Friday, July 20, 2018

Black Vigilantes in the Old West

The Tuskegee Institute studied the number of lynchings between 1882 and 1968, and found that 4,743 people were lynched. Of that number, they say 3,446 were Black-Americans. While I don't know how accurate their data is, at first I wonder why they started their research data from 1882 and not sooner.
For example, say instead of starting their data in 1850 when California was admitted to the Union as a state?

Why do I say start the data in 1850 with the admission of California? Well, that's because there were a large number of lynchings as a result of the California Gold Rush of 1849. In fact, per capita, no other state, including all of those which comprise the South, had more lynchings than California. 

Of course if we combine all of the lynchings in all of the states in the South, then certainly the majority of lynchings occurred in the South. But let's keep in mind, lynchings were not restricted to the South or California as they also took place in the Mid-West, the Northwest, and in the Northern and the border states. 

And while there are people today who want to make lynchings a racial issue exclusively regarding Black-Americans, it's not. While racism played a huge factor in getting Blacks in the South lynched, especially after the Civil War, the Tuskegee Institute itself reported that 1,297 White-Americans were also lynched in the period between 1882 and 1968. Besides Whites, we also know that Hispanics, Californios, Native Americans, Chinese, Jewish, Irish, and Italian-Americans were also lynched.

As for Whites being targeted, the term "Lynch's Law" is said to come from the American Revolution. Virginia justice of the peace Charles Lynch is said to have ordered "Loyalists" hanged without trial. And in the South, Whites were targeted and lynched long before the Civil War if they were suspected of being members of the abolitionist movement.

And by the way, not all lynch mobs were White.

For example, there's the case of a White prison guard who was lynched by a Black mob of angry citizens in April of 1884. The guard's name was Samuel T. Wilson. In Issaquena County, Mississippi, he is said to have ordered others to beat and murder a Black fisherman by the name of Negia McDaniel. 

According to the newspaper account, Wilson was supervising a crew of Black convicts who were hauling lumber aboard a river flatboat. They landed their flatboat near McDaniel who was bank fishing. Wilson and McDaniel started arguing, some say about Wilson disturbing the fish. A very angry Wilson is said to have ordered two convicts to beat McDaniel. When McDaniel died from the beating, Wilson ordered that he be thrown in the river. 

Wilson was arrested for murder. He went before Adam Jenkins, who was a Black-American Justice of the Peace. Testimony was heard from the convicts who beat McDaniel to death. As strange as that sounds, the Judge is said to have refused testimony which may have benefited Wilson. Based of testimony of the the two convicts, Judge Jenkins then ruled that a Grand Jury should be convened.

It's said that there were up to 300 Black citizens in attendance at the hearing of Wilson. Soon after hearing the Judge recommend referral to the Grand Jury, they began shouting their intent to lynch Wilson on the spot. Judge Jenkins saw what was going on and immediately told Issaquena County Deputy Sheriff Lawson, who was a White officer, to get Wilson out of town for his own safety. 

Deputy Sheriff Lawson, and three armed guards, two of which were Black officers, escorted Wilson about a half mile from the court when a huge mob of angry Black citizens surrounded Lawson, the guards, and Wilson. Soon, the citizens forced the Sheriff to turn Wilson over to them. The Black lynch mob immediately took Samuel T. Wilson to a nearby tree and strung him up. 

Of course, after Wilson's lynching, local newspaper supposedly reported how Whites there were not happy with Judge Jenkins taking the word of two Black convicts, especially the very men who were trying to save themselves since they actually killed McDaniel. From what I've read, there were no reports of White citizens taking action against the Black vigilantes.

To answer the question, why did the Tuskegee Institute studied the number of lynchings between 1882 and not sooner? I found that while Black-Americans had been lynched right after the Civil War, it wasn't until the early 1880s that Blacks became targets of lynch mob violence.

For example, according to one report, in 1884, 160 Whites were lynched compared to 51 Blacks. Also, there is something else, some Black victims were lynched by Black mobs. Yes, Blacks lynched other Blacks. Yes, just the same as Whiles lynched other Whites. 

According to a report, in 1886, 74 Black-Americans were lynched. That was the first year to exceed the number of Whites lynched, which was 64. By 1892, 160 Black-Americans were lynched compared to 69 White-Americans. 

In 1997, E. M. Beck and Stewart Tolnay published an essay entitled “When Race Didn't Matter: Black and White Mob Violence Against Their Own Color."

In that, the authors state how Black lynch mobs were a factor in lynch mob activity between the years 1882 and 1930. Black lynch mobs gathered in rural areas and their victims were said to have been accused of much more serious crimes than White lynch mobs. The authors reported that over a third of the lynchings committed by Black lynch mobs had to do with them taking Black suspects from police custody. The other two thirds of the lynching were Whites, Native Americans, and others who Black citizens felt would not be punished properly in White courts. 

They are said to have felt that the criminal justice system would not act correctly when it came to punishing those who committed crimes against Black-Americans. And frankly, there is no better example of this concern on the part of the Black community in the 19th Century than what took place in 1887 in Pickens County, South Carolina.

Manse Waldrop was a White man who was found guilty of the rape and murder of a young Black girl. The child's name was Lula Sherman. Fearing that the Justice System would not work as it should, on December 30, 1887, a group of Black citizens did exactly what White citizens did in the Old West.

Around midnight, Constable David E. Garvin was driving a buggy over some railroad tracks in Central, South Carolina, heading north to Pickens. In the seat next to him was his prisoner Manse Waldrop. At a Coroner's Inquest that afternoon, he was determined to be the man who raped and killed 14-year-old Lula Sherman. 

She was the daughter of a sharecropper. And while this story is focusing on her being Black, and her killer being White, and how Black citizens felt they needed to take the law into their own hands, this is more about a killer of a young girl getting what was coming to him. Keep in mind, while racism was alive and well to the point where White scum like Waldrop would've gotten a lenient sentence in some places around the country, I believe Waldrop would have met the same end.Whether it was by a mob of Black citizens or a mob of White citizens, Waldrop deserved hanging.  

It's said that "before the buggy made it a mile down the road," armed men appeared out of the darkness. Officer Garvin saw what was taking place and instantly tried to turn his buggy around. Two men restrained Garvin's buggy while the others in their citizens' group, vigilantes, grabbed Waldrop. 

In that cold night, citizens stepped forward to do what they feared the Justice System would not. They pulled Waldrop out of the buggy and took him off into the woods. Garvin soon heard a shot coming from the dark woods. The next day, Waldrop was found hanging from a tree. He was lynched after being shot in the head.

Lula's father was Cato Sherman. Because Cato Sherman made no secret of his taking revenge on Waldrop, he and four others were later arrested. They were charged with Waldrop's murder. In the trial that followed, Cato Sherman was found not guilty. But two of Sherman's accomplices were sentenced to death.

In the following days, it's said that both Black and White citizens of the area petitioned South Carolina Governor John P. Richardson to pardon the two. The good news is that the governor did in fact issue pardons for the two Black men who were convicted of lynching of Manse Waldrop.

I read where the lynching of that child rapist and killer started a lot of folks into taking a look at what exactly justifies a lynching? And while Black citizens as vigilantes is not what people think of taking place in the Old West, it did take place for all the same reasons that White citizens did it. 

Just as White vigilance groups did, Black vigilantes didn't hide behind a badge or ambush their victims later. They seized the day and dealt out justice swiftly.  

Tom Correa