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 (1899 - 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][2][3] Both murders followed the murder of a white plantation owner by one of his black workers, and were associated with the deaths of 12 other persons during a manhunt. These deaths are examples of the racially motivated mob violence by whites against blacks in the American South.

The NAACP referred to Mary Turner's murder in its anti-lynching campaigns of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.[4] From the 1890s onwards, the great majority of the thousands of individuals lynched in the United States were black,[5] including at least 159 women; most lynchings took place in the South.[6]

Early life[edit]

She was born Mary Hattie Graham, perhaps in 1899 (there is ambiguity about her birth year), 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.[7]

She married Hazel "Hayes" Turner on 11 February 1917, in Colquitt County, Georgia. They had two children, Ocie Lee and Leaster. After their parents' deaths, the children were given assumed names to protect them and raised by relatives.[8]


On the evening of 16 May 1918, 25-year-old white planter Hampton Smith, known to abuse and beat his black workers, was shot and killed on the plantation by worker 18-year-old Sidney Johnson. [9] Smith owned the Old Joyce Place, and his abusive reputation made it difficult for him to recruit workers. Smith resolved the labor shortage through the use of convict labor; he paid Sidney Johnson's $30 fine (Johnson had been convicted of playing dice) in order to gain his labor on his plantation.[9]

Johnson endured several beatings at the hands of Smith. Days before Smith's death, Johnson had been severely beaten by Smith for refusing to work while sick.[9] Smith also had a history with Hayes and Mary Turner. In one incident, Hayes threatened Smith for beating his wife Mary, and was convicted and sentenced to a chain gang.


After Smith was murdered, whites conducted a large, week-long manhunt, during which they killed at least 13 black people.[9] Among them was Hayes Turner, who was seized from custody after his arrest on the morning of 18 May 1918 and lynched.[10] Distraught, his wife Mary, who was eight months pregnant, denied that her husband had been involved in Smith's killing, publicly denounced Hayes' murder, 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 near Folsom Bridge over the Little River, which separates Brooks and Lowndes counties.[4]

According to Philip Dray, “There, before a crowd that included women and children, Mary was stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground, gave a cry, and was stomped to death. The Constitution’s coverage of the killing was subheaded-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]


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.[13]:33 The murders of Hayes and Mary Turner caused a brief national outcry, and 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.[14] 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".[15]


Walter F. White, NAACP assistant secretary, went to south Georgia to conduct an investigation into the Brooks-Lowndes lynchings.[13]: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, 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, in 1923 and once more in 1924.


On 15 May 2010, a historical marker memorializing Mary Turner was placed near the lynching site and dedicated.[3][16] In July 2013, the marker was found to have been riddled with five bullet holes by an unknown vandal.[17]

Representation in other media[edit]

  • Mary Turner's death by lynching influenced "Goldie," a short story by Angelina Weld Grimké.
  • Jonathan Grant wrote the novel Brambleman (2012) about this incident.[18] 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. ^ 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. 
  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. ^ Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900; Quitman, Brooks County, GA; page 28, line 86, enumeration district 5. Retrieved on 2 October 2015.
  8. ^ Forehand, Charles Tyrone. "A Place to Lay Their Heads" (PDF). Mary Turner Project. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f 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 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. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Armstrong 2011, p. 38.
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ Georgia Historical Society (2010). "Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage of 1918". Historical Marker Index. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  17. ^ WALB (2013). "Reward offered after historic marker shot with bullets". Retrieved 2015-02-10. 
  18. ^ "MLK Day in Georgia: Hosea Williams marches on Forsyth County", The Brambleman Blog, 23 January 2014; accessed 24 July 2016

External links[edit]