Saturday, October 25, 2014

October 25, 1898: Luther Sullivan, Jim McKie, and Wash McKie

Join me today in a journey to the past, to a lynching in South Carolina. We learn the details of this lynching through the pages of The Evening Index (Greenwood, S. C.) dated October 27, 1898:


Jim Mackie and Luther Sullivan, colored, were lynched at Republican church, Edgefield county, Tuesday, night for the murder of Mrs. J. O. Atkinson last week. Since the murder there has been no doubt that there would be a lynching if anything like positive proof of guilt should be fixed on anybody.

The coroner's inquest held Tuesday—having been adjourned from Thursday last—elicited substantial proof of the guilt of these two negroes and Wash Mackie. The inquest lasted all day. It was proven these negroes had a grudge against Mr. Atkinson and aimed to kill him. The death of Mrs. Atkinson was probably not contemplated.

There were 600 men at the inquest at Republican church and they were armed with all sorts of guns. The customary speeches about "letting the law take its course" were made and the neighbors of Mrs. Atkinson listened quietly. In the face of the evidence they decided to ignore the speeches.

Jim Mackie, Luther Sullivan and Wash Mackie were started to Edgefield jail about dark under a guard of 20 men. But the citizens confronted the guard and commenced firing at the three prisoners. Jim Mackie and Sullivan were killed on the spot, while Wash Mackie is thought to have escaped.

The men of Edgefield having avenged the foul murder of a noble woman probably care very little for the numerous law and order lectures which will be hurled at them from over the State. It is sincerely to be hoped this is the last chapter in one of the most awful crimes in Edgefield's history.

The next stop of our journey is brought to us by The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) dated October 27, 1898:


The Negro, It Is Supposed, Is Still Running for Life.


Testimony at the Coroner's Investigation Showing Guilt

Dramatic Scene During the Taking of Testimony, Where Jim McKie Accused Andrew Lee of Taking Part in Killing Mrs. Atkinson.

Augusta, Ga, October 26.—(Special.)—There is no definite news from Wash McKie, the negro who escaped the volley of the Edgefield mob on Tuesday night. Whether he was wounded and has since died from his wounds, or whether he made good his escape, is yet to be ascertained. He certainly had a close call, and if he escaped it was little short of a miracle.

After the examination of witnesses was over the prisoners were kept in the church until the crowd would go home. Many left but there were others who were bent on wreaking vengeance for the murder of Mrs. Atkinson, who would not go. The jury instructed the coroner to have Jim McKie, Wash McKie, Luther Sullivan, Squire Green and Jim Smith committed to jail and have them brought back November 7th for further investigation.

It was rumored that they would be lynched if started for Edgefield. Cool heads tried to keep it down and publicly advised it. Sheriff W. H. Ouzsts was present and deputized a number of men to accompany the prisoners to the jail. They all formed into a line, with the prisoners between them and began to march toward Edgefield.

Shooting the Accused.

At 9:20 o'clock Wash McKie, Jim McKie and Luther Sullivan, much against their will, with their hands tied, were marched out of the church, surrounded by about ten of the posse. When they advanced quickly and in silence to about 150 yards there was a general calling of "Come on, boys! What are you waiting for?" and in a few moments about fifty men surrounded the posse, still walking quickly toward Edgefield. When about 500 yards from the church the men closed around the guards, completely forcing them aside for a moment. Some one cried "Run!" and the three wretches tried to obey as fifteen of twenty guns belched forth their charges of buckshot. Sullivan and Jim McKie lurched forward, turned half around, and fell face forward on the side of the road, the former raising his tied hands under his chin. Wash McKie kept on running, and though a search party went after him, he escaped.

The shooting occurred exactly one week almost to the minute from the time Mrs. Atkinson was shot in sight of the place. The deputies prevailed on the crowd not to shoot after the first fire was heard, but with no results other than a continued shooting.

Jim McKie has been suspected of the assassination of Mrs. Atkinson for days past, though it is believed his intention was  to murder Mr. J. O. Atkinson, and not his wife. In order to entrap him he was employed as a sort of detective to aid the white men in ferreting out the crime, but at the same time a sharp lookout was kept on Jim.

Jim McKie's Testimony.

At the coroner's inquest Jim was put on the stand and testified that a few days ago he had a conversation with Andrew Lee, who confessed to him that he had committed the crime, being angry with Mr. Atkinson about one of his hogs being bitten to death by Mr. Atkinson's dogs. Lee said Squire Green was also in wait for Mr. Atkinson that night on the Moore road, Green being revengeful because some trouble Mr. Atkinson had got him into about Green's brother's wife. McKie asked that it not be told to the colored people that he had so testified because Lee, he said, had told him if he breathed it he would go a-helling.

Lee, in testifying, denied all knowledge of the crime and said he was on good terms with Mr. Atkinson, a statement which the latter corroborated.

Several other discrepancies being found In McKie's statement, he and Lee were brought face to face with the result of eliciting the one dramatic scene of the trial. When Lee heard McKie's charge from his own lips he straightened to his full height, put his arms akimbo and looked straight at the man, doing all in his power to cause his death, and waited until Jim had finished his halting statement. He then said, "Gentlemen, this is the first I ever heard of that, and I don't think it is right for you to stand there and let that man say what will cause me to be murdered or hung. I never told him anything at all and he knows it."

Some one cried out, "Give 'em winchesters and let them fight it out." Lee replied:  "Yes sir, I'm willing; but don't let him say anything like that."

His statement as to his whereabouts on Tuesday night was corroborated in detail by his wife.

The testimony given by the witnesses in the McKie-Sullivan family showed evidence of having been rehearsed and served to strengthen the case against old man (Wash) Mackie, Jim Mackie and Luther Sullivan. To them alone could be traced any motive for the crime. It was known that McKie had applied for the postoffice position held by Mr. Atkinson, whose death, moreover, would remove the only white man in the neighborhood and leave their family in full sway.

At 5:10 o'clock the church was cleared and the jury began it's deliberations. It was then manifest that there would be a lynching. There was no excitement of any kind, everyone appearing cool and calm, as though no such  serious business was ahead. All waited patiently for a while. Those who had anything to eat, ate it. Little groups gathered to discuss the case in its various bearings and an itinerant photographer did a rushing business by taking a picture of all in a group and then taking orders at 25 cents each.

About 6 o'clock the prisoners, not then before the jury, were removed under guard to the cemetery nearby and Rev. J. P. Mealing addressed the assembly, asking them to let the law pursue its course, not to endanger the lives of members of the posse, but to be law-abiding citizens.

Remarks of a similar nature were also made by Attorney S. M. Smith, of Edgefield, who was examiner of the witnesses at the trial; by Rev. Mr. McMillan, of Graniteville; Sheriff Ouzsts and Mr. George Evans. The last speaker was interrupted by several voices crying:  "We don't want no more speaking." "Don't give us any more talk." "The time has come to act." etc.

Later followed the exit of the prisoners from the church under guard, for Edgefield jail, the overpowering of the guard and the shooting of the prisoners as related above.

The final leg of our journey brings us to two years later. This time it is brought to us by the Edgefield Advertiser (Edgefield, S. C.) dated 17th October 1900:

The County to be Sued.

The following, bearing on a matter of interest to Engefield [sic] county, we clip from the Augusta, Chronicle:

Edgefield, S. C., Oct. 12—The wife of Jim McKie, deceased, who it is charged was lynched at Republican Church two years ago, has applied to the Court of Probate of this county for letters of administration on his estate, the purpose being to recover $2,000 from the county under the late constitution of this state allowing said sum of money to the personal representative of any one taken from an officer and lynched. Solicitor J. William Thurmond was interviewed by your correspondent to-day on the subject and as to the final outcome of the suit if filed. His position in favor of the county seems to be unanswereble [sic] Your correspondent asked Mr. Thurmond the following questions:  Do you think Jim McKie and Luther Sullivan assassinated Mrs. Atkinson?  He replied as follows:  "I investigated the case and have no doubt of it."

"Well, Mr. Thurmond, do you think there is any merit in the case to be instituted by the personal representative of the two deceased negroes?"

He said:  "In reply to that question I will say that they have no claim founded on justice. Those negroes became outlaws and forfeited their lives by committing a most brutal crime, that of assaulting an innocent white woman with a large family of children without the slightest reason or excuse."

Mr. Thurmond went on to say:  "Now, of course, I am opposed to lynch law, but in this case death to those darkies was an inevitable result of their dastardly conduct, and the only criticism I have to make of the manner of their death is that the sheriff did not hang them after trial."

Mr. Thurmond then went on to say:  "Is it not absurd to say that the personal representatives of those two negro assassins must be rewarded handsomely and the personal representatives of Mrs. Adkinson must content themselves with grief, heartache and a horrible remembrance of a good woman's decease? The constitution of the United States and our own provide that every person shall have equal protection under the laws. Mrs. Adkinson's killing was certainly unlawful. Nothing more can be said of the killing of those darkies. Would there be justice or equal protection in giving the personal representatives of the negroes and not the personal representatives of Mrs. Adkinson a remedy against the county under the circumstances?"

"How about the costs?," was asked Mr. Thurmond.

He replied:  "There are attorneys here who will resist such a case without cost to the county."

I guess final leg was a bit too hopeful. I took the time to see if anything was discovered about Wash McKie and I found several articles. I will be finishing with two. The first article comes from the Keowee Courier (Pickens, S. C.) dated November 3, 1898:

Third Victim of the Edgefield Lynching.

AUGUSTA, Ga., October 27.—Old man Wash McKie is dead. His body was discovered yesterday in the bushes not far from the scene of the killing of his son and son-in-law by the mob of Edgefield county citizens.

McKie's body was literally shot to pieces, more than twenty bullet holes being found in it when it was discovered.

Sheriff Outz, with a party of deputies and citizens, had been searching for Wash McKie, dead or alive, since the two negroes were killed by the mob, but no trace of the old man was found until yesterday, when the party returned to the scene of the killing of the day previous, when they discovered the body of the old man almost hidden by brush and leaves in an isolated place where the old man had fallen after being fired upon by the mob of citizens in his desperate effort to escape.

With the finding of the body of Wash McKie the victims of the Edgefield lynchers are three, and with their killing the assassination of Mrs. J. L. Atkinson has been avenged.

There is great excitement near the Republican church in Edgefield county, and although there has been no uprising of the negroes, the whites are on their guard and are ready to protect themselves in case the negroes attempt to avenge the killing of Wash McKie, Jim McKie and Luther Sullivan.

It will be remembered that the three negroes assassinated Mr. Atkinson because her husband was appointed postmaster over old man Wash McKie, who was an aspirant for the place.

The final article is short and to the point. It comes to us from The Gaffney Ledger (Gaffney, S. C.) dated November 3, 1898:

Third Victim of Lynchers.

AUGUSTA, Ga., Oct. 28.—The body of Was McKie, the third of the negroes fired on by the Edgefield lynchers, has been found. Was McKie was the most prominent negro in that district and a successful farmer, employing other negroes to work for him. He was a candidate for postmaster, and it is said the enmity against Mr. Atkinson, which resulted in the assassination of his wife, grew out of the negro's disappointment at being defeated for this office.

I found this whole case so strange. There were a lot of people the coroner's jury wanted placed in jail. I am not sure why if they truly thought only the three were guilty. I also find the whole matter suspect after reading the final article. If McKie was so prominent why would he risk everything in an assassination? I wish I knew more about the backgrounds of each person, but alas, I do not have the ability to do all that research. Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

1 comment:

  1. Having had a grandfather who was born and raised in Edgefield, I assumed a great deal of interest in the history of Edgefield County, So Carolina mostly along genealogical lines. I knew about this incident. It is always astounding to me that whites can speak of law and order but only when THEY are the recipients. We might never know who committed the crime. Perhaps it was all three or only one of the three Blacks but they received no fair hearing whatsoever but consistent with the prejudicial thinking, then and now, it's more than acceptable if African Americans are denied the same human rights. Will Thurmond was my great-great grandfather's son and, I was told himself Will was a Klan leader. As it was told to me, Sheriff Ouzts was actively complicit in the death of another Black during the 1930s. As always, the man was removed from his home and never seen again. To be clear, however, I believe that there might have been two sheriffs with the last name of Ouzts and that a later one was tied to the death of this singular man. Such is the history of whites in the South and Edgefield County from whence much violence has emanated.