The Lynching Project: Appling County
Appling County, named for Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Appling, is one of the oldest counties in Georgia, founded from the partition of lands of the Creek People ceded to the state of Georgia by the 1814 Treaty of Fort Jackson and the 1818 Treaty of the Creek Agency. As the years have progressed, Appling County has been partitioned into many of the other counties of Southeast Georgia including Ware, Wayne, Atkinson, Bacon, Telfair, Pierce, and Jeff Davis Counties.
The county has always been a rural and agrarian county, with many people relying on farming and turpentine to make a living. As of the 2010 census, 18.6% of the residents of Appling county were black.
Newton Jones-- a black man from Baxley, GA-- was alleged to have killed a white man named O.G. Herman at a place called Ketterer & Dan's Still. He was siezed by the police at around 4 in the morning around 15 miles from the incident on November 30, 1893 at a turpentine stand owned by a man named C.W. Swain, and the police started to take him back to Baxley, the county seat.
On their way back, the police were mobbed by a rioting lynch mob of approximately 300 people who kidnapped Mr. Jones and took him to a tree. There, Mr. Jones was killed quickly by the mob. However, his body was gruesomely mutilated, and he was riddled with at least 500 bullets before being strung up on
Ephraim Merchel and an unnamed farmhand
Around May 30th, 1893, Ephraim Merchel (also spelled Mitchell) was accused of killing J.J. Brown, a farmer from Coffee County. Brown was supposedly arguing with one of his farm hands over “some trivial matter” when Mr. Merchel was alleged to have “shot him without cause.”
Merchel and the farm hand fled to Hazelhurst, which was then a part of Appling County. They were pursued by Appling and Coffee county police who apprehended them on the outskirts of Hazelhurst. While they were being escorted back to Nichols, GA, the police were accosted by a mob of men, mostly from Coffee County. The mob seized the two men, mercilessly beat them, and then lynched them from the same tree.
Boy Williams and Dave Clark
Boy Williams-- a man from the small town of Surrency, GA in Appling County-- was arrested near the town of Odum-- in present day Wayne County-- for the alleged assault of a white woman named H.W. Kennedy. He was taken to the county jail located in Odum where he was incarcerated with another man named Dave Clark, a man also from the town of Surrency.
Mr. Clark had already been in jail for supposedly attempting to resist arrest by an unnamed constable by shooting at him. Around the time of June 16, 1899, a lynch mob formed outside the jail, broke in, and captured both Williams and Clark. Mr. Williams was beaten up, shot, and lynched from a tree outside Odum. Mr. Clark was found dead several days later in the middle of the woods, riddled with holes.
While lynchings were the most infamous form of racial violence, racist whites also used the criminal justice system to devastating effect. Lynchings carried infamy and notoriety because of the stigma that it brought to the region and to the state. To avoid this, affluent white people would often use extralegal demonstrations and intimidation to get judges to pass harsher sentences, an effect of Jim Crow that has had ramifications on African Americans' relationship to the criminal justice system which echo today
- Will Ables, June 8, 1899: convicted within one hour of trial for rape of Vicey Edgerton in Baxley. Sentenced to be hanged at the earliest possible date. Lynch mobs were formed and only dissuaded from acting by the news of the speedy death sentence. Sentenced by Judge Bennett. Ables was defended by Judge Parker.
- Neal Ryles, September 15, 1908: Convicted for an alleged assault of Lizzie Overstreet. Died still proclaiming proclaiming innocence. The execution was widely public, and multiple people came in from across several counties to witness it. Executed immediately after the sentence was passed.
From the outset, resistance to lynching was present in the black community, particularly among black women. The most prominent anti-lynching activist in American history was Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Ms. Wells received international acclaim for her numerous writings against lynching in newspapers and her involvement with the foundation of the NAACP. However, she wasn’t the only one. The anti-lynching movement thrived under the astute leadership of Mary Burnett Talbot, the pen of the poet Angelina Grimké, and the youth activism of the radio journalist Juanita Jackson Mitchell.
In Georgia, anti-lynching activism was concentrated mostly in Atlanta. The Commission on Interracial Cooperation was founded by white ministers in the aftermath of the race riots that happened in 1906. While its mission was good, it was mostly composed of white liberals, whose ability and willingness to support the black community was limited. The Atlanta Neighborhood Union was one of the first social reform groups founded in Atlanta with a specific mission to aid underprivileged black families. The group was founded by Lugenia Burns Hope, the wife of Morehouse president John Hope, and they often worked out of the Morehouse college presidential mansion. The ANU lobbied hard for anti-lynching legislation in Georgia. Unfortunately, most of these organizations were dependent on white liberals, who were mostly concentrated in urban areas like Atlanta. In rural areas such as Appling, these kind of people were virtually nonexistent, leaving many African-Americans at the mercy of white peoples’ self-restraint.
Legislation for the Victims
The main goal of anti-lynching activists after Reconstruction was the passage of federal anti-lynching legislation by Congress. They had their first major success with the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, introduced by Representative Leonidas Dyer, a Republican from Missouri. The bill would have classifed lynching as a federal crime, and it successfully passed the House in 1922 with the support of President Warren G. Harding. However, it failed in the Senate after prolonged fillibusters by Southern Democratic Senators.
The next attempt at anti-lynching legislation was undertaken in 1935 by progressive Democratic Senators Edward P. Costigan and Robert F. Wagner from Colorado and New York respectively. Democratic leaders, who had a supermajority in Congress, attempted to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to come out in favor of the bill, but Roosevelt was reluctant to do so because of his tenuous support among white Southerners as the 1936 presidential election began to heat up. The Costigan-Wagner Bill eventually failed without passage due to Southern Democratic and Republican resistance.
Anti-lynching legislation then ceased to become a national priority until 2019, when Democratic Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Republican Senator Tim Scott introduced sweeping anti-lynching legislation in the form of S.488, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act. The bill identifies lynching not only as a federal crime, but it would classify it as a federal hate crime, with the additional sentencing guidelines that hate crimes come with. The bill has passed the Senate unanimously, and with a mostly liberal majority in the 116th House of Representatives, passage of the bill seems likely.
- Lynched by a Mob. (1893, June 1). The Arizona Republican.
- Five Hundred Bullets. (1893, December 5). The Progressive Republican.
-A Georgia Negro to Hang for Criminal Assault. (1899, June 13). The Semi-Weekly Messenger.
- Swift Justice - Negro Convicted of Criminal Assault. (1899, June 9). El Paso Daily Herald
-Boy Williams Lynched-Dave Clark Found Dead. (1899, June 22).Gurley Herald.
-Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, S. 488, 116th Cong. (2019).