By dint of the grueling publishing schedule, this site is rarely equipped to follow as deeply into the wilderness as one might like the trailheads uncovered day by day.
Today is 101 years since a lynching in Hamilton, Georgia that made national news and is just pregnant with curious little details that seem like they ought to attract an enterprising researcher.
The four, whose names are conflictingly reported, were tenant farmers of Norman Hadley, described as “a well-to-do unmarried farmer.” Some days before, Hadley was killed with a few .32 and .38 caliber gunshots through a window while sitting home alone.
Why were these four promptly arrested? What was known or believed about their probable grievance against Hadley — especially given the inclusion of a woman? We know that some topics of race relations were taboo at this period, and the bare facts seem suggestive of a much richer background where the nearby Columbus Enquirer-Sun only murmurs that “it was known that he [Hadley] had had some trouble with these negroes.”
Professing himself ignorant of any stirring popular violence — even though the superior court had only just announced a hurried special sitting so that it could try the case with speed lest vigilantes do what they ultimately did — the local sheriff blithely absented himself from town on the night of the 22nd. Would he have done that were he not Norman Hadley’s uncle? Late that evening,
[The crowd] advanced on the jail and throwing [the jailer] to one side broke the doors down. The terrified negroes were hustled out at the point of guns and marched outside the town. There they were quickly strung up. Immediately their writhing bdies became silhouetted against the sky, revolvers and rifles blazed forth and fully 300 shots were fired before the mob dispersed and left its prey to the winds.
The “prey” — all four of the prey — protested innocence every step of the way.
Whatever was abroad in the town, the wire stories that carried this lynching into press runs around the country found “no motive for the killing of Hadley” that “can be advanced by people here.” But they were absolutely certain: the sheriff had said during the preceding week that the accused were all trying to put the blame on one another, but that “it is not known why the negroes, or whoever killed him did so.” (Columbus Ledger, Jan. 18, 1912) So the interrogation never got around to why?
Whatever skeletons were in Harris County closets, the story’s national import was helped along by the near-simultaneous release of a study indicating that the state of Georgia had contributed a quarter (19 out of 71) of the previous year’s lynchings. It fit the narrative, as they say.
The African-American Savannah Tribune, as one might imagine, editorialized indignantly (Jan. 27, 1912):
The lynching of the four Negroes, one woman and three men, at Hamilton, Ga., on Monday night to avenge the death of a prominent white farmer, which was supposedly committed by the victims, was one of the most brutal and wanton crimes ever perpetrated in this state. There was not even the usual confessions of the unfortunate victims given out, in fact they professed their innocence to the end, but the mob was bent on taking their lives and therefore carried out their murderous intentions. The case was as follows: On last Sunday afternoon the man, who was murdered, was sitting in his home alone, a shot was fired through he window and he fell dead. That afternoon four Negro tenants were arrested charged with the murder and the next night they were taken out and lynched. The sheriff, who was uncle of the dead man feared no lynching and took a trip to Columbus, Ga., and in the mean time the Negroes were seized and put to death. Even circumstancial evidence against the Negroes was slight but they had to die to appease the wrath of the mob. Surely such crimes cannot much longer continue without some effort being put forth on the part of the law abiding citizens to stop them. Such dastardly crimes as this are indicative of the low value which is placed upon human life, especially if the life be that of a Negro.
The tone of moral outrage contrasts rather markedly with the Columbus Ledger‘s “let the law take its course” demand for a more orderly hanging scene.
The Hamilton Lynching
Law abiding citizens of Harris county have doubtless been made to blush with shame at the result of last night’s lynching, which cannot but be condemned by all lovers of good government.
Residents of that county were justly wrought-up over the killing of one of their prominent young citizens and punishment for the guilty party or parties could not have been too severe. But the law should have been allowed to take its course.
Judge Gilbert of the Chattahoochee circuit had, upon urgent request of the citizens of Harris, called a special term of the superior court of that county to investigate the case and give the four negroes a speedy trial, that justice might be meted out witout delay, and it appears that everything possible had been done to bring about the apprehension and speedy punishment of the blacks who murdered young Hadley.
Therefore, it seems to the Ledger that there was absolutely no excuse for the acts of last night.
These men may have put to death the guilty parties, or they may have lynched several innocent blacks. They doubtless feel confident that they got the right negro, but have they assurance of this fact?
Law-abiding citizens cannot endorse the acts of this mob, and we must condemn the incident, or any other which tends to disregard law and disrupt government.
Less sentimental still — the heartless progressivism of economy — was the Ledger‘s reasoning on Jan. 26.
Lynching and Business
Lynching has a business side. Most of us have considered more or less the other aspects of it — the breaking of law, creation and increase of a spirit of lawlessness, the turning back of civilization and the taking of human life, without warrant or justification, which is plain murder.
But, lynching has a business side, which is worth consideration at this time.
In other sections the South is regarded by literally hundreds of thousands of otherwise well-informed people as a country of miasma, fever, laziness and lynching …
Day after day, wee after week and year after year, Southern newspapers and other influences that are devoted to the best interests of the South hammer away at this misinformation about our section in efforts to dissipate it. bout the time they seem to be making some headway along comes a lynching or a massacre, like that in Harris county, and the people of other sections believe that their first opinions and ideas were right and have been confirmed. And most assuredly they hae a reason for thinking so.
Just now the South has opportunities that it has never had before. For many years the tide of home-seekers and the trend of capital seeking investment has been westward … [but they are now] turning to the South — and it should be remembered that there are more homeseekers and investors in this country than ever before.
But mob rule, lawlessness, ruffianism and murder will not attract them. Even the leader of a mob would hardly want to move to a lawless section of some other part of the [coun]try. No man who has sense enough to make money to invest would buy property in a section in which the law is so disregarded, for robbery is a lesser crime than murder.
If Harris county alone should suffer for the massacre that has been permitted in the shadow of its courthouse, the balance of us would have little to say. But Harris county will not be the only one to suffer. Muscogee will suffer and so will every county in Georgia and so will the whole South.
It is about time for people in this part of the country to look the matter squarely in the face from a business view point.