January 28th, 1934
Black Man Cleared of Rape Charge; Later Lynched in Tampa, Florida
On January 28,1934, Robert Johnson, a 40-year-old black man, was arrested in Tampa, Florida, and accused of raping and robbing a white woman. Tampa police subsequently investigated and quickly cleared Johnson of the charges, but nonetheless issued a warrant accusing him of stealing chickens and turkeys. As a result, Johnson was not released, and had to be transferred from the city jail to the county jail.
Deputy Constable Thomas Grave, assigned to move Mr. Johnson, decided to do so after midnight; this was not standard procedure, and Graves later claimed he opted for a late night transfer to avoid waking up early in the morning. Around 2:30 a.m. on January 30th, Graves placed Johnson in the front seat of the police car and began driving to the county jail; on the way, Graves’s vehicle was stopped by three cars full of white men who allegedly disarmed Graves and made him lie face down in the backseat of his car while they kidnapped Robert Johnson.
The mob carried Johnson off to a wooded part of town along the Hillsborough River near Sligh Avenue, where about thirty people were gathered to watch the lynching. Johnson was killed with four shots to the head and one to the body, all fired from the pistol the mob had taken from Deputy Constable Graves.
Governor David Sholtz called for an investigation of the lynching and a grand jury was convened. Though Deputy Constable Graves testified that he was beaten by the mob, the grand jury noted that he bore no bruises or other signs of injury. Nevertheless, the grand jury’s investigation didn’t produce any charges of conspiracy, and no one was prosecuted for Robert Johnson’s murder.