Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Annie Mae Hunt was a steadfast woman who said: ‘I don’t want no man telling me nothin’

I first met Annie Mae Hunt in 1987 when I asked her to sign a copy of her book “I Am Annie Mae”, co-written and edited by Texas historian Ruthe Wingarten. In the book Annie Mae chronicles her life, her parents, grandparents and their lives as slaves. I have selected a few chapters in her book that tells something about the high spirited woman who calls herself Annie Mae.  At the end of the book, Annie Mae, age 68, declares that any man who comes into her life will have to do everything for himself. “I been loose so long till I been set in my ways that I couldn’t do it no more. I just likes to be out. I want to go and come when I get ready. I don’t know man to tell me nothing. I don’t want no man no more.” 

Chapter 1: 

Grandmother remember very well the day the sold her mother

'I Am Annie Mae'
I am Annie Mae Hunt. My name now is Hunt. And my first three children don’t want me to lose “Prosper,” so I kept it. But really my name should be Annie Mae McDade. That’s what I was born. That’s my daddy’s name, George McDade. Annie Mae McDade Prosper Hunt, that’s what is really is.

I were born in 1909 in Washington County on Mill Creek Road, 13 miles out from Brenham near Wesley. I were reared there until I was eight, when my mother moved to Dallas. Five or six years later, it was Depression time and we moved to Navasota, on a plantation where we met a little tragedy. And from then on we went back to Brenham where my grandmother was. 

Well, when I was born, my grandmother was over 60-somthing, 62, 63 years old. But she lived to be 101 years old. And she died in 1947 when I was pregnant with Othella. My grandmother was a very wonderful woman. She told me many a stories about herself and slavery. She was born in South Carolina and her white people was Boozies, and I understand that some of them white people live there now. But she left there, and came to Mt. Pleasant in Texas. When my grandma was moved down to Brenham, Texas in Washington County, I know it was after slavery. Now I don’t know they got down in Washington County. I never could understand how they got there from Mt. Pleasant. At that time it was a long way. But Washington County is where I was born, my mother and them was born and raised there, too. 

My grandmother’s name was Matilda, Matilda Boozie, cause her white people was Boozies, so she was a Boozie. Cause when you were sold, you took whoever bought you, their name. Like, if George Washington bought you, then you were Annie Washington. Her name was Matilda Boozie, but they called her Tildy.

My grandmother was known as a house girl. That means you worked in the house with Old Mistress and they liked you, and you had more than anybody else . . . you had more than any other black slaves. There was another slave named Calvin, was her age. She always slipped him food and stuff.

My grandmother always said she remembered very well the day they sold her mother. I don’t know how old she was, but she was able to work, she was in the house with Old Mistress. And grandmother cried and cried, and Old Mistress hugged her and told her ‘Don’t worry, Tildy. I’ll take care of you.” And she did. She took care of her.

‘Don’t worry, Tildy, I’ll take care of you.’ That’s all Grandma knew. She had sisters and a brother, and she never heard from them no more. When I got to be a grown woman and had all these children, there was a lady lived down in Fayeyetteville, Texas, near where we were, who had the same name that Grandma had, come from there same place—South Carolina. I was my boyfriend’s grandmother. And my grandmother and his grandmother looked just alike. But by them being sold, it was hard for Grandma to go see about her. She always said, ‘I’m going down there and talk to Mrs. Dobb’s mother. But she never did. 

Chapter 2: 

Preachers and paddy rollers—something to control the slaves

My grandmother say when she was growing up during slavery time, they had preachers. The white people would get black men that had a speech, that could talk. Some peoples are born with a speech. If you ain’t got a speech when you’re young, you don’t have none no way.

Well, the white men would put those black men with a speech in a long-tailed coat, white shirt, and black tie, and tell them what to preach about. And those preachers would preach what the white man say they should: ‘Y’all gonna help old mawster do this and he gonna take care of you. The Bible tells you that in there.’

If you run off, you was considered sick. The whites had a bunch of men then, something like the Ku Klux Klans. They called them Paddy Rollers and they would catch you and whup you, and you was afraid. It was something to control the slaves.

They had to have something to control these people, and you wasn’t allowed to go off the farm and visit other people. On certain days you had to have a pass. It was the way of life then. 

Chapter 3:   

Tildy, who been messin’ wit you down there

I didn’t know my first uncle, but I’ve always seen his picture, all my life. It’s a lovely picture. They called him Nigger but he was a white man. That’s all he was. Old Young Mawster’s son.

Grandma say that she was near 13 years old, behind the barn tee-teein when Young Mawster come up behind her. She didn’t see him, but he put his hand up under her dress, and said, ‘Lay down, Tildy.’ They called her Tildy, but her actual name was Matilda. And so this thing happened and her stomach began to get big.

One day, Grandma and Old Mistress, they was putting up the clean clothes. Old Mistress had a pair of socks, or two pair, in her hand. She said, ‘Tildy, who been messin with you down there?’ Grandma say ‘Young Mawster.’ Old Mistress ran to her, and crammed these socks in her mouth and say, ‘Don’t you never tell nobody. If you do, I’ll skin you alive.’

Tildy was aleady Old Mistress’ favorite , so when his baby was born, she was certainly their favorite slave. Old Mistress were the grandmother of Tildy’s baby. After Tildy was freed, they gave her this 1500 acres of land down there in Washington County, 14 miles out of the country on account of this illegitimate baby that my grandmother had by this young mawster.  

Chapter 9:   

Indoor plumbing? Are you kidding?

Annie Mae
As time went on, a lot of rich people began to get Delco lights in their houses. They had little sheds build, that motor going all the time. We never had anything like that. My grandpa could have had electricity, cause he had money to do it, but he never did want it. You just didn’t want things then like you do now. You wasn’t used to it.

We used lamps. I got my grandma’s lamp here. Oil went down in there. You had to clean it from time to time. My grandma had certain time that she would clean everything. When she’d get through washing, she’s have lye in the pot, and she said, ‘Get that lamp out of there, y’all, and wash those globes.’ We’d put rocks and soap suds in those lamps, and shake’em. They’d clear up so pretty. Now we got Ajax, but ashes done the same thing. And sand will do the same thing right now.

Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have no indoor water, they had wells out in the yard. They had a bucket on each end of a rope, and they would put one down and draw this bucket up, and this other bucket went down. As time went by, they got a little modern with different types of buckets that wouldn’t break. When the bucket hit the water, it would fill up through a hole in bottom, when you’d draw it up, a plug would sink down in the bottom. They were getting modern then.

Indoor plumbing? Are you kidding? My grandpa and them, we never had a toilet until I was grown and had children out there. We went out in the woods. No, we didn’t have an outhouse either. But as time went by, I guess Grandpa and them got old can couldn’t stoop down no more like they used to. Then they had an outhouse built, a big hole, and you put something down in it to eat up the stuff, and you didn’t have to take it up no more. 

Chapter 11: 

My daddy Stole my mama

My mother’s name was Callie Randon, and my brother had the same name. He was a junior. George McDade, Jr.

My mother met my daddy, George McDade, and he stole my mama. They call it elope now. But at that time Grandma say he stole her. She was about 16 years old. My grandma looked for my daddy and her for three weeks in a wagon with a shotgun laying across her lap. Grandmother was going to shoot him if she found him. And always in our house there was a joke about Grandmother looking for Daddy with a shotgun across her lap. She was going to shoot him for stealing her bay. Yeah, she was mad, but she got over it. 

Chapter 16: 

I don’t take nothin off white folks either

I got married in 1924 to John Robert Prosper, and my mama finally left Navasota. You know, when times got bad down there, these people—the good Negroes, they called them—they all gone cotton pickin and have money when they came back. I mean, the boss had to feed them all year, and so he let them go on cotton pickin and things; and my mama promised him that she as going to come back. But mama told Miss Sally, ‘You ever see me again, you’ll have to come where I am.’ She told me one day, ‘I’ll never come back here.’

On her day out, Mama brought me her machine—a regular sewing machine something like this one here. You know, Old man Morrett tried to get that machine. He come down and told my husband one day, ‘I want that machine Callie brought up here.’ My husband was very quick tempered. He says, ‘No, you can’t get that machine.’ So the old man told my husband he didn’t take nothing off our niggers, and my husband said, ‘I don’t take nothing off white folks either.’ My husband was real high-tempered.

And so we were so afraid that this white man Morrett was going to come out there and do something to my husband, but my husband went around and told Mr. Steve Moore about it. My husband worked for this white man named Steve Moore, and Morrett didn’t bother Steve Moore. Steve Moore must have had some kind of words to say about it, because that Old Man Morrett never tried to say anything about this machine no more.

That was a terrible time. There was this old woman up there in Navasota, Aunt Mehalia Jackson—I married in her family after this happened. And she had wanted to tell Mama she knew these white men were going to come for her, but she had to live there, and she didn’t know what Mama may say. Aunt Mehalia couldn’t afford to say nothing. They may whip Mama, and make Mama say who told.

Later my sister Dora married, and this Old Man Morrett came at my sister one time and took her off and kept her five to six hours. He had sex with her; raped her. That’s all it was, because she wasn’t willing. Oh, my sister like to went into hysterics. She never did get over that. It makes me cry to think about it. Sad. Sad.

Now Dora had a husband at that time, Buck. Buck was Miss Two-T’s brother. And Old Man Morrett come to their house one night, sent Bud Jones in after Buck. Two-T’s mama said there were eating supper, and old Bud Jones come in and asked for Buck, and picked up Buck, and Buck ain’t been seen since. They never did know what happened to Buck. That kind of stuff. My sister never got married again. That the truth. This can be verified. It’s people living know this—Buck’s mother’s dead, but his stepdaddy’s still livin.

Old Man Morrett, he like to rape black women. He went with Miss Joanna, Bud Jones’ wife, and Bud knew it. Morrett made Bud leave home, so he could go to bed with Bd’s wife. Miss Joanna got pregnant, and she told my mama, say she didn’t know if the baby was going to be white or black. 

Chapter 18: 

I had my first baby at fifteen and my last at forty five

I was pregnant 13 times in all, and now I have six children. I had my first baby, Ester Mae, when I was almost 16, and my last one, Leona Louise, when I was 45. I was going to be 16 the 29th of August, and Ester was born on the 18. About two years till I had the second child which I lost between Dorothy Lou. And I had a child which I lost between Dorothy Lou and the next one, Doris Minola. Miss Glann, a midwife in Navasota, delivered all three.

I lost three kids. Two of them died in birth, the other lived to be two months. Having him, birthin him, was hard enough, and then a child lives to be two months old. That’s hard. I woke up one morning about three o’clock and he was dead, still dead, strangled to death.

I miscarried four times; they didn’t get to be babies. Some of the pregnancies was only three or four months. I gave birth to nine children. Six are still alive. Pregnant 13 times, that hard on a woman, too. You don’t realize it.

I nursed all my babies except two. My little boy, George, my fourth baby, was born in 1941. George was delivered by the doctors from Baylor Hospital. They came to my home. Well, they done that all the time. The pregnant women went to the clinic, and the doctors knew just about what time you were going to deliver. They had you on the agenda, waitin for you. Sometimes they’d be with one woman. Leave that one, go on to another one. That’s what they used to do. Everything was getting pretty modern then, but I nursed George. He was a big little boy, and he would say, ‘Come on, Mama, let’s go home. I want some tit.’ That’s what he used to tell me. He was just one year old.

He was the only one I had, seven months old, could talk like a natural man. You know, says words: ‘bread’; we hand some twins across the street, Dorothy and Doris, and he’s just say, ‘two Doris. ‘Mama’. ‘Papa.’ ‘Bread’ said as plain as day. He was smart as a whip. Always been smart. He’s smart right today.

His name is George Washington Darden. Born January 14, 1941. And Othella Ann Hunt, she was born August 18, 1947. And then Leona Louise Hunt, she was born November 19, 1953. And that’s it. She’s my baby now.

I Am Annie Mae was adapted for a musical in collaboration with Naomi Carrier of Houston, Texas, and co-author the book, Ruth Winegarten. The musical opened at Austin's St. Edwards University in 1987. The show was sponsored by the noted "Women and Their Work", also located in Austin.

***To read more about the late Annie Mae Hunt, read her book I Am Annie Mae, which can be purchased on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Emma and Jerry Russell's story of physical and mental abuse, and Emma's eventual escape

Posed by models
Spousal Abuse: A Social Phenomenon

A true story 

Emma Russell's introduction to physical abuse did not begin until her marriage to a struggling musician. His name was Jerry Russell, her second husband. Remembering the first time Jerry struck her, Emma recalls it was two years after they were married.

"I can't remember the feelings the first time he hit me. I don't know if I felt shock, hurt, surprise . . . I don't remember. But I do remember it was because he wanted to spend a weekend with some of his friends, and we got into an argument about it."

Emma's short bout with an abusive husband started in the early 1970s, a time when spousal abuse was an issue not discussed--especially by the recipient of the abuse. Emma was not a battered child; therefore, did not view physical abuse as a way life. She did, however, see and hear heated arguments between her parents.

"My father was a military man, and he traveled a lot. When he was away the house was peaceful. When he was home he and my mother were arguing all the time."

Psychiatrists agree that batterers are victims of physical abuse inflicted on them as children. Being early targets of abuse they learn to reverse the role of victim, and become the arrow that inflicts pain on others. Contrary to that psychiatric assessment, Jerry's problem was not caused by direct physical abuse. His actions were more mental, according to Emma.

"I don't know if Jerry was a battered child," Emma says of her now ex-husband. "He was kind of tossed around. His grandmother raised him for a while. He had two grandmothers living in different cities, and he was bounced back and forth to his father, his grandmothers and his mother. He had a real unstable childhood," Emma concluded sadly.

Jerry didn't suffer from two characteristics associated with wife abuse: jealousy and alcoholism. He was not committed to either of these relationship wreckers. Nor did he partake in drugs. "I had freedom to do what I wanted to do, go where I wanted to go. He just wasn't a jealous person. He gave me all the freedom in the world," says Emma.

Emma said when they dating, and during the fist two years of their marriage, there were no signs of Jerry being an abuser. "He was so sweet," she says softly. "He was very supportive and sensitive. He was a nice guy when he wasn't in an angry mood."

A woman living with an abusive mate feels responsible for her husband's explosive behavior. She avoids upsetting him at all costs. She allows her abuser to put the full responsibility of keeping his temper, and the marriage intact on her shoulders. Subsequently, the burden leaves the abused victim feeling as though she is living in a house without a foundation.

"It's like walking around on egg shells. You want to crack them but you never know what is going to set him off. You never know what's going to happen. What's going to cause the bomb to explode," says Emma.

Each year millions of women are seriously injured by their husbands and boyfriends. Those injuries range from black eyes, busted lips, broken arms and legs, bruises all lover the body, even death. Emma said she remembers one such incident. She was badly injured when Jerry punched her in the face. He said he was a boxer in the Army.

"He never hit with anything other than his hands. He fractured my cheek bone. What happened was . . . ," she says, her voice trailing off as she recalled the painful event. "He had promised me on a Friday that he was going to take me out. When I got off work, he told me that he had to practice with the band. I got mad. I had worked all week and he promised to take me out," she repeated, reliving the disappointment.

"So anyway, he went to his band practice, and later on the same night, about three or four o'clock in the morning he came home, getting in bed like nothing was wrong. The room was completely dark, and he wanted to make love. I pulled away, saying 'No.' He was angry. The next thing I knew I saw silver! It was like a flashing light.

"He had hit me in the face with his fist. When I hollered out loud, he got up and turned on the light. I told him that I was hurt and needed to go to the hospital. He didn't want to take me, and kept telling me, 'Ain't nothing wrong with you!' He finally took me to the emergency room," Emma says.  

She said all the way to the hospital Jerry told her there was nothing wrong with her. Upon arriving at the emergency, the nurse on duty immediately suspected a case of spousal abuse.

"How did you do this?" the nurse asked Emma. Jerry, who was in the examining room, said nothing as he watched. Emma refused to answer the nurse's question. Lying on the table, clutching her hands, Emma dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands, drawing blood. She looked at the ceiling as sharp pains consumed her face. The persistent nurse asked her another question about her injury.

"Did your husband do this to you?" Again, neither Emma or Jerry answered the question.

"I don't know why I didn't answer,"  says Emma, a puzzled look on her face. "I don't know why I didn't tell her he broke my jaw."

Emma had to undergo surgery to repair the damage to her face. "They had to shave my head on the side," she says, pointing to where her head was shaved. "They had to go in on the side of it to do surgery, so there wouldn't be a scar on my face. I was studying broadcasting at the time, and I knew that someday I wanted to go into television. The doctors came up with a way to go in through the side of my head to put my cheek back together."

Jerry did not  visit Emma in the hospital. When she came home, he cried and apologized for hurting her. "He said it hurt him so bad that he just wished he could cut off the hand that hit me." 

The apologies always came after each beating. Emma said she never fully understood what caused Jerry's volcanic, violent outbursts. He never gave her a reason for, or explained his behavior. He was not unhappy that they did not have children. She concluded that he acted out of frustration.

"I think he thought I was smarter, even though the jobs I had were average to me. He wasn't happy in his work. I was doing some of the things I wanted to do. He was out of work for a long time, and we began to have financial problems. He finally got a job but it wasn't what he wanted. He wanted to be a musician. He had studied music, and there was a lot of frustration in him when he couldn't get the job he wanted," Emma said, making excuses for her abusive mate.

Reflecting on more of her past with Jerry, Emma revealed there was another time she was hospitalized when she came close to getting seriously injured by Jerry. "One night I decided that I wasn't going to take anymore of his abuse, and I told  him that I was going to leave him. He told me that I wasn't going anywhere. He wouldn't let me out of the house, and when I did get out, he followed me to the car. He was going to take my portable sewing machine, and throw it through the window so that I couldn't go anywhere. I got out of the car and went inside. We argued." Emma did not leave Jerry.

Another episode occurred when Emma made up her mind to leave. Jerry did not try to stop her. "He told me to go ahead, and that I would probably commit suicide within a year. I believed him!" Emma says, now able to laugh at his assumption that she was weak, and incapable of surviving without him. "He knew that I stayed with him all the times he beat me, and I guess he thought 'well, I got her and she can't leave me.'"

Hesitating, her mood changing, Emma says she did consider suicide as a way out of an abusive situation. "But you know . . . they say your darkest hour is just before dawn and that's when I realized . . . during that time my life meant something to me and my mother. My father was dead." With the constant abuse being interwoven parts of her daily life, Emma found that it began to take a toll on her mentally.

"I would get real depressed for a few days. I tried to figure out what went wrong. What could I do to make it right. I wondered what I was doing wrong. What was I not doing that he needed. I thought it was all my fault," Emma says.

Subconsciously, Emma knew the main dilemma causing element in their marriage was Jerry himself. But he did not agree with her, and repeatedly preached that "Nothing is wrong with me. It's you!" Of course she accepted the blame in the wavering marriage, which was well on the way to falling apart. Emma says her home life was affecting her on her job. She made more threats to leave if the abuse did not stop. Her threats went unheeded. As a final straw she approached Jerry with the idea of going to see a marriage counselor. He refused to listen at first.

"I told him we're going to see a marriage counselor or this is it! He didn't want to but he finally agreed to go. We started going together, and then she split us up. She had him going to one session and me going to another. She helped me realize that sometimes you can't always change a situation. I thought I could save my marriage and make things right by working together. She helped me realize, too, that you can't always make things the way you want them to be."

Emma began to see that talking, pleading, counseling and trying to please her disagreeable husband in every way, was not the solution to her dilemma. She began thinking violence and abuse herself. She says towards the end of the marriage, when she had absolutely made up her mind to leave Jerry, she started fighting back.

"Sometimes I knew there was going to be a fight. I wasn't afraid of him this time. I grabbed a baseball bat, and hit him on the arm. And you know, it was like I was thinking where am I going to hit so that he won't be able to hit me back. And then I hit him in the shins so that he wouldn't be able to chase me. And then I began to him all over. He didn't fight back!" Emma says with a note of innocent surprise in her voice. She outwitted Jerry.

Frightened that she had seriously hurt Jerry, Emma called a friend of his, and told him to come and see about Jerry. That particular confrontation jolted Emma into another realization. Someone could get killed if they both became violent and abusive. Emma left Jerry for good soon after that, seeking refuge in a hostel for battered women. This helped her get through the separation. She found other women in situations similar to her own at the hostel.

Currently working as a news reporter for a Texas radio station, Emma says there is no chance of a reconciliation with Jerry, even if he promised to change his abusive ways. Emma did not emerge from her marriage without lasting scars and bad memories.

"I can talk about it now, but for a long time I didn't. I couldn't. I don't believe I'll never get over it. Once in a while I have flashbacks. I still find it hard to trust anyone . . . a man. I don't know if the effect is over yet."

**The real names in this story were changed to protect their privacy. This story was first printed on my blog 8/13/2011

Monday, September 1, 2014

Posse of angry vigilantes end the lives of one Black woman, an unborn child, eight innocent Black men, and one who confessed his guilt

Mary Turner was not a slave. She was a free-born citizen of the United States. She involuntarily became one of America's dark tales of tragedy and injustice. Mary Turner’s name and life story are not found in school text books. Information on the Internet is limited. A book on Turner was published in 2011, but it won’t be required reading in public schools.  Such is the history of “Coloreds” and “Negroes” that have been hanged, mutilated and burned alive in American states and counties.

The lax destruction and annihilation Blacks were not worthy news; however, the appalling acts of murders were an enjoyable event for onlookers, and the principal actors who carried out the barbaric murders. Pictures of lynched victims were reproduced on post cards and sold to the public.  The hangings and live burnings drew large crowds of anxious Whites, creating  carnival or picnic atmospheres. The lynchings were theaters of free entertainment for Whites only. No family of Blacks allowed unless they were schedule to hang from a tree.

Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky, July 31, 1908
James Allen’s “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America” is a good book to see pictures of lynchings. Sometimes multiple hangings were performed in one day, with all victims hanging from the same tree.

(pictures from "Without Santuary" by James Allen) The hanging of four Black men in Kentucky. They were identified as Virgil Jones, Robert Jones, Joseph Riley and one unidentified. The burning corpse of William Brown, 1908.
 

Tony Brown, publisher of Tony Brown’s Journal, writes in the January/March 1984 issue  that, “Lynchings included
September 28, 1919, Omaha, Nebraska
mutilations, fiendish rites and barbaric group behavior and were advertised in newspapers. Crowds of thousands sometimes came on chartered trains. Typically, they came from all over to Newnan, Georgia on April 28, 1899—including the mob leaders who traveled from Pennsylvania to plunge angry knives into Sam Holt, carving from the body its ears, fingers, and genital parts for souvenirs as he burned at the stake.  At the end, he cried: ‘Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus!’

“The Vicksburg (Mississippi) Evenings Post reported the lynchings of Luther Holbert and his wife two years later: ‘They were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was chopped off. Some of the mob used a large corkscrew to bore into the flesh of the man and woman . . . then pulled out . . . .’”

Mary Turner’s life ended just as tragically at the end of a rope and bullets May 21, 1918. Her husband, Hays Turner, met the same fate, but his death was less gruesome. Mary Turner and her husband’s destiny with ropes and bullets started in Brooks County, Georgia after a White farmer was shot to death by one of his Black employees. By the time the dust settled at least 11 Blacks were twisting in the wind at the end of ropes, bodies riddled with bullets. A few of the bodies fished out of a local river.

Mary Turner sculpture


From 1882 to 1968 historical data estimates that 3,446 Blacks were lynched compared to only 1,297 Whites. The majority of the hangings occurred in southern and border states.  Hanging Black people was used to arouse fear in them. The fear evolved into control. Hangings, burnings and mutilations kept “Negroes” in their place.

Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology, Ferris State University, in an article titled “What Was Jim Crow” cited Joseph Boskin, author of “Urban Racial Violence in the Twentieth Century”, 1979. Boskin postured that racial riots in the 1900s had certain characteristics. 

Dr. Pilgrim writes that “Boskin omitted the following: the mass media, especially newspapers published inflammatory articles about ‘Black criminals’ immediately before the riots; Blacks were not only killed, but their homes and businesses were looted and many who did not flee were left homeless; and the goal of White rioters, as were the White lynchers of single victims, was to instill fear and terror into the Blacks, thereby buttressing White domination. The Jim Crow hierarchy could not work without violence being used against those on the bottom rung."

 Walter White, an investigative reporter and assistant secretary for the NAACP in Brooks and Lowndes Counties, wrote about Mary Turner’s horrific lynching. In the Crisis Magazine 1918 edition, he writes, “Hampton Smith, whose murder was the immediate cause of the holocaust of lynchings, was the owner of a large plantation in Brooks County. He bore a very poor reputation in the community because of his ill treatment of his Negro employees.”

Smith’s reputation of cruelty to his employees was well noted in his community. He could not to hire dependent “Negroes” to work for him because of his reputation. Realizing his pool of potential employees had dried up, Smith devised a scheme that raised his chances of hiring :Negro" men and women to work his plantation. He was an unscrupulous scavenger on a hunt. Smith's scheme was foolproof and guaranteed to actualize its purpose.

White reports that Smith went to “the courts and because [if] a Negro was convicted and was unable to pay his fine, or was sentenced to serve a period in the chain gang, Smith would secure his release and put him to work out his fine on the plantation.”

One man that Smith recused from the chain gang was Sidney Johnson. He was charged with “gaming”. His $30 fine was paid by Smith.  Apparently Johnson agreed to the arrangement, or he did not have a choice. The problem occurred when Johnson worked way past the $30 fine. He asked Smith to pay him for the extra time he worked. Smith said no. An argument followed the demand. Johnson did not return to work the next day. In fact, a few days passed and he still had not returned.

White writes that Smith went to Johnson’s cabin to see why he had not come to work. Johnson told Smith that he was sick, the reason he had not reported to work. Hampton Smith flipped out.

“Smith thereupon began to beat him, inspite of the protestations of the victim. Johnson is said then to have threatened Smith and a few nights later, while sitting in his house, Smith was shot twice through the window near which he was sitting, dying instantly. His wife was also shot, the bullet passing through the center of her breast, miraculously missing both her heart and lungs. Her wound is not believed to be serious.”  Smith’s wife recovered from her wound. Rumors of her getting raped by Johnson were proven false.

When news of the shootings reached the community all hell broke loose. A group of men and boys from two counties gathered, and formed a lynch mob. They did not know who they were looking for, but they knew some “Negroes” were going to pay for the crime. Talk of a conspiracy whipped the mob into a foaming mouth frenzy. White writes that the angry mob believed a group of “Negroes” who had worked for Smith, got together and planned to kill the tough task master.

“The first of the mob’s victims to be captured was Will Head, a Negro of the community, who was caught on Friday m0rning, May 17, at 8:30, near Barney, Georgia; the second was Will Thompson, seized later on the same day. That night both were lynched near Trouperville, about five miles from Valdosta. Members of the mob stated to the investigator that over seven hundred bullets were fired into the bodies of the two men,” writes White.

Hayes Turner was captured on a following Saturday morning, and taken to the Quitman jail by Sheriff Wade and Roland Knight. He was moved to the county court, supposedly for safekeeping. “Turner was taken from these men en route to Moultrie at the fork of the roads about three-and-a-half miles town. He was lynched with his hands fastened behind him with handcuffs and allowed to hang there until Monday when he was cut down by county convicts.” Hayes was buried 100 feet from the tree that he was hanged on.

The following Saturday—Saturdays and Sundays must have been the designated days to hunt down and lynch Negroes—another unidentified “Negro” was lynched. Later three bodies were pulled from the Little River, located below Barney.

Walter White reports that, “The murder of the Negro men was deplorable enough in itself, but the method by which Mrs. Turner was put to death was so revolting and the details so horrible that it is with reluctance that the account is given. Mrs. Turner made the remark that the killing of her husband on Saturday was unjust and that if she knew the name of the mob that lynched her husband, she would have warrants sworn out against them and have them punished in the courts.” 

The year was 1918, a year before the “Red Summer” of 1919, when racial riots and lynching of African Americans spread like wildfire all over America. It is not likely Turner would have found a court or attorney receptive to filing a wrongful death suit against a White lynch mob.

“This news determined the mob to ‘teach her a lesson’ and although she attempted to flee when she heard that they were after her, she was captured at noon on Sunday,” writes White. “The grief-stricken and terrified woman was taken to a lonely and secluded spot down a narrow road over which the trees touch at their tops, which, with the thick undergrowth on either side of the road, made a gloomy and appropriate spot for the lynching. Near Folsom’s Bridge over the Little River a tree was selected for her execution—a small oak tree extending over the road.”

Mary Turner, alone and pregnant, must have experienced untold fears and horror as she looked in the faces of her judges and executioners, all of whom were angry White men who about to take her life and that of her unborn child. She was eight months pregnant. Her condition did not deter the malicious mob. Her condition did not soften their hearts. They showed no mercy. They showed no pity.

White writes, “Her ankles were tied together and she was hung to the tree, head downward (upside down). Gasoline and oil from the automobiles were thrown on her clothing and the mob howled in glee; a match was applied and her clothes burned from her person. When this had been done and while she was yet alive, a knife, evidently one such as is used in splitting hogs, was taken and the woman’s abdomen was cut open, the unborn babe falling from her womb to the ground.”

White reports that the baby, “prematurely born, gave two feeble cries and then its head was crushed by a member of the mob with his heel. Hundreds of bullets were then fired into the body of the woman, now mercifully dead, and the work was done.”

After the double murder of Turner and her unborn child, the roving mob was still blood thirsty. They murdered another Black man named Chime Riley.  His hands and feet were tied together and he was thrown in to the Little River. White did not state if he was dead or alive at the time.  Another victim named Simon Schuman was taken from his ransacked home one night, and his family did not hear from him again. 

All the Black men and one woman, were innocent victims of a run-away mob that hanged and killed them without fear of reprisal. Over 500 Black farmers in the area were so fearful for their lives that they prepared to leave the state, hoping to escape the reign of terror. According to  Tony Brown’s Journal, the farmers “left hundreds of acres of untilled land behind them.”

With the intent to hold every “Negro” hostage in the Valdosta vicinity, a mob of bullies warned the Black farmers that they would implicate them in the shooting death of Hampton Smith if they tried to skip town. The mob warned that they would not hesitate to lynch them. Despite the threats and talk of revenge, the farmers left the state, leaving behind everything they had worked for.

“Hundreds of acres of untilled land flourishing with weeds and dozens of deserted farm houses give their own mute testimony of the Negroes’ attitude toward a community in which lynching mobs are allowed to visit vengeance upon members of their race,” White concluded.

Two instigators and 15 mob members were identified, and revealed to Georgia’s governor Hugh Dorsey in an investigative report. An anti-lynching law was proposed by legislatures in 1922, but it was rejected by the Georgia Senate. None of the mob members were ever charged for the multiple murders of the innocent Black men, one woman, and one unborn child. The real criminals openly committed their murderous acts in 1918. No was prosecuted.

***The above sculpture of Mary Turner was designed and created by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, 1919.