Tuesday, February 16, 2016
August 13, 1911: Zachariah "Zach" Walker
Today we learn about a lynching in Pennsylvania through the pages of The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) dated August 14, 1911:
NEGRO BURNED AT STAKE BY MOB
Infuriated Citizens of Coatesville Wreak Vengeance on Slayer of Policeman.
TAKEN FROM HOSPITAL
Almost as Many Women as Men in Crowd Which Avenges Dead Officer.
COATESVILLE, Pa., Aug. 13.—Zachariah Walker, a negro desperado, was carried on a cot from the hospital here tonight and burned to a crisp by a frenzied mob of men and boys on a fire which they had ignited about a half mile from town. The negro, who had shot and killed Edgar Rice, a special policeman of the Worth Iron mills, last night, was first dragged to the scene of the shooting, begging piteously for mercy.
He had been arrested by a posse late this afternoon after a search which had stirred the countryside. When the posse finally located him he was found hiding in a cherry tree and with the last bullet in his revolver shot himself in the mouth, falling from the tree. He was removed to the hospital and placed under police guard.
A few minutes after 9 o'clock a mob numbering almost one thousand persons appeared at the hospital. The leaders were unable to gain admission but quickly smashed the window frames and crawled through the corridor. A policeman who had been placed on duty to watch Walker was the only person in the building besides the nurses and patients.
Took Bed and Patient.
The leader of the mob placed his hands over the policeman's eyes while others who had entered the building set about to take their man from the hospital. When Walker was taken to the hospital he was strapped down in order to prevent his escape. The mob seeing this gathered up the bed and placing it on the shoulders of four men started for the country. They left town by way of the Towerville road and when a half mile from the hospital stopped at the farm of Mrs. Sarah Jane Newlin.
Here they entered a field and quickly gathering up a pile of dry grass and weeds placed the bed containing their victim upon it. The negro was begging piteously to be released, but his pleadings fell on deaf ears. A match was placed to the pile of grass and the flame shot up quickly, entirely enshrouding the screaming victim. That nota [sic] vestige of the murderer be left the mob tore down the fence along the road and piled the rails upon the burning negro.
Many Women in Crowd.
After waiting for half an hour the mob dispersed as quietly as it had come. A curious feature of the burning was the fact that there were almost as many women in the crowd as men.
The mob was orderly, scarcely a murmur being heard from the time that it began to congregate on the streets until it had dispersed less than an hour later.
During the march from the hospital to the scene of the burning of the negro, a distance of less than three-quarter of a mile not a policeman was encountered by the determined mob. Even the man on duty in the hospital made no effort to stop the fifteen or more leaders who gained admittance to the institution.
The only masks worn by the members of the mob were handkerchiefs drawn loosely over their faces.
Work of Determined Men.
That the burning of the negro was designed and carried out by level headed men there can be no doubt. It was not the work of men whose nerves had been wrought up to the danger point by over indulgence, but rather the work of a body of determined men who were ready to take any kind of a chance to avenge the death of a respectable citizen who had been shot down in cold blood.
Coatesville is a town of about 10,000 persons, and is located on the main line of the Pennsylvania railroad about thirty miles west of Philadelphia.
Before the body of the negro had been consumed the news spread throughout the town that Walker had been lynched on the outskirts, and while the rails and bedding were yete [sic] smouldering the road leading to the scene was alive with automobiles. It is estimated that nearly 500 of such conveyances visited the scene of the burning before midnight.
Screams Attracted Many.
After the mob had reached the outskirts they dropped the bed upon which the negro lay instead of carrying it, and dragged the half-crazed victim strapped to the bed, along the road. The negro evidently believing the mob was bent upon lynching him begged piteously not to be "strung up" and, while lying on the bed watching the mob gathering the dry grass and heaping it near the bed his fears were apparently doubled.
With screams living adjacent to the farm upon which the pyre was built. Several reached the field almost as the match was placed to the dry hay, but not one offered any remonstrance, and very few spoke a word in opposition to the summary vengeance visited upon the negro.
When the mob left the scene of the fire it walked along the road quietly until within a short distance of the borough limits and then dispersed, the men, women and boys scattering as if by magic.
District Attorney Robert Gaythrop came over from West Chester tonight and stated that every effort would be made to discover the identity of the ring leaders of the mob. An investigation is already under way and the county detective is at work endeavoring to find out who took part in the crime which has cast a blot on the fair name of Chester county.
The August 17, 1911 edition of the New York Age (New York, N. Y.) printed a scathing column in response to the lynching:
SOWING THE WIND.
The Governor of Pennsylvania was once a great baseball player. He stood high with the bellowing fanatics in their grandstand. He was a good catcher and a fair hitter. He might well have remained in the world of sport, for in the affairs of government he is still a baseball player. When the news of the Coatesville lynching and burning reached him, what action did he take? This little fice with a bulldog's chain [sic] This little man with a bulldog's chain about his neck, what message did he send to the people of Pennsylvania and the country? "I am sorry," he said in effect, "but mistakes will happen." No wonder great Pennsylvania hangs its head in shame. Where giants once sat there sits a pigmy now. Governor Tener extracts no little comfort from this reflection:
I am making a full investigation and
in a few days will know all about the
occurrence and who were its ringlead-
ers. I realize, however, that the town
of Coatesville is an orderly one. It is
a respectable community of industrial
people, and I cannot conceive for a
moment how such a thing could hap-
pen, and on Sunday.
"In a few days." The Easy Minded! "Coatesville an orderly town." A fool's speech in the mouth of a statesman! Blood, murder, lynching, burning a human being; all this in an orderly town! What was Tenet's majority down there among the "industrial (sic) people?" On Sunday? How? Give Tener a spoon of soothing syrup, the blindness of birth is not yet broken from his eyes. Is there consolation in an hour like this for a governor of a mob-ridden state? Tener is easily consoled. Why weep or waste a single sigh:
I believe, however, that a lynching
could occur in New York, indeed in
any Northern State as well as Penn-
The governor's belief is not to be shaken, but another lynching in Pennsylvania would wreck the state; and a lynching in New York, and we expect something of that kind to be attempted here, would bring desolation more than enough for an army. The brutes of the "white race" are sowing the wind; let them put to death a Negro in this town, and see the whirlwind reaped. The situation in the North as well as the South, demands that men of color must everywhere be prepared to protect themselves. The law officers are powerless. The nation is powerless. The governors are powerless. The pulpit is silent. The press is dumb. The Negro is forced to the wall. They must protect themselves who have no protection in a free government.
The World asks how do black men feel? We answer for them. They feel that in a land whose fields they have cleared and whose history is empty without their record; whose wars they have fought and whose flags they have saved from the clutches of the revels, they are friendless. The newcomers from the vice-dens of Europe, the brutes and half-starved slaves from the markets of the old world in the North, and the ancient opponents of liberty in the South, are one in degrading black men. But mark this, dear World, with the black man, if he go down, down also goes the republic. A hissing and a byword among the enlightened nations of the earth already, let lynch-law take its throne here, and soon we shall be a memory. Where glory sheds its lustre today, to-morrow sorrow-marked columns will tell the story of the fall.
The Times goes to the heart of the Pennsylvania barbarity. Walker was lynched not because he was a murderer, for murderers are as common as leaves in autumn (and what the Negro has learned of murder was taught him by the American "white" man), but because he was a Negro murderer. The barbarians burned Walker, but they burned at Walker's race. Walker's race feels the sting, feels the degrading whip of scorn cracked on this awful occasion by the hungry beasts from the wilds of southern Europe. Walker's race has borne in patience the persecution of fifty bitter years. Walker's race remains a kindly race. But Walker's race begins to weary under the burden of lynch-law, disfranchisement and old Jim Crow. His race doubts the olive branch of peace, and no longer perceives the efficacy of the gospel of love. His race has read the records of those who have come up through trials and tribulations. They have read therein that those who permit oppression will always be oppressed, and self-protection is the first principle of equality.
The United States may go on in its drunkenness. It may debauch itself on the wine of self-glory. It may oppress the Negro race. It may run wild over airships and close its eyes to wicked sights, and its ears to the cries of justice. But soon or late there will be hell to tell the captain.
Our next article comes from the Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) dated August 16, 1911:
In its editorial comment upon the disheartening and disgraceful tragedy at Coatesville last Sunday night, the Philadelphia Public Ledger makes a suggestion which we regard as sufficiently important to reproduce:
The sanguinary event suggests
the reflection that the same sort of
people who dragged the moaning
culprit through the streets are
among the very ones whom cer-
tain fanatics and radicals would
like to commit the power of recall-
ing the Supreme Court Judges of
the United States. those who can-
not control themselves and their
own bloodlust, forsooth, are to be
permitted to dictate the abdication
of eminent jurists who are not set
in their exalted station to be in-
timadated or terrorized in the in-
terests of a faction or a mob, or to
be voted on like a municipal loan
or a legislative amendment, but to
construe the law impersonally and
disinterestedly for the benefit of all
the people. And such men as
those who lynched Walker are pre-
sumed to be qualified to decide in-
stantly upon the fitness of men like
White and Hughes to interpret the
intent of the law and pronounce
sentence accordingly in issues of
the gravest moment!
Although it may be argued that the mob who lynched Walker were not the voters of Coatesville, or, at least, not all of the voters or a majority of the voters, the fact remains that such mob violence invariably represents the preponderance of public sentiment at that time. If a majority of the citizens of Coatesville had been as keenly interested in preventing the lynching as the minority were in carrying it out, Walker would have been tried, convicted and executed according to law.
The fact that no such interest was manifested and that those who disapproved did so only passively shows what possibilities there are for the abuse of the recall.
Another lesson in connection with this shocking crime is the futility of it. Almost simultaneously with the affair in Coatesville, a negro who attacked and killed a woman near Durant, Okla., was shot to death by a mob and his body burned, the idea being, as usual, to make such a horrible example of him that others of his race would be deterred from following his example. Within twenty-four hours after that lynching another woman was killed by another negro in the same locality and under very much the same conditions.
Nothing is gained through lynchings in the way of suppressing crime, and everything is lost in the way of public decency. We are glad that the Pennsylvania authorities have taken the Coatesville situation in hand and that there is a prospect of the ringleaders in the burning of Walker being brought to justice speedily.
The Pittston Gazette (Pittston, Pennsylvania (dated August 17, 1911):
POLITICS A BAR TO MORE ARRESTS
This Is Charge Being Made at Coatesville.
ARE MOB LEADERS FEARED?
Impression Grows That Officials, All of Whom Are Candidates In Next Election, Are Proceeding Slowly, That Their Act May Cause Defeat at the Polls.
Coatesville, Pa., Aug. 17.—New complications were added to the situation here when three men who had given information concerning the burning to death of Zach Walker, the negro slayer of Special Policeman Edgar Rice, by a mob last Sunday night were arrested on charges of murder and hurried away to jail at West Chester.
There is a widespread impression that the arrest of the three men is for the purpose of dispelling the growing belief that the county and borough officials who are investigating the lynching have feared to order the leaders of the mob into custody because such action might imperil their political fortunes. Nearly all of the men engaged upon the investigation are candidates for office at the coming election. It was also significantly pointed out that the three accused men were among the few of hundreds of men examined who gave important information concerning the manner in which the lynching was planned and executed.
Robin Gawthorp, district attorney, is thoroughly aroused by the criticism that has been made about his failure to arrest the men who lynched Walker.
"I would like to find the men who circulated all these lies about me," he said. "We have been and are going straight down the road to justice, no matter where or to whom it leads. We intend to and are sifting this outrage to the very bottom. We will make the arrests and push the prosecutions."
Chief of Police Umstead repeated his statement that politics had hindered the arrests.
"My hands are tied," he said. "The people in this town do not respect the police. It is remarkable that the men who had no respect for a policeman in life should show such sympathy for him after he is dead—I mean that they had enough sympathy for Rice to lynch a man."
The Leavenworth Post (Leavenworth, Kansas) dated August 19, 1911:
MOB LEADERS ARRESTED.
Authorities Have Eight Men Connected With Coatesville Lynching.
Coatesville, Pa., Aug. 19.—With eight persons under arrest in connection with the lynching of the negro here Sunday night, Chester county authorities are still pushing their investigations with vigor and interesting developments are promised. It was reported today that at least three of these taken into custody had made confession implicating the leaders of the mob that burned Zach Walker.
Some of those said to be involved are leading citizens. One of the five men arrested last night, it is said, will later have to answer to the charge of murder in connection with the lynching.
Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.