NINE MEN LYNCHED ON
In dealing with all vexed questions,
the chief aim of every honest inquirer should be to ascertain the facts.
No good purpose is subserved either by concealment on the one hand or
exaggeration on the other. "The truth, the whole truth and nothing but
the truth," is the only sure foundation for just judgment.
The purpose of this pamphlet is to give
the public the facts, in the belief that there is still a sense of
justice in the American people, and that it will yet assert itself in
condemnation of outlawry and in defense of oppressed and persecuted
humanity. In this firm belief the following pages will describe the
lynching of nine colored men, who were arrested near Palmetto, Georgia,
about the middle of March, upon suspicion that they were implicated in
the burning of the three houses in February preceding.
The nine suspects were not criminals,
they were hard-working, law-abiding citizens, men of families. They had
assaulted no woman, and, after the lapse of nearly a month, it could not
be claimed that the fury of an insane mob made their butchery excusable.
They were in the custody of law, unarmed, chained together and helpless,
awaiting their trial. They had no money to employ learned counsel to
invoke the aid of technicalities to defeat justice. They were in custody
of a white Sheriff, to be prosecuted by a white State's Attorney, to be
tried before a white judge, and by a white jury. Surely the guilty had
no chance to escape.
Still they were lynched. That the awful
story of their slaughter may not be considered overdrawn, the following
description is taken from the columns of the Atlanta Journal, as it was
written by Royal Daniel, a staff correspondent. The story of the
lynching thus told is as follows:
Palmetto. Ga., March 16.--A mob of more
than 100 desperate men, armed with Winchesters and shotguns and pistols
and wearing masks, rode into Palmetto at 1 o'clock this morning and shot
to death four Negro prisoners, desperately wounded another and with
deliberate aim fired at four others, wounding two, believing the entire
nine had been killed.
The boldness of the mob and the
desperateness with which the murder was contemplated and executed, has
torn the little town with excitement and anxiety.
All business has been suspended, and
the town is under military patrol, and every male inhabitant is armed to
the teeth, in anticipation of an outbreak which is expected to-night.
Last night nine Negroes were arrested
and placed in the warehouse near the depot. The Negroes were charged
with the burning of the two business blocks here in February.
At 1 o'clock this morning the mob
dashed into town while the people slept.
They rushed to the warehouse in which
the nine Negroes were guarded by six white men.
The door was burst open and the guards
were ordered to hold up their hands.
Then the mob fired two volleys into the
line of trembling, wretched and pleading prisoners, and to make sure of
their work, placed pistols in the dying men's faces and emptied the
Citizens who were aroused by the
shooting and ran out to investigate the cause were driven to their homes
at the point of guns and pistols and then the mob mounted their horses
and dashed out of town, back into the woods and home again.
None of the mob was recognized, as
their faces were completely concealed by masks. The men did their work
orderly and coolly and exhibited a determination seldom equaled under
The nine Negroes were tied with ropes
and were helpless.
The guard was held at the muzzle of
guns and threatened with death if a man moved.
Then the firing was deliberately done,
volley by volley.
The Negroes now dead are: Tip Hudson,
Bud Cotton, Ed Wynn, Henry Bingham.
Fatally shot and now dying: John Bigby.
Shot but will recover: John Jameson.
Arm broken: George Tatum.
Escaped without injury: Ison Brown,
The men who were guarding the Negroes
are well know and prominent citizens of Palmetto, and were sworn in only
yesterday as a special guard for the night.
The commitment trial of the Negroes was
set for 9 o'clock this morning.
Bud Cotton, who was killed, had
confessed to the burning of the stores in Palmetto, and had implicated
all the others who had been arrested.
The military having been sent by
Governor Candler arrived at 10:40 o'clock this morning on a special
train under command of Colonel John S. Candler.
The Negro population of Palmetto has
fled from town and it is believed the Negroes are now congregating on
the outskirts and will make an assault upon the town to-night.
The place is in the wildest excitement
and every citizen is armed, expecting an outbreak as soon as night shall
The Negroes left the town in droves
early this morning, weeping and screaming and dogged and revengeful.
Business has been entirely suspended
and Palmetto, formerly a peaceful agricultural village, is running riot
with intense excitement and anxiety is expressed by every one.
The lives and property of citizens will
be protected at any cost, and the white people, while condemning the act
of lawlessness of the mob, are determined to meet any attempt the
Negroes may make for revenge.
It was just past the hour of midnight.
The guards were sleepy and tired of the weary watch and the little city
of Palmetto was sound asleep, with nothing to disturb the midnight hour
or to interrupt the crime that was about to be committed.
Without the slightest noise the mob of
lynchers approached the door to the warehouse. Not a false step was
made, not a dead leaf was trod upon and not even the creaking of a shoe
or the clearing of a throat broke the stillness.
With a noise that shook the buildings
and threw every man to his feet the big fireproof door was suddenly
struck as if with the force of a battering ram.
The guards sprang to their guns and the
Negroes screamed for mercy.
But there were rifles, shotguns and
The little anteroom was packed full of
armed men in an instant. The men seemed to come up through the floor and
through the walls, so rapidly did they fill the room. And still others
poured in at the door, and when the room was filled so that not another
man could enter, the door was slammed to with awful noise and force.
The Negroes were screaming at the top
of their voices.
"Hands up and don't move; if you move a
foot or turn your hands I will blow your damned brains out," came the
stern and rigid command from a man of small, thick stature, his face
wholly concealed by a mask of white cloth and holding in his hands a
couple of dangerous horse pistols.
The guards threw their hands up above
their heads, all except one guard, James Hendricks, who lifted only one
hand, while the other firmly grasped his revolver.
"I'll blow hell out of you in a minute
if you don't put that hand up," came the warning, and the hand followed
the other one.
The command was then given to move, and
"You guards, move, and move quick, if
you don't want to get your brains blown out," cried the low man, who was
the mob's leader.
The guards were then placed in line,
six of them, and marched around the room and then marched to the front
of the room, near the door through which the mob had entered.
They were placed in line against the
front wall of the building and ordered not to move at the cost of their
They did not speak, neither did they
move, and not a word was said by the guard to the mob.
The men then walked around where they
could get a good look at the trembling, pleading, terror-stricken
Negroes, begging for life and declaring that they were innocent.
There was a moment's pause of
deliberation. The Negroes thought it meant that the assassins hesitated
in their bloody deed, but the men hesitated only because they wanted
deliberate action and a clear range for their bullets.
The Negroes, helpless, tied together
with ropes, begged for mercy, for they saw the cold gun barrels, the
angry and determined faces of the men, and they knew it meant
death--instant death to them.
"Oh, God, have mercy!" cried one of the
men in his agony. "Oh, give me a minute to live."
The cry for mercy and the prayer for
life brought an oath from the leader and derisive laughter from the mob.
"Stand up in a line," said the man in
command. "Stand up and we will see if we can't kill you out; if we
can't, we'll turn out."
The Negroes faltered.
"Burn the devils," came a suggestion
from the crowd.
"No, we'll shoot 'em like dogs," said
the mob's leader.
"Stand up, every one of you and get up
quick and march to the end of the room."
The Negroes slowly stood up. The mob
came closer and pressed about the stacks of furniture that had been
stored in the room.
The leader asked if everybody's gun was
loaded and the men answered in the affirmative.
The Negroes pleaded and prayed for
They stood, trembling wretches, jerking
at the long ropes that held them by the waist and about the wrists.
"Oh, give me a minute longer!" implored
"My men, are you ready?" asked the
captain, still cool and composed and fearfully determined to execute the
bloodiest deed that has ever stained Campbell County.
"Ready," came the unanimous response.
"One, two, three--fire!" was the
command, given orderly, but hurriedly.
Every man in the room, and the number
is estimated at from seventy-five to one hundred and fifty, fired point
blank at the line of trembling and terror-stricken bound wretches.
The volley came as the fire from a
It filled the warehouse with smoke and
flame and death and brought a wail of horror that chilled the helpless
The volley awakened the peaceful town
of Palmetto and from every house the excited citizens ran.
"Load and fire again," shouted the
captain of the mob, and his voice was heard above the screaming and
death cries of the wounded and dead.
The men rapidly loaded their guns, then
fired at the given command.
"Now, before you leave, load and get
ready for trouble," came the captain's order, and then men loaded their
guns and got ready to leave the bloody room.
The guard was not relieved, however,
until every man had left the building and all was safe for their hasty
"I wonder if they are all dead," said
one of the mob, when the order was given to leave the building.
"I reckon so," said one of the mob.
"But we had better see," said the captain coolly and assuming an air of
A detail of probably a half dozen men,
probably a dozen and maybe more, the guard does not remember just how
many, was sent forward into the blood and brains and into the twisting
mass of dying men to examine if all were dead. They were given orders to
finish those who were not dead.
The detail rushed forward.
The men jerked the fallen, twisting and
writhing and bleeding bodies about.
The first man they reached was not
dead. He was still groaning, and the breath was coming in great, quick
A pistol was placed at his breast and
every chamber was emptied.
"He's dead now," laughed one of the
Other men, wounded, bleeding, moaning
and begging, were caught, turned over and pistols emptied into their
But the shooting had made so much noise
that the mob concluded its safety lay in flight.
The Negroes were quickly examined and
with a parting shot and a volley of oaths of warning the mob left the
warehouse and rushed to their horses.
The men ran from the warehouse to the
little spot in the center of the town, where horses are tied by
countrymen and merchants.
They mounted quickly and began their
ride for life.
With a sweeping of falling and echoing
hoofs the cavalry-men dashed down the principal street at breakneck
Mr. Henry Beckman, who lives a few
hundred yards beyond the scene of the murders, heard the firing and ran
from his house to the railroad tracks.
The horsemen, using the lash and urging
their horses to their highest speed, dashed into view.
"Hello," said Beckman. "What does all
that firing mean?"
Beckman was answered with an oath and
told to get into his hole as quickly as possible. "If you don't, we'll
kill you on the spot," was the warning.
Beckman flew for life, ran through the
yard and entered the house as quickly as possible.
Dr. Hal L. Johnson saw a crowd of men
on foot running down the sidewalk.
He hailed them, but there was no
"There must have been more than one
hundred men on horses," said Mr. Beckman this morning, in telling the
Journal of his wild night experience with the mob.
When the mob left, the guards, who had
been held against the warehouse wall at the points of guns and pistols,
turned their faces toward the scene of carnage and death.
The furniture in the room had been
splintered and wrecked with bullets and the contortions of the Negroes.
On the floor, near the center of the
room, were two Negroes, still tied with the rope, locked in each other's
embrace. Near their bodies streams of blood were dyeing red the floor
and spreading out in pools.
Just beyond were two more bodies. These
Negroes were dead, too.
Near the fireplace was John Bigby,
twisting and writhing in his agony. Blood was spouting from a number of
Under the beds and tables and piles of
furniture were other bodies, every prisoner apparently dead, except
Bigby, who was fast regaining consciousness.
The guards open the door cautiously,
but there was no sign of the mob, save the echoing footfalls on the
TORTURED AND BURNED ALIVE
The burning of Samuel Hose, or, to
give his right name, Samuel Wilkes, gave to the United States the
distinction of having burned alive seven human beings during the past
ten years. The details of this deed of unspeakable barbarism have
shocked the civilized world, for it is conceded universally that no
other nation on earth, civilized or savage, has put to death any human
being with such atrocious cruelty as that inflicted upon Samuel Hose
by the Christian white people of Georgia.
The charge is generally made that
lynch law is condemned by the best white people of the South, and that
lynching is the work of the lowest and lawless class. Those who seek
the truth know the fact to be, that all classes are equally guilty,
for what the one class does the other encourages, excuses and
This was clearly shown in the burning
of Hose. This awful deed was suggested, encouraged and made possible
by the daily press of Atlanta, Georgia, until the burning actually
occurred, and then it immediately condoned the burning by a hysterical
plea to "consider the facts."
Samuel Hose killed Alfred Cranford
Wednesday afternoon, April 12, 1899, in a dispute over the wages due
Hose. The dispatch which announced the killing of Cranford stated that
Hose had assaulted Mrs. Cranford and that bloodhounds had been put on
The next day the Atlanta
Constitution, in glaring double headlines, predicted a lynching and
suggested burning at the stake. This it repeated in the body of the
dispatch in the following language:
"When Hose is caught he will either
be lynched and his body riddled with bullets or he will be burned at
the stake." And further in the same issue the Constitution suggests
torture in these words: "There have been whisperings of burning at the
stake and of torturing the fellow
low, and so great is the excitement, and so high the indignation, that
this is among the possibilities."
In the issue of the 15th, in another
double-column display heading, the Constitution announces: "Negro will
probably be burned," and in the body of the dispatch burning and
torture is confidently predicted in these words:
"Several modes of death have been
suggested for him, but it seems to be the universal opinion that he
will be burned at the stake and probably tortured before burned."
The next day, April 16th, the
double-column head still does its inflammatory work. Never a word for
law and order, but daily encouragement for burning. The headlines
read: "Excitement still continues intense, and it is openly declared
that if Sam Hose is brought in alive he will be burned," and in the
dispatch it is said:
"The residents have shown no
disposition to abandon the search in the immediate neighborhood of
Palmetto; their ardor has in no degree cooled, and if Sam Hose is
brought here by his captors he will be publicly burned at the stake as
an example to members of his race who are said to have been causing
the residents of this vicinity trouble for some time."
On the 19th the Constitution assures
the public that interest in the pursuit of Hose does not lag, and in
proof of the zeal of the pursuers said:
"'If Hose is on earth I'll never rest
easy until he's caught and burned alive. And that's the way all of us
feel,' said one of them last night."
Clark Howell, editor, and W. A.
Hemphill, business manager, of the Constitution, had offered through
their paper a reward of five hundred dollars for the arrest of the
fugitive. This reward, together with the persistent suggestion that
the Negro be burned as soon as caught, make it plain as day that the
purpose to burn Hose at the stake was formed by the leading citizens
of Georgia. The Constitution offered the reward to capture him, and
then day after day suggested and predicted that he be burned when
caught. The Chicago anarchists where hanged, not because they threw
the bomb, but because they incited to that act the unknown man who did
throw it. Pity that the same law cannot be carried into force in
Hose was caught Saturday night, April
23, and let the Constitution tell the story of his torture and death.
From the issue of April 24th the
following account is condensed:
Newman, Ga., April
23.--(Special.)--Sam Hose, the Negro murderer of Alfred Cranford and
the assailant of Cranford's wife, was burned at the stake one mile and
a quarter from this place this afternoon at 2:30 o'clock. Fully 2,000
people surrounded the small sapling to which he was fastened and
watched the flames eat away his flesh, saw his body mutilated by
knives and witnessed the contortions of his body in his extreme agony.
Such suffering has seldom been
witnessed, and through it all the Negro uttered hardly a cry. During
the contortions of his body several blood vessels bursted. The spot
selected was an ideal one for such an affair, and the stake was in
full view of those who stood about and with unfeigned satisfaction saw
the Negro meet his death and saw him tortured before the flames killed
A few smoldering ashes scattered
about the place, a blackened stake, are all that is left to tell the
story. Not even the bones of the Negro were left in the place, but
were eagerly snatched by a crowd of people drawn here from all
directions, who almost fought over the burning body of the man,
carving it with knives and seeking souvenirs of the occurrence.
Preparations for the execution were
not necessarily elaborate, and it required only a few minutes to
arrange to make Sam Hose pay the penalty of his crime. To the sapling
Sam Hose was tied, and he watched the cool, determined men who went
about arranging to burn him.
First he was made to remove his
clothing, and when the flames began to eat into his body it was almost
nude. Before the fire was lighted his left ear was severed from his
body. Then his right ear was cut away. During this proceeding he
uttered not a groan. Other portions of his body were mutilated by the
knives of those who gathered about him, but he was not wounded to such
an extent that he was not fully conscious and could feel the
excruciating pain. Oil was poured over the wood that was placed about
him and this was ignited.
The scene that followed is one that
never will be forgotten by those who saw it, and while Sam Hose
writhed and performed contortions in his agony, many of those present
turned away from the sickening sight, and others could hardly look at
it. Not a sound but the crackling of the flames broke the stillness of
the place, and the situation grew more sickening as it proceeded.
The stake bent under the strains of
the Negro in his agony and his sufferings cannot be described,
although he uttered not a sound. After his ears had been cut off he
was asked about the crime, and then it was he made a full confession.
At one juncture, before the flames had begun to get in their work
well, the fastenings that held him to the stake broke and he fell
forward partially out of the fire.
He writhed in agony and his
sufferings can be imagined when it is said that several blood vessels
burst during the contortions of his body. When he fell from the stake
he was kicked back and the flames renewed. Then it was that the flames
consumed his body and in a few minutes only a few bones and a small
part of the body was all that was left of Sam Hose.
One of the most sickening sights of
the day was the eagerness with which the people grabbed after
souvenirs, and they almost fought over the ashes of the dead criminal.
Large pieces of his flesh were carried away, and persons were seen
walking through the streets carrying bones in their hands.
When all the larger bones, together
with the flesh, had been carried away by the early comers, others
scraped in the ashes, and for a great length of time a crowd was about
the place scraping in the ashes. Not even the stake to which the Negro
was tied when burned was left, but it was promptly chopped down and
carried away as the largest souvenir of the burning.
ELIJAH STRICKLAND, A COLORED
Sunday night, April 23d, a mob seized a
well-known colored preacher, Elijah Strickland, and, after savage
torture, slowly strangled him to death. The following account of the
lynching is taken from the Atlanta Constitution:
Palmetto. Ga., April
24.--(Special.)--The body of Lige Strickland, the negro who was
implicated in the Cranford murder by Sam Hose, was found this morning
swinging to the limb of a persimmon tree within a mile and a quarter of
this place, as told in the Constitution extra yesterday. Before death
was allowed to end the sufferings of the Negro, his ears were cut off
and the small finger of his left hand was severed at the second joint.
One of these trophies was in Palmetto to-day.
On the chest of the Negro was a scrap
of blood-stained paper, attached
with an ordinary pin. On one side this paper contained the following:
"N.Y. Journal. We must protect our
The other side of the paper contained a
warning to the Negroes of the neighborhood. It read as follows:
"Beware all darkies. You will be
treated the same way."
Before being finally lynched, Lige
Strickland was given a chance to confess to the misdeeds of which the
mob supposed him to be guilty, but he protested his innocence until the
Three times the noose was placed around
his neck and the Negro was drawn up off the ground; three times he was
let down with warnings that death was in store for him should he fail to
confess his complicity in the Cranford murder, and three times
Strickland proclaimed his innocence, until, weary of useless torturing,
the mob pulled on the rope and tied the end around the slender trunk of
the persimmon tree.
Not a shot was fired by the mob.
Strickland was strangled to death. He was lynched about 2:30 a.m.
The lynching of Lige Strickland was not
accomplished without a desperate effort on the part of his employer to
save his life. The man who pleaded for the Negro is Major W. W. Thomas,
an ex-State Senator, and one of the most distinguished citizens of
Sunday night, about 8:30 o'clock about
fifteen men went to the plantation of Major Thomas and took Lige
Strickland from the little cabin in the woods that he called home,
leaving his wife and five children to wail and weep over the fate they
knew was in store for the Negro. Their cries aroused Major Thomas, and
that sturdy old gentleman of the antebellum type followed the lynchers
in his buggy, accompanied by his son, W.M. Thomas, determined to save,
if possible, the life of his plantation darky.
He overtook the lynchers with their
victim at Palmetto, and then ensued the weirdest and most dramatic scene
this section has ever known, with only the moonlight to show the faces
of the grim, determined men.
It had for its actors the Negro,
apparently unconcerned even with the noose around his neck; the old
white-haired gentlemen, pleading for the life of his servant, and
attempting to prove the innocence of the Negro to men who would not be
Lige Strickland was halted directly
opposite the telegraph office. The noose was adjusted around his neck
and the end of the rope was thrown over a tree. Strickland was told he
had a chance before dying to confess his complicity in the crime. He
"I have told you all I know, gentlemen.
You can kill me if you wish, but I know nothing more to tell."
The Negro's life might have been ended
then but for the arrival of Major Thomas, who leaped from his buggy and
asked for a hearing. He asked the crowd to give the Negro a chance for
his life here on the streets of Palmetto, and Major Thomas said he would
speak in his defense. A short conference resulted in acquiescence to
this, and Major Thomas spoke in substance as follows:
"Gentlemen, this Negro is innocent.
Hose said Lige had promised to give him $20 to kill Cranford, and I
believe Lige has not had $20 since he has been on my place. This is a
law-abiding Negro you are about to hang. He has never done any of you
any harm, and now I want you to promise me that you will turn him over
either to the bailiff of this town or to some one who is entitled to
receipt for him, in order that he may be given a hearing on his case. I
do not ask that you liberate him. Hold him and if the courts adjudge him
guilty, hang him."
There were some, however, who agreed
with Major Thomas, and after a discussion a vote was taken, which was
supposed to mean life or death to Lige Strickland. The vote to let him
live was unanimous.
Major Thomas then retired some distance
and the mob was preparing to send Strickland in a wagon to Newman when a
member of the mob said:
"We have got him here, let's keep him."
This again aroused the mob and a
messenger was sent to advise Major Thomas to leave Palmetto for his own
good, but the old gentleman was not frightened so easily. He drew
himself up and said with all the emphasis he could summon:
"I have never before been ordered to
leave a town and I am not going to leave this one." And then the Major,
uplifting his hand to give his words force, said to the messenger:
"Tell them that the muscles in my legs
are not trained to running; tell them that I have stood the fire and
heard the whistle of the minies from a thousand rifles and I am not
frightened by this crowd."
Major Thomas was not molested.
Then, with the understanding that Lige
Strickland was to be delivered to the jailer at Fairburn, Major Thomas
saw the Negro he had pleaded for led off to his death. This occurred at
about 1 o'clock this morning.
Strickland was then taken in the rear
of the home of Dr. W.S. Zellars, to the persimmon tree upon which his
lifeless body was left hanging.
REPORT OF DETECTIVE LOUIS P. LEVIN.
The colored citizens of Chicago sent
a detective to Georgia, and his report shows that Samuel Hose, who was
brutally tortured at Newman, Ga., and then burned to death, never
assaulted Mrs. Cranford and that he killed Alfred Cranford in
The full test of the report is as
About three weeks ago I was asked to
make an impartial and thorough investigation of the lynchings which
occurred near Atlanta, Ga., not long since. I left Chicago for
Atlanta, and spent over a week in the investigation. The facts herein
were gathered from interviews with persons I met in Griffin, Newman,
Atlanta and in the vicinity of these places.
I found no difficulty in securing
interviews from white people. There was no disposition on their part
to conceal any part they took in the lynchings. They discussed the
details of the burning of Sam Hose with the freedom which one would
talk about an afternoon's advertisement in which he had very
Who was Sam Hose? His true name was
Samuel Wilkes. He was born in Macon, Ga., where he lived until his
father died. The family, then consisting of his mother, brother and
sister, moved to Marshall, where all worked and made the reputation of
hard-working, honest people. Sam studied and was soon able to read and
write, and was considered a bright, capable man. His mother became an
invalid, and as his brother was considered almost an imbecile, Sam was
the mainstay of the family. He worked on different farms, and among
the men he worked for was B. Jones, who afterward captured him and
delivered him over to the mob at Newman.
Sam's mother partly recovered, and as
his sister married, Sam left and went to Atlanta to better his
condition. He secured work near Palmetto for a man named Alfred
Cranford, and worked for him for about two years, up to the time of
the tragedy. I will not call it a murder, for Samuel Wilkes killed
Alfred Cranford in self-defense. The story you have read about a Negro
stealing into the house and murdering the unfortunate man at his
supper has no foundation in fact. Equally untrue is the charge that
after murdering the husband he assaulted the wife. The reports
indicated that the murderer was a
stranger, who had to be identified. The fact is he had worked for
Cranford for over a year.
Was there a murder? That Wilkes
killed Cranford there is no doubt, but under what circumstances can
never be proven. I asked many white people of Palmetto what was the
motive. They considered it a useless question. A "nigger" had killed a
white man, and that was enough. Some said it was because the young
"niggers" did not know their places, others that they were getting too
much education, while others declared that it was all due to the
influence of the Northern "niggers." W.W. Jackson, of Newman, said:
"If I had my way about it I would lynch every Northern "nigger" that
comes this way. They are at the bottom of this." John Low of Lincoln,
Ala., said: "My negroes would die for me simply because I keep a
strict hand on them and allow no Northern negroes to associate with
Upon the question of motive there was
no answer except that which was made by Wilkes himself. The dispatches
said that Wilked confessed both to the murder and the alleged assault
upon Mrs. Cranford. But neither of these reports is true. Wilkes did
say that he killed Mr. Cranford, but he did not at any time admit that
he assaulted Mrs. Cranford. This he denied as long as he had breath.
After the capture Wilkes told his
story. He said that his trouble began with Mr. Cranford a week before.
He said that he had word that his mother was much worse at home, and
that he wanted to go home to visit his mother. He told Mr. Cranford
and asked for some money. Cranford refused to pay Wilkes, and that
provoked hard words. Cranford was known to be a man of quick temper,
but nothing had occurred that day. The next day Cranford borrowed a
revolver and said that if Sam started any more trouble he would kill
Sam, continuing his story, said that
on the day Cranford was killed he (Sam) was out in the yard cutting up
wood; that Cranford came out into the yard, and that he and Cranford
began talking about the subject of the former trouble; that Cranford
became enraged and drew his gun to shoot, and then Sam threw the ax at
Cranford and ran. He knew the ax struck Cranford, but did not know
Cranford had been killed by the blows for several days. At the time of
the encounter in the yard, Sam said that Mrs. Cranford was in the
house, and that after he threw the ax at Cranford he never saw Mrs.
Cranford, for he immediately went to the woods and kept in hiding
until he reached the vicinity of his mother's home, where he was
captured. During all the time Sam was on the train going to the scene
of the burning, Sam is said by all I talked with to have been free from
excitement or terror. He told his story in a straightforward way, said
he was sorry he had killed Cranford and always denied that he had
attacked Mrs. Cranford.
I did not see Mrs. Cranford. She was
still suffering from the awful shock. As soon as her husband was
killed she ran to the home of his father and told him that Sam had
killed her husband. She did not then say that Sam had assaulted her.
She was completely overcome and was soon unconscious and remained so
for most of the next two day. So that at the time when the story was
started that Sam had added the crime of outrage to murder, Mrs.
Cranford, the only one who could have told about it, was lying either
unconscious or delirious at the home of her father-in-law, G.E.
The burning of Wilkes was fully
premeditated. It was no sudden outburst of a furious, maddened mob. It
was known long before Wilkes was caught that he would be burned. The
Cranfords are an old, wealthy and aristocratic family, and it was
intended to make an example of the Negro who killed him. What
exasperation the killing lacked was supplied by the report of the
alleged attack on Mrs. Cranford. And it was not the irresponsible
rabble that urged the burning, for it was openly advocated by some of
the leading men of Palmetto. E.D. Sharkey, Superintendent Atlanta
Bagging Mills, was one of the most persistent advocates of the
burning. He claimed that he saw Mrs. Cranford the day after the
killing and that she told him that she was assaulted. As a matter of
fact, Mrs. Cranford was unconscious at that time. He persistently told
the story and urged the burning of Sam as soon as caught.
John Haas, President of the Capitol
Bank, was particularly prominent in advocating the burning. People
doing business at his bank, and coming from Newman and Griffin, were
urged to make an example of Sam by Burning him.
W.A. Hemphill, President and business
manager, and Clark Howell, editor of the Atlanta Constitution,
contributed more to the burning than any other men and all other
forces in Georgia. Through the columns of their paper they exaggerated
every detail of the killing, invented and published inflammatory
descriptions of a crime that was never committed, and by glaring head
lines continually suggested the burning of the man when caught. They
offered a reward of $500 blood money for the capture of the fugitive,
and during all the time of the man-hunt they never made one suggestion
that the law should have its course.
The Governor of the State acquiesced
in the burning by refusing to prevent it. Sam Wilkes was captured at 9
o'clock Saturday night. He was in Griffin by 9 o'clock Sunday morning.
It was first proposed to burn him in Griffin, but the program was
changed, and it was decided to take him to Newman to burn him.
Governor Candler had ordered that Wilkes should be taken to the Fulton
county jail when he was caught. That would have placed him in Atlanta.
When Wilkes reached Griffin he was in custody of J.B. Jones, J.L.
Jones, R.A. Gordon, William Mattews, P.F. Phelps, Charles Thomas and
A. Rogowski. They would not take the prisoner to Atlanta, where the
Governor had ordered him to be taken, but arranged to take him to
Newman, where they knew a mob of six thousand were waiting to burn
him. It is nearer to Atlanta from Griffin than Newman. Besides, there
was no train going to Newman that Sunday morning, so the captors of
Wilkes were obliged to secure a special train to take the prisoner to
the place of burning. This required over two hour's time to arrange so
that the special train did not leave Griffin for Newman until 11:40
Meanwhile the news of the capture of
Wilkes was known all over Georgia. It was known in Atlanta in the
early morning that the prisoner would not be brought to Atlanta, but
that he would be taken to Newman to be burned. As soon as this was
settled, a special train was engaged as an excursion train, to take
people to the burning. It was soon filled by the criers, who cried
out, "Special train to Newman! All aboard for the burning!" After this
special moved out, another was made up to accommodate the late comers
and those who were at church. In this way more than two thousand
citizens of Atlanta were taken to the burning, while the Governor,
with all the power of the State at his command, allowed all
preparations for the burning to be made during ten hours of daylight,
and did not turn his hand to prevent it.
I do not need to give the details of
the burning. I mention only one fact, and that is the disappointment
which the crowd felt when it could not make Wilkes beg for mercy.
During all the time of his torture he never uttered one cry. They cut
off both ears, skinned his face, cut off his fingers, gashed his legs,
cut open his stomach and pulled out his entrails, then when his
contortions broke the iron chain, they pushed his burning body back
into the fire. But through it all Wilkes never once uttered a cry or
beg for mercy. Only once in a particularly fiendish torture did he
speak, then he simply groaned, "Oh Lord Jesus."
Among the prominent men at the
burning, and whose identity was disclosed to me, are William Pinton,
Clair Owens and William Potts, of Palmetto; W.W. Jackson and H.W.
Jackson of Newman; Peter Howson
and T. Vaughn, of the same place; John Hazlett, Pirre St. Clair and
Thomas Lightfoot, of Griffin. R. J. Williams, ticket agent at Griffin,
made up the special Central Georgia Railroad train and advertised the
burning at Griffin, while B. F. Wyly and George Smith, of Atlanta,
made up two special Atlanta and West Point Railroad trains. All of
these gentlemen of eminent respectability could give the authorities
valuable information about the burning if called upon.
While Wilkes was being burned the
colored people fled terror-stricken to the woods, for none knew where
the fury would strike. I talked with many colored people, but all will
understand why I can give no names.
The torture and hanging of the
colored preacher is everywhere acknowledge to have been without a
shadow of reason or excuse. I did not talk with one white man who
believed that Strickland had anything to do with Wilkes. I could not
find any person who heard Wilkes mention Strickland's name. I talked
with men who heard Wilkes tell his story, but all agreed that he said
he killed Cranford because Cranford was about to kill him, and that he
did not mention Strickland's name. He did not mention it when he was
being tortured because he did not speak to anybody. I could not find
anybody who could tell me how the story started that Strickland hired
Wilkes to kill Cranford.
On the other hand, I saw many who
knew Strickland, and all spoke of him in the highest terms. I went to
see Mr. Thomas, and he said that Strickland had been about his family
for years, and that he never knew a more reliable and worthy man among
the colored people. He said that he was always advising the colored
people to live right, keep good friends with the white people and earn
their respect. He said he was nearly sixty years old and had not had
five dollars at one time in a year. He defended the poor old man
against the mob for a long time, and the mob finally agreed to put him
in jail for a trial, but as soon as they had Strickland in their
control they proceeded to lynch him.
The torture of the innocent colored
preacher was only a little less than that of Wilkes. His fingers and
ears were cut off, and the mob inflicted other tortures that cannot
even be suggested. He was strung up three times and let down each time
so he could confess. But he died protesting his innocence. He left a
wife and five children, all of whom are still on Colonel Thomas'
I spent some time in trying to find
the facts about the shooting of the five colored men at Palmetto a few
days before Cranford was killed.
But no one seemed to be able to tell who accused the men, and as they
were not given a trial, there was no way to get at any of the facts.
It seems that one or two barns or houses had been burned, and it was
reported that the Negroes were setting fire to the buildings. Nine
colored men were arrested on suspicion. They were not men of bad
character, but quite the reverse. They were intelligent, hard-working
men, and all declared they could easily prove their innocence. They
were taken to a Warehouse to be kept until their trial next day. That
night, about 12 o' clock, and armed mob marched to the place and fired
three volleys into the line of chained prisoners. They then went away
thinking all were dead. All the prisoners were shot. Of these five
died. Nothing was done about the killing of these men, but their
families were afterward ordered to leave the place, and all have left.
Five widows and seventeen fatherless children, all driven from home,
constitute one result of the lynching. I saw no one who thought much
about the matter. The Negroes were dead, and while they did not know
whether they were guilty or not, it was plain that nothing could be
done about it. And so the matter ended. With these facts I made my way
home, thoroughly convinced that a Negro's life is a very cheap thing
in Georgia. .......... LOUIS P. LEVIN