100 years ago today: Meanwhile somewhere in the backwoods of Georgia

Trigger Warning: Quotations of language/imagery that is racially offensive

One hundred years ago the lead story in The Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA) was the death of Joseph Pulitzer. The story of the newspaper magnate\’s climb from penniless immigrant to wealth and influence covered much of the front page of that (and many other) newspapers. As I reading about Pulitizer a much smaller headline near the bottom of the front page catch my eye: MOB SEEKS FUGITIVE: Negro Was Captured and Confessed, but Made His Escape. [Note: All headlines in this series retain the original rather idiosyncratic capitalizations.] According to this story, dateline Washington, GA, Walker had been \”arrested\” for the shooting of C. S. Hollenshead (one of the town merchants), had confessed, had been taken away from the sheriff and his deputy on the public square and had escaped from the crowd that had taken him. The latest word was that he was being hunted in Wilkes county by several hundred men with dogs. If the mob located him, a lynching is certain the reader is told.

As is true in so many of these stories of lynchings, it is clear that the local officers of the law put up at most token resistance to the vigilantes. What was less clear, from the limited details in this article, was how the man managed to escape from the crowd that had seized him. A search of other newspapers yielded slightly more information and details that made the incident even more disturbing. The headline in The Sun (Oct. 20 1911, New York) reads WHISKEY SPOILS A LYNCHING: Members of Mob Too Drunk lo Pull Negro Up After Hope Was Around His Neck and provides more background. No one witnessed the shooting of Hollenshead, suspicion fell on Walker because his wife \”had trouble\” with the dead man. Walker was brought into town in at 2:30 in the morning after being arrested and there just happened to be a crowd of approximately fifty men in the public square just in the right place to intercept the sheriff, his deputy and Walker on the way to the jail. The confession, if there was one, was obtained from Walker only after he was already in the hands of an angry mob and served the purpose of removing suspicion of another man (also African-American) already in custody.

From the description of what happened next, it seems that the crowd of men had been whiling away their time waiting for the sheriff to bring in Walker drinking for they were so drunk that Walker was able to escape from them–although only after they had put the noose around his neck.

The editors at The Sun seem to have found the whole affair rather amusing while the editors of The Times-Dispatch seem to want to assure their readers that Walker will soon be recaptured.

I sit here, 100 years later, and wonder what happened to Walker. Did he escape? Was his wife okay or did the angry mob go back to his home and take out on her the violence they were unable to visit on her husband? If Walker lived did he dream every night of that moment when the rope went around his neck and did he shiver with remembered fear every time he heard the sound of dogs in the distance?

4 thoughts on “100 years ago today: Meanwhile somewhere in the backwoods of Georgia

  1. No one witnessed the shooting of Hollenshead, suspicion fell on Walker because his wife \”had trouble\” with the dead man.I'll just bet she did.one more relevant poem:Slim Greer in HellSt. Peter sends Slim to report on conditions in Hell, and he finds it all very familiar:An' he says—\”Dis makes Me think of home—Vicksburg, Little Rock, Jackson, Waco and Rome.\”Den de devil gave Slim De big Ha-Ha; An' turned into a cracker, Wid a sheriff's star….St. Peter said, \”Well, You got back quick. How's de devil? An' what's His latest trick?\”An' Slim Say, \”Peter, I really cain't tell,The place was Dixie That I took for hell.\” Then Peter say, \”you must Be crazy, I vow, Where'n hell dja think Hell was, Anyhow?\”- Sterling A. Brown(who, on looking him up, I didn't realize he was still alive in the 1980's when I moved to Maryland. Sometimes history isn't as far away as you think it is.)

  2. What a great poem Amaryllis (you really are great at finding/knowing the right poem). I went and look up the entire piece. Well worth the reading, thanks.One of the things that is stunning me about this project (reading the news of 100 years ago) is that my responses have not been what I expected. I thought that the stuff about the unequal treatment of women would stand out to me (because it is more salient to me.) Instead what hits me day after day is the overwhelming weight and pervasiveness of racial prejudice. It is 50 years after the Civil War began — and it will be 50 years more before many of the major pieces of Civil Rights legislation will be passed. 100 years of grindingly cruel, almost completely encompassing prejudice, mistreatment, torture and death.And I am seeing this in the newspapers that were written by and for white Americans. These stories are \”cherry-picked\” by angry African-Americans, they are simply white Americans talking about the world as they see and and want it to be.

  3. finding/knowing the right poemThat poets.org site is dangerous.I was actually looking for another poem based on something Laiima had said in her blog, about the Chesapeake Bay…what was that poem about Maryland waters…check the Poets site for Maryland poets…oh, yeah, Lucille Clifton and \”Blessing the Boats.\” And there was Sterling Brown, right next to her, and I'd read some of his poems before…so I read \”Slim Greer In Hell\” because it's Halloween…hey, that reminds me of Mmy's latest…and so it goes.I thought that the stuff about the unequal treatment of women would stand out to me (because it is more salient to me.) Instead what hits me day after day is the overwhelming weight and pervasiveness of racial prejudice. And I don't doubt that racial prejudice is all over the place. But I'm wondering if part of that is that women were more…invisible? Not part of what we're now calling the public square? What happened to them might not even have made the papers unless it was truly unusual, one way or another. You know, \”a lady only has her name in the papers three times\” and all that.Or maybe it's just that references to \”a woman\” don't scream prejudice in quite the same way as always specifying that someone is \”a Negro\”?

  4. Extremely good point taken about the invisibility of women from the public sphere. I think what is so striking is that African-Americans are also invisible from the public sphere — unless they are creating problems or (perhaps) are victims of crimes themselves. Women, of course, were not publicly physically attacked and limited and therefore what was happening to them never emerges from the page. One knows that wife-beating and other awful things are happening but they are only very subtly alluded to.But think of what it was to be an African-American woman. They too were lynched (far more than people realize) and they also suffered from all the gender discrimination of their white sisters.Damn, this whole thing is depressing.

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