Document 16: Juliette V. Harring, "A Lynching," 14 September 1922, NAACP Papers, Part 7: The Anti-Lynching Campaign, 1912-1955, Series B: Anti-Lynching Legislative and Publicity Files, 1916-1955, Library of Congress (Microfilm, Reel 3, Frame 291).
The following article was first published in the Macon, Georgia Daily Telegraph in 1922. The author, Juliette V. Harring, was a Southern white woman who spoke publicly against lynching. Mary Talbert described Harring as a "champion" of the anti-lynching cause and emphasized the importance of having the support of white women in the campaign against lynching (see Document 12). In this story Harring describes lynching as a "lawless" "abomination" that "must be stamped out." Mary Talbert was familiar with Juliette Harring's efforts in the anti-lynching campaign, noting that she had even prevented a lynching in her home state of Virginia (see Document 18).
A LYNCHING(By JULIETTE V. HARRING)
(The following remarkable, though gruesome and barbarous, story,
written by a Southern white woman, a native of Virginia, was published
in the "Daily Telegraph," Macon, Ga., on September 14, 1922.)
As the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill is awaiting final action by the Senate, the following account of a typical Southern lynching by an eyewitness may be of interest. I could name the State, but I will spare them that.
It was while he sat in his room by his lamp looking over his notes and jotting down some ideas which are still fresh in his mind, that he suddenly became conscious of that sense of alarm which is always aroused by the sound of hurrying footsteps in the silence of the night. He stopped writing and looked at his watch. It was after eleven. He listened, straining every nerve to hear above the tumult of his quickening pulse. He caught the murmur of voices, then the gallop of a horse, then of another and another. He was now thoroughly alarmed. After a moment he put out the light, softly opened the window-blind, and cautiously peeped out. He saw men moving in one direction, and from the mutterings he vaguely caught a rumor that some terrible crime had been committed--murder! rape! He put on his coat and hat; it was impossible to remain in the house under such tense excitement. His nerves would not have stood it. He went out, and, following the drift, reached the railroad station.
There was gathered a crowd of men: all white; others were steadily arriving, seemingly from all the surrounding country. How did the news spread so quickly? He watched these men moving under the yellow glare of the lamps about the station, stern, comparatively silent, all of them armed, some of them in boots and spurs; fierce, determined men. He had come to know the type well--blond, tall and lean, with ragged muscles and beard, and glittering gray eyes. At the suggestion of daylight they began to disperse in groups, going in several directions. There was no extra noise or excitement, no loud talking, only swift, sharp words of command given by those who seemed to be accepted as leaders by mutual understanding. In fact, the impression made upon this man was that everything was being done in quite an orderly manner. In spite of so many leaving, the crowd around the station continued to grow: at sunrise there were a great many women and children. By this time he also noticed some colored people: a few seemed to be going about their customary tasks; several were standing on the outskirts of the crowd, but the gathering of negroes usually seemed in such towns was missing.
Before noon, they brought him in. Two horsemen rode abreast; between them, half dragged, the poor wretch made his way through the dust. His hands were tied behind him, and ropes around his body were fastened to the saddle horn of his double guard. The men who at midnight had been stern and silent were now yelling themselves hoarse. A space was quickly cleared in the crowd, and a rope placed about his neck, when from some one came the suggestion, "Burn him." It ran like an electric current. Have you ever witnessed the transformation of human beings into savage beasts? Nothing can be more terrible. A railroad tie was sunk into the ground, the rope was removed and a chain brought and securely coiled around the victim and the stake. There he stood, a man only in form and stature, every sign of degeneracy stamped upon his countenance. His eyes were dull and vacant, no indication of a single ray of though in his sluggish brain. Evidently the realization of his fearful fate had robbed him of whatever reasoning power he had ever possessed. He was too stunned and stupefied even to tremble.
Fuel was brought from everywhere, oil, the torch; the flames crouched for an instant as though to gather strength then leaped up as high as their victim’s head. He squirmed, he writhed, strained at his chains, then gave out cries and groans that the man who saw it says he shall always hear. The cries and groans were choked by the fire and smoke; but his eyes, bulging from their sockets, rolled from side to side, appealing in vain for help. Some of the crowd yelled and cheered and cried, "You are burning him too fast!" Others seemed appalled at what they had done, and there were a few who turned away, sickened at the sight. The horrified eyewitness was fixed to the post where he stood, powerless to turn his eyes away from what he did not want to see. Before he could make himself believe what was really happening, he was looking at a scorched post, a smoldering fire, blackened bones, charred fragments sifting down through coils of chain, and the smell of burnt flesh--human flesh--was in his nostrils.
He walked a short distance away, and sat down in order to clear his dazed mind. When he decided to get up and go back to his room, he found he could hardly stand on his feet. He was as weak as a man who had lost blood. A wave of humiliation and shame swept over him; shame for his country, that it the great example of democracy to the world, should be the only civilized, if not the only State on earth, where a human being could be burned alive and with impunity be treated worse than animals.
As a Southern woman from the State of Virginia, I am convinced that the real South, the upright, intelligent people, regret these outrages, but how long will the South remain silent? How long will the South endure the limits which are placed on free speech? How long will they cower and tremble under "Southern opinion"?
"They are slaves who fear to speak For the friendless and the weak; They are slaves who fear to be In the right with two or three."
We cry out in righteous indignation when we learn of the atrocities practiced upon the Armenians by the Turks, and on the Jews by the Russians; the cry for relief from suffering beyond our shores is heard and ever responded to by generous America.
The thousands of spires on churches of every denomination, running high into the heavens, bear testimony that this is a Christian nation, or at least purports to be, and yet, actual records tell us that within the last thirty years we have lynched 3,436 human beings--3,436 blots of shame on the United States. Most of these lynchings occurred in the so-called Solid South, bringing disgrace upon the entire Southern people, and condemnation from God and man. I love the South with every fibre of my being and it is for this reason that I am appealing to her people. The Southern people are admired everywhere for their sterling qualities; and is it not possible for them to band together and eradicate this cruel custom?
I realize that the details of this ghastly horror are revolting, but I recite them that they may be brought home to you and that the people of this country may rouse themselves and demand justice. I could go on and tell you of case after case; I could tell you of a negro being burned alive, while women with babies in their arms made themselves comfortable and looked on without shame. In another case the victim was tortured for three and one-half hours, and the last sign of life did not disappear until a full half hour later. Red-hot pokers were used to bore out the negro’s eyes; hot irons dug gaping wounds in his back and sides, killing him inch by inch.
This abomination is spreading by leaps and bounds and must be stamped out. Lawlessness begets lawlessness; tolerated and unrestrained lawlessness invariably grows. The essence of lynching is not the satisfaction of the law, but revenge, and revenge is an endless chain.