Cordie Cheek

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Cordie Cheek (1916 - 1933) was the African-American victim of murder by lynching stemming from racial violence. After being falsely accused of raping a young white girl, Cordie was released due to lack of evidence. In response, a white mob of residents from Maury County, Tennessee formed, abducted Cordie, and murdered him by hanging.

Lynching[edit]

Cordie Cheek lived with his parents in Glendale, Tennessee just south of Columbia, Tennessee in Maury County.[1] Cordie's mother Tenny "worked for many years as a cook, maid, midwife, and nurse" for the Moores, a white family that lived nearby. Tenny arranged for Cordie to help doing chores around the Moore household.[2] Henry Carl Moore, nineteen years old in the winter of 1933, was just two years older than Cordie. Friction began to develop between the two young men and, on one occasion, they had come to blows after a dispute over payment due to Cordie and his mother.

On November 16, 1933, Cordie was chopping wood for the Moores. As he brought a load into the house he accidentally collided with Henry's twelve year old sister, tearing her dress. Incensed, Henry paid his younger sister one dollar to claim that Cordie had tried to rape her.

Following the allegations, Cordie was arrested and placed in jail first in Pulaski, Tennessee and eventually in Nashville, where he was transported out of concern for his safety. A Maury County Grand Jury eventually declined to indict Cordie on the charge of rape, and he was subsequently released. Once out of jail, Cordie went to stay in the home of his uncle and aunt, who lived at the edge of the campus of Fisk University in Nashville. A mob formed in Maury County, traveled to Nashville, and abducted Cheek, bringing him back to Maury County. Among them were C. Hayes Denton, Earl Allen, and Bob Hancock.[3]

Once back in Maury County, a lynch mob was formed. The members of the community around Maury County were notified of the impending lynching and assembled to spectate. Cordie was marched up a ladder and a rope was placed around his neck which was strung from a cedar tree. Blindfolded, Cordie's genitals were exposed and he was castrated. One man, allegedly Allen, used a pole to push the ladder from underneath Cordie's feet, hanging him. The onlookers, including women and children spectators, cheered and passed around pistols, firing them into the air in celebration.[4]

Aftermath[edit]

The lynching of Cordie Cheek reverberated across the south, and caused particular panic back at Fisk University. John Hope Franklin, then a student at Fisk, recalled:

"Those of use who had remained in Nashville over the Christmas holidays were obsessed with discussing the Cordie Cheek lynching. Indeed, the entire remainder of our junior year was shadowed by this tragic event. There were investigations, interviews, and other actions. The conclusion that many of us reached was that if it could happen to Cordie Cheek, who had been seized within three blocks of the Fisk Chapel, it could happen to any of us." [5]

Indeed, in his essay, "Cowards from the Colleges," Langston Hughes commented that Cheek "was abducted almost at the gates of the University." [6]

In spite of various protests and calls for justice back in Nashville, Gail Williams O'Brien writes that, "Maury County officials, along with a number of leading citizens in the community, closed ranks to block indictments against the alleged lynchers, and neither state nor federal forces overcame their resistance." [7]

In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Devil in the Grove," Gilbert King theorized that the tension that resulted from the lynching of Cheek was one of the factors that gave rise to the infamous 1946 race riots in Columbia, Tennessee.[8]

A group of African American women respond to the lynching of Cordie Cheek in Sandra Seaton's play The Bridge Party, which is anthologized in Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women, ed. Kathy A Perkins and Judith Stephens (Indiana University Press, 1998).The plot of The Bridge Party merges the 1933 lynching with the 1945 race riot. Ruby Dee appeared in a 1998 production of the play at the University of Michigan.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ O'Brien, Gail Williams (1999). The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-War II South. pp. 78–88. 
  2. ^ Id.
  3. ^ Id.
  4. ^ King, Gilbert (2013). Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America. 
  5. ^ Franklin, John Hope (2005). Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. pp. 52–53. 
  6. ^ Hughes, Langston (1934). "Cowards from the Colleges". Crisis 41 (August): 226–28. 
  7. ^ O'Brien (1999), 84
  8. ^ King, Gilbert (2013). Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America.