Lynching of Zachariah Walker
The lynching of Zachariah Walker occurred in Coatesville, Pennsylvania on August 13, 1911, when a white mob burned Walker alive for killing Edgar Rice, a Worth Brothers Steel company police officer.
Between 1900 and 1910, the town of Coatesville, Pennsylvania quickly became home to ever-increasing numbers of African Americans and foreign-born whites. The European immigrants who settled in Coatesville were unable to live in residential areas inhabited by native-born whites, therefore they begrudgingly resorted to living in close proximity to the town's African American population. The institutionalized ethnic hierarchy in Coatesville ultimately turned the town into a highly suspicious and segregated community.
The death of Edgar Rice and Zachariah Walker's arrest
On August 12, 1911, Zachariah Walker, an African American resident of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, fired his handgun near a small group of immigrant workers, with the intention to scare them. Walker was under the influence of alcohol at this time. Edgar Rice, Worth Brothers Steel policeman, immediately confronted Walker for his actions. When Rice threatened to club Walker, Walker responded by saying he would retaliate by killing him. Both Walker and Rice proceeded to draw their guns but Walker was first to the trigger and shot Rice twice. The officer died not long afterwards.
When witnesses reported Rice's murder, the people of Coatesville searched the nearby area for Walker. A young farm boy discovered Walker hiding in a barn, and informed two search party members about his location. Walker managed to scare the men away with his gun, before they were able to apprehend him.
The next day, a group of firefighters spotted Walker concealed in a tree. As the firefighters tried to apprehend Walker, Walker attempted suicide, but the shot to his head turned out to be non-fatal.
Once Walker was in custody, a district attorney and two police officers claimed Walker confessed to the crime by saying: "I killed him easy."
The residents of Coatesville were so enraged about Edgar Rice's death, that many citizens came to the conclusion that Walker needed to face mob justice for killing a respected individual like Rice. On August 13, a mob of about 2,000 Coatesville residents surrounded the hospital where Walker was recovering. Not long after they surrounded the hospital, the mob easily pushed aside Walker's police guard, and proceeded to drag Walker out of the hospital while he was still chained to his bed. The mob killed Walker by throwing him into a makeshift funeral pyre.
After Walker's brutal murder, most of his remains were scavenged by souvenir hunters. Several members of the mob gathered some of his charred remains in a small box and dropped them off at the local hospital. On the box, there was a note that read: "Return to his friends."
Not long after the lynching took place, the Coatesville Record newspaper stated that a large crowd of townsfolk eagerly watched Walker's burning; with some even collecting his charred bones after the fire died down. The Record also interviewed Edgar Rice's widow, who was very upset at the fact that she was not personally responsible for lighting Walker's pyre.
Outside of Coatesville, nearly every newspaper condemned Walker's lynching as an act of inhumanity. Walker's murder even resulted in former President Theodore Roosevelt publicly condemning the act of lynching altogether. The New York Evening Post mentioned its shock that such a brutal lynching could take place in a Northern state. The Atlanta Journal even claimed that after Walker's death, the practice of lynching could no longer be seen as an exclusively Southern crime.
Although most newspapers simply expressed their disgust at the lynching, the Richmond Planet suggested that African Americans arming themselves could serve as a solution to preventing further lynchings.
After Walker's murder, Pennsylvania authorities vigorously investigated the lynching, but were constantly impeded by Coatesville residents who refused to cooperate with authorities and journalists. According to a reporter named William Ellis, Coatesville residents seemed to condemn journalists rather than Walker's lynch mob.
Nevertheless, a month after Walker's death, the state of Pennsylvania indicted six men for murder. All of them were later acquitted. Several other defendants who were later indicted were also cleared of crimes.
Not long after all of Walker's suspected killers were acquitted, Governor of Pennsylvania John K. Tener, stated that for either carrying out murder or by aiding said murderers, the residents of Coatesville were a disgrace to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
According to historian William Ziglar, the murder of Zachariah Walker was one of the most well-known lynchings of its time due to its unusually brutal nature, and that it took place in a state which was seen as historically tolerant of African Americans.
Walker's lynching also resulted in many northern African Americans growing increasingly concerned about America's lack of racial justice. After meeting in Denver, Colorado, the National Negro Educational Association officially came to the conclusion that white people and African Americans lived under two different sets of rules in the same country.
Zachariah Walker was the last of eight known people to ever be lynched in Pennsylvania.
- Hyser, Raymond M. (April 1987). "A Crooked Death: Coatesville Pennsylvania and the Lynching of Zachariah Walker" (PDF). Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. 54: 86 – via JSTOR.
- Hyser, Raymond M. (April 1987). "A Crooked Death: Coatesville, Pennsylvania and the Lynching of Zachariah Walker" (PDF). Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. 54: 89–90 – via JSTOR.
- Hyser, Raymond M. (April 1987). "A Crooked Death: Coatesville, Pennsylvania and the Lynching of Zachariah Walker" (PDF). Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. 54: 90 – via JSTOR.
- Hyser 1987, p. 85. sfn error: multiple targets (4×): CITEREFHyser1987 (help)
- Hyser 1987, p. 85-86. sfn error: multiple targets (4×): CITEREFHyser1987 (help)
- Ziglar 1982, p. 246.
- Hyser 1987, p. 2006. sfn error: multiple targets (4×): CITEREFHyser1987 (help)
- Hyser 1987, p. 86. sfn error: multiple targets (4×): CITEREFHyser1987 (help)
- Ziglar 1982, p. 247.
- Hyser 1987, p. 87. sfn error: multiple targets (4×): CITEREFHyser1987 (help)
- Ziglar 1982, p. 250.
- Hyser 1987, p. 88. sfn error: multiple targets (4×): CITEREFHyser1987 (help)
- Ziglar 1982, p. 254.
- Ziglar 1982, p. 266.
- Hyser 1987, p. 89. sfn error: multiple targets (4×): CITEREFHyser1987 (help)
- Hyser 1987, p. 97. sfn error: multiple targets (4×): CITEREFHyser1987 (help)
- Ziglar 1982, p. 251.
- Ziglar 1982, p. 255.
- Hyser, Raymond (April 1987). ""A Crooked Death": Coatesville, Pennsylvania and the Lynching of Zachariah Walker". Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. 54 (2): 85–102. JSTOR 27773172.
- Ziglar, William (April 1982). ""Community on Trial": The Coatesville Lynching of 1911". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 106 (2): 245–270. JSTOR 20091665.