Tuesday, March 24, 2015

March 24, 1902: Bill Zeigler

Today we learn about an Alabama lynching through the pages of the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) dated March 25, 1902:


TROY, Ala., March 24.—Bill Zeigler, a negro charged with an assault on a little girl, was lynched seven miles below this place. At the preliminary hearing the negro was bound over to the grand jury, the sheriff started to town with the prisoner, but was overpowered by the mob. The coroner's jury rendered a verdict that the negro came to his death at the hands of unknown persons.

Today's article of interest comes to us from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, N. Y.) dated February 7, 1937:

Put a Stop to Lynching!

by Martha Gruening 

LINCOLN'S BIRTHDAY this year will be made the occasion of a nationwide demonstration against lynching by youth groups connected with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Protest mass meetings will be held throughout the country on this day at which "Stop Lynching" buttons will be sold and mourning arm bands worn for the victims of the lynchers. The National Association's campaign will be focused this year chiefly on the attempt to pass a Federal anti-lynching bill.

The idea behind such a bill is not new. The association has on two previous occasions sponsored such bills, the Dyer anti-lynching bill in 1926 and the Wagner-Costigan bill in 1935. Both of these bills were killed by filibusters in the Senate, but in spite of such setbacks the champions of Federal action have felt that even agitation for such action has resulted in an immediate decrease in the number of lynchings. The principal reasons for championing Federal legislation is the belief that it will be more effective than State action which has been notoriously inadequate in punishing lynching mobs , and the county officers who have failed to resist such mobs. The figures in the case give strong support to such a view. In an analysis of lynchings for 1931 - 1935 published last year by the Southern Commission on Interracial Co-operation, the following statement is made:  "In the five years under review arrests were made in only 13 of the 84 lynchings. Indictments were returned in only seven cases and convictions were secured in only three." Dr. Arthur Reaper, research secretary of the Commission, stated in "The Tragedy of Lynching," published in 1933, that of all the hundreds of thousands who had been participants or spectators in lynchings in the years 1889 - 1930, only 49 had even been convicted and sentenced. The number of those lynched for the same period was 3,724. In the last six years there have been at least 97 additional cases.

Federal anti-lynching legislation is opposed by some on the ground that it will be little more effective than already existing State legislation. Particular bills have been criticized, especially from the left, as being too restricted in scope, insufficiently drastic in the punishments suggested and as open to misuse in labor troubles. The chief argument of Southern opponents, however, is that such legislation is unconstitutional and an infringement of States' rights. To this its champions reply with considerable logic that a Federal anti-lynching law is no more infringement of States' rights than the Lindbergh Law against kidnapers [sic], which was not opposed on such grounds. This argument derives a special cogency from such recent instances as the spectacular arrest by G-men in New York of Henry Brunette, the New Jersey kidnaper, and the interest shown by Federal authorities, from the President down, in the arrest of the Mattson kidnaper [sic], although as far as is known no State line was crossed in the commission of this crime. Negroes, seeking adequate Federal anti-lynching legislation, point with an understandable bitterness to the contrast between the interest shown by Federal authorities in the above-named cases and their indifference in the atrocious kidnap-lynching of the Negro, Claude Neal, in October, 1934. In this case the victim was taken from the jail in Brewton, Ala., transported across a State line to Marianna, Fla., and lynched there after being subjected to hideous torture and mutilation. The members of the mob were not unknown—they rarely are—but they are still unpunished. If you would like to read more about this lynching, you can find it here.

And this crime, atrocious as it was, is by no means exceptional. It has not been exceptional for men, sometimes innocent men, to be tortured, mutilated and even burned alive by sadistic lynching mobs. And Southern States, though it has occurred there more frequently than elsewhere. That no section of the country is immune from such occurrences was shown the other day, when Queens housewives declared in favor of lynching Major Green, the alleged slayer of Mary Robinson Case. In 1911 a Negro, Zack Walker, was burned alive by a mob in Coatsville, Pa. Walker, a steel mill hand, had killed John Rice, a private police officer employed by the mill, in a quarrel. His story, on being captured, was that he had shot in self-defense, and as he was shot himself this may have been true. Rice was dead and there were no witnesses. Walker was taken to the Coatsville Hospital. Here he was seized and dragged , still chained to the iron bedstead, half a mile along the ground, thrown upon a pile of wood, drenched with kerosene and burned. "Other human beings to the number of several hundred," wrote Albert Jay Nock, "looked on in approval. When Walker, with superhuman strength, broke his bonds they drove him back into the flames with pitchforks and fence rails and held him there until he was burned to ashes." No one connected with the crime was ever punished. The armed police officer guarding Walker at the hospital, who allowed the mob to take him, was not removed from the force; he was merely suspended for a few days and the town's Chief of Police was reappointed while under an indictment for manslaughter growing out of the case.

The Coatesville case, however, was an exceptionally atrocious one in Northern annals ans caused widespread consternation. Because of it the late John Jay Chapman went to Coatsville and held a public prayer meeting for its citizens and Albert Jay Nock wrote "What We All Stand For." Similarly horrible lynchings have not infrequently occurred in Southern States, particularly in Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana and Georgia. In Sherman, Texas, George Hughes, a Negro farmhand, was arrested in 1930 on the charge of assaulting a white woman. On May 9, 1930, a mob of white men, women and children fired the Sherman courthouse where his trial was being held, dispersing county officials, Texas Rangers and two small units of the National Guard. Eventually this mob succeeded in blasting a two-story fireproof vault in which Hughes was confined but accidentally killed him in doing so. They then dragged his body through the streets (while white officers directed traffic) hung it to a tree in the Negro section and burned it. They then set fire to the Negro business district and slashed the fire hose. Fourteen members of the mob were indicted, and two were convicted of arson and received prison sentences of two years each. This punishment was unusually severe.

On July 4, 1933, Norris Dendy was lynched in Clinton, S. C. His crime was striking a white man in a quarrel after both of them had apparently been drinking. Dendy left the scene of the quarrel in his automobile truck, was arrested on a charge of "reckless driving" and placed in the Clinton jail. That night a mob, which eye-witnesses have sworn included three members of the town's police force, broke into the jail, dragged him out and into a waiting automobile which drove away at high speed. Next day Dendy's body was found some miles away. He had been beaten, shot and strangled to death. After years of persistent effort on the part of the dead man's brother, a South Carolina grand jury facetiously returned indictments against the rope and gun through which he came to his death and which could not, of course, be prosecuted. At last report no member of the mob had been indicted and at least two of the police officers named in eye-witness affidavits as participants were still on the town's police force. At Tampa, Fla., in December, 1935, three white men alleged to be "Reds" were kidnaped by a mob, which included several of the town's police officers, and flogged so severely that one of them, Joseph Shoemaker, died of his injuries. No one has to date been punished for Shoemaker's murder. For the lesser crime of kidnaping [sic] his companion, Poulnot, a number of the police officers were tried largely because of the threat made by William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, to cancel the Federation's Tampa convention this Fall if they were not. Five of these police officers were found guilty of this lesser crime and sentenced to serve four years each. They appealed the conviction and are at the moment but on bail awaiting the decision of the Florida Supreme Court on their appeal.

And there are on record even worse cases than these, cases where the victims were plainly innocent of any crime, or not even accused of any. Sometimes an innocent victim had been lynched because no crime had in fact been committed, and sometimes because the mob got the wrong man. Sometimes it even got the wrong woman—for, despite the allegation sometimes heard that lynching is necessary to protect Southern womanhood (an allegation which is indignantly repudiated by the Association of Southern Women to Prevent Lynching), women and children have also on occasion been among the victims. In the particularly horrible lynchings in Brooks  and Lowes Counties, Georgia, in 1918 Mary Turner, a Negro woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was burned to death. Her offense was asesrting [sic] the inocence [sic] of her husband—who was in fact innocent—of the murder for which he was lynched. The details of this lynching are too gruesome to repeat, but the case, like so many, is an overwhelming refutation of the statement still sometimes heard that lynchings may be necessary and even, under some circumstances, wholesome; that they are due primarily to the failure of courts to punish criminals and that the remedy lies less in anti-lynching agitation and legislation than in a stricter enforcement of criminal law. No less a person than the late Governor Rolfe of California sought to excuse in this way a lynching which had disgraced his State. As the Southern Commission recently pointed out in its pamphlet "The Mob Still Rides," an increasingly large number of the lynched are Negroes. No one familiar with Southern justice will seriously contend that that the enforcement of criminal law against Negroes in the South is lax and that greater severity is needed in dealing with them. 

This is so far from being the case that, as the records show, Negroes have sometimes been lynched after receiving death sentences merely to satisfy the sadistic frenzy of the mob. They have also been lynched sometimes after being acquitted, not because the law was lax in their cases but because the preponderance of evidence pointed to their innocence. Such was the fact in the Aiken cases in 1926, in which the victims included a Negro woman and a 15-year-old Negro boy. They were taken to be lynched from the jail where they were awaiting a second trial after having successfully appealed from a conviction for "conspiracy to murder." This was true also in the case of Cordie Cheek, the Negro boy lynched in December, 1933. Cheek was accused of attempted rape but was discharged because the grand jury investigating the case found no ground for indicting him. He was kidnaped [sic] and lynched within an hour of his release from the Nashville jail where he had been held for safekeeping.

But it is still said, and sometimes, no doubt believed just because it has been repeated so often, that lynching of Negroes is almost always for crimes against women. Here again the facts collected by the National Association and the Southern Commission fail to support such a statement. The study "Thirty Years of Lynching," published by the association in 1919, covered the years 1889 - 1918. It showed that only a fourth of the Negroes lynched were even accused of such crimes. The Southern Commission's analysis of the 84 lynchings committed from 1930 to 1935 shows that scarcely one-fourth of those lynched were accused of rape and attempted rape combined. Eleven percent of the mob victims, the report goes on, were not accused of any crime. An additional 30 percent were accused only of minor offenses. Of the remaining 59 percent many were not guilty of the crimes with which they were charged. By way of illustration they state further:  "There is reason to suspect that the Negro lynched in Caledonia, Miss., accused of insulting white women, had been falsely accused by persons desiring his good cotton crop. Perhaps the most preposterous accusation of the whole five years that was against Dennis Cross, , helpless Negro paralytic who was lynched in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in September, 1933, on the charge of attempted rape." One might also appropriately recall in this connection the case of Lacy Mitchell. Mitchell, a Thomas County, Georgia, Negro, was shot to death by a group of white men in September, 1930, because he was the State's star witness against two white men accused of raping a Negro woman.

But the Commission's findings go further and deeper than this. They have not only compiled data correcting popular misconceptions about lynching. They have drawn significant social conclusions from this material. While the members of the Commission are on record as favoring Federal legislation, they know that for the causes of lynching more fundamental remedies are needed. Thus the publications of the Commission, based on many years of intensive study by trained investigators, show not only that lynchings occur most frequently in sparsely settled rural counties in the South; that is, in its poorest and most backward sections. "The bases of lynch law," Arthur Raper has written, "reside in these same attitudes which find expression in the cultural, political and economic exploitation of the Negro." It is not surprising, therefore, that lynching occurs most frequently in those Southern States where, according to this authority, "from three to sixty times as much public money is spent on the education of the white child as of the Negro child"; where the Negro cannot vote, hold office, sit on a jury or have a voice in the disposal of public funds, and where the underprivileged poor white's only and jealously guarded superiority lies in his whiteness. Lynching, the Commission's report recognizes, is an economic as well as an ethical and a legal problem. The frenzied sadism and lawlessness of lynching mobs are merely the extreme outward signs of the attitudes Mr. Raper mentions. Legislation intelligently devised and honestly administered may curb these excesses. It may even considerably reduce the number of lynchings, but lynching, in the words of the Commission's conclusion, "will be eliminated in proportion as all elements in the population are given opportunity for development and are accorded fundamental human rights."

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

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