Mary Turner

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For other people named Mary Turner, see Mary Turner (disambiguation).
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Mary Turner, painted plaster sculpture,1919

Mary Turner (1884/85 - 19 May 1918) was a nineteen-year-old married black woman and mother of two who was lynched by a white mob in Lowndes County, Georgia, for having spoken out in protest at the lynching death of her husband Hazel "Hayes" Turner the day before.[1] Her unborn child was also brutally murdered.[2][3] The Turner murders followed the murder of an abusive white plantation owner by one of his black workers, and were associated with the deaths of 11 other black men during a manhunt and lynching rampage by whites. These deaths are examples of the racially motivated mob violence by whites against blacks in the American South, particularly in the era of 1880 to 1930, the peak of lynchings. Brooks County in Georgia, and Georgia among the states, had the highest rates of lynching in the nation.

The NAACP referred to Mary Turner's murder in its anti-lynching campaigns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.[4] In the lynching era from 1880 to 1930, the great majority of these murders were committed in the South[5] and most of the thousands of individuals lynched in the United States were black,[6] including at least 159 women.

Early life[edit]

She was born Mary Hattie Graham to Perry Graham and his wife, Elizabeth "Betsy" Johnson, in Brooks County, Georgia. Sources differ on the exact year of her birth. She had an older sister Pearl, and two younger brothers, named Perry and Otha.[7][non-primary source needed][8]

She married Hazel "Hayes" Turner on 11 February 1917, in Colquitt County, Georgia. They had two children, Ocie Lee and Leaster Turner.


Hampton Smith was 25 years old and married when he owned the Old Joyce Place, a large plantation near Morven, Georgia, in Brooks County. He had an abusive reputation among black workers, making it difficult for him to recruit workers. Smith resolved the labor shortage (as did many planters) through using convict labor; he would pay the fees that black men were assessed for infractions and gain their labor for a period of time. Among the workers whom Smith gained this way was Sidney Johnson, after paying the police the man's $30 fine (a high payment for a farm worker) after being convicted of "playing dice."[9] This system had little oversight by authorities, and the black men were often abused in what Douglas Blackmon called Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (2008). The legislature and local governments passed laws criminalizing many minor infractions in an effort to convict blacks and force them to work for planters.

Johnson endured several beatings at the hands of Smith, including a severe one when Johnson refused to work while sick.[9] Smith also had a violent history with other black workers. He had beaten Mary Turner and her husband Hayes Turner threatened Smith. He was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to a chain gang.

Johnson shot Smith and his wife through a window in their house, killing Smith and wounding his wife. He fled the scene, hiding successfully in Valdosta, Georgia for several days while a manhunt went on, mostly in Brooks County.


After Smith was murdered, whites conducted a large, week-long manhunt for Johnson, a prime suspect, as he was known to have threatened the planter. They killed at least 13 blacks during the next few days.[9] On May 17 Will Head and Will Thompson were seized in two different areas; that night Head was lynched near Troupville in Lowndes County, and Thompson near Barney in Brooks County.[9] Walter F. White, an investigator for the NAACP, was told by mob participants that the bodies of the men were riddled with more than 700 bullets.[10] Julius Jones was also captured and lynched near Barney.[9]

Among the men picked up in the hunt was Hayes Turner, known to have had conflict with Smith. He was arrested on the morning of Saturday, 18 May 1918, and placed in the jail in Valdosta, the county seat of Lowndes County. Later in the day County Sheriff Wade and a clerk of court took him out, ostensibly to move him to Quitman, the county seat of Brooks County. Along the way, Turner was taken by a mob and lynched about 3 1/2 miles from town. His body was left hanging from the tree over the weekend and not cut down until Monday.[10]

Another black man was lynched that day near the Old Camp Ground; he may have been Eugene Rice. Newspaper reports identified him as a victim of the mob; he was never associated Smith's murder in any way.[10]

About a week later the bodies of three unidentified black men were taken from the Little River, below Barney. It was not clear if they were new or old victims. At the time of the NAACP's investigation by Walter White soon after these events (see below), the bodies had disappeared without confirmation of identity.[10]

After Hayes Turner was murdered, his distraught wife Mary, who was eight months pregnant, publicly denounced her husband's lynching. She denied that her husband had been involved in Smith's killing, and threatened to have members of the mob arrested. The mob turned against her, determined to "teach her a lesson".[10]

Although she fled, Mary Turner was captured at noon on 19 May.[9][10] The mob of several hundred took her to the bank in Brooks County near Folsom Bridge, over the Little River, which forms the border with Lowndes County.[10][4]

According to investigator Walter F. White of the NAACP, Mary Turner was tied and hung upside down by the ankles, her clothes soaked with gasoline, and burned from her body. Her belly was slit open with a knife like those used "in splitting hogs."[10] Her "unborn babe" fell to the ground and gave "two feeble cries."[10] Its head was crushed by a member of the mob with his heel, and the crowd shot hundred of bullets into Turner's body.[10]

The Atlanta Constitution had an article that was subhead-lined: ‘Fury of the People Is Unrestrained.’[11]

Finally, they shot Turner's body with hundreds of bullets.[10][4][12] Mary Turner was cut down and buried with her child near the tree, with a whiskey bottle marking the grave.[9]

Chime Riley was another black at first rumored to have left the community. He was found to have been lynched although he had no connection to Smith. He was thrown into the Little River in Brooks County to drown near Barney; turpentine cups were tied to his hands and legs to weigh him down.[10]

Simon Schumann was taken from his house during the unrest and reportedly never seen again. His family was driven out of the house and the interior was destroyed. He was believed to have been lynched by whites in this rampage, although he had no connection to Smith.[10] (According to an editor researching through the census, Schumann may have survived the lynching spree and moved his family from Barney[13] to Albany, Georgia.[14] This is original research.)

Sidney Johnson, who killed Smith, had reached Valdosta, the county seat of Lowndes County, where he hid for several days. When he went to another black man for food, that man left and notified the police. Chief Calvin Dampier took officers armed with high-powered rifles to the house (among them were his brother), where they engaged in a shootout with Johnson, known to be armed with a shotgun and pistol. After the shooting stopped, the police finally entered the house, finding Johnson dead. He had wounded the two Dampier brothers and Dixon. A mob had gathered and, deprived of the chance to lynch Johnson, mutilated his body, dragged him behind a car in a procession down Patterson street and out to Morven. There they hanged the body from a tree (near the scene of Smith's murder) and burned it.[10]


Historical marker in Lowndes County, Georgia

Following the lynchings, more than 500 black residents fled the area, despite white threats against the lives of anyone who tried to leave.[15]:33 The lynching murders of Hayes and Mary Turner, and several other blacks, caused a brief national outcry. They were highlighted in the NAACP's campaigns for Congress to pass federal anti-lynching legislation.

Press accounts[edit]

White and black newspapers covered the lynching of Turner differently; white newspapers failed to mention her pregnancy or the brutal murder of her child, while black reports emphasized it.[16] After the incident, the Associated Press wrote that Mary Turner had made "unwise remarks" about the murder of her husband, and that "the people, in their indignant mood, took exception to her remarks, as well as her attitude".[17]


Walter F. White, NAACP assistant secretary, went to south Georgia to conduct an investigation into the Brooks-Lowndes lynchings.[15]:32 While Georgia governor Hugh Dorsey was given a complete report of his investigation of the Turner murders, which included the names of two instigators and 15 participants, but nobody was ever charged with or convicted of the Turner killings.[4] This was typical of conditions in the South.

Four years later, in 1922, Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer of St. Louis, Missouri, introduced the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill into the U.S. House of Representatives, and they passed it overwhelmingly. But the white Democratic block of the Solid South in the Senate filibustered and prevented the bill from coming to a vote in 1922, 1923 and once more in 1924.



By the late 1990s, the Turner lynchings had attracted the attention of historians. While researching the lynchings in 1998 historian Julie Buckner Armstrong visited Carnegie Lowndes County Historical Society and Museum and the Brooks County Museum and Cultural Center. The directors at the time denied having any knowledge of the lynchings and claimed that the counties never had any lynchings. Later directors were more helpful in investigating the lynchings.[18]


In 2008, the Mary Turner Project was formed. It is "a diverse, grassroots volunteer collective of students, educators, and local community members who are committed to racial justice and racial healing." They have conducted memorial events, lectures and teaching sessions to educate students and citizens about the events of the May 1918 lynchings and the larger stories of racial injustice. They helped gain support for a historical marker to memorialize Mary Turner and these events. It was jointly sponsored by the state historical society, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other groups.

On 15 May 2010, a historical marker memorializing "Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage" was placed near the lynching site in Lowndes County and dedicated. The plaque includes a description of the associated murders of blacks by white mobs in 1918, especially the lynchings of the Turners.[3][19] In July 2013, the plaque was found to have five bullet holes shot by an unknown vandal.[20]

Representation in other media[edit]

  • Jean Toomer's 1923 novel Cane references the Mary Turner lynching in the "Kabnis" section with the lynching of Mame Lamkins.[21]
  • Mary Turner's death by lynching influenced "Goldie," a short story by Angelina Weld Grimké.
  • Jonathan Grant wrote the novel Brambleman (2012) about these events.[22] It won the 2013 Benjamin Franklin Award for popular fiction.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Armstrong, Julie Buckner (2008). """ The people... took exception to her remarks": Meta Warrick Fuller, Angelina Weld Grimké, and the Lynching of Mary Turner."". The Mississippi Quarterly. 61 (1/2): 113–141. 
  2. ^ Forehand, C. Tyrone. "A Place to Lay Their Heads" (PDF). Retrieved November 23, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Ramos, Kara (2010-05-15). "Remembering a dark page of history". Valdosta Daily Times. Valdosta, GA. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  4. ^ a b c d Bernstein 2005, p. 176.
  5. ^ DeLongoria, Maria (December 2006). "Stranger Fruit": The Lynching of Black Women/ The Cases of Rosa Richardson and Marie Scott (PDF) (PhD thesis). University of Missouri–Columbia. pp. 1, 77, 142. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  6. ^ Robert A. Gibson. "The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States,1880–1950". Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. Retrieved July 26, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Hattie Graham", United States Census, 1900; Quitman, Brooks County, GA; roll 181, page 107 Sheet number 28 B, line 86, enumeration district 5. Retrieved on 30 July 2016.
  8. ^ Forehand, C. Tyrone. "A Place to Lay Their Heads" (PDF). Retrieved November 23, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Meyers, Christopher C (2006). "" Killing Them by the Wholesale": A Lynching Rampage in South Georgia". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. JSTOR. 90 (2): 214–235. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n White, Walter F (September 1918). "The work of a mob". The Crisis. 16 (5). pp. 221–223. 
  11. ^ Apel, Dora (2004). Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob. Rutgers University Press. pp. 151–152. ISBN 0813534593. 
  12. ^ Bennett, Jr., Lerone (August 1977). "No Crystal Stair: The Black Woman in History". Ebony: 164–170. 
  13. ^ "Simon Shurman", United States Census, 1910; Barney, Brooks County, Georgia; roll 174, page 242 Sheet number 6B, line 81-88, enumeration district 21. Retrieved on 30 July 2016.
  14. ^ "Simon Shuman", United States Census, 1920; Albany, Dougherty County, Georgia; roll 254, page 60 Sheet Number 3A, line 10-17, enumeration district 56. Retrieved on 30 July 2016.
  15. ^ a b Janken, Kenneth Robert (2006). Walter White: Mr. Naacp. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 32–41. ISBN 978-0-8078-5780-9. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  16. ^ Armstrong 2011, p. 38.
  17. ^ Jensen, Derrick (2004). The Culture of Make Believe. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Publishing. p. ix. ISBN 978-1-60358-183-7. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  18. ^ Armstron, Julie Buckner (2011). Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching. University of Georgia Press. p. 5-13. ISBN 9780820337661. 
  19. ^ Georgia Historical Society (2010). "Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage of 1918". Historical Marker Index. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  20. ^ WALB (2013). "Reward offered after historic marker shot with bullets". Retrieved 2015-02-10. 
  21. ^ Armstron, Julie Buckner (2011). Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching. University of Georgia Press. p. 5-13. ISBN 9780820337661. 
  22. ^ "MLK Day in Georgia: Hosea Williams marches on Forsyth County", The Brambleman Blog, 23 January 2014; accessed 24 July 2016

External links[edit]