Category : Essay

Alleghany Essay

“Virginia’s Shame”: The 1891 Lynching of Three Black Miners in Clifton Forge

By Dolores Flamiano

On Saturday, October 17, 1891, a group of young black miners traveled by train to Clifton Forge, a booming railroad town in western Virginia. Three of the men (Charles Miller, John Scott, and Robert Burton) visited S.S. Griffith photography studio and posed for Wild West-style portraits, displaying pistols and tough-guy stances. In high spirits and looking for a good time, they soon attracted the attention of a white man who tried to arrest them. (Newspaper accounts were vague about their alleged crime.) The miners resisted arrest and quickly left town, but a group of white men formed a posse and pursued them. The groups met in a firefight that killed two men (one white and one black) and injured two others. Four black men were taken to jail, but some white men (now an excited mob) kidnapped them. The mob decided to release a teenage boy, but proceeded to hang Miller, Scott, and Burton in a tree and shoot their bodies full of bullets.

Read More

Lynching in Southwest Virginia

By James William Hagy

Some people have expressed surprise at the number of lynchings in Southwest Virginia, defined here as the seventeen counties and three cities west of Roanoke, because that mountainous area had few slaves or free persons of color prior to the Civil War when compared with the Tidewater and Piedmont areas. According to the 1860 census, seven of the fifteen counties at the time (Bland was created in 1861 and Dickenson in 1880) had fewer than 10% of African Americans. Buchanan had the lowest at 1%, while the highest numbers were in Montgomery with 22.3% and Pulaski with 29.5%.

Read More
Essay Rockingham

The Lynching of Charlotte Harris

By Tom Blair

On February 28, 1878, a barn burned in Rockingham County, Virginia. The event was reported by both of the newspapers operating at that time in the county seat of Harrisonburg. For the most part, these accounts read like insurance reports, giving dry details about the barn’s contents, the estimated value of the loss, and the amount insured by the East Rockingham Fire Insurance Company.

Some aspects of these stories, however, struck a different tone. The Rockingham Register categorically stated that the fire was the “diabolical” work of James Ergenbright, a 17-year-old African American, and that he had been induced to set the fire by “a colored woman named Charlotte Harris.” The Old Commonwealth reported that Ergenbright was in custody and that Harris was being pursued by officers of the law. “It is to be hoped,” the Register wrote, that the officers “have secured her.”

Read More

How Virginia’s ‘Rocket Docket’ Capital Punishment System Exploited Lynching Fear

By Dale M. Brumfield


Southern trees bear strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees …

-Strange Fruit, recorded by Billie Holiday, 1939

lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

At 6:30 a.m. on January 10, 1909, a black man named Charles Gillespie attacked and severely beat 19-year-old Marie Louise Stumpf, the white daughter of a prominent local brewer, on her way to early Mass at the Catholic Cathedral on Laurel Street in Richmond. An account of the attack on page two of the January 13 Lexington Dispatch stated that Stumpf “fought with the frenzy of fear for her life” in trying to escape her attacker. She was reportedly saved by a passerby, Mr. Irvin Pool, who heard her screams while escorting a female telephone operator to her job.

Read More
Essay Prince Edward

An Eyewitness Account of Archer Cook Lynching


Richard Sanderson watched from his hotel window in August 1888 as twin columns of armed men, nearly 40 in all, galloped below on Main Street in Farmville, Va. Soon the men were out of sight, and all was quiet until shots broke the stillness. Sunrise brought an explanation for the strange sights and sounds of the night before: a black man was hanging from a tree at the edge of town.

Read More
Essay Fauquier

The Lynching of Shedrick Thompson


Charlotte Harris was lynched near Harrisonburg, Va., in 1878. A news story described how a group of disguised men stormed the place where she was confined, took her from a guard, and carried her away. The men dragged Harris about 400 yards to the Gilmore place. They bent a blackjack oak sapling and tied a rope from it to her neck. “In another instant the tree was let go and the victim was jerked into midair,” the story said.

A similar abduction and death happened in 1889, when 100 men entered the jail in Leesburg, Va., and seized Owen Anderson. Like Harris, Anderson was black and had been accused of a crime, but he had not been tried. The men took him to a rail yard nearby and hanged him from a derrick. “After hanging him, they fired a number of bullets in his body and rode away,” the story said.

Read More