The murder of the Bearden brothers; Brookhaven's last lynching

Brookhaven in the '40s--the Inez Hotel still stands
The following appeared in The Lincoln County Times (Brookhaven, Mississippi) on Thursday, July 5, 1928, and recounts the same double lynching that my father told me about and that I posted an oral history of two posts ago. I’ve rearranged the convoluted paragraphs for clarity, and for the same reason I’ll now provide a four-person list of the main characters:

Stanley Bearden, a 24-year-old black father whose wife had died a week earlier, and who owed $6 to a white man.

James Bearden, Stanley Bearden’s 25-year-old brother.

Caby Byrnes, the white man to whom Stanley Bearden owed money.

Claude Byrnes, Caby Byrnes’ brother.

Now follows the newspaper account:

Two negroes, Stanley and James Bearden, brothers, were taken from the Lincoln county jail early Friday night and lynched.

The trouble which lead to the lynching commenced late Friday morning when Caby Byrnes insisted on payment of a $6 bill which James Bearden owed him. Mr Byrnes had tackled Bearden for the bill earlier in the day and Bearden had promised to see about it right away. After awhile he returned followed in a few moments by his brother Stanley. In discussing the bill further it is understood that Bearden became extremely imprudent whereupon Mr. Byrnes hit him in the face with his fist.

In the meantime, [Claude] Byrnes, who happened to be passing near, noticed that his brother was in danger and rushing to the scene hit James Bearden with the flat side of a shovel just after the negro struck Caby Byrnes on the head with a piece of iron, knocking him to the ground. Stanley Bearden then got into the fight and opened fire on Claude Byrnes, one bullet striking him in the shoulder and another in the shoulder and another piercing one leg breaking the bone and entering the other.

Deputy Sheriff Charles Brister who reached the scene just then, arrested James Bearden without much trouble and took a shot at Stanley Bearden as he made escape through the back of the repair shop in front of which the fight occurred. Archie Smith and Alfred Day, at their work in a barber shop near by, came out during the shooting to assist the Byrnes's in their fight with the negroes with the result that Stanley Bearden fired a shot at both of them, luckily with bad aim.

After making his escape through the back of the shop a crowd chased him up the railroad several blocks until he turned and ran to his home near the Cotton Oil Mill. During the chase several persons started to head the fleeing negro off but were dissuaded by the sight of the automatic pistol he was flourishing and firing.

After the crowd arrived at Bearden’s house volley after volley of bullets were exchanged between the officers and the fugitive until the latter weak from wounds was brought from the house, gun still in hand. He was rushed to the county jail where Dr. Frizell, after examination, stated that despite five wounds he was not desperately hurt. [redundant sentence omitted]

There had been threats of the impending action throughout the afternoon and the sheriff, failing in his efforts to secure a guard of militia, had under him only a handful of deputies who were unable to offer any effective resistance to the large and well armed mob. No shots were fired by the officers defending the jail, only pleas and some physical resistance being offered. Starting at about dusk, and despite the pleading of several of the city's most respected and worthy citizens, among others, Rev. P. D. Hardin, W. D. Davis, Hon. J. A. Naul and Hon. T. Brady, Jr., the mob worked about an hour on the door of the jail, to which the sheriff refused to turn over the keys, and finally came out with two negroes, one of whom they soon discovered was not wanted. They then returned and managed to find the other, James Bearden, who was hiding in the rafters of the jail.

Both negroes were then taken to the Old Brook Bridge and James, in the sight of his brother, was strung to a small nearby tree and shot to death. Stanley was then taken back to Brookhaven and dragged through the streets of the city and through the negro quarters by a truck which was followed by a possession of other automobiles. Leaving the city the party proceeded several miles north and hung what was left of the mutilated body of Stanley Bearden to another tree.

Parts of the large crowd of men, women and children who had gathered at the courthouse to see the lynching followed the cars either to Old Brook or to the point north of town, and viewed the indescribably revolting spectacles to be found at those places.A short while afterward the bodies were taken in charge by Hartman's undertaking establishment and brought back to Brookhaven, preceding which an inquest was held. The corners jury, composed of B. B. Boyt, E. P. Martin, J. C. Martin, George Stanley, R. C. Douglass and Tom Crawford, pronounced James Bearden dead from gunshot wounds inflicted by parties unknown and Stanley Bearden dead from being dragged behind an auto driven by persons unknown.

James Bearden, whose wife died about a week before his lynching, is survived by one child and Stanley is survived by a wife and two children.


The more such accounts I read, the more upset I become. Alfred Day was my barber, and I would have known others who either remained silent or participated in the lynchings.

Because such crimes occurred so often and with such flimsy pretexts, involved prolonged and excruciating torture, and were attended by entire families; I suspect that, like the Roman coliseum atrocities, their main focus wasn't the protection of society--as was claimed--but sadistic entertainment. Just as some men take their families to cock-fights, the men of my town took their wives and children to see human beings shot, burned, beaten, suffocated, and dragged behind cars.

Did my townsmen get erections upon hearing the screams of men being tortured to death, and were they aroused by remembering those screams when they were having sex? Did their hearts race with pleasure when they hoisted a man off the ground by his neck and watched him “breath his last amid the most sickening convulsions”? Did couples smile at one another over their morning grits in anticipation of the next time they had an excuse to murder someone, confident in the knowledge that no white man in Mississippi had ever been convicted of killing a “nigger”?

Such were the people among whom I grew up. I had thought they were kind; I had thought they were Christian; I had thought they loved and protected children. Now, what am I to think but that my town was composed of demons and cowards? The white people didn’t speak-up; the black people didn’t speak up; every level of government remained silent, and the newspapers thought it prudent to editorialize about other matters.

Brookhaven’s last lynching occurred in broad daylight in front of the courthouse on August 13, 1955; I was six years old. After being beaten and shot, Lamar Smith (pictured) crawled under a nandina bush where, according to some accounts, he lingered in agony for hours before dying. Sheriff Robert E. Case and dozens of others witnessed the crime and allowed the bloodied murderers to walk away unhindered, but no one tried to help the 63-year-old farmer, war veteran, and voting rights activist who, despite the entreaties of his friends, had tried to deliver the absentee ballots of black people who were afraid to vote in person.

Who was worse, the three men who beat and shot Lamar Smith, or the scores of witnesses who denied seeing it happen? I like to think that I would have intervened, but would I? It's just too damned easy to look at crimes that happened long ago and far away, and come away feeling superior to dead criminals and their dead abettors, but it's my turn now, and what I am doing? Truth be known, the evil of the world has all but taken the life out of me. So many good people have given so much, and for what

Taken as a whole, our species is too bad for words and too sad for tears, and the only way I can survive is to attempt to rejoice in such good as I am able to find. As the Bible puts it: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is fair, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable; if there be any excellence, if there be anything worthy of praise, think on these things. Yet, the deeds of the best shine brightest against the actions of the worst because it is against the darkness of evil that good assumes its star-like purity. Surely, even the weakest among usand I feign no humility by describing myself as suchcan but find encouragement in remembering a man like Lamar Smith, and so it is that I offer his example for your own consideration.


peppylady (Dora) said...

We have came a long way in some ways. But in others way not.
Found your blog though E Rosewater.
If you fine the time stop in for a cup of coffee

Elephant's Child said...

It is heartbreaking isn't it? And I wonder how much has changed. If similar atrocities happened in our society would I stand up? I hope so.

stephen Hayes said...

We all like to think we'd stand up and do the right thing but we can't really know until the time comes.

angela said...

It is easy to judge from this prospective. But like you said. A different time a different mindset. Who knows if I was around then being raised in that climate maybe I too wouldn't of seen anything wrong with what happened. I'd like to think I would of tried to help but we will never know. All I know is that now times are getting better in some ways, but it looks like that hatred is now being directed to another group and I worry there times may yet come back.
Yes humans are the most cruel and barbaric of all the species on this planet. But every now and again there comes along one who will renew our faith in our own kind
I only hope that when my test comes I will do the right and not the easy thing

E. Rosewater said...

Have you watched Deadwood yet? The series opens with a mob intent upon lynching a man locked up in sheriff Bullock's jail.

Yes, ours is a violent species but the same can probably be said about almost all species on the planet. I'm watching planet earth and it seems every segment starts by endearing some wonderful animals to the viewer only to end when some predator kills the wonderful animal I fell in love with a few minutes earlier. Last night I saw a group of chimps attack another group of chimps and eat their victim. Just like 2001 a space odyssey.

Kranhu said...

I worked as a waitress at my relative's restaurant in 1971, Medford, OR. When the bars closed (at 2:30am) the restaurant was still open until 4am and it filled up with all the drunks in the city. Loud, boisterous, obnoxious people ordering Mar Far chicken and fried rice. One night I came out of the kitchen with an order to deliver and the place was silent. You could hear a pin drop. I asked a waitress what was going on. Two black students (males) and two white students (female) from SOC had come in to have Chinese food. Thank goodness for an older and wiser waitress who immediately escorted the students to the back of the restaurant where the bar was and locked the doors to the entrances to the bar, and then called the Sheriff dept. One young man around my age went to the bar door which was connected to the rstaurant and started poiunding on the door and screaming that he was going to get those "n-word"
Since I was fresh from University of Oregon, and naive, I walked down the aisle and told him he needed to sit down and he proceeded to tell me how much he hated those people. He did sit down.
The Sheriff dept came and escorted the students back to SOC, and another young man went around the restaurant organizing a posse of lynchers who left and got into their cars. A roadblock was set up and these idiots were made to turn back by the Sheriffs dept.
I was in disbelief. This only happened in the South, right?
The waitresses all came after me and scolded me for being so stupid-- the guy could have a gun or a knife, hit me, etc.
Went home and cried for hours.
A few of the men from that night would from then on, always address me as the "n-word lover" when they saw me.

kylie said...

I skipped over the part about the lynching but the comments about whether or not we would do any better have challenged me to write letters to politicians.

The story was released last week about a refugee woman in detention on Nauru and in the "care" of the Australian government. She has breast lumps, pain and discharge but requests for medical transfer and biopsy have been refused.

I suspect it is much too late for this woman to be saved but I would like to look back and know that I spoke up.

I am sorry you have been so close to such horror.

Much love

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

This must be the era that Trump wants us to go back to as in Make America Great Again!
Those cowardly racists never went away but now they have a champion and are getting the courage to make themselves heard. Very scary.

Charles Gramlich said...


Anne M. Last said...

Making yourself aware of the atrocities of the past helps when facing situations now. No one can be sure how they would have behaved then, most likely we would have thought nothing of it because it was normalized. What you do now is what matters most and decides whether good prevails. When I started my blog I was not aware of the amount of disenfranchising that occurred in the past. Now I can't turn a blind eye to the disenfranchising that currently happens.

Strayer said...

To grow up in those times, in the midst of it, with first hand knowledge of what went on and who allowed it, it must be hard for you. I remember my father ranting against Negros in the 60's and 70's. We lived in a conservative tiny southern Oregon town where not one dared reside. Later on in life, he must have felt guilt for his past, and would try to seek out blacks, to be overly friendly to them and condescending. This became an embarrassment when once in a restaurant he mistook a tanned white man as black and began to patronize him.

Atrocities against all sorts of people happen daily. We are so violent. We use any excuse. I don't think we'll evolve in time.

Snowy said...

“I am sorry you have been so close to such horror.”

As upsetting as all this is for me, I’m not sorry that I grew up when and where I did because it was so very interesting. At present, I’m not just reading up on lynchings but on the Civil Rights era in Mississippi. I was a teenager during the height of the struggle, so there were a lot of things that I remember, but there was also a lot that I didn’t pay much attention to due to ignorance and immaturity. For instance, I read yesterday that in 1964, Mississippi passed a “criminal syndicalism” law that made it a felony to advocate for social or political change within the borders of the state. The law effectively denied integrationists—and anyone else the powerful didn’t like—freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom to assemble, all of which are guaranteed rights under the U.S. Constitution. A federal court declared the law invalid in 1967, but it remained on the books in Mississippi until 2009 ( Under the governor’s leadership, Mississippi also set-up a “Sovereignty Commission,” which sought to uphold the notion that if Mississippi didn’t approve of something the federal government did—like giving voting rights to black people—then, by god, Mississippi reserved the right to do as it damn well pleased. This mentality goes back at least to the time of America’s Civil War, and it still exists today as the state seeks to deny rights to non-Christians, homosexuals, and transgender people.

“I was in disbelief. This only happened in the South, right?”

I love this story! If that waitress had hated black people, those two fellows would have died that night, and Oregon would have stolen the spotlight from Mississippi for a day or two.

As for Oregon racism, the NAACP once named Portland the most racist city on the West Coast, and when this house was built in 1955, the subdivision convenant wouldn’t allow it to be resold to a black person. Many Oregon towns had “sundown laws” that required black people to leave by dusk, and there was even a time when a black person couldn’t own property anywhere in the state. Oregon was indeed racist, and Coos Bay even lynched a black person, but since Oregon did everything it could to keep black people out, Oregon simply didn’t have an obvious race problem. Here’s the Wikipedia account of the Coos Bay lynching:

“In 1902 the only lynching ever to be documented in Oregon occurred in Coos Bay, of Alonzo Tucker, an African American man. He was accused of raping a white woman and escaping from jail. However, there is no record of his escape from jail. The only account is that he was caught by a mob of 200 to 300 people, shot twice and hung from the 7th Street bridge, which spanned present day Golden Field, where high school soccer games are now held. No charges were ever brought against the mob. The newspaper at that time reported the mob was "quiet and orderly." Alonzo Tucker's cause of death was asphyxiation.”

Snowy said...

“A different time a different mindset. Who knows if I was around then being raised in that climate maybe I too wouldn't of seen anything wrong with what happened.”

Even in Mississippi, there were white people who sought social change. Last night, I finished “So the Heffners Left McComb,” which came out in 1964, and was about a prominent white family who were run out of a town 20 miles from Brookhaven because they had met with “Freedom Rider” representatives to discuss ways of avoiding bloodshed (three Freedom Riders had been murdered that year in Mississippi). That same year, an Ole Miss professor named James Silver wrote “Mississippi: The Closed Society” in which he declared the state “"totalitarian," "monolithic," and “corrupt." Then there was the journalist Hodding Carter, Jr. whose criticism of his home state’s bigotry was unremitting and caused him to be labeled “a nigger-loving” liar by the state legislature. In response he wrote,

“By vote of 89 to 19, the Mississippi House of Representatives has resolved the editor of this newspaper into a liar because of an article I wrote. If this charge were true, it would make me well qualified to serve in that body. It is not true. So to even things up, I hereby resolve by a vote of one to nothing that there are eighty-nine liars in the state legislature.”

Carter and Silver felt obliged to carry guns, and to live with the knowledge that on any given a night, bombs might be thrown through their windows. During that hellacious year of 1964 when so much happened in Mississippi, the state had 50 incidents in which homes or churches were burned or bombed.

Snowy said...

“This must be the era that Trump wants us to go back to as in Make America Great Again!”

I think you’re right. When a man mocks the disabled, is unapologetically sexist, encourages his followers to assault people (even saying that he will pay their legal costs when they’re arrested), generalizes about Mexicans being criminals and Moslems being terrorists, and so on, it seems to me that there is probably a lot worse that he would like to say but doesn’t dare.

“Yes, ours is a violent species but the same can probably be said about almost all species on the planet.”

Peggy and I have a new kitten, and when I see her, for example, dismember a spider, I fully believe that it’s done out of innocence. She hates no one; she wishes no one to suffer; she will never in her life perform an evil act, but she instead kills because nature made her a predator and because it is somewhat questionable whether she even has a sense of empathy. When a mob tortures a person to death, if that’s not willful evil on the part of creatures who do—for the most part—possess the ability to put themselves in the shoes of another, I don’t know what is. I have no idea how far “down” from our species evil exists—it certainly appears to be present in chimps—but I can’t imagine the same innocence in killing that exists in a cat compared to the crimes of a mob.

“When I started my blog I was not aware of the amount of disenfranchising that occurred in the past. Now I can't turn a blind eye to the disenfranchising that currently happens.”

It seems that Nazi Germany set a standard of evil against which all else can be measured, so when I look at the Mississippi of my boyhood, I feel a little better, at least, reminding myself that it wasn’t as bad as Nazi Germany, and that the bigots in Mississippi never went nearly so far as the Taliban and the Islamic State. It seems like a strange way to think, I suppose, but it reflects my need for reassurance that the people among whom I grew-up didn’t usually rise to the position of pure evil. I even like to think that most of them weren’t so much evil as they were frightened. When you know you among people who can and will torture someone to death and get away with it, you have to know that they could just as easily torture you to death and get away with it if you cross them. It’s hard enough to know that your actions will make your neighbors not speak to you, but when you know they might very well kill you, it definitely ups the ante when you start thinking about whether to criticize them.

LindaRe said...

In another newspaper article, the president of the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce denounced the lynchings. I suppose the almighty green power will bring folk to repentance.

Social institutions of our "civilized" society failed the Bearden brothers. The Christian church failed to follow the teachings of Jesus, treat others as you treat yourselves. In that time and place, Negroes were viewed as less human. I didn't see any evidence of Christian pastors publicly denouncing the lynchings.

The government failed to protect, to provide justice justly for the brothers and their families. No one was arrested, no one held accountable. I see the lynchings as government sanction murders.

We don't need a lynching to judge our fortitude. I feel a wind blowing in this country, one that makes my black self uneasy in the land of Oz.

Snowy said...

“I suppose the almighty green power will bring folk to repentance.”

Indeed, the motives of the C of C are ever in question, but given that he expressed himself with such feeling, I would guess that he meant what he said. It’s simply that he could have done more than to rail in a single speech.

“I didn't see any evidence of Christian pastors publicly denouncing the lynchings.”

You know, of course, about the white Heffner family being run out of McComb in 1964 for trying to work with the Freedom Riders to avoid violence. Except for the generosity and emotional support that they received from numerous Episcopal clergymen, they received no help from any church. I haven't attended in years, and I never go except in spurts, but despite the fact that I’m an atheist, I still love the rituals, history, and liberalism of the Episcopal Church.

“I see the lynchings as government sanction murders.”


“I feel a wind blowing in this country, one that makes my black self uneasy in the land of Oz.”

I often wonder how you feel about one thing or another—for example, the football player who refused to stand for the national anthem. People are often divided along color lines regarding such things, and so it is likely that you and I will have opposite opinions, but anyone who has followed this blog for awhile can tell you that I welcome disagreement. In fact, if someone can disagree with me about an important issue and still be my friend, I feel closer to them than if we were on the same page about it.

I’m sorry your first comment got lost, and I very much appreciate you going to the trouble to rewrite it. When you told me you had made one, and I hadn’t seen it, I thought, oh my god, I hope she doesn’t think I rejected it. My computer has the nasty habit of reloading a page while I’m writing a comment, so I’ve gotten to where I usually write them in Pages (the Apple version of Word), and then paste them into the blog.

Emma Springfield said...

This is a terribly sad story. I cannot add anything to what you say. I think you have expressed the situation well.

Snowy said...

“I cannot add anything to what you say.”

Books have been written, and I’m honored to call myself the friend of a white Mississippi blogger who has dedicated her blog to lynchings: We have corresponded about the stress that she feels from spending so much of her life studying such incidents, and the stress that I feel from having posted about only two of them (I anticipate doing one more, and then that will be it for me). It’s very hard for me to maintain an intellectual distance from such things, and it’s also hard for me to put myself in the shoes of lynchers. One commenter mentioned that if one grew up in such a time and place, then things would have looked different to him or her than they look to us. While this is true, I have put a lot of thought into this very idea, and I don’t believe that I would have ever felt good about such things as lynchings, slavery, child labor, and so forth because many people who lived through those times still opposed such things (if they had not, we might still have them today). While many of us pick and choose regarding lesser offenses (I used to, with a good conscience, violate laws pertaining to drug use, and I have also been known to not make a complete stop at stop signs), to take someone from a jail at gunpoint to be tortured and killed is in such stark contradiction to fairness, sensitivity, intelligence, and respect for the laws upon which civilization is built, that I do not believe that anyone with a particle of goodness could have done it or condoned it, and this means that I do not believe that anyone who could have done—or condoned—such a thing could have otherwise been good, kindly, and honorable. My contempt is complete. The most that I can say for such people is that they were so appallingly shallow, callous, and stupid that they lacked the ability to think through the implications of their actions. In other words, at best, they were morons. If they had lived in a place without the rule of law, I could see having taken the law into their own hands—as did the citizens of Virginia City, Montana; Prineville, Oregon; and other wild West places—but such was not the case in Mississippi.


Snowy said...

This from Wikipedia: “The number of lynchings in the South is also strongly associated with economic strains, although the causal nature of this link is unclear: low cotton prices, inflation, and economic stress are associated with higher frequencies of lynching….Lynchings peaked in many areas when it was time for landowners to settle accounts with sharecroppers.”

Poverty appears to make people look for scapegoats, and blacks were on hand. Mississippi had the most lynchings, with the peak years being from 1890 to the 1920s. Some white men were lynched—at least one of them was even rich and influential, but he was also a liberal and had moved to Mississippi from a Northern state—and some women, but blacks easily “won” the day, probably because it didn’t set well to lynch a woman, and because to lynch a white man would have brought the crime a bit too close to home for the other white men. Then, there was the need to subordinate blacks, and how better to do it than through terror. One commenter mentioned a near lynching that occurred in Oregon, and indeed lynchings were common in the West, but although few black people even lived here, they were the usual victims. I’m sure that the real desire was to kill every black person in the land, but since that wasn’t possible, the next best thing was to put them in such fear for their lives that they would strive to make themselves invisible to white people.

Although the Deep South no longer lynches people, it’s like it was then in that it’s forever trying to pass laws that enable it to justify the violation of federal civil rights laws. It’s a reactionary part of the country that is but half-civilized, and the only freedom it values is the freedom to oppress others. For example, if the people of the South aren’t allowed to force their brand of evangelical religion on everyone else, they cry out that they’re being oppressed. Reactionaries don’t tend to be terribly smart, don’t put much value education, and are beyond reason regarding their core values (they're the kind of people who support Trump). Although lynching has stopped, the mentality that justified it still exists, and—as with lynchings—it’s everywhere, but is more common in the South.

LindaRe said...

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." ― Edmund Burke.

I agree poverty and poor economic conditions tend to make people look for scapegoats. Those who committed those heinous acts knew punishment would not follow. Dealing with entrenched racism is like pulling weeds from a garden, you destroy a few good plants in the process. "Good people" need to be willing to lose a business, job, relationships, status, and for many the cost is too high. If we could study the "good people" who participated in the Civil Rights movement, many would likely testify of losses but also of positives of participation in the movement.

Snowy said...

“If we could study the "good people" who participated in the Civil Rights movement, many would likely testify of losses but also of positives of participation in the movement.”

I’m sure you’re right, but I especially wonder how the Heffners felt (“So the Heffners Left McComb” by Hodding Carter II) since they were segregationists going into their ordeal and lost the support of their Miss Mississippi daughter as it played out. I was excited that you’re in touch with a Bearden relative, but I’m also sure that it must be awfully hard for them even now. I know that if I were to visit Brookhaven, I couldn’t drive along a single downtown street without wondering if that street was one that he was drug upon. I lie awake wondering how long he suffered and at what point death finally released him, and feeling furious about that coroner’s report that said the murders were committed by “persons unknown,” a report that was completed before the corpses were even brought back into town. I personally think there should be a prominently-located monument commemorating all the people whom Brookhaven murdered in such a manner, but I’m sure the emphasis is on forgetting rather than commemorating, although commemorating the lives of its victims is the least that the town can do. Clearly, I’m not cut out for studying much of this stuff because all I can to is to feel like shit because of it. I think I have one more post in me—the Paris, Texas, lynching—but after that, I’m through, not with my interest in that period but in lynching per se. The older I get, the more that things upset me, so I really have no choice but to limit my exposure. Since you’re only about six years younger than I, I wonder how it is for you.

BBC said...


Sparkling Red said...

People who are perfectly sweet to people "like them" will not bat an eyelash when it comes to the suffering of those they see as "other". And the definition of "other" can change to suit the circumstances.

“There is an old Arab Bedouin saying: I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world. That is jungle law. It is the way of the world when the world is thrown into chaos. It is our job to avert that chaos, to fight against it, to resist the urge to become savage. Because the problem with such law is that if you follow it, you are always fighting against someone.”
― Nafisa Haji, The Sweetness of Tears

kj said...

snow, your posts on this subject are wrenching. it is a public service and i hope you will consider pursuing an audience beyond your blog. i just can't fathom how the base parts of our species can surface unchecked, i don't think i will ever understand that. almost every person in my life i would judge to be morally good, and yet i know at least a dozen people who enthusiastically support trump. i listened to his speech on immigration last week--speaking as if immigrant crime was factually a danger, and raising his voice and audience to a frenzy. i'm sure that;s how mob behavior and the blaming and dehumanizing of others happens.

i lived in germany for a few years. an american friend of mine was married to a german whose parents had passively witnessed hitler's concentration camps. i asked him how they could have stood by. he was sad about it: he said they would have risked being killed if they spoke up. so there hopefully a significant segment of good people who do nothing because they fear for their lives and the lives of their families.

but there is also a segment who do not see or do not care. i think of our modern day immigrant families who are being targeted and told they will be rounded up and deported; people whose children are american citizens, who work minimum wage and send money home to mexico. and syrian refugees who lived as we do in cities like ours before the horror of bombs and war destroy their way of lives. we don't care about them? why would that be? is it fear? impassion? cruelty? hatred?

when I was in turks and caicos, before there was a tourist trade, there was no economy beyond fishing. the local folks--all black-- were poor but seemed to live adequately. many, maybe a dozen i spoke to, said the island was going to hell because of the damn haitians. the haitian people were viewed as the bottom of the totem poll. i remember thinking for some reason humankind in times of trouble takes comfort in believing some one else is lower than they. now i think it's not just in times of trouble. now i think we have the potential for the return of the mobs.

jesus. i pray for our better angels to straighten us out.


Snowy said...

“It is our job to avert that chaos, to fight against it, to resist the urge to become savage. Because the problem with such law is that if you follow it, you are always fighting against someone.”

But what is the solution? Many believe that if we love everyone and treat them well that love will rule the earth, but I believe that it is often true that to not fight is to allow evil to prevail, whether on the individual scale or the national scale. To go right to a worst-case, love would not have stopped Hitler. If we had loved him, he would have simply continued to take over weaker countries. Even now. I see so many world leaders who are petulant, childish, violent, and psychopathic, and I don’t believe that all the love in the world would make a dent in the evil they do. For example, the president of the Philippines said yesterday that if he met Obama, he would curse him to his face, which is probably how Trump will behave toward other world leaders if he’s elected. Still, there is a lot of space in-between savagery and pacifism, and my own nation thinks very highly of war, although how many of our wars bring anything but more suffering? My thoughts wander about these things because I don’t believe there is a solution that fits every problem, and I also think it’s our nature to make alliances with those we agree with, alliances that stand in opposition to those we disagree with.

“your posts on this subject are wrenching. it is a public service and i hope you will consider pursuing an audience beyond your blog.”

Thank you. I wish I could bring myself to seek publication. It’s just that I so love writing, but so hate the business of writing.

“i know at least a dozen people who enthusiastically support trump”

The question I have is whether they’re as hateful toward their opponents as is Trump? I don’t know any Trump supporters other than my father-in-law who’s a Southern Baptist and thinks highly of military “solutions,” but he’s personally respectful of others, and had just as soon avoid discussing politics. This isn’t my image of most Trump supporters based upon their bumper stickers and my experience of conservative talk radio. I see Trumpism as the natural outcome of the direction that the Republican has been taking for quite some time. It’s not that he’s worse than many of the others; he’s just more openly reactionary, hateful, bigoted, and uncompromising than most of them.

“i think of our modern day immigrant families who are being targeted and told they will be rounded up and deported”

I think it’s sad that there is no longer a linguistic distinction made between those who come here legally and those who sneak in. They used to be called “illegal aliens,” but they’re now referred to simply as immigrants, the implication being that to oppose them coming here is to oppose all immigration, and I don’t know that anyone does that.

“so there hopefully a significant segment of good people who do nothing because they fear for their lives and the lives of their families.”

Surely, your German friend didn't tell you anything you didn’t already know about why good people allowed evil to prevail You probably know of Dietrich Bonhoffer. He’s a hero of mine because of the openness of his theology and the courage that underlay his convictions. While others were fleeing, he went toward Germany to help others and was himself killed—as he knew he would be. Fear and hopelessness are big problems. I agree with Anne Frank that most people are good at heart, but we become very timid when we’re in fear for our lives or even our jobs...Maybe I should write a post about what happened to the Heffner family who were white Mississippians, and who, in 1964, tried to oppose the violence.

Friko said...

OMG! In 1955? I can’t believe my eyes.

In your last paragraph you quote a passage from the bible. I bet those murderers all attended church/chapel regularly and read their bibles assiduously. I bet their religious leaders/priests/reverends knew full well what was going on.

What has changed? I hope and pray much has changed in the intervening years, but, to read between the lines of current politics, there is much to be afraid of. Do mobs change? Not really.

Unknown said...

Dear Sir These were my Great Uncles Stanley and James Bearden. I've heard about their lynching all my life but never had any info. I found their names in the Lynching Memorial in Montgomery Al and this story became real to me!!! Do you have any information on their children or other family members. Their Sister my Grandmother (Minnie Adams)has died & their niece my Mother has dementia. Please text or call any information you may have to Erle Beard 615-578-5641 or Thank

Anonymous said...

Please help me find out what happened to must grandmas brother I 1958 Louis Oliver said or have been drug through Brookhaven the ecaxt same way

Snowy said...

"Stanley and James Bearden...I've heard about their lynching all my life but never had any info. I found their names in the Lynching Memorial in Montgomery Al and this story became real to me!!! Do you have any information on their children or other family members."

I only know what I have posted, and I learned nearly all of it long after I left Brookhaven (at age 36), because, in the white community anyway, lynchings weren't discussed. If my father hadn't told me about the Bearden brothers, I wouldn't have known the lynching happened, and when I later asked my older sister about it, she said that she hadn't heard of it. Neither of us knew of Lamar Smith's lynching. Because I was six, this is understandable, but she was in her upper teens. I can but assume that there was a sense of shame about these events that made them off-limits among many white people. Have you seen your relatives' death certificates? You can find them here:

"Please help me find out what happened to must grandmas brother I 1958 Louis Oliver said or have been drug through Brookhaven the ecaxt same way."
If I am understanding you correctly, you're saying that Louis Oliver was lynched in 1958. I tried to find him on the Lynching Memorial site (, but they had no search engine. I also did a web search, but nothing came up. To my knowledge, Brookhaven's only 20th century lynchings were of the Bearden brothers and Civil Rights activist Lamar Smith. If you can provide me with any more details about the Louis Oliver lynching, I will try to help you find him, although I would strongly suggest that you contact the Lynching Memorial because if anyone knows about him, they would. Here is their email:

Snowy said...

P.S. to Unknown and Anonymous. Here's another post I did regarding the lynchings:

Find a Grave has entries for the Beardens, including where they are buried: New Hope Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery. If either of you should visit, please let me know of your impressions.

Here's the newspaper report of the Bearden lynchings: It's from McComb, which is in Pike County, which is one county south of Lincoln County where the lynchings occurred. Presumably, the event wasn't reported in Lincoln County, although 5,000 people were said to be in attendance.

Here's a richly linked Wikipedia article about Lamar Smith: Long after his death, an attempt was made to prosecute his killers. The three men's identities were discovered, but prosecution had to be abandoned because they were by then dead.

I'm so happy to have heard from both of you. I wish I could be of more help, but on the bright side, far more information is online now than when I wrote these posts. If you continue your research, please let me know what you learn.