1865: The Jacksonville Mutineers Themed Set: Filicide

1917: Lation Scott lynched

December 2nd, 2014 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1917, 24-year-old black farmhand Lation (or Ligon) Scott died a horrible death in Dyersburg, Tennessee.

For the two years prior to his extrajudicial “execution” by a lynch mob, Scott had worked as a farmhand for a white family, doing the farm chores while the husband worked at his job in Dyersburg.

He got on well with the family and was fond of the two children. He seemed like an ordinary enough man and a good worker, according to the NAACP journal The Crisis:

Accounts as to his intelligence vary widely. One report asserts that he was almost half-witted. Others attribute to him the intelligence of the average country Negro… He had the reputation of being a splendid hand at doing general housework, or “spring-cleaning,” and…had done this sort of work for a prominent woman of Dyersburg. She states that she was alone in the house with him for two days.

No trouble resulted.

In addition to farming and the doing of odd jobs, he was a preacher. On November 22, 1917, however, he allegedly raped the farmer’s wife while her husband was at work. He threatened to kill her if she reported what he had done. He then fled, leaving his victim bound and gagged inside the farmhouse.

The woman was able to free herself and identify her attacker, and the community took swift action, searching extensively for Scott and offering a $200 reward for his apprehension. Scott was able to elude capture for ten days, though, making his way fifty miles to Madison County. There, a railroad worker recognized him and he was arrested.

The sheriff’s deputy for Dyer County, along with some other men (including, presciently, an undertaker), picked up the accused man and started off back to Dyersburg by car in the wee hours of the morning. They didn’t bother taking an indirect route for the purpose of their journey.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people gathered along the road and waited for their quarry.

And when he appeared, they forced the car off the road and made the officers turn over their prisoner.

These people were not typical of the average lynch mob: rather than stringing him up on the spot, they drew up a list of twelve “jurors” and, at noon, after church let out, drove Scott to the county courthouse for a “trial.”

Scott was ordered to stand up and asked, “Are you guilty or not guilty?”

Scott admitted he was guilty, and the “jury” voted for conviction.

Although one “prominent citizen” asked the people not to be barbaric, because it was Sunday and because “the reputation of the county was at stake,” both the rape victim and her husband wanted Scott to be burned alive rather than merely hanged.

The Crisis‘s description of what happened is not for the faint-hearted.

The Negro was seated on the ground and a buggy-axle driven into the ground between his legs. His feet were chained together, with logging chains, and he was tied with wire. A fire was built. Pokers and flat-irons were procured and heated in the fire… Reports of the torturing, which have been generally accepted and have not been contradicted, are that the Negro’s clothes and skin were ripped from his body simultaneously with a knife. His self-appointed executioners burned his eye-balls with red-hot irons. When he opened his mouth to cry for mercy a red-hot poker was rammed down his gullet. In the same subtle way he was robbed of his sexual organs. Red-hot irons were placed on his feet, back and body, until a hideous stench of burning flesh filled the Sabbath air of Dyersburg, Tenn.

Thousands of people witnessed this scene. They had to be pushed back from the stake to which the Negro was chained. Roof-tops, second-story windows, and porch-tops were filled with spectators. Children were lifted to shoulders, that they might behold the agony of the victim.

It took three and a half hours for the man to die.

Margaret Vandiver wrote in Lethal Punishment: Lynchings and Legal Executions in the South, “The lynching of Lation Scott was the most ghastly of all those I researched.”

This spectacle of horror took place in broad daylight, and no one in the mob wore masks.

Nevertheless, no one was ever prosecuted.

According to The Crisis,

Public opinion in Dyersburg and Dyer County seems to be divided into two groups. One group considers that the Negro got what he deserved. The other group feels that he should have had a “decent lynching.”

A “decent lynching” was defined as “a quick, quiet hanging, with no display or torturing.”

One local citizen remarked that he thought the people who tortured and killed Lation Scott were no better than the rapist himself. Another simply commented, “It was the biggest thing since the Ringling Brothers’ Circus came to town.”

Lation Scott’s was the last lynching in Dyer County history.


Wire report in the Salt Lake Telegram, Dec. 3, 1917.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Common Criminals,Crime,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Lynching,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Summary Executions,Tennessee,Torture,USA

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2 thoughts on “1917: Lation Scott lynched”

  1. Philippe says:

    I retold the story as I thought to recall it without having reread the Wikipedia article I showed the link to.
    Upon rereading it after submitting my comment I saw I made a couple of inaccuracies which can be seen by comparing with the synopsis there.

  2. Philippe says:

    Hello,

    Indeed I have read that in the US lynchings by burning alive, though far rarer than by hanging, were occasionally found to happen. It was not really exceptional even if there are few known instances.
    On the screen I have personnally only seen one film depicting – actually showing, not only describing – a case of a black man – accused of rape, rightly or wrongly but rather wrongly in this story as far as I recall – and lynched by an angry mob of self-proclaimed vigilantes and executioners, by the method of tying him to a tree – but not hanging him to a branch, rather burning him alive. Not so much the same way described in the text of The Crisis you reproduce in this post with red-iron pokers and other objects. But Joan of Arc – like I would say.
    This film I watched – a very long time ago by now – was ” Chiefs ” ( 1984 ) with Charlton Heston and Billy Dee Williams. Directed by Jerry London ( who also directed ” Shogun ” ).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiefs_(TV_miniseries)

    The stage was the ( fictional ) city of Delano in Georgia. At one point one character claims – seriously or not – the city owes its name to the same Delano than Franklin Delano Roosevelt – who as President of the United States does appear in one scene – was named after.
    The central plot is the disappearance of many – white -teenage boys over a period of several decades. Starting in 1917 when the USA enter First World War. The miniseries ends in 1963 when the sheriff says he plans to meet Predident JF Kennedy after the return of the latter from his trip to Dallas. It is not told but the television watcher knows this meeting won’t take place.
    There are scenes of the Ku Klux Klan’s usual business – lynching, burning houses and churches and so on. With of course the membership in the Klan of several local police officers, including – this is a spoiler – the one called Sonny who will turn out to be the serial killer of disappeared boys.
    Three successive sheriffs investigate the disappearances. The first sheriff, Will Henry Lee, is erroneously shot and killed by a honest black man who mistook him for someone else he thought to be the culprit. The black man knows he will be lynched or executed after a formal trial – which of course will happen. But he takes the time to tell his teenage son Joshua to flee, leave the city and even the county, to escape a possible lynching as well. Black children then in the 1930s are not sure to be too young to get lynched. So Joshua takes the leave and will not be seen again. At least not before long.
    A second sheriff is appointed to replace the killed one. He won’t manage to elucidate the continuing disappearances.
    The film also shows the changes in the city, the country, the world over the time which goes by.
    We are now in the early sixties. Boys still disappear at intervals and this has lasted since 1917. A new sheriff arrives, the third in this story. One Tyler Watts, he is remarkable and is indeed remarked because he is black. When he first comes to the city he gets arrested as a black newcomer would have to expect to be. Only released once he has said and proven with his plaque that he is the new sheriff.
    Watts will be the sheriff who uncovers the mystery of the disappeared white boys, all victims of a gay serial killer.
    In a scene towards the end, Charlton Heston – as former mayor of Delano, a respected notable and one of the main characters, Hugh Holmes – complains that he acted all his life to make Delano known worldwide. And now Delano will be known worldwide but for this series of abductions and murders of teenage boys. Sonny, the killer, is found buried also with his victims as he was killed by a fellow criminal.
    One side-thing – to the plot of disappearances but quite important in itself. Black sheriff Tyler Watts turns out to be Joshua, the boy whose dad was lynched ater he erroneously kille sheriff Lee, and who had fled 30 years before. By returning after all those years he brings justice : to his father, to the murdered victims, to victims of lynchings, even to justice.
    Tyler / Joshua goes to see a white man of his age. This man upon him approaching says pointing to a horse : ” He loves carrots. Please give him one carrot everyday. ” Tyler / Joshua replies ” I will give him even if I have to steal the carrot ! ” By this exchange of phrases the two men recognize one another as childhood friends. These are the same phrases they had exchanged 30 years or more earlier before Joshua had to leave. Now they are reunited.

    Best Regards

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