Monday, July 7, 2014

July 7, 1920: Ed Roach

The Rockingham Post-Dispatch (Rockingham, N. C.) reported on July 8, 1920 the following:

Lynching at Roxboro.

As a result of an attempted criminal assault upon Annie Lou Chambers, a 14-yr old white girl, Ed Roach, colored, aged 24 of Reidsville, was lynched early Wednesday morning near Roxboro, in Person county.  The girl was from Chatham county and was visiting in Person county.  She went in the orchard carrying her infant niece Tuesday afternoon, when the negro sprang from a clump of bushes and knocking the baby from her arms seized her; the girl screamed, her sister ran from the house and the negro fled.  He was arrested a few hours later, lodged in jail at Roxboro and about midnight a crowd of 200 surrounded the jail, got the prisoner, carried him to a colored graveyard three miles distant and strung him to a tree and then riddled his body with bullets.

The Durham Morning Herald (Durham, N. C.) had this tidbit to say on July 9, 1920:

We are waiting to hear of arrests in the Roxboro lynching.  And just between us, we don't mind stating that we expect to still be waiting a year from now.

This article from the Durham Morning Herald (Durham, N. C.) was printed on July 11, 1920.


Person County Mob Put to Death the Wrong Man, Local Contractor Asserts


Nello Teer Issues a Statement Exonerating Ed. Roach of Assault on Girl


Another Employe [sic] of the Road Camp Gang Believed by Mr. Teer to Have Been Responsible—The Statement

Ed. Roach, the negro who was lynched by a Person county mob last Wednesday morning, was the innocent victim of a ghastly mistake, according to a signed statement issued last night by Nello Teer, a local contractor for whom the negro worked.  In his statement Mr. Teer declares that he is positive Roach could not have committed an assault upon the young Chambers girl Tuesday afternoon as at the hour the crime is reported to have taken place he was at work for him on a road construction project near Roxboro.

In his statement, Mr. Teer makes it plain that he has divulged the information exonerating Roach in justice to the deceased negro.

The statement made public by Mr. Teer reads as follows:

"Editor Morning Herald:

"I have just read your editorials on the lynching of Ed. Roach in Person county, and I feel I would be an unworthy citizen if I failed to state what I know about this matter.

"When this negro was lynched as innocent a man was murdered as would have been had you or I been the victim of the mob. He was working for me and was a quiet, hard working, inoffensive to me and stated that he was sick and wanted to go with me to Durham that night to see a doctor. I greatly regret that I did not take him with me for I believe his life would have been spared, but instead I arranged for him to go Tuesday night. Roxboro. He continued at his work all day Tuesday until about 5:30 (bear in mind the crime for which he was lynched occurred between two and three o'clock that afternoon) when he asked permission of his foreman to stop and go to Mount Tersa station to catch the train for Roxboro. Permission was given him and he left for the station walking. At 5:45 he passed the state's bridge crew (white men) and the two men who were out searching for the guilty negro saw him and followed him up the road to Mt. Tersa station where he sat down and waited for the train. These two men sat down on the railroad near him. When the train came he got on and paid his fare to Roxboro and got off the train there. He was not arrested until he got off the train. I am advised by the Chief of Police he asked what they had him for and told them he had not done anything, but he was not told until he got in jail what they had him for. He denied it and told the little girl when she was brought in that she was mistaken; he was not the man, so the sheriff informs me. He asked to be taken by my office to see my superintendent with whom I had arranged to carry him to the doctor but permission was refused him. He had been working for me off and on for two years and on this particular work since November 1st, 1919, and was in every way a straightforward inoffensive negro. His life has been taken for something he knew absolutely nothing about. 

"A negro man about Ed. Roach's size came to my camp on Sunday night, was employed on Monday and went to work Tuesday morning. About 8:45 a. m. he drove my team out to the side of the road and had been gone about ?5 minutes when my foreman missed him. My foreman took out one of the mules and went to look for him, going up the road toward Mt. Tersa. The negro saw him and broke and ran over the east side of the railroad going towards Lynchburg. This was about 10:30 a. m. Tuesday morning in approximately three-quarters of a mile of the scene the place of the crime. This man was dressed practically the same as Ed. Roach with cap and overalls, was about the same size but a little darker in color. He was a strange negro that had never been in any of our camps before, and the circumstances would point to him as the guilty party. 

"I make this statement in the interest of truth and justice and with a full knowledge of the odium I am bringing down upon my own head in doing so, but with the hope that this fearful crime may shock our people as to make its like again an impossibility.

"Nello L. Teer."

The Cleveland Star (Shelby, N. C.) reported on July 13, 1920 this bit:

Solicitor S. M. Gattis promises a thorough investigation of the lynching at Roxboro a few days ago of Ed Roach, a negro.  Some investigating has already been done, but so far it has been impossible to establish the identity of a single one of the 150 or more men composing the lynching party.

The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N. C.) dated July 15, 1920 reports the following:  


Offers Reward of $400 for Each Member of Mob Convicted

Wires Solicitor Gratification at Steps to Apprehend Person Lynchers.

Special to The Observer.

Raleigh, July 14.—The governor today wired Solicitor S. M. Gattis an expression of gratification at the steps he had already taken to apprehend the members of the Roxboro lynching party which took the life of Ed. Roach, negro, later said by his employer, a Durham contractor, to have been innocent of the crime of criminal assault on a young white girl he was alleged to have attacked.

Through the governor, the state offers a reward of $400 for each member of the lynching party arrested and convicted.

Roxboro, N. C., July 14.—Rumors that negroes were coming from Reidsville, near here, to "blow up" Roxboro because of the lynching of Ed Roach, negro, last week, caused town authorities to place armed guards about Roxboro last night.  The night passed quietly, however, and the authorities do not now believe there will be any trouble.

The negroes, according to the rumors, were said to have become infuriated after Nello Tear [sic], a white contractor, issued a signed statement declaring Roach was at work on his road gang at the time he is said to have attacked a white girl.  Sheriff Thompsons of Person county, said today that Roach was positively identified by the victim and that a sister of the young woman also declared he was the right man. 

On the 15th of July, 1920, The New Bern Sun Journal (New Bern, N. C.) had the following to add:

Situation in Person

Solicitor Gattis is going at that Roxboro lynching matter as if he means business.  And if he does not receive the co-operation in his efforts that the officer of the law has a right to expect it will be a blot on the fair name of Person county and of the state.  We feel sure that citizens generally of that county will aid in bringing the offenders to justice.  What is the use of having courts if those who assume to exercise court prerogatives without authority can take the law into their own hands with impunity.  This is as good a time as any to serve notice that that kind of thing will not be tolerated longer in North Carolina.—Winston-Salem Sentinel.

The Independent (Elizabeth City, N. C.) had this article on July 23, 1920.

Is Lynching a Deterrent?

A NEGRO possibly wrongfully accused of an assault upon a white woman at Roxboro in Person county was taken from the jail at that place and lynched by a mob.  It is argued that lynching is an effective example for other rape fiends.  The Roxboro mob certainly made a horrible example of their victim.

Fifty miles from Roxboro, in a nearly adjoining county is the town of Graham.  Last Saturday night, just a little more than a week following the Roxboro lynching, a Negro went to the home  of a white family on the outskirts of Graham, forced a white man's wife into a room at the point of a gun and committed the very crime for which the Negro was lynched at Roxboro.

The Negro who committed that crime at Graham certainly knew all about what happened to the Negro at Roxboro the week before.  If the truth could be ascertained, the only effect that lynching had upon the black man was to arouse in him a hatred of the white people and a passion to commit that crime which most stirs white men's blood.

Lynching does not deter crime.  It only brutalizes and debases those citizens who engage in it.

Let it be said to the credit of the authorities at Graham and the county of Alamance, there was no lynching there.  Brave officials and cool headed citizens took the situation in hand, called in military aid promptly and a disgraceful orgy was averted.

Finally, this article from the Durham Morning Herald (Durham, N. C.) dated October 14, 1920 helps to show the aftermath of the lynching.


Threatening Letters Signed By "The Person County Mob" Sent to People


Negroes Ordered To Leave and Farmers Told To Get Rid of Colored Tenants


Home of Negress Damaged—Fair Officials Threatened if Negroes Are Admitted—Some Thing It Joke

(Special to The Herald.)
Roxboro, Oct. 13.—A series of anonymous letters, almost identical in appearance, threatening the lives and property of certain Person county negroes and a few prominent citizens, and signed by "the Person county mob," have created something akin to a panicky situation in this town. 

While the threats contained in the letters have not been carried out and so far as can be learned only one attempt has been made to put them into action, the people of this quiet community are fearful that an underhand blow will be delivered. There is an undeniable feeling among many of the leading citizens that the person or persons guilty of writing and mailing out the fear-producing missives will make one brutal stroke in an attempt to terrorize the town. 

It is with this in view that citizens of the town have - - - locate the guilty parties, but their efforts have met with failure. Postmaster John A. Noell, to whom several of the letters were taken by the recipients, notified the postoffice department, hoping a federal investigation would be ordered. The department replied, however, that there was no federal law under which the person or persons could be prosecuted. The matter was next taken up with Attorney General J. S. Manning, whose reply was almost similar. The only action that could be taken against the part or parties sending out the letters would be the issuance of peace warrants. 

Unable to get outside assistance in their investigation the citizens of Roxboro have been given little encouragement in their efforts to stop the anonymous letter writing. And every few days a letter goes to some Roxboro or Person county citizen in which serious threats are made, giving the constantly rising fear no chance to die out. 

There are some few citizens of Roxboro who treat the missives as the work of practical jokers. Not so with the majority, however. Events which have transpired during the past week, such as the firing of shots near the center of the usually quiet town, the exploding of sticks of dynamite in the town and the dynamiting of a negro woman's house have led some of the more prominent people to believe there is reason for fear. 

The latest stroke of the person or persons signing as "the Person county mob" has been the boldest and most fear-producing of all. It was a latter addressed to J. H. Carver, president of the Person county fair, instructing him to forbid negroes from entering the fair grounds this week. The result has been a small attendance and the place of extra police around the fair grounds. The fair is being operated this week int he customary manner, negroes being allowed admittance. Only a few of them have been bold enough, however, to attend, the report of the letter having circulated widely. 

The letter received by Mr. Carver reads as follows:

"This is to notify you that the Roxboro-Person county mob will not permit you to allow any negroes through the gates of the fare this season. You may if you wish have a special night for the negroes, but under no circumstances will we permit there[sic] entrance in the fair ground during the time intended for the white people. 

"Should you fail to act in accordance with these instruction the mob will blow up all buildings on the fare grounds and you will be held personally responsible for this. It is not the intention of the mob to do you any personal harm, but should you fail to cooperate with us in this connection, why look out. 

Yours very truly, 
"The Person County Mob." 

"P.S.—In this connection we feel that it would be well to state that this is the same mob that lynched Ed. Roach." 

The threatening letters are written on plain white typewriter paper. The type has the appearance of being standard. A blue ribbon was used on the machine. Each letter is similarly addressed and signed, and the typewriting is expertly done. There is no indication that the work is that of boys or an ignorant joker. If the writer of the letters is putting up a huge practical joke, it can be said to his credit or discredit, as the case may be, that he handles the English language well. His spelling is bad in instances, but the words mis-spelled are easy ones and appear to have been purposely spelled wrong. The harder words are correctly spelled. And if the affair is a joke the people of Roxboro think the joke has been carried too far. Preachers of the town have preached several sermons about the affair, demanding that it be brought to an end. 

Started After Lynching.

The letters started soon after the lynching of Ed Roach some months ago. The first letter was recieved by a negro who resides a short distance from Roxboro, and whose father has prospered will in worldly goods. He owned a large automobile and was a familiar sight speeding along Person county roads each day. The letter warned him that he had best leave Person county or face a fate similar to that suffered by Ed Roach. The negro did not heed the warning, but his conduct has indicated that he was greatly sobered by the missive, Roxboro citizens say. 

One by one the letters found their way to negroes of the community. Each letter warned the negroes to leave the county.  Recently a special delivery letter was dropped into the postoffice box for Bella Fields, a well known negro character of the town, whose house sits in the center of a white community.  She was warned to move out within one week.  She failed to move.  Another special delivery addressed to her followed.  This advanced the date for her to move one week.  Again she refused to move.  One night last week sticks of dynamite exploded near her house. The explosive tore windows and doors out of the house and left the aged negro woman badly frightened. She has moved. 

Not content with threatening negroes the letter writers have been sending missives to white citizens. One went to A. R. Foushee, one of Roxboro's oldest and most prominent citizens and father and most prominent citizens and father of W. L. Foushee, an attorney of Durham. Mr. Foushee is a beloved citizen. The letter threaten him with personal harm unless he immediately order negro tenants off his large farm. He has not complied with the order, but admits that he looks upon the matter seriously. Other white citizens have been similarly threatened.

Mr. Carver, who is personally in charge of the Person county fair, said today that he would not deviate from the customary manner of operation for the fair. The anonymous letter has, however, worked to the disadvantage of the fair by cutting down attendance. The president does not believe the mob will actually try to carry out its threat to blow up the fair buildings. In fact the buildings are not of great value. They are of frame construction. Mr. Carver is positive in the belief that the writers of the letter would not boldly attempt destruction during the time when the people are in the fair grounds. 

Mailed At Nights.

Each letter signed, "The Roxboro-Person county mob" has been mailed during the night when postoffice employes[sic] are off duty. They are found in the early mornings when the employes[sic] begin work. The employes[sic] have almost learned to spot the letters on first sight. They are identically alike. 

Postmaster Noell says that he knows no way in which to stop the letters from coming through the mail. He is among those who looks upon the affair lightly, but never the less has taken every precaution within his power. 

Even those citizens who believe the affair is the work of a practical joker think that the joke has gone too far. The series of letters addressed to negroes and prominent citizens puts a creepy feeling over the town and many citizens have pledged their best efforts to clear up the mystery.


  1. A local doctor bound Ed Roach with medical tape. As two white men held him at the Helena train depot. In his T model truck, he carried Ed to the Person County courthouse.

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