Timeline

1900

December 29th, 1900

Harvard Professor Recommends Legalization of Lynching

During the late nineteenth century, lynchings of African Americans became increasingly common. One estimate suggests that between 1882 and 1903, 3337 people were lynched in the United States, with 2585 of those cases occurring in the South.

African Americans were lynched for slander, throwing stones, slapping a child, and “being troublesome.” Lynchings employed brutal methods such as hanging, shooting, beating, and burning at the stake, and often involved white mobs overpowering law enforcement officers and militias in order to carry out these extrajudicial killings.

Lynchings became so common and flagrant that, at a meeting of the American Historical Association on December 29, 1900, Harvard Professor Albert Bushnell Hart recommended that states legalize the practice to maintain public safety and order.

While Hart personally opposed lynching and his suggestion was likely made rhetorically, many prominent figures did defend the practice. Benjamin Tillman, who served as governor of South Carolina and as a United States senator, wrote of the necessity of “send[ing] some more niggers to hell” and pledged that he would “willingly lead a mob in lynching a Negro who had committed an assault upon a white woman.”

A church leader in Jacksonville, Florida, wrote that “every time a Negro criminally assaults, or attempts to assault, a white woman, he shall be dealt with by mob law.” By the turn of the twentieth century, lynching was an entrenched practice terrorized black communities across the nation.

1901

February 12th, 1901

Delaware's Resistance to Ending Slavery

As the rest of the country acted to abolish slavery by ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery remained in Delaware, Kentucky, and the Territory of Oklahoma. Delaware's General Assembly refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, calling it an illegal extension of federal power over the state.

Delaware rejected several previous proposals to abolish slavery, including Lincoln's 1861 proposal to compensate Delaware's slaveholders using federal funds if they would free their slaves. The Delaware legislature replied to Lincoln's proposal with a resolution stating that "when the people of Delaware desire to abolish slavery within her borders, they will do so in their own way, having due regard to strict equity."

Not only did the Delaware legislature reject initial ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, but it also rejected the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 and the Fifteenth Amendment of 1870, which extended civil rights and voting privileges, respectively, to the former slaves. Finally, on February 12, 1901, Delaware ratified the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery - more than thirty years after the rest of the nation.

1901

March 22nd, 1901

Atlanta, Georgia: Black Man and White Woman Arrested for Walking Together

The Civil War and emancipation threatened to overturn Southern culture and social relations, which were based in white supremacy and racial hierarchy. After Reconstruction ended and white politicians and lawmakers regained control and power in the South, many efforts were made to restore that racial order through very strict laws that mandated segregation and made it illegal for black and white people to interact as equals; interracial marriage, integrated education, and even interracial athletic events were strictly banned.

An example of these laws in action occurred on March 22, 1901, when a white woman and a black man were arrested in Atlanta, Georgia, and accused of walking and talking together on Whitehall Street. In a news article entitled, “Color Line Was Ignored,” The Atlanta Constitution newspaper reported that Mrs. James Charles, “a handsomely dressed white woman of prepossessing appearance,” and C.W. King, “a Negro cook,” were arrested after Officer J.T. Shepard reported having seen the two talk to each other and then “walk side by side for several minutes.”

Mrs. Charles gave a statement after her arrest, not challenging the law itself, but fervently denying the accusation. She insisted she had exchanged no words with Mr. King, and merely smiled as she passed him dancing on the street:

"As I paused to listen to the music I noticed a negro man, the one arrested with me, dancing on the sidewalk. I smiled at his antics and was about to pass on when a policeman touched me on the arm and said he wanted to talk to me. I stopped and he asked why I talked to a negro. I denied having spoken to any negro. I told him I was a southern born woman, and his insinuations were an insult."

Mr. King also denied having spoken to Mrs. Charles; he said he never knew there was a white woman near him.

No further reporting on the arrests was published, and it is not clear whether they were convicted and fined when tried the next afternoon.

1901

September 3rd, 1901

Alabama's New Constitution Bars Interracial Marriage and Mandates Segregated Schools

On September 3, 1901, Alabama adopted a new state constitution that prohibited interracial marriage and mandated separate schools for black and white children. The state constitutional convention’s primary purpose was to legally disenfranchise black voters and the new constitution included several electoral policies to intentionally and effectively do that.

Because the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited race-based disenfranchisement, the discriminatory policies had to be appear race-neutral but be applied with bias. The constitution called for the appointment of three registrars from each county who were expected to act with an intent to minimize African American voter registration. The constitution’s new registration rules required that voters be able to read and write any section of the United States Constitution and be lawfully employed for the previous 12 months. Anyone who did not meet the employment specification could still register if he or his wife had real estate and possessions taxed at $300. The constitution also included a “grandfather clause,” allowing otherwise ineligible voters to vote with proof that one of their grandfathers had been an eligible voter.

Prior to the enactment of the new constitution, there were approximately 75,000 registered African American voters in Alabama. It was estimated that the new rules would reduce the African American electorate to less than 30,000. Alabama delegates approved the constitution 132-12, with only one Democrat voting against it. Alabama has amended the 1901 constitution since its adoption, but has never held a convention to create a wholly new one. Several of the discriminatory provisions of the 1901 constitution, including the mandate to maintain racially segregated public schools, remain in place today.

1906

September 22nd, 1906

White Men Terrorize African Americans in Atlanta for Days, Killing Dozens

On September 22, 1906, after local newspapers reported alleged assaults on four white women by black men, mobs of angry white men gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, streets with the goal of attacking and killing any black man they found. The mobs seized upon street cars, trapped black male passengers, and killed the men by shooting them or brutally beating them to death. When the street cars stopped running, the rioters ransacked black businesses, beating or killing the people inside. The armed white men also chased black men through hotels and white-owned businesses, shooting and killing them in the hallways. The police and fire departments were called upon to quell the unrest but failed, as did the militia.

When asked what he could do to end the violence, Atlanta Mayor James Woodward replied, “The only remedy is to remove the cause. As long as the black brutes assault our white women, just so long will they be unceremoniously dealt with.” Woodward’s ambivalence empowered the mobs and the massacre continued. For a total of four days, black people were chased, beaten, shot, and hung throughout Atlanta and its surroundings. When black citizens of Brownville, a nearby suburb, attempted to arm themselves in defense, Georgia troops raided their homes, taking weapons and arresting those in possession of them. After four days of riots, between 25 and 40 people were dead and countless more were injured.

1908

January 29th, 1908

Federal District Court Rules “Mixed Blood” Children Must Assimilate to Attend White Schools

With the Nelson Act of 1905, the United States federal government took control over the education of the Alaska territory’s Native children and appointed the Alaskan territorial government to oversee the education of “white children and children of mixed blood who lead a civilized life.” Soon after, four children of “mixed blood” petitioned the Alaska Federal District Court for a writ of mandamus requiring the Sitka School District to admit the students to the locally controlled schools established by the Nelson Act. The schools in Sitka served white children and had refused to allow the “mixed blood” pupils to enroll.

On January 29, 1908, the District Court issued its ruling. Reasoning that Congress understood that “where mixed bloods live among and associate with the uncivilized, they become subject to and influenced by their environment as naturally as water seeks its level,” the Court held that Congress only intended the Nelson Act to mandate the enrollment of “mixed bloods” who:

"Had for themselves, or, in cases where they were minors living with parents or guardians, the parents or guardians had, put off the rude customs, modes of life, and associations, and taken up their abode and life free from an environment which retarded their development in lines of progressive living, systematic labor, individual ownership and accumulation of property, intellectual activity, and well–defined and respected domestic and social relations."

In contrast, the Court reasoned, children in families “which preferred the other life, without its attendant responsibilities and obligations to society at large, was provided a system of education under the control of the Secretary of the Interior, more appropriate to their undeveloped mental condition, and through which they could, in view of their surroundings, be better instructed.”

Applying this new rule to the case at hand, the Court went on to analyze pictures of the parents, their clothing, residence, place of worship, associates, and occupation to determine whether the families, in fact, led civilized lives. The Court concluded that the children and their families were not civilized and not entitled to admission to the Sitka schools, and that they were required to instead attend the federally-run, assimilation-focused schools for Native children.

1908

March 30th, 1908

Green Cottenham Arrested for Vagrancy in Alabama

On March 30, 1908, Green Cottenham, a black man, was arrested and charged with “vagrancy” in Shelby County, Alabama. An offense created at the end of the Reconstruction Period and disproportionately enforced against black citizens, vagrancy was defined as an inability to prove employment when demanded by a white person.

Twenty-two-year-old Cottenham was quickly found guilty in a brief appearance before the county judge without a lawyer, and received a sentence of thirty days of hard labor. He was also assessed a variety of fees payable to nearly everyone involved in the process, from the sheriff to the deputy to the court clerk to the witnesses. Due to his inability to pay these fees, Cottenham’s sentence would actually last nearly a year.

The day after his court appearance, Cottenham was turned over to the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company. The company leased him from Shelby County for $12 per month, which was to go toward paying off the owed fees and fines. Cottenham was sent to work in the Pratt Mines outside Birmingham, in Slope No. 12 mine where conditions were brutal. By the time Cottenham was released nearly a year later, more than sixty of his fellow prisoners had died of disease, accidents, or homicide. Most of their corpses were burned in the mine’s incinerators or buried in shallow graves surrounding the mine.

1908

August 14th, 1908

Race Riot Erupts in Springfield, Illinois

On August 14, 1908, a mob of white citizens gathered at the local jail in Springfield, Illinois, planning to lynch two black men, George Richardson, who was accused of raping a white woman, and Joe James, accused of raping a white woman and murdering a white man. When the would-be lynch mob learned that the men had been taken from the jail to another city, a violent riot broke out.

Some members of the mob destroyed the business of Henry Loper, a man rumored to have helped transport Richardson and James from the jail. Others, convinced the men were still in the jail, attacked police and militia at the jail. The two groups then rejoined and descended on homes and businesses in Springfield’s black neighborhoods, stealing close to $150,000 worth of property and setting fire to whole blocks.

The violence climaxed early the next morning with the lynching of two black men. After Scott Burton tried to defend himself against the attackers, he was shot four times, dragged through the streets, then hung and mutilated until the militia interceded. William Donegan, an eighty-four-year-old black man married to a white woman, was taken from his home and hung from a tree across the street, where his assailants cut his throat and stabbed him. Mr. Donegan was still alive when militia arrived at the scene but died the next morning.

Amidst the terror of the riot, which left an estimated seven people dead, hundreds of black citizens sought National Guard protection at nearby Camp Lincoln while others fled the city. Police arrested 150 people suspected of participating in the violence and 117 were indicted. Of the three individuals indicted for murder, one committed suicide and two were acquitted.

The following September, Nellie Hallam, the alleged rape victim of George Richardson, signed an affidavit stating that neither George Richardson nor any other black man had attacked her. She said her attacker was a white man whom she refused to identify. Joe James, the other intended victim of the lynch mob, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

1909

November 6th, 1909

Colored Alabamian Reports Murder of Black Wagon Driver in Alabama

In October 1909, a black wagon driver “who did not drive as far to the right as a white man thought he should” was shot dead in Montgomery, Alabama. According to an article in Colored Alabamian magazine, the white man avoided punishment “as if he had only shot a common dog.”

The article asserted that white people's evasion of capital punishment was not a rare occurrence in the city. Weeks after the death of the wagon driver, “[a] Negro walked into a Loan office where he was somewhat involved. His statement was not satisfactory to the white men who followed him into the street and shot him to death.”

The report described the story as a common narrative in the community. “White men who shoot and kill Negroes are not adjudged guilty of murder by the law.” The magazine called for white officials to bring all murderers, regardless of color, to the “bar of justice and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”