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Lynching of Laura and L.D. Nelson

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Lynching of Laura and Lawrence Nelson
There are two known images of this scene, this one, numbered 2899, and another, numbered 2897. Seth Archer writes of number 2897 that there are 58 spectators in the photograph: 35 men, 6 women and 17 children.[1]
Date May 25, 1911 (1911-05-25)
Location Around six miles west and one mile south of Okemah, Oklahoma, on a bridge across the North Canadian River – a different bridge in what is probably the same location now carries State Highway 56.
Coordinates 35°25′46″N 96°24′28″W / 35.42944°N 96.40778°W / 35.42944; -96.40778
Photographer George Henry Farnum
Charges None

Laura Nelson (1878–1911) and L.D. Nelson (1897–1911)[2] were an African-American mother and son who were lynched on May 25, 1911, near Okemah, the county seat of Okfuskee County, Oklahoma.[3]

Laura, her husband Austin, their teenage son L.D., and possibly their child had been taken into custody after George Loney, Okemah's deputy sheriff, and three others arrived at the Nelsons' home on May 2, 1911, to investigate the theft of a cow. The son shot Loney, who was hit in the leg and bled to death; Laura was reportedly the first to grab the gun and was charged with murder, along with her son. Her husband pleaded guilty to larceny, and was sent to the relative safety of the state prison in McAlester. The son L.D. Nelson was held in the county jail in Okemah and the mother Laura in a cell in the nearby courthouse to await trial.[4]

At around midnight on May 24, Laura and L.D. Nelson were both kidnapped from their cells by a group of between a dozen and 40 men; the group included Charley Guthrie (1879–1956), the father of folk singer Woody Guthrie (1912–1967), according to a statement given in 1977 by the former's brother.[5] The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, alleged in July 1911 that Laura was raped, then she and L.D. were hanged from a bridge over the North Canadian River.[6] According to some sources, Laura had a baby with her at the time, who one witness said survived the attack.[7]

Sightseers gathered on the bridge the following morning and photographs of the hanging bodies were sold as postcards; the one of Laura is the only known surviving photograph of a female lynching victim.[8] No one was ever charged with the murders; the district judge convened a grand jury, but the killers were never identified.[9] Although Woody Guthrie was not born until 14 months after the lynching, the photographs and his father's reported involvement had a lasting effect on him, and he wrote several songs about the killings.[10]

The Nelsons were among at least 4,743 people lynched in the United States between 1888 and 1968, 3,446 (72.7 percent) of them black, 73 percent of them in the South, around 150 of them women.[11]


Nelson family[edit]

West Broadway Street, Okemah, in 2010. The Nelsons were taken to the county jail, then located at 510 West Broadway.[12]

The Nelsons lived on a farm six miles north of Paden, Oklahoma.[13] Austin was born in Waco, Texas, in 1873; historian Frances Jones-Sneed writes that his parents, Dave and Rhoda Nelson, had been born into slavery in Georgia, and had moved the family to Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, in 1900. Oklahoma Territory was reported in 1892 to be around 85 percent white, 10 percent black and 5 percent Indian. After Oklahoma was awarded statehood in 1907, the black population continued to increase. Jones-Sneed writes that blacks believed they had more chance of gaining freedom and land in the western territories than in the Deep South, but there were numerous settlers from the south in the new state who continued to discriminate against blacks and practice segregation.[14]

By the time the extended family moved to Oklahoma in 1900, Austin and Laura had been married for four years, and had a three-year-old son, referred to variously as L.D., L.W., and Lawrence. According to Jones-Sneed, Austin and Laura were listed in the 1910 census as having two children, L.D., aged 13, and Carrie, aged two. It is not known what became of Carrie. She may have been the baby one witness said survived.[15]

George Loney[edit]

Deputy Sheriff George H. Loney, a European American, was about 35 years old when he died, had lived in Paden for several years, and was held in the highest respect, according to The Okemah Ledger. Described by the newspaper as a fearless man, he was known for having helped to stop the practice of bootlegging in Paden, on behalf of supporters of the local temperance movement. He became a state enforcement officer after that, then deputy sheriff.[16] He was buried in Lincoln County near Paden on May 4, 1911. The Ledger wrote that every office in the courthouse was closed for an hour during his funeral.[16]


There were 147 recorded lynchings in Oklahoma between 1885 and 1930, the year of the last known lynching there; many are believed to have been unrecorded. Most were by hanging, some by burning. The Oklahoma Historical Society writes that until 1907, most of the victims were white cattle rustlers or highwaymen. But, after Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907 with a constitution that enshrined racial segregation (Jim Crow laws) and the state population increased, lynching became part of a racist ideology to maintain white supremacy. Most of the victims thereafter were black. This was also the period in which blacks were being disenfranchised by new laws and constitutions in the South that made voter registration and voting more difficult. In the total lynchings between 1885 and 1930, 77 victims were white, 50 black, 14 American Indian, 5 unknown and 1 Chinese.[17]

Of the 4,743 people lynched in the United States between 1888 and 1968, Crystal Feimster writes that at least 150 were women. Kerry Segrave gives the figure as 115 – 90 of them black, 19 white and six Hispanic, "half-breed" or uncertain.[11] Most of them were lynched along with men; of 97 incidents examined by Segrave, only 36 were of women lynched alone.[18] She writes that five women are known to have been lynched in Oklahoma between 1851 and 1946, two of them black, two white and one other.[19]

Death of Loney[edit]


Front page of The Okemah Ledger, May 4, 1911. Also see the report in The Independent (Okemah) on the same date.

According to the Ledger, reporting the shooting on May 4, 1911, Loney had formed a posse consisting of himself, Constable Cliff Martin, Claude Littrell and Oscar Lane, after a cow was stolen from Littrell's property on May 1.[20] Littrell swore out a search warrant before A.W. Jenkins, a Justice of the Peace, which allowed the men to search the Nelsons' farm. They arrived there on May 2 at around 9 p.m., and read out the warrant to Austin before entering the house to begin the search.[21] According to the Ledger they found part of the butchered remains hidden under some hay in the Nelsons' barn; according to The Independent (Okemah) they found the remains in the house.[22]

When the men entered the Nelsons' home, Loney asked Constable Martin to take the cap off a muzzle-loading shotgun that was hanging on the wall. The Independent reported that, as Martin reached for the gun, Laura said: "Look here, boss, that gun belongs to me!" Martin said he told her the men had no intention of hurting anyone, but wanted only to unload the gun. According to the men, Laura grabbed another gun, a Winchester rifle, that was hidden behind a trunk.[23] The Ledger wrote that the son also grabbed the rifle, pumped a shell into it and fired.[16] The Independent offered a different version, writing that during a struggle for control of the rifle, it went off. The bullet passed through Constable Martin's pant legs, then hit Loney in the hip and entered his abdomen.[23]

The men, including Loney, retreated outside. The Ledger said that Laura's husband grabbed the rifle and tried to shoot Littrell, and during the ensuing gunfight, Loney took shelter behind a wagon. No one realized that he had been hit until he asked for water; according to the newspaper, Laura responded: "Let the white ____ die."[24] Loney reportedly bled to death within a matter of minutes. The Ledger described the incident as "one of the most cold blooded murders that has occurred in Okfuskee county."[16]

Arrests and charges[edit]

Austin was arrested by Constable Martin on the evening of the shooting, and taken to Okemah, where they arrived at 4 am on Wednesday, May 3.[23] The Okfuskee county jail was in Okemah, a predominantly white town; Harry Menig writes that in 1911 the local school had 555 white students and one black.[25] Laura and her son – described by the Ledger as "about sixteen years old, rather yellow [meaning mixed race], ignorant and ragged" – were arrested later that day.[16] Sheriff Dunnegan found them several miles away at the home of the boy's uncle. The Independent reported that they made no effort to escape and were brought to the county jail on the night train.[23]

Austin admitted the theft of the cow, saying he had had nothing for his children to eat.[23] According to his undated charge sheet, witnesses for the state were Littrell, Martin, Lane and Lawrence Payne.[26] His account of what happened tallied with that of the posse, except that he said he was the one, not Laura, who had objected to the shotgun being removed from the wall, and that Laura was trying to take the rifle away from her son when it was fired.[23]

During a hearing on May 6 before Justice Lawrence, Austin was held on a bond of $1,500, which he was unable to pay. On May 10, before the same judge, Laura and her son, named by the Ledger as Mary and L.W. Nelson, were charged with murder and held without bail. The Nelsons hired a law firm, Blakley, Maxy & Miley of Shawnee, Oklahoma, to represent them.[27] Austin pleaded guilty to larceny and on May 12 was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.[28] He was sent to the state prison in McAlester 59 miles (95 km) away, which the Ledger wrote probably saved his life.[29]

The Ledger reported on May 18, under the headline "Negro Female Prisoner Gets Unruly," that on May 13 Laura had been "bad," when the jailer, Lawrence Payne, brought her dinner. She reportedly tried to grab his gun when he opened her cell door, and when that failed tried to throw herself out of a window. Payne "choked the woman loose," according to the newspaper, and after a struggle returned her to her cell.[30] The Ledger wrote on May 25 that during the incident she had "begged to be killed."[29]



Laura and her son were due to be arraigned on May 25.[31] Between 11:30 and midnight on May 24, a group of between a dozen and 40 men arrived at the jail. They entered it through the front door of the sheriff's office, which Payne, the jailer, said he had left unlocked to let in a detective from McAlester, who was looking for an escaped prisoner.[29] Payne said the men bound, gagged and blindfolded him at gunpoint, took his keys, and cut the telephone line. He was unable to identify any of them.[31]

The boy was "stifled and gagged," according to the Ledger, and went quietly; prisoners in adjoining cells reportedly heard nothing. The men went to the women's cells and removed Laura, described by the newspaper as "very small of stature, very black, about thirty-five years old, and vicious."[29] According to a July 1911 report in The Crisis, and a woman who said she saw the lynching or its aftermath, the men also took the baby.[7] The jailer said that, after struggling for two hours, he was able to escape and raise the alarm at Moon's restaurant across the road from the jail, after which Sheriff Dunnegan sent out a search party, to no avail.[32] The Ledger reported that a fence post suspended on two chairs across a window was found in the jury room just after the lynching, near the cell where Laura had been held. It was thought that the men had intended to hang Laura out of the window, but were deterred by an electric light that was burning nearby.[29]


L.D.'s partially clothed body

Laura and L.D. were taken to a bridge over the North Canadian River, six miles west and one mile south of Okemah; the bridge was variously described as on the old Schoolton road, and at Yarbrough's crossing.[33] According to a July 1911 report in The Crisis, members of the mob raped Laura.[34] The Ledger reported that they gagged her and L.D. with tow sacks and, using a rope made of half-inch hemp tied in a hangman's knot, hanged them from the bridge.[29]

The front page of The Okemah Ledger on May 25 said the lynching was "executed with silent precision that makes it appear as a masterpiece of planning ..." It reported: "The woman's arms were swinging by her side, untied, while about twenty feet away swung the boy with his clothes partly torn off and his hands tided with a saddle string. The only marks on either body were that made by the ropes upon the necks. Gently swaying in the wind, the ghastly spectacle was discovered this morning by a negro boy taking his cow to water. Hundreds of people from Okemah and the western part of the county went to view the scene."[29]

John Earnest, who lived nearby, telephoned the sheriff's office to report the discovery of the bodies.[31] They were cut down from the bridge at 11:00 by order of the county commissioner, then taken to Okemah.[29] According to Payne, the jailer, the Nelsons' relatives did not claim the bodies, and they were buried by the county in the Greenleaf cemetery near Okemah.[35]

A report in The Crisis in July 1911, quoting the Muskogee Scimitar, suggested that Laura had a baby with her at some point; it referred to "[a] woman taken from her suckling babe."[36] It is not clear whether the baby was Carrie or another baby of Laura's, or what became of the child. William Bittle and Gilbert Geis wrote in 1964 that Laura had been caring for a baby while in jail, and had the child with her when she was taken from her cell. They quoted a woman who said she was a witness – either to the lynching or its aftermath – who said that Laura had placed the baby on the ground when she was forced onto the bridge, and that the baby survived: "After they had hung them up, those men just walked off and left that baby lying there. One of my neighbors was there, and she picked the baby up and brought it to town, and we took care of it. It's all grown up now and lives here."[7]

Photographs and postcards[edit]

James Allen bought this image of Laura for $75 in a flea market.

The scene after the lynching was recorded in a series of photographs by George Henry Farnum (1884–1931),[37] the owner of Okemah's only photography studio.[38] He took several pictures from a boat, including two close-up shots; one of them shows 58 onlookers on the bridge – 35 men, 6 women and 17 children – with the two bodies hanging below.[1] There are four known extant images: photograph number 2894 is L.D., 2897 is the bridge, 2898 is Laura and 2899 is the bridge again.[39]

It was common practice at the time to turn lynching photographs into postcards and sell them in local stores as souvenirs. According to journalist J.R. Moehringer, they were as common as postcards of Niagara Falls, and when the U.S. Postal Service banned them in 1908 from being sent through the mail, the cards still sold well door to door.[40] Woody Guthrie recalled seeing the cards of Laura and L.D. for sale in Okemah.[41] Those appearing in the photographs appeared to show no shame at being connected to the event, even when they were clearly identifiable. One card, of the lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas, in 1916, says on the back: "This is the Barbecue we had last night My picture is to the left with a cross over it your son Joe."[42]

Atlanta antiques collector James Allen wrote in 2000 that a trader in a flea market offered, "in conspiratorial tones," to sell him a photo postcard of Laura for $75, "caught so pitiful and tattered and beyond retrieving – like a paper kite sagged on a utility wire."[43] "Grief and a haunting unreality permeate this photo," he wrote. "The corpse of Laura Nelson retains an indissoluble femininity despite the horror inflicted on it. Specterlike, she seems to float – thistledown light and implausibly still."[44]


Legal and political[edit]

The Independent, May 25, 1911

The Independent wrote on May 25, 1911, that "[t]here is not a shadow of an excuse for the crime," and later called it a "terrible blot on Okfuskee County, a reproach that it will take years to remove."[45] The Ledger wrote that "while the general sentiment is adverse to the method, it is generally thought that the negroes got what would have been due them under due process of law."[29] According to The Crisis, one newspaper tried to lay the blame on the black community, writing that the Nelsons had been "mobbed by Negroes."[46] Blacks in Oklahoma and elsewhere expressed outrage at the killings. One black journal lamented:

"Oh! where is that christian spirit we hear so much about

– What will the good citizens do to apprehend these mobs

– Wait, we shall see – Comment is unnecessary. Such a crime is simply Hell on Earth. No excuse can be set forth to justify the act.[47]

There were rumors that the nearby black town of Boley was organizing an attack on Okemah; Okemah's women and children were sent to spend the night in a nearby field, with the men standing guard on Main Street.[48] Oswald Garrison Villard (1872–1949) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote in protest to Lee Cruce (1863–1933), governor of Oklahoma. Cruce assured Villard he would do everything he could to bring the killers to justice. He defended the laws of Oklahoma as "adequate" and its "juries competent," and said that the administration of justice in the state proceeded with little cause for criticism, "except in cases of extreme passion, which no law and no civilization can control."[49] He added:

There is a race prejudice that exists between the white and Negro races wherever the Negroes are found in large numbers. ... Just this week the announcement comes as a shock to the people of Oklahoma that the Secretary of the Interior ... has appointed a Negro from Kansas to come to Oklahoma and take charge of the supervision of the Indian schools of this State. There is no race of people on earth that has more antipathy for the Negro race than the Indian race, and yet these people, numbering many of the best citizens of this State and nation, are to be humbled and their prejudices and passions are to be increased by having this outrage imposed upon them ... If your organization would interest itself to the extent of seeing that such outrages as this are not perpetrated against our people, there would be fewer lynchings in the South than at this time ...[49]

The NAACP argued that nothing would change while governors like Cruce sought to excuse lynching as the product of the "uncontrollable passion" of white people to exact what they perceived as justice.[50] District Judge John Caruthers convened a grand jury in June 1911 to investigate, telling them it was the duty of people "of a superior race and of greater intelligence to protect this weaker race from unjustifiable and lawless attacks," but no one would identify the lynchers.[51]

Charley and Woody Guthrie[edit]

Woody Guthrie, whose father took part in the lynching

O, don't kill my baby and my son,
O, don't kill my baby and my son.
You can stretch my neck on that old river bridge,
But don't kill my baby and my son.

Woody Guthrie, 1966[52]

Among those reportedly associated with the lynching was Charley Guthrie, a real estate broker, district court clerk and local Democratic politician. He was also the father of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who was born 14 months after the lynching.[53] Woody Guthrie said that his father was briefly an under-sheriff in Okemah; whether this was before or after the lynching is unknown, and Will Kaufman makes clear that Woody's writings are not always historically accurate.[54] According to the journalist Joe Klein, Charley Guthrie was a member of the local Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; Klein called it the "martial arm of the Chamber of Commerce."[55] Kaufman writes that there is no documentary evidence that Charley was a Klansman.[54]

Klein interviewed Charley's brother, Claude, in 1977 for his Woody Guthrie: A Life (1980). In a taped interview, Claude said that Charley had been involved in both the arrest and the lynching of the Nelsons:

It was pretty bad back there in them days ... The niggers was pretty bad over there in Boley, you know ... Charley and them, they throwed this nigger and his mother in jail, both of them, the boy and the woman. And that night, why they stuck out and hung [laughter], they hung them niggers that killed that sheriff ... I just kind of laughed [laughter]. I knew darn well that rascal [Charley] was – I knew he was in on it.[5]

Klein included in his book that Charley had been part of the lynching mob, but without referring to the interview.[56] Seth Archer found the tape in 2005 in the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York, and reported Claude's statement in the Southwest Review in 2006.[5]

Woody Guthrie wrote several times about the lynching, including in "Don't Kill My Baby and My Son," "Slipknot," and "High Balladree," writing in the third: "A nickel postcard I buy off your rack / To show you what happens if / You're black and fight back / A lady and two boys hanging / down by their necks / From the rusty iron rigs / of my Canadian Bridge."[57] Mark Allan Jackson writes that in 1946 Guthrie alluded to the killings in a sketch, now held by the Ralph Rinzler archives, depicting a stylized bridge from which a row of lynched bodies hang, the crumbling buildings of a decayed city in the background.[58]

Publication of the photographs[edit]

James Allen spent years looking for postcards of lynchings to publish in his Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000). The book accompanied an exhibition of 130 lynching postcards from 1880 to 1960 – including the photographs of Laura and L.D. – which opened at the Roth Horowitz Gallery in New York in January 2000.[59] Allen argued that lynching photographers were more than passive spectators; they positioned and lit the corpses as if they were game birds, and the postcards became an important part of the ritual, emphasizing the political nature of the act. He wrote that the cards engendered in him a "caution of whites, of the majority, of the young, of religion, of the accepted."[60]

Seth Archer in the Southwest Review compared them to the images from Abu Ghraib prison in 2004, where U.S. service personnel were photographed humiliating their Iraqi prisoners. He writes that lynching photographs were partly intended as a warning, in the Nelson's case to the neighboring all-black Boley – "look what we did here, Negroes beware" – but the practice of sending the cards to family and friends outside the area underlined the ritualistic nature of the lynchings, death as a community exhibit. That lynchings are now viewed with horror in the United States is in part, Archer writes, because white Americans came to see black Americans as human, though he adds that, if the lynchers saw their victims as less human than themselves, "what could members of a lynch mob possibly picture black people to be, if they were less human than the mob that lynched them?"[61]

There was both support and considerable criticism of Allen for having published the images. Julian Hotton, a black museum curator in New York, told J.R. Moehringer that, with older blacks especially: "If they hear a white man with a Southern accent is collecting these photos, they get a little skittish."[62] Regarding the photograph of Laura, the sexist or sexualized descriptions of her from Allen and other writers provoked discussion. Wendy Wolters argues that Laura went through what Marianne Hirsch, writing about Holocaust photography, called a "total death." She was killed by lynchers, was the object of the spectators' gaze on the bridge, and is violated again when we look at her as a "fetishized and feminized object."[63]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Archer 2006, p. 504.
  2. ^ Most sources agree that Laura was around 35 years old, and her son 14–16.
    • Historian Frances Jones-Sneed writes that in the 1900 census, the son is named L.D., and is recorded as three years old; see Jones-Sneed 2011, p. 63.
    • Note that there is confusion about the names, particularly the son's.
    • Jones-Sneed 2011, p. 63, writes that the son is referred to as L.D. in the 1900 census.
    • The Okemah Ledger, May 4, 1911, called the son L.W. Nelson. Allen 2000, p. 179, followed the Ledger.
    • Several secondary sources – for example, Klein 1980, p. 13 (Klein 1999, p. 10) – call him Lawrence, without citing their sources.
    • Several primary sources refer to Laura as Mary, including The Daily Oklahoman, May 26, 1911.
    • The Okemah Ledger, May 4, 1911, calls her husband Oscar, rather than Austin.
    • See Lynch 2004, p. 42, for the failure of newspapers to get the names right.
  3. ^ The Independent (Okemah), May 25, 1911; The Okemah Ledger, May 25, 1911.
  4. ^ Jones-Sneed 2005, pp. 64–65.
    • For a contemporaneous reference to the baby, see The Crisis, July 1911, pp. 99100.
  5. ^ a b c Archer 2006, pp. 508–509.
  6. ^ The Crisis, July 1911, pp. 99100.
  7. ^ a b c Bittle and Geis 1964, p. 56:
    • "Mrs. Nelson had cared for an infant while in jail with her older son, and had taken the child with her when the mob came. She had put the baby on the ground when she was forced onto the bridge by the crowd.

      "A woman who witnessed the scene painfully described it:

      "'After they had hung them up, those men just walked off and left that baby lying there. One of my neighbors was there, and she picked the baby up and brought it to town, and we took care of it. It's all grown up now and lives here. ...'" Bittle and Geis did not cite their source.

  8. ^ For the postcards, see Allen 2000, pp. 179–180.
    • Jones-Sneed 2011, p. 64, writes that it is the only extant photograph of a black woman lynch victim, but it appears to be the only photograph of a female victim, black or white.
  9. ^ Davidson 2007, p. 8.
  10. ^ Jackson 2008, p. 136.
  11. ^ a b For the overall figures, see Kennedy 1998, p. 42.
    • For 150 women, see Feimster 2009, p. 158. Segrave 2010, p. 18, gives the figure 115.
    • According to Amy Louise Wood, precise figures are difficult to ascertain, in part because of disagreement about what constitutes a lynching. She writes that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Tuskegee Institute and the Chicago Tribune kept records, but researchers believe that many lynchings were not recorded. She estimates that at least 3,200 black men were lynched in the South between 1880 and 1940 (Wood 2009, p. 3).
  12. ^ Payne 1911.
  13. ^ The Independent, May 4, 1911.
    • The Okemah Ledger, May 4, 1911, wrote that the Nelsons were "a portion of the Lincoln County Nelsons that were terrors in their colony, and have lived north of Paden but a short time."
  14. ^ Jones-Sneed 2005, p. 63.
  15. ^ Jones-Sneed 2005, p. 63; for Carrie Nelson, see p. 65. Jones-Sneed writes that some sources say Carrie was found floating in the river beneath the bodies of Laura and L.D.
  16. ^ a b c d e The Okemah Ledger, May 4, 1911.
  17. ^ Oklahoma Historical Society. "Lynching", Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.
  18. ^ Segrave 2010, p. 19.
  19. ^ Segrave 2010, p. 20.
  20. ^ The Okemah Ledger, May 4, 1911.
  21. ^ The Independent writes that the men arrived at the farm about nine o'clock, without specifying that it was evening, but it seems clear from the context that the incident happened at night. For example, Austin Nelson was arrested and taken to Okemah, arriving there at 4 a.m., Wednesday, May 3 (The Independent, May 4, 1911).
  22. ^ The Okemah Ledger and The Independent, May 4, 1911.
  23. ^ a b c d e f The Independent, May 4, 1911.
  24. ^ The Okemah Ledger, May 4, 1911. The dash replacing a missing word is in the original.
  25. ^ Menig 1998, p. 176.
  26. ^ "The State of Oklahoma, Plaintiff, vs Austin Nelson, Defendant", undated (archived at webcite). The charge sheet was obtained by historian Frances Jones-Sneed of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, who has confirmed that she shared the document with
    • Lawrence Payne was also the name of the jailer on duty the night the Nelsons were kidnapped from the jail.
  27. ^ The Independent, May 11, 1911.
  28. ^ "Appearance Docket", May 11 and 12, 1911 (archived at webcite). The appearance docket was obtained by historian Frances Jones-Sneed of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, who has confirmed that she shared the document with
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i The Okemah Ledger, May 25, 1911.
  30. ^ The Okemah Ledger, May 18, 1911: "Mary Nelson, the negro woman charged with the murder of Deputy Sheriff Geo. Loney, was 'bad' in jail Saturday when Jailor Lawrence Payne brought up her dinner ..."
  31. ^ a b c The Independent, May 25, 1911.
  32. ^ The Okemah Ledger, May 25, 1911.
  33. ^ For Yarbrough's crossing, and "six miles west and one mile south of Omekah," see The Independent, May 25, 1911.
    • For old Schoolton road, see Payne 1911: "Soon after daylight the Nelsons were located swinging beneath the steel bridge which spanned the North Canadian River, six miles west of town, on the old Schoolton road."
  34. ^ The Crisis, July 1911, p. 18, pp. 99100.
    • Also see Kennedy 1998, p. 44.
  35. ^ Payne 1911; Collins 2011.
  36. ^ The Crisis, July 1911, p. 100: "Just think of it. A woman taken from her suckling babe, and a boy – a child only fourteen years old – dragged through the streets by a howling mob of fiendish devils, the most unnameable crime committed on the helpless woman and then she and her son executed by hanging."
    • Several of Woody Guthrie's songs and comments about the lynching refer to three bodies hanging. For example, Guthrie, "Don't Kill My Baby and My Son", 1966: "Then I saw a picture on a postcard / It showed the Canadian River Bridge, / Three bodies hanging to swing in the wind, / A mother and two sons they'd lynched." This may have been an error, or it may relate to a rumor mentioned by Frances Jones-Sneed that three-year-old Carrie was found in the river beneath the hanging bodies (Jones-Sneed 2005, p. 65).
  37. ^ The dates come from Carolyn Farnum, "George Henry Farnum",, a website containing self-published material.
  38. ^ Allen 2000, p. 204; Archer 2006, p. 505.
  39. ^ Category:Laura and Lawrence Nelson.
  40. ^ Moehringer 2000, p. 2.
  41. ^ Kaufman 2011, p. 147, quoting Guthrie: "It reminded me of the postcard picture they sold in my home town for several years, a showing you a negro mother, and her two young sons, a hanging by the neck stretched tight by the weight of their bodies and – the rope stretched tight like a big fiddle string."
    • Frances Jones-Sneed wrote in 2011 that the photograph of Laura and L.D. was not turned into postcards or published in newspapers at the time, although the photographer may have provided copies to others. See Jones-Sneed 2011, pp. 64–65: "Unlike other lynching photographs, the one of Laura Nelson and her son was not published in any newspapers or made into postcards. The photographer, G.H. Farnam, kept the negative and may have provided copies for those who wished to have a memento of the mother and son."
    • Klein 1999, p. 10, writes that the Okemah Ledger published one of the images, but he does not give a date.
  42. ^ Young 2005, p. 645; Allen 2000, p. 174.
  43. ^ Allen 2000, p. 204: "Hundreds of flea markets later, a trader pulled me aside and in conspiratorial tones offered to sell me a real photo postcard. It was Laura Nelson hanging from a bridge, caught so pitiful and tattered and beyond retrieving – like a paper kite sagged on a utility wire."
  44. ^ Allen 2004, pp. 178–179.
  45. ^ The Independent, May 25, 1911.
    • Bittle and Geis, p. 56, citing The Independent, June 1, 1911.
  46. ^ The Crisis, July 1911, pp. 99100. The Crisis attributed "mobbed by Negroes" to the "Morning Phoenix".
  47. ^ Shepard 2009, p. 167.
  48. ^ Payne 1911; Klein 1999, p. 10.
  49. ^ a b The Crisis, August 1911, pp. 153154; also here.
  50. ^ Williams 2012, pp. 193–194.
  51. ^ Caruthers said: "The people of the state have said by recently adopted constitutional provision that the race to which the unfortunate victims belonged should in large measure be divorced from participation in our political contests, because of their known racial inferiority and their dependent credulity, which very characteristic made them the mere tool of the designing and cunning. It is well known that I heartily concur in this constitutional provision of the people's will. The more then does the duty devolve upon us of a superior race and of greater intelligence to protect this weaker race from unjustifiable and lawless attacks" (Davidson 2007, p. 8).
  52. ^ Guthrie, "Don't Kill My Baby and My Son", 1966.
  53. ^ Archer 2006, p. 502.
    • Charley Guthrie was elected as a district court clerk in September 1907; see Cray 2012, p. 3.
  54. ^ a b Kaufman 2011, pp. 145–146.
  55. ^ Klein 1999, p. 23.
  56. ^ Klein 1999, p. 10.
  57. ^ Kaufman 2011, p. 146.
    • For "Slipknot," see Jackson 2008, p. 159.
  58. ^ Jackson 2008, p. 158.
  59. ^ Apel 2004, p. 8.
  60. ^ Allen 2000, p. 204.
    • For an interview with Allen, see Moehringer 2000.
    • For more about the postcards and their banning by the U.S. Postal Service, see Gonzales 2006.
  61. ^ Archer 2006, pp. 505–506.
  62. ^ Moehringer 2000, p. 3.
  63. ^ Wolters writes that the photograph of Laura is "not just evidence of the aggression of the camera, but the violence that lingers, that haunts, that is remembered, in every act of reexamination and relooking" (Wolters 2004, pp. 414–415).
    • Wolters is critical of Allen's use of the word "disillusionment" in connection with Laura's entry in his book. Allen wrote next to her photograph: "For many African Americans, Oklahoma was a destination of hope ... What was to be a promised land proved to be a great disillusionment" (Allen 2004, pp. 178–179). Wolters argues that with this description Laura's "experience of the violence is all but erased–again"(Wolters 2004, p. 417).


Primary sources (chronological order)
Secondary sources
  • Allen, James. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Twin Palms Publishers, 2000; see extract about the Nelsons.
  • Apel, Dora. Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob. Rutgers University Press, 2004.
  • Archer, Seth. "Reading the Riot Acts", Southwest Review, September 22, 2006.
  • Bittle, William E. and Geis, Gilbert. The Longest Way Home. Wayne State University Press, 1964.
  • Collins, Rob. "Picture of horror", Oklahoma Gazette, May 24, 2011.
  • Cray, Ed. The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie. W. W. Norton, 2006.
  • Davidson, James West. 'They say': Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Feimster, Crystal. Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching. Harvard University Press, 2009.
  • Gonzales, Rita. "'With none but the omnipresent stars to witness'": Ken Gonzales-Day's Hang Trees", Pomona College Museum of Art, 2006.
  • Guthrie, Woody. "Don't Kill My Baby and My Son", 1966; also see "Don’t Kill My Baby and My Son", YouTube.
  • Jackson, Mark Allan. Prophet Singer: The Voice and Vision of Woody Guthrie. University Press of Mississippi, 2008.
  • Jones-Sneed, Frances. "Gender, Race and the Antilynching Crusade in the United States", The Mind's Eye, 2011.
  • Kennedy, Randall. Race, Crime, and the Law. Vintage Books, 1998.
  • Klein, Joe. Woody Guthrie: A Life. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1999, first published 1980.
  • Kaufman, Will. Woody Guthrie, American Radical. University of Illinois Press, 2011.
  • Lynch, Kara. Meet me in Okemah. University of California, 2004; originally a video film, episode three of Invisible.
  • Menig, Harry. "Woody Guthrie: The Oklahoma Years, 1912–1929," in David D. Joyce (ed.). "An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before". University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
  • Moehringer, J.R. "An Obsessive Quest to Make People See", The Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2000.
  • Oklahoma Historical Society. "Lynching", Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.
  • Segrave, Kerry. Lynchings of Women in the United States: The Recorded Cases, 1851–1946. McFarland, 2010.
  • Shepard, R. Bruce. "Diplomatic Racism: Canadian Government and Black Migration from Oklahoma, 1905–1912," in Glasrud, Bruce A. and Braithwaite, Charles A. (eds.). African Americans on the Great Plains: An Anthology. University of Nebraska Press, 2009.
  • Williams, Kidada. They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I. New York University Press, 2012.
  • Wolters, Wendy. "Without Sanctuary: Bearing Witness, Bearing Whiteness", A Journal of Composition Theory, 24(2), 2004, pp. 399–425; also available here.
  • Wood, Amy Louise. Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890–1940. The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
  • Young, Harvey. "The black body as souvenir in American lynching", Theatre Journal, 57(4), December 2005, pp. 639–657.

Further reading[edit]

  • Allen, James. Musarium: Without Sanctuary; James Allen, "Without Sanctuary", a brief film about the collection
  • Apel, Dora, and Smith, Shawn Michelle. Lynching Photographs. University of California Press, 2007.
  • Dickinson, Stephanie. "A Lynching in Stereoscope", African American Review, 38(1), Spring 2004, pp. 35–43.
  • Gehman, Geoff. "Strong sense of injustice spurs lynchings collector", The Morning Call, November 11, 2001.
  • Johnson, Marie Rose. "Of These, One was a Woman": The Lynching of African-American Women, 1885–1946. Cornell University, 1998.
  • Lacayo, Richard. "Blood at the Root", Time magazine, April 2, 2000.
  • Reese, Linda Williams. Women of Oklahoma, 1890–1920. University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.
  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1889–1918, 1919.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°25′46″N 96°24′28″W / 35.42944°N 96.40778°W / 35.42944; -96.40778