July 23rd, 1910
Press Reports Murder of Black Taxi Driver in Montgomery
On July 23, 1910, Colored Alabamian, a black magazine, reported the murder of black taxi driver Mitchell Johnson in Montgomery, Alabama. Earlier that month, a white man employed Mr. Johnson to drive him to his home, then refused to pay the fare. Mr. Johnson reported the incident to his employer and had the man arrested. After the passenger posted bond and was released from jail, he found Mr. Johnson and shot him dead. When the man was rearrested, he asserted that he killed Mr. Johnson in self-defense and he was released.
On July 11, 1910, following Mr. Johnson’s death and a string of murders, Montgomery County Judge Armstead Brown instructed a jury to determine a defendant’s innocence based on evidence and not on class or race. He stated, “All charges of homicide should be rigidly investigated. Whether the killing be of some person of standing or a poor unknown negro.”
Colored Alabamian applauded his remarks: “White men who murder Negroes only have to tell the Court they acted in SELF-DEFENSE, to be turned loose, whether the victim was a Negro man or a poor helpless Negro woman. We are therefore very thankful to Judge Brown.”
Despite Judge Brown’s plea for even-handed enforcement of the law, distrust of the criminal justice system among black Montgomery residents grew. Two months after Grover C. Ray, a white man, murdered Ed Rugley, a black man, Colored Alabamian's editorial board warned, “Watch out now for the old theory of SELF-DEFENSE.” In cases where white defendants were charged with killing black people like Mr. Johnson, the black community in Montgomery increasingly came to see the justice system not as a source of protection but as complicit in shielding white men from accountability for violence against African Americans.