Saturday, February 8, 2014

Black Berries Hanging from Trees: Accounts of Black Women Lynched in America

Hey scholars!
     I celebrate Black History everyday. Do not get me wrong. I appreciate having a Black History Month. It allows people to bring awareness to the events, figures, and places here in America and throughout the Diaspora that helped to shape history. Last semester in my Comparative Slave Systems class, we talked about the film Birth of a Nation and all of the ridiculous bull that was in it. I also brought Oscar Micheaux' response which was Within Our Gates. These films brought on talk about the deep scars America has but has been covered up with heavy foundation. If you saw Mississippi Burning, one of the most impactful images was the lynching of a man in front of his son. Throughout the American South, black men were lynched in large numbers. After numerous friends were lynched, Ida B. Wells-Barnett became an anti-lynching crusader. 

With Mrs. Barnett, we see black women in the fight against lynching, but what about those who were lynched themselves? Who were they? 

Ann Barksdale or Ann Bostwick

She was accused of killing her female employer in Pinehurst, Georgia on 24 June 1912. It is uncertain if or why Ann killed her employer. There was no trial and taking a statement from her was seen as asinine because she of ten had "violent fits of insanity." She was place in a car with a rope around her neck, the other end of the rope was tied to a tree limb; lynchers drove at high speeds, strangling her to death. She had her eyes shot out and bullets riddled her body in two. 

Mae Murray Dorsey and Dorothy Malcolm

On 25 July 1946, these ladies along with George Dorsey and Roger Malcolm were shot hundreds of times by as many as fifteen unmasked white men in broad daylight at the Moore's Ford bridge, which spans the Apalachee River about 60 miles east of Atlanta, Georgia. No one was ever prosecuted for this heinous crime. At the time, President Harry Truman became enraged, leading to historic changes that were later forgotten.      

Laura Nelson

In Okemah, Oklahoma on 23 May 1911, she and her fifteen year old son were lynched. She was accused by authorities of killing a deputy sheriff who allegedly came across some stolen goods in the Nelson household. She was rap by a mob and dragged six miles to the Canadian River and hanged from a bridge.

                                               (Laura Nelson: This picture came from a postcard) 

Marie Scott

At the age of seventeen, Marie was taken from jail by a mob who threw a rope over her head. As she screamed, she was hung from a telephone pole in Wagoner County, Oklahoma. Why was Marie hanged? She was in her house getting dressed when two drunk white men barged in on her and raped her. Marie's brother heard her screaming out for help. One of the assailants was either stabbed or killed. The brother eventually fled. Since the brother could not be found, Marie was hanged. 

Jennie Steers

On 25 July 1903, Jennie was lynched on the Beard Plantation in Louisiana. She allegedly gave Elizabeth Dolan, a white sixteen year old, a glass of poisoned lemonade. Jennie was forced to confess, upon refusing she was hanged.

Cordella Stevenson 

On Wednesday 8 December 1915, Cordella's naked body was hung from the limb of a tree outside of Columbus, Mississippi about fifty yards north of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. The next morning, thousands of passengers passed by this gruesome scene. She was stolen from her bed and raped then lynched. Prior to these events she was taken into police custody and questioned about the burning down of Gabe Frank's barn. Her son was suspected of arson. She was released after telling police her son left home several months prior and she was unaware of his whereabouts. Later that night, there was knocking on the Stevenson's door. Cordella's husband, Arch, answered the door, but before he could get to it, it was knocked down and Cordella was taken away. Her body was left hanging until Friday morning. Her cause of death was labelled "at the hands of persons unknown." 

Mary Turner 

In Lowndes County, Georgia on 17 May 1918, Mary was lynched by a mob because promised to have those responsible for killing her husband arrested who was arrested in connection with the shooting and killing of Hampton Smith, a white farmer the coupe worked for. His wife was wounded. Sidney Johnson, a black man, supposedly killed Smith because he grew tired of abuse from the farmer. Since Johnson could not be found, the mob killed eight other blacks including Hayes and Mary Turner. Mary was hung by her feet, her body doused with gasoline and oil, and fire was set to her. It was said that her body was cut open causing her baby to tumble to the ground. Afterwards, the mob stomped the baby to death and then shot Mary's body up. 

     In 1937, Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish teacher from the Bronx wrote the poem  "Bitter Fruit.
 It was published in the New York Teacher, a union magazine. Meeropol and Billie Holiday worked to put the poem to music. In 1939, Billie Holiday recorded "Strange Fruit." It sold a million copies, making it her biggest selling record. 

This link will take you to a page that has accounts of many more black women who were lynched. Click here.

Sources and Further Readings:


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