Wednesday, October 8, 2014

October 8, 1926: Clarence, Demon and Bertha Lowman

Join me today on a journey through history to learn about an ugly portion of our past. Today we start at The Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland) on October 8, 1926:



Believed To Have Been Angered When Slayers Were Granted New Trial

AIKEN, S. C., Oct. 8.—A mob early today stormed the Aiken jail, seized three negroes, one of them a woman and shot them to death in a pine thicket just beyond the city limits.

The negroes lynched were Clarence and Demon Lowman and the latter's sister, Bertha Lowman. They were on trial a second time for murder in connection with the death of Sheriff H. H. Howard of Aiken county, who was shot to death April 25, 1925, when, accompanied by several deputies, he went to raid the home of Sam Lowman, father or Demon and Bertha Lowman and Uncle of Clarence Lowman. On their first trial the negroes were convicted but a new trial was granted by the State Supreme Court. This trial began early this week.

Yesterday Special Judge S. T. Lanham, presiding, ordered a verdict of "not" guilty for Demon Lowman, on the charge of conspiracy to murder.

The mob broke into the jail about 3 o'clock this morning, overpowered Rupert Taylor, jailer and Sheriff Nollie Robinson and spirited the negroes away in an automobile. Three bodies were found several hours later in the thicket, about a quarter of a mile from town. Each had been shot several times.

Light Wires Cut.

The jailer said all electric light wires to the jail were cut and he was called to the door by the men. A demand was made for the prisoners. He refused to accede and had Sheriff Robinson called by telephone. The sheriff arrived while the mob surrounded the jail and was overpowered, the officer said. Meantime some members of the mob entered the jail through a window in a part of the building used as the jailer's residence and succeeded in obtaining the prisoners.

Sheriff Robinson said he followed the mob but was outdistanced because he was driving a small automobile while the lynchers were in faster cars. He turned back near the city limits.

The men had been convicted for the murder of Sheriff H. H. Howard of Aiken county, and sentenced to death. The woman was sentenced to life imprisonment. All were granted a new trial and the hearing began at Aiken Tuesday, with Special Judge Samuel T. Lanham of Spartanburg, S. C., presiding.

Sheriff Howard was shot to death April 25, 19925 [sic], when he went to raid the home of Sam Lowman, father of Demon and Bertha Lowman, an uncle of Clarence Lowman. The negroes were farmers.

The mob was described by Assistant Chief of Police Woodward to have been "well organized." The bodies, he said, while not riddled, were found "well shot" about 20 yards apart, and the mob evidently had ordered the negroes to run and then opened fire. The bodies indicated that each negro had headed in a different direction.

Although Demon Lowman was acquitted on the conspiracy charge, he was re-arrested yesterday on a warrant charging assault and battery with intent to kill and was being held on the warrant.

The two men were sentenced to death at their first trial and the woman was given a life sentence.

Estimates of the number of men in the mob varied widely. The cutting of the electric light wires left the jail and whole town in darkness making it impossible, according to officers, to identify members of the mob.

Sheriff Robinson was one of the officers, who as a deputy, accompanied Sheriff Howard on the liquor raid on the Lowman home. One of the contentions of the defendants at the first trial was that they were not aware that the raiders were officers. Annie Lowman, the mother of Demon and Bertha, was shot and killed by one of the officers. Clarence was alleged to have fired the shot that killed Sheriff Howard. Bertha was shot through the body during the raid.

Our next stop is The New York Age (New York, N. Y.) on November 6, 1926:

N.A.A.C.P. Official Investigates the Recent Lynching of a Woman and Two Men By White South Carolina Mobbists

Makes Report to Governor Giving Names of Officers of the Law Who Were Members of the Mob, and of 22 Others Taking part in the Horrible Crime Orgy

A press release issued by the N.A.A.C.P. under date of October 29 carries the information that Walter F. White, assistant secretary, has returned from a trip to Aiken, S. C., where he investigated first hand the recent lynching of Bertha Lowman, a colored woman, her brother, Demon, and a cousin, Clarence, by a mob made up of members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. White states that he talked with many of the best known and most prominent white citizens of the state, including lawyers, newspaper editors, farmer and business men, as a result of which he secured the names of many of the men composing the mob. These names, with full information concerning the activities, were sent to Governor Thomas G. McLeod for his information and action.

Conclusion Reached

Four conclusions are reached as a result of the investigation:

1. The lynching was planned and executed by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

2. Officers of the law took part in the lynching and a number of them acted as "unofficial executioners" of the mob victims.

3. The prisoners were turned over to the mob by the Sheriff and his assistants, who were parties to the crime.

4. Reputable white citizens living in the vicinity are in terror of their lives from the lawless Ku Klux Klan ring and go heavily armed, bar their doors at night, and have been "praying to God" for some person from outside the State to come in and bare the facts.

That a lawless reign of terror exists is established with a situation which beggars description. Law-abiding white citizens are terrified and live in constant fear of the klux element. 

In a statement recounting his investigation, Mr. White recites the facts concerning the lynchings. The Lowman woman and men had been on trial for the shooting death of Sheriff Howard on April 25, 1925, and the court had ordered a dismissal of the charge against Demon, with a strong probability that Bertha and Clarence would be freed also.

Planned Lynching.

Continuing N.A.A.C.P. official says:

"Within one hour after the Judge's decision, news had been sent to as distant a point as Columbia that the three Lowmans were to be lynched that night, Within the same hour the Ku Klux Klan held a meeting in the office of a prominent white attorney of Aiken who had been recently elected to the State Legislature. At this meeting plans were perfected for the lynching and also plans were discussed, but abandoned, to tar and feather Mr. Frederick and to castrate Mr. Southard, the white attorney. A prominent and respectable white lawyer of Spartanburg warned Judge Lanham and Solicitor Bert Carter that a lynching was in the air. Despite this the Lowmans were committed to jail with only one guard wherein plans had been made to remove the defendants hastily should they be convicted. 

"Shortly after midnight a police officer of Aiken forced automobilists to remove cars from around the jail so that the lynchers would have a place to park their cars. According to reliable information Sheriff Robinson, Depty Sheriffs McElhancy and A. D. Sheppard, and Traffic Policeman Salley dragged Bertha Lowman from her cell got the other two defendants and handed them over to the mob. After the mob had secured the prisoners two shots were fired inside the jail and not, as Sheriff Robinson claimed when he was trying 'to prevent entry' of the mob into the jail. 

How Woman Was Killed.

"The mob numbering between 30 and 40 started out York street on the Dixie highway to a tourist camp about two miles from Aiken. On the way Clarence Lowman jumped from the car in which she was held. He was shot down and recaptured, in order to prevent telltale blood marks, a rope was tied to the back of the car and the other end of it around Clarence's body. In this manner he was dragged about a mile to the place of execution. The members of the mob sated that Bertha was the hardest one to kill. She was shot but not killed instantly. She dragged herself over the ground and as one member of the mob put it, 'bleated like a goat.' Another member of the mob, slightly more decent, said that she begged so piteously for her life and squirmed about so that a number of shots had to be fired before one found a vital spot and ended her agony. 

Facts Given Governor.

"I have furnished Thomas G. McLeod Governor of South Carolina, in a six page letter, every detail regarding the lynching. I have given him the name of the member of the mob who was accorded the 'honor' of being executioner but whoe nere [sic] failed him, I have furnished him with the names and addresses and occupations of twenty-two members of the mob telling the Governor in detail of the part played by each one of them at the lynching. I have furnished him with the names of eleven other persons who were very close tot he lynching as spectators but did not actively participate in it. 

'This list includes besides the Sheriff and his deputies other so-called law enforcement officers, prominent businessmen and three men related to the Governor and the name of at least one member of the Grand Jury investigating the lynching. I also furnished the Goveronr [sic] with the names of four white men and one colored man incarcerated in the Aiken jail on the right of the lynching, and who saw the Sheriff and his deputies drag Bertha Lowman from her cell and turn her over tot the mob. I have also stated to the Governor that I can furnish him with the names and addresses of most influential and respectable white citizens of the community who will testify to the correctness of the facts set forth, if the Governor will guarantee them protection from the vengeance of the Klan and lynchers.

White Men Armed For Defense.

"In the home of one white man, formerly a high officer in the Klan, and was resigned when he found out the nature of the movement, he showed me an automatic pistol which he carried in his trousers pocket and a 38 calibre revolver in a holster. He told me that if he went only across the road in front of his house after nightfall, a distance of some 75 feet, he strapped on his person, in addition, a cartridge belt and two 45 calibre army revolvers. 

"This man showed me a collection of 30 guns including rifles, shotguns and revolvers which he had in his home for self-protection. For four years the members of the Klan from which he has resigned have been attempting to kill him. The late Sheriff Howard, the present Sheriff Robinson and the present deputy sheriffs were all expelled from the Klan some years ago for 'conduct unbecoming a Klansman.' But they were later readmitted. On the anniversary of Sheriff Howard's death, the Klan held a celebration at his grave in the Graniteville Cemetery at which according to the Columbia State, more than 1,500 persons, many of them clad in Klan robes, were furnished with free lunches and lemonade and listened to eulogies of the late Sheriff. This celebration took place while the State Supreme Court was deliberating on the appeal for a new trial for the Lowmans. 

The final leg of our journey brings us to The Gaffney Ledger (Gaffney, S. C.) on the 11th of November, 1926:



Robinson and Hart Strongly Deny Charges Made by Woman; High Officials Confer. 

Columbia, Nov. 9.—Governor McLeod announced today that he had been assured of the co-operation of Sheriff Nollie Robinson in the effort to ascertain the identity of the mob that lynched Demon, Clarence and Bertha Lowman at Aiken on the morning of October 8.

Following a conference between the sheriff and the governor—said to be the first one since the lynching—the chief executive issued a statement in which he quoted the Aiken county officer as "strongly" denying charges made in an affidavit by Mrs. Lucy Mooney that he was among the men who took Bertha Lowman from jail before she and 'the other two negroes were shot to death.

Double Denial.

Sheriff Robinson's denial was the second evoked by the affidavit, which was published in the New York World of November 5, J. Percy Hart, state constable, last night branding as false the Mooney woman's word that she saw him with other officers take possession of the woman victim of the lynchers. 

Governor McLeod adhered to his policy of not discussing the investigation of the lynching, declining to add anything to his brief statement telling of Sheriff Robinson's denial and promises. He said in his statement that the Aiken county officer came to see him voluntarily. 

Reports have been published, emanating from Aiken, to the effect that W. W. Rogers, one of the governor's detectives, has been in Aiken since the World published its first of a series of articles dealing with the lynching and its aftermath. The governor, himself, has taken the position that any statement he might make would be likely to interfere with the progress of the investigation seeking to learn who composed the mob.

Kept Under Cover.

No further information was available with regard to the whereabouts of Mrs. Mooney, who was reported to have been brought to Columbia and placed in seclusion so investigators could get in touch with her at any moment. Charles E. Lee, who with Mrs. Mooney was a prisoner in the Aiken jail at the time of the lynching and who made an affidavit similar to her's, was rumored to be in Georgia. 

Columbia, Nov. 8.—J. P. Hart, one of the Governor McLeods state constables, tonight issued a signed statement denying that he was immplicated [sic] in the lynching of the three Lowman negroes at Aiken a month ago today. His statement was in reply to affidavits purporting to have been made by two prisoners in the Aiken jail in which Hart and several others were named as alleged members of the mob. 

Another development in connection with the lynching was a report that Miss Lucy Mooney, who is said to have made one of the two affidavits in the case, had been brought to Columbia and is being kept in seclusion pending further investigation of the Aiken affair. While officials would not admit the truth of the report, it was not denied. 

Answers World Story. 

Constable Hart issued his statement when his attention was directed to the New York World of last Friday in which was printed copies of the affidavits reported to have been made by Mrs. Mooney and Charles E. Lee, both of whom were quoted several members of the mob which took Bertha, Demon and Clarence Lowman, all youthful negroes, from the Aiken jail on the morning of October 8, and shot them to death a few minutes later. 

Will Establish Alibi

Declaring that he could establish a complete alibi, Hart said in his statement that he spent the night of the lynching at his home in Edgefield, 22 miles from Aiken, and that he knew nothing of the occurrence until the following morning. The entry into the jail for the purpose of securing the three prisoners was made between 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning, according to evidence given the coroner's jury which conducted an inquest. 

Governor McLeod Silent.

Governor McLeod said tonight he had no comment to make with regard to Harts' statement. 

Sheriff Nollie Robinson of Aiken county, said over long distance telephone that he had not seen The World nor any copies of the affidavits but had heard that some affidavits had been made. 

"Anything that might be said against me or my men," he declared, "is nothing but a political play on the part of my enemies." 

Constable Hart asserted in his written statement: "I have inquired into this affair as much as the average person has and with all my experience as an investigator. I am frank to say all that I have been able to get were rumors." 

Thank you for joining me on this journey to our past. As always, I hope I have left you with something to ponder.

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