January 31st, 2010
On this date in 1955, two Egyptian Jews enrolled by Israeli intelligence as saboteurs were hanged in Cairo.
The strange and disturbing “Lavon affair” — or “Esek habish,” the “shameful affair” — has never had a completely satisfying explanation.
It broke in 1954, when Egypt arrested a ring comprised of Egyptian Jews who had bombed locations in Alexandria and Cairo, including an American diplomatic post, in an apparent false flag operation meant to be attributed to the radical Muslim Brotherhood. (The apparent operation had a recent precedent.)
The germ and the goal of this project have been fodder for speculation ever since; the most commonly accepted theory is that it was intended to trigger western intervention or pressure on Egypt that would prevent Nasser from nationalizing the Suez Canal.
Initially blamed on the Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, unrelated court testimony in 1960 would reveal that he was a fall guy.
But in any guise, the hangings this day in Cairo prompted national mourning in Israel and an immediate political shakeup whose dimensions might as well have sprung from this morning’s paper:
The dovish government of Moshe Sharett fell; hawkish founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was recalled from retirement in a Negev kibbutz; and Israel launched a reprisal raid at Gaza. Little more than two years later, Israel and Egypt would contest control of the Suez on the battlefield.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Israel,Jews,Scandal,Spies,Terrorists,Torture,Treason
Tags: 1950s, 1955, cairo, january 31, lavon affair, moshe marzouk, muslim brotherhood, pinhas lavon, shmuel azar, suez canal, suez crisis
November 11th, 2009
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.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Botched Executions,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Lynching,Murder,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,USA
Tags: 1900s, 1909, cairo, november 11, racism, will james