Mary Turner

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Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Mary Turner, painted plaster sculpture, 1919

Mary Turner (c. 1885[1] – 19 May 1918) was a young, married black woman and mother of two who was lynched by a white mob in Lowndes County, Georgia, for having protested the lynching death of her husband Hazel "Hayes" Turner the day before in Brooks County.[2] She was eight months pregnant, and her unborn child was also brutally murdered.[3][4] The Turner lynchings followed the murder of a white plantation owner in Brooks County by one of his black workers. They were followed by deaths of another 11 black men by a white mob in Brooks and neighboring Lowndes counties during a manhunt and lynching rampage. These lynchings are examples of the racially motivated mob violence by whites against black people 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 during this period.

The NAACP referred to Mary Turner's murder in its anti-lynching campaigns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.[5] In the lynching era from 1880 to 1930, the great majority of these murders were committed in the South.[6] Most of the thousands of individuals lynched in the United States were black,[7] including at least 159 women.

Early life[edit]

Mary Hattie Graham was born about 1885 to Perry Graham and his wife, Elizabeth "Betsy" Johnson, in Brooks County, Georgia. She had an older sister Pearl, and two younger brothers, named Perry and Otha. Sources differ on the exact year of her birth. Most newspaper accounts covering the lynching in 1918 do not mention her age at all. The report by Walter White in The Crisis in September 1918 also does not mention her age. In general, historians prior to the 2000s did not make a reference to her age when they wrote about her. In 2008, an article by Julie Buckner Armstrong put her age at 19, but a later historian notes that she did not cite the source of the information. The Mary Turner Project originally put her age at 21 at her death, implying a birth year of circa 1897. 21 was the age used for the historical marker erected by the Mary Turner Project in 2010. A historian has noted the link between the erecting of the marker in 2010 and the subsequent widespread use of 21 as her age at her death in modern newspaper accounts. The same historian has contacted Mary Patrick George, the former director of the Mary Turner Project, and discovered that 21 was used before the family of Mary Turner contacted the project and supplied the more accurate birth year of 1885. George also stated that the project has just not gotten around to correcting the information on the Mary Turner Project website. The most current research by a historian into her early life puts her birth at circa 1885, possibly December 1884.[1]

At some point, Mary Hattie Graham gave birth to a son named Willie Lloyd Smith. His birth year varies in records between 1907 and 1910. The identity of his father is currently unknown. He was sometimes referred to by family members as Ocie Lee. Mary Hattie Graham also gave birth to a daughter named Leaster. The identity of her father is also unknown. Mary Hattie Graham married Hazel "Hayes" Turner on 11 February 1917, in Colquitt County, Georgia. He had been previously married. It is unknown if he had any children from his previous marriage.[1]

Background[edit]

Hampton Smith was a 25-year-old, newspaper accounts covering his death inaccurately put his age at 31,[8], married white planter who owned the Old Joyce Place, a large plantation near Morven, Georgia, in Brooks County. He was known among black workers for being an abusive boss, making it difficult for him to recruit farm labor. 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 lease their labor for a period of time, paying the local jurisdiction the fees. He was responsible for food and board of such workers. Among the workers whom Smith gained this way was Sidney Johnson, after paying the police his $30 fine (a high payment for a farm worker), assessed after his conviction for "playing dice."[9] Authorities exercised little oversight related to convict leasing, and the black men were often abused in what journalist Douglas Blackmon has called "slavery by another name".[10] With the incentives of raising revenues by leasing fees and controlling movement of black people, the white-dominated legislature and local governments passed laws criminalizing many minor infractions in an effort to prosecute black people and force them to work for planters.

Johnson endured several beatings at the hands of Smith, including a severe one after refusing to work while sick.[9] Smith also had a violent history with other black workers. He had beaten Mary Turner, and after this incident her husband, Hayes Turner, threatened Smith. Turner 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. A large manhunt was conducted by a white mob, mostly in Brooks County.

Lynching[edit]

During the manhunt, whites killed at least 13 black people during the next two weeks.[9] On May 17 Will Head and Will Thompson were seized in two different areas; that night Head was lynched near Troupville in neighboring 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.[11] 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, May 18, 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 near the Okapiloo River in Brooks County, about 3 1/2 miles from town. His body was left hanging from the tree over the weekend and not cut down until Monday.[11]

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 with Smith's murder in any way.[11]

Approximately 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 from police custody without confirmation of identity.[11]

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".[11] Although she fled, Mary Turner was captured at noon on May 19.[9][11] 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.[11][5]

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."[11] Her "unborn babe" fell to the ground and gave "two feeble cries."[11] Its head was crushed by a member of the mob with his heel, and the crowd shot hundreds of bullets into Turner's body.[11][5][12] Mary Turner was cut down and buried with her child near the tree, with a whiskey bottle marking the grave.[9] The Atlanta Constitution published an article with the subheadline: "Fury of the People Is Unrestrained."[13]

Chime Riley was a black man at first rumored to have left Brooks County. He was found to have been lynched, although he had no known 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.[11]

Simon Schuman (also seen as Shuman) was taken from his house during the unrest and according to Walter White reportedly never seen again, although he had no connection to Smith. His family was driven out of the house, and the interior was destroyed.[11] Schuman was believed by most later historians to have been lynched by whites in this rampage. Walter White's report related to Schuman's disappearance was inaccurate. Newspaper accounts from a month after the May rampage can confirm that Schuman was arrested by Brooks County authorities in late June 1918 after he was implicated in the murder of Hampton Smith by a man named "Shorty" Ford, then in custody in Jacksonville, Florida on charges related to Smith's murder as well. On June 25, 1918, Schuman was removed from Brooks County Jail to an unknown location to avoid being lynched. Schuman survived the ordeal and moved to Albany, Georgia shortly afterward.[1]


Sidney Johnson, who killed Smith, reached Valdosta, the county seat of Lowndes County, where he hid for a few days. When he appealed to another black man for food, that man 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 Smith. A mob had gathered and, deprived of the chance to lynch Johnson, mutilated his body, and dragged it 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 lynching) and burned it.[11]

Aftermath[edit]

Historical marker in Lowndes County, Georgia

Following the lynchings, more than 500 black residents fled the area to escape the violence, although whites threatened to kill black workers who tried to leave.[14]:33 The lynching murders of Hayes and Mary Turner, and several other black people, caused a brief national outcry. They were highlighted in the NAACP's campaigns for Congress to pass federal anti-lynching legislation.

A man named Leamon Wright (alias "Shorty" Ford alias Edmund Pipkins alias Julius Brown alias Rounder Ford alias Black Terror) was arrested in late May 1918 in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1919, he was put on trial in Savannah, Georgia, instead of Brooks County, Georgia for safety reasons, on charges of murdering Hampton Smith and assaulting his wife. Shortly before the trial began, a group of men took an African American prisoner from the Hamilton County Jail in Jasper, Florida claiming that they had the legal authority to do so. The man was later found dead in the Withlacoochee River west of Valdosta bound and with a gunshot wound to the head. A newspaper account reported the incident as being yet another death related to the Hampton Smith case. Wright was found guilty in two separate trials. His defense attorneys argued that the whole thing was a case of mistaken identity and that the real "Shorty" Ford had been taken from a jail and drowned. Hampton Smith's father Dixon Smith identified Wright as being one in the same as the "Shorty" Ford responsible for his son's death. Leamon Wright was executed by hanging in Chatham County Jail on June 3, 1921. Newspapers noted it was Jefferson Davis's birthday. Wright went to his death claiming he was innocent.[1]

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 unborn child, while black reports emphasized it.[15] 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".[16]

Investigation[edit]

Walter F. White, NAACP assistant secretary, went to south Georgia to conduct an investigation into the Brooks-Lowndes lynchings.[14]: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, no one was ever charged for the Turner killings.[5] This was typical of conditions in the South, when most lynchings were not prosecuted.

In 1922, Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer of St. Louis, Missouri, introduced the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill into the U.S. House of Representatives, which 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.

Legacy[edit]

Denial[edit]

By the late 1990s, the Turner lynchings had attracted the renewed 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 their holdings for material about the lynchings.[17]

Recognition[edit]

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 state historical marker to be installed that memorializes Mary Turner and these events. It was jointly sponsored by the Georgia 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 black people by white mobs in 1918, especially the lynchings of the Turners.[4][18][not in citation given] In July 2013, the plaque was found to have five bullet holes shot by an unknown vandal.[19]

Representation in other media[edit]

  • Jean Toomer's 1923 novel Cane refers to the Mary Turner lynching in the "Kabnis" section, noting the lynching of Mame Lamkins.[17]
  • 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.[20] It won the 2013 Benjamin Franklin Award for popular fiction.
  • Lekethia Dalcoe's 2016 play A Small Oak Tree Runs Red, which received a highly acclaimed world premiere at Congo Square Theatre in Chicago, explored the story of Turner, her husband, and Sidney Johnson.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ a b c d e Williams, Phillip (18 May 2018). "Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage of 1918 Reexamined". Wiregrass Region Digital History Project. Wiregrass Region Digital History Project. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Forehand, C. Tyrone. "A Place to Lay Their Heads" (PDF). Retrieved November 23, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Ramos, Kara (2010-05-15). "Remembering a dark page of history". Valdosta Daily Times. Valdosta, GA. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  5. ^ a b c d Bernstein 2005, p. 176.
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Williams, Phillip (18 May 2018). "Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage of 1918 Reexamined". Wiregrass Region Digital History Project. Wiregrass Region Digital History Project. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  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. ^ Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (2008)
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m White, Walter F (September 1918). "The work of a mob". The Crisis. 16 (5). pp. 221–223. 
  12. ^ Bennett, Jr., Lerone (August 1977). "No Crystal Stair: The Black Woman in History". Ebony: 164–170. 
  13. ^ Apel, Dora (2004). Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob. Rutgers University Press. pp. 151–152. ISBN 0813534593. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Armstrong 2011, p. 38.
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ a b Armstrong, Julie Buckner (2011). Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching. University of Georgia Press. pp. 5–13. ISBN 9780820337661. 
  18. ^ Georgia Historical Society (2010). "Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage of 1918". Historical Marker Index. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  19. ^ WALB (2013). "Reward offered after historic marker shot with bullets". Retrieved 2015-02-10. 
  20. ^ "MLK Day in Georgia: Hosea Williams marches on Forsyth County", The Brambleman Blog, 23 January 2014; accessed 24 July 2016
Bibliography

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