Monday, May 1, 2017

August 8, 1871: Harry Johnson and Washington

Today we'll be looking at the lynchings of two men in Frankfort, Kentucky. The first lynching was of Harry Johnson, reported in The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) dated August 5, 1871


LOUISVILLE, August 4.—Mrs. Pfeiffer, a respectable married lady, while gathering blackberries, near Frankfort, Kentucky, on Tuesday, accompanied by her daughter, aged fourteen years, was attacked and brutally outraged by a negro. Her child gave the alarm, but the fiend escaped.

Yesterday a negro named Harry Johnson was arrested on suspicion and lodged in jail at Frankfort. He was subsequently identified by the mother and her daughter. Great excitement prevailed, and an attempt at lynching is feared, against which strong precautions have been adopted by the authorities.

Johnson waived examination yesterday, and was remanded to jail. When asked what he did with the knife he had when he made the attack on Mrs. Pfeiffer, he answered, "I threw it away." On the prisoner being taken from the jail to Court the husband of the outraged lady attempted to shoot him.

The excitement in the city is intense. No violent demonstrations have been made yet, but the jail is strongly guarded, as the rage of the people may take the form of action any moment.

Our next article is about the lynching of both Johnson and another man named Washington. Both were lynched on the same day although for different reasons. Our next article is from The New York Times (New York, New York) dated August 9, 1871:

The Troubles in Frankfort, Ky.

LOUISVILLE, KY., Aug. 8.—About 2 this morning about two hundred armed and masked men went to jail in Frankfort and demanded the keys. The State Guard, who had been on duty there, had gone as it was supposed ; all disorder was over. The jailer was compelled to surrender the keys, and the men entered and took out the negro who committed the rape on Mrs. PFEIFFERED[sic] a few days ago, and also the negro WASHINGTON, who was said to be the one who fired the first shot in the riot there yesterday, in which two white men were killed. The negroes were taken about half a mile from the jail and hanged. Great excitement prevails in the community in consequence of the turbulent scenes yesterday evening and the lynching outrage this morning. No further violence is anticipated, however.

Washington was lynched because of heightened emotions over voting, which led to a riot. Our next article discusses more on his lynching and is from The Spirit of Democracy (Woodsfield, Ohio) dated August 15, 1871:

Terrible Fight at Frankfort and Lexington.
The Blacks Attack the Whites.
Two White Men Killed and Others Wounded.
[Special Dispatch to the Enquirer.]

FRANKFORT, KY, August 7—After the polls were closed here this evening, the negroes, who had been very insulting and threatening during the day, made an attack upon the whites with pistols and bricks, from which a general fight began. Two white men were killed instantly, and a number wounded ; the exact number has not be ascertained. Some four or five negroes were wounded, but non seriously. The blacks far outnumbered the whites, having assembled at the polls with a view to creating a disturbance. The white men were exceedingly quiet and forebore to encourage any trouble. Mr. W. D. Gilmore, late a citizen of Lexington, and a clerk in the Auditor's office, was shot through the breast and instantly killed. He was using every endeavor to quiet the negroes and keep down a disturbance when the fatal shot reached him. Mr. Silas Bishop, a poor man and quiet citizen, was also shot throught he breast, and died at once.

The conduct of the negroes, under bad advice from white leaders, has been low, defiant and outrageous beyond expression. The community is much incensed. Several negroes have been arrested, and are now in jail, but it is believed that several of the ring leaders have escaped. The State troops have been ordered out, and the city is now comparatively quiet. After the riot about seventy-five negroes marched in a body down Market street yelling and defying the whites, but at this time there is not a negro to be seen, and no further fighting is expected. The vote has not been announced, owing to the great excitement occasioned by the riot, but it is understood that the Radicals have carried the town by about 50 majority.—They anticipated about 300.

These lynchings took place at the tail end of Reconstruction, which ended in 1877. Tensions were high over black suffrage. If you notice, the author of the final article acts as if blacks had no place being at the voting place, however, they legally had the right to vote. Not that this stopped whites from attempting to prevent blacks from voting. The lynching of both Johnson and Washington most likely occurred to keep blacks in the community "in their place," and away from participating in voting. Johnson was an easy scapegoat because he fit under the popular concept that black men were out to rape white women. Washington was a direct victim of the riot. He may not have fired any shots but by lynching both him and Johnson, the white community was sending a clear message that blacks needed to stay docile, quiet, and out of politics.

Thank you for joining us and, as always, we hope we leave you with something to ponder.

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