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The Lynching Project: DeKalb County

Overview of County

DeKalb county was established in 1822. It was originally composed of Henry, Gwinette, and Fayette counties. It was an agricultual county until the 1960s but became urbanized with the growth of Atlanta. Today, DeKalb county has a majority African-American population, but being that it is in the south, it still has a deep rooted history of racism and discrimination. 

Reuben Hudson of Covington, Ga- crime took place in Redan July 27, 1887, accused of attempted rape

As told by the Atlanta Constitution
On Thursday, July 28, 1887, an article was published in Atlanta newspaper The Atlanta Constitution detailing the lynching of Reuben Hudson on July 27, 1887. The article took nearly the an entire page of the newspaper. The headline read HUNG WITH A CORD. Hudson was described in the article as a “black fied”. He is said to have been lynched by “the wildest, maddest mob that ever gathered in DeKalb county.”

Hudson is said to have first targeted a woman by the name of Mrs. Floyd on the Monday night before the alleged attack on Mrs. Bush. The article says he broke into her home which is near Redan. He took some food clothing and using an ax broke through her bedroom window because the door was locked. He was scared away by Mrs. Floyd’s shotgun. The next day, there was a pursuit to find Huson and somehow he became aware of the pursuit and began to flee. At some point, he came upon Mr. and Mrs. Bush’s home while Mr. Bush was out at church. He went to her house and asked her to sell him some food, which she did. He left the house when two men passed but he returned later with a threat that if Mrs. Bush gave any alarm of his being there, he would kill her. Mrs. Bush promised not to tell but as soon as Hudson was a good distance away, she rang the alarm.

The article describes the search for Hudson beginning as “examining strange darkies encountered on the road.” Mrs. Bush described to her husband and other people the man who assaulted her and after having no luck finding the man, the descriptions were sent to the surrounding areas. Captain Virgil Boyd, the conductor of Covington accommodation (train) was tasked with capturing Hudson. Hudson traveled by foot 11 miles to Conyers where he snuck onto the accommodation train where he attempted to ride back to Covington.The article said, “One of the train hands observed a dark figure slipping cautiously up the side of the train.” He entered the negro coach where he was confronted by Conductor Boyd. Hudson offered Boyd 25 cents for the ride but fare to Covington was 40 cents. Conductor Boyd believed he had identified Hudson as Mrs. Bush’s assailant. He questioned him and then Hudson was bound with a rope so he would not escape. Boyd decided to take Hudson to Covington and turn him over to the officers.

The article says Hudson “appeared to be in total ignorance of the crime of which he was suspected.” When he was detained he expressed wanted to see his wife and he was persistent in denying any guilt for the crime was accused of. The stories he told in jail did not locate him with a dozen miles of Redan. Officer Northern of Covington accompanied Hudson on the accommodation train where he was to be transported to Redan. Violent and angry men had already gathered on the train and there were more waiting when Officer Northern and Hudson got off the train. The crowd pressed around Hudson and the officer, and they began to chant.
“Kill him!” “Hang him!” “Shoot him!” “Burn him!”
The officer and guards eventually gave up protecting him. Mrs. Bush was brought to the scene and swore that Hudson was the right man. When asked of her certainty, Mrs. Bush replied “Do you think I could have passed through such an ordeal and forget that man? No. Every feature is indelibly photographed upon my mind that this is the man. That is him, before God!” Mrs. Bush suggested that Hudson be hanged rather than burned.

The crowd traveled with Hudson in search of a tree to hang him from. Before hanging him, they allowed him to pray.He began with the Lord’s prayer then he said, “Lord I am not guilty of this crime, and if they will give me the time I will find the man who did. I know I am going to die and I am going to hell -- straight to hell. You know Lord, that I bought these clothes yesterday--” He was stopped mid pray and he said amen.His last request before being hanged was for a handkerchief to be tied around his eyes so he would not see them pop out.

A group of men pulled the rope and lifted Hudson where he hung for ten minutes “between heaven and earth.” He was let down, and still alive he asked if the men could write a note for his wife telling he that he was being lynched and he would meet her in heaven. After the note was written, Hudson was lifted again. This time the rope was tied around the tree so that the men did not have to hold it. The crowd watched him kick for life. The article said, “In less than ten minutes he was dead.” When he was first lifted from the ground, his feet were eight inches from the ground, but his body weight brought the limbs down until his feet were just above the ground.

Hudson’s body was left to hang until the coroner was able to come. Men, women, and children came to view the body. The coroner gathered a jury for an inquest.The jury consisted of men who were present at the hanging. The jury returned a verdict that Hudson hung himself. The rope was identified as a small bell cord.

Porter Turner- August 1945

Porter Flornoy Turner was a taxi driver in Atlanta. He was suspected by Klansmen of accepting white women as fares. It was illegal in Georgia during this time for black taxi drivers to carry white women in their cars. Stetson Kennedy, a n anti-nazi human rights activist, who worked with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, had joined the Klan earlier that day and was working undercover to expose them. He wrote about the incident in his many books including “The Klan Unmasked”. He talks about a Klansman whom he calls Carter. He quotes Carter as saying, “As y’all know there’s a law against coloured cab-drivers carrying white folks. But near ‘bout every week we get reports that the law ain’t being enforced. When the law fails, it’s time for the Klan to step in…” One night the wife of a Klansman entered his taxi and forced him at gunpoint to a location on Pryor Road where member of the Ku Klux Klan’s “Klavalier Klub” waited for him. Turner was beaten, shot at, and ran over with his taxi. Authorities classified the incident as an auto accident and it was ruled a hit-and-run. On May 1, 1946, the lynching was addressed by Ku Klux Klan “Chief Ass-Tearer” Cliff Vittur. He expressed disappointment about how the murder was carried out. Since this lynching took place in the 1940s, it was more difficult to get away with it than it was in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Vittur believed that they should not have used Turner’s taxi to commit the murder, probably because it made it more difficult to make it seem like Turner’s death was the result of his own actions. Vittur also noted that the Klansmen should have removed their fingerprints from the steering wheel so as to prevent them from being suspected for the murder. He said they were only saved because he asked a Klansman who served on the Atlanta police force to remove the evidence against them.

Stetson Kennedy, the undercover Klansmen, included the notice listed the next day in a local newspaper.

BODY FOUND
The body of a Negro man, with head and chest crushed, apparently the victim of a hit-and-run driver, was found in the early morning hours on Pryor Road by Rockledge County Police. From papers on the man’s body he was identified as James Martin, a driver for the Lincoln Cab Company.

The names and county given by Kennedy was proven to be false, but his narratives are consistent. He reported what he had witnessed with Turner to the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation but no one was ever prosecuted and the crime still remains unpunished.

On June 8, 1946, it was reported in the Daily Times- News that a “Klan buster” had busted a chapter for the stabbing and flogging death of a man. In this article, Turner’s case was referenced. This article says that Porter Turner, a cab driver, was stabbed to death and his body was found dumped in the lawn of a physician in DeKalb county.

Memorial and Anti-Lynching Efforts

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama is a memorial that honors the lives of over 4,400 people who were lynched in the United States. The memorial was created by the Equal Justice Initiative, and also includes a Legacy Museum that highlights the move from "enslavement to mass incarceration". According to the EJI, 592 Georgians were lynched between 1877 and 1950. Fulton county has the highest number of recorded lynchings at 35. Dekalb county has four known lynchings. The EJI is currently leading an initiative to collect dirt from all lynching sites around the country. 

Inspired by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in January of 2019 Dekalb county commissioners approved a historical marker for lynching victims of the county to be placed downtown Decatur outside the county courthouse. The location for the marker is ironic because it is near a controversial confederate monument. The marker, as in the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, include the victims of the lynchings and the dates associated with the lynchings. Of the four known lynching victims in Dekalb county, only two of the identities are known. There are two unknown victims who were lynched on April 3, 1892 for alledged assault on a white girl. 

Dekalb county NAACP are working on a project called the Remembrance Project that will hold a week of events leading to the marker unveiling in September.

Bibliography

Brundage, W. Fitzhugh. 1993. Lynching in the New South : Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930. Blacks in the New World. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1993.

Kennedy, Stetson. The Klan Unmasked. Gainesville, FL: The Florida Atlantic University Press, 1954.

Newton, Michael. Unsolved Civil Rights Murder Cases, 1934-1970. McFarland & Company, 2016.

Patterson, William L. We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People. New York: International Publishers, 1951.