ku klux klan

The Lynching of Roy Hammonds: Bowling Green, Missouri, 1921


Gregg Andrews, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History

Texas State University

“One Must Be Extinquished” The Chicago Defender, 31 Mar 1923

On the evening of Friday, April 29, 1921, a frenzied white mob stormed the Chicago & Alton Railroad depot in Bowling Green, a racially segregated town of about 2,000 residents in northeast Missouri. The mob seized Roy Hammonds, a nineteen-year-old farm laborer in the custody of Pike County Sheriff Charles P. Moore and four deputies. The officers were waiting for a train to take the black youth to Jefferson City to serve a ten-year sentence in the state penitentiary for attempted assault on Virginia Terrell, a fourteen-year-old white girl. Members of the crazed mob, who did not feel compelled to hide their identity, jammed Hammonds into a car, sped west of Bowling Green about a mile down the Curryville Road, and lynched him from an elm tree near the railroad division point of Booth.

The resort to mob justice, perjury by witnesses, and the shocking failure of authorities to punish or even identify a single member of the mob were not an anomaly in Pike County. Rather, the lynching was part of a pattern of deeply-rooted vigilante activity in a county that once boasted large slave-based tobacco plantations, direct planter class descendants of Thomas Jefferson, and authoritarian race relations.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, there were sixty documented lynchings in Missouri between 1877 and 1950–the second highest number among non-Southern states. At least five of those lynchings took place in Pike County: 1883, 1898 (2), 1915, and 1921. There was also a foiled lynching of a prisoner by a Pike County mob in 1916. In every single case, the mob’s victim was a black man.[1]

The pro-Confederate movie, The Birth of a Nation (1915) glorified the Ku Klux Klan and lynching as part of its “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War

Racialized vigilantism “justice” found new expression nationwide in the climate of virulent racism, the Red Scare, and a resurgent Ku Klux Klan in the era of the First World War and its aftermath. According to statistics compiled by the Tuskegee Institute, the lynching of Hammonds was one of thirty-six in the nation in the first six months of 1921 alone. Thirty-four of the victims were black.[2]

Hammonds, murdered by a mob of about sixty men and young boys, was on his way to the penitentiary without a trial or even legal representation. Within a mere twenty-four hours of his arrest, he was given a quick hearing by Prosecuting Attorney Rufus Higginbotham, hastily arraigned in front of Pike County Circuit Judge Edgar B. Woolfolk, and persuaded to sign a written confession to the crime. Just exactly what Hammonds confessed to remains unclear, but Judge Woolfolk handed out a ten-year sentence on the basis of his alleged confession. He did not give Hammonds the maximum sentence of fifteen years under the law out of consideration that Terrell suffered no physical injuries in the alleged attempted assault. Fearing a mob might seize Hammonds from the local jail, the judge ordered Sheriff Moore to whisk him away to the penitentiary on the next train to Jefferson City.[3]

Two nights before the lynching, Terrell and a friend, Iva May Williams, were strolling home after watching a picture show downtown at the Majestic Theater. Hammonds and an African-American friend, David Ganthene McPike, who watched the same movie but from the segregated gallery of the theater, trailed along behind the girls for awhile until they split off to go their separate ways home. Hammonds then followed Terrell, and McPike followed Williams.[4]

Iva May arrived home without incident, but Virginia’s father, Homer J. Terrell, who was a mill superintendent and school board member, in the meantime went looking for his daughter when she was late coming home. He and one of his sons then allegedly heard her scream from behind the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where reportedly she was in the grasp of Hammonds. When Terrell ran to his daughter’s rescue behind the church, Hammonds fled through a barbed wire fence as Terrell slashed at him with a pocket knife.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hammonds with Terrell in pursuit ran down the street past the jail, where Sheriff Moore was sitting outside on the front porch.

“Bring me a gun, Charlie,” barked Terrell to the sheriff, “I’m going to kill this nigger.”

Sheriff Moore went inside to get his gun and then joined the chase, but Hammonds eluded them.[5]

The next morning, Sheriff Moore requested special bloodhounds from Moberly and renewed the search. When the hounds arrived later that night, the sheriff took them to the place where Hammonds had slipped through the fence and lost his hat in flight. With the help of the scent of the hat, bloodhounds led the sheriff to the Hammonds house. According to Sheriff Moore, Hammonds drew back in fear from the snarling and lunging hounds as they strained their leashes. Hammonds reportedly yelled, “She was choked, but I didn’t do it!”[6]

According to the Post-Dispatch, “It was only the chance finding of the cap that averted the lynching of the wrong negro.” The newspaper claimed that the Sheriff at first mistakenly arrested Willie Hammonds, Roy’s twenty-one-year-old brother. Virginia Terrell identified Willie as her assailant, but when Sheriff Moore afterward tossed Willie’s hat into the cell, Willie insisted that the cap was Roy’s, not his. After their father confirmed that it was Roy’s hat, the sheriff brought in Roy and asked Virginia to come back and pick which of the two brothers tried to assault her. She picked Roy, who then confessed and admitted he had his arms around her, but insisted he was “just fooling.”[7] In the meantime, according to a newspaper account, Willie reportedly “had gashed his throat on a steel staple in his cell and had almost bled to death.”[8]

The St. Louis Argus, a black newspaper, challenged the accounts circulating in area white newspapers. The Argus claimed that at first four

St. Louis Argus, May 20, 1921

young men were arrested, but the Terrell girl could not identify any of them. Furthermore, no one attending the services of the A.M.E. Church at the time heard a disturbance. The Argus disputed that Hammonds intended to rape Virginia Terrell: “The girl broke down, and told that she was with the Hammond[s] boy, but says she was playing. Hammond[s] confessed Friday afternoon that he was with the girl, but denied he had wronged her.”[9]

According to the Argus, Terrell went behind the church on her own accord, but the newspaper acknowledged that from a legal standpoint, the age of consent was the issue. Hammonds’s confession “was legally drawn to conform to the statute governing the age of consent. The girl in this case was too young to consent, she being under sixteen years of age. So even though she had gone to the rear of the church of her own volition, any attempt of familiarity on the part of a man would be attempt[ed] rape in the eyes of law.”[10]

Terrell’s father was at the prosecuting attorney’s office during the questioning of Hammonds. Whatever he heard in the course of the interrogation was enough to soften his position toward the accused. The Post-Dispatch claimed that Terrell told a friend afterward:

“I guess I would have killed him last night if I had had a gun, but I wouldn’t do that now. He is young. . . Some people have said something about getting up a mob, I fear. That’s all wrong. The law will take care of this negro. I hope there won’t be any violence.”[11]

With the specter of a mob looming over the legal proceedings, Judge Woolfolk expedited the case and ordered Sheriff Moore to take Hammonds to Jefferson City that very evening, but the mob had eyes and ears. The ringleaders were well-organized and prepared. In the afternoon, they spread word throughout the county that a lynching was being planned. Vigilantes and their supporters poured into Bowling Green from all over the county, some of them patrolling the roads in case Sheriff Moore tried to take Hammonds to Jefferson City by automobile.

With Deputy Sheriff A.G. Raufer and three special deputies, including former sheriff H. Russell Bankhead, Sheriff Moore set out with Hammonds for the Chicago & Alton depot to await the 7:15pm westbound train. They took refuge in the ticket office with telegraph operator Wilmer Burbridge in order to get away from approximately two hundred onlookers.

As the train neared the depot, its whistle sounded, and fifteen or twenty automobiles quickly pulled up in front of the depot. About sixty vigilantes, some brandishing shotguns and revolvers, piled out of the cars to make sure the sheriff did not board the train with the prisoner. As a reporter pointed out, “None of the lynching party was masked, and they displayed their faces without restraint to the Sheriff and the crowd of spectators at the station.”[12]

From the ticket office, Sheriff Moore called Judge Woolfolk for help. “Lock yourselves in and defend your prisoner,” the judge advised. “I’ll be right over and talk to them.”[13]

Judge Woolfolk jumped into his car and hurried to the depot with Bowling Green’s mayor, V.S. Smith. In the meantime, Sheriff Moore locked himself with Hammonds in the ticket office and sent deputies out front to try to disperse the bloodthirsty mob. Undeterred, members of the mob pushed past deputies and used a battering ram to force open the door. They overpowered the sheriff, seized Hammonds, and amid noisy shouts and yells forced Hammonds outside and into an automobile.

The cars sped down the Curryville Road before Judge Woolfolk and Mayor Smith arrived at the depot. About a mile down the road near the coal chutes at Booth, the cars pulled over and emptied. Hammonds was taken to an elm tree where the St. Louis Star and Times, citing unnamed eyewitnesses, claimed he was “cruelly tortured” before he died from the lynching. “His hands were not tied and he was told ‘to take his time about dying,'” the newspaper reported.[14]

“After the noose had been adjusted and his body had been pulled ten feet from the ground,” the Star and Times continued,

“he was permitted to fight for his life. Reaching above his head, he caught hold of the rope and raised his body, supporting his weight with his hands and arms and thus preventing strangulation. While in this position the negro alternately prayed and begged for his life. He clung to the rope for fifteen minutes and then, exhausted and realizing the fight was useless, gave up his efforts and was strangled.”[15]

Hammonds reportedly died cursing the mob who lynched him. A Bowling Green resident who came upon the scene shortly afterward while Hammonds was still dangling from the end of the rope observed a vagrant stripping the shoes off Hammonds’s feet. The vagrant then put them on his own feet and slowly shuffled on down the road.[16]

When Pike County Coroner J.H. Hendrix contacted William Hammonds, Roy’s father, to ask if the family would like to take charge of the body, the father angrily refused. “The state killed him,” Hammonds replied, “let the state bury him.”[17]

Local officials braced for racial violence. After consulting with several leading African-American residents, Mayor Smith banned the opening of a previously scheduled performance by an “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” traveling troupe. He feared the performance “might unduly arouse popular feeling.”[18]

H.B. Stone, a black community leader and principal of the segregated Bowling Green school for seventeen years, notified the local school board that he would not accept reappointment. Bowling Green’s white preachers, except for George C. Hitchcock, minister of the Presbyterian Church, kept silent about the lynching in Sunday morning church services. Reverend Hitchcock condemned the lynching and prayed “that the city and its citizens be forgiven for the ‘two terrible crimes’ committed during the last week.”[19]

Pike County Prosecuting Attorney Higginbotham immediately contacted T.N. Ormiston, the private secretary of Republican Governor Arthur M. Hyde, who was in Kansas City at the time. According to Ormiston, Higginbotham was in a high state of agitation during their long-distance phone call on account of Sheriff Moore’s failure to protect Hammonds or identify a single member of the mob. Higginbotham requested help from the Missouri Attorney General’s office to punish the lynchers and their accomplices.[20]

Governor Hyde sent Assistant Attorney General Albert T. Miller to Bowling Green to help investigate the lynching as criticisms of the sheriff mounted. “The day of mob law has passed in Missouri,” the governor confidently proclaimed. “I firmly believe that every one guilty of the lynching shall be brought to justice as soon as possible. I shall use every means in my power to see that this is carried out.”[21]

Miller had his work cut out for him, for the Argus ran a headline: “Bowling Green Officers Said to Have Aided Lynchers.” The newspaper claimed that when the mob seized Hammonds at the depot, Sheriff Moore’s deputies “‘laid down on the sheriff'” and accompanied the mob to the elm tree. In fact, the newspaper reported that one of the deputies adjusted the rope around Hammonds’s neck while his brother tied the rope to the tree limb: “It is claimed by some who saw the mob in action that the sheriff was made a prisoner by the tieing [sic] of his hands, while the deputies and the poorest, hungry scums of Pike County lynched the boy.”[22]

Sheriff Moore, a young combat veteran wounded in World War I who had been in office only three months, insisted there was little he could have done to protect Hammonds, but reporters held his feet to the fire. “You were armed, weren’t you,” asked the Star and Times? Moore acknowledged he had a pistol, but when pressed about whether the deputies were armed, he responded, “I don’t know. We haven’t any extra weapons here at the office. It wouldn’t have done any good to shoot into the crowd, anyway.”[23] Moore further explained: “I had my revolver out when they were hammering the door. I told them I would shoot the first man that entered, but they kept battering. When it [the door] flew open, about a dozen of them piled all over me. . . I couldn’t do anything.”[24]

Coroner Hendrix held an inquest and ordered the exhumation of Hammonds’s body to determine if he was killed by bullets or hanging, as there were some reports that Hammonds also had been shot. Asked about the sheriff’s cooperation, Hendrix replied, “I haven’t had any cooperation from him yet. I am going to put some of these people on the stand and see what they’ll say under oath.”[25]

Dr. T. Hurley Wilcoxen conducted a post-mortem examination of Hammonds’s body, and an abbreviated coroner’s inquest was held at which only Hendrix and an undertaker testified. The coroner’s office ruled that the cause of death was strangulation but suspended calling witnesses to the inquest pending a grand jury investigation. In an ominous hint of what was to come, Hendrix noted, “While most people here feel that the lynching was a bad thing, and certainly not justifiable, they seem inclined to believe that nothing can be gained by carrying the matter further.”[26]

Judge Woolfolk ordered a special grand jury investigation into the lynching. “This will be a serious and determined effort to identify the participants in the lynching and to return indictments against them,” he assured a newspaper reporter. “So far as I am concerned, no effort will be spared to punish everybody who had anything to do with it.”[27]

Judge Woolfolk reminded the jurors that “this mob formed in your community in the open light of day. . . Flourishing firearms and deadly weapons, they demanded his [Sheriff Moore’s] prisoner, this poor, miserable, illiterate negro, 19 years of age, helpless and defenseless that they might vent their resolution to take his life.” The judge stressed that those “who hanged that negro were guilty of unjustifiable, deliberate, willful and premeditated murder.” Frustrated that the mob lynched Hammonds despite the speed with which the legal system acted to punish him, Judge Woolfolk complained: “This is an occasion that tests the fidelity of citizens to the Government. It is a test of whether you are for the God of Elijah or the God of Baal. Shall justice remain whipped or shall there be vindication?”[28]

Sheriff Moore and Coroner Hendrix quietly but busily gathered names of witnesses in preparation for the grand jury investigation. The sheriff hinted publicly that he planned to identify members of the lynch mob, but when it came time to testify at the hearing, he sang a different tune. As a staff correspondent for the Star and Times reported, “Bursts of laughter were heard coming from the jury room while the sheriff was testifying and at other times during the investigation. . . The sheriff had previously intimated he would tell all he knew of the lynching. Before the jury he said he could not identify a single man of the hundred that attacked him and his posse, and the jurors laughed.”[29]

The loud laughter in response to Sheriff Moore’s testimony could be heard when other witnesses gave similar testimony. Wilmer Burbridge, telegraph operator at the C & A depot, had suggested previously he would identify at least two members of the mob who held Sheriff Moore prisoner while Hammonds was lynched. When Burbridge testified, however, he did not identify anyone. Every witness, including Deputy Sheriff Raufer, ticket and assistant ticket agents H.J. Moore and his wife Maud, and the special deputies subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, refused to identify a single member of the mob. Some used the excuse that it was too dark at 7:00pm to recognize anyone. One of the witnesses explained that the mob was “crowded together so close he couldn’t see any faces.”[30]

Forty-five witnesses testified but had little to say. A conspiracy of fear-driven silence had overtaken them. No one identified anybody in the mob. Sheriff Moore spent less than fifteen minutes in the jury room. At that pace, the investigation did not last long. It took only three hours for the grand jury to reach its verdict on Hammonds’ lynching: “strangulation by hanging by parties unknown to the jury.”[31]

When Judge Woolfolk read the jury’s report aloud at the hearing, he stared penetratingly at the jurors. “Is this all that you have, gentlemen?” When L.B. Buchanan, foreman of the jury, replied, “yes,” the judge’s face hardened. “Very well, gentlemen, you are discharged,” Judge Woolfolk responded with bitter resignation, “and I thank you for being so prompt in your attendance.”[32]

The Argus denounced the investigation as a “farce” and “travesty on justice” that encourages further mob violence.[33] Missouri’s assistant attorney general Miller blasted the inquiry as a “whitewash from start to finish.” He criticized all of the Pike County authorities except Judge Woolfolk. “There have been two crimes committed here,” Miller angrily complained. “First, murder, then perjury, the perjury being committed to shield and that’s all there is to say. I saw the grand jury’s notes of the testimony and they could not have indicted anybody on the evidence which those witnesses gave.”[34]

Based on the silence of witnesses, Coroner Hendrix decided it would be useless to resume the coroner’s inquest. “I think that all of us have tried to do our duty,” Pike County prosecutor Higginbotham reassured. “We examined 45 witnesses. So far as I know no member of the mob was identified by any witness.” When asked by a reporter if anything further could be done to punish the mob, Higginbotham replied, “No, this is the end of it.” And, when asked what impact the grand jury’s failure to indict anyone might have on future mob violence, he replied, “I would rather not prophesy.”[35]

Judge Woolfolk, disturbed and disheartened, refused to comment on the grand jury’s report. “I have nothing to say,” he managed. “Not a word. I expressed my views in my charge to the jury. There is nothing more for me to do or say. . . The jury had to do its part.” Earlier, as witness after witness refused to identify anyone in the mob, the judge had expressed his disappointment: “I knew it would be mighty hard to get anybody to do anything in this case,” he sighed. “Men have to be forced into doing anything in a case like this. . . It is almost impossible to get indictments.”[36]

The Star and Times, which covered the lynching extensively, condemned the grand jury’s failure to return a single indictment. In an editorial, “The Bowling Green Water-Haul,” the newspaper lashed out at the citizens of Pike County. “To those familiar with the attitude of witnesses in local investigations of lynchings, the barren result of the inquiry into the mob murder at Bowling Green is not surprising. What else is reasonably to be expected in a community where the bonds of blood relationship are all-pervading, where the grand jury itself might contain one or more members of the mob, where the fear of reprisal runs high and where public sentiment largely condones such crimes as the murder of negro captives charged with certain offenses?”[37]

The newspaper urged Governor Hyde not to let the matter drop, singled out Sheriff Moore for removal from office, and recommended a heavy fine on communities in which mob lynchings take place: “We imagine that if a fine of $100,000 or thereabout were assessed against Pike County for its hempen holiday, the citizens of Bowling Green would perhaps turn from lynchings to other less expensive displays of lawlessness.”[38]

The Post-Dispatch likewise issued a scathing denunciation of the Hammonds lynching and whitewash that followed. In an editorial dripping with sarcasm, the newspaper framed the lynching in a broader context: “Interest in the distinctive American outdoor sport of lynching is on the increase. . . It has been suggested as a sporting proposition, if the person picked out to be lynched were given an even chance it would make the game more exciting. But that would never do. It would make it dangerous for the lynchers, and they would never stand for that. The reason that lynchings are so popular is that they are so safe for the lynchers.”[39]

St Louis Post Dispatch, May 4, 1921

Expressions of outrage poured into Governor Hyde’s office. From New York came letters of protest from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In a telegram, NAACP Secretary James Weldon Johnson endorsed a federal anti-lynching bill first introduced in the United States House of Representatives in 1918 by Leonidas C. Dyer, a white Republican representative from St. Louis. Johnson insisted “that the entire power of the State of Missouri be exerted to capture, try and convict the murderers.”[40]

Selden P. Spencer, Republican United States Senator from Missouri, contacted Governor Hyde to express his concern over the lynching. “Will you be good enough to let me know whether you think the matter is ended or whether anything more can be done”? Senator Spencer implored. Complaining that the lynching was “a blot on the good name of our State,” he continued: “I do not know whether the sheriff was to blame or not, or whether he could be removed or not, nor do I really know very much about the inside facts. A letter from one of the prominent men of Bowling Green indicated that the sympathy of the community was very much in favor of the lynching, which is all the more regrettable.”[41]

Governor Hyde showed no inclination to press the issue in regard to removing Sheriff Moore or prosecuting anyone in the mob. “I regret to advise you,” the governor replied to Senator Spencer, “that it would seem that nothing can be done concerning the lynching at Bowling Green. I immediately dispatched a representative of the Attorney General’s office to the scene of that event, and he was present through all the investigation. His report to me is that there is no possibility of successful prosecution of any of the persons implicated.”[42]

From nearby Hannibal, a shared letter of protest to Governor Hyde came from Hannibal’s black fraternal organizations and benevolent societies such as the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Lodge No. 1649, the Grand Samaritan Tabernacle No. 60, and the Glittering Crown Temple No. 36. Officers in the women’s auxiliaries of these organizations urged the governor to support anti-lynching legislation in his call for a special session of the state legislature: “We do not appeal to you simply because we are Negroes though we feel the effects of this lawlessness most, but because by far the largest majority of us are law-abiding citizens and wish the majesty of the law to be upheld always.”[43]

L.J. Ryan, white proprietor of the Ryan Shoe Company in Hannibal, went beyond the Governor’s office to protest. Ryan contacted Missouri’s Democratic Senator James A. Reed, and sent a letter with newspaper clippings of the “disgraceful” lynching to Republican President Warren G. Harding. Pointing out that witnesses perjured themselves at the grand jury investigation, Ryan urged “a vigorous federal investigation and prosecution for perjury,” and pleaded: “Please Mr. President start something to redeem our state from this disgrace.”[44]

Robert S. Cobb, Secretary of the Missouri Negro Industrial Commission, called for the creation of an interracial commission to study the state’s race problem. Jonathan Batchman, of St. Louis, who also served on the Commission, insisted to Governor Hyde that Missouri should not remain “impotent in the face of mob law.” Batchman added: “I believe it would be one of the crowning glories of your administration if the strong arm of the state would in some measure show that law in Missouri is other than a mockery.”[45]

Lewis Jackson, Secretary of the Green Tree Negro Republican Club in St. Louis, urged Governor Hyde to appoint a special prosecutor to help bring those who lynched Hammonds to justice. Jackson called on the governor to remove the investigation from Bowling Green. He also called for the removal of the “incompetent Sheriff, whose mouth has been closed by fear.”[46]

Michael D. Collins, a white Catholic priest from Jackson, Missouri, sent a letter of protest to Governor Hyde. He blasted Sheriff Moore as “not only a man without ‘guts’ but a disgrace to his office and our State.” Father Collins urged Governor Hyde to replace him. Framing the lynching of Hammonds in a broader context, he warned, “There is a bad spirit rising higher each day in Missouri among a people boasting loudly of patriotism yet acclaim lynching for various offences instead of following our laws and their procedure.”[47]

From Kansas City came protests from the local NAACP chapter and Charles O’Neal, an African American resident.

“The details of this atrocity, as reported by the press, are too revolting to be here set forth,” O’Neal complained to Governor Hyde, “but they shock every moral principle of sensibility, and are violative of every principle of law, order and civilization, irrespective of section, color, political creed or religious conviction.”

O’Neal further questioned whether Hammonds had received due process of law in the first place:

“The crime was committed Wednesday night, the negro arrested Thursday morning and supposing to confess on a plea of guilty, was sentenced to 10 years in the penitentiary, all in the course of one day.”[48]

The St. Louis chapter of the NAACP provided the clearest, most sustained voice of protest over the lynching and grand jury investigation. J.E. Mitchell, editor of the Argus, organized and led a representative delegation that met with Governor Hyde and Lieutenant Governor Hiram Lloyd to discuss the Hammonds investigation and ways to end lynching. At the meeting, George L. Vaughn, an African American attorney from St. Louis presented resolutions passed by the local chapter at a special meeting held after the Pike County grand jury failed to return indictments. “On account of the recent lynching at Bowling Green, and the subsequent grand jury report in the case, wrote Mitchell in his newspaper, “we feel that the State has been outlawed and we have been grievously wronged.”[49]

The NAACP delegates urged the governor to send trained investigators to Bowling Green and to offer a reward for the arrest and conviction of members of the mob. Warning that local officials cannot be trusted in such cases, they called for the removal of Sheriff Moore and endorsed a federal anti-lynching law. Governor Hyde assured the delegates that “your friends are on the ground.”[50]

Black leaders continued to press state officials for justice in the case. The Argus attacked the Missouri Attorney General’s office for tolerating Sheriff Moore’s dereliction of duty. When Attorney General Barrett summoned a St. Louis County sheriff to his office and demanded a satisfactory explanation for his neglect of duty in a prohibition enforcement case, an editorial in the Argus pointed out the contradiction: “At the time of the lynching, there was no doubt in the minds of any fairminded citizen that Sheriff Moore had neglected to do his duty; there was no doubt but that Sheriff Moore had actually taken part in the lynching, at least by consent. . . Yet, we did not hear Attorney General Barrett calling him to Jefferson City to ‘explain’ anything. . . We are wondering which does the attorney general consider the greater menace to the State, lynchings or bootlegging?”[51]

Editor J.E. Mitchell received a letter of support for his editorial position from George W. Wright, a Hannibal African-American businessman and newspaper publisher born in slavery who founded and edited the Hannibal Register. “I have just finished your editorial on Barrett and the Bowling Green affair,” Wright told Mitchell, “and I must say you speak my view.”[52]

Attorney General Barrett insisted that his office had done everything possible to aid the grand jury investigation and to bring members of the mob to justice. “I think you are wrong, but I forgive you,” Barrett wrote to J.E. Mitchell, “for I can fully realize how heavily the Pike County tragedy lies on the hearts of all the colored people of the State. The Pike County lynching was a disgrace to civilization. It should not have been condoned or tolerated by any citizen.” Barrett emphasized that not a single witness spoke up to identify anyone in the lynch mob. “We talked with numerous Negro leaders,” he protested, “We investigated in several quiet ways. . . If you know any way under the sun to make the legal proof necessary in Pike County, by all means help us get it.”[53]

A year after the lynching, Jonathan Batchman, a St. Louis member of the Missouri Negro Industrial Commission, wrote Governor Hyde that “only one year ago, Bowling Green disgraced our state in the lynching of Roy Hammond[s]. To date I know of no one having suffered because of this outlawery.” Batchman told Hyde he had conducted his own personal investigation of the lynching with the help of a friend who had once worked with the Burns Detective Agency. “I myself have followed this line of work for several years,” he added, “and I know that there is no reason why some measure of justice should not be secured out of the affair.”[54]

Batchman also pointed out that Dr. C.M. Powell, “posing as a white man,” had investigated the lynching for the St. Louis NAACP and “got much.” Batchman informed the governor that he had corresponded with Assistant Attorney General Miller and filed his own investigative report as well as that of Dr. Powell in the Attorney General’s office. “I believe an examination will convince you that something ought be done. I am under the impression four affidavits alledging [sic] misconduct of Sheriff Moore are also on file.” Batchman assured Governor Hyde “of every assistance within my power to wipe out the Bowling Green stigma.”[55]

Lynching apologists continued to argue that if laws were less lenient and the legal process less cumbersome and slow, there would be no need for mob justice. In a front page editorial on the Hammonds lynching, the Macon Chronicle-Herald blamed the lynching on a lack of justice in the legal system. “But what sort of punishment do you call it to send a man to prison for 10 years for attacking a child?” The newspaper asked. “Is there anything the defendant could have done worse. . . When crime is swiftly and adequately punished by the law there will be no more lynchings. The bar must awaken to the matter if the law is to be respected as it should.”[56]

Such editorials often used racially inflammatory language and imagery to justify lynching. The Missouri State Journal, a Jefferson City newspaper, denounced Hammonds as “a negro beast [who] paid the price of a rape committed upon a white girl of tender years,” and blasted the Dyer Bill as a remedy for mob justice. “The national government is to say to sheriffs and local police officers that if you fail to preserve the worthless lives of these brute degenerates, you shall be adjudged guilty of a felony, no matter the nature of the beast’s offense, nor the honest and earnest effort of the law officers to prevent the summary vengeance of a mob.”[57]

A Missouri Bootheel newspaper perhaps best expressed the deep-seated racist fears and prejudices that underlay popular support for lynching.

“Rape upon white women is just as peculiarly a negro crime as cannibalism was their religious feast before specimens of the race were captured wild in the jungles of Africa by the white man and their civilization attempted,”

the Missouri Herald in Hayti editorialized in a front-page headline story on September 1, 1922.

“The voluptuous passions of rape can no more be civilized out of the negro than can the overpowering love for blood from the slain lamb be trained out of the Bengal tiger.”[58]

The newspaper complained further that white people were living under black political tyranny, that rapists were “the same beasts that go to the polls on election day and with their multitude of ignorant votes rape the ballot box, thereby disfranchising the white majority, from whom, like vampires, they have drawn their sustenance and freedom. Was a white man’s fate, in a supposedly white man’s country, ever more cruel and unjust?”[59]

In response to the Hammonds lynching, Governor Hyde did not bow to NAACP calls for him to endorse a federal anti-lynching law. When Walter White, Assistant Secretary of the NAACP, requested his opinion of the Dyer Bill, the governor replied, “I do not feel that I would be justified in expressing an opinion one way or another on the matter of federal legislation, as to declare for the need of it would be a confession of the inability of the separate states to cope with this problem.” Governor Hyde insisted that the responsibility to punish lynch mobs rests with local authorities. Instead of endorsing federal legislation, he urged “cultivation of local sentiment against such outrages against the peace and dignity of the law.”[60]

Governor Hyde did recommend an anti-lynching bill at a special session of the Missouri legislature in July, 1921. Walthall M. Moore, the recently elected first black representative in the Missouri legislature, and Edward G. Davidson, a white Republican representative from the Fourth District of St. Louis, introduced such a bill during the special session. Davidson and Moore, a Republican who represented St. Louis’s Sixth District, witnessed the bill’s quick defeat.[61]

Among those who strenuously condemned the bill as “unreasonable, unjust and vindictive” was T.J. Ayers, the Democratic Representative from Pike County. “It is so plain that the Republican party is so afraid of losing the franchise of the colored race, that no man in the solution of the problem, though a fool, need err therein, as to the purpose of this bill.”[62] In the case of crimes like the one to which Hammonds allegedly pleaded guilty, Ayers suggested nothing could be done to stop mobs from punishing the perpetrator: “You could fill the streets with Gatling guns, and it would make no difference. There is a class of citizens who have determined that such crimes shall stop.”[63]

The Ku Klux Klan was deeply entrenched in Pike County, where it flexed considerable political muscle in the early 1920s. When Missouri’s Democratic United States Senator James A. Reed tried but failed to capture his party’s presidential nomination in 1924, he faced stiff opposition from the Klan, especially in Pike County. Senator Reed had strongly denounced the Klan in his 1922 senatorial reelection campaign.

Edward A. Glenn, Reed’s campaign manager in 1924, was from the town of Louisiana in Pike County and the former campaign manager of Bowling Green’s Champ Clark, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, but Glenn’s influence was not enough to offset the Klan’s political clout in the county. When Reed failed even to capture the endorsement of the Democratic Party in his own home state, Glenn attributed the failure to the Klan. George H. Moore, an openly anti-Klan candidate who failed to capture the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor in 1924, likewise singled out Pike County as a major center of Klan political influence. He charged that

“every election judge and clerk in Pike County is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.[64]

Members of the mob who lynched Roy Hammonds got away with murder. Governor Hyde’s assurances to J.E. Mitchell and other black leaders about punishing those who lynched Hammonds meant nothing in the end. The assurances amounted to little more than lip service. Without an aggressive intervention by federal authorities or state officials in Jefferson City, justice in the case was left to local white authorities, lynch mobs, and racist public attitudes that protected them. As the Post-Dispatch pointed out,

“The real reason for the utter failure of the prosecution of the mob is public opinion in Bowling Green and Pike County, supported by general public opinion. Public opinion, if it does not approve, at least condones the mob’s crime and protects the mob from punishment.”[65]


[1] https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report. Pike County, along with the nearby tobacco-producing Salt River counties of Lincoln, Marion, Monroe, and Ralls, made up about one-eighth of Missouri’s slave population in 1860. Slaves constituted twenty-four percent of Pike County’s population in 1850. See David D. March, The History of Missouri, Volume I (New York and West Palm Beach: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1967), 810; 1850, 1860 Census Population Schedules, Missouri: Slave Schedules, Pike County; and http://www.littledixie.net. On slavery in Little Dixie, see R. Douglas Hurt, Agriculture and Slavery in Missouri’s Little Dixie (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992). For a history of  Pike County, see Karen Schwadron, comp. and ed., Pike County, Missouri: People, Places & Pikers (Marceline, Mo.: Walsworth Publishing Co., 1981). For newspaper accounts of previous lynchings and attempted lynching in Pike County, see, for example, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 30, July 2, 1883; Bowling Green Times, June 9, 1898; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 6, 1898, Ralls County Times, September 17, 1915,  St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 10, 1915, Hannibal Courier-Post, January 21, 1916.

[2] On the Tuskegee Institute’s statistics on lynching in the first half of 1921, see, for example, the Columbia Evening Missourian, July 11, 1921. On lynching in Missouri, see especially Michael J. Pfeifer, “The Ritual of Lynching: Extralegal Justice in Missouri, 1890-1942,” Gateway Heritage  13 (1993): 22-33; Dominic J. Capeci, Jr., The Lynching of Cleo Wright (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1998); Kimberly Harper, White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, 1894-1909 (University of Arkansas Press, 2010); Doug Hunt, Black and White Justice in Little Dixie: Three Historical Essays (n.p., 2011); Patrick J. Huber, “The Lynching of James T. Scott: The Underside of a College Town,” Gateway Heritage 12 (Summer 1991): 18-37. See also Mark Twain’s essay, “The United States of Lyncherdom,” and Michael J. Pfeifer, ed., Lynching Beyond Dixie: American Mob Violence Outside the South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013), and Larry Wood, Yanked into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri (Joplin, Mo.: Hickory Press, 2017).  For a discussion of the scholarly literature on lynching, see Michael J. Pfeifer, “At the Hands of Parties Unknown? The State of the Field of Lynching Scholarship,” Journal of American History 101 (December 2014): 832-846. On the descendants of Thomas Jefferson in Pike County, see the article by Genevieve Davis Bennett Clark, widow of Bowling Green’s Champ Clark, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, in the Sunday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 6, 1924.

[3] For Pike County newspaper coverage of the lynching, see, for example,  Bowling Green Times, May 5, 1921. See also Louisiana’s Twice-a-Week Times, May 3, 1921.

[4] Hannibal Evening Courier-Post, April 29, 1921.

[5] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 30, 1921.

[6] Quoted in Ibid.

[7] Roy Hammonds quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 1921. See also Wood, Yanked into Eternity, 190-195. In a variation of this account, the Post-Dispatch reported on May 1, 1921, that Roy was the one arrested at the Hammonds home, and that Willie was later brought to the jail to verify who wore the cap on the night in question.

[8] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 1921.

[9] St. Louis Argus, May 6, 1921.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1, 1921.

[12] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 30, 1921.

[13] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1, 1921.

[14] St. Louis Star and Times, April 30, 1921.

[15] Ibid. See also St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1, 1921, and Columbia Evening Missourian, April 30, 1921.

[16] St. Louis Star and Times, May 2, 1921; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 30, 1921.

[17] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday Edition, May 1, 1921.

[18] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 1921. See also Hannibal Courier-Post, April 30, May 3, 1921.

[19] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3, 1921. The Hitchcock quote is in the St. Louis Star and Times, May 2, 1921.

[20] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3, 1921.; Gov. Arthur M. Hyde to Jesse W. Barrett, Attorney General, April 30, 1921, Arthur Mastic Hyde Papers, 1913-1954, collection #7, folder 105, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri, Columbia.

[21] Quoted in the Pittsburg Sun (Kansas), April 30, 1921.

[22] St. Louis Argus, May 6, 1921. In the October 1915 term of the Pike County Circuit Court, defense attorneys for Harrison Rose, a Pike County African American accused of murder, asked the circuit court to remove Russell Bankhead from the jury. A mob had attempted to batter down the door of the jail to seize Rose, and Rose’s attorneys argued that one of Bankhead’s brothers was a member of that mob. A year later, Russell Bankhead was elected Pike County Sheriff. See State of Missouri vs. Harrison Rose, murder, Box 207 (No. 2), Reel 71, October term, 1915, Office of the Pike County Circuit Clerk, Bowling Green. Around the same time as the mob’s attempted lynching of Rose, a mob seized Love Rudd, an African American from the Pike County town of Clarksville. Rudd’s badly decomposed body turned up as a “floater” in the Mississippi River with handcuffs on his wrists and a heavy stone tied to his legs with a rope. He had burglarized the home of Dr. Randolph Bankhead, a dentist and brother of Russell Bankhead in Clarksville. Bowling Green Times, September 6, 1915. The Bankheads were direct descendants of Thomas Jefferson.

[23] Quoted in St. Louis Star and Times, May 2, 1921.

[24] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1, 1921.

[25] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2, 1921.

[26] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 30, 1921. See also Hannibal Courier-Post, May 3, 1921. On the coroner’s inquest, see St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3, 1921.

[27] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3, 1921.

[28] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 1921.

[29] St. Louis Star and Times, May 6, 1921.

[30] Quoted in St. Louis Star and Times, May 6, 1921.

[31] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 5, 1921. See also Roy Hammonds’s death certificate, Missouri State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Jefferson City, Mo.

[32] Quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 1921.

[33] St. Louis Argus, May 6, 1921.

[34] Quoted in La Plata Republican, May 20, 1921.

[35] Quoted in St. Louis Globe-Dispatch, May 6, 1921.

[36] Quoted in ibid.

[37] St. Louis Star and Times, May 7, 1921.

[38] Ibid.

[39] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 17, 1921.

[40] James Weldon Johnson to Gov. Hyde, April 30, 1921, and Lucille B. Milner, Field Secretary, American Civil Liberties Union, N.Y. City, to Gov. Hyde, April 30, 1921, Hyde Papers, collection #7, folder 105, WHMC-Columbia. The Dyer Bill passed in the United States House of Representatives less than a year after the Hammonds lynching but was killed by a Senate filibuster in 1922. On the bill’s filibuster defeat, see New York Times, December 3, 1922.

[41] Selden P. Spencer, Chairman, Committee on Claims, United States Senate, to Hon. Arthur M. Hyde, May 28, 1921, Hyde Papers, collection # 7, folder 105, WHMC-Columbia.

[42] Governor Arthur M. Hyde to Hon. Selden P. Spencer, June 1, 1921, Hyde Papers, collection #7, folder 105, WHMC-Columbia.

[43] Mrs. Hattie Campbell and Mrs. Nora M. Early, Officers of the Glittering Crown Temple No. 36, Hannibal, to Governor Hyde, May 9, 1921; Beulah Tapley and Darcy Jenkins, of the Good Samaritan Tabernacle No. 60, to Governor Hyde, May 9, 1921; and Marion Lodge No. 1649, G.O.O.F., to Governor Hyde, May 9, 1921; all in Hyde Papers, collection #7, folder 105, WHMC-Columbia.

[44] L.J. Ryan to Hon. Warren G. Harding, May 7, 1921, Department of Justice, Classified Subject Files on Civil Rights, 1914-1949, file no. 158260-6, Reel 10.

[45] Jno. Batchman, Commissioner, 12th District, St. Louis, Missouri Negro Industrial Commission, to Hon. Arthur M. Hyde, Governor, May 14, 1922, Hyde Papers, collection #7, folder 106, WHMC-Columbia. See also The Columbia Evening Missourian, May 10, 1921.

[46] Lewis Jackson, Sec., Green Tree Negro Republican Club, St. Louis, Mo., to Governor Hyde, May 8, 1921, Hyde Papers, collection #7, folder 105, WHMC-Columbia.

[47] Father [Michael D.] Collins, The Immaculate Conception Rectory, Jackson, Mo., to Governor Hyde, May 1, 1921, Hyde Papers, collection #7, folder 105, WHMC-Columbia.

[48] Charles O’Neal to Governor Hyde, April 30, 1921, and Myrtle Foster Cook, Secretary, NAACP, Kansas City, to Governor Arthur M. Hyde, April 30, 1921; both in Hyde Papers, 1913-1954, collection #7, folder 105, WHMC-Columbia.

[49] St. Louis Argus, May 6, 13, 20, 1921. The quote is from the May 20th issue. Joining Mitchell and Vaughn from St. Louis on the delegation were T.J. Moppins, Rev. C.A. Williams, Charles M. Baker, and Mrs. Spencer Packard. Also in the delegation from Sedalia were J.J. Reed and Mr. Valentine. Rev. J. Lyle Caston was there from Columbia, Professor C.G. Williams from Boonville, Dr. J.D. Sexton, Rev. L.W. Harris, Rev. E.F. Pate, William C. Reed, and L. Austin from Fulton, and Dr. H.E. Johnson, R.W. Stokes, and Rev. Treadwell from Jefferson City.

[50] Quoted in St. Louis Argus, May 20, 1921.

[51] St. Louis Argus, July 29, 1921.

[52] Wright’s letter to Mitchell is reprinted in St. Louis Argus, August 5, 1921. The website, Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center, has important information on Wright’s career and role in the community of Hannibal. See http://www.jimsjourney.org.

[53] Barrett’s reply is reprinted in St. Louis Argus, August 5, 1921.

[54] Batchman to Governor Hyde, May 14, 1922, Hyde Papers, collection #7, folder 106, WHMC-Columbia.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Macon Chronicle-Herald, April 30, 1921.

[57] Reprinted in The Democrat-Argus, December 13, 1921.

[58] Missouri Herald, September 1, 1922. The Ku Klux Klan gained considerable sway over popular opinion in many Missouri counties in the 1920s. In some communities, even attorneys belonged to the organization. A year after Hammonds was lynched,  W.T. Johnson, an attorney from Kansas City, complained at the annual meeting of the Missouri Bar Association that many lawyers were members of the Klan. To no avail, Johnson introduced a resolution that Klan membership was “inconsistent with the duties and obligations of an attorney at law.” The resolution was tabled. Report of the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Missouri Bar Association, 1922, p. 54.

[59] Missouri Herald, September 1, 1922.

[60] Governor Arthur M. Hyde to Walter White, Assistant Secretary, New York, NAACP, June 1, 1921. See also Walter S. White, Assistant Secretary, NAACP, New York, to Governor Arthur M. Hyde, May 26, 1921; both in Hyde Papers, collection #7, folder 105, WHMC-Columbia.

[61] St. Louis Argus, July 8, 1921; Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Missouri at the 51st General Assembly, 1921, Box 107,  pp. 1688, 1717, 1765, 1817, Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Mo.

[62] T.J. Ayers to the Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, undated and printed in The Daily Capitol News (Jefferson City), August 9, 1921.

[63] Ayers quoted in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 23, 1921. On Ayers’s opposition to the bill, see also the Bowling Green Times, August 4, 1921.

[64] Moore quoted in St. Louis Star and Times, August 1, 1924.

[65] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 1921.

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