A local look at lynching

The other day, I ran across a video on Facebook about a monument that was erected in Abbeville, S.C., in memory of a man named Anthony Crawford. Crawford, an African-American farmer, was lynched by a mob in 1916.

According to an article that ran with the video, Crawford’s “crime” was arguing with a local white storekeeper about the price of cottonseed. The article also states that Crawford’s murder was one of 4,084 “racial terror lynchings” that occurred in the South between 1877 and 1950.

That got me thinking about lynchings in Central Virginia. After doing some online research, I found the names of four black men who were lynched within a few miles of where I live in Lynchburg, Va.

Their names were James Carter, Andrew Dudley, Pinckney Murphy and Henry Mason.

On Newspapers.com, I found articles about each of the lynchings. In all four cases, the men were accused of some sort of crime. As for these crimes, it’s difficult — perhaps impossible — to know more than 100 years later how true the allegations were. None of the men had their day in court and everyone involved is dead.

After each man was arrested, they were abducted by a white mob and hung from a nearby tree. In all four cases, the bodies also were shot multiple times. In none of the articles was there any mention of anyone being arrested for the lynchings.

My plan is to tell the story of all four lynchings, but first here’s the story of James Carter:

James Carter was lynched on April 3, 1902. It happened in Amherst County, near New Glasgow, which is now called Clifford. None of the articles I read said how old Carter was, but most described him as a “young negro.”

I found a 1900 census record from Amherst County that places a 17-year-old, black farm laborer named James Carter in the household of George and Susan Carter. Without further information, though, I can’t be 100-percent sure it’s him. (The name James Carter was not uncommon in Amherst County during that time period.)

The story of Carter’s lynching made newspapers all over the country. Sometimes, it was only a single sentence, like this one from the Maysville, Ky., Evening Bulletin: “James Carter was taken from jail at Amherst, Va., and lynched for seriously wounding a white man.”

Other newspapers, such as the San Francisco Call, gave a more detailed account:

Young Negro is Lynched 

Lynchburg, Va., April 6. — James Carter, a young negro, who shot and seriously wounded Don Thomas near New Glasgow, in Amherst County, Thursday night, was taken from jail at Amherst Courthouse last night just before midnight and lynched.

A party of men estimated at 200 and supposed to have come from the neighborhood of Cliffords [sic], seven miles away, where Thomas lives, rode into Amherst late last night. All were masked or had their faces blackened. When Jailer John Jones left the jail for his home several members of the lynching party made him surrender the keys.

The men secured Carter, took him a half-mile north of the village, hanged him to a tree and fired thirty-five bullets into his body. The shooting of Thomas by Carter was the result of an accusation said to have been made by the former that Carter had set an outhouse on fire. He had been sent to jail to await the action of the Grand Jury.

The black-owned Richmond Planet had a decidedly different take on the jailer’s behavior. The article in the Planet reads, in part, as follows:

The most remarkable thing about it is that the jailer, John Jones, not only gave up the keys, but waited until they were returned to him. In this, he not only violated his oath of office but proclaimed himself grossly incompetent and a party to the murder. 

When an officer arrests a prisoner he is responsible for that prisoner’s safety. 

If he cannot protect him, he has no right to disarm the prisoner and thus deny to him the right and opportunity to protect himself. 

This is common sense as much as it is law. It is all very well for a man to argue that we must submit to the law, but he must be equally as empathetic in proclaiming that the law must protect the man who submits to it. 

Far better would it have been for Jas. Carter to have sacrificed his life in an effort to save it than to be taken out during the stilly hours of the night, with his hands behind him and launched into eternity by a lot of cowards who are unfit to be executed on a scaffold.

It’s hard to imagine the jailer didn’t know any of the 200 men who came for Carter that night, but in the dozen or so articles I found about this lynching, there’s no mention of their names or that any charges were filed in Carter’s murder.

You might also want to check out this article about a project in which dirt is being collected from known lynching sites and this article about a monument to lynching victims being built in Montgomery, Ala.

4 thoughts on “A local look at lynching

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