Oral History Project
Ms. Lavorne: Mr. Leflore, we understand that you have investigated at times incidents of personal violence such as lynching. Two such cases in the files are dated 5/28/1940 and 6/5/1940 in Mississippi and Tennessee. Would you care to comment on these cases and any other?
Mr. LeFlore: Thank you Ms. Lavorne. There had been some trouble up at the State-Line and Waynesboro, Mississippi between whites and blacks at that period, and there was an attempt to lynch a black man at State-Line or Waynesboro, and there is of course close proximity between the two communities. We did go up there, when I say "we", I mean "I" went up there to cover an investigation and found that the whites had precipitated the trouble and that they had imposed on the blacks to the extent that some of the blacks resisted what was happening, and in their resisting it one man was thrown into jail and there was an attempt made to lynch this man. We had to go up there to cover the attempted lynching and to give a report at that time to the NAACP in New York and the Department of Justice in Washington.
We also covered in the same year, well we didn't cover this, but we went to Brownsville, Tennessee, as part of a speaking tour for the NAACP. Brownsville is in Haywood County, and this county of course, has more blacks than it does whites, even today. The question of blacks participating in elections was off limits. Whites just didn't intend for the blacks to register and vote and every effort was made to prevent them from doing it. At the time of my speaking engagement there, the blacks were urged by me to register to vote, that in the ballot there was power, power to rectify some of the injustices that had been heaped upon blacks over the years. The people took my advice. They attempted to register to vote after I had left Brownsville. The next week after I left they attempted to go down and register to vote. This so incensed white citizens of that community that several of the blacks were threatened. These people who headed up the NAACP effort, I recall very well that Rev. Buster Walker was president of the NAACP at that time. While I was at the NAACP national conference in Philadelphia at this time, Rev. Buster Walker and several of the NAACP members had been forced to flee Brownsville because of threats to lynch them. One man was actually lynched there because of the efforts of blacks to get registered to vote. And these others fled for their lives to keep from being lynched in Brownsville because their only sin was they wanted to vote.
In a previous period, two years before that, we investigated the lynching of Wilder Mcgowan at Wiggins, Mississippi. Wiggins is the home of Dizzy Dean, the former Cardinal baseball pitcher. Wilder was lynched because of, from what we were able to uncover in our investigation, he resented the fact that white men, on weekends, would come into the Negro quarters (blacks stayed in quarters in Wiggins at that time), and would demand the better looking Negro girls. Of course this was for the purpose, their only purpose was to have taken of the girls out to seduce them. This has been a very definite part of southern mores over the years. It was more pronounced a few years ago than it is today. A few years ago, up until about 1930, say at least forty or fifty years ago, many of the white men who were wealthy had two families. They had an illegitimate black family and their legitimate white family. But the black family gained nothing with the exception of having a few crumbs given to them by the white father who sired them, the children had only a few crumbs. In some instances, the white men did provide for their black children, sent them to various black colleges throughout the South, but in most instances this was not done. Willer was lynched for an alleged crime that was later discovered was supposedly committed by a white man. But it never mattered because the black man's life had been taken and the community of Wiggins went about its business as if nothing had happened.
In 1946, I investigated the lynching of four people at Monroe, Georgia. This included George Dorsey who had just come back from the Pacific fighting for democracy, and who had done nothing whatsoever, his wife, and Roger Malcolm and his wife Dorothy Malcolm. Roger was the only person who had done anything whatsoever. Roger had cut a white man for whom he worked. The man didn't die and the story as was told to us, or was told to me at the time of the investigation that Roger was a sharecropper, and he and the man for whom he worked had a dispute. The man lunged at Roger with a hayfork. Roger's agility enabled him to step aside and at the same time he cut his employee with a knife. As we said before, the man didn't die. Roger was put in jail at Monroe, Georgia. Monroe is just 26 miles from Atlanta. He stayed there until a [foreman?] in an adjoining county, Jay Loy Harrison, made an agreement with Roger's wife Dorothy, with the brother-in-law who had just returned from the Pacific--George. George Dorsey was Dorothy Malcolm's brother. The four people we mentioned were all members of the same family. There was Roger's wife, a very pretty little woman, not Roger's, George Dorsey's wife, and the three of them, Dorothy George, and his wife, went to the jail in Monroe with Jay Loy Harrison, the white [foreman?] of adjoining Appalache County, who paid Roger's fine, whatever sum was required to have him released. Mr. Harrison put the four blacks in his car and instead of going down the main highway toward Appalache County, Mr. Harrison went down a dirt road. There, a mob was waiting at the river bottom. A river separates Monroe and Appalache counties. The mob seized the four blacks and lynched them.
That was my assignment to cover and I went into Monroe, Georgia the next day after the lynching. It was not a very pleasant experience, but it was one of the many challenges that people in civil rights have to fulfill, if they are going to be true to the cause that they represent of trying to make conditions better for all people irrespective of race, color, or creed. I stayed in Monroe for 22 hours to cover my investigation. The lynching of those four people shocked the nation. It was on July 26, 1946. Mr. Truman, at the request of the governor of Georgia, sent twenty-five FBI agents into Monroe. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation had seventy-five men into Monroe and the Monroe area. But the irony of the situation is that neither the highly regarded FBI or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation came up with a clue to the lynching. A lynching that in my judgement, if they had carefully questioned Jay Loy Harrison, could have been solved without any great difficulty. There is another irony of the story. The FBI could not pin anything on Jay Loy Harrison at that time, but the next year, the same Mr. Harrison was arrested for making elicit whiskey and failing to pay a federal tax on it. This lynching was one of the ghastly and tragic happenings of the mid-twentieth century. We've had more than five thousand recorded lynchings in our country since the Civil War. Lynchings were a pastime in America until recently. We feel that any student or any citizen who does not know of this tragic and ghastly and fiendish part of our nation's history should get some books and read about lynchings that have occurred in our country since the Civil War.
Right here at Citronelle, a score or more years ago we investigated the attempted lynching of a black man there. We also investigated the shooting down in the Grove Hill, Clark County jail of Moses Jones, by the then sheriff Jenkins Hill, in what appeared to be an attempt by the sheriff to do away with persons who had allegedly been involved with him in a whiskey scandal in that particular county. We shall not go into details, but it appears that the sheriff, in order to silence Moses Jones who had agreed to testify for the federal government which had the responsibility of prosecuting Sheriff Jenkins Hill, had his life snuffed out, so that he wouldn't be able to talk, true to the adage of "dead men tell no tales." That these few incidents represent some of the many of a score of questions of violence that we had been assigned to investigate as a part of our responsibility to the civil rights cause. In covering the Monroe, Georgia lynching, we were given, or I was given a citation for the thorough story that they claim we got at Monroe, Georgia. We have pictures of the victims of the Monroe, Georgia lynching and would make them available to students or others on request.
[End of second taping session, August 7,