Trigger Warning: Quotations of language/imagery that is racially offensive
One hundred years ago the lead story in The Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA) was the death of Joseph Pulitzer. The story of the newspaper magnate's climb from penniless immigrant to wealth and influence covered much of the front page of that (and many other) newspapers. As I reading about Pulitizer a much smaller headline near the bottom of the front page catch my eye: MOB SEEKS FUGITIVE: Negro Was Captured and Confessed, but Made His Escape. [Note: All headlines in this series retain the original rather idiosyncratic capitalizations.] According to this story, dateline Washington, GA, Walker had been "arrested" for the shooting of C. S. Hollenshead (one of the town merchants), had confessed, had been taken away from the sheriff and his deputy on the public square and had escaped from the crowd that had taken him. The latest word was that he was being hunted in Wilkes county by several hundred men with dogs. If the mob located him, a lynching is certain the reader is told.
As is true in so many of these stories of lynchings, it is clear that the local officers of the law put up at most token resistance to the vigilantes. What was less clear, from the limited details in this article, was how the man managed to escape from the crowd that had seized him. A search of other newspapers yielded slightly more information and details that made the incident even more disturbing. The headline in The Sun (Oct. 20 1911, New York) reads WHISKEY SPOILS A LYNCHING: Members of Mob Too Drunk lo Pull Negro Up After Hope Was Around His Neck and provides more background. No one witnessed the shooting of Hollenshead, suspicion fell on Walker because his wife "had trouble" with the dead man. Walker was brought into town in at 2:30 in the morning after being arrested and there just happened to be a crowd of approximately fifty men in the public square just in the right place to intercept the sheriff, his deputy and Walker on the way to the jail. The confession, if there was one, was obtained from Walker only after he was already in the hands of an angry mob and served the purpose of removing suspicion of another man (also African-American) already in custody.
From the description of what happened next, it seems that the crowd of men had been whiling away their time waiting for the sheriff to bring in Walker drinking for they were so drunk that Walker was able to escape from them--although only after they had put the noose around his neck.
The editors at The Sun seem to have found the whole affair rather amusing while the editors of The Times-Dispatch seem to want to assure their readers that Walker will soon be recaptured.
I sit here, 100 years later, and wonder what happened to Walker. Did he escape? Was his wife okay or did the angry mob go back to his home and take out on her the violence they were unable to visit on her husband? If Walker lived did he dream every night of that moment when the rope went around his neck and did he shiver with remembered fear every time he heard the sound of dogs in the distance?