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R. Craine

A Tennessee Lynching Bee

(July 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 15, 22 July 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For trying to exercise their constitutional right to vote in the coming presidential elections, the Negroes of Brownsville, Tennessee, have been threatened and persecuted so much that nine of their families had to leave town and one Negro, Elbert Williams, was lynched by a mob headed by the city marshall, Tip Hunter.

Negroes in Brownsville, although they outnumber the white population three to one, have not been able to exercise their voting rights since 1884 because of poll taxes and threats of lynching. They had organized a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and on May 6, a number of them presented themselves at the proper place to register as voters: but were told by the white officials to stop such nonsense. They persisted nonetheless.

On June 20, the Dixie mob decided to teach the Negroes a lesson in constitutionalism. Headed by the Night City Marshall Tip Hunter, they called at the house of Elbert Williams and his wife, both laundry workers, and insisted upon seeing Williams, in spite of the fact that they were told that the Williamses were ready to go to bed. Williams was taken from his home and placed in a car. That was the last time his wife, Annie, saw him alive. Together with some of her neighbors, she followed the Hunter car, but found it empty in front of the City Hall. Elbert Williams was nowhere to be found.

Williams Found Dead!

After three days of tortured waiting, Mrs. Annie Williams went to the City Hall where she was told that her husband hadn’t been seen. She wanted to take some clothes to her husband, but the Sheriff informed her that he didn’t think that Williams would be in need of clothes. In two or three days, Williams finally turned up – turned up when he was fished from the Hatchie River. Mrs. Williams, interviewed by the Amsterdam News, New York Negro weekly, stated:

“They tried to keep me from seeing him. They reached there before I had, and the coroner had already issued the order to have the body buried as soon as possible. It was only because I insisted that they let me look at it. It was a terrible sight, but I recognized him. His head was swollen twice its normal size. There were two holes in his chest that looked like bullet holes, the skin on his arms, legs, buttocks was bruised and blistered. His arms and legs, I heard, had been tied with rope and his body weighted down by a heavy log tied around his neck.”

Mrs. Williams, who is now living near New York, went on to say:

“They had tried to scare us out of carrying out our plan to register and vote this year by threatening a few they considered the leaders in the NAACP branch which was organized about 18 months ago. When they found they couldn’t do that, they made an example of my husband. That is the only way they felt they could whip us into line.”

Although it is a known fact that it was the city marshall who led the lynch mob, and although Mrs. Williams has named several men whose voices she recognized as participants in this cold-blooded murder, the officials of Brownsville have done nothing to apprehend and punish the criminals. Instead, they have forced nine Negro families who had lived and worked all their lives in Brownsville to leave their town.

While both Republicans and Democrats rave and rant about the barbarisms of Hitler, they glibly pass over the violence and terror which rule in old Dixie. The anti-lynching bill which has been before Congress since 1922 and the anti-poll tax bill to abolish the poll tax in eight Southern states have still to be passed.

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