The Lynching Project: Calhoun County
Calhoun County is made up of land once part of Baker and Early counties. Designated in 1854, the county is named for Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. After breaking with President Andrew Jackson in disgust over a number of policy issues from lowering tariffs to respecting states' rights, Calhoun resigned as vice president of the United States and returned to the Senate. Morgan, the county seat, is named for Revolutionary War hero General Daniel Morgan.
More than 50 percent of the land in the county has been designated as prime farmland by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The main crops are corn, oats, sorghum, and wheat. According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Calhoun County is 6,694, an increase from the 2000 population of 6,320.
On August 10th or 11th of 1896, Homer Smith was accused of having assaulted a 14-year old girl. As seen from the image, the newspaper exhibits some heavy bias towards Smith, claiming that he "no doubt would have murdered her” had he not been scared away. The existence of bias is somewhat expected considering the time, yet the extension of the newspaper to make an assumption of murder is shocking. If any information exists concerning the result of those who lynched Smith, it was not found.
On June 1st or 2nd, 1904, Arthur Thompson was lynched after the murder of an “excellent young white manager of city electric light plant” by the name of M. Dudley. Whether or not a judge or police were involved prior to the lynching is unknown.
On Oct 4th 1916, Mary Conley (otherwise known as Sarah Connoly, Mary Connell, Carrie Conoly and other similar names) was lynched after the murder of E. M. Melvin, a prosperous farmer in Leary Georgia. Before his murder, Melvin had chastised Sam Conley for not completing his work that he had been assigned. When Mary Conley, Sam’s mother, intervened on Sam’s behalf, Melvin assaulted her, knocking her to the ground and beating her. Sam objected to the assault, to the extent that he acquired and threw a nearby weight at Melvin, striking him and killing him. Sam successfully escaped, but his mother, who was 60-years old at the time of the murder, was arrested for complicity to the murder of Melvin.
The night of Mary Conley’s arrest she was escorted from her jail cell, which was left unguarded. The mob that escorted her from jail took her to a waiting car, and she was driven to a remote site and hanged. Her body was later found by the side of the road, and her body was riddled with bullets.
Sam Conley was then taken by police to Macon, Georgia to protect him from the belligerent mob that lynched his elderly mother. It was then later found that the mob was in fact searching for him in nearby counties.
During the trial involving the murder of Mary Conley, the judge involved, Judge E. E. Cox, condemned those involved in Mary Conley’s lynching stating the following:
"that the very fact that mob had lynched the old woman was enough for him to know that Calhoun County was no place in which to try the defendant. Judge Cox told the [grand] jury that whoever participated in the murder of [Mary] Conley had stained his hands with blood and damned his soul.”
Such a condemnation of those involved may have resulted in this case of Conley’s to be highly popularized throughout newspapers. This includes the Chicago Defender, which among their exploration of the lynching, commended Sam Conley for standing up for his race and for his mother among the ordeal. The upset of racial hierarchy, seen by the criticizing of abusive whites against people of color, raised serious questions to the ethical defense of lynching. This large issue led to the information of Mary Conley’s lynching to be spread like wildfire throughout the United States, suggesting that the trivial information of her name and how she was lynched to be commonly misconstrued in the mass diffusion of information that occurred where mass media organizations attempted to put out such information before their competitors.
Emma Mike, Lillie Mike, and an Unnamed Elderly Black Woman
The murder of Emma Mike, Lillie Mike, and the unnamed elderly black woman who resided within the home along with Calvin Mike and his wife does not fall under what many would consider a lynching in the "traditional" sense. Several newspaper articles recount how, on December 1st, 1884 a group of armed, masked men arrived at the house of Calvin Mike who had voted for the Republican ticket and told his friends. While Calvin managed to escape death with his wife, the mob burned down his house killing is 4 and 6-year-old daughters along with an elderly woman who was most likely Calvin Mike's mother. There were some newspapers that scrutinized the murder, stating that the voting rights that were promised to African-Americans in the south were all a "hollow pretence". Following the murder, a case was called, but the illness of the Solicitor General Walters resulted in a mistrial. This, along with several other examples of white violence against black citizens, signaled an era of disenfranchisement for black voters. Fear soon became a very real obstacle in regard to African-Americans exercising one of their natural-born rights.
The lynching has been memorialized in Montgomery, Alabama at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the death of Calvin Mike is an accurate illustration of the violence that was a pretense for the disenfranchisment of African-American individuals during the late 1800s.
The Mother of Pete Hudson (Jane Hudson)
On September 23rd, 1916, a mob of about fifty men whose identities remain unknown went to abduct Bull Hudson. Bull was the borther of Pete Hudson who had been accused of murdering Sheriff Taylor. Pete fled with Elijah Sturgis and was later found and lynched in Randolph county.
When the mob arrived at Mr. Avery Mills' plantation to confront Pete's Brother, he had already fled with another Hudson brother. The mother of Pete Hudson addressed the party of men outside instead, "cursing the white men" and "declaring that she would wreak vengeance for the killing of Pete." The men then shot the elderly woman to death.
The killing of Pete Hudson's mother is not disimilar to the the murder of Mary Conley and Mary Turner. All three women, were allegedly vocal about the injustice that their male family members had faced, and as a result, they were executed.
Lynching: American Mob Murder in Global Perspective By Robert W. Thurston
Calhoun County Courier 9/29/1916, p.1 The Albany
Southwest Georgian 9/27/1916, p. 1
The Debate Around Lynching Memorials
On the official website of the NAACP, there is a page titled "History of Lynchings". The page itself, serves as a summarization of one particularly dark piece of American history.
"From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of these people that were lynched 3,446 were black. The blacks lynched accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched. These numbers seem large, but it is known that not all of the lynchings were ever recorded."
In the recent years, there have been many calls for those victims that were lynched to be remembered and memorialized in a way that is not dissimilar from the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, believes that cannot fully heal unless it confronts its own violent past.
While there have been supporters of this message, there has also been some backlash. After the EJI's Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in April of 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama, some individuals expressed their distaste for the memorial, stating that the EJI should "let sleeping dogs lie."
The Anti-Lynching Bill Debate
The United States Senate unanimously passed the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018, a bill that classifies lynching — defined in the bill as an act that “willfully cause bodily injury to any other person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person” — as a federal hate crime.
"By classifying lynching and attempted lynching as a federal hate crime, the bill enables judges to impose additional sentencing enhancements on top of any other charges when determining the punishment for those convicted of such crimes."
There is currently a debate around the bill, however, that addresses whether a broader definition of lynching might do a disservice to those individuals whose lives were taken in senseless acts of violence.
William Sullivan writes: "It is not hyperbole to say that this language in the Democrats' proposed law makes a mockery of every victim of an actual lynching in America's history. They are using the horrific legacy of lynching against blacks in the Jim Crow South to advance a political agenda that has nothing to do with honoring the murdered victims of historical racism and everything to do with advancing federal power and identity politics at the expense of the memory of the true historical victims of racism."
This is a direct contradiction of what it detailed in the actual bill itself. “Only by coming to terms with history can the United States effectively champion human rights abroad,” the bill notes. “An apology offered in the spirit of true repentance moves the United States toward reconciliation and may become central to a new understanding, on which improved racial relations can be forged.”
Robert Lovett/Son Lovett
On August 15, 1913, Robert Lovett was arrested for the alleged murder of Ben Swords and J.D Wilson, two white men who lived in Calhoun County. It is not clear what their job was or the reason that Lovett had for supposedly killing the two men. Lovett was taken into custody by Sheriff W.L. Calhoun, however he was stabbed by the lynch mob (around 50 white males) trying to get the keys to retrieve Lovett from his cell. However, the mob was not able to retrieve Lovett from his cell, so they shot him multiple times. The Mob then took him to the lynching place and hung him up. Lovett was supposed to stand trial with Judge Frank Park presiding, however was not able to do so because he was murdered before he could make it to court.
Albany Herald 8/15/1913 pg. 1
Macon Daily Telegraph 8/16/1913 pg.2
Atlanta Constitution 8/16/1913 pg. 5
Atlanta Constitution 8/17/1913 pg. 14B
Cuthbert Leader 8/21/1913 pg. 2
Around January 23, 1915, Peter Morris allegedly killed a local farmer (J.E. Lewis). The Atlanta Constitution states that Morris frequently visited Lewis’s farm one day he brought his shotgun with him because he wanted to shoot some ducks. Lewis was supposedly in the field, and Morris asked him for a dime. When he reached for his pocketbook Morris apparently shot Lewis’ head off. The Atlanta Constitution states that a local African American child witnessed the whole thing and that he “accurately” replayed the scene for the sheriff’s office. After Morris alleged murder of Lewis, he supposedly went back to his home to resume his duties. It was there that he was arrested by the Early County Police. After that, he was taken by a mob where his body was then riddled with bullets. In an article titled, “The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950”, written by Robert Gibson, Gibson states “Being charged with a crime did not necessarily mean that the person charged was guilty of the crime. Mob victims were often known to have been innocent of misdeeds. A special study by Arthur Raper of nearly one hundred lynchings convinced him that approximately one-third of the victims were falsely accused. Occasionally mobs were mistaken in the identity of their victims.” This is important to note because when the reports in the newspapers do not make complete sense, that can be attributed to the fact that the stories may have been doctored or are simply inaccurate.
Atlanta Constitution 1/23/1915, p. 9
Southwest Georgian 1/29/1915, p. 1
Around December 21st, 1878, Richard Lewis was Murdered by Masked Men. The reason why he was murdered is not clear, however he was brought into a swamp by the masked men and was terribly beaten. This is all of the information found for him, but the Cuthbert Leader (Christian Newspaper) took an interesting take on the Murder. “We hope the perpetrators of this outrage will be brought to justice and made to feel the penalty of an outraged law and civil community…. A resort of mob law, however greatly widens the breach and shows a degree of barbarism deplorable in any civil or Christian community.” This was an interesting take for the time period that it was written in because the south is just coming out of the reconstruction time period and is moving toward a “Jim Crow” south. Plus many white newspapers blame the African American for being lynched and it is rare for them to call for justice like this one has. The creator of the Cuthbert Leader was a Methodist minister (Elam Christian), which could be why they took the approach that they did to this murder.
Columbus Daily Enquirer 12/21/1878, p. 3
Atlanta Daily Constitution 12/24/1878, p. 3