This blog post contains:
graphic information, violent images and adult language.
It's a gruesomely violent true story of an angry
animalistic white mob
out to lynch several men and a woman of color."
This was a hard story for me to research and write, let alone will be for you to read, but it sadly happened. It's a story that shouldn't be kept in the dark."
For many African Americans growing up in the South in the 19th and 20th centuries, the threat of lynching was commonplace. The popular image of an angry white mob stringing a black man up to a tree is only half the story. Lynching, an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks, served the broad social purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the economic, social and political spheres. Most victims of lynching were political activists, labor organizers or black men and women who violated white expectations of black deference, and were deemed "uppity" or "insolent." Though most victims were black men, women were by no means exempt.
What ensued after the shooting was a mob driven man hunt for Johnson and others thought to be involved in his decision to kill Hampton. That man hunt lasted for more than a week and resulted in the deaths of at least 13 people, with some historical accounts suggesting a higher number of persons killed. One of the people killed was a black woman named Mary Turner.
Mary fled for her life only to be caught and taken to a place called Folsom's Bridge on the Brooks and Lowndes Counties' shared border. To punish her, at Folsom's Bridge, the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from an Oak tree, and doused her with gasoline. The mob lit her on fire and watched the flames burn off her clothes.
During and shortly after this chain of events it is reported that 13 black people lost their lives in a lynching form or another, and more than 500 blacks and minority people fled Lowndes and Brooks Counties in fear for their lives.
Large groups of white men would proudly get photographed standing next to the dead black men hanging in a tree, much like you'd see a proud fisherman being photographed next to his prize catch. "I don't understand that mind set at all!"
"Some may ask, why bring up "the past" especially these atrocities? "It happened so long ago." The story of these crimes should be brought up and face them for many reasons. We should bring them up to acknowledge the lives lost, along with the reality that no justice has ever occurred for the victims, their families and so many others affected by these events. We should bring them up because few in the region speak publicly about these events yet wonder why race relations in the area are often so strained. We should bring them up because these events remain one of the most gruesome cases of racism and racial terrorism in this nation's history, yet they are omitted from the history we teach our children. We should bring them up because Mary Turner's murder remains one of the most horrific crimes committed against a human being in this nation's history. And last but not least, we should bring these events up so we can face our collective past in order to see how it might affect the present and the future."
"So what does the Mary Turner story from Georgia have anything to do with Oregon?"
Prior to the historical marker being place in Georgia, there was no official grave site for Mary Turner. Because of there being no grave site or headstone, several "Mary Turner" headstones started mysteriously showing up in various cemeteries throughout the U.S. beginning as early as 1925.
I first stumbled across a "Mary Turner" grave marker in the Gardner Oregon Pioneer Cemetery back in 2011. It was laying flat on the ground, partially covered with weeds, and the name MARY TURNER was boldly engraved across the dark gray stone. There was no date of birth, no date of death, no family history, no epitaph, nothing. Just the engraved name, "Mary Turner."
When I researched the Gardiner Cemetery plot list for who was buried in that cemetery, no Mary Turner was ever documented as being buried in the cemetery. There is no record of Mary Turner living anywhere in the Gardner, Reedsport area. How could that be? I definitely saw a headstone for a Mary Turner there back in 2011.
I called and talked to a representative for the Mary Turner Project, (MTP). I was told that several "Mary Turner" headstones showed up in Cemeteries starting around 1925. They were able to trace some of these headstones back to the actual Mary Turner, while other Mary Turner headstones they are not sure about. In 2011, the (MTP) had no record either of a headstone belonging to "their" Mary Turner being placed in the Gardner Pioneer Cemetery.
Now, in 2015, I returned to the Gardner Pioneer Cemetery to visit Mary Turner once again. This time, I was surprised to find the headstone, standing upright. Seeing the stone in an upright position, I was hoping maybe the backside of the headstone would reveal a clue as to who this Mary Turner was. No such luck. The back side of the headstone was blank. The Mary Turner headstone in the Gardner Pioneer Cemetery is definitely an a mystery.
Cemetery documents can not even verify that the Gardner Mary Turner is an actual person. And, there is no evidence of the Gardner headstone has any connection to horrific crimes committed against the Mary Turner of Georgia.
The Other Victims
Will Thompson was captured by a mob and hung at Camp Ground Church in Morven, Georgia on the evening of Friday May 17, 1918.
Julius Jones was captured and hung late on Friday May 17, 1918. The specifics of his murder were not documented and his body was left hanging for at least one full day so the public could see it.
Hayes Turner was arrested on Saturday, May 19th for allegedly being part of a plot to kill Hampton Smith and was shortly held in the Brooks County jail. While transferring him to the Moultrie, Georgia jail for his safety, Brooks County Sheriff Wade and County Clerk Roland Knight were stopped by a mob of 40 masked white men who took Hayes Turner into the night. He was later found hung at the intersection of Morven and Barney roads.
Eugene Rice was captured and hung in the afteroon of Saturday, May 19th at the Camp Ground Church between Morven and Barney, Georgia.
Chime Riley was hung and later thrown into the Little River with clay turpentine cups tied to his body (to weigh it down) near Barney, Georgia.
Simon Schuman was taken from his home near Berlin, Georgia and was never seen again.
Three unidentified men were found in the Little River south of Barney. Very little is known about whether they were victims of the active mob that week in May or some past lynch mob.
No one was brought to justice for these murders. In addition to the victims from 1918, all of Mary Turner's relatives are also victims, including Audrey Grant and her daughters Regina and Katrina Thomas...The Great, and Great Great Grand Daughters of Mary Turner.
Dr. Julie Armstrong Buckner's text, Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching, Georgia University Press, 2011.
Dr. Christopher Myers's article "Killing Them by the Wholesale: A Lynching Rampage in South Georgia" pgs. 214-235 in Georgia Historical Quarterly. Vol. XC. No. 2. Summer 2006.
"Memorandum For Govenor Dorsey from Walter F. White," July 10, 1918, Papers of the NAACP, Group I. Series C, Box 353, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Walter White's "The Work of a Mob," The Crisis 16 (September 1918), 221
The Mary Turner Project Website