Lynch Law in Georgia
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Ida Bell Wells-Barnett was an investigative journalist and leader in the early civil rights movement. She fought throughout her life for the equality of women and African Americans. She helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In Lynch Law in Georgia, Wells-Barnett brought the violence and racism in the South to the general public's attention. Read this text that documents and condemns the racial climate and commonplace act of lynching in the South.

Lynch Law in Georgia

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Negro Silent Protest ParadeNegro Silent Protest Parade

Consider the Facts

During six weeks of the months of March and April just past, twelve colored men were lynched in Georgia, the reign of outlawry culminating in the torture and hanging of the colored preacher, Elijah Strickland, and the burning alive of Samuel Wilkes, alias Hose, Sunday, April 23, 1899.

The real purpose of these savage demonstrations is to teach the Negro that in the South he has no rights that the law will enforce. Samuel Hose was burned to teach the Negroes that no matter what a white man does to them, they must not resist. Hose, a servant, had killed Cranford, his employer. An example must be made. Ordinary punishment was deemed inadequate. This Negro must be burned alive. To make the burning a certainty the charge of outrage was invented, and added to the charge of murder. The daily press offered reward for the capture of Hose and then openly incited the people to burn him as soon as caught. The mob carried out the plan in every savage detail.

Of the twelve men lynched during that reign of unspeakable barbarism, only one was even charged with an assault upon a woman. Yet Southern apologists justify their savagery on the ground that Negroes are lynched only because of their crimes against women.

The Southern press champions burning men alive, and says, “Consider the facts.” The colored people join issue and also say, “Consider the facts.” The colored people of Chicago employed a detective to go to Georgia, and his report in this pamphlet gives the facts. We give here the details of the lynching as they were reported in the Southern papers, then follows the report of the true facts as to the cause of the lynchings, as learned by the investigation. We submit all to the sober judgment of the Nation, confident that, in this cause, as well as all others, “Truth is mighty and will prevail.”


2939 Princeton Avenue,
June 20, 1899.

Chapter I.
Nine Men Lynched on Suspicion

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 the 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 chambers.

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 similar circumstances.

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, Clem Watts.

The men who were guarding the Negroes are well known 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 fall.

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 pistols everywhere.

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 move quick.

“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 lives.

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.

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