Monday, February 16, 2015

February 16, 1902: Louis F. Wright

The St. Louis Republic (Saint Louis, Missouri) dated February 18, 1902:


RIOT IN THEATER LEADS TO LYNCHING OF NEGRO MINSTREL

Louis F. Wright, Member of Richards and Pringle Company, Hanged at New Madrid, Mo.

TAKEN FROM JAIL BY MOB.

Had Been Arrested After the Performance at the Theater Had Ended in Fusillade of Shots.

TWO MEN WERE WOUNDED.

Trouble Was Started by Two Youths Snowballing Three of the Negro Entertainers on the Street Saturday.

REPUBLIC SPECIAL.

New Madrid, Mo., Feb. 17.—As a result of a riot in the opera-house here Saturday night between members of Richards & Pringle's Georgia Minstrels and men and boys in the audience, Louis F. Wright, a negro minstrel whose home is in Ottawa, Kas., was lynched late last night by a mob of masked men.

He was hanged from the limb of a big elm tree which stands by the Big Prairie road, just north of the railroad tracks on the edge of town. 

The riot in the opera-house resulted in the shooting of one minstrel and one man in the audience. Several other had narrow escapes from being wounded, bullets passing through their clothing. 

Wright and several members of the minstrel company were arrested Saturday night and locked in jail. The mob which marched to the jail last night and compelled the Sheriff to give up his keys, did not attempt to take any of the prisoners but Wright. It was known that he had done most of the shooting from the stage into the audience, and he was held chiefly responsible for the whole trouble. 

MINSTRELS WERE SNOWBALLED: CURSED WHITE YOUTHS.

The Richards and Pringle Minstrels, twenty four in number, arrived in New Madrid Saturday morning, and appeared at the opera-house that evening. During the afternoon several of the negroes, flashily dressed, paraded the streets of the town and became the target for the gibes and the snowballs of young men and boys on the streets.

Three of the negro entertainers were walking by the Courthouse when two young white men—Richard Mott and Thomas Waters—began snowballing them. It is claimed that none of the minstrels were hit by the balls, but they became angry, and, it is alleged, one of them turned and cursed the white boys. 

Immediate trouble was averted by the Town Marshal, who advised the boys to go on home, and told the minstrels they would be wise to get off the streets to avoid any trouble. 

When the hour for the evening performance arrived the opera-house was packed and jammed. The show began on time, and almost immediately signs of trouble appeared. Several men and boys sitting near the stage began to make remarks to the performers on the stage, and the minstrels would reply in tones loud enough to be heard over the entire house. 

BAD FEELING BETWEEN PERFORMERS AND SPECTATORS

The remarks that were exchanged between the performers and men in the audience were at first good-natured, but they became more and more personal and offensive as the performance progressed. 

Jeers, catcalls and hisses punctuated the entertainment. Sentimental ballads were received with laughter; the funny gags and jokes brought forth groans. Some of the minstrels made no effort to please and frequently addressed personal remarks to member of the audience. 

Older heads saw the danger of the situation and endeavored to restrain the thoughtless in the audience from carrying the matter any further, but in vain. 

Just as the performance closed and before many of the audience had left the building, half a dozen young men started to go upon the stage to find the negro who had insulted the white boys in the afternoon and force him to apologize. 

SHOTS FIRED INTO THE HALL FROM THE STAGE.

As they were going through the narrow passageway to the stage, one of the members of the minstrel company opened fire with a revolver. In a moment, half a dozen pistols were being fired at random by the negroes and white men. Panic ensued in the hall, and men, women and children rushed pell-mell from the building, screaming and crying. 

Twenty shots were fired and one negro received a bullet wound in the leg. Clay Hunter, sun of A. B. Hunter, one of the most prominent men in town, received a scalp wound. Four bullets passed through the clothing worn by Wint Lewis. A ball passed through the collar of Tommie Water's coat. A shot passed through the back of Hal Hunter's overcoat, just grazing the skin. Two bullet holes were found in Miss McLelland's dress after she had gone home. 

Older men in the hall and members of the company who had all along been trying to prevent the trouble, finally stopped the shooting. The minstrels left through the stage door and went directly to their car on the side track. The crowd at the theater gradually dispersed and, when it was learned that the negroes who did the shooting were under arrest, it was supposed that the trouble was ended. 

FIVE MEN TOOK THE PRISONER FROM THE JAIL

Yesterday, however, groups of men collected on the street corners, discussing the shooting at the theater. About  midnight five men went to the jail, took Sheriff Stone unawares and overpowered him, secured the keys and went upstairs to the cell wherein Louis F. Wright was locked. 

The negro pleaded with the men not to take him out of the jail, but they would not listen to him. Outside the jail the five men were joined by others, who assisted in the lynching. The body of the dead negro was cut down this morning by the Sheriff. The men who composed the mob are not known. 

WRIGHT WELL KNOWN IN OTTAWA. 

REPUBLIC SPECIAL.

Ottawa, Kas., Feb. 17.—Louis Wright, who was lynched at New Madrid, Mo., for shooting into a crowd at a theater, has been a member of the minstrel company for several seasons. He was a singer of considerable local note before going on the road. His parents lately moved to Chicago. The boy was last here last September. He was about 19 years old. 

Thank you for joining me and, as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder. 

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