Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May 19, 1918: Mary Turner and unborn child

Yesterday I introduced the story of Mary Turner's lynching. Today I am copying articles reporting on opinions about the lynching. Our first article comes to us from the Cayton's Weekly (Seattle, Washington) dated June 8, 1918:


Some of the white subscribers of Cayton's Weekly living in Seattle felt that its criticism of the cowardly whelps of the South, who lynch colored women, was too severe and became so incensed at what it said that they ordered their papers discontinued, but if they thought what we said was too severe, listen to what papers published by white men and in the South at that, have to say on the subject:

"The (Augusta, Ga.) Chronicle need waste no words in expressing its horror of the detestable and cowardly attack committed by a party of Lowndes County outlaws, who, on Sunday afternoon last, took from her home a woman—whose husband had been lynched the night before—hanged her to a tree and riddled her body with bullets, because, forsooth, she had made unwise remarks about the unlawful killing of her husband.

"All civilized people must stand aghast at such a crime, and who does not is at heart a criminal and a coward. So much, then, for this crime against the State of Georgia, against society, against humanity and against God.

"The only thing worth discussing, in view of all the condemnation that similar crimes and lynching in general have received from right-thinking press and people of this and all other states—in which The Chronicle has, heretofore, performed its full duty to the public, when some others failed—the only thing worth discussing now, we say, is—what is the State of Georgia going to do about it?

"First of all, what is the governor of Georgia going to do? For, of all the governors who have served Georgia since the war—or since lynching became a more or less, popular pastime in this State—it will seem to most people that he is more obligated, if that be possible, to put down lynching than any of his predecessors.

"For we cannot forget that Governor Dorsey was swept into the governor's chair by the lynching sentiment of the State. Not meaning, of course, that all the people who voted for him were lynchers in practice or sentiment, but saying and meaning that without this sentiment back of him, he might still be solicitor-general of the Atlanta circuit.

"We cannot forget, nor can it be denied, that his elevation to the governorship was the direct and immediate result of the Leo Frank lynching.

"Nor can we get away from the fact, that, following this upheaval of lawless sentiment, lynching followed lynching in this State—until Georgia soon won, and has held ever since, the lynching record of the country.

"And right here, it may be recalled that this is not the first time a Negro woman has been lynched in Georgia;  another case of very recent time being the cruel and cowardly lynching of a Negro mother at, or near, Leary, Ga., for committing the horrible  crime of trying to protect her son from an unmerciful beating.

"This and scores upon scores of other lynchings that have occurred in this State within recent years have gone absolutely unpunished. A protest from the press, an expression of disapproval, here and there, from the public, the perfunctory offering of rewards for the lynchers—and there was an end to it.

"Not a single individual has been made to pay the penalty for these crimes. Not a serious effort has been made to apprehend and punish the perpetrators of them.

"Is it any wonder then—assuming that men can be found who are so cowardly and inhuman as to take part in such outrages—that lynchings continue to occur in Georgia?

"Is it to be expected that they will grow fewer in number, or cease altogether, until somebody in Georgia does something to bring to the gallows the brutes who participate in them?

"Alas! that Georgia permitted herself to be set aflame a few years ago with the lynching fever. Alas! that, at that time, The Chronicle was the only daily newspaper that dared to wage a crusade against this unlawful sentiment, and to conduct a systematic expose of the motives and mendacity of the men who were responsible for it;  a service to its state for which reprisals were attempted against The Chronicle such as have been directed against any newspaper in Georgia.

"Georgia then sowed the wind—and she has since been reaping the whirlwind ever since.

"Is it not, we ask, peculiarly up to Governor Dorsey to use every agency of his high office—and if these be not enough, to use his tongue and pen and every power of his position—to put down lynching in Georgia;  to help redeem his state from such lawlessness as felt itself justified and glorified by his election?

"And Lowndes County!—one of the most prosperous and progressive counties in the state;  with as cultured and noble people in it as are to be found anywhere on earth—what will be its answer? What will its good people do to punish this crime of crimes and, in a measure at least, wipe away this stain?

"Or are such people outnumbered within its borders? Must its law-officers give more heed to the ignorant and lawless of its population than to those who have made Lowndes county what it is?—one of the best counties in Georgia? It remains to be seen.

"But, when we recall that Lowndes, with its neighboring county of Brooks, has been the hotbed of anti-dip-vat sentiment;  that many of its citizens deliberately dynamited government operated plants for eradicating the cattle tick in that county—and when we see, at this very time, that in the published list of deserters under the draft law, Lowndes county easily leads all the rest, any forty other counties, in fact with 211 deserters—we are compelled to confess that we fear for the power and influence of its better element and, really, look for little or nothing to be done toward apprehending and punishing the cowardly murderers of Mary Turner, the poor black woman who made unwise remarks about the lynching of her husband;  a new capital offense in Georgia, as Major Joseph B. Cumming so scathingly refers to this Lowndes county lynching in a card, published in yesterday's Chronicle, that nobly voices the best sentiment of all real Georgians."

"Stain on Democracy"

Says the Charleston Gazette of Charleston, W. Va.:

"There are so many sidelights to our national character that we turn automatically hot and cold with self pride, but fortunately the thermometer registers high. We stood on the streets only a day ago and witnessed a remarkable spectacle in our own city when 5,000 colored men and women, led by bands, one a soldier organization from a catonment, march through the city street in a patriotic demonstration. The thrill of pride that we all had in this race, which at the best is fighting under a great handicap, was dampened by a sense of shame we felt when the papers carried a news item of another lynching in the South where a crazy mob of white men perpetrated another outrage on the Negroes.

"There can be no extenuating circumstances for lynching. The fact that a major crime has been committed is not a license for embracing lynch law, but rather is a reflection upon the lynchers, illiterate, ignorant, prejudiced as they are in most instances. There can be no defense for any crime committed by a Negro or white man, but the law provides for punishment and the execution of this law is vested in authorities, not in the mob. This mob spirit is still confined almost exclusively to the South, where a population is still ignorant of the fact that the only real asset it has in its comparatively cheap labor which lies in the hands of its colored population.

"The race problem is still confined to the South, which resents any attempts to suggest a solution. The exodus from Dixie of the Negro would soon awaken the South to an appreciation of the fact that it takes just such labor as that of the Negro to plant, cultivate and pick its cotton crop. Any other kind of labor would make the price of cotton prohibitive, yet the South is still trying to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

"The race question in the South is an economic one and the South would do well to try to clean some of its dirty linen in its attitude toward the Negro. The great area of the South is fitted for nothing but the production of cotton, and despite every effort to diversify its crops cotton is still king and will remain so, although a diversification could become a fact but for climatic and other conditions which are natural barriers which cannot be overcome.

"The Negroes of the nation are giving the world a fine example of patriotism. One banner which was carried int he parade here the other day contained the motto:

"'We never had a traitor.'

"This is to the credit of the Negro race, and encouragement should be given them. This encouragement should not be manifest in lynching."

The Appeal (St. Paul, Minnesota) dated June 22, 1918:


Henry Johnson, a colored soldier of Albany, New York, has been cited and decorated by the French military authorities for what the French general of division terms "a magnificent example of courage and energy." With him was Needham Roberts, another colored man. "Both men fought bravely," says Pershing in his official report of the exploit.

On the same day that the cables from France brought the news of Johnson's and Rober6t's heroism, the wires from Valdosta, Georgia, brought the story of a lynching of a colored woman, Mary Turner by name, because she had attempted to resist the lynching of her husband.

This coincidence has moved the New York World to inquire:  "With tens of thousands of American colored men fighting for civilization in France under the American flag, how much longer are the American people to tolerate lynching of colored men and women?

The answer is easy. Lynchings of colored people will be tolerated in the South—where they occur almost exclusively—so long as the political party to which the New York World adheres is permitted to deprive colored citizens of their right to vote and thus, through the exercise of their civil rights, to protect their rights to property and life.

The Kansas City Sun (Kansas City, Missouri) dated August 10, 1918:


The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, through its secretary, John R. Shillady, of New York, announces that the names of two ringleaders and fifteen other participants in one of the mobs which lynched the first two of the eleven victims of the five days' lynching orgy which took place in Brooks and Lowndes Counties, Georgia, from May 17 to May 22, were put before Governor Hugh M. Dorsey of Georgia, in person, by Walter F. White, assistant secretary of the association, who spent four days in South Georgia investigating the affair. A full report of Mr. White's findings, which were of a sensational character, were at the same time placed before Governor Dorsey. The summary of the association's report which follows below states that eleven  authenticated cases of lynching instead of six as reported in the press at the time, were discovered by their investigator. The report describes the lynching of Mary Turner, the wife of one of the first victims, which was most revolting and brutal. The eleven persons lynched met their fate as the result of mob frenzy, following the killing of Hampton Smith, a white farmer, and the wounding of his wife, on May 16. One of the men lynched is said by the Association to have stated to several persons interviewed by Mr. White that he alone did the shooting and that no others were implicated.

The association says that Mr. White's findings were submitted to Governor Dorsey at the latter's request on July 10 and that a copy was mailed the President for his information a few days ago.

In making public the results of the Assistant Secretary's investigations into the South Georgia lynchings, Mr. Shillady, the Secretary, said that the Association was gratified beyond measure at the recent magnificent pronouncement of President Wilson in condemnation of the mob spirit and lynching.

"The Association appreciates," said Mr. Shillady, "as perhaps no other organization in the country can, the full meaning of the danger which President Wilson seeks to avoid when he calls upon the 'governors of all the states, the law officers of every community in the United States * * * to make an end of this disgraceful evil.'

"The lynching of Negroes," said Mr. Shillady, "had become so much a habit in certain sections of our country that the President's prestige was needed to give impetus to the movement to overcome it. Governor Dorsey, who in his message to the Georgia Legislature on July 3 denounced mob violence in strong terms, and the State of Georgia are now challenged to measure up the President Wilson's great appeal. In one memorable sentence President Wilson has put it squarely up to each community. As the President says, 'it (lynching and mob violence) cannot live where the community does not countenance it.'"

A summary of the report follows:

"Instead of six victims of the mobs which ranged over Brooks and Lowndes Counties from May 17 to May 22, eleven authenticated cases were discovered during an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the killing of Hampton Smith, a white farmer of Brooks County, Georgia, and the wounding of his wife near Barney, Georgia, on May 16, and of the lynchings which followed. Press dispatches at the time named Will Head, Will Thompson, Hayes Turner, Mary Turner, his wife;  Eugene Rice and Syndney Johnson;  the latter of whom had stated before he was captured to several persons interviewed that he alone was implicated in the affair and that the five who had been previously lynched (the five already named) were not involved in it. Five additional victims were found, Chime Riley, Simon Schuman and three unidentified Negroes whose bodies were taken from the Little River just below Quitman, Georgia, about a week after they had been lynched. Negroes of the neighborhood told the investigator that there were eighteen victims but no more than eleven could be authenticated.

"More than 500 Negroes have left the region since the outbreak, so that a number of Negroes who were said by acquaintances to have mysteriously disappeared could not be located nor their whereabouts ascertained and are not included in the investigator's findings. hundred of acres of once productive lands are now overrun with weeds and dozens of farm houses and cabins deserted by their former occupants, despite the threats involved in the statements of the mobs that any Negro attempting to leave the region would be considered to be involved in the killing of Smith.

"Chime Riley was lynched and clay turpentine cups, used to catch the gum when turpentine trees are cut, were tied to his body and the body thrown into the Little River, near Barney, Ga. Simon Schuman was called out of his house near Berlin, Ga., on the Moultrie Road, at night and has not been seen since. The interior of his house, as well as the furniture, was completely demolished.

"The story of Mary Turner's fate was related to the investigator by men who affirmed that they were present at her death and is related with every desire to avoid the gruesome except as is necessary in giving the facts.

"Mary Turner, wife of Hayes Turner, who had been reported by the press as having been lynched because of 'unwise remarks' concerning the lynching of her husband and who was approaching confinement, was tied down by the ankles and hung head downward. Gasoline was taken from the automobiles of the lynching party and poured on her clothing, which was then burned from her person. After her clothes had burned off she was disemboweled and her unborn child fell from her womb, and while still alive, was crushed by the heel of a member of the mob. The woman's body was riddles with bullets from high powered rifles until it was unrecognizable. She was buried ten feet from the tree and at the head of her grave was placed a whiskey bottle with a cigar stump in the neck of it. A photograph  of the grave as described is in the possession of the Association for the Advancement of Colored People."

In case you are unfamiliar with the Leo Frank lynching mentioned earlier, you can find a post about it here. Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.    

No comments:

Post a Comment