Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
Mob Rule in New Orleans.
His Fight to Death,
the story of his life,
burning human beings alive,
other lynching statistics.
IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT
Ida B. Wells
Immediately after the awful barbarism which disgraced the State of Georgia
in April of last year, during which time more than a dozen colored people
were put to death with unspeakable barbarity, I published a full report
showing that Sam Hose, who was burned to death during that time, never
committed a criminal assault, and that he killed his employer in
Since that time I have been engaged on a work not yet finished, which I
interrupt now to tell the story of the mob in New Orleans, which,
despising all law, roamed the streets day and night, searching for colored
men and women, whom they beat, shot and killed at will.
In the account of the New Orleans mob I have used freely the graphic
reports of the New Orleans Times-Democrat and the New Orleans
Picayune. Both papers gave the most minute details of the week’s
disorder. In their editorial comment they were at all times most urgent in
their defense of law and in the strongest terms they condemned the
infamous work of the mob.
It is no doubt owing to the determined stand for law and order taken by
these great dailies and the courageous action taken by the best citizens
of New Orleans, who rallied to the support of the civic authorities, that
prevented a massacre of colored people awful to contemplate.
For the accounts and illustrations taken from the above-named journals,
sincere thanks are hereby expressed.
The publisher hereof does not attempt to moralize over the deplorable
condition of affairs shown in this publication, but simply presents the
facts in a plain, unvarnished, connected way, so that he who runs may
read. We do not believe that the American people who have encouraged such
scenes by their indifference will read unmoved these accounts of
brutality, injustice and oppression. We do not believe that the moral
conscience of the nation — that which is highest and best among us — will
always remain silent in face of such outrages, for God is not dead, and
His Spirit is not entirely driven from men’s hearts.
When this conscience wakes and speaks out in thunder tones, as it must, it
will need facts to use as a weapon against injustice, barbarism and wrong.
It is for this reason that I carefully compile, print and send forth these
facts. If the reader can do no more, he can pass this pamphlet on to
another, or send to the bureau addresses of those to whom he can order
Besides the New Orleans case, a history of burnings in this country is
given, together with a table of lynchings for the past eighteen years.
Those who would like to assist in the work of disseminating these facts,
can do so by ordering copies, which are furnished at greatly reduced
rates for gratuitous distribution. The bureau has no funds and is entirely
dependent upon contributions from friends and members in carrying on the
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Chicago, Sept. 1, 1900
MOB RULE IN NEW ORLEANS
SHOT AN OFFICER
The bloodiest week which New Orleans has known since the massacre of the
Italians in 1892 was ushered in Monday, July 24, by the inexcusable and
unprovoked assault upon two colored men by police officers of New Orleans.
Fortified by the assurance born of long experience in the New Orleans
service, three policemen, Sergeant Aucoin, Officer Mora and Officer
Cantrelle, observing two colored men sitting on doorsteps on Dryades
street, between Washington Avenue and 6th Streets, determined, without a
shadow of authority, to arrest them. One of the colored men was named
Robert Charles, the other was a lad of nineteen named Leonard Pierce. The
colored men had left their homes, a few blocks distant, about an hour
prior, and had been sitting upon the doorsteps for a short time talking
together. They had not broken the peace in any way whatever, no warrant
was in the policemen’s hands justifying their arrest, and no crime had
been committed of which they were the suspects. The policemen, however,
secure in the firm belief that they could do anything to a Negro that they
wished, approached the two men, and in less than three minutes from the
time they accosted them attempted to put both colored men under arrest.
The younger of the two men, Pierce, submitted to arrest, for the officer,
Cantrelle, who accosted him, put his gun in the young man’s face ready to
blow his brains out if he moved. The other colored man, Charles, was made
the victim of a savage attack by Officer Mora, who used a billet and then
drew a gun and tried to kill Charles. Charles drew his gun nearly as
quickly as the policeman, and began a duel in the street, in which both
participants were shot. The policeman got the worst of the duel, and fell
helpless to the sidewalk. Charles made his escape. Cantrelle took Pierce,
his captive, to the police station, to which place Mora, the wounded
officer, was also taken, and a man hunt at once instituted for Charles,
the wounded fugitive.
In any law-abiding community Charles would have been justified in
delivering himself up immediately to the properly constituted authorities
and asking a trial by a jury of his peers. He could have been certain that
in resisting an unwarranted arrest he had a right to defend his life, even
to the point of taking one in that defense, but Charles knew that his
arrest in New Orleans, even for defending his life, meant nothing short of
a long term in the penitentiary, and still more probable death by lynching
at the hands of a cowardly mob. He very bravely determined to protect his
life as long as he had breath in his body and strength to draw a hair
trigger on his would-be murderers. How well he was justified in that
belief is well shown by the newspaper accounts which were given of this
transaction. Without a single line of evidence to justify the assertion,
the New Orleans daily papers at once declared that both Pierce and Charles
were desperadoes, that they were contemplating a burglary and that they
began the assault upon the policemen. It is interesting to note how the
two leading papers of New Orleans, the Picayune and the
Times-Democrat, exert themselves to justify the policemen in the
absolutely unprovoked attack upon the two colored men. As these two papers
did all in their power to give an excuse for the action of the policemen,
it is interesting to note their versions. The Times-Democrat of Tuesday
morning, the twenty-fifth, says:
Two blacks, who are desperate men, and no doubt will be proven burglars,
made it interesting and dangerous for three bluecoats on Dryades street,
between Washington Avenue and Sixth Street, the Negroes using pistols
first and dropping Patrolman Mora. But the desperate darkies did not go
free, for the taller of the two, Robinson, is badly wounded and under
cover, while Leonard Pierce is in jail.
For a long time that particular neighborhood has been troubled with bad
Negroes, and the neighbors were complaining to the Sixth Precinct police
about them. But of late Pierce and Robinson had been camping on a door
step on the street, and the people regarded their actions as suspicious.
It got to such a point that some of the residents were afraid to go to
bed, and last night this was told Sergeant Aucoin, who was rounding up
his men. He had just picked up Officers Mora and Cantrell, on Washington
Avenue and Dryades Street, and catching a glimpse of the blacks on the
steps, he said he would go over and warn the men to get away from the
street. So the patrolmen followed, and Sergeant Aucoin asked the smaller
fellow, Pierce, if he lived there. The answer was short and impertinent,
the black saying he did not, and with that both Pierce and Robinson drew
up to their full height.
For the moment the sergeant did not think that the Negroes meant fight,
and he was on the point of ordering them away when Robinson slipped his
pistol from his pocket. Pierce had his revolver out, too, and he fired
twice, point blank at the sergeant, and just then Robinson began
shooting at the patrolmen. In a second or so the policemen and blacks
were fighting with their revolvers, the sergeant having a duel with
Pierce, while Cantrell and Mora drew their line of fire on Robinson, who
was working his revolver for all he was worth. One of his shots took
Mora in the right hip, another caught his index finger on the right
hand, and a third struck the small finger of the left hand. Poor Mora
was done for; he could not fight any more, but Cantrell kept up his
fire, being answered by the big black. Pierce’s revolver broke down, the
cartridges snapping, and he threw up his hands, begging for quarter.
The sergeant lowered his pistol and some citizens ran over to where the
shooting was going on. One of the bullets that went at Robinson caught
him in the breast and he began running, turning out Sixth Street, with
Cantrell behind him, shooting every few steps. He was loading his
revolver again, but did not use it after the start he took, and in a
little while Officer Cantrell lost the man in the darkness.
Pierce was made a prisoner and hurried to the Sixth Precinct police
station, where he was charged with shooting and wounding. The sergeant
sent for an ambulance, and Mora was taken to the hospital, the wound in
the hip being serious.
A search was made for Robinson, but he could not be found, and even at 2
o’clock this morning Captain Day, with Sergeant Aucoin and Corporals
Perrier and Trenchard, with a good squad of men, were beating the weeds
for the black.
The New Orleans Picayune of the same date described the occurrence, and
from its account one would think it was an entirely different affair. Both
of the two accounts cannot be true, and the unquestioned fact is that
neither of them sets out the facts as they occurred. Both accounts attempt
to fix the beginning of hostilities upon the colored men, but both were
compelled to admit that the colored men were sitting on the doorsteps
quietly conversing with one another when the three policemen went up and
accosted them. The Times-Democrat unguardedly states that one of the two
colored men tried to run away; that Mora seized him and then drew his
billy and struck him on the head; that Charles broke away from him and
started to run, after which the shooting began. The Picayune, however,
declares that Pierce began the firing and that his two shots point blank
at Aucoin were the first shots of the fight. As a matter of fact, Pierce
never fired a single shot before he was covered by Aucoin’s revolver.
Charles and the officers did all the shooting. The Picayune’s account is
Patrolman Mora was shot in the right hip and dangerously wounded last
night at 11:30 o’clock in Dryades Street, between Washington and Sixth,
by two Negroes, who were sitting on a door step in the neighborhood.
The shooting of Patrolman Mora brings to memory the fact that he was one
of the partners of Patrolman Trimp, who was shot by a Negro soldier of
the United States government during the progress of the Spanish-American
war. The shooting of Mora by the Negro last night is a very simple
story. At the hour mentioned, three Negro women noticed two suspicious
men sitting on a door step in the above locality. The women saw the two
men making an apparent inspection of the building. As they told the
story, they saw the men look over the fence and examine the window
blinds, and they paid particular attention to the make-up of the
building, which was a two-story affair. About that time Sergeant J.C.
Aucoin and Officers Mora and J.D. Cantrell hove in sight. The women
hailed them and described to them the suspicious actions of the two
Negroes, who were still sitting on the step. The trio of bluecoats, on
hearing the facts, at once crossed the street and accosted the men. The
latter answered that they were waiting for a friend whom they were
expecting. Not satisfied with this answer, the sergeant asked them where
they lived, and they replied “down town”, but could not designate the
locality. To other questions put by the officers the larger of the two
Negroes replied that they had been in town just three days.
As this reply was made, the larger man sprang to his feet, and Patrolman
Mora, seeing that he was about to run away, seized him. The Negro took a
firm hold on the officer, and a scuffle ensued. Mora, noting that he was
not being assisted by his brother officers, drew his billy and struck
the Negro on the head. The blow had but little effect upon the man, for
he broke away and started down the street. When about ten feet away, the
Negro drew his revolver and opened fire on the officer, firing three or
four shots. The third shot struck Mora in the right hip, and was
subsequently found to have taken an upward course. Although badly
wounded, Mora drew his pistol and returned the fire. At his third shot
the Negro was noticed to stagger, but he did not fall. He continued his
flight. At this moment Sergeant Aucoin seized the other Negro, who
proved to be a youth, Leon Pierce. As soon as Officer Mora was shot he
sank to the sidewalk, and the other officer ran to the nearest
telephone, and sent in a call for the ambulance. Upon its arrival the
wounded officer was placed in it and conveyed to the hospital. An
examination by the house surgeon revealed the fact that the bullet had
taken an upward course. In the opinion of the surgeon the wound was a
But the best proof of the fact that the officers accosted the two colored
men and without any warrant or other justification attempted to arrest
them, and did actually seize and begin to club one of them, is shown by
Officer Mora’s own statement. The officer was wounded and had every reason
in the world to make his side of the story as good as possible. His
statement was made to a Picayune reporter and the same was published on
the twenty-fifth inst., and is as follows:
I was in the neighborhood of Dryades and Washington Streets, with
Sergeant Aucoin and Officer Cantrell, when three Negro women came up and
told us that there were two suspicious-looking Negroes sitting on a step
on Dryades Street, between Washington and Sixth. We went to the place
indicated and found two Negroes. We interrogated them as to who they
were, what they were doing and how long they had been here. They replied
that they were working for some one and had been in town three days. At
about this stage the larger of the two Negroes got up and I grabbed him.
The Negro pulled, but I held fast, and he finally pulled me into the
street. Here I began using my billet, and the Negro jerked from my grasp
and ran. He then pulled a gun and fired. I pulled my gun and returned
the fire, each of us firing about three shots. I saw the Negro stumble
several times, and I thought I had shot him, but he ran away and I don’t
know whether any of my shots took effect. Sergeant Aucoin in the
meantime held the other man fast. The man was about ten feet from me
when he fired, and the three Negresses who told us about the men stood
away about twenty-five feet from the shooting.
Thus far in the proceeding the Monday night episode results in Officer
Mora lying in the station wounded in the hip; Leonard Pierce, one of the
colored men, locked up in the station, and Robert Charles, the other
colored man, a fugitive, wounded in the leg and sought for by the entire
police force of New Orleans. Not sought for, however, to be placed under
arrest and given a fair trial and punished if found guilty according to
the law of the land, but sought for by a host of enraged, vindictive and
fearless officers, who were coolly ordered to kill him on sight. This
order is shown by the Picayune of the twenty-sixth inst., in which the
following statement appears:
In talking to the sergeant about the case, the captain asked about the
Negro’s fighting ability, and the sergeant answered that Charles, though
he called him Robinson then, was a desperate man, and it would be best
to shoot him before he was given a chance to draw his pistol upon any of
This instruction was given before anybody had been killed, and the only
evidence that Charles was a desperate man lay in the fact that he had
refused to be beaten over the head by Officer Mora for sitting on a step
quietly conversing with a friend. Charles resisted an absolutely unlawful
attack, and a gun fight followed. Both Mora and Charles were shot, but
because Mora was white and Charles was black, Charles was at once declared
to be a desperado, made an outlaw, and subsequently a price put upon his
head and the mob authorized to shoot him like a dog, on sight.
The New Orleans Picayune of Wednesday morning said:
But he has gone, perhaps to the swamps, and the disappointment of the
bluecoats in not getting the murderer is expressed in their curses, each
man swearing that the signal to halt that will be offered Charles will
be a shot.
In that same column of the Picayune it was said:
Hundreds of policemen were about; each corner was guarded by a squad,
commanded either by a sergeant or a corporal, and every man had the word
to shoot the Negro as soon as he was sighted. He was a desperate black
and would be given no chance to take more life.
Legal sanction was given to the mob or any man of the mob to kill Charles
at sight by the Mayor of New Orleans, who publicly proclaimed a reward of
two hundred and fifty dollars, not for the arrest of Charles, not at all,
but the reward was offered for Charles’s body, “dead or alive” The
advertisement was as follows:
Under the authority vested in me by law, I hereby offer, in the name of
the city of New Orleans, $250 reward for the capture and delivery, dead
or alive, to the authorities of the city, the body of the Negro
who, on Tuesday morning, July 24, shot and killed
Police Captain John T. Day and Patrolman Peter J. Lamb, and wounded
Patrolman August T. Mora.
This authority, given by the sergeant to kill Charles on sight, would have
been no news to Charles, nor to any colored man in New Orleans, who, for
any purpose whatever, even to save his life, raised his hand against a
white man. It is now, even as it was in the days of slavery, an
unpardonable sin for a Negro to resist a white man, no matter how unjust
or unprovoked the white man’s attack may be. Charles knew this, and
knowing to be captured meant to be killed, he resolved to sell his life as
dearly as possible.
The next step in the terrible tragedy occurred between 2:30 and 5 o’clock
Tuesday morning, about four hours after the affair on Dryades Street. The
man hunt, which had been inaugurated soon after Officer Mora had been
carried to the station, succeeded in running down Robert Charles, the
wounded fugitive, and located him at 2023 4th Street. It was nearly 2
o’clock in the morning when a large detail of police surrounded the block
with the intent to kill Charles on sight. Capt. Day had charge of the
squad of police. Charles, the wounded man, was in his house when the
police arrived, fully prepared, as results afterward showed, to die in his
own home. Capt. Day started for Charles’s room. As soon as Charles got
sight of him there was a flash, a report, and Day fell dead in his tracks.
In another instant Charles was standing in the door, and seeing Patrolman
Peter J. Lamb, he drew his gun, and Lamb fell dead. Two other officers,
Sergeant Aucoin and Officer Trenchard, who were in the squad, seeing their
comrades, Day and Lamb, fall dead, concluded to raise the siege, and both
disappeared into an adjoining house, where they blew out their lights so
that their cowardly carcasses could be safe from Charles’s deadly aim. The
calibre of their courage is well shown by the fact that they concluded to
save themselves from any harm by remaining prisoners in that dark room
until daybreak, out of reach of Charles’s deadly rifle. Sergeant Aucoin,
who had been so brave a few hours before when seeing the two colored men
sitting on the steps, talking together on Dryades Street, and supposing
that neither was armed, now showed his true calibre. Now he knew that
Charles had a gun and was brave enough to use it, so he hid himself in a
room two hours while Charles deliberately walked out of his room and into
the street after killing both Lamb and Day. It is also shown, as further
evidence of the bravery of some of New Orleans’ “finest”, that one of
them, seeing Capt. Day fall, ran seven blocks before he stopped,
afterwards giving the excuse that he was hunting for a patrol box.
At daybreak the officers felt safe to renew the attack upon Charles, so
they broke into his room, only to find that — what they probably very well
knew — he had gone. It appears that he made his escape by crawling through
a hole in the ceiling to a little attic in his house. Here he found that
he could not escape except by a window which led into an alley, which had
no opening on 4th Street. He scaled the fence and was soon out of reach.
It was now 5 o’clock Tuesday morning, and a general alarm was given.
Sergeant Aucoin and Corporal Trenchard, having received a new supply of
courage by returning daylight, renewed their effort to capture the man
that they had allowed to escape in the darkness. Citizens were called upon
to participate in the man hunt and New Orleans was soon the scene of
terrible excitement. Officers were present everywhere, and colored men
were arrested on all sides upon the pretext that they were impertinent and
“game niggers” An instance is mentioned in the Times-Democrat of the
twenty-fifth and shows the treatment which unoffending colored men
received at the hands of some of the officers. This instance shows
Corporal Trenchard, who displayed such remarkable bravery on Monday night
in dodging Charles’s revolver, in his true light. It shows how brave a
white man is when he has a gun attacking a Negro who is a helpless
prisoner. The account is as follows:
The police made some arrests in the neighborhood of the killing of the
two officers. Mobs of young darkies gathered everywhere. These Negroes
talked and joked about the affair, and many of them were for starting a
race war on the spot. It was not until several of these little gangs
amalgamated and started demonstrations that the police commenced to
act. Nearly a dozen arrests were made within an hour, and everybody in
the vicinity was in a tremor of excitement.
It was about 1 o’clock that the Negroes on Fourth Street became very
noisy, and George Meyers, who lives on Sixth Street, near Rampart,
appeared to be one of the prime movers in a little riot that was rapidly
developing. Policeman Exnicios and Sheridan placed him under arrest, and
owing to the fact that the patrol wagon had just left with a number of
prisoners, they walked him toward St. Charles Avenue in order to get a
conveyance to take him to the Sixth Precinct station.
A huge crowd of Negroes followed the officers and their prisoners.
Between Dryades and Baronne, on Sixth, Corporal Trenchard met the trio.
He had his pistol in his hand and he came on them running. The Negroes
in the wake of the officers, and prisoner took to flight immediately.
Some disappeared through gates and some over fences and into yards, for
Trenchard, visibly excited, was waving his revolver in the air and was
threatening to shoot. He joined the officers in their walk toward St.
Charles Street, and the way he acted led the white people who were
witnessing the affair to believe that his prisoner was the wanted Negro.
At every step he would punch him or hit him with the barrel of his
pistol, and the onlookers cried, “Lynch him!” “Kill him!” and other
expressions until the spectators were thoroughly wrought up. At St.
Charles Street, Trenchard desisted, and, calling an empty ice wagon,
threw the Negro into the body of the vehicle and ordered Officer
Exnicios to take him to the Sixth Precinct station.
The ride to the station was a wild one. Exnicios had all he could do to
watch his prisoner. A gang climbed into the wagon and administered a
terrible thrashing to the black en route. It took a half hour to reach
the police station, for the mule that was drawing the wagon was not
overly fast. When the station was reached a mob of nearly 200 howling
white youths was awaiting it. The noise they made was something
terrible. Meyers was howling for mercy before he reached the ground. The
mob dragged him from the wagon, the officer with him. Then began a
torrent of abuse for the unfortunate prisoner.
The station door was but thirty feet away, but it took Exnicios nearly
five minutes to fight his way through the mob to the door. There were no
other officers present, and the station seemed to be deserted. Neither
the doorman nor the clerk paid any attention to the noise on the
outside. As the result, the maddened crowd wrought their vengeance on
the Negro. He was punched, kicked, bruised and torn. The clothes were
ripped from his back, while his face after that few minutes was
This was the treatment accorded and permitted to a helpless prisoner
because he was black. All day Wednesday the man hunt continued. The
excitement caused by the deaths of Day and Lamb became intense. The
officers of the law knew they were trailing a man whose aim was deadly and
whose courage they had never seen surpassed. Commenting upon the
marksmanship of the man which the paper styled a fiend, the
Times-Democrat of Wednesday said:
One of the extraordinary features of the tragedy was the marksmanship
displayed by the Negro desperado. His aim was deadly and his coolness
must have been something phenomenal. The two shots that killed Captain
Day and Patrolman Lamb struck their victims in the head, a circumstance
remarkable enough in itself, considering the suddenness and fury of the
onslaught and the darkness that reigned in the alley way.
Later on Charles fired at Corporal Perrier, who was standing at least
seventy-five yards away. The murderer appeared at the gate, took
lightning aim along the side of the house, and sent a bullet whizzing
past the officer’s ear. It was a close shave, and a few inches’
deflection would no doubt have added a fourth victim to the list.
At the time of the affray there is good reason to believe that Charles
was seriously wounded, and at any event he had lost quantities of blood.
His situation was as critical as it is possible to imagine, yet he shot
like an expert in a target range. The circumstance shows the desperate
character of the fiend, and his terrible dexterity with weapons makes
him one of the most formidable monsters that has ever been loose upon
Wednesday New Orleans was in the hands of a mob. Charles, still sought for
and still defending himself, had killed four policemen, and everybody knew
that he intended to die fighting. Unable to vent its vindictiveness and
bloodthirsty vengeance upon Charles, the mob turned its attention to other
colored men who happened to get in the path of its fury. Even colored
women, as has happened many times before, were assaulted and beaten and
killed by the brutal hoodlums who thronged the streets. The reign of
absolute lawlessness began about 8 o’clock Wednesday night. The mob
gathered near the Lee statue and was soon making its way to the place
where the officers had been shot by Charles. Describing the mob, the
Times-Democrat of Thursday morning says:
The gathering in the square, which numbered about 700, eventually became
in a measure quiet, and a large, lean individual, in poor attire and
with unshaven face, leaped upon a box that had been brought for the
purpose, and in a voice that under no circumstances could be heard at a
very great distance, shouted: “Gentlemen, I am the Mayor of Kenner” He
did not get a chance for some minutes to further declare himself, for
the voice of the rabble swung over his like a huge wave over a sinking
craft. He stood there, however, wildly waving his arms and demanded a
hearing, which was given him when the uneasiness of the mob was quieted
for a moment or so.
“I am from Kenner, gentlemen, and I have come down to New Orleans
tonight to assist you in teaching the blacks a lesson. I have killed a
Negro before, and in revenge of the wrong wrought upon you and yours, I
am willing to kill again. The only way that you can teach these Niggers
a lesson and put them in their place is to go out and lynch a few of
them as an object lesson. String up a few of them, and the others will
trouble you no more. That is the only thing to do — kill them, string
them up, lynch them! I will lead you, if you will but follow. On to the
Parish Prison and lynch Pierce!”
They bore down on the Parish Prison like an avalanche, but the avalanche
split harmlessly on the blank walls of the jail, and Remy Klock sent out
a brief message: “You can’t have Pierce, and you can’t get in” Up to
that time the mob had had no opposition, but Klock’s answer chilled them
considerably. There was no deep-seated desperation in the crowd after
all, only, that wild lawlessness which leads to deeds of cruelty, but
not to stubborn battle. Around the corner from the prison is a row of
pawn and second-hand shops, and to these the mob took like the ducks to
the proverbial mill-pond, and the devastation they wrought upon Mr.
Fink’s establishment was beautiful in its line.
Everything from breast pins to horse pistols went into the pockets of
the crowd, and in the melee a man was shot down, while just around the
corner somebody planted a long knife in the body of a little newsboy for
no reason as yet shown. Every now and then a Negro would be flushed
somewhere in the outskirts of the crowd and left beaten to a pulp. Just
how many were roughly handled will never be known, but the unlucky
thirteen had been severely beaten and maltreated up to a late hour, a
number of those being in the Charity Hospital under the bandages and
courtplaster of the doctors.
The first colored man to meet death at the hands of the mob was a
passenger on a street car. The mob had broken itself into fragments after
its disappointment at the jail, each fragment looking for a Negro to
kill. The bloodthirsty cruelty of one crowd is thus described by the
“We will get a Nigger down here, you bet!” was the yelling boast that
went up from a thousand throats, and for the first time the march of the
mob was directed toward the downtown sections. The words of the rioters
were prophetic, for just as Canal Street was reached a car on the
Villere line came along.
“Stop that car!” cried half a hundred men. The advance guard, heeding
the injunction, rushed up to the slowly moving car, and several, seizing
the trolley, jerked it down.
“Here’s a Nigro!” said half a dozen men who sprang upon the car.
The car was full of passengers at the time, among them several women.
When the trolley was pulled down and the car thrown in total darkness,
the latter began to scream, and for a moment or so it looked as if the
life of every person in the car was in peril, for some of the crowd with
demoniacal yells of “There he goes!” began to fire their weapons
indiscriminately. The passengers in the car hastily jumped to the ground
and joined the crowd, as it was evidently the safest place to be.
“Where’s that Nigger?” was the query passed along the line, and with
that the search began in earnest. The Negro, after jumping off the car,
lost himself for a few moments in the crowd, but after a brief search he
was again located. The slight delay seemed, if possible, only to whet
the desire of the bloodthirsty crowd, for the reappearance of the Negro
was the signal for a chorus of screams and pistol shots directed at the
fugitive. With the speed of a deer, the man ran straight from the corner
of Canal and Villere to Customhouse Street. The pursuers, closely
following, kept up a running fire, but notwithstanding the fact that
they were right at the Negro’s heels their aim was poor and their
bullets went wide of the mark.
The Negro, on reaching Customhouse Street, darted from the sidewalk out
into the middle of the street. This was the worst maneuver that he could
have made, as it brought him directly under the light from an arc lamp,
located on a nearby corner. When the Negro came plainly in view of the
foremost of the closely following mob they directed a volley at him.
Half a dozen pistols flashed simultaneously, and one of the bullets
evidently found its mark, for the Negro stopped short, threw up his
hands, wavered for a moment, and then started to run again. This stop,
slight as it was, proved fatal to the Negro’s chances, for he had not
gotten twenty steps farther when several of the men in advance of the
others reached his side. A burly fellow, grabbing him with one hand,
dealt him a terrible blow on the head with the other. The wounded man
sank to the ground. The crowd pressed around him and began to beat him
and stamp him. The men in the rear pressed forward and those beating the
man were shoved forward. The half-dead Negro, when he was freed from his
assailants, crawled over to the gutter. The men behind, however, stopped
pushing when those in front yelled, “We’ve got him,” and then it was
that the attack on the bleeding Negro was resumed. A vicious kick
directed at the Negro’s head sent him into the gutter, and for a moment
the body sank from view beneath the muddy, slimy water. “Pull him out;
don’t let him drown,” was the cry, and instantly several of the men
around the half-drowned Negro bent down and drew the body out. Twisting
the body around they drew the head and shoulders up on the street, while
from the waist down the Negro’s body remained under the water. As soon
as the crowd saw that the Negro was still alive they again began to beat
and kick him. Every few moments they would stop and striking matches
look into the man’s face to see if he still lived. To better see if he
was dead they would stick lighted matches to his eyes. Finally,
believing he was dead they left him and started out to look for other
Negroes. Just about this time some one yelled, “He ain’t dead,” and the
men came back and renewed the attack. While the men were beating and
pounding the prostrate form with stones and sticks a man in the crowd
ran up, and crying, “I’ll fix the d—— Negro,” poked the muzzle of a
pistol almost against the body and fired. This shot must have ended the
man’s life, for he lay like a stone, and realizing that they were
wasting energy in further attacks, the men left their victim lying in
The same paper, on the same day, July 26, describes the brutal butchery of
an aged colored man early in the morning:
Baptiste Philo, a Negro, seventy-five years of age, was a victim of mob
violence at Kerlerec and North Peters Streets about 2:30 o’clock this
morning. The old man is employed about the French Market, and was on his
way there when he was met by a crowd and desperately shot. The old man
found his way to the Third Precinct police station, where it was found
that he had received a ghastly wound in the abdomen. The ambulance was
summoned and he was conveyed to the Charity Hospital. The students
pronounced the wound fatal after a superficial examination.
Mob rule continued Thursday, its violence increasing every hour, until 2
p.m., when the climax seemed to be reached. The fact that colored men and
women had been made the victims of brutal mobs, chased through the
streets, killed upon the highways and butchered in their homes, did not
call the best element in New Orleans to active exertion in behalf of law
and order. The killing of a few Negroes more or less by irresponsible mobs
does not cut much figure in Louisiana. But when the reign of mob law
exerts a depressing influence upon the stock market and city securities
begin to show unsteady standing in money centers, then the strong arm of
the good white people of the South asserts itself and order is quickly
brought out of chaos.
It was so with New Orleans on that Thursday. The better element of the
white citizens began to realize that New Orleans in the hands of a mob
would not prove a promising investment for Eastern capital, so the better
element began to stir itself, not for the purpose of punishing the
brutality against the Negroes who had been beaten, or bringing to justice
the murderers of those who had been killed, but for the purpose of saving
the city’s credit. The Times-Democrat, upon this phase of the situation
on Friday morning says:
When it became known later in the day that State bonds had depreciated
from a point to a point and a half on the New York market a new phase of
seriousness was manifest to the business community. Thinking men
realized that a continuance of unchecked disorder would strike a body
blow to the credit of the city and in all probability would complicate
the negotiation of the forthcoming improvement bonds. The bare thought
that such a disaster might be brought about by a few irresponsible boys,
tramps and ruffians, inflamed popular indignation to fever pitch. It was
all that was needed to bring to the aid of the authorities the active
personal cooperation of the entire better element.
With the financial credit of the city at stake, the good citizens rushed
to the rescue, and soon the Mayor was able to mobilize a posse of 1,000
willing men to assist the police in maintaining order, but rioting still
continued in different sections of the city. Colored men and women were
beaten, chased and shot whenever they made their appearance upon the
street. Late in the night a most despicable piece of villainy occurred on
Rousseau Street, where an aged colored woman was killed by the mob. The
Times-Democrat thus describes, the murder:
Hannah Mabry, an old Negress, was shot and desperately wounded shortly
after midnight this morning while sleeping in her home at No. 1929
Rousseau Street. It was the work of a mob, and was evidently well
planned so far as escape was concerned, for the place was reached by
police officers, and a squad of the volunteer police within a very short
time after the reports of the shots, but not a prisoner was secured. The
square was surrounded, but the mob had scattered in several directions,
and, the darkness of the neighborhood aiding them, not one was taken.
At the time the mob made the attack on the little house there were also
in it David Mabry, the sixty-two-year-old husband of the wounded woman;
her son, Harry Mabry; his wife, Fannie, and an infant child. The young
couple with their babe could not be found after the whole affair was
over, and they either escaped or were hustled off by the mob. A careful
search of the whole neighborhood was made, but no trace of them could be
The little place occupied by the Mabry family is an old cottage on the
swamp side of Rousseau Street. It is furnished with slat shutters to
both doors and windows. These shutters had been pulled off by the mob
and the volleys fired through the glass doors. The younger Mabrys,
father, mother and child, were asleep in the first room at the time.
Hannah Mabry and her old husband were sleeping in the next room. The old
couple occupied the same bed, and it is miraculous that the old man did
not share the fate of his spouse.
Officer Bitterwolf, who was one of the first on the scene, said that he
was about a block and a half away with Officers Fordyce and Sweeney.
There were about twenty shots fired, and the trio raced to the cottage.
They saw twenty or thirty men running down Rousseau Street. Chase was
given and the crowd turned toward the river and scattered into several
vacant lots in the neighborhood.
The volunteer police stationed at the Sixth Precinct had about five
blocks to run before they arrived. They also moved on the reports of the
firing, and in a remarkably short time the square was surrounded, but no
one could be taken. As they ran to the scene they were assailed on every
hand with vile epithets and the accusation of “Nigger lovers.”
Rousseau Street, where the cottage is situated, is a particularly dark
spot, and no doubt the members of the mob were well acquainted with the
neighborhood, for the officers said that they seemed to sink into the
earth, so completely and quickly did they disappear after they had
completed their work, which was complete with the firing of the volley.
Hannah Mabry was taken to the Charity Hospital in the ambulance, where
it was found on examination that she had been shot through the right
lung, and that the wound was a particularly serious one.
Her old husband was found in the little wrecked home well nigh
distracted with fear and grief. It was he who informed the police that
at the time of the assault the younger Mabrys occupied the front room.
As he ran about the little home as well as his feeble condition would
permit he severely lacerated his feet on the glass broken from the
windows and door. He was escorted to the Sixth Precinct station, where
he was properly cared for. He could not realize why his little family
had been so murderously attacked, and was inconsolable when his wife was
driven off in the ambulance piteously moaning in her pain.
The search for the perpetrators of the outrage was thorough, but both
police and armed force of citizens had only their own efforts to rely
on. The residents of the neighborhood were aroused by the firing, but
they would give no help in the search and did not appear in the least
concerned over the affair. Groups were on almost every doorstep, and
some of them even jeered in a quiet way at the men who were voluntarily
attempting to capture the members of the mob. Absolutely no information
could be had from any of them, and the whole affair had the appearance
of being the work of roughs who either lived in the vicinity, or their
DEATH OF CHARLES
Friday witnessed the final act in the bloody drama begun by the three
police officers, Aucoin, Mora and Cantrelle. Betrayed into the hands of
the police, Charles, who had already sent two of his would-be murderers to
their death, made a last stand in a small building, 1210 Saratoga Street,
and, still defying his pursuers, fought a mob of twenty thousand people,
single-handed and alone, killing three more men, mortally wounding two
more and seriously wounding nine others. Unable to get to him in his
stronghold, the besiegers set fire to his house of refuge. While the
building was burning Charles was shooting, and every crack of his
death-dealing rifle added another victim to the price which he had placed
upon his own life. Finally, when fire and smoke became too much for flesh
and blood to stand, the long sought for fugitive appeared in the door,
rifle in hand, to charge the countless guns that were drawn upon him.
With a courage which was indescribable, he raised his gun to fire again,
but this time it failed, for a hundred shots riddled his body, and he fell
dead face fronting to the mob. This last scene in the terrible drama is
thus described in the Times-Democrat of July 26:
Early yesterday afternoon, at 3 o’clock or thereabouts, Police Sergeant
Gabriel Porteus was instructed by Chief Gaster to go to a house at No.
1210 Saratoga Street, and search it for the fugitive murderer, Robert
Charles. A private “tip” had been received at the headquarters that the
fiend was hiding somewhere on the premises.
Sergeant Porteus took with him Corporal John R. Lally and Officers
Zeigel and Essey. The house to which they were directed is a small,
double frame cottage, standing flush with Saratoga Street, near the
corner of Clio. It has two street entrances and two rooms on each side,
one in front and one in the rear. It belongs to the type of cheap little
dwellings commonly tenanted by Negroes.
Sergeant Porteus left Ziegel and Essey to guard the outside and went
with Corporal Lally to the rear house, where he found Jackson and his
wife in the large room on the left. What immediately ensued is only
known by the Negroes. They say the sergeant began to question them about
their lodgers and finally asked them whether they knew anything about
Robert Charles. They strenuously denied all knowledge of his
The Negroes lied. At that very moment the hunted and desperate murderer
lay concealed not a dozen feet away. Near the rear, left-hand corner of
the room is a closet or pantry, about three feet deep, and perhaps eight
feet long. The door was open and Charles was crouching, Winchester in
hand, in the dark further end.
Near the closet door was a bucket of water, and Jackson says that
Sergeant Porteous walked toward it to get a drink. At the next moment a
shot rang out and the brave officer fell dead. Lally was shot directly
afterward. Exactly how and where will never be known, but the
probabilities are that the black fiend sent a bullet into him before he
recovered from his surprise at the sudden onslaught. Then the murderer
dashed out of the back door and disappeared.
The neighborhood was already agog with the tragic events of the two
preceding days, and the sound of the shots was a signal for wild and
instant excitement. In a few moments a crowd had gathered and people
were pouring in by the hundred from every point of the compass. Jackson
and his wife had fled and at first nobody knew what had happened, but
the surmise that Charles had recommenced his bloody work was on every
tongue and soon some of the bolder found their way to the house in the
rear. There the bleeding forms of the two policemen told the story.
Lally was still breathing, and a priest was sent for to administer the
last rites. Father Fitzgerald responded, and while he was bending over
the dying man the outside throng was rushing wildly through the
surrounding yards and passageways searching for the murderer. “Where is
he?” “What has become of him,” were the questions on every lip.
Suddenly the answer came in a shot from the room directly overhead. It
was fired through a window facing Saratoga Street, and the bullet struck
down a young man named Alfred J. Bloomfield, who was standing in the
narrow passage-way between the two houses. He fell on his knees and a
second bullet stretched him dead.
When he fled from the closet Charles took refuge in the upper story of
the house. There are four windows on that floor, two facing toward
Saratoga Street and two toward Rampart. The murderer kicked several
breaches in the frail central partition, so he could rush from side to
side, and like a trapped beast, prepared to make his last stand.
Nobody had dreamed that he was still in the house, and when Bloomfield
was shot there was a headlong stampede. It was some minutes before the
exact situation was understood. Then rifles and pistols began to speak,
and a hail of bullets poured against the blind frontage of the old
house. Every one hunted some coign of vantage, and many climbed to
adjacent roofs. Soon the glass of the four upper windows was shattered
by flying lead. The fusillade sounded like a battle, and the excitement
upon the streets was indescribable.
Throughout all this hideous uproar Charles seems to have retained a
certain diabolical coolness. He kept himself mostly out of sight, but
now and then he thrust the gleaming barrel of his rifle through one of
the shattered window panes and fired at his besiegers. He worked the
weapon with incredible rapidity, discharging from three to five
cartridges each time before leaping back to a place of safety. These
replies came from all four windows indiscriminately, and showed that he
was keeping a close watch in every direction. His wonderful marksmanship
never failed him for a moment, and when he missed it was always by the
narrowest margin only.
On the Rampart Street side of the house there are several sheds,
commanding an excellent range of the upper story. Detective Littleton,
Andrew Van Kuren of the Workhouse force and several others climbed upon
one of these and opened fire on the upper windows, shooting whenever
they could catch a glimpse of the assassin. Charles responded with his
rifle, and presently Van Kuren climbed down to find a better position.
He was crossing the end of the shed when he was killed.
Another of Charles’s bullets found its billet in the body of Frank
Evans, an ex-member of the police force. He was on the Rampart Street
side firing whenever he had an opportunity. Officer J.W. Bofill and A.S.
Leclerc were also wounded in the fusillade.
While the events thus briefly outlined were transpiring time was a-wing,
and the cooler headed in the crowd began to realize that some quick and
desperate expedient must be adopted to insure the capture of the fiend
and to avert what might be a still greater tragedy than any yet enacted.
For nearly two hours the desperate monster had held his besiegers at
bay, darkness would soon be at hand and no one could predict what might
occur if he made a dash for liberty in the dark.
At this critical juncture it was suggested that the house be fired. The
plan came as an inspiration, and was adopted as the only solution of the
situation. The wretched old rookery counted for nothing against the
possible continued sacrifice of human life, and steps were immediately
taken to apply the torch. The fire department had been summoned to the
scene soon after the shooting began; its officers were warned to be
ready to prevent a spread of the conflagration, and several men rushed
into the lower right-hand room and started a blaze in one corner.
They first fired an old mattress, and soon smoke was pouring out in
dense volumes. It filled the interior of the ramshackle structure, and
it was evident that the upper story would soon become untenable. An
interval of tense excitement followed, and all eyes were strained for a
glimpse of the murderer when he emerged.
Then came the thrilling climax. Smoked out of his den, the desperate
fiend descended the stairs and entered the lower room. Some say he
dashed into the yard, glaring around vainly for some avenue of escape;
but, however that may be, he was soon a few moments later moving about
behind the lower windows. A dozen shots were sent through the wall in
the hope of reaching him, but he escaped unscathed. Then suddenly the
door on the right was flung open and he dashed out. With head lowered
and rifle raised ready to fire on the instant, Charles dashed straight
for the rear door of the front cottage. To reach it he had to traverse a
little walk shaded by a vineclad arbor. In the back room, with a cocked
revolver in his hand, was Dr. C.A. Noiret, a young medical student, who
was aiding the citizens’ posse. As he sprang through the door Charles
fired a shot, and the bullet whizzed past the doctor’s head. Before it
could be repeated Noiret’s pistol cracked and the murderer reeled,
turned half around and fell on his back. The doctor sent another ball
into his body as he struck the floor, and half a dozen men, swarming
into the room from the front, riddled the corpse with bullets.
Private Adolph Anderson of the Connell Rifles was the first man to
announce the death of the wretch. He rushed to the street door, shouted
the news to the crowd, and a moment later the bleeding body was dragged
to the pavement and made the target of a score of pistols. It was shot,
kicked and beaten almost out of semblance to humanity....
The limp dead body was dropped at the edge of the sidewalk and from
there dragged to the muddy roadway by half a hundred hands. There in the
road more shots were fired into the body. Corporal Trenchard, a
brother-in-law of Porteus, led the shooting into the inanimate clay.
With each shot there was a cheer for the work that had been done and
curses and imprecations on the inanimate mass of riddled flesh that was
once Robert Charles.
Cries of “Burn him! Burn him!” were heard from Clio Street all the way
to Erato Street, and it was with difficulty that the crowd was
restrained from totally destroying the wretched dead body. Some of those
who agitated burning even secured a large vessel of kerosene, which had
previously been brought to the scene for the purpose of firing Charles’s
refuge, and for a time it looked as though this vengeance might be
wreaked on the body. The officers, however, restrained this move,
although they were powerless to prevent the stamping and kicking of the
body by the enraged crowd.
After the infuriated citizens had vented their spleen on the body of the
dead Negro it was loaded into the patrol wagon. The police raised the
body of the heavy black from the ground and literally chucked it into
the space on the floor of the wagon between the seats. They threw it
with a curse hissed more than uttered and born of the bitterness which
was rankling in their breasts at the thought of Charles having taken so
wantonly the lives of four of the best of their fellow-officers.
When the murderer’s body landed in the wagon it fell in such a position
that the hideously mutilated head, kicked, stamped and crushed, hung
over the end.
As the wagon moved off, the followers, who were protesting against its
being carried off, declaring that it should be burned, poked and struck
it with sticks, beating it into such a condition that it was utterly
impossible to tell what the man ever looked like.
As the patrol wagon rushed through the rough street, jerking and
swaying from one side of the thoroughfare to the other, the gory,
mud-smeared head swayed and swung and jerked about in a sickening
manner, the dark blood dripping on the steps and spattering the body of
the wagon and the trousers of the policemen standing on the step.
Early Account of the Event
The brutality of the mob was further shown by the unspeakable cruelty with
which it beat, shot and stabbed to death an unoffending colored man, name
unknown, who happened to be walking on the street with no thought that he
would be set upon and killed simply because he was a colored man. The
Times-Democrat’s description of the outrage is as follows:
While the fight between the Negro desperado and the citizens was in
progress yesterday afternoon at Clio and Saratoga Streets another
tragedy was being enacted downtown in the French quarter, but it was a
very one-sided affair. The object of the white man’s wrath was, of
course, a Negro, but, unlike Charles, he showed no fight, but tried to
escape from the furious mob which was pursuing him, and which finally
put an end to his existence in a most cruel manner.
The Negro, whom no one seemed to know — at any rate no one could be found
in the vicinity of the killing who could tell who he was — was walking
along the levee, as near as could be learned, when he was attacked by a
number of white longshoremen or screwmen. For what reason, if there was
any reason other than the fact that he was a Negro, could not be
learned, and immediately they pounced upon him he broke ground and
started on a desperate run for his life.
The hunted Negro started off the levee toward the French Vegetable
Market, changed his course out the sidewalk toward Gallatin Street. The
angry, yelling mob was close at his heels, and increasing steadily as
each block was traversed. At Gallatin Street he turned up that
thoroughfare, doubled back into North Peters Street and ran into the
rear of No. 1216 of that street, which is occupied by Chris Reuter as a
commission store and residence.
He rushed frantically through the place and out on to the gallery on the
Gallatin Street side. From this gallery he jumped to the street and fell
flat on his back on the sidewalk. Springing to his feet as soon as
possible, with a leaden, hail fired by the angry mob whistling about
him, he turned to his merciless pursuers in an appealing way, and,
throwing up one hand, told them not to shoot any more, that they could
take him as he was.
But the hail of lead continued, and the unfortunate Negro finally
dropped to the sidewalk, mortally wounded. The mob then rushed upon him,
still continuing the fusillade, and upon reaching his body a number of
Italians, who had joined the howling mob, reached down and stabbed him
in the back and buttock with big knives. Others fired shots into his
head until his teeth were shot out, three shots having been fired into
his mouth. There were bullet wounds all over his body.
Others who witnessed the affair declared that the man was fired at as he
was running up the stairs leading to the living apartments above the
store, and that after jumping to the sidewalk and being knocked down by
a bullet he jumped up and ran across the street, then ran back and tried
to get back into the commission store. The Italians, it is said, were
all drunk, and had been shooting firecrackers. Tiring of this, they
began shooting at Negroes, and when the unfortunate man who was killed
ran by they joined in the chase.
No one was arrested for the shooting, the neighborhood having been
deserted by the police, who were sent up to the place where Charles was
fighting so desperately. No one could or would give the names of any of
those who had participated in the chase and the killing, nor could any
one be found who knew who the Negro was. The patrol wagon was called and
the terribly mutilated body sent to the morgue and the coroner notified.
The murdered Negro was copper colored, about 5 feet 11 inches in height,
about 35 years of age, and was dressed in blue overalls and a brown
slouch hat. At 10:30 o’clock the vicinity of the French Market was very
quiet. Squads of special officers were patrolling the neighborhood, and
there did not seem to be any prospects of disorder.
During the entire time the mob held the city in its hands and went about
holding up street cars and searching them, taking from them colored men to
assault, shoot and kill, chasing colored men upon the public square,
through alleys and into houses of anybody who would take them in, breaking
into the homes of defenseless colored men and women and beating aged and
decrepit men and women to death, the police and the legally constituted
authorities showed plainly where their sympathies were, for in no case
reported through the daily papers does there appear the arrest, trial and
conviction of one of the mob for any of the brutalities which occurred.
The ringleaders of the mob were at no time disguised. Men were chased,
beaten and killed by white brutes, who boasted of their crimes, and the
murderers still walk the streets of New Orleans, well known and absolutely
exempt from prosecution. Not only were they exempt from prosecution by the
police while the town was in the hands of the mob, but even now that law
and order is supposed to resume control, these men, well known, are not
now, nor ever will be, called to account for the unspeakable brutalities
of that terrible week. On the other hand, the colored men who were beaten
by the police and dragged into the station for purposes of intimidation,
were quickly called up before the courts and fined or sent to jail upon
the statement of the police. Instances of Louisiana justice as it is
dispensed in New Orleans are here quoted from the Times-Democrat of July
Justice Dealt Out to Folk Who Talked Too Much
All the Negroes and whites who were arrested in the vicinity of
Tuesday’s tragedy had a hard time before Recorder Hughes yesterday. Lee
Jackson was the first prisoner, and the evidence established that he
made his way to the vicinity of the crime and told his Negro friends
that he thought a good many more policemen ought to be killed. Jackson
said he was drunk when he made the remark. He was fined $25 or thirty
John Kennedy was found wandering about the street Tuesday night with an
open razor in his hand, and he was given $25 or thirty days.
Edward McCarthy, a white man, who arrived only four days since from New
York, went to the scene of the excitement at the corner of Third and
Rampart Streets, and told the Negroes that they were as good as any
white man. This remark was made by McCarthy, as another white man said
the Negroes should be lynched. McCarthy told the recorder that he
considered a Negro as good as a white in body and soul. He was fined $25
or thirty days.
James Martin, Simon Montegut, Eddie McCall, Alex Washington and Henry
Turner were up for failing to move on. Martin proved that he was at the
scene to assist the police and was discharged. Montegut, being a
cripple, was also released, but the others were fined $25 or thirty days
Eddie Williams for refusing to move on was given $25 or thirty days.
Matilda Gamble was arrested by the police for saying that two officers
were killed and it was a pity more were not shot. She was given $25 or
“Recorder Hughes received Negroes in the first recorder’s office yesterday
morning in a way that they will remember for a long time, and all of them
were before the magistrate for having caused trouble through incendiary
remarks concerning the death of Captain Day and Patrolman Lamb.”
“Lee Jackson was before the recorder and was fined $25 or thirty days. He
was lippy around where the trouble happened Tuesday morning, and some
white men punched him good and hard and the police took him. Then the
recorder gave him a dose, and now he is in the parish prison.”
“John Kennedy was another black who got into trouble. He said that the
shooting of the police by Charles was a good thing, and for this he was
pounded. Patrolman Lorenzo got him and saved him from being lynched, for
the black had an open razor. He was fined $25 or thirty days.”
“Edward McCarthy, a white man, mixed up with the crowd, and an expression
of sympathy nearly cost him his head, for some whites about started for
him, administering licks and blows with fists and umbrellas. The recorder
fined him $25 or thirty days. He is from New York.”
“Then James Martin, a white man, and Simon Montegut, Eddie Call, Henry
Turner and Alex Washington were before the magistrate for having failed to
move on when the police ordered them from the square where the bluecoats
were Tuesday, waiting in the hope of catching Charles. All save Martin and
Montegut were fined.”
“Eddie Williams, a little Negro who was extremely fresh with the police,
was fined $10 or ten days.”
The whole city was at the mercy of the mob and the display of brutality
was a disgrace to civilization. One instance is described in the
Picayune as follows:
A smaller party detached itself from the mob at Washington and Rampart
Streets, and started down the latter thoroughfare. One of the foremost
spied a Negro, and immediately there was a rush for the unfortunate
black man. With the sticks they had torn from fences on the line of
march the young outlaws attacked the black and clubbed him unmercifully,
acting more like demons than human beings. After being severely beaten
over the head, the Negro started to run with the whole gang at his
heels. Several revolvers were brought into play and pumped their lead at
the refugee. The Negro made rapid progress and took refuge behind the
blinds of a little cottage in Rampart Street, but he had been seen, and
the mob hauled him from his hiding place and again commenced beating
him. There were more this time, some twenty or thirty, all armed with
sticks and heavy clubs, and under their incessant blows the Negro could
not last long. He begged for mercy, and his cries were most pitiful, but
a mob has no heart, and his cries were only answered with more blows.
“For God’s sake, boss, I ain’t done nothin’. Don’t kill me. I swear I
ain’t done nothin’.”
The white brutes turned
A DEAF EAR TO THE PITYING CRIES
of the black wretch and the drubbing continued. The cries subsided into
moans, and soon the black swooned away into unconsciousness. Still not
content with their heartless work, they pulled the Negro out and kicked
him into the gutter. For the time those who had beaten the black seemed
satisfied and left him groaning in the gutter, but others came up, and,
regretting that they had not had a hand in the affair, they determined
to evidence their bravery to their fellows and beat the man while he was
in the gutter, hurling rocks and stones at his black form. One
thoughtless white brute, worse even than the black slayer of the police
officers, thought to make himself a hero in the eyes of his fellows and
fired his revolver repeatedly into the helpless wretch. It was dark and
the fellow probably aimed carelessly. After firing three or four shots
he also left without knowing what extent of injury he inflicted on the
black wretch who was left lying in the gutter.
MURDER ON THE LEVEE
One part of the crowd made a raid on the tenderloin district, hoping to
find there some belated Negro for a sacrifice. They were urged on by the
white prostitutes, who applauded their murderous mission. Says an account:
The red light district was all excitement. Women — that is, the white
women — were out on their stoops and peeping over their galleries and
through their windows and doors, shouting to the crowd to go on with
their work, and kill Negroes for them.
“Our best wishes, boys,” they encouraged; and the mob answered with
shouts, and whenever a Negro house was sighted a bombardment was started
on the doors and windows.
No colored men were found on the streets until the mob reached Custom
House Place and Villiers Streets. Here a victim was found and brutally put
to death. The Picayune description is as follows:
Some stragglers had run a Negro into a car at the corner of Bienville
and Villere Streets. He was seeking refuge in the conveyance, and he
believed that the car would not be stopped and could speed along. But
the mob determined to stop the car, and ordered the motorman to halt. He
put on his brake. Some white men were in the car.
“Get out, fellows,” shouted several of the mob.
“All whites fall out,” was the second cry, and the poor Negro understood
that it was meant that he should stay in the car.
He wanted to save his life. The poor fellow crawled under the seats. But
some one in the crowd saw him and yelled that he was hiding. Two or
three men climbed through the windows with their pistols; others jumped
over the motorman’s board, and dozens tumbled into the rear of the car.
Big, strong hands got the Negro by the shirt. He was dragged out of the
conveyance, and was pushed to the street. Some fellow ran up and struck
him with a club. The blow was heavy, but it did not fell him, and the
Negro ran toward Canal Street, stealing along the wall of the Tulane
Medical Building. Fifty men ran after him, caught the poor fellow and
hurried him back into the crowd. Fists were aimed at him, then clubs
went upon his shoulders, and finally the black plunged into the gutter.
A gun was fired, and the Negro, who had just gotten to his feet, dropped
again. He tried to get up, but a volley was sent after him, and in a
little while he was dead.
The crowd looked on at the terrible work. Then the lights in the houses
of ill-fame began to light up again, and women peeped out of the blinds.
The motorman was given the order to go on. The gong clanged and the
conveyance sped out of the way. For half an hour the crowd held their
place at the corner, then the patrol wagon came and the body was picked
up and hurried to the morgue.
Coroner Richard held an autopsy on the body of the Negro who was forced
out of car 98 of the Villere line and shot down. It was found that he
was wounded four times, the most serious wound being that which struck
him in the right side, passing through the lungs, and causing
hemorrhages, which brought about death.
Nobody tried to identify the poor fellow and his name is unknown.
A VICTIM IN THE MARKET
Soon after the murder of the man on the street car many of the same mob
marched down to the market place. There they found a colored market man
named Louis Taylor, who had gone to begin his early morning’s work. He was
at once set upon by the mob and killed. The Picayune account says:
Between 1 and 2 o’clock this morning a mob of several hundred men and
boys, made up of participants in many of the earlier affairs, marched on
the French Market. Louis Taylor, a Negro vegetable carrier, who is about
thirty years of age, was sitting at the soda water stand. As soon as the
mob saw him fire was opened and the Negro took to his heels. He ran
directly into another section of the mob and any number of shots were
fired at him. He fell, face down, on the floor of the market.
The police in the neighborhood rallied hurriedly and found the victim of
mob violence seemingly lifeless. Before they arrived the Negro had been
beaten severely about the head and body. The ambulance was summoned and
Taylor was carried to the charity hospital, where it was found that he
had been shot through the abdomen and arm. The examination was a hurried
one, but it sufficed to show that Taylor was mortally wounded.
After shooting Taylor the members of the mob were pluming themselves on
their exploit. “The Nigger was at the soda water stand and we commenced
shooting him,” said one of the rioters. “He put his hands up and ran,
and we shot until he fell. I understand that he is still alive. If he
is, he is a wonder. He was certainly shot enough to be killed.”
The members of the mob readily admitted that they had taken part in the
assaults which marked the earlier part of the evening.
“We were up on Jackson Avenue and killed a Nigger on Villere Street. We
came down here, saw a nigger and killed him, too.” This was the way they
told the story.
“Boys, we are out of ammunition,” said someone.
“Well, we will keep on like we are, and if we can’t get some before
morning, we will take it. We have got to keep this thing up, now we have
This declaration was greeted by a chorus of applauding yells, and the
crowd started up the levee. Half of the men in the crowd, and they were
all of them young, were drunk.
Taylor, when seen at the charity hospital, was suffering greatly, and
presented a pitiable spectacle. His clothing was covered with blood, and
his face was beaten almost into a pulp. He said that he had gone to the
market to work and was quietly sitting down when the mob came and began
to fire on him. He was not aware at first that the crowd was after him.
When he saw its purpose he tried to run, but fell. He didn’t know any of
the men in the crowd. There is hardly a chance that Taylor will recover.
The police told the crowd to move on, but no attempt was made to arrest
A GRAY-HAIRED VICTIM
The bloodthirsty barbarians, having tasted blood, continued their hunt and
soon ran across an old man of seventy-five years. His life had been spent
in hard work about the French market, and he was well known as an
unoffending, peaceable and industrious old man.
But that made no difference to the mob. He was a Negro, and with a
fiendishness that was worse than that of cannibals they beat his life out.
The report says:
There was another gang of men parading the streets in the lower part of
the city, looking for any stray Negro who might be on the streets. As
they neared the corner of Dauphine and Kerlerec, a square below
Esplanade Avenue, they came upon Baptiste Thilo, an aged Negro, who
works in the French Market.
Thilo for years has been employed by the butchers and fish merchants to
carry baskets from the stalls to the wagons, and unload the wagons as
they arrive in the morning. He was on his way to the market, when the
mob came upon him. One of the gang struck the old Negro, and as he fell,
another in the crowd, supposed to be a young fellow, fired a shot. The
bullet entered the body just below the right nipple.
As the Negro fell the crowd looked into his face and they discovered
then that the victim was very old. The young man who did the shooting
said: “Oh, he is an old Negro. I’m sorry that I shot him.”
This is all the old Negro received in the way of consolation.
He was left where he fell, but later staggered to his feet and made his
way to the third precinct station. There the police summoned the
ambulance and the students pronounced the wound very dangerous. He was
carried to the hospital as rapidly as possible.
There was no arrest.
Just before daybreak the mob found another victim. He, too, was on his way
to market, driving a meat wagon. But little is told of his treatment,
nothing more than the following brief statement:
At nearly 3 o’clock this morning a report was sent to the Third Precinct
station that a Negro was lying on the sidewalk at the corner of Decatur
and St. Philip. The man had been pulled off of a meat wagon and riddled
When the police arrived he was insensible and apparently dying. The
ambulance students attended the Negro and pronounced the wounds fatal.
There was nothing found which would lead to the discovery of his
FUN IN GRETNA
If there are any persons so deluded as to think that human life in the
South is valued any more than the life of a brute, he will be speedily
undeceived by reading the accounts of unspeakable barbarism committed by
the mob in and around New Orleans. In no other civilized country in the
world, nay, more, in no land of barbarians would it be possible to
duplicate the scenes of brutality that are reported from New Orleans. In
the heat of blind fury one might conceive how a mad mob might beat and
kill a man taken red-handed in a brutal murder. But it is almost past
belief to read that civilized white people, men who boast of their
chivalry and blue blood, actually had fun in beating, chasing and shooting
men who had no possible connection with any crime.
But this actually happened in Gretna, a few miles from New Orleans. In its
description of the scenes of Tuesday night, the Picayune mentions the
brutal chase of several colored men whom the mob sought to kill. In the
instances mentioned, the paper said:
Gretna had its full share of excitement between 8 and 11 o’clock last
night, in connection with a report that spread through the town that a
Negro resembling the slayer of Police Captain Day, of New Orleans, had
been seen on the outskirts of the place.
It is true that a suspicious-looking Negro was observed by the residents
of Madison and Amelia Streets lurking about the fences of that
neighborhood just after dark, and shortly before 8 o’clock John Fist, a
young white man, saw the Negro on Fourth Street. He followed the darkey
a short distance, and, coming upon Robert Moore, who is known about town
as the “black detective,” Fist pointed the Negro out and Moore at once
made a move toward the stranger. The latter observed Moore making in his
direction, and, without a word, he sped in the direction of the Brooklyn
pasture, Moore following and firing several shots at him. In a few
minutes a half hundred white men, including Chief of Police Miller,
Constable Dannenhauer, Patrolman Keegan and several special officers,
all well-armed, joined in the chase, but in the darkness the Negro
Just as the pursuing party reached town again, two of the residents of
Lafayette Avenue, Peter Leson and Robert Henning, reported that they had
just chased and shot at a Negro, who had been seen in the yard of the
former’s house. They were positive the Negro had not escaped from the
square. Their report was enough to set the appetite of the crowd on
edge, and the square was quickly surrounded, while several dozens of
men, armed with lanterns and revolvers, made a search of every yard and
under every house in the square. No Negro was found.
The crowd of armed men was constantly swelling, and at 10 o’clock it had
reached the proportions of a small army. At 10:30 o’clock an outbound
freight train is due to pass through Gretna on the Texas and Pacific
Road, and the crowd, believing that Captain Day’s slayer might be aboard
one of the cars attempting to leave the scene of his crime, resolved to
inspect the train. As the train stopped at the Madison Street crossing
the engineer was requested to pull very slowly through the town, in
order that the trucks of the cars might be examined. There was a string
of armed men on each side of the railroad track and in a few moments a
Negro was espied riding between two cars. A half dozen weapons were
pointed at him and he was ordered to come out. He sprang out with
alacrity and was pounced upon almost before he reached the ground.
Robert Moore grabbed him and pushed an ugly-looking Derringer under his
nose and the Negro threw up both hands. Constable Dannenhauer and
Patrolman Keegan took charge of him and hustled him off to jail, where
he was locked up. The Negro does not at all resemble Robert Charles, but
it was best for his sake that he was placed under lock and key. The
crowd was not in a humor to let any Negro pass muster last night. The
prisoner gave his name as Luke Wallace.
But now came the real excitement. The train had slowed down almost to a
standstill, in the very heart of town. Somebody shouted: “There he goes,
on top of the train!” And sure enough, somebody was going. It was a
Negro, too, and he was making a bee-line for the front end of the train.
A veritable shower of bullets, shot and rifle balls greeted the flying
form, but on it sped. The locomotive had stopped in the middle of the
square between La voisier and Newton Streets, and the Negro, flying with
the speed of the wind along the top of the cars, reached the first car
of the train and jumped to the tender and then into the cab. As he did
several white men standing at the locomotive made a rush into the cab.
The Negro sprang swiftly out of the other side, on to the sidewalk. But
there were several more men, and as he realized that he was rushing
right into their arms he made a spring to leap over the fence of Mrs.
Linden’s home, on the wood side of the track. Before the Negro got to
the top one white man had hold of his legs, while another rushed up,
pistol in hand. The man who was holding the darkey’s legs was jostled
out of the way and the man with the pistol, standing directly beneath
the Negro, sent two bullets at him.
There was a wild scramble, and the vision of a fleeing form in the
Linden yard, but that was the last seen of the black man. The yard was
entered and searched, and neighboring yards were also searched, but not
even the trace of blood was found. It is almost impossible to believe
that the Negro was not wounded, for the man who fired at him held the
pistol almost against the Negro’s body.
The shots brought out almost everybody — white — in town, and though there
was nothing to show for the exciting work, except the arrest of the
Negro, who doesn’t answer the description of the man wanted, Gretna’s
male population had its little fan and felt amply repaid for all the
trouble it was put to, and all the ammunition it wasted.
BRUTALITY IN NEW ORLEANS
Mob rule reigned supreme Wednesday, and the scenes that were enacted
challenge belief. How many colored men and women were abused and injured
is not known, for those who escaped were glad to make a place of refuge
and took no time to publish their troubles. The mob made no attempt to
find Charles; its only purpose was to pursue, beat and kill any colored
man or woman who happened to come in sight. Speaking editorially, the
Picayune of Thursday, the twenty-sixth of July, said:
ESCAPED WITH THEIR LIVES
At the Charity Hospital Wednesday night more than a score of people were
treated for wounds received at the hands of the mob. Some were able to
tell of their mistreatment, and their recitals are briefly given in the
Picayune as follows:
Alex. Ruffin, who is quite seriously injured, is a Pullman car porter, a
native of Chicago. He reached New Orleans at 9:20 o’clock last night,
and after finishing his work, boarded a Henry Clay Avenue car to go to
Delachaise Street, where he has a sick son.
“I hadn’t ridden any way,” said he, “when I saw a lot of white folks.
They were shouting to ’Get the Niggers.’ I didn’t know they were after
every colored man they saw, and sat still. Two or three men jumped on
the car and started at me. One of them hit me over the head with a
slungshot, and they started to shooting at me. I jumped out of the car
and ran, although I had done nothing. They shot me in the arm and in the
leg. I would certainly have been killed had not some gentleman taken my
part. If I had known New Orleans was so excited I would never have left my car.”
George Morris is the name of a Negro who was badly injured by a mob
which went through the Poydras Market. Morris is employed as watchman
there. He heard the noise of the passing crowd and looked out to see
what the matter was. As soon as the mob saw him its members started
“One man hit me over the head with a club,” said George, after his
wounds had been dressed, “and somebody cut me in the back. I didn’t
hardly think what was the matter at first, but when I saw they were
after me I ran for my life. I ran to the coffee stand, where I work, for
protection, but they were right after me, and somebody shot me in the
back. At last the police got me away from the crowd. Just before I was
hit a friend of mine, who was in the crowd, said, ‘You had better go
home, Nigger; they’re after your kind.’ I didn’t know then what he
meant. I found out pretty quick.”
Morris is at the hospital. He is a perfect wreck, and while he will
probably get well, he will have had a close call.
Esther Fields is a Negro washerwoman who lives at South Claiborne and
Toledano Streets. She was at home when she heard a big noise and went
out to investigate. She ran into the arms of the mob, and was beaten
into insensibility in less time than it takes to tell it. Esther is
being treated at the charity hospital, and should be able to get about
in a few days. The majority of her bruises are about the head.
T.P. Sanders fell at the hands of the Jackson Avenue mob. He lives at
1927 Jackson Avenue, and was sitting in front of his home when he saw
the crowd marching out the street. He stayed to see what the excitement
was all about, and was shot in the knee and thorax and horribly beaten
about the head before the mob came to the conclusion that he had been
done for, and passed on. The ambulance was called and he was picked up
and carried to the charity hospital, where his wounds were dressed and
Oswald McMahon is nothing more than a boy. He was shot in the leg and
afterward carried to the hospital. His injuries are very slight.
Dan White is another charity hospital patient. He is a Negro roustabout
and was sitting in the bar room at Poydras and Franklin Streets when a
mob passed along and espied him. He was shot in the hand, and would have
been roughly dealt with had some policeman not been luckily near and
In addition to the Negroes who suffered from the violence of the mob
there were several patients treated at the hospital during the night who
had been with the rioters and had been struck by stray bullets or
injured in scuffles. None of this class were hurt to any extent. They
got their wounds dressed and went out again.
WAS CHARLES A DESPERADO?
The press of the country has united in declaring that Robert Charles was a
desperado. As usual, when dealing with a negro, he is assumed to be guilty
because he is charged. Even the most conservative of journals refuse to
ask evidence to prove that the dead man was a criminal, and that his life
had been given over to lawbreaking. The minute that the news was flashed
across the country that he had shot a white man it was at once declared
that he was a fiend incarnate, and that when he was killed the community
would be ridden of a black-hearted desperado. The reporters of the New
Orleans papers, who were in the best position to trace the record of this
man’s life, made every possible effort to find evidence to prove that he
was a villain unhung. With all the resources at their command, and
inspired by intense interest to paint him as black a villain as possible,
these reporters signally failed to disclose a single indictment which
charged Robert Charles with a crime. Because they failed to find any legal
evidence that Charles was a lawbreaker and desperado his accusers gave
full license to their imagination and distorted the facts that they had
obtained, in every way possible, to prove a course of criminality, which
the records absolutely refuse to show.
Charles had his first encounter with the police Monday night, in which he
was shot in the street duel which was begun by the police after Officer
Mora had beaten Charles three or four times over the head with his billy
in an attempt to make an illegal arrest. In defending himself against the
combined attack of two officers with a billy and their guns upon him,
Charles shot Officer Mora and escaped.
Early Tuesday morning Charles was traced to Dryades Street by officers who
were instructed to kill him on sight. There, again defending himself, he
shot and killed two officers. This, of course, in the eyes of the American
press, made him a desperado. The New Orleans press, in substantiating the
charges that he was a desperado, make statements which will be interesting
In the first place the New Orleans Times-Democrat, of July 25, calls
Charles a “ravisher and a daredevil.” It says that from all sources that
could be searched “the testimony was cumulative that the character of the
murderer, Robert Charles, is that of a daredevil and a fiend in human
form.” Then in the same article it says:
The belongings of Robert Charles which were found in his room were a
complete index to the character of the man. Although the room and its
contents were in a state of chaos on account of the frenzied search for
clews by officers and citizens, an examination of his personal effects
revealed the mental state of the murderer and the rancor in his heart
toward the Caucasian race. Never was the adage, “A little learning is a
dangerous thing,” better exemplified than in the case of the negro who
shot to death the two officers.
His room was searched, and the evidence upon which the charge that he was
a desperado consisted of pamphlets in support of Negro emigration to
Liberia. On his mantel-piece there was found a bullet mold and an outfit
for reloading cartridges. There were also two pistol scabbards and a
bottle of cocaine. The other evidences that Charles was a desperado the
writer described as follows:
In his room were found negro periodicals and other “race” propaganda,
most of which was in the interest of the negro’s emigration to Liberia.
There were Police Gazettes strewn about his room and other papers of a
similar character. Well-worn textbooks, bearing his name written in his
own scrawling handwriting, and well-filled copybooks found in his trunk
showed that he had burnt the midnight oil, and was desirous of improving
himself intellectually in order that he might conquer the hated white
race. Much of the literature found among his chattels was of a
superlatively vituperative character, and attacked the white race in
unstinted language and asserted the equal rights of the Negro.
Charles was evidently the local agent of the Voice of Missions, a
“religious” paper, published at Atlanta, as great bundles of that sheet
were found. It is edited by one Bishop Turner, and seems to be the
official organ of all haters of the white race. Its editorials are
anarchistic in the extreme, and urge upon the negro that the sooner he
realizes that he is as good as the white man the better it will be for
him. The following verses were clipped from the journal; they were
marked “till forbidden,” and appeared in several successive numbers:
My country, ’tis of thee,
Dear land of Africa,
Of thee we sing.
Land where our fathers died,
Land of the Negro’s pride,
God’s truth shall ring.
My native country, thee,
Land of the black and free,
Thy name I love;
To see thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and matchless hills,
Like that above.
When all thy slanderous ghouls,
In the bosom of sheol,
Thy monumental name shall live,
And suns thy royal brow shall gild,
Upheaved to heaven high,
There were no valuables in his room, and if he was a professional thief
he had his headquarters for storing his plunder at some other place than
his room on Fourth Street. Nothing was found in his room that could lead
to the belief that he was a thief, except fifty or more small bits of
soap. The inference was that every place he visited he took all of the
soap lying around, as all of the bits were well worn and had seen long
service on the washstand.
His wearing apparel was little more than rags, and financially he was
evidently not in a flourishing condition. He was in no sense a skilled
workman, and his room showed, in fact, that he was nothing more than a
The “philosopher in the garret” was a dirty wretch, and his room, his
bedding and his clothing were nasty and filthy beyond belief. His object
in life seemed to have been the discomfiture of the white race, and to
this purpose he devoted himself with zeal. He declared himself to be a
“patriot,” and wished to be the Moses of his race.
Under the title of “The Making of a Monster,” the reporter attempts to
give “something of the personality of the archfiend, Charles.” Giving his
imagination full vent the writer says:
It is only natural that the deepest interest should attach to the
personality of Robert Charles. What manner of man was this fiend
incarnate? What conditions developed him? Who were his preceptors? From
what ancestral strain, if any, did he derive his ferocious hatred of the
whites, his cunning, his brute courage, the apostolic zeal which he
displayed in spreading the propaganda of African equality? These are
questions involving one of the most remarkable psychological problems of
In answer to the questions which he propounds, the reporter proceeds to
admit that he did not learn anything of a very desperate nature connected
with Charles. He says:
Although Charles was a familiar figure to scores of Negroes in New
Orleans, and they had been more or less intimately acquainted with him
for over two years, curiously little can be learned of his habits or
mode of life. Since the perpetration of his terrible series of crimes it
goes without saying that his former friends are inclined to be reticent,
but it is reasonably certain that they have very little to tell. In
regard to himself, Charles was singularly reticent for a Negro. He did
not even indulge in the usual lying about his prowess and his
adventures. This was possibly due to the knowledge that he was wanted
for a couple of murders. The man had sense enough to know that it would
be highly unwise to excite any curiosity about his past.
When Charles first came to New Orleans he worked here and there as a day
laborer. He was employed at different times in a sawmill, on the street
gangs, as a roustabout on the levee, as a helper at the sugar works and
as a coal shoveler in the engine room of the St. Charles Hotel. At each
of the places where he worked he was known as a quiet, rather surly
fellow, who had little to say to anybody, and generally performed his
tasks in morose silence. He managed to convey the impression, however,
of being a man of more than ordinary intelligence.
A Negro named William Butts, who drives a team on the levee and lives on
Washington Street, near Baronne, told a Times-Democrat reporter
yesterday that Charles got a job about a year ago as agent for a
Liberian Immigration Society, which has headquarters at Birmingham, and
was much elated at the prospect of making a living without hard labor.
According to the further investigations of this reporter, Charles was also
agent for Bishop Turner’s Voice of Missions, the colored missionary
organ of the African Methodist Church, edited by H.M. Turner, of Atlanta,
Georgia. Concerning his service as agent for the Voice of Missions, the
He secured a number of subscribers and visited them once a month to
collect the installments. In order to insure regular payments it was
necessary to keep up enthusiasm, which was prone to wane, and Charles
consequently became an active and continual preacher of the propaganda
of hatred. Whatever may have been his private sentiments at the outset,
this constant harping on one string must eventually have had a powerful
effect upon his own mind.
Exactly how he received his remuneration is uncertain, but he told
several of his friends that he got a “big commission.” Incidentally he
solicited subscribers for a Negro paper called the Voice of the
Missions, and when he struck a Negro who did not want to go to Africa
himself, he begged contributions for the “good of the cause.”
In the course of time Charles developed into a fanatic on the subject of
the Negro oppression and neglected business to indulge in wild tirades
whenever he could find a listener. He became more anxious to make
converts than to obtain subscribers, and the more conservative darkies
began to get afraid of him. Meanwhile he got into touch with certain
agitators in the North and made himself a distributing agent for their
literature, a great deal of which he gave away. Making money was a
secondary consideration to “the cause.”
One of the most enthusiastic advocates of the Liberian scheme is the
colored Bishop H.M. Turner, of Atlanta. Turner is a man of unusual
ability, has been over to Africa personally several times, and has made
himself conspicuous by denouncing laws which he claimed discriminated
against the blacks. Charles was one of the bishop’s disciples and
evidence has been found that seems to indicate they were in
This was all that the Times-Democrat’s reporters could find after the
most diligent search to prove that Charles was the fiend incarnate which
the press of New Orleans and elsewhere declared him to be.
The reporters of the New Orleans Picayune were no more successful than
their brethren of the Times-Democrat. They, too, were compelled to
substitute fiction for facts in their attempt to prove Charles a
desperado. In the issue of the twenty-sixth of July it was said that
Charles was well known in Vicksburg, and was there a consort of thieves.
They mentioned that a man named Benson Blake was killed in 1894 or 1895,
and that four Negroes were captured, and two escaped. Of the two escaped
they claim that Charles was one. The four negroes who were captured were
put in jail, and as usual, in the high state of civilization which
characterizes Mississippi, the right of the person accused of crime to an
indictment by legal process and a legal trial by jury was considered an
useless formality if the accused happened to be black. A mob went to the
jail that night, the four colored men were delivered to the mob, and all
four were hanged in the court-house yard. The reporters evidently assumed
that Charles was guilty, if, in fact, he was ever there, because the other
four men were lynched. They did not consider it was a fact of any
importance that Charles was never indicted. They called him a murderer on
DIED IN SELF-DEFENSE
The life, character and death of Robert Charles challenges the thoughtful
consideration of all fair-minded people. In the frenzy of the moment, when
nearly a dozen men lay dead, the victims of his unerring and death-dealing
aim, it was natural for a prejudiced press and for citizens in private
life to denounce him as a desperado and a murderer. But sea depths are not
measured when the ocean rages, nor can absolute justice be determined
while public opinion is lashed into fury. There must be calmness to insure
correctness of judgment. The fury of the hour must abate before we can
deal justly with any man or any cause.
That Charles was not a desperado is amply shown by the discussion in the
preceding chapter. The darkest pictures which the reporters could paint of
Charles were quoted freely, so that the public might find upon what
grounds the press declared him to be a lawbreaker. Unquestionably the
grounds are wholly insufficient. Not a line of evidence has been presented
to prove that Charles was the fiend which the first reports of the New
Orleans charge him to be.
Nothing more should be required to establish his good reputation, for the
rule is universal that a reputation must be assumed to be good until it is
proved bad. But that rule does not apply to the Negro, for as soon as he
is suspected the public judgment immediately determines that he is guilty
of whatever crime he stands charged. For this reason, as a matter of duty
to the race, and the simple justice to the memory of Charles, an
investigation has been made of the life and character of Charles before
the fatal affray which led to his death.
Robert Charles was not an educated man. He was a student who faithfully
investigated all the phases of oppression from which his race has
suffered. That he was a student is amply shown by the Times-Democrat
report of the twenty-fifth, which says:
“Well-worn textbooks, bearing his name written in his own scrawling
handwriting, and well-filled copy-books found in his trunk, showed that he
had burned the midnight oil, and desired to improve himself intellectually
in order that he might conquer the hated white race.” From this quotation
it will be seen that he spent the hours after days of hard toil in trying
to improve himself, both in the study of textbooks and in writing.
He knew that he was a student of a problem which required all the
intelligence that a man could command, and he was burning his midnight
oil gathering knowledge that he might better be able to come to an
intelligent solution. To his aid in the study of this problem he sought
the aid of a Christian newspaper, the Voice of Missions, the organ of
the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was in communication with its
editor, who is a bishop, and is known all over this country as a man of
learning, a lover of justice and the defender of law and order. Charles
could receive from Bishop Turner not a word of encouragement to be other
than an earnest, tireless and God-fearing student of the complex problems
which affected the race.
For further help and assistance in his studies, Charles turned to an
organization which has existed and flourished for many years, at all times
managed by men of high Christian standing and absolute integrity. These
men believe and preach a doctrine that the best interests of the Negro
will be subserved by an emigration from America back to the Fatherland,
and they do all they can to spread the doctrine of emigration and to give
material assistance to those who desire to leave America and make their
future homes in Africa. This organization is known as “The International
Migration Society.” It has its headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama. From
this place it issues pamphlets, some of which were found, in the home of
Robert Charles, and which pamphlets the reporters of the New Orleans
papers declare to be incendiary and dangerous in their doctrine and
Nothing could be further from the truth. Copies of any and all of them may
be secured by writing to D.J. Flummer, who is President and in charge of
the home office in Birmingham, Alabama. Three of the pamphlets found in
Charles’s room are named respectively:
First, Prospectus of the Liberian Colonization Society; which pamphlet
in a few brief pages tells of the work of the society, plans, prices and
terms of transportation of colored people who choose to go to Africa.
These pages are followed by a short, conservative discussion of the Negro
question, and close with an argument that Africa furnishes the best asylum
for the oppressed Negroes in this country.
The second pamphlet is entitled Christian Civilization of Africa. This
is a brief statement of the advantages of the Republic of Liberia, and an
argument in support of the superior conditions which colored people may
attain to by leaving the South and settling in Liberia.
The third pamphlet is entitled The Negro and Liberia. This is a larger
document than the other two, and treats more exhaustively the question of
emigration, but from the first page to the last there is not an
incendiary line or sentence. There is not even a suggestion of violence in
all of its thirty-two pages, and not a word which could not be preached
from every pulpit in the land.
If it is true that the workman is known by his tools, certainly no harm
could ever come from the doctrines which were preached by Charles or the
papers and pamphlets distributed by him. Nothing ever written in the
Voice of Missions, and nothing ever published in the pamphlets above
alluded to in the remotest way suggest that a peaceable man should turn
lawbreaker, or that any man should dye his hands in his brother’s blood.
In order to secure as far as possible positive information about the life
and character of Robert Charles, it was plain that the best course to
pursue was to communicate with those with whom he had sustained business
relations. Accordingly a letter was forwarded to Mr. D.J. Flummer, who is
president of the colonization society, in which letter he was asked to
state in reply what information he had of the life and character of Robert
Charles. The result was a very prompt letter in response, the text of
which is as follows:
Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 21, 1900
Mrs. Ida B. Wells Barnett,
— Replying to your favor of recent date requesting me to write
you giving such information as I may have concerning the life, habits
and character of Robert Charles, who recently shot and killed police
officers in New Orleans, I wish to say that my knowledge of him is only
such as I have gained from his business connection with the
International Migration Society during the past five or six years,
during which time I was president of the society.
He having learned that the purpose of this society was to colonize the
colored people in Liberia, West Africa, and thereby lessen or destroy
the friction and prejudice existing in this country between the two
races, set about earnestly and faithfully distributing the literature
that we issued from time to time. He always appeared to be mild but
earnest in his advocacy of emigration, and never to my knowledge used
any method or means that would in the least appear unreasonable, and had
always kept within the bounds of law and order in advocating emigration.
The work he performed for this society was all gratuitous, and
apparently prompted from his love of humanity, and desires to be
instrumental in building up a Negro Nationality in Africa.
If he ever violated a law before the killing of the policemen, I do not
know of it.
Yours, very truly,
Besides this statement, Mr. Flummer enclosed a letter received by the
Society two days before the tragedy at New Orleans. This letter was
written by Robert Charles, and it attests his devotion to the cause of
emigration which he had espoused. Memoranda on the margin of the letter
show that the order was filled by mailing the pamphlets. It is very
probable that these were the identical pamphlets which were found by the
mob which broke into the room of Robert Charles and seized upon these
harmless documents and declared they were sufficient evidence to prove
Charles a desperado. In the light of subsequent events the letter of
Charles, which follows, sounds like a voice from the tomb:
New Orleans, July 30,1900
Mr. D.J. Flummer:
— I received your last pamphlets and they are all given out. I
want you to send me some more, and I enclose you the stamps. I think I
will go over in Greenville, Miss., and give my people some pamphlets
The latest word of information comes from New Orleans from a man who knew
Charles intimately for six years. For obvious reasons, his name is
withheld. In answer to a letter sent him he answers as follows:
Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 23, 1900
Mrs. Ida B. Wells-Barnett:
— It affords me great pleasure to inform you as far as I know
of Robert Charles. I have been acquainted with him about six years in
this city. He never has, as I know, given any trouble to anyone. He was
quiet and a peaceful man and was very frank in speaking. He was too much
of a hero to die; few call be found to equal him. I am very sorry to
say that I do not know anything of his birthplace, nor his parents, but
enclosed find letter from his uncle, from which you may find more
information. You will also find one of the circulars in which Charles
was in possession of which was styled as a crazy document. Let me say,
until our preachers preach this document we will always be slaves. If
you can help circulate this “crazy” doctrine I would be glad to have you
do so, for I shall never rest until I get to that heaven on earth; that
is, the west coast of Africa, in Liberia.
With best wishes to you I still remain, as always, for the good of the
By only those whose anger and vindictiveness warp their judgment is Robert
Charles a desperado. Their word is not supported by the statement of a
single fact which justifies their judgment and no criminal record shows
that he was ever indicted for any offense, much less convicted of crime.
On the contrary, his work for many years had been with Christian people,
circulating emigration pamphlets and active as agent for a mission
publication. Men who knew him say that he was a law-abiding, quiet,
industrious, peaceable man. So he lived.
So he lived and so he would have died had not he raised his hand to resent
unprovoked assault and unlawful arrest that fateful Monday night. That
made him an outlaw, and being a man of courage he decided to die with his
face to the foe. The white people of this country may charge that he was a
desperado, but to the people of his own race Robert Charles will always be
regarded as the hero of New Orleans.
BURNING HUMAN BEINGS ALIVE
Not only has life been taken by mobs in the past twenty years, but the
ordinary procedure of hanging and shooting have been improved upon during
the past ten years. Fifteen human beings have been burned to death in the
different parts of the country by mobs. Men, women and children have gone
to see the sight, and all have approved the barbarous deeds done in the
high light of the civilization and Christianity of this country.
In 1891 Ed Coy was burned to death in Texarkana, Ark. He was charged with
assaulting a white woman, and after the mob had securely tied him to a
tree, the men and boys amused themselves for some time sticking knives
into Coy’s body and slicing off pieces, of flesh. When they had amused
themselves sufficiently, they poured coal oil over him and the women in
the case set fire to him. It is said that fifteen thousand people stood by
and saw him burned. This was on a Sunday night, and press reports told how
the people looked on while the Negro burned to death.
Feb. 1, 1893, Henry Smith was burned to death in Paris, Texas. The entire
county joined in that exhibition. The district attorney himself went for
the prisoner and turned him over to the mob. He was placed upon a float
and drawn by four white horses through the principal streets of the city.
Men, women and children stood at their doors and waved their handkerchiefs
and cheered the echoes. They knew that the man was to be burned to death
because the newspaper had declared for three days previous that this would
be so. Excursions were run by all the railroads, and the mayor of the town
gave the children a holiday so that they might see the sight.
Henry Smith was charged with having assaulted and murdered a little white
girl. He was an imbecile, and while he had killed the child, there was no
proof that he had criminally assaulted her. He was tied to a stake on a
platform which had been built ten feet high, so that everybody might see
the sight. The father and brother and uncle of the little white girl that
had been murdered was upon that platform about fifty minutes entertaining
the crowd of ten thousand persons by burning the victim’s flesh with
red-hot irons. Their own newspapers told how they burned his eyes out and,
ran the red-hot iron down his throat, cooking his tongue, and how the
crowd cheered wild delight. At last, having declared themselves satisfied,
coal oil was poured over him and he was burned to death, and the mob
fought over the ashes for bones and pieces of his clothes.
July 7, 1893, in Bardwell, Ky., C.J. Miller was burned to ashes. Since his
death this man has been found to be absolutely innocent of the murder of
the two white girls with which he was charged. But the mob would wait for
no justification. They insisted that, as they were not sure he was the
right man, they would compromise the matter by hanging him instead of
burning. Not to be outdone, they took the body down and made a huge
bonfire out of it.
July 22, 1893, at Memphis, Tenn., the body of Lee Walker was dragged
through the street and burned before the court house. Walker had
frightened some girls in a wagon along a country road by asking them to
let him ride in their wagon. They cried out; some men working in a field
near by said it was at attempt of assault, and of course began to look for
their prey. There was never any charge of rape; the women only declared
that he attempted an assault. After he was apprehended and put in jail and
perfectly helpless, the mob dragged him out, shot him, cut him, beat him
with sticks, built a fire and burned the legs off, then took the trunk of
the body down and dragged further up the street, and at last burned it
before the court house.
Sept. 20, 1893, at Roanoke, Va., the body of a Negro who had quarreled
with a white woman was burned in the presence of several thousand persons.
These people also wreaked their vengeance upon this helpless victim of the
mob’s wrath by sticking knives into him, kicking him and beating him with
stones and otherwise mutilating him before life was extinct.
June 11, 1898, at Knoxville, Ark., James Perry was shut up in a cabin
because he had smallpox and burned to death. He had been quarantined in
this cabin when it was declared that he had this disease and the doctor
sent for. When the physician arrived he found only a few smoldering
embers. Upon inquiry some railroad hands who were working nearby revealed
the fact that they had fastened the door of the cabin and set fire to the
cabin and burned man and hut together.
Feb. 22, 1898, at Lake City, S.C., Postmaster Baker and his infant child
were burned to death by a mob that had set fire to his house. Mr. Baker’s
crime was that he had refused to give up the post office, to which he had
been appointed by the National Government. The mob had tried to drive him
away by persecution and intimidation. Finding that all else had failed,
they went to his home in the dead of night and set fire to his house, and
as the family rushed forth they were greeted by a volley of bullets. The
father and his baby were shot through the open door and wounded so badly
that they fell back in the fire and were burned to death. The remainder of
the family, consisting of the wife and five children, escaped with their
lives from the burning house, but all of them were shot, one of the number
made a cripple for life.
Jan. 7, 1898, two Indians were tied to a tree at Maud Post Office, Indian
Territory, and burned to death by a white mob. They were charged with
murdering a white woman. There was no proof of their guilt except the
unsupported word of the mob. Yet they were tied to a tree and slowly
roasted to death. Their names were Lewis McGeesy and Hond Martin. Since
that time these boys have been found to be absolutely innocent of the
charge. Of course that discovery is too late to be of any benefit to them,
but because they were Indians the Indian Commissioner demanded and
received from the United States Government an indemnity of $13,000.
April 23, 1899, at Palmetto, Ga., Sam Hose was burned alive in the
presence of a throng, on Sunday afternoon. He was charged with killing a
man named Cranford, his employer, which he admitted he did because his
employer was about to shoot him. To the fact of killing the employer was
added the absolutely false charge that Hose assaulted the wife. Hose was
arrested and no trial was given him. According to the code of reasoning of
the mob, none was needed. A white man had been killed and a white woman
was said to have been assaulted. That was enough. When Hose was found he
had to die.
The Atlanta Constitution, in speaking of the murder of Cranford, said that
the Negro who was suspected would be burned alive. Not only this, but it
offered $500 reward for his capture. After he had been apprehended, it was
publicly announced that he would be burned alive. Excursion trains were
run and bulletins were put up in the small towns. The Governor of Georgia
was in Atlanta while excursion trains were being made up to take visitors
to the burning. Many fair ladies drove out in their carriages on Sunday
afternoon to witness the torture and burning of a human being. Hose’s ears
were cut off, then his toes and fingers, and passed round to the crowd.
His eyes were put out, his tongue torn out and flesh cut in strips by
knives. Finally they poured coal oil on him and burned him to death. They
dragged his half-consumed trunk out of the flames, cut it open, extracted
his heart and liver, and sold slices for ten cents each for souvenirs, all
of which was published most promptly in the daily papers of Georgia and
boasted over by the people of that section.
Oct. 19, 1889, at Canton, Miss., Joseph Leflore was burned to death. A
house had been entered and its occupants murdered during the absence of
the husband and father. When the discovery was made, it was immediately
supposed that the crime was the work of a Negro, and the motive that of
assaulting white women.
Bloodhounds were procured and they made a round of the village and
discovered only one colored man absent from his home. This was taken to be
proof sufficient that he was the perpetrator of the deed. When he returned
home he was apprehended, taken into the yard of the house that had been
burned down, tied to a stake, and was slowly roasted to death.
Dec. 6, 1899, at Maysville, Ky., Wm. Coleman also was burned to death. He
was slowly roasted, first one foot and then the other, and dragged out of
the fire so that the torture might be prolonged. All of this without a
shadow of proof or scintilla of evidence that the man had committed the
Thus have the mobs of this country taken the lives of their victims within
the past ten years. In every single instance except one these burnings
were witnessed by from two thousand to fifteen thousand people, and no one
person in all these crowds throughout the country had the courage to raise
his voice and speak out against the awful barbarism of burning human
beings to death.
Men and women of America, are you proud of this record which the
Anglo-Saxon race has made for itself? Your silence seems to say that you
are. Your silence encourages a continuance of this sort of horror. Only by
earnest, active, united endeavor to arouse public sentiment can we hope to
put a stop to these demonstrations of American barbarism.
The following table of lynchings has been kept year by year by the Chicago
Tribune, beginning with 1882, and shows the list of Negroes that have been
lynched during that time:
- 1882, Negroes murdered by mobs 52
- 1883, Negroes murdered by mobs 39
- 1884, Negroes murdered by mobs 53
- 1885, Negroes murdered by mobs 164
- 1886, Negroes murdered by mobs 136
- 1887, Negroes murdered by mobs 128
- 1888, Negroes murdered by mobs 143
- 1889, Negroes murdered by mobs 127
- 1890, Negroes murdered by mobs 171
- 1891, Negroes murdered by mobs 192
- 1892, Negroes murdered by mobs 241
- 1893, Negroes murdered by mobs 200
- 1894, Negroes murdered by mobs 190
- 1895, Negroes murdered by mobs 171
- 1896, Negroes murdered by mobs 131
- 1897, Negroes murdered by mobs 156
- 1898, Negroes murdered by mobs 127
- 1899, Negroes murdered by mobs 107
Of these thousands of men and women who have been put to death without
judge or jury, less than one-third of them have been even accused of
criminal assault. The world at large has accepted unquestionably the
statement that Negroes are lynched only for assaults upon white women. Of
those who were lynched from 1882 to 1891, the first ten years of the
tabulated lynching record, the charges are as follows:
Two hundred and sixty-nine were charged with rape; 253 with murder; 44
with robbery; 37 with incendiarism; 4 with burglary; 27 with race
prejudice; 13 quarreled with white men; 10 with making threats; 7 with
rioting; 5 with miscegenation; in 32 cases no reasons were given, the
victims were lynched on general principles.
During the past five years the record is as follows:
Of the 171 persons lynched in 1895 only 34 were charged with this crime.
In 1896, out of 131 persons who were lynched, only 34 were said to have
assaulted women. Of the 156 in 1897, only 32. In 1898, out of 127 persons
lynched, 24 were charged with the alleged “usual crime.” In 1899, of the
107 lynchings, 16 were said to be for crimes against women. These figures,
of course, speak for themselves, and to the unprejudiced, fair-minded
person it is only necessary to read and study them in order to show that
the charge that the Negro is a moral outlaw is a false one, made for the
purpose of injuring the Negro’s good name and to create public sentiment
If public sentiment were alive, as it should be upon the subject, it would
refuse to be longer hoodwinked, and the voice of conscience would refuse
to be stilled by these false statements. If the laws of the country were
obeyed and respected by the white men of the country who charge that the
Negro has no respect for law, these things could not be, for every
individual, no matter what the charge, would have a fair trial and an
opportunity to prove his guilt or innocence before a tribunal of law.
That is all the Negro asks — that is all the friends of law and order need
to ask, for once the law of the land is supreme, no individual who commits
crime will escape punishment.
Individual Negroes commit crimes the same as do white men, but that the
Negro race is peculiarly given to assault upon women, is a falsehood of
the deepest dye. The tables given above show that the Negro who is saucy
to white men is lynched as well as the Negro who is charged with assault
upon women. Less than one-sixth of the lynchings last year, 1899, were
charged with rape.
The Negro points to his record during the war in rebuttal of this false
slander. When the white women and children of the South had no protector
save only these Negroes, not one instance is known where the trust was
betrayed. It is remarkably strange that the Negro had more respect for
womanhood with the white men of the South hundreds of miles away, than
they have today, when surrounded by those who take their lives with
impunity and burn and torture, even worse than the “unspeakable Turk.”
Again, the white women of the North came South years ago, threaded the
forests, visited the cabins, taught the schools and associated only with
the Negroes whom they came to teach, and had no protectors near at hand.
They had no charge or complaint to make of the danger to themselves after
association with this class of human beings. Not once has the country been
shocked by such recitals from them as come from the women who are
surrounded by their husbands, brothers, lovers and friends. If the Negro’s
nature is bestial, it certainly should have proved itself in one of these
two instances. The Negro asks only justice and an impartial consideration
of these facts.
Text prepared by:
- Chase Bertrand
- Erin Deyo
- Connor Jeffries
- Bruce R. Magee
- Sam McCurdy
Wells, Ida B. Mob Rule in New Orleans: Robert Charles and His Fight to Death, the Story of His Life, Burning Human Beings Alive, Other Lynching Statistics. Chicago: Ida B. Wells, 1900. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
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