Lynch Law

February 29, 1896


John Mitchell Jr. gives a speech on lynching.


(Springfield, Mass., Morning Union.)
Last night was a gala one for Golden Chain Lodge of Odd Fellows, for three prominent men in the order, John Mitchell, Jr., the able young journalist of Richmond, Va., George A. Busby of Worcester, district grand master of the grand lodge of Massachusetts, and Andrew B. Lattimore, ex-grand director, were their guests.
The gathering was in Graves' hall which was prettily decorated for the occasion. Shortly after 8:30 o'clock the members of the lodge marched in to the hall and escorted the guests to the platform. The committee of reception was made up of C. H. Strong, H. J. Harper, Austin T. Taylor, G. S. Hutton, J. S. Whitty, A. N. Brown, Jr., George Davis, W. B. Butler, D. W. Johnson.
H. J. Harper, master of ceremonies, presided at the meeting and introduced the speakers. The first of these was the district grand master. Mr. Busby said in part: "It is a great pleasure for me to speak to you as the representative head of the order in Massachusetts. I bring you the congratulations of the district grand lodge. I congratulate you on your appearance. I congratulate you on having invited our distinguished brother from the far South. He has been doing a good work and has come here to tell us something about it. We are fighting for life. There is a great battle on and ere it begun we lost our Sumner, our Philips and our Garrison. And now we have lost our Douglass. To-morrow all over the land will be celebrated the day that gave birth to the late father of the country. The day is coming when we will celebrate the birthday of one who did more for the Afro-American than any other."
The next speaker was A. B. Lattimore of Boston. In introducing him, Mr. Harper said that the day will come when Mr. Lattimore will be elected mayor of Boston. Mr. Lattimore said:
"The chairman has made my speech. I only hope the Creator will let him live long enough to see me elected his honor, the mayor of Boston. If he does, there will be a contest heaven as to which lived longest, he or Methuseleh." He then gave a history of the order, its purposes and plans, and its work of relieving distress, visiting the sick, burying the dead and seeing that, the widows and orphans need nothing.
The number of lodges in the country are as follows:- Alabama, fifty-eight; Arkansas, ninety-five; California, eleven; Colorado, seven; Connecticut, ten; Delaware, fifteen, District of Columbia, twenty-four; Kentucky, one-hundred and ten; Massachusetts, eighteen; Michigan, ten; Mississippi, eighty-three; New York, thirty-one; New Jersey, thirty-five; Ohio, ten; Pennsylvania, ninety-six; Tennessee, one-hundred and five; South Carolina, one-hundred and fourteen; West Virginia, thirty-three; Florida, one-hundred and twelve; Georgia, one-hundred and sixty-seven; Illinois, forty-five; Indiana, forty-six; Iowa, fifty; Kansas, thirty-one; Louisiana, thirty-eight; Montana, four; Maryland, ninety-five; Missouri, eighty-four; North Carolina, one-hundred and twenty; New Mexico, twenty-one; Oregon, one; Rhode Island, 6; Virginia, 74; Texas, 97. The order has spread to foreign lands and now there are lodges even in Africa. Mr. Lattimore closed with words of praise for the work of Mr. Mitchell.
Miss Abbie C. Ritter read a paper on the Household of Ruth, the ladies branch of Odd Fellow, and a selection was rendered by the Magnolia quartet. Then Mr. Harper introduced chief speaker, Mr. Mitchell. He said in part:- "I think it was Sir Walter Scott who said:
'Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land?"
"I come to Springfield as an American citizen. I love my country and deplore the evils that make for its destruction. Lynching is anarchy, and no country can exist where anarchy is. It is high time that anarchy was crushed out, and if we are to do we should be up and doing. I have at my mother's knee heard the stories of Sumner, of Phillips and Garrison. Grand men, glorious men, who did great service for our people.
"I have wondered what right the government has to exact defense of its citizens if the government in turn cannot defend its citizens. Citizenship is a form of contract, and if I know anything about law, a contract violated by one party is not binding upon the other. We are in fact a people without a country, for we have no protection in the South. The soil of Virginia has been drenched in blood and mostly with the blood of dark-skinned people.
"Is it any wonder that we resist arrest? Is it any wonder that we are ever on the defensive? I am arrested by an officer of the law. He takes from me every weapon of defense. I am manacled, helpless. I am innocent, for the law holds a man innocent until he is proven guilty. An angry mob takes me out and hangs me, I am powerless to resist or defend myself. Shall we submit to murder in the name of law?
"They argue that lynching is a necessity. If it is. then anarchy is necessity. They say that they only lynch for the unmentionable crime. Why, they lynch for everything from an attempt to burn a barn up to insulting a white lady. The southerners are not progressive. Their idea of greatness is to boast of what their grand fathers did in the revolution. They hug their prejudices as closely as a mother hugs her child.
"The government failing to us, we must protect ourselves. The government is supposed to be the servant of the people and if the servant fails to do what is demanded, who will?
"Take the case of Smith, who was roasted in Texas. What was his crime? Was there any crime equal to the atrocities perpetrated on him. The horrors of the French revolution were trifling to those of that scene; the men ran red-hot irons into their victim, and then roasted him alive? The men in the mob which murdered the poor wretch were themselves equal to committing the crime that Smith committed. These lynchings do not prevent crime – they make crime.
"Tell me. is there a man with a spark of manhood who will quietly let a mob steal into his house at night and carry out his wife and hang her with her babe in her arms from a tree? It is at times like that, when the government won't defend us that we must defend ourselves. Only cowards take part in a lynching. Honorable men would hand the man a weapon and say "Defend yourself. If you run I will shoot you. If you stand I will try to shoot you, but you can try to shoot me!” That was the spirit of chivalry of Virginia years ago I advocate self-defense, not retaliation.
The time to act is when these murderers are at our homes. When you have got the men at your door, ready to take you out and torture and hang you, shoot! You can then go shouting to glory. Suppose a colored mob should go to a white man's house and try to lynch him How many graves would there be in that colored settlement? The colored man was better protected when a slave, for he was some white man's property then. You can get better protection for a mule in the South than you can for a colored man. A white man can hit a colored man on the head with a club and nothing is done about it, while he would go to jail for hitting a dog."
Mr. Mitchell described the scene in the prison where a fifteen year old colored boy was confined, awaiting execution He became interested in the boy's case and four times got him reprieved. The first reprieve reached him at 11:45 p. m., and the execution was fixed at sunrise the next morning. He drove to Chesterfield jail and as he lost his way and drove seven miles out of the right direction, he arrived just as the guard was about to take the boy to the gallows. The last time the boy was reprieved, his sentence was commuted to imprisonment. The people were determined that the boy should hang and fearing a mob, the sheriff hid him in a load of hay at night and took him to Richmond before the action of Governor Lee became known.
He then told the story of Isaac Jenkins, who, he said, was a remarkable man, having been hung, shot and beaten, then tried for his life. He then explained the Lunenburg case, when three colored women were tried for a murder committed by a white man, and the jury had convicted them, not on evidence, but from fear of the mob. When he left Richmond, there were rumors of a mob that was organizing to lynch the women. "When they are lynched," said the speaker, “'there will be one of the bloodiest time ever witnessed in the South. There are men of our race who are brave – who will not let those innocent women be butchered if they can prevent it. Lynching of colored men will stop when the colored man gets to the point where he is not afraid to die.”
After the speaking a ball was held, the dancers nearly filling the hall.
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Upper Left Quadrant


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Liam Eynan


“Lynch Law,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed September 29, 2023,