Monday, January 25, 2016

July 30, 1935: Govan Ward

Today we learn about a lynching in North Carolina through the pages of The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida) dated July 31, 1935:


Whites And Blacks In Crowd That Hangs Alleged Killer.

By the Associated Press

LOUISBURG, N. C., July 30.—An angry mob of negroes and white men today lynched Govan Ward, 25-year-old mentally deficient negro known by the nickname "Sweat" for the axe-slaying of a white farmer.

Within four hours after Ward had chopped off C. G. Stokes' head with an axe as the climax of what Sheriff J. T. Moore said apparently was a mad frenzy, the bullet-riddled body of the negro was left swinging from a limb of an oak tree half a mile from where Stokes was slain.

The sheriff, who, fearing violence, was taking the negro from the county was forced to surrender him to the mob ten miles from here.

Moore said there were about 25 men, some white and some negroes, in the armed group which halted his automobile and took the negro from him and a deputy, T. J. Bean, as they were taking him to Rocky Mount for safe-keeping.

The mob carried Ward back to Haynesville township, about halfway between Louisburg and Anderson, and lynched him while national guardsmen and state highway patrolmen, ordered out by Governor J. C. B. Ehringhaus, sped futilely in an effort to halt the mob violence.

While a crowd of several hundred curious milled about in the grove where Ward was hanged and his body filled with pistol and shotgun slugs, Coroner R. A. Bobbitt took the body down and held an inquest. The verdict, rendered in five minutes, was death at the hands of parties unknown.

Solicitor William Y. Bickett, of Raleigh, prosecuting officer for this judicial district, and County Attorney Charles Green both attended the inquest and said their offices would bend all efforts to prosecution of the mob's members if they could be identified.

     Our next article comes from the Statesville Daily Record (Statesville, N. C.) dated August 2, 1935:


Hope To Learn Identity Of Mob Who Lynched Negro

Raleigh, Aug 1.—Governor Ehringhaus has offered the maximum State reward of $400 for the arrest and conviction of the men who lynched Govan (Sweat) Ward, 25, negro, in a grove some ten miles from Louisburg in Franklin county Tuesday, after Ward had chopped off the head of Charles G. Stokes, white farmer of Franklin, and was being spirited away by the sheriff to prevent just what did happen.

Also, Governor Ehringhaus named Judge W. C. Harris, Raleigh, as committing magistrate at a hearing scheduled for 10 o'clock Thursday, at which time Solicitor William Y. Bickett said some 50 witnesses would be subpoenaed.

Quiet prevailed in the adjoining county following the lynching, except that souvenir hunters were busy on the negro's clothing, the lynch tree and other articles and items that were obtainable. Governor Ehringhaus had not been notified officially by Franklin officer of the lynching up to Wednesday.

The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) dated August 10, 1935:



RALEIGH, N. C., Aug. 8—(ANP)—A reward of $400 has been offered by Governor Ehringhaus for the arrest and conviction of parties responsible for the lynching of Govan Ward, who ran amuck at Louisburg, N. C., and killed a 67-year-old white farmer. In the meantime, the chief executive of the State is trying to ascertain just why the officers of Franklin county were so dilatory in requesting help to prevent mob violence and why it was impossible to recognize any of the members of the mob, although they were unmasked.

The governor learned of the lynching through Associated Press reports and immediately dispatched tro[o]ps to the scene but they arrived too late to deter the lynchers. They found the body of the lynched man suspended from an oak tree and a crowd of men and women milling about the body, expressing approval of the action of the mob and some cutting off toes and other parts of the body for souvenirs. In the crowd were many young women who apparently found much pleasure in viewing the gruesome spectacle and in praising the "heroism" of the lynchers.

When the lynching was first reported it was said that Negroes were numbered among the mob, but little credence is being put in the story and Negro leaders themselves are looking askance at the reports, pointing to the fact that Negroes are law-abiding and are willing at all times to let the law take its course and to the fact that it was due to the act of a Negro that the man, who had been declared insane, was placed under arrest.

Some of the facts relative to the lynching that are causing much comment include:

1.  That although it was common knowledge that mob violence was in the making, one sheriff and two deputies attempted to take the prisoner to another county for safekeeping.

2.  That the prisoner was beaten over the head with a blackjack by one of the officers who attempted to kill him by placing a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. his gun had been unbreached when dislodged from the holster during a struggle with the manacled prisoner and the bullets emptied on the floor of the car, hence it did not fire, and this officer then declared:  "I wanted to kill him then and there but the others would not let me."

3.  That the officers did not observe or attempt to get the numbers of licenses on any of the cars carrying the lynchers.

4.  That the governor was not notified by the officers but instead a band of 30 special deputies were assigned the task of rounding up the lynchers.

Governor Issues Statement

In discussing the outrage, Governor Ehringhaus issued the following statement:  "Two horrible crimes have been committed in Franklin county today. The first by an apparently crazed and degenerate individual, the second by a mob of supposedly responsible citizens. The first intimation of either occurrence came to the Governor's office, not through officers of the law, but through the Associated Press and this was to that effect that the wretched defendant had already been taken from the officers by the mob.

"Immediately the Highway Patrol and the National Guard received orders to do all possible to avert a lynching. Both acted with the utmost promptness and dispatch and both were on the scene within a remarkably brief period of time, but too late to prevent the last crime. This office also immediately sought to get in touch with the Sheriff of Franklin county by long distance but could not do so. The Governor also called upon the Sheriff of Vance county and urged that they offer every possible assistance to prevent lynching or disorder. No report of the first crime or any danger or threat of trouble was made to this office by any officer of the law for Franklin county and no request came for assistance. Had we received an intimation that the transfer of the prisoner for safekeeping was contemplated and there was any danger of disorder we could have rendered prompt and constructive assistance, but no such information or request was forthcoming.

"Offense Against Decency"

" I deplore, of course, the original crime, horrible in its details, but I deplore also the second offense against the laws of North Carolina and public decency and feel keenly the shame and reflection which it has cast upon our good name and reputation for orderly administration of justice."

The crime for which Ward was lynched was the decapitating of an aged white man who attempted to stop him from beating his (Ward's) sister with a bottle. Ward was insane at the time and had attacked two others before he killed Charles G. Stokes, the 67-year-old white farmer. An ax was the weapon used by the killer.

The Index-Journal (Greenwood, S. C.) dated September 3, 1935:


RALEIGH, Sept 3 (AP)—Governor Ehringhaus today received a letter from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People allegedly naming nine persons who were members of the Franklin county mob which lynched Govan Ward on July 30 near Lewisburg but he did not reveal the names.

Our last article comes from The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) dated September 7, 1935:


N. A. A. C. P. Sends President Data on North Carolina Lynching of Govan Ward.

NEW YORK, Sept. 5—Calling attention to the fact that Senator Josiah W. Bailey, a member of his party and a leader in the filibuster against the Costigan-Wagner bill, has threatened that he will filibuster against the Costigan-Wagner anti-lynching bill whenever it is brought up, President Roosevelt was supplied by the N. A. A. C. P. with the facts of the lynching of Govan Ward at Louisburg, N. C., on July 30.

The President is asked by Walter White, secretary of the N. A. A. C. P., "what steps you as President and your administration will take in the next session of the 74th Congress to insure a vote upon the Costigan-Wagner bill.

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


  1. I met "Sweat"'s grand-nephew today. A charming man! He recalled that Sweat was a light-skinned black man; he was debonair and quite the ladies man. After a bad romance, a spurned lover attempted to poison him. He survived the attempt, but was left mentally disturbed.
    He was not at all violent; he spent his days on his sister's front porch.
    No one (in the family) knew what set Sweat off. The man he killed was a long-time friend. In his younger days, regularly helped him on his farm.

    Sweat disappeared for a few hours that day, and returned to his sister's porch with the head of Mr Stokes in his hands.

    He was lynched later that evening, according to Stan, his great-nephew.

  2. Personally, all the things I've learned about Black people being lynched in the south, most of the time they didn't do the crime. White people are the one's telling most of these story's and they Lie often to make their race look good. It's all done to make Blacks look like Savages, when in reality, the Savage(uncivilized) is the one telling the story, the Cave Dweller Complex. Just look at the Police today, who's violent and out of control and the majority of the time, they are White, the Cave Dweller Complex!

    1. I agree that too often it is not clear the guilt of the lynched person. Some are so obviously innocent it is outrageous. You are right when you say that the story is often told by the lynchers. I try to find articles in black papers about the lynchings to offset that situation. It truly doesn't matter if someone is guilty of not, lynching is murder and is wrong. The current situation of police shootings does seem to mimic the lynchings. The excuses given are indeed meant to dehumanize. Thank you for reading the blog and commenting.

  3. Fascinating. I believe this is the last public lynching in Franklin County. The solicitor William Y. Bickett was the son of Gov. Bickett and Fanny Yarborough Bickett. Ms. Yarborough was kin to both Will and myself Steve.