The Accomac Rioters
March 21, 1908
In addition to having their money taken away and property damaged, two African American men are unfairly sentenced to jail for “rioting.”
“In my mind he was guilty of no error, he was chargeable with no exaggeration, he was betrayed by his fancy into no metaphor, who once said, that all we see about us, Kings, Lords, and Commons, the whole machinery of the state, all the apparatus of the system, and its varied workings, end in simply bringing twelve good men into a box.”-Lord Brough Present State of Law. The trial of the alleged Accomac county rioters at Norfolk Va., last Tuesday and Wednesday has attracted widespread attention and the acquittal of Editor J.D. Uzzle on the first day led the people of the state to hope that a similar piece of good fortune awaited the other two, S.L. Burton and Sylvanus Conquest. The result has been a great disappointment for the jury, composed practically of the same men found the last two guilty and fixed their punishment at one year each in the Virginia Penitentiary. We do not know by what process of reasoning this result was reached but the effect of it is no less outrageous. S.L. Burton had all of his property destroyed by a mob of white men. Every dollar he possessed in the world went up in smoke and he emerged from the smoke and ashes, so to speak, penniless and forlorn. He has borne good reputation and had not indulged in either any incendiary utterances or undue interference in white folk’s business. Yet he is adjudged a rioter, while no effort has been made to punish the real rioters, who robbed him of his liberty and property and are admittedly guilty of arson. This then is the “justice” meted to him. It should be remembered that he has spent many months in the hail at Hampton and some days in the one at Norfolk. These men belong to the type of Negroes described by Booker T. Washington. They are the Negroes who will prove themselves to be the most valuable asset of the Southland. The Commonwealth’s Attorney of Accomac county was vigilant and active in prosecuting the Negroes alleged to be guilty of rioting. What will he do in the cases of those white men guilty of arson? The law provides that the death penalty may be meted, but no effort has been or is being made to bring these men to justice. But what is S. L. Burton’s predicament? He has lost all in this fight with race prejudice. Despite the fact that he was a highly respected citizen, a man who had won the respect of his fellows, both white and colored, he is now condemned and told to go inside of the confines of the Virginia Penitentiary to labor with the hardened criminals and to come forth if he survives a ruined and a disgraced man. We are led to enquire if this is the picture to be presented to the thousands of Negroes who have taken the better class of white men at their word and are endeavoring to prove themselves worthy of their commendation and support? We have noted this case with interest and not until the penitentiary doors have changed and slammed behind them and the gruff words of the prison guards are sounding in their ears will we believe that Virginia and its Chief Executive will permit such a parody upon fair dealing and the people of the State countenance such an evident miscarriage of justice. Granting that they were guilty, it would be worse than cruel to subject these men to greater punishment than they have already endured. “No ceremony that to great ones longs, Not the king’s crown, nor the deputed sword, The marshal’s truncheon, nor the judge’s robe, Become them with one-half so good a grace as mercy does.” -- Shakespeare
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“The Accomac Rioters,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed October 27, 2020, https://blackvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/532.