Saturday, June 13, 2015

March 16, 1921: Howard Hurd

Today we have lynchings of several men over a period of time that all appear to be related. Our first article comes from March 18, 1921 edition of the Memphis Times-Scimitar (Memphis, Tennessee):


LAKE CORMORANT, Miss., Mar. 17—A series of warnings by masked white men to negro brakemen of the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad to quit their jobs was culminated by the lynching here last night of Howard Hurd, of Memphis. Hurd mysteriously disappeared from the freight train he was working when it was halted at Clayton, Miss., for a hot box. He was found riddled with bullets 500 yards north of Lake Cormorant station at 5 o'clock this morning. The following note was found in his overalls:

"Take this as a warning to all nigger railroad men."

Hurd had been employed by the Yazoo and Mississippi for several years. For the past five weeks negro brakemen have been terrorized by gangs of white men who stop Y&MV trains between Memphis and Clarksdale, Miss., and molest them. Several negro trainmen have been severely beaten.

Walter Banks, of Memphis, speaking to railroad investigators there recently, told of being pulled off his freight train when it stopped at Lakeview.

"Come with us, nigger," they ordered.

While Banks' train pulled out on its way south, the masked men, none of whom could be identified by the black, took him to a field and gave him a severe beating, warning him to leave railroad work for white men. Then, according to Banks, the men told him to run toward the lake. They fired several shots and forced him to jump into the lake.

Banks could swim, and made his way across as arm of the lake. For several minutes the masked men kept firing at him constantly. Banks reached the shore and made his way back to Memphis, a distance of 14 miles, on foot.

Robert Grant was another negro taken from his train and given a warning to quit work, according to railroad investigators. John Jackson and Charles Haron are other negro brakemen said to have been similarly treated.

The method of the midnight terrorists, it is said, is to ride freight trains out of Memphis, or to board them at points south of here. When the trains reach points where they want to take the negro brakemen off, the angle cock is opened, throwing on the air brakes the entire length of the train. The masked men seem to know the location of the negro brakemen, and take them quickly, and without commotion.

They are said never to be seen by the white members of the crews who will have nothing to say about the mysterious occurrences.

Superintendent V. V. Botner, of the Memphis division of the Y. & M. V. road, was out of the city Thursday. General Superintendent Egan was also away from the city. Their assistants would not comment on the case.

"The case is a very delicate one," said one under-official Thursday, "and we do not want any publicity given it."

This official, in the absence of the superintendents, denied emphatic reports that three negroes have met death on the road within the last few weeks.

"Hurd is the only negro killed," said the official.

Reports have gone as far as Chicago offices of the Illinois Central railroad, contend that two negroes have been slain mysteriously and buried by section hands on the right-of-way of the Y. & M. V.

Several negro railroad men are expected to leave the road, due to the murder of Hurd.

I must say they got their wish to not have publicity. It took quite a while to find the few articles I could. The next article comes from The Dallas Express (Dallas, Texas) dated May 7, 1921:

Death of Brakeman on Southern Road Stir Rail Hands.

Memphis, Tenn., May 5.—Arthur Tyler, 37, 1126 Florida street, brakeman on the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley railroad, was mysteriously shot 17 times through the head and body while his freight train was standing on a switch at Banks, Miss., late Saturday night. One bullet through Tyler's heart killed him instantly. Banks is a point four miles south of Lake Cormorant, Miss.

Tyler, according to the story of the remainder [of] the train crew, was walking from the engine to the caboose when he became the target of a volley of shots from the darkness on the west side of the right-of-way.

Lantern Still Burns.

Trainmen declared they heard more than 30 shots. When members of the crew went in search of Tyler, they found his body close to the train. Tyler's hand still held the handle of his railroad lantern, still lighted.

Railroad officials and special agents here are puzzled over the shooting, the second on the Y. & M. V. within a month.

About a month ago the body of Howard Hurd was found with bullet holes through the heart, neck and head, a short distance from the station at Lake Cormorant, Miss. A note in Hurd's pocket read:

"Let this be a warning to all niggers."

Our next article comes from the same paper's July 2, 1921 edition:


Jackson, Miss., June 30.— Gov. Russell has been called upon to exert the executive power of the state for the suppression of what appears to be an extensively organized band of assassins, whose object seems to be to frighten Negro firemen and switchmen and drive them from train service.

Three Negroes have already been assassinated, according to the railroad authorities who complained to the governor. The trouble thus far has been confined to the Illinois Central Railroad and the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley line.

Assassination or attempted assassinations are said to have occurred at Banks and Lake Cormorant on the Valley line, at Water Valley, Yalobusha County, Durant, in Holmes County, and Raines, Tenn., on the Illinois Central.

In some instances it is declared that shots have been fired at fir[e]men in the cab while the trains were running. In other cases flagmen sent back to protect a train have been attacked.

The heinousness of these offenses is magnified when it is considered that the killing of a flagmen on duty would endanger the lives of the passengers and crew he is protecting:  and in shooting into a cab at a Negro firemen and the white engineer is jeopardized and his death might result in a catastrophe.

The governor has not been furnished with specific details as to names, dates and places where the actual killing of Negroes has occurred, but his aid has been invoked by the railroad authorities.

The fact that these instances occur in such widely separated places shows that their is evidently an organization at work, and as only Negro railroad men are attacked the object is apparently to frighten them off the trains and make room for white labor. Further proof of this is that many threatening letters have been received by these Negro railroad employees.

Gov. Russell today issued the following notice on the subject:

Jackson, Miss., June 10, 1921.

To the Sheriffs, Mayors and Other Law Enforcing Officers of Mississippi:

Gentlemen:—Information comes to me that some two or three persons in the employ of the railroads of the state have been assassinated by unknown parties. Several trains have been shot into and many threatening letters have been sent to employes [sic]. The victims of these assassinations have thus far been Negroes and these disturbances have taken place in the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley, Water Valley and Durant on the Illinois Central Railroad, the details of which I have yet been unable to ascertain.

I am sure that this form of lawlessness will be condemned by all law-abiding citizens of this state, and I am making this public declaration to the end that all officers everywhere shall be especially vigilant in apprehending and pu[n]ishing this sort of criminals. The public is vitally interested in the prompt and efficient handling of both passengers and we can ill afford to have this service handicapped in any way, and certain it is that all such outlawry must not only be condemned but speedily and effectively put to an end. In this period of general unrest throughout the country, it is imperative that all our citizenship co-operate in the full enforcement of the law. I trust that all such law violators will be apprehended and speedily punished and to this end I am asking the earnest, prompt and full co-operation of our citizenship.

LEE M. RUSSELL, Governor.

The final article comes to us through The Monroe News-Star (Monroe, Louisiana) dated September 22, 1921:

Memphis—John Phillips, a former Yazoo, Mississippi Valley railroad fireman, was arrested on a charge of murder in conenction [sic] with the death of Henry Hager, a negro brakeman, one of several negro trainmen shot or beaten recently in an alleged campaign of intimitation [sic] to drive the negro trainmen from the railroad's employ.

That is all I found about these cases, I hope to find more about them later. For now, thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.  

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