another location. This loophole suggests that executions continued in public after 1843.64 Sometimes relatives of people allegedly harmed by the convicted person were actively allowed to participate in their hanging. Public executions drew large crowds and featured souvenirs (such as items of the deceased’s clothing) and photographs in a similar style to spectacle lynchings. Public fascination with convicted criminals could be witnessed through the speeches, songs, and prayers the state allowed these men and women to communicate with the crowd before their deaths. The largely white crowds at public executions saw themselves as morally superior witnesses to the state’s justified punishment of Black criminality.65
Sanborn-Perris Insurance Map of downtown Opelika from May of 1898. Lee County conducteed public hangings in the courtyard of the Lee County Jail House (circled).
It is difficult to be certain when public executions ended in Alabama because some local communities continued to execute people publicly after laws changed to centralize the practice. Even when executions became private, local communities would crowd around the venue, peek through open slats in poorly-constructed fences, or perch on balconies and rooftops to witness whatever part of the execution they could manage to see. In other words, the move to private Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
executions was not immediate or fully effective in dissuading the public from participating in executions.66 When the state’s preferred method of execution switched from hanging to the electric chair, the possibility of execution as public spectacle finally ended. The electric chair necessitated an indoor venue and a specially-trained executioner. Alabama and most other states also moved all executions to a single location, which removed the execution from the local communities who demanded vengeance through these executions.
Due Process Under the authority of both the Fifth and especially the Fourteenth Amendments, all criminal defendants are guaranteed due process of law. Due process includes specific legal procedures like the right to present a defense in court, but it also establishes protections for the basic rights of criminal defendants. Despite these protections, Black defendants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century South entered a legal system that was stacked against them. Each stage of the capital criminal process involved the same cast of characters who would form a potential mob to lynch the suspected perpetrator. Because Black residents were
Thomas Nast / Harper’s Weekly, Sept. 5, 1868
excluded from the jury pools of Alabama, the people who were likely to serve on the grand and petit juries and hear the facts of the case were part of the white community whose members demanded swift punishment for the offenders. It was not unusual for the lynch mob members to influence the proceedings of the local legal system. Members of a lynch mob had already decided the accused was guilty, and they were not hesitant to demand swift convictions and executions of criminal defendants. When community members wanted to kill a person accused of a crime, the sheriff, judge, and jury were often more likely to expedite the existing legal processes and arrive quickly at the violent outcome demanded by the mob. The state perhaps viewed these executions as deterring lynch Legal Executions in the Era of Lynching
mobs’ crimes, rather than deterring future individuals from committing the same crimes as the accused.67 The fact that many lynching victims were taken from a jail or a courthouse made lynch mob members participants in the legal process and the threats of vigilante violence real to the officers.68 Although Black Americans accused and tried for capital crimes often faced swift, biased legal processes, lynch mobs tried to justify their violence through complaints about the slow process of trial and execution. Frustrated by the legal system, lynch mob members believed it was their right and their duty to make up for these deficiencies and restore order to the community through their own type of legal process. Sometimes the lynch mob complained that a legal execution by hanging was too lenient for the person’s crime, and they demanded a more extended torture and killing. By taking the law into their own hands, lynch mobs provided a mechanism by which white supremacy assumed and maintained state power.
Charles Green Miller In the early morning of June 29, 1932, Lee County Sheriff William Samuel (“Buck”) Jones and a local shopkeeper deputized by the sheriff, B. Roberts, visited Charles Green Miller, a Black resident of Opelika. They accused Mr. Miller of shooting at his brother-in-law, Taylor Mathews, causing injuries to Mr. and Mrs. Matthews’ hands. When Sheriff Jones attempted to enter Mr. Miller’s front door, Mr. Miller shot and killed Sheriff Jones. Sheriff Jones’ close granddaughter, Margaret Melson-Linch (age 12 in 1932) recalled that Sheriff Jones had not been expecting any trouble and that Mr. Miller was quickly remorseful saying, “Oh, Mr. Buck. I didn’t know it was you.”69 Mr. Miller immediately fled the house with his shotgun. The Opelika Daily News reported that “posses of officers and citizens were organized in record time”70 to find Mr. Miller. Two hours after Sheriff Jones’ death, a mob of officers and citizens found Mr. Miller in a corn field. The mob repeatedly shot Mr. Miller and took his body to the city where “crowds gathered around the body on the courthouse lawn.” This case exemplifies the ways that white community members worked with officers and operatives of the judicial system to deny due process rights through racial terror lynchings. Thanks to the research by Auburn High School students and Research to Preserve African Clipping of a headline from the Anniston Star, Anniston, American Stories and Traditions (rPAAST), led by Dr. Alabama on Wednesday, June 29, 1932, p. 1. Robert Bubb, the Equal Justice Initiative is currently reviewing this case (2021) to consider adding it to the documented racial terror lynchings in Lee County.
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Due Process Failure in Lee County: One local example of the ways that the southern legal system frequently
Process protection is the trial of Zelus Mizell. On April 24, 1901, the state of Alabama sentenced Mr. Mizell, a 16-year-old Black teenager from Opelika, to twenty years in prison for assault to rape (what today might be considered attempted rape). His trial and sentencing lasted a total of 40 minutes, and no evidence was reported in any of the newspaper reports. Mr. Mizell was released early on December 24, 1912, when he was 27 years old.
Lynchings versus Legal Executions Lynching participants believed they were enacting a particular form of justice. Members of lynch mobs felt personally offended by the accused’s alleged crimes because their crimes were not just illegal, but also threatening the unwritten racial code of order. As such, lynch mobs viewed retaliation and violence as their necessary duty to restore the community. Often lynch mob members believed that an individual incident or crime was evidence of a wider threat of similar incidents or part of a pattern of behavior.71 For example, at the time of Charles Humphries’ lynching, Lee County experienced a number of suspected arsons that fed the mob’s vengeance over any disturbance of order. Newspapers also reported that John Moss and George Hart had a number of accomplices who “organized for robbery” and planned to murder “on an extensive scale.”72 These exaggerations fed the frenzy of potential white lynch mobs. In the era of lynchings and today, many people
believed that legal executions took the place of lynchings. In other words, when the number of lynchings declined, the number of legal executions rose because the same or similar offenders faced legal prosecution rather than a lynch mob. Today terms like “legal lynching” refer to the disproportionate use of capital punishment for people of African descent. The similarities between the two institutions are striking. Both practices involved ideas about justice and law and sometimes included similar rituals. The purpose of both practices combined elements of deterrence and retribution, and white communities used both as tools for subjugating Black communities.73 Both practices could draw large, spectacle crowds, including people who traveled long distances to see these killings. Despite the similarities between the two Legal Executions in the Era of Lynching
practices, numerous social science studies have concluded that no direct or causal correlation exists between them.74 Places with high rates of legal executions also had high rates of capital punishment. The end of one of these two practices (lynching) did not translate into an increase in the other method. Instead, the two practices worked together as complementary tools of racial terror and the social, familial, and political decimation of Black communities. Although social scientists have not found a direct causal link between lynchings and the death penalty, the similarities in purpose and meaning were obvious to Black communities in the era of racial terror lynching and today. One historian recently described the two as having a “symbiotic” relationship, feeding off one another and developing their rituals and meaning in the same time period (Reconstruction to World War II). Lynchings began to decline because legal executions had absorbed the racist undertones of lynch mobs and granted the legitimacy and authority of law to similar forms of violence against Black communities.75 Key differences existed between these two gruesome practices. The most obvious difference is that lynching was illegal by definition. When some early executions turned into public spectacles, they did so with the authority of the law. Anti-lynching laws were never well enforced, but they did exist and could theoretically result in arrests and prosecutions of the members of a lynch mob, who were often well known by law enforcement.76 Legal executions were state-sponsored killings, but they did not include the additional tortures and humiliations that occurred during many racial terror lynchings. Perpetrators of lynchings were rarely held accountable for their crimes. Lynching mobs used their particular methods of violence to send a strong message of white superiority that could terrorize individual Black Americans and the broader Black community at the same time. As one study put it, legal execution “lacked the exclamation point of a lynching.”77 Lynchings undermined the institutions of state power by substituting community expressions of “justice,” while legal executions were a direct expression of state power. Photographs of legal executions did not usually include the body of the accused, in stark contrast to the horrific images recorded of some lynching victims.78
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Conclusions The history of race relations in this country has direct bearing on the present operation of the American legal system. The disproportionate use of capital punishment against Black men, as well as the phenomenon of mass incarceration, demand that we account for the continued effects of this painful history. Lynch mobs sometimes viewed themselves as dispensing “justice” against alleged “criminals,” but by definition, lynchings lacked the constitutional guarantee of due process of law. When anti-lynching laws passed in Alabama and elsewhere during the 1890s and early 1900s, these statutes made a clear distinction in the legality of the state’s role in reining in perpetrators of extralegal violence as opposed to the extralegal violence committed by the mobs. But as some scholars have recognized, lynchings acted as vigilante “justice.” The much more difficult question is whether the existing process of law was
The comparison of two newspaper articles. “Lynched in Lee” is a clipping from the Marion Times-Standard, Marion, Alabama, on March 22, 1900, pg. 1. “Dickerson Hanged at Opelika” is a clipping from the Montgomery Times, Montgomery, Alabama, on August 27, 1915, pg. 8.
applied equally and fairly, as mandated by the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and subsequent Civil Rights laws. The makers of law and officers of the courts wanted to believe that they were following this constitutional mandate and applying the law as demanded. But the numbers beg the question: if the law was being applied fairly and equally, why were Black men dying at the hands of the state in so much higher proportions than white men? The myth of inherent Black violence, if one believed it to be true, could perhaps account for some of these high numbers, but even the most racist view of the system makes it difficult to explain how many more Black men were executed than white men. Legal Executions in the Era of Lynching
Lynch mobs acted as judge, jury, and executioner, sometimes explicitly through the ritualistic accusation and “deliberation” of the mob, and other times through the end results of their violent actions. Sheriffs and other officers of the law often participated in these killings directly or indirectly when failing to prevent the mob’s actions, viewing them not as extralegal but rather as a variant form of law that encompassed the spirit of the justice system, if not the formal processes of it. These mobs of ordinary citizens drew their authority not from the law itself, but from the unwritten racial order their communities sought to create. If members of a lynch mob had merely wanted to punish the alleged offenders, they could have turned them over to the authorities and been confident that guilty parties would face prosecution and likely a swift conviction. Lynch mobs modeled parts of their actions on the legal system, but in reality, their violent acts openly flouted and mocked the institutions of law by failing to provide any elements of due process to their victims.79
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Clipping from the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday, June 3, 1920, p. 3.
Legal Executions in the Era of Lynching
Location of Execution: Opelika jail yard
Date: March 5, 1904
Age: Unknown (likely early-to-mid 20s)
Brief: Charles Sparks was convicted and executed for the murder of Jack Ingersoll, which occurred on June 26, 1901. Ingersoll’s wife, Lucy Ingersoll, accused Sparks of the murder. An all-white jury sentenced him to death by hanging, and his appeal and pardon petition were denied. Clipping from the Centreville Press, Centreville, Alabama, August 1, 1901, pg. 5.
Charles Sparks Phenix City, Alabama school principal Charles Sparks died at the hands of the state in 1904. Mr. Sparks appealed his conviction and petitioned the governor for a pardon, but Governor William Jelks denied his petition. Although a lynch mob did not murder Mr. Sparks, his death shared characteristics with the lynchings in Lee County and elsewhere. The Alabama judicial system targeted an educated, successful Black man for execution and refused him the clemency granted to many other capital defendants in this same era. Mr. Sparks’ University of Chicago degree and his position as the head of a local school threatened white ideas about the inherent inferiority of Black people. The crowds of onlookers who attended Mr. Sparks’ execution—in defiance of a law making all Alabama executions private—cheered his death and refused to support his appeals for commuting his sentence to life in prison.
Charles Sparks grew up in Columbus, Georgia. As a young man, he left home to attend
the University of Chicago, where he ran track. After graduating, Mr. Sparks moved to Lee County and taught at “the Phenix City Colored High School.”80 Mr. Sparks had recently been elected principal of the school when he had to flee to his hometown of Columbus after a woman named Lucy Ingersoll accused him of killing her husband Jack (a Black resident of Phenix City) on June 26, 1901. Search parties went after Mr. Sparks, reported by the Atlanta Constitution as “a posse of determined negroes,” “a posse of officials,” and a group leading bloodhounds.81 One of the groups captured Mr. Sparks, and Governor Jelks ordered the militia to escort Mr. Sparks to the Lee County jail in Opelika to protect him from potential lynch mobs. Mr. Sparks expressed his gratitude to the Governor for this protection.82 He explained in a later petition to the Governor that a mob was, in fact, waiting for him in Phenix City and the Governor’s orders saved his life.83 It was clear to Mr. Sparks that his life was in danger from the moment Mrs. Ingersoll accused him of the crime. Mr. Sparks denied any guilt and expressed confidence in his alibi. The Weekly Advertiser Charles Sparks
in Montgomery reported that, “He says he fled because he knew that he was charged with the crime and that there was great excitement and if captured he would be lynched but if he could escape and allow the excitement to subside and he would prove his innocence.”84 Mr. Sparks was able to avoid the violence of a lynch mob and had the opportunity to defend his case in a court of law. But the courtroom would provide little comfort for Mr. Sparks. Alabama v. Charles Sparks included an all-white jury, and the state denied all of Mr. Sparks’ appeals and pardon requests. Mr. Sparks’ preliminary hearing featured Lucy Ingersoll’s testimony. She claimed that she handed Mr. Sparks a gun that he supposedly used to shoot Ingersoll through a window. Judge F.M. Renfro ordered Mr. Sparks held without bail in the Montgomery County jail because it was more secure against a lynch mob than the Lee County jail.85
“Jury of His Peers” Charles Sparks never received due process, which he had a right to as a citizen of the United States under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Mr. Sparks went to trial before an all-white jury. These were white members of the community—bankers, school teachers, and the like. More specifically, these were members of the Lee County community, which had a history of acts of racial terror. Just as in the modern era of the United States judicial system, an all-white jury approached this case with preconceived notions that related Black skin with violent crime. The most famous example of this kind of racial discrimination on juries was the case of the Scottsboro boys, who were nine young men accused of rape on a train that passed through Scottsboro, Alabama. In one of the Supreme Court appeals in their case, The nine Scottsboro defendants with Norris v. Alabama (1935), the United States Supreme Court struck down the attorney Samuel Leibowitz. Courtesy of the Morgan County Archives, guilty verdict because the state had excluded Black people from the jury. Decatur, Alabama.
Mr. Sparks pleaded “not guilty” to first degree murder on October 25, 1901. The prosecution’s main witness in his trial, Lucy Ingersoll, claimed that Mr. Sparks told her that he planned to kill Jack Ingersoll, threatened her, and forced her to participate in the crime. Mr. Sparks left and was back at the house by 8 p.m., around the same time her husband came home. When her husband sat down for dinner, Ingersoll took a shotgun off the wall and gave it to Mr. Sparks, who shot her husband with it. Mr. Sparks supposedly handed the gun back to her and she set it back on the wall. Under cross examination, Lucy testified that on the night of the murder she told a Coroner’s jury—a group formed to help the coroner determine a person’s cause of death— Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
that she did not know who killed her husband and that Mr. Sparks was not the murderer. In fact, she never claimed that Mr. Sparks was the murderer until law enforcement arrested her and Virginia Gore (a neighbor) on the morning following the crime. Witnesses for the prosecution saw Mr. Sparks at the schoolhouse, headed towards the blacksmith shop, or headed towards Georgia around the time of the murder. Virginia Gore testified that she saw
Drawing from pardon petition file
him pass her house and told him he should leave, since his name had come up at the Coroner’s inquest. Lucy Ingersoll’s mother testified that Mr. Sparks told her that a white man had killed Ingersoll. Another witness, Ella Williams from Columbus, said she heard Mr. Sparks knock on his mother’s door and say that he had killed someone, though she did not tell anyone this detail until after Mr. Sparks had been arrested. The evidence against Mr. Sparks was questionable at best, but additional proceedings did not make the case any clearer. Witnesses for the defense mostly contradicted the prosecution’s stories. One witness, Brady Collins, claimed that he and the deceased’s nephew, Jim Ingersoll, saw Mr. Sparks just before midnight coming back from Columbus. It was there, according to this witness, that Mr. Sparks told these two men that he had heard about the murder, and the three men went to Lucy’s mother’s house to tell her the news. Mr. Sparks told her that he had heard a white man committed the crime, and a witness soon saw Mr. Sparks speaking to Virginia Gore. Jim Ingersoll confirmed this story. When Charles Sparks testified, he said that he neither shot Jack Ingersoll nor had a conversation with Lucy concerning an intention to murder him. He did not threaten Lucy, and he did not offer to take her to Chicago, as she also claimed. He did go to the Ingersoll house at noon, as he did every day. He headed toward Columbus around 6 p.m., stopping at the schoolhouse at 7 p.m. to give some school benches to some men. He visited with his mother, Anna Hunley, in Columbus, arriving at 8 p.m. (around the time that Lucy claimed the Charles Sparks
murder occurred) and stayed until around 9:30, when he headed back toward Phenix City. At the train depot, he first heard that someone in Phenix City had been murdered. He saw Jim Ingersoll and Brady Collins and hurried with them back to Phenix City. Virginia Gore warned him to leave town, so he went back to his mother’s house in Columbus. Mr. Sparks’ mother Anna Hunley did not testify at trial despite his claim that he was with her at the time of the murder. Even with these contradictory testimonies, the all-white jury determined he was guilty of first-degree murder and recommended a sentence of death. The judge set Mr. Sparks’ execution date for December 20. An appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court did not change the sentence but did delay the execution for nearly a year and a half, to August 28, 1903. Mr. Sparks lost a second appeal, this one claiming the jury’s instructions were improper, and the judge pushed his execution to February 1904. Clipping from the Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, November 17, 1901.
The Chicago newspaper Inter Ocean reported on Mr. Sparks’ trial. The faculty of the University of Chicago were “shocked” that
their former student had been accused of murder. The article reads, “Dr. T.W. Goodspeed, who knew Mr. Sparks intimately, said he could not believe that the quiet, inoffensive colored boy whom the university had aided in getting an education was guilty of the crime charged against him.”86 Mr. Sparks and his attorneys worked for years to contest the court’s decision. Mr. Sparks wrote a petition to Governor Jelks, restating his innocence and his alibi, and calling Ingersoll a close friend. Mr. Sparks included diagrams of his mother’s house proving that Ella Williams could not have heard him discussing the murder with his mother. Mr. Sparks’ defense requested that his sentence be reduced to life in prison, as was commonly done for other defendants. The Governor received other letters containing eyewitness accounts of Mr. Sparks’ whereabouts the night of the murder, requesting that he be acquitted of the crime. However, over 100 citizens Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
of Lee County signed a petition to the Governor to have the sentence of death be carried out, asking Jelks, “not to interfere with the sentence of the court, but let the law take its course, and let the defendant pay the penalty of his crime.”87 Further, many citizens of Lee County signed a separate petition specifically requesting that Mr. Sparks’ petition for life in prison be denied.88 They requested that Mr. Sparks be executed. The citizens of Lee County were not concerned with the conflicting accounts of Ms. Ingersoll’s claims or the evidence that Mr. Sparks could not have been in Phenix City at the time of the murder. The citizens of
Clipping from the Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA, November 4, 1901, pg. 3.
Lee County organized in order to assure the death of Mr. Sparks. Mr. Sparks’ trial and execution accomplished exactly what lynch mobs sought to accomplish: to have a Black man put to death for a crime that was not thoroughly investigated. When the morning of his execution came, Mr. Sparks learned that his final attempt at appeal had been denied, and while attempting to break away, he stabbed a guard.89 Other onlookers used pitchforks to detain him, and they took Mr. Sparks to the guards.90 The guards brought him to the gallows and, “He was asked if he had anything to say, and he said he was not guilty. He was sullen and after Signature of Charles Sparks from pardon petition
the desperate struggle looked eagerly as if seeking for help.”91 Mr. Sparks ascended the steps of the gallows and,
“shouted good bye twice to some one of the crowd outside the fence, who had halloed at him, and the noose was placed over his neck and the trap sprung.”92 Just as crowds gathered in Lee County to engage in lynchings, crowds of hundreds climbed neighboring buildings to view the hanging in the Opelika jail yard. According to reports, the gathered crowds cheered when he died.93 These citizens turned the execution of Mr. Sparks into a public spectacle of death similar to lynchings. After a three-year process during which he fought but was unable to receive a fair trial, the state of Alabama executed Charles Sparks on March 5, 1904.
Race and the Criminal Law in Lee County
Though the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment ostensibly provided rights and processes to all people accused of criminal activity, the legal process was often skewed against Black criminal defendants. All-white juries judged defendants, and prosecutors rushed trials through in as little as an hour. Two additional stories about executions in Lee County, John Johnson and Pomp Dickerson, illustrate this discriminatory process. After detailing these two men’s cases, this section provides a brief overview of convictions for crimes where a death-penalty sentence was possible to demonstrate that Lee County overwhelmingly convicted Black defendants and failed to convict white people for these crimes. Unless one believes the racist assumption that white people did not commit these crimes at a rate closer to their percentage of the population, there is little doubt that Lee County’s legal system sought out, convicted, and punished Black people at an alarming rate.
John Johnson The State of Alabama executed Mr. John Johnson in Lee County on January 16, 1891 for the murder of Jenkins Moore. Though information about his family is unknown, Mr. Johnson appeared to be a native of Milton County, Georgia, and had lived in Birmingham prior to arriving in Lee County. According to his convict record, on October 29, 1888, the state convicted Mr. Johnson, a then 13-year-old farm hand, of grand larceny in Jefferson County. This teenager was only 4 feet 8 inches and weighed 80 pounds when the court sentenced him to two years in prison and the prison leased his labor to the Pratt Mines of Birmingham. Under the convict-lease system in Alabama, companies and individuals paid fees to state and county governments in exchange for the labor of prisoners. By the time Mr. Johnson began his sentence in 1888, nearly all of the state and county prisoners working under the convict-lease system worked in coal mines. Mr. Johnson was discharged from prison before he completed his sentence, on July 25, 1890, Race and the Criminal Law in Lee County
and he arrived in Lee County shortly thereafter. According to newspaper reports, Mr. Johnson tried to rob two Opelika homes on August 6-7, 1890. After escaping apprehension and walking along the railroad from Opelika to Gold Hill, Mr. Johnson encountered Jenkins Moore, a justice of the peace in Gold Hill. Moore attempted to
Johnson and was shot and killed. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported on August 9, 1890 that “The little town of Opelika, Ala., is wild with excitement Convict Record of John Johnson from Jefferson County. Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
to-day, and a lynching is expected there to-
night.”94 Deputy Sherriff Johnson and Chief of Police Yarbrough prevented a mob of Jenkins Moore’s friends from lynching Mr. Johnson by placing “a strong guard around the jail.”95 A grand jury indicted John Johnson for murder in November 1890. Judge J.M. Carmichael sentenced him to hang on January 16, 1891. A January 15, 1891, article from the Montgomery Advertiser reported that the Governor declined to commute his sentence. The article went on to boldly state that Mr. Johnson’s crime was “one of the most atrocious and deliberate murders ever committed in the state of Alabama.”96
Headline of Newspaper Clipping in the Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA on January 17, 1891, pg. 1.
Pomp Dickerson The state of Alabama executed Mr. Pomp Dickerson in Lee County on August 27, 1915 after convicting him of murder in the first degree on December 3, 1914. Mr. Dickerson was the son of Squire and Emma Dickerson and a native of Little Texas, an unincorporated community in Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Macon County near the southwest Lee County line. Mr. Dickerson worked for the railroad in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he met and married Bessie Dickerson. In July 1914, Pomp and Bessie Dickerson came to Alabama to visit the Dickerson family. Pomp returned alone to Philadelphia, telling his family that Bessie had returned earlier. According to reports, Bessie was never seen alive again. Testimony included in the transcript of Mr. Dickerson’s pardon petition says witnesses saw the couple walking towards a creek near the family home and that Mr. Dickerson had a gun with him. Local residents remembered hearing a gunshot, and authorities discovered skeletal remains of a female two weeks later. Philadelphia police arrested Pomp Dickerson and extradited him to Lee County. The Opelika Daily News of May 14, 1915 documented Mr. Dickerson’s trial, which reportedly attracted “more spectators at this trial than any trial in the history of the county.”97 Judge Duke charged the jury at 11:30 a.m., and the all-white jury returned a swift guilty verdict less than three hours later, at 2 p.m. Judge Duke set the execution date for January 29, 1915. The Opelika Daily News went on to report that the prosecutor convicted Dickerson on circumstantial evidence and that “so far as known there were no eye-witness to the murder of Dickinson’s wife.”98 The circumstantial evidence used to convince the jury of Mr. Clipping from the Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, January 13, 1891. Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
Dickerson’s guilt was a letter written by Dickerson to a woman in the Pittsburg district that authorities at the Alabama jail intercepted before it could be mailed. In the letter, Dickerson asked the woman
to write to the Lee County sheriff saying she had heard of Pomp Dickerson’s arrest for her murder but she, Bessie Dickerson, was still living. This letter was the strongest point stressed by the state in convicting Dickerson. It is unclear if authorities checked to see if Bessie Dickerson, Race and the Criminal Law in Lee County
who the state accused Mr. Dickerson of murdering, was living in Pittsburg at the time, as Mr. Dickerson claimed. The Alabama Supreme Court suspended Mr. Dickerson’s execution date to hear his appeal. In the appeal, the State introduced evidence to show that Mr. Dickerson and his wife were seen together going in the direction of where “the bones of a human body were found.”99 Testimony described Mr. Dickerson leaving his father’s house with his wife and his two sisters, then later returning to Pennsylvania without his wife. The record continued that “about a fortnight [two weeks] thereafter a human body, of the bones of a human body, were found.”100 The Alabama Supreme Court upheld his conviction and rescheduled Mr. Dickerson’s execution for June 25, 1915. Mr. Dickerson escaped from the Lee County Jail by Clipping from the Opelika Daily News, Opelika, Alabama, June 21, 1915.
carving a wooden key with his pocket knife. A June 22, 1915, report of the Opelika Daily News offered a $400 reward for
his capture and described Mr. Dickerson as “a very intelligent negro”101 who “could possibly pass for a white man.”102 Authorities recaptured Mr. Dickerson within a few days while hiding in a corn crib five miles from town, toward Gold Hill. Mr. Dickerson was again sentenced “to be hanged by the neck until you are dead” on August 27, 1915.103 Authorities moved Mr. Dickerson to Montgomery to prevent a lynching because the Lee County Jail was “unsafe for the confinement of a prisoner under the sentence of death.”104 On August 6, 1915, Mr. Dickerson attempted suicide while at the Montgomery jail. The state of Alabama executed Mr. Dickerson at 11:15 a.m. on August 27, 1915. His body was released to his parents, and internment took place in the Little Texas community.
Race and the Criminal Law of Lee County, Alabama The existence of a legal process for Black Americans accused of crimes was little comfort when the process itself was stacked against them. For these defendants and their loved ones, their convictions operated on similar terms to racial terror lynchings. The numbers are striking Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
when one looks at Lee County convictions for the crimes most often associated with victims of lynching: assault, murder/attempted murder, rape/attempted rape, and arson. In the censuses of 1880-1930, Black residents of Lee County accounted for an average of 56.9% of the population and White residents an average of 43.1% of the total population. Meanwhile, Black convicts accounted for 74.1% of all convicts (whose race could be identified from the records) and White convicts only accounted for 8.6% (If the racial categorization could be determined for the additional 17.2% of convicts not counted in those percentages, these numbers could be even more startling). Surely in a county that was 43% White, more than 8.6% of its convicts would also be White. In addition, when White convicts received parole after a felony conviction, their records noted that their civil and political rights were restored, a note not found on a single felony conviction for a Black defendant. This table and the convict records from the era of racial terror lynching clearly
all-white juries, judges, and prosecutors overwhelmingly targeted Black defendants for conviction of death-penalty crimes. When the death penalty was a possibility for sentencing, Lee County did not automatically execute every Black defendant, but the County’s justice system
Lee County Criminal Convicts of Possible Capital Crimes by Race, 1877-1927* Crime
Black White No Racial Defendant Defendant Category
Assault to Murder** Assault to Ravish** First-Degree Arson Carnal Knowledge***
Rape 2nd Degree Murder 1st Degree Murder Murder
No Degree Specified
failed 11 women were listed in these records, 10 Black, 1 race unidentified. *Source: Alabama, Convict Records, 1886-1952, Alabama Department of Archives and History, as to provide an equitable accessed at www.ancestry.com (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011). **Assault to murder and assault to ravish were similar in nature to attempted murder or attempted legal process for its Black rape. ***Carnal knowledge statutes are equivalent to statutory rape laws today. The age of consent defendants. changed in this period to 16. Race and the Criminal Law in Lee County
“History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again.” - Maya Angelou, On the Pulse of Morning
Concluding Essay This booklet has provided a brief overview of the history of racial terror in Lee County, Alabama following the American Civil War. Its main purpose is to honor the legacies of the men who lost their lives to racial terror by telling their stories and encouraging others to learn this difficult history. These men were not the only victims to this violence, but their names are the ones currently known to us in the patchy historical record. There were undoubtedly other men, women, and children who experienced violence in this region during this time period and down to the present day. The trauma of their experiences lives on in the Black community. These episodes of racial terror also had larger economic consequences, represented most clearly in the lost earning power of the victims, but also evident in the fact that white lynch mobs operated with the express purpose of preventing Black economic successes. The families and loved ones of victims of racial terror continue to endure the pain and carry the enormous emotional burden of losing loved ones to these crimes. Recounting their stories and recognizing the existence of broader patterns of racial terror is part of understanding the history of the region and of American history more generally. The United States has accepted and facilitated the forced separations of people based on the social and political construction of race and racial differences. Given this fact, the history of lynching and the uneven application of capital punishment to Black Americans in the era of lynching were not an aberration or something that can be solely understood as a product of their particular time period. Instead, lynching and legal executions of Black Americans are just two examples of how racial differences were constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These violent episodes were in direct response to the shift in political power after Emancipation and Reconstruction, though these were not the only times that violence and terror have been used to maintain racial superiority. A variety of historical examples point to how white Americans have tried to separate and dominate non-white Americans, especially Black Americans. In other words, lynching and the uneven application of capital punishment Concluding Essay
are two examples of the long-standing problem of race in American history. These two institutions, lynchings and executions sanctioned by the legal system, worked in tandem to ensure control of Black Americans by white Americans, or to support the system of white supremacy. When slavery ended with Emancipation, the era of Reconstruction provided a brief opportunity for Black people to participate more actively in their citizenship rights and even exercise a modicum of political power. The protection of federal troops was necessary to force compliance with these changes on an ex-Confederate population who were used to white dominance over people of African descent. The end of the Reconstruction era was met with new waves of racial terror, practiced by organizations like the Klan and white lynch mobs. But the efforts to control the Black population also bled over into the legal system, growing out of earlier traditions that used law to promote racial control and the interests of white Americans over all other populations.
What’s Next? The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, as well as the shooting of Jacob Blake, brought the beginnings of a racial reckoning to the United States in the summer of 2020. Saying their names, acknowledging the truth of these crimes, and educating the public about the violence committed against Black people are important steps to making real change happen. In the summer of 2020, some U.S. cities began looking to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a model for addressing questions of racial justice in their cities. We must confront history in order to begin to work towards healing and repair. Seeking racial justice means having difficult conversations within communities to look for healing 105
Protesters march down Magnolia Avenue in Auburn, Alabama at the Auburn Protest Against Police Brutality organized by Auburn Students & Community for Change on Sunday, June 7, 2020. Photo taken by Joshua Fisher for The Auburn Plainsman. Used with permission.
and restorative practices. Reading this booklet and discussing this painful history is a vital step in confronting the challenging past of this region and seeking a better way forward. But where does one go from here? Now that you know more about the racial terror tactics used in Lee County and elsewhere, how will you use that information? Nothing can restore what was lost through these violent campaigns against Black Americans, but is it possible to imagine ways to work towards repairing these harms? What kinds of actions can you, personally, take to address the legacies of racial terror and white supremacy in your community? Think about these questions, talk with your community, reach out to people outside of your own social circles, and be willing to listen and learn as you continue to seek a more equitable path in the future.
Confederate Monument in Opelika. Courtesy of Jackie Nix/Alamy Stock Photo.
Coda: Monuments to Whose History?
On a small triangular strip of land bounded by Geneva Street, 8th Street, and Avenue C in downtown Opelika, stands a thirty-foot tall monument. It is an obelisk topped with a Confederate soldier in uniform, with the dates of the Civil War on one side, the words “Defeated, yet without stain” on another, a short poem valorizing the dead on the south side, and finally the details of its dedication on the last side. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) raised funds to build the monument that was completed in 1910, a mere eight years after Samuel Harris’s lynching and four years before Pomp Dickerson’s execution. They chose its dedication date, April 6, 1911, to coincide with the 49th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, which was one of the bloodiest days of the War, with massive casualties on both sides. Shiloh’s significance was that it failed to stop the Union advance into the Mississippi River Valley in the western theater of the War. High numbers of casualties made it an especially costly victory for the Union. A debate over the existence and meaning of this and other Confederate monuments has raged ever since the initial dedication. Opponents of removing these monuments, including the UDC, which has active chapters all over the state of Alabama, claim that removing them erases history and that the monuments are about their heritage rather than hate or racial terror. This claim raises the central question: what (or whose) history do these monuments tell or represent? In the era of racial terror and lynching, scores of monument dedications occurred all over Alabama and other Confederate states. The UDC were the major fundraisers and advocates of these new symbols, arguing that it was important to memorialize the Confederate dead. The UDC were one of the main proponents of a particular version of Civil War history known as the Lost Cause. The chief tenets of Lost Cause ideology included: that slavery was a benevolent institution that was good for people of African descent; that Reconstruction was characterized by Black corruption and interference by northern outsiders; and that there was Coda: Monuments to Whose History?
a solid white South during the War that universally supported the Confederacy. Using these foundational ideas, the Lost Cause also suggested that the Civil War was not about slavery but about states’ rights, a view that allowed groups like the UDC to reclaim victory from a narrative of defeat, thus allowing the War to become a cause for celebration and the dead to become heroes and patriots.106 Even leading Lost Cause proponents sometimes openly recognized slavery as the central cause of the War, but they did so proudly because of their belief that slavery was a benevolent institution. In order to promote the Lost Cause narrative, UDC chapters all over the country participated in a series of concerted efforts meant to ensure that their version of the Civil War, which they called the “War Between the States,” would dominate public discourse for as long as possible. One of these efforts involved inscribing their history onto the public landscape of the South by building Confederate monuments. In addition, they recognized that teaching the nation’s children about the Lost Cause would be crucial to their success. To achieve that end, these prominent women included young people in their activities and made sure the Lost Cause story of a unified South made it into as many school textbooks as possible.107 In Auburn, the textbook used in school classrooms at the time of the Monument’s dedication was Alabama History by Joel Campbell Dubose. Filled with Lost Cause passages and tropes, the text asserts that “The conduct of the negroes during the War between the States proves their love and devotion to the whites,--a love too strong to have grown out of bad treatment.”108 The myth of a solid white South ignored the history of enslaved and free Black southerners as well as the many white southerners who refused to join the Confederacy during the Civil War. For example, entire counties (Winston) and groups of white men in Alabama had in fact refused to sign up to fight for the Confederacy until forced to do so by the draft.109 The various falsehoods and holes in the overall narrative of the Lost Cause remained in the background of public history and most discussions of the Civil War because of the work of dedicated white memorial organizations like the UDC. Black Americans in the post-Reconstruction South fought against this rewriting of history, insisting on documenting and teaching the truth: that slavery was a violent, oppressive institution that was also the root cause of the Civil War. In a time when publicly celebrating Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Black history had potentially dangerous repercussions, Black families, Black churches, and Black schools kept Black history and historical memory alive.110 Most significantly, Black teachers in segregated schools taught that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, which was contrary to the history sanctioned by the state of Alabama. To speak out against the Lost Cause was not without risks, including not only pressure from Lost Cause supporters, but also threats of violence from organized institutions like the Klan and threats of racial terror lynchings by angry community members. The efforts to rewrite the history of the War are evident in the creation and dedication of Opelika’s monument. The unveiling ceremony began with thirteen children, representing the thirteen states of the Confederacy, singing “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” Later in the proceedings, the presiding officer introduced the main speaker, federal judge and former governor Thomas Goode Jones, “as a Confederate veteran, as a statesman, as a judge, and as a patriot.” Judge Jones’ speech explained how “the South in training, education, and heritage could not avoid entering into the struggle” of the war.111 After the oration, “thirty little girls” sang “We are Old-Time Confederates,” then “thirteen girls…marched around the shaft,” before two children pulled the cord and unveiled the statue. The poem on the side of the monument reads “Nor shall ye be forgotten, While fame her record keeps, Or honor points the hallowed spot,
Confederate veterans who attended the monument dedication service gather at the residence of General George P. Harrison in Opelika.
Coda: Monuments to Whose History?
Where valor proudly sleeps.”112 For the Black community of the early twentieth century as well as the modern Black community, these monuments serve as physical, visceral reminders of the efforts to subordinate Black people in the name of white supremacy. The monuments symbolize the multi-layered, deep-rooted nature of white supremacy that dominates public space and sends the message to Black residents that they are not welcome in these spaces. The effects of this multi-pronged campaign on Black communities cannot be overstated. In the era of racial terror and today, Black communities must cope with the lasting damage to their physical, economic, and emotional well being as a result of the violence and the continued symbolism of white supremacy and the Lost Cause. Controversies over these monuments continue to result in their removal or destruction in many areas of the former Confederacy. Despite groundswells of opposition in the 2010s, Opelika’s monument got a “face lift” and a rededication ceremony in 2019.113 Alabama passed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act in 2017, which prevents the removal, renaming, or alteration of monuments, buildings, and streets on public property if they have been in place for forty years or more. Despite this Act’s $25,000 fine, Birmingham removed a major Confederate monument from Linn Park, Mobile removed a statue of Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes from its downtown, and protesters toppled a statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee High School in Montgomery, all in early June 2020. There is strong consensus among professional historians today that the primary cause of secession and the Civil War was slavery. There is also overwhelming agreement by scholars and the general public that slavery was a brutal institution supported only through the constant threat and use of violence. As the home to the first capital of the Confederacy, Alabama’s connections to their enslaving ancestors are clear. Reckoning with these connections, as well as the continued symbolism of Confederate statues, is a necessary step toward reconciliation and dismantling white supremacy here in Lee County and in our nation.
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
The Times (Opelika, Alabama) · 1
Clipping from the Times, Opelika, Alabama, December 18, 1886, pg. 2.
Coda: Monuments to Whose History?
Community-focused reflection questions: 1. How should we think about and define justice? What does justice mean to you? 2. What is the relationship between justice and law in the era of lynching and racial terrorism? 3. What is this relationship like today? 4. How does a mob mentality influence people in these stories and today? 5. What similarities do you notice between the lynchings and legal executions? 6. What are the key differences between lynchings and legal executions? 7. Are lynchings extensions of the legal system, the community’s will, or both? 8. What are your thoughts about these men being lynched before their court dates? 9. How might our communities address the disproportionate use of capital punishment
against Black people? 10. What are some ways that we as a community can reflect on and acknowledge this history? 11. Why are public spaces important? What do they symbolize? 12. What are your thoughts about the current memorials and markers in public spaces?
Are they reflective of the values of the community? How has reading this material affected
me personally? 13. What are your personal reactions to this material? 14. What concrete steps can I take to address racial injustice in my community? 15. What questions do you have about this history and its legacies in this region?
Student-focused reflection questions: 1. What is racial terror? 2. What can we learn from the history of lynching in Lee County? 3. Is it important to be skeptical of the sources you read? Why or why not? 4. What are the similarities between the lynchings and legal executions? 5. What are your thoughts about these men being lynched before their court dates? 6. What do you thinking about the young ages of these men?
How does it play a role into these cases ? 7. How has racial terror affected young people in the past and today? 8. What are some personal reactions you had while reading this material? 9. What have I learned from these stories? 10. What steps can I take to fight against racial injustice in my community ? 11. What questions do you have about this history and its legacies in this region?
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Resources for Further Study
Books and Articles Alessi, Scott. “A Model for Justice: Restorative Practices in New Zealand.” U.S. Catholic, February 2013. https://uscatholic.org/articles/201302/a-model-for-justice-restorativepractices-in-new-zealand/. Brundage, W. Fitzhugh, editor. Under Sentence of Death : Lynching in the South. Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Feimster, Crystal N. Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011. Green, Hilary. Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. Rushdy, Ashraf H. A. American Lynching. New Haven : Yale University Press, 2012. “Special Report: Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation.” The Guardian, June 24, 2014. https:// www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/24/truth-justice-reconciliation-civil-war-conflict. Tolnay, Stewart & Beck, E. A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings 18821930. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Wells, Ida B. Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Edited by Alfreda Barnett Duster. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970. Resources for Further Study
Wells-Barnett, Ida B. Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. 1893; Alpha Editions, 2018. _________. The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States. 1895: Cavalier Classics, 2015. Wood, Amy Louise. Lynching and Spectacle : Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 18901940. New Directions in Southern Studies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Digital Projects and Sources Equal Justice Initiative. “Lynching in America.” https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/explore. Monroe Work Today. http://www.monroeworktoday.org/. “Record of Lynchings in Alabama from 1871 to 1920, Compiled for the Alabama Department of Archives and History by the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. :: Alabama Textual Materials Collection,” 1921. Alabama Department of Archives and History. http://digital. archives.alabama.gov/cdm/singleitem/collection/voices/id/2516/rec/93. “A Red Record.” http://lynching.web.unc.edu/.
Media and Art “A Strange and Bitter Crop.” Codeswitch. NPR, October 22, 2019. Ken Gonzales-Day. “Erased Lynchings,” November 12, 2016. https://kengonzalesday.com/ projects/erased-lynchings/. Micchelli, Thomas. “Kara Walker Invites You to a Public Hanging.” Hyperallergic, December 22, 2018. https://hyperallergic.com/477297/kara-walker-virginias-lynch-mob-and-otherworks-montclair-art-museum/. Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Glossary 13th Amendment: Amendment to the United States Constitution that ended slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime. 14th Amendment: Amendment to the United States Constitution that strengthens the federal rights of due process, citizenship, and the equal protection of law, especially for people of African descent. 15th Amendment: Amendment to the United States Constitution that established the right to vote for African American men. Capital Crime: Criminal offense that is eligible for the death penalty or legal execution as a punishment. Convict Leasing: Leasing out the labor power of incarcerated individuals, which made money for the state but usually no money for the convicts. Disproportionately used against Black men and women in Alabama from 1875 to 1928. Due Process: Legal doctrine that states a person cannot be deprived of his or her basic rights without due process of law. In other words, the state cannot infringe on individual rights without following established procedures and protections. Emancipation: The term for the freeing of people held in slavery. In the U.S., Emancipation came from the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and Glossary
the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. Jim Crow: The name for the package of legislation and practices that instituted formal racial segregation and took away the rights of African Americans that had expanded during Reconstruction. Lynching: Killing a person or persons by a group acting under a pretext of dispensing justice or reinforcing white supremacy. Mob: Group of people, usually large and intent on violence. Racial Terror: The use of intimidation through violence and threats to people of a minority racial categorization. Racism: The belief that a person’s racial categorization marks them as different and subordinate to another person’s race. Can also include systemic practices and beliefs that are based on racial difference, as well as discrimination on the basis of race. Reconstruction: A series of federal programs after the Civil War with three conflicting aims: to reintegrate defeated Confederate states, federalize citizenship, and to give rights to African Americans. Sharecropping: A land-use system prevalent from the end of the Civil War until the mid-20th century in which a farmer lives on and works land owned by someone else in exchange for a share of the annual crop. The land owner typically provided the farmer credit for purchasing supplies and food until the harvest was made. The system routinely trapped poor farm families in a cycle of debt. Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Spectacle: Lynchings that featured large crowds and often included celebratory elements like refreshments, souvenirs, or taking pictures. White Supremacy: Racist belief in the superiority of the white race to other racial groups.
END NOTES Introduction • page 11 J. Mills Thornton III, Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama, 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978). 1
Hilary Green, Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), p. 51. 2
U.S. Constitution, amend. 14.
Amy Murrell Taylor, Embattled Freedom: Journeys Through the Civil War’s Freed Refugee Camps (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), chapter 4. 4
Taylor, Embattled Freedom, p. 214.
Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), pp. 70-71. 6
Foner, Reconstruction, p. 291.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “The ‘Lost Cause’ that Built Jim Crow,” the New York Times, November 8, 2019; Green, Educational Reconstruction. 8
42nd Congress, 2nd Session, House Report 22, also referred to as the Ku Klux Klan Hearings, p. 1188, as cited in Foner, Reconstruction, p. 427. 10
Michael W. Fitzgerald, Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2017). 11
Kathleen M. Blee, “Women and Organized Racial Terrorism in the United States,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, vol. 28, issue 5 (2005): 421-433. See also Equal Justice Initiative, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” https://lynchinginamerica. eji.org (accessed July 18, 2020). 12
Roberta Senechal de la Roche, “The Sociogenesis of Lynching,” in Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South, ed. W. Fitzhugh Brundage (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), pp. 50-51. The Equal Justice Initiative counts lynchings as involving two perpetrators. See Equal Justice Initiative, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org (accessed June 26, 2020). 13
Michael J. Pfeifer, Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947 (Champaign: The University of Illinois Press, 2006). 14
Acts of the Sessions of July, September, and November, 1868, of the General Assembly of Alabama (Montgomery: Jhn. G. Stokes & Company, 1868), p. 452. In American Lynching, African American Studies scholar Ashraf H. A. Rushdy broadens the scope of lynching by 15
referring to it as not just a practice but also a “symptom and metaphor for what America was and was becoming as a nation.” Rushdy, American Lynching (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), p. 72. Rushdy’s work also outlines a complicity model of lynching where even those deemed non-participants in the direct commission of a lynching are implicated in the spread of its terror through legal, ethical, and filial frameworks. In this definition, lynching is not a single event but a “pervasive cultural fact punctuated by serial rituals theatrically celebrating the doctrines of white supremacy that underlie them and make them possible.” See Rushdy, The End of American Lynching (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012), p. 163. EJI recently updated their overall numbers with an additional 2,000 Black men, women, and children murdered by lynching during Reconstruction. EJI, “Lynching in America”; Equal Justice Initiative, “Reconstruction in America: Racial Violence after the Civil War, 1865-1876,” 2020, https://eji.org/report/reconstruction-in-america/ (accessed June 26, 2020). See also Stewart E. Tolnay and E.M. Beck, A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995), pp. 255-56. 16
Winthrop D. Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812, 2nd ed. (1968; Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012); Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). 17
See Crystal N. Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011); Danielle L. McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance - A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010). 18
Equal Justice Initiative, “Lynching in America.”
EJI, “Lynching in America.”
Acts of the Sessions of July, September, and November, 1868, of the General Assembly of Alabama (Montgomery: Jhn. G. Stokes & Company, 1868), p. 452. 21
Theodore Roosevelt, “1906 State of the Union Address,”, Washington, DC, December 3, 1906. 22
Megan Ming Francis, “Ida B. Wells and the Economics of Racial Violence,” Items: Insights from the Social Science Research Council, Jan. 2017, https://items.ssrc.org/reading-racialconflict/ida-b-wells-and-the-economics-of-racial-violence/ (accessed July 25, 2020); Ida B. Wells, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, ed. Alfreda Barnett Duster (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970). 23
Walter F. White, “I Investigate Lynchings,” American Mercury, January 1929, available at: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/segregation/text2/investigatelynchings.pdf (accessed July 19, 2020). 24
Comments on Sources • page 23 Ida B. Wells Papers, University of Chicago, Illinois, https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/ findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.IBWELLS#idp148589064&loclr=blogser; “The Ida B. Wells Society”, https://idabwellssociety.org/about/our-namesake/ (accessed August 29, 2020). 25
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
“Announcement of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize Winners,” https://www.pulitzer.org/news/ announcement-2020-pulitzer-prize-winners (accessed August 29, 2020). 26
Michael Weaver, “‘Judge Lynch’ in the Court of Public Opinion: Publicity and the DeLegitimation of Lynching,” American Political Science Review 113 (2019): 293-310; Jean M. Lutes, “Lynching Coverage and the American Reporter-Novelist,” American Literary History 19 (2007): 456-481. 27
Linda O. McMurray, Recorder of the Black Experience: A Biography of Monroe Nathan Work (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985). 28
Mike Cason, “Archives Department Acknowledges Role in Distorting Alabama’s Racial History,” https://www.al.com/news/2020/06/archives-department-acknowledges-role-indistorting-alabamas-racial-history.html, June 23, 2020 (accessed August 1, 2020); Kidada Williams, “Regarding the Aftermaths of Lynching,” Journal of American History, December 2014, 856-858. 30
Williams, “Regarding the Aftermaths of Lynching.”
John Moss and George Hart • page 29 32
“Lynched in Lee,” Montgomery Advertiser, November 7th, 1887.
Montgomery Advertiser, October 31st, 1886.
“Waldrup’s Murderer Captured,” Montgomery Advertiser, November 2, 1886.
The Prattville Progress, November 26, 1886.
“Swinging From a Sapling,” Montgomery Advertiser, November 7, 1886.
“The Lee County Excitement,” Montgomery Advertiser, November 21, 1886.
For inflation calculations, see https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/ inflation/1886?amount=300 (accessed July 19, 2020). 38
“Capture of George Hart,” the Times, Opelika, Alabama, November 24, 1886.
“The Murderer Visited,” Montgomery Advertiser, November 30, 1886.
“Lynched in Lee,” Montgomery Advertiser, November 7, 1887.
“Lynched,” the Stevenson Chronicle, Stevenson, Alabama, November 15, 1887; Tallapoosa New Era, Dadeville, Alabama, November 7, 1887. 42
Ibid. See also, “The Great Day,” Montgomery Advertiser, October 21, 1887. President Grover Cleveland and the First Lady passed through Montgomery on a goodwill tour. This tour overlapped with the time of George Hart’s imprisonment in Montgomery. 43
The Times, Opelika, Alabama, November 9, 1887.
“Lynching of George Hart,” The Times, Opelika, Alabama, November 9, 1887.
“Mob’s Vengeance,” Eufala Daily Times, November 8, 1887.
“The Hanging of George Hart in Lee County,” Tallapoosa New Era, Dadeville, Alabama, November 10, 1887. 47
“The Unknown Mob,” Weekly Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, November 24, 1887.
Charles Humphries • page35 49
Morning News, Savannah, Georgia, March 19, 1900.
Samuel Harris • page 39 50
United States Federal Census, 1900.
Montgomery Advertiser, November 7, 1902.
Montgomery Advertiser, November 4, 1902; Our Southern Home, Livingston, Alabama, November 12, 1902. 52
Weekly Advertiser, November 7, 1902.
Pine Belt News, Brewton, Alabama, November 6, 1902.
First quote is a headline from the Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Kentucky, November 4, 1902. Second quote is from the Montgomery Advertiser, November 4, 1902. 55
Montgomery Advertiser, November 4, 1902.
Weekly Advertiser, December 5, 1902.
Montgomery Advertiser, November 7, 1902.
Montgomery Advertiser, December 5, 1902.
Montgomery Advertiser, November 7, 1902.
Montgomery Advertiser, November 30, 1902. Alabama law contained a provision specifically aimed at punishing sheriffs who allowed lynchings to occur. See James J. Mayfield, The Code of Alabama, vol. 3 (Nashville: Marshall & Bruce Co., 1907), statute 7389. 61
Legal Executions in the Era of Lynching • page 43 Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn, “Capital Punishment as Legal Lynching?”, in From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America, ed. Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., and Austin Sarat (New York: New York University Press, 2006), chapter 1. For the law of compensation for half the assessed value of an enslaved person, see The Code of Alabama (Montgomery: Brittan and De Wolf, printers, 1852), statute 3327, p. 596. 62
For an example of an antebellum code, see Clement Comer Clay, A Digest of the Laws of Alabama (Tuscaloosa: Marmaduke M. S. Slade, 1843). For lynching statutes, see James Mayfield, Code of Alabama, vol. 3 (Nashville: Marshall and Bruce Co., 1907), 7388-7389; and James Mayfield, Code of Alabama, vol. 2 (Atlanta: Foote and Davies Co., 1923), 4938-4940. 63
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Clay, Digest, 438; Robert C. Brickell, Code of Alabama, vol. 2 (Nashville: Marshall and Bruce Co., 1886), p. 213. 64
Amy Louise Wood, Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 18901940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), pp. 23-25. 65
Wood, Lynching and Spectacle, p. 29.
Wood, Lynching and Spectacle, p. 38.
Margaret Vandiver, Lethal Punishment: Lynching and Legal Execution in the South (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), pp. 12-13. 68
Kelly Kazek, Hidden History of Auburn (Charleston: The History Press, 2011), p. 86-88.
Opelika Daily News report in the Phenix-Girard Journal, Girard, Alabama, July 1, 1932, p. 1.
Wood, Lynching and Spectacle, pp. 20-22.
Union Springs Herald, Union Springs, Alabama, November 24, 1886.
Vandiver, Lethal Punishment, p. 12.
Vandiver, Lethal Punishment, pp. 14-17.
Seth Kotch, Lethal State: A History of the Death Penalty in North Carolina (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019), chapter 1. See p. 29 for the quote about the symbiotic relationship between lynching and the death penalty. 75
Vandiver, Lethal Punishment: Lynching and Legal Execution in the South, pp. 14-15.
Tolnay and Beck, A Festival of Violence, p. 93.
Wood, Lynching and Spectacle, pp. 35-37.
Kaufman-Osborn, “Capital Punishment as Legal Lynching?”, 35.
Charles Sparks • page 53 “Ingersoll’s Wife Says She Gave Sparks the Gun with which he Shot her Husband,” Prattville Progress, Prattville, Alabama, July 5, 1901. 80
“Are Close Upon Murderer,” Atlanta Constitution, July 1, 1901.
“Sparks is Grateful,” Weekly Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, July 5, 1901.
Charles Sparks Petition to Governor, February 23, 1904, in Applications for Pardons, Paroles, or Remission of Fines, 1846-1915, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama. 83
“Sparks is Grateful,” Weekly Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, July 5, 1901.
“Carried to Montgomery,” Centreville Press, Alabama, August 1, 1901.
“Shocked By Sparks’ Crime,” Inter Ocean, Chicago, November 17, 1901.
State of Alabama v. Charles Sparks, p. 23.
State of Alabama v. Charles Sparks, p. 27.
“Charles H. Sparks At Last Meets Death On Gallows,” the Montgomery Advertiser, Alabama, March 6, 1904. 89
“C.H. Sparks Hanged at the Opelika Jail,” the Prattville Progress, Prattville, Alabama, March 12, 1904. 90
“Charles H. Sparks at Last Meets Death on Gallows,” the Montgomery Advertiser, Alabama, March 6, 1904. 91
Race and the Criminal Law in Lee County • page 59 94
“Swear They Will Lynch Him,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 8, 1890.
“Opelika People,” the Montgomery Advertiser, January 15, 1891.
“Pomp to Hang June 25th,” the Opelika Daily News, Opelika, Alabama, May 14, 1915.
Pomp Dickerson Petition to Governor, April 7, 1915, in Applications for Pardons, Paroles, or Remission of Fines, 1846-1915, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama. 99
“I Want Him $400 Worth,” the Opelika Daily News, Opelika, Alabama, June 22, 1915.
“Pomp Dickerson to Hang Aug 27th,” the Opelika Daily News, Opelika, Alabama, July 26, 1915. 103
Concluding Essay • page 65 “3 Cities Pilot South Africa-style Truth, Reconciliation Push,” U.S. News & World Report, July 2, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2020-07-02/3-cities-pilotsouth-africa-style-truth-reconciliation-push (accessed August 8, 2020). There are other models for this type of effort and for repair practices. See “Special Report: Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation,” The Guardian, June 24, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/ jun/24/truth-justice-reconciliation-civil-war-conflict (accessed August 8, 2020); Scott Alessi, “A Model for Justice: Restorative Practices in New Zealand,” U.S. Catholic, February 19, 2013, https://uscatholic.org/articles/201302/a-model-for-justice-restorative-practices-in-newzealand/ (accessed August 8, 2020). 105
Racial Terror Lynchings and Legal Executions in Lee County, Alabama
Coda: Monuments to Whose History? • page 69 Adam H. Domby, The False Cause: Fraud, Fabrication, and White Supremacy in Confederate Memory (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019), chapter 1. 106
Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003). 107
Joel Campbell Dubose, Alabama History (1908; Atlanta: B. F. Johnson Publishing Company, 1915), p. 189. For the Auburn Curriculum, see “Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Auburn City Schools, with Course of Study,” issued by the Board of Education of Auburn, Alabama, October 1911. 108
See Kenneth W. Noe, Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). 109
Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts, Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy (New York: The New Press, 2018), chapter 5. 110
“Monument at Opelika, Ala.,” Confederate Veteran, 1911, p. 250.
“Monument at Opelika, Ala.,” Confederate Veteran, 1911, p. 251.
Robert Noles, “Confederate Monument Rededicated,” Opelika Observer, April 3, 2019.