The Lynching Project: Early County
Early County, Georgia
Incorporated into the state of Georgia on December 15th, 1818, Early County is located in Southwest Georgia along the border of Alabama. Originally Early County covered all of Southwest Georgia, but over time the county was divided up and today rests at 511.1 square miles. During the Civil War, Early County became a hot spot for the Confederate Navy as the David S. Johnston’s Confederate Navy Yard was developed on the Chattahoochee River within the county. In the years after the Civil War due to its location in the heart of the tumultuous South, approximately 24 of Early County’s residents became victims of mob violence, and many more were victims of racial terror that did not end in death. Following World War I, the county became nationally recognized for its racism with the murder of William Little, an American Soldier who had recently returned from serving in the Great War in 1919. Early County is responsible for the second highest number of lynching’s within Georgia, following Fulton County which was responsible for 37 violent deaths.
Matt Butts (1881)
On May 25, 1881, an altercation occurred on the plantation of Mr. J.R.H Sanders which ultimately resulted in the death of 21-year-old Matt Butts. Butts was told by Major Bathea to go to the oat field and bring up oats for the stock, but Butts refused. When told again he must go to the fields, Butts replied: “I'll be damned if I go”. Bathea then hit him in the head with a stick and Butts drew a knife and stabbed Bathea causing instant death. He then said “If you follow me I will kill you” before trying to make an escape. A mob of Bathea’s friend found out where he would be held in Blakely jail, and voyaged to kill Butts. The party in charge of transporting Butts was met and overpowered by a mob of 75-100 men and he was hung by the toes and riddled with bullets.
Butts was described as a heavy built male, who was “said to be the perfect demon”. They also discussed allegations of Butts assaulting a woman just days prior to this incident. Throughout the history of American literature and journalism, black men that rebelled against the social hierarchy were demonized and portrayed as evil. Whereas, the white victim was portrayed as a peaceable and easy going man, who was a father and husband undeserving of such a fate even though it was clear that Bathea was the initial assaulter. This article is an example of how black men were portrayed in the press as cannibalistic and unruly, while whites were portrayed as victims of the actions and behavior of “uncivilized” black people.
Arthur Thompson (1893)
Arthur Thompson was killed by a white mob in the Summer of 1893 after being accused of murder. The details of this lynching remain unknown, however it is likely that his lynching was the result of false accusations; a common trait among those who were murdered during this era.
Sidney Grist (1896)
Actions, words, and even perceived attitudes of black men and women could be cause for lynching in much of the nineteenth and twentieth century. In Early County, Sidney Grist was hanged with the only cited cause being “political activity” without further explanation. He was lynched on the last day of the year 1896.
Washington Johnson, Fish Head Gus, and 2 Unnamed Men (1899)
On July 23, 1899, these 4 men were killed based upon accusations of robbery and murder. These men were lynched in Safford, Georgia.
Louis Sammin (1899)
Hunting parties took to the streets of Saffold, Georgia on July 23, 1899, to find the men accused of committing a “dastardly crime” against Mr. and Mrs. Ogletree. When Louis Sammin asked for safe harbor, he was instead handed over to those hunting him and made to confess. In his confession, Sammin shared that others who had also escaped his chain gang from Albany were nearby. He also shared the names of other members of his escaped chain gang including Charles Mack. A report from The Bamberg Herald of South Carolina says that two others were killed the same night as Sammin, although they remain unnamed. Sammin was hanged and shot dead in Early County.
Charles Mack (1899)
Just two days after Louis Sammin was lynched for supposedly robbing Mr. Ogletree and raping his wife Lillie, Charles Mack was turned in by the white man named Cordell who had been hiding Mack. Cordell was threatened that if he did not hand over Charles Mack, his life would be taken. He had been implicated by Mr. Ogletree as one of the assailants and was likely killed by gunfire, although other accounts say he may have also been tortured and castrated before his death. “Everybody, white and black, fully justify the action of the men who lynched the villains who assaulted Mrs. Ogletree, and all men of their class will be similarly treated when they lay hands on white women” (The Bainbridge Democrat)
Lewis Henderson, and Unnamed Person (1899)
Sammin, Henderson, and the unnamed third individual committed escaped alongside 5 other black males in a chain gang from Augusta, Ga. They assaulted Mr. and Mrs. Ogletree. Sammin was the first to be captured from the gang and he confessed to the crimes. He was then hung from a tree. After being hung he was riddled with bullets. The other two were then tracked down and the mod attempted to arrest them, the two drew their pistols and denied the arrest. They were then shot and then scalped.
In the newspaper, the group was described as “black demons”, which further shows a common way that black men were described by the white press.
Peter Morris (1915)
Peter Morris was lynched on January 28, 1915. Peter Morris had allegedly committed a robbery and brutal murder of Early County’s beloved grocery store owner Elbert Lewis. The crime was committed about 1 o'clock that Thursday afternoon and Morris was lynched 8 o’ clock that evening.
Hosh Jewell, James Burton, Early Hightower, and Charles Holmes (1915)
When a white overseer, Henry J. Villipigue, was shot and killed, pandemonium swept through Blakely, Georgia. The Goolsby boys, Mike and Ulysses, were killed after facing trial for their overseers' death. Their father, Grandison, did not make it past the night he was accused of killing Villipigue. Hosh Jewell, Early Hightower, and James Burton were shot and killed in the rampage that erupted throughout Blakely, despite their innocence and non-involvement in the Villipigue murder. A newspaper article that was written for New York’s “Issues and Events” states that the men were slaughtered after “an all-day hunt,” referring to the accused as animals rather than humans. Originally, Charles Holmes was also reported as falling victim to gunfire, but it was later discovered that this was incorrect reporting.
Anna-Murphy Martin & Ines Kausche
Grandison Goolsby (1915), Mike Goolsby (1916), & Ulysses Goolsby (1916)
The case of the Goolsby’s is complicated to trace in historical records. The comparison of several articles in various newspapers, as well as the juxtaposition of those articles with excerpts from published history books, is necessary to gain a more extensive understanding of what exactly happened with Grandison Goolsby and his two sons, Mike and Ulysses. There is a discrepancy in the historical reporting of what transpired in the Goolsby case; looking for consistency is key. What can be inferred from multiple sources is that a white plantation overseer by the name of Henry Villipigue (in various records, he is referred to as Villipigus, Villipique, or Villepigue) was murdered, having been allegedly shot by either Mike or Ulysses Goolsby for whipping one of their little brothers in December of 1915. Almost immediately after Villipigue’s death, Grandison, the father, was shot and killed alongside four other African Americans (the number lynched varies in different sources, ranging from 5-7 victims; 4 victims are certain to have been lynched in this one instance). There was no effort put forth by legal officials to indict those who lynched the Goolsby and other African Americans. After the lynching of their father, Mike and Ulysses escaped to either Alabama or Florida. As carloads of armed, white men circled the Fulton County area looking for them, they no doubt feared for their lives; these cars even went so far as to begin the journey to Alabama and Florida in order to find them. The brothers, Mike and Ulysses, were eventually arrested and indicted on the charge of the murder of Henry Villipigue in April of 1916. In October, both brothers were convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. The jury in Ulysses’s case took half an hour to convict him. Furthermore, the request for a change of venue for the Goolsby brothers’ cases was denied by the presiding Judge Worrill.
Peter Morris (1919)
Peter Morris was a farmer in Early County in the early 1900s, and was killed after being accused of murder, despite no direct evidence being found to support his accusation. His murder, along with many unjustified cases during this era, was never thoroughly investigated and led many in the black community to live in fear despite their innocence.
Private William Little and Clifford Hughes (1919)
Private William Little was born Wibert Little to Benjamin in Lucy Little in Early County, GA. Little was inducted into the military branch of the Army on October 16th, 1918. In the year of 1919 Private William Little, an American soldier had returned from Camp Wheeler in Macon after surviving the horrors of World War 1 while serving the country. Upon his return to Early County, white people in the area were allegedly offended by Little’s wearing of his uniform. They asked him to remove his uniform but he denied their request, and the other people in the town stood up for him. In weeks following he was sent letters advising him to either stop or leave town, but he ignored the notes as he had no other clothes to wear. His body was later found beaten to death on the outskirts of the town on what was Little’s 22nd birthday. This event gained Early County the title of “Meanest Little Town in America” by some state newspapers. This case was unusual in the respects that Little was allegedly misidentified by a Chicago newspaper as the soldier found on the outskirts of Blakely that day.
According to the Early County Newspaper, the body that was found that day was covered in the initials of C.L.H on his watch, leggings, and undershirt. Those initials belonged to an Early County native Clifford Hughes. Clifford Hughes was born on August 20, 1894, in Enterprise Alabama. On March 25, 1919, Two white escaped fugitives approached Hughes on their escape route to Alabama. They asked Hughes for a ride to inquire about a job, and Hughes kindly agreed. While driving one of the fugitives forcibly offered to drive, and then purposely choked down the vehicle near the community of Blakely. Hughes got out to aid to the vehicle and they shot him in the back of the head. He was left to die where he was later found and the controversy of identification began.
This case that displays the poor documentation and regard for African American life. The death of Hughes was used as a headline story nationally that upset the nation as he was identified as a mistreated soldier for simply wearing his uniform, while in Georgia the story was titled “A Mystery Murder” as they did not know who it was. It was when Hughes brother E.I. Baker traveled to identify the body and take it back to Alabama that his true identity had been discovered. This misinformation was used as a tool to fuel the narrative fire of racial tensions in the South.
Robert Sapp (1941)
Robert Sapp was killed on May 6, 1941, near Blakely, Georgia. Sapp was accused of stealing from the safe of the mechanic company he worked for as well as stealing on other occasions not listed.
On the evening of May 6th, Sapp was taken by three of his white co-workers a little outside of Blakely, Georgia and was beaten with a club and piece of heavy machinery. The initial cause of death was recorded as pneumonia, but upon further investigation, it was classified and reported as a Lynching by The Association of Southern Women for Prevention of Lynching.
Wilbert Little (1941)
Wilbert Little was lynched in Early County, Georgia on May 6th, 1941.
Eli Cooper (1919)
Eli Cooper, who was accused of not being respectful to whites in his manner of speaking, was shot and killed by a mob of roughly 20 white men. He was brought several miles from his home to an African American church in Early County and, after being murdered, the mob set fire to the church and proceeded to throw his body into it. The burning of African American churches which inevitably provided a sense of community to this oppressed population demonstrates whites’ resistance to the strengthening of African American communities. Cooper’s alleged crime and his punishment for it alone show how far whites would go in order to ensure the racial hierarchy remained unchanged.
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