1909: Will James, “the Froggie”, lynched in Cairo

One hundred years ago today, Will James was lynched as a murderer in Cairo, Illinois.

“The Frog” or “The Froggie” was a black man implicated in the murder of a white girl, captured in nearby Belknap and

taken to the most prominent square in the city and strung up. The rope broke and the man was riddled with bullets. The body was then dragged by the rope for a mile to the scene of the crime and burned in the presence of at least 10,000 rejoicing persons. Many women were in the crowd, and some helped to hang the negro and to drag the body.

Part of the mob then sought other negroes. Another part, at 11:15 o’clock, after battering down a steel cell in the county jail, took out Henry Salzner, a white man charged with the murder of his wife last August, and lynched him.* (New York Times, Nov. 12, 1912)

Other pictures related to the Will James lynching are at the Without Sanctuary site here (images 41 through 47).

The grey lady’s dim view of this jubilant scene prompted a letter to the editor in defense — the author’s disclaimer notwithstanding — of the lynching, which paints a grim and striking portrait of the town where it occurred.


Former Resident Says They Are Spoiled by Coddling and Are a Menace.

As a former resident of Cairo, Ill., where I was the editor of a daily newspaper for three years, I crave a word, not in defense of the double lynching which occurred there a few days ago, but in explanation of it. Cairo, at the extreme southern point of Illinois, at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, is peculiarly located. Across one river is Missouri; across the other is Kentucky, and Tennessee is only fifty miles away. Cairo thus becomes a buffer between the North and the South. It is probably the only town in the North which has a true race problem to deal with. … Out of a population of 13,000 in 1900, 5,000 of the inhabitants of Cairo were negroes. Of the 100,000 negroes in the State of Illinois 5 per cent are massed in this one little town. Aside from this, the floating colored population is unusually large, and Cairo, at some time or other, harbors most of the “bad niggers” from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans. It is these whom citizens fear the most, and for whom the police are constantly alert. Murders by negroes either of white men or negroes are alarmingly frequent, but the murderer usually escapes either to Kentucky or Missouri, and is never heard of again. Thus crime after crime is recorded against the name of Cairo, with no recompense in the name of the law. On the other hand, there is hardly a time when there are not forty or fifty Cairo negroes in the Southern Illinois Penitentiary, all convicted of theft or burglary.

The white people of Cairo have always dealt indulgently with the negro. For years it has been the policy to keep two negroes on the small police force, and there have been negro Justices of the Peace. A negro physician once came near being elected a member of the Board of Education. While they pay but little taxes, the negroes are provided with three public schools. The Sumner was the first colored High School ever established in the United States. Yet this negro population, coddled as it is, is a constant menace to the town. No white woman dare venture outside of the house at night alone for fear of assault. Many outrages of which the world has never heard have been attempted. This is why, as Mayor Parsons says, the effect of the recent lynching will be “salutary.”

Altogether it is not surprising that a lynching took place in Cairo. The only wonder is that one did not take place long ago.

New York, Nov. 14, 1909

That electric arch and celebratory mob are now long gone from Cairo: in the century since Will James was butchered, Cairo, Ill., has withered — striken in part by its own poisonous legacy of racism. (Also by flooding from the adjacent rivers, the routing of transportation corridors elsewhere, and the general deindustrialization of the heartland.)

During the civil rights struggle as played out in Cairo in the 1960’s and 1970’s (more in this pdf), the town’s white business owners made a name for themselves by refusing to integrate their workforces in response to black boycotts … preferring to go out of business and/or leave town.

Cairo today is a near ghost town at one-quarter of its previous population, and generally appalling quality-of-life indicators.

* Salzner’s lynching occurred after midnight, according to the same article; hence, his absence from this article’s marquee.

On this day..

18 thoughts on “1909: Will James, “the Froggie”, lynched in Cairo

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  2. Cairo is a gem/diamond in the rough, the history has been evil at times however times are different and America should help rebuild this beautiful town. It would be a national statement bringing light and hope back to struggling towns. Bringing up racial tensions should be an issue of the past. I will write Donald Trump about funding and would personally like to have part in the renaissance of this town. 7 million is the estimated cost which I think is a small price to pay to turn the saddest town in America into a thriving community.

    • For who!? Let me guess whites only? Never forget your people sick past and the thievery they represent!!!

  3. Yeah the white descendants are still keeping black people there down, eh? Bullshit. They left years ago. That town is wholly black. Any problems you people have are your own. Stop trying to blame everyone else for your shit.

  4. This place is evil, and the towns decendants still keeping us black poeple down . When its gone stop!

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  7. 214:: Put this in your school report:

    In American history from 1865 onward … the black race was FREE, free to build their own towns, cities, industries, political environments, or, if they truly felt oppressed, they were FREE to colonize a place in America (e.g. like he Mormons). White people and Black people did certainly live separately from 1865 to 1964 But they were suppose to live separate –that is up until 1964.


    The black man – from 1865 to 1964 – was not allowed to define his freedom, dignity, self-worth or manhood by his acceptance within white male society (White people should just nullify his distinctness). The black race was suppose to live separate so they could develop their own way of life – their own distinct culture. And particularly in the South, White males were most demanding that the Black man develop his own way of life. Never in human history had one male group gifted another distinct male group integration rights into THEIR status environment (their political & economic arenas). Then, all of a sudden, in the early 1960s we see (and recorded for all human history to bear witness)…the Negro race begin to plead for “integration” rights into only white male society (their political & economic arenas–their status environments).

    AGAIN, the black man was suppose to create his own status environments. There were no Constitutional laws being broken, nor historic precedents, because white people demanded the black race live separate. One distinct people people living separate from another distinct people was the norm in American history, as well as human history. Bottom line: The Negro race was NOT suffering injustices living separate from the Americans!

    The plea for integration (liberals call it civil rights or equal right) starting around 1960, cleanly manifested because the black race DID NOT create their own distinct culture (they built no cities, industries, tax bases, or political environments anywhere in America).

    The plea for integration, something unprecedented in the annals of human history, was the WORSE case scenario manifesting for most White people, for it meant the Black race was determined to abandon their human requirement to be a self-reliant people. It also meant the black males were doing what no other male group had ever done::defining their freedom, dignity, self-worth and even their very MANHOOD by entry into another people’s status environment (White Christian people). Finally, it also meant that the Black males were pleading – by pleading for integration- to be total dependents of the White race (feed them, house them, employ them, school them, etc).

    In 1964, White Christian males DID THE UNTHINKABLE:: they granted the black man his integration plea (Civil Rights act).

    Then, in 1965, White Christian males DID ANOTHER INCREDIBLE THING:: they granted the black man access to THEIR political environments (federal, state, local). AGAIN, no people had ever done this for another people. Basically, the White Christian males (99% of the legislators in Congress in 1964 were White Christian males) by way of compulsory integration, relieved the black man of his human requirement to be the provider for HIS people…and to make the black race self-reliant.

    Forcibly integrating one race into another was, and continues to be, a very bold new experiment in manipulating human nature.

    • Wow, the crazy is strong in this one. Not to mention that his “facts” seem to be mostly made up.

  8. The racist article published by Mr. Clanahan in his 1909 summation is indicative of the mood of the country’s attitude toward the black population. The lie fostered by the white man that the black man would assault and ravage the white woman was nothing more than to put fear in the white woman and the general white population to keep her in her place, (submissive and don’t question him). It speaks nothing about the behavior of the white man and how he could sexually assault black women with impunity without any consequences. Even in some states there were laws that stated that “The black man had no rights that a white man should respect”. The disinformation and fear that is being given to the american people today i.e. Islamaphobia, is breeding hate by some of our ignorant politicians and news spinners. The american public needs to talk directly to those they may not understand and get a better understanding without being duped by some of the ignorant self-serving politicians and news spinners. By the way should Mr. Clanahan have spelled his name with a K?

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  11. If anyone could help me, I’m working on a powerpoint for my English class and all the help given is needed. I need a 14- page powerpoint on the lynching of Will James. Thank you all so much. I need to have this powerpoint in by May, 13th (this Friday), So if you all could submit little subets of information it would be very much thanked. -Thank you.

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