|Died||October 27, 1934 (age 23)
|Known for||Victim of spectacle lynching|
Claude Neal was an African American farmhand living in Jackson County, Florida who was accused of raping and murdering Lola Cannady, a nineteen-year-old white female, just outside the town of Greenwood on October 18, 1934. Neal was arrested and charged for the crime and despite a lack of sufficient evidence against him to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, lynch mobs began to form to find and kill him. In order to keep Neal safe from the lynch mobs he was moved to multiple jails but was finally captured and brought back to Marianna, Florida. Neal was then tortured and finally killed by a group of lynchers and the body was brought to the Cannady farm where it was further mutilated by those who had come to witness the lynching. The body was later hung in front of the Marianna courthouse before being cut down and buried by the sheriff in the morning. A large group of people came to the courthouse and made demands to see the body be hung up again and eventually started attacking blacks in the area and rioting. The lynching of Claude Neal and the riots that followed played a large part in bringing about the end of the practice of lynching in the United States.
Murder of Lola Cannady
Lola Cannady, who lived near Claude Neal, never came back home on Thursday October 18, 1934 after leaving home to walk to a water pump to water the family's hogs. Friends and neighbors helped the Cannady family in their search for Lola Cannady in the fields behind the family's land and at 6:30 A.M. the next day, they found the body of Lola Cannady poorly hidden in the woods under the cover of two logs and a pine tree branch. Upon finding the body it was apparent that Lola Cannady had been bludgeoned to death with a hammer that had been taken from the Cannady field; it was also later determined that Lola Cannady had been raped. After Lola Cannady's body had been found, Sheriff Flake Chambliss became focused on two suspects; one suspect was Claude Neal who was black and the other was Calvin Cross who was white. Sheriff Chambliss had received reports that Claude Neal had been in the field near the same water pump that Lola Cannady had gone to and that he was gone for about two hours before going home. Claude Neal was then placed under arrest about two hours after the discovery of Lola Cannady's body.
Although the evidence that was gathered against Claude Neal was enough for him to be a prime suspect in the case of Lola Cannady's murder, it was not enough to completely prove that he was guilty of the crime. The evidence against Neal included bloody clothes that were found at the home he shared with his mother, as well as a bloody piece of fabric which Sheriff Chambliss claimed fit a tear in Claude Neal's shirt. Claude Neal also reportedly had cuts on his hands and was inconsistent in his descriptions as to where they had come from; he gave three different explanations for the cuts with one being that he had gotten them while fixing a fence, one being that he had cut his hands in a fight, and one being that he had cut them jumping a fence. In addition, there was less convincing evidence such as Claude Neal missing a ring on his pocket watch when a common and standard watch ring had been found near the spot where Lola Cannady had been murdered. There were also no tests done on the murder weapon to determine whether or not Claude Neal's fingerprints were on it. Claude Neal's mother and aunt were also moved from the town by the sheriff to prevent them from being harmed and therefore, did not get to testify in front of the coroner's jury about allegedly washing Claude Neal's bloody clothing.
Howard Kester, who was investigating the case and reporting to the NAACP, heard rumors among blacks in the area about the murder of Lola Cannady. One such rumor was that Lola Cannady had been murdered by a white man who later asked Claude Neal's mother and aunt to wash his clothes and possibly offered them payment. Another rumor was that a white man who lived in Malone, Florida had already confessed to killing Lola Cannady and that he had given Claude Neal money in exchange for trading clothes with him after committing the murder. Neither of these rumors were ever actually proven due to a lack of data and evidence to support them. Kester also provided a possible explanation that Claude Neal and Lola Cannady had had a secret love affair and that he murdered her out of anger when the relationship ended but this explanation also lacked evidence and was denied by the Cannady family.
Jailing of Claude Neal
Before the coroner's jury had even charged Neal and before enough evidence had been found to prove that he was guilty of murdering Lola Cannady, lynch mobs began forming and searching for Neal. Belief that Claude Neal had, in fact, killed Lola Cannady spread further still when newspapers began running stories about him only one day after the crime had occurred. Due to the lynch mobs trying to find and capture Claude Neal, he had to be moved multiple times to different jails. Claude Neal had to be moved from the Bay County Jail in Panama City, to Camp Walton, then to Pensacola on the morning of October 20. In Pensacola, Sheriff Herbert E. Gandy did not want to keep him in the Escambia County jail because it was not believed to be sturdy enough to withstand an attack and a group had already recently attempted to raid the jail for Claude Neal. Neal was then briefly moved to Fort Barrancas at the Pensacola Naval Air Station before finally being moved to the poorly secured jail in Brewton, Alabama by Sheriff Gandy. In order to keep Claude Neal's location a secret, he was jailed for vagrancy under the alias of John Smith.
On Monday October 22, after being interrogated by Sheriff Gandy on October 20 and 21, Neal confessed that he and another black man named Herbert Smith had raped and murdered Lola Cannady but he later made another confession and stated that he had acted alone.
On October 26 a small mob of people arrived in Brewton and while one group distracted the sheriff, others came to the jail where they searched the cells and captured Claude Neal. This capture of Claude Neal was well planned and carried out with the abductors using strategy rather than using the common lynch mob techniques of intimidating the police force. The group then traveled back to Jackson County with Claude Neal and reassured each other that they were doing the morally right thing and that Neal should not be given a trial because he did not deserve one. The group also announced to the public media that they intended to lynch Claude Neal due to their belief that what they were doing was justified. It was stated by those who had abducted Claude Neal that he would be lynched that night between the hours of 8 o'clock P.M. and 9 o'clock P.M. and media across the United States reported in newspapers and radios that Claude Neal was going to be lynched.
Lynching of Claude Neal
A large group formed to witness the Claude Neal lynching on the Cannady family's land and estimates of the crowds size ranged from hundreds to several thousand. The leaders in the group of spectators attempted to calm the group so that they could bring Claude Neal to the property for the lynching but became apprehensive as the group became further impatient and unruly. The leaders who had promised the Cannady family that they could be the first to attack Neal attempted to sneak the family away from the crowd of spectators to the place where Lola Cannady had been murdered so that George Cannady could be the one to kill Neal. The crowd was informed of the Cannady family moving and quickly caught up but when Neal was still not brought out, the group grew further frustrated. It was then determined by the committee of six in charge of Neal's lynching that a riot could break out if Neal was brought in front of the crowd and that he would have to be killed in private by those holding him. The men holding Neal brought him to a spot in the woods near Peri Landing along the Chattahoochee River to lynch him.
Claude Neal was then tortured and subjected to castration, forced autocannibalism of his genitalia, stabbing, burning with hot irons, the removal of his toes and fingers, and hanging before the group killed him, tied his corpse to an automobile and drove to the Cannady property at 1 o'clock A.M. After the body was delivered, George Cannady was upset that he had not been the one to kill Neal and shot the corpse three times in the forehead. The crowd further mutilated the body by kicking it, stabbing it and running over it with cars and even children in the crowd participated by stabbing the body with sharpened sticks. Out of anger towards Claude Neal and black people in general, the crowd then burned the shacks in the area that were owned by blacks.
The body of Claude Neal was hung up outside of the town courthouse at 3 o'clock A.M. but was discovered by Sheriff Chambliss at 6 o'clock A.M. and was cut down and buried. A mob formed outside of the courthouse with over two thousand people having arrived by noon but they were too late to see the body of Claude Neal and some purchased pictures of the corpse from photographers for fifty cents each. The mob made demands that the sheriff hang the body of Claude Neal outside the courthouse once again but he refused them and riots began to break out. In the riots that broke out in Marianna, Florida on October 27, 1934, about two hundred black people were physically hurt in some way and some police were also attacked. Some white people took great risks by protecting black people during the riots but this was due in part to them wanting to protect the blacks that worked for them. Eventually, the National Guard arrived and managed to bring an end to the riots.
The lynching of Claude Neal had a major impact on the American people and their reaction helped to bring about an end to the practice of lynching altogether. Although Claude Neal's lynching did not act as the sole event that led to an end to lynchings in America, it created feelings of strong opposition to the practice across the nation. These feelings were brought about in large part because of the extensive national coverage the media had given the lynching. Some would-be lynchers were also deterred as many southerners increasingly began to see lynchings as evil. The horrific lynching of Claude Neal helped convince many southerners that federal law against lynching was necessary. The lynching also showed people how ineffective the policies and measures were on both the local and federal levels for preventing lynchings in the United States. The anger of many Americans over the Claude Neal lynching brought on a determination to bring an end to similar practices throughout the country.
- Youngblood, Joshua (Summer 2007). ""Haven't Quite Shaken the Horror": Howard Kester, the Lynching of Claude Neal, and Social Activism in the South During the 1930s". The Florida Historical Quarterly. 86 (1): 1, 3–4. JSTOR 30150098.
- McGovern, James R. (1992). Anatomy of a lynching the killing of Claude Neal (Louisiana paperback ed., 1992. ed.). Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press. pp. 1–2, 16, 21, 22, 43–49, 52, 54–56, 59–60, 62, 64–66, 73–74, 78–82, 84–91, 141, 143–144. ISBN 0807117668.
- "Lynchings". PBS. The Documentary Institute. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- "Claude Neal". Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- "Spectacle: The lynching of Claude Neal". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 27 April 2013.