Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grading on Effort

Education Realist (among many others) points to a story from the LA Times about the academic woes of an affirmative action admit at UC Berkeley named KaShawn Campbell. Ed provides ample evidence that this eager, studious, and universally well-liked young man was passed along by his high school instructors despite his having been brain damaged during a difficult delivery.

Ed writes:

And, as the story clearly illustrates, the ones that work terribly hard or show the slightest bit of effort are often given passing grades out of some combination of pity and paternalism.

I get it. I really do.

During my three-year tour as a college instructor, we had several students that needed a lot of extra attention and, um . . . special consideration. They came from Middle Eastern countries with a reputation for selecting their candidates on English proficiency, a skill acquired easily by mediocrites raised as expats in Europe. Mine was always polite and attentive, and camped outside my office seeking Extra Instruction. Al Nehri might have done well enough at a Liberal Arts school, but not at a school where even the English majors earned a B.S.

Unlike KaShawn, Al Nehri was apparently not popular, if the following incident was representative: Al spent the first weeks of class sitting at a table next to a typical female student, until the first laboratory exercise . . . when suddenly she had crossed the classroom to join another team, leaving Al by himself. I was pissed, and I was angry at myself -- the worst kind of anger in my experience -- for not having caught it in time to tell her: Junior High School is over!* This school and your future employer will expect you to conduct yourself professionally irrespective of your personal feelings. But it was too late.

So the results of the final exam -- team-graded for consistency -- were added to the speadsheet and . . . but he tried so hard. Are not there a few more points of partial credit to be found? I wanted him to succeed, and also to not be the reason he was sent home in disgrace. So I took the final, and I pinched and I prodded and I drug him over the line.

Despite his present difficulties, I give an even chance that this latter-day Forest Gump (Steve's characterization) will likewise be drug over the line. Eventually, he'll settle in to some government sinecure where organic retardation is taken in stride.

* Women aged 14 to 40 should receive legally-mandated daily reminders that Junior High School is over, in my opinion.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reflections on George Meadows

On last week’s series, several points:

  • In its pursuit of sensationalism (and, presumably, readers), I note that the Weekly Herald article doesn’t meet modern journalistic standards of objectivity. Kind of like the New York Times, except more interesting.
  • This was not a case of a howling mob murdering a random black person.  There was a heinous crime:  indeed, a crime meriting the standards of the death penalty, probably by even the higher standards of today.  The was an investigation by as competent an authority as could be arranged.  And notably, the “racist” vigilantes were looking to that authority, if not exactly patient with it.
  • The victim’s repeated formulation – “If this is not the right man, then he’s awfully like him. – would probably not meet the modern legal standard for conviction, and for this reason would never see the light of a courtroom.  Be assured that police and prosecutors carefully coach away such reservations well before a trial takes place.
  • The denouement as this in common with art:  each person will read the evidence and see something of himself reflected back.  For those that hate the South for its civil rights record, the end of George Meadows is murder, plain and simple.  For those who would rehabilitate it, the manner of his end may be regrettable, but given his apparent crimes, not a moral stain.
  • The vigilantes’ lack of faith in the orderly administration of the law is palpable.  This distrust would have been more obviously creditable among Alabamans had it occurred during Reconstruction, but its military occupation had ended with the Compromise of 1877, and I don’t know of any other reason that white southerners should be so hostile to their own duly sworn law enforcement officials.  I might suggest the culture of vigilantism, born in Reconstruction, was outliving its utility, but the era of lynching lasted too long and too far outside the South for this to be especially plausible.
  • In any case, the culture of vigilantism is well and truly dead.  I can no more imagine any present-day jurisdiction summoning 500 white people to the business of extrajudicial punishment than I can imagine a similar group self-organizing to bring down a school shooter.  No, today we cower in fear.  We might yet use force in our own and family’s protection, but otherwise we “call the police”, who are indeed formidable to citizen and household pet alike.  To those who object to the comparison, I reply:  the same spirit lived and died in both cases.
  • Why is this?  I don’t know, any more that I know why white Americans seem resigned to their own extinction.  It probably has something to do with the vast power we have granted our purported guardians, knowing that however late it might show up to the murder of such as Mrs. Kellum, it would surely pursue her vindicators with a never-ending fury.  Better to cower in fear, and flee.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Lynching of George Meadows, Part V: the Aftermath

[From the Birmingham Weekly Herald, January 16, 1889]


Notwithstanding the caution of the physicians, the matter was carried to Mrs. Kellum’s ears, and she said that since it was all over she would state that she was satisfied the right man had paid the penalty.

Letter from Mr. Kellum: He Pleads for the Law to Take Its Course.

The following letter was written Monday night, (January 14), by Mr. Kellum, husband of the stricken lady. It is an appeal for the law and does infinite credit to both the husband and wife, who were the sufferers from the awful crime of George Meadows:

Fellow Citizens of Pratt Mines and Vicinity: Please read and ponder well the words I say. I am the sorrow-stricken husband of Mrs. Kellum, and I think the tired and worn out gentlemen for the respect they have shown me and my family, and have sacrificed nights of rest in hunting down the villain. I cannot express my gratitude in words, and, my good fellow citizens, will you for the sake of helping to restore my loved one to me, by no means use the mob law. “LET THE LAW TAKE ITS COURSE,” she begged me earnestly, for her sake not to mob the man when found, but to turn him over to the authorities of the law, and as soon as she was able she wanted to see him hung. I have weighed both sides of the matter and I find this to be by far the wisest way; and therefore take this to be the Christian side of this case. I admit, my dear friends, that no man on the globe knows the sorrows of this but those who have experienced such a trial. Now, my friends, you may rest assured that she is right. The mines may stop, the reward may stop, and the world may stand on its axis, but she will not say that that is the man unless she knows he is, and she will not say that is not the man unless she is certain that he is not the man [[ If I were to allow my passions to control me in this matter, I would torture him in the most painful way; but let us remember the passage in God’s word – “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” So let us be governed by the Supreme Ruler of the universe.

[Signed.] HUSBAND


The announcement that George Meadows has been hung at Pratt Mines created very little excitement in this city. People who read the Age-Herald perceived that hanging was an almost certain result of the events of the day before. The facts and incidents of Monday very plainly suggested a neck-tie party and, when the news of the tragic affair reached the city it was not unexpected.

Public opinion differed very materially over the matter. “If there was a strong supposition and any proof at all against the negro he should be strung up,” said some. “This thing of negroes assaulting white ladies should be stopped, and a hanging or two now and then is the only way to stop them.”

Others believed, as did the Pratt Miners themselves, that the negro was fully identified by Mrs. Kellum but that influences were brought to bear on her which prejudiced her assertions.

Others thought that people were too quick; that they had taken too many chances on George’s being the right negro and that he should have been given a better showing.

Others, of course, who are opposed to mob law under any and all circumstances, very bitterly condemned the action of the people and argued that they had most probably taken the life of an innocent man.

The Pratt miners had this consolation anyway: George was a rapist, at least the evidence showed him to be leaving the Kellum case out. Patsy Hamilton swore he made a criminal assault on her child two years ago, they all said and that merits death for him.


Early yesterday morning a telegram was received from Helena by a prominent physician at Pratt Mines requesting the latter to examine the body of the accused, George Meadows, to ascertain whether he bore a scar, made by a burn, on his back. The examination was made before the lynching took place and a scar answering to the description was found. A reliable gentleman informed an Age-Herald reporter that the inquiry from Helena was prompted by the remarkable similarity of George Meadows’ published description with that of the negro who committed an outrage upon a lady at Helena about a year ago. The impression prevails that the lynched negro was concerned in a number of affairs of a like character with that for which he paid the penalty.

Meadows was also identified as the same negro who made suspicious advances toward a lady living a short distance from Pratt Mines some weeks ago. She drove him off by presenting a pistol at him.


Coroner Babbitt arrived at Pratt Mines just after the lynching and soon after his arrival relatives of the dead negro asked for the body. The coroner told them they could cut the body down and hold it until he notified them what disposition to make of it. The negroes could find no one who would cut the body down, and the coroner telephoned to the city for a coffin. About noon a party went out, cut the body down, placed it in a coffin, and brought it to the city.

After a consultation with Probate Judge Porter, Coroner Babbitt decided not to hold an inquest. The grand jury is now in session and will probably investigate the matter at once.

All Quiet In the City and at Pratt Mines Last Night

The calm which proverbially follows a storm, succeeded the excitement over the jail shooting, reigned in Birmingham and vicinity last night after the excitable times at Pratt Mines and the natural intense interest manifested in this city during the day. Seldom is the city more quiet and the surcease of petty crimes and misdemeanors more marked than it was last night. The officials had little or nothing to do, and the jail blotter did not show up a single new prisoner. The police had very little more to do, and only two or three disorderly conducts were on the city prison record.

Midnight advices from Pratt Mines said that all was quiet out there, and that no rumors of negroes congregating were coming in. The men will all go to work today with the feeling that they have executed the order of justice.

[Monday:  Dr. Φ’s long awaited commentary.]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Lynching of George Meadows, Part IV: the Murder

[From the Birmingham Weekly Herald, January 16, 1889]

From To-Day’s Daily

Yesterday was a day which will not soon be forgotten by the people at Pratt Mines. It will be remembered as a day when cool, resolute men, thinking only of the protection of their homes and loved ones, bid defiance to law and meted out swift and terrible punishment to a being they believed guilty of the blackest of human crimes. Their action will be a terrible warning to evil doers in that vicinity.

George Meadows, colored, was lynched by a crowd of 500 white men. He was suspended from a limb and his body riddled with bullets.

The lynching party was no ordinary one. It was not a riot in the general acceptance of that term. There was little outward sign of excitement among all that crowd of men who had determined that George Meadows must die. There was no attempt at disguise and not a man among them was under the influence of liquor. But it was a mob in the most terrible sense of the word. These men were in that condition when only blood will appease their indignation and auger at a terrible crime. Nothing could stop them now. Every man of them would have risked his life to secure the death of the negro.

When daylight came yesterday morning only a smoldering camp fire here and there on the wooded hills around the mines indicated that anything unusual was about to happen. The guards in charge of the negro had not closed their eyes all night, and many others, who were simply awaiting the outcome of the affair, had not slept. At an early hour people were astir everywhere and soon began to gather in little groups on the streets. These little groups soon swelled in to crowds, and soon it was evident that the people were growing impatient. During the night they had gone over the whole affair in their minds, had put this and that together, and the majority of them had decided that the negro was guilty.


At 8:30 o’clock the doomed man was brought from the woods where he had been kept in hiding during the night. There was a crowd of perhaps 500 standing around the Kellum residence, and the look on the faces of the individuals composing it betokened grim determination. It was evident that with a little provocation something desperate would be done. Men cried: “We have lost too much time already; bring the prisoner up for identification.”

A dozen guards with the prisoner in their midst approached the house in which Mrs. Kellum lay. They were told to wait till the sick lady could be notified and propped up in bed; and in a few minutes the supposed murderer stood before the invalid. Every sound was hushed and each one waited with abated breath to hear what she would say. She looked quietly around and said: “He looks very much like the man, but his shoulders seem a little too round.” The prisoner stood with his hands tied before him with a stout cord. The command was given: “Untie him and let him straighten up.” He was untied and told to stand erect, but with stolid indifference he refused to change his posture.

After some consideration the lady asked that he be not executed, but kept for a day or two till something more definite could be learned. She looked the expressionless man square in the face, and in a voice of intense inquiry asked: “Are you not the man!”

“No, ma’am,” came the reply, “I did not do it.”

The guards led the prisoner from the room and started down the public road towards the office where the coroner had been holding the inquest. The coroner had not yet arrived, but it was thought best to take the negro to the office and make further investigations.

As the guard and prisoner walked down the steep hill from the Kellum residence and had reached a point about 150 yards from the house, a crowd gathered around that impeded further progress. People were continually arriving in crowds and singly till within a few minutes fully 3000 people, men, women and children, white and black had gathered. A few hundred blacked and smutted miners pushed and surged around the guards and the rest of the crowd was divided into little groups, discussing the affair in hushed and anxious undertones.

It soon became apparent that the guard would not be allowed to proceed toward the heart of town.

“You are going to give the prisoner to the sheriff,” they shouted. “Then we will never get him. He has committed the crime and we want to see him suffer.”

“He cannot escape us,” shouted another, “the lady said he was the right one, and was influenced by Preacher Rippey and others to express a doubt. She knows he’s the one and you are going to give him up where he will never get justice.”

The crowd was assured by Mr. Moore and others that there was still a doubt, and was asked in deference to Mrs. Kellum’s wish to allow a further investigation.

“He’s got blood on him,” they shouted. “Let us examine him if there is a doubt.”

In the meantime women had gathered on the outside of the multitude and raised their voices in behalf of a summary execution of justice.

To appease the crowd that man was closely examined. His hat was examined and his overshirt was pulled out and an examination was made of his under shirt. “There is blood on it,” shouted one of the spokesmen, as he pointed to a splotch on the back of the undershirt. “There is blood on his hat,” cried another, and on critical examination the hat showed stains like blood.

An old colored woman approached and said: “Take his clothes and wash them and see if the water is not bloody.”

A cry was then raised, “Take his clothes and wash them,” but finally some measure of quiet was restored when Mr. Moore, the superintendent out of the mines asked the crowd not to lay violent hands on the prisoner, and promised if they would give him eight men he would take the prisoner and keep him and deliver him up to them if he was found guilty.

A voice cried: “We don’t know that. You might give him up to the sheriff.”

Eight men armed with doubled barreled shot guns volunteered to act as guards and were ordered back up the road towards the stockade for shaft No. 1. Mr. Moore stayed and tried to pacify the crowd.

When the guard left with the prisoner a few persons, apparently bent on seeing what was going to be done, started following up the hill, when a hundred voices shouted: “HANG HIM!”

The prisoner was hurried along, but a mad rush was made, and the guards were surrounded with armed men. They were allowed to proceed, however, for a quarter of a mile, when two or three women come up and the crowd blacked the way. The guards were surrounded and could not proceed.

A parley took place and high words followed. The more cool-headed counseled patience, but two or three leaders of the mob crowded around and would not be appeased. Finally, Mr. Moore again arrived and he had seemingly almost quieted the crowd by arming two of the ringleaders and allowing them to go along with the crowd when the cry: “BRING A ROPE,” was raised. The cry had subsided, and the guard was beginning to move on when a man approached from the rear carrying two ropes on his arm, one a small cotton rope, the other an inch grass rope. He made a noose as he advanced, and threw it LIKE A LASSO at the prisoner. The sight of the rope and the act maddened the crowd, and nothing could stem their rage. The guards tried to hurry the prisoner away through the woods, but the mob followed along with them and took him from them as the mad rush was continued through the little timber and dense underbrush. When a point about 200 yards from the road was reached a man ran ahead and climbed a small post-oak tree, and sitting astride a limb called for the end of the rope. The doomed man was HURRIED TO THE TREE, the rope was tightened around his neck and the end was thrown towards the man in the tree. It was too short and did not reach him. The other rope was called for and a gentleman in the crowd elbowed his way up to the prisoner as he stood ashen pale, without a sign of emotion, and called on the crowd to consider what they were doing, as there was still a chance of the man’s innocence. “He has attempted to rape a negro girl anyhow. That is in proof and he ought to be hung for that.” This settled his fate.

“You have got a minute to live,” was said as the new rope was being spliced to the old; “We will make it five minutes IF YOU WANT TO PRAY,” said a bystander with watch in hand. The doomed man’s lips trembled slightly, the only sign of emotion visible: “I do not want to pray. I did not do it.”

“He is stubborn. He’ll never confess,” said the determined man who was splicing the rope.

Two attempts were made to throw the rope to the man in the tree. The third succeeded. A powerful man seized the prisoner as he stood with hands tied and raised him from the ground. The slack was taken up by the man who had taken a half hitch around the limb with the rope. Two other men sized the prisoner and shoved him up the body of the tree as far as they could reach, without so much as a murmur or a struggle on his part. The slack was again taken up; the end of the rope was dropped to the ground. It was seized by half a dozen men. The man slid down the body of the tree, the end of the rope was tied to a little pine sapling and the dangling body, WITH POPPING EYES, swung in the air, without a murmur or an evidence of pain, in the presence of 500 people, a few of whom were women, standing around in the thick undergrowth.

“Let’s all take a shot at him,” was shouted and almost as quick as thought 500 SHOTS rang forth and 100 bullets pierced the body.

At precisely 9:25 o’clock the first shot was fired, and in less than a minute a soul was launched into eternity.

The deed was done, the crime was expiated, the riddled body hung dangling in the air. A stream of people came down the road from the town to view the corpse, and the rope was cut into shreds and carried away as mementos.

A photographer had followed the crowd, and, when the deed was done, set his camera and took half a dozen negatives of the scene.

Among the first to arrive after the tragedy was Coroner Babbitt, who had just come out on the dummy line from Birmingham.

Dr. Cunningham also soon arrived on horseback and addressed the crowd. He said: “I desire to ask that nothing be said of this affair to Mrs. Kellum, for her own sake, and have ordered that no one be allowed to enter the house. I hope you will cooperate with me. If the dead man committed the crime you served him right, and had I been convinced of his guilt I would willingly have AMPUTATED HIM from the crown of his head to the end of his toes; and I think you got the right man.

“I also desire to thank you for the lady and her husband for the interest you have taken in this affair, and will state that their only reason for asking a delay was that they did not want the wrong man to suffer.”

While the shooting was going on, Jimmie Pascal, a lad about 11 years old, was standing near the tree, when a wild shot whizzed through his hat, just grazing his head, but not breaking the skin. There was no other casualty aside from a few hot words and a slight difficulty before the lynching between the members of the hanging party and citizens who thought their action a little hasty.

Not a mask was used, nor was there any attempt at concealment on the part of the perpetrators of the deed.

[Tomorrow:  Part V:  the Aftermath.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Lynching of George Meadows, Part III: the Plan

[From the Birmingham Weekly Herald, January 16, 1889]


At this juncture a commotion on the outside and calls for the coroner caused the latter gentleman to step out on the platform and inquire what the trouble was. Some member of the crowd called out, “Some deputies have arrived, but they cannot have the prisoner. He belongs to Pratt Mines.” The coroner then adjourned the inquest for the present and went down to look into the matter.

Just across the street from the house in which the inquest was being held stood Capt. Sharp, of the county jail, and seven or eight deputy sheriffs. The coroner explained to the officers the suspicions of the citizens, and inquired the object of their visit. Capt. Price, who was in charge, very promptly responded that the squad had been sent down by Sheriff Smith to assist in protecting the white men from the reported anticipated onslaught of the negroes. This was communicated to the crowd, but did not have the desired effect. They believed that the officers had come to take the prisoner from them, and they were determined to KEEP HIM AT ALL HAZARDS.

They sent word to the officers that they were amply prepared to protect themselves against any kind of an attack from the negroes, and intimated that their visit was not by any means welcome. Many of the more enthusiastic wanted to hang the man at once and have the matter done with. They said the sheriff should not have him and that it was best that he should be hung before the troops or a large posse should arrive, and it would be necessary to yield him up or kill a number of good citizens in order to carry out their plan.


Finally one of the resident ministers mounted a platform and announced that he was there to represent Capt. Sharp, who was in charge of the deputies. He vouched for the captain’s honesty and honor, and said that he had stated to him and asked him to repeat to the crowd that the squad was there for the sole purpose of protecting the whites against the negroes.

He then introduced Capt. Austin, one of the officers, who assured the people of the same facts. He stated that they had brought no warrants and had no authority to take the man – that the people of Birmingham were as highly incensed as they were over the matter and that every man in the squad would be glad to the villain punished as he deserved to be. “But be sure you get the right man boys – don’t make a mistake,” said the captain in conclusion.

The crowd cheered him lustily, and, after a few minutes, the deputies RETURNED TO THE CITY and the investigation was resumed.

Here the clamors of the crowd again increased, and the coroner saw that it would be best to take the negro before Mrs. Kellum a second time for identification or otherwise.


When the prisoner, Meadows, was taken in charge by the citizens, the line of march was taken up in the direction of the Kellum residence. As the crowd moved forward the line of guards surrounding Stobert’s store, where the inquest was being held, withdrew and fell into line around the prisoner. Down the street, across the railroads, the immense throng rapidly moved. When the high trestle was reached, the men found the road entirely too narrow and commenced crowding along the flanks of the vanguard and spread across the broad commons in front of the Reese residence. The sight was a thrilling one. Scarcely a man that did not display a weapon of some description. Short-barreled repeaters and the old-fashioned squirrel rifle were the most conspicuous. Here and there a shot-gun, and even a few of the old flit-lock muskets, added variety to the warlike equipment.

At the Reese residence a halt was ordered and a consultation took place among the leaders. It was decided that the main body should remain where it then was and that the prisoner should be sent forward in charge of a committee, in order that no unnecessary disturbance be created at the Kellum residence. The crowd was very orderly and readily assented to the arrangement. The committee was selected and the prisoner placed in their charge. A LINE OF GUARDS was then thrown along the foot of the hill to guard the approach to the residence that nestled amid the trees at the brow. An AGE-HERALD reporter ran the blockade, however, and joined the committee just as the order “forward” was given. In a few moments the yard was reached, and the committee and prisoner halted and awaited the decision of the physicians in attendance on Mrs. Kellum as to whether that lady could be permitted to see them at that time.

During the interval of waiting the reporter studied the picture presented at the foot of the hill. Along every road that led to the commons groups of men could be seen hurrying to join the main body, already swollen into a perfect sea of humanity. The line of determined guards held the pressing throngs back AT THE MUZZLE OF THEIR GUNS. Not an inch of ground was given, and in all, it was a most impressive display of the power of resolute calmness when called into action under exciting circumstances.

The reporter’s musings were interrupted by the appearance of Dr. R. M. Cunningham, from the sick chamber, with an invitation to the committee to enter. Two of the committee, the prisoner, and the Age-Herald reporter, advanced to the hallway, and thence into the room.

Mrs. Kellum was reclining in her bed, in a sitting posture, supported by a mass of pillows. Her bandaged, sorrow-stricken countenance too plainly told the grief that was hers. Beside her bed stood her husband, a gentleman of quiet demeanor, yet of a most stern expression. Motioning the visitors to enter, he withdrew to the other side of the bed, next to the window, and asked for the prisoner.

An almost deathly quiet reigned in the room as George Meadows walked to the foot of the bed, and came to a stop. “Tell him to walk to the window,” quietly said Mrs. Kellum. The prisoner was conducted to a window where the light streamed through the window full upon his face. For a moment only did the lady hesitate, and then said, “He is the same one you brought here this morning. I can say nothing more than I did then”

“Are you sure he is the right man?” inquired the husband.

“Gentlemen, I know that I HOLD THIS MAN’S LIFE IN MY HAND, and I want to be careful in what I say,” responded Mrs. Kellum. “if this is not the right man, then he’s awfully like him. If this is not the man when you do catch the right one, you will say that he looks exactly like him”

Dr. Cunningham inquired of the lady whether any doubt existed in her mind as to his identity, and she reiterated her former statement, that “if he was not the right one he was awfully like him.” She then asked the prisoner if he could prove his whereabouts at 10 o’clock Saturday morning, and he promptly answered that he could prove it by both check bosses. After several more questions were put ot him the negro showed the least tremor of excitement, the first and only betrayal of the kind during the entire day. Raising his right hand he said: “Lady, I swear before high heaven that I am not the man. If you say I am, then I am willing to submit to any death.”

Mrs. Kellum, in reply, told him that she did not wish to have him injured, if he was innocent. Turning to the committee, she asked them to state to his friends, that, before taking further steps, they should hold the prisoner until morning, when she wished to have him brought before her again. She wished to look at him again, when there was more light.

The committee took the prisoner in charge and left the room.

During the entire episode, Mrs. Kellum showed not the slightest sign of excitement. The manner of her expression, more than the language, impressed the bystanders of her consciousness that the prisoner was the guilty man. “If he is not the right man, he is awfully like him,” was said in such a tone of conviction as to be almost startling to the group of friends at her bed-side.

In the yard the committee held a brief consultation, and decided upon a report. Dr. Cunningham was invited to accompany them and act as their spokesman. The doctor consented, and the party proceeded down the hill toward the impatient crowd. The prisoner was kept in the rear, while the doctor mounted a fence, and briefly, but with touching eloquence, told the crowd of Mrs. Kellum’s wish. NOT A SOUND escaped from the crowd to interrupt him. When he ceased speaking an elderly man, armed with a shot-gun spoke out, “It is the lady’s wish; so mote is be!” This sentiment was warmly applauded by the crowd, and it was evident that the neck-tie party was, for the time being, at least, deferred.

While the guard was being formed to look after the prisoner during the night, a report was received that the sheriff was organizing a strong posse for the purpose of going to the mines to take the prisoner. This report created the greatest excitement. It was decided at once to run the prisoner off to the woods. A picked body of sixteen men was selected to carry out the plan. A leader was chosen, and he was required to pledge himself to resist any attempt to take the prisoner, and to produce him dead or alive in the morning at 8 o’clock. He gave the pledge unhesitatingly, and volunteered the assurance that he would hold the prisoner against any force.

The main body then withdrew into the main part of the town, and, although orderly, they freely expressed their determination to hold the prisoner, and mete out to him proper punishment, should he be finally declared guilty. The only ripple of disturbance was when about twenty-five of the crowd got into a dispute as to who should act as chief executioner. It was finally agreed that this point should be decided by lot.


So carefully were the plans of the guard executed that after passing the cemetery all trace of them and their charge was lost. Nothing but a dense forest, thickly studded with undergrowth, confronted the reporter after passing the above-named point in his search for their hiding place. When the pursuit seemed almost a hopeless one, a gentleman who appeared to know something of their movements, and to be vested with some authority in the premises, kindly gave the Age-Herald man a confidential “tip,” under a pledge of secrecy, with the reservation that whatever he might learn was not be given out excepting through the columns of the paper, in the morning, he furnished with a guide and instructions as to how to proceed.

At 7 o’clock, sharp, the start was made. For some distance the route lay along the public road leading by the cemetery, in a direction almost directly opposite to that in which the reporter had made his previous explorations. The guide finally made an abrupt turn into the woods, and with a caution to the scribe to preserve perfect silence, went forward at a lively gait. Through hollows and across ridges, sometimes in paths and again through apparently trackless woods, the line of march was silently pursued. After having climbed what seemed to the reporter to be about a dozen mountains, each succeeding one apparently higher and more rugged than the preceding, he was rewarded with a faint glimmer of a camp fire in a densely wooded glen. Pickets, all entire strangers to the scribe, were now met with. The guide had no trouble in securing the right of way into the camp.

The scene was indeed a strange one. Scarcely heeding the appearance of the newcomers, the guards continued their onslaughts upon a hamper of provisions that had been sent out by provident friends at the mines. One of the party, apparently the leader, kindly invited the reporter to “help himself” and to make himself at home. This called forth admonitions from others “not to be bashful,” and the foot-sore newsgatherer, reassured, fell too with a will.

After the repast, a most bountiful one, cigars were passed around, but the reporter soon learned that the crowd was a strictly “dry” one. This fact he learned incidentally and not as a result of special inquiry. It is worthy of remark that not only in the camp in the woods, but in the town as well, there was a remarkable absence of liquor of any kind. During the entire day hardly man was seen who could have been said to be under the influence of the ardent.

The guard in camp had the prisoner carefully secured, and although every device was brought into service to lead him into a confession, he parried the efforts of his questioners with a coolness that was remarkable under the circumstances. He expressed a firm belief that he would be set free; and frequently said that if Mrs. Kellum pronounced him guilty, his guard could do with him as they pleased.

The lateness of the hour compelled the reporter to cut short his interesting visit, and bidding his host good night he set out on his return to the mines with the guide. The entire party in the camp were strangers to the scribe, but the circumstances under which he met them, and the associations of the brief sojourn in their midst, the lonely glen, and last, but not least, the specter-like figure of the prisoner in the background, with the shadowy form of a guard beside him, formed a scene never to be forgotten.

[Tomorrow:  Part IV:  the Murder]

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Lynching of George Meadows, Part II: the Inquest

[From the Birmingham Weekly Herald, January 16, 1889]

Before the coroner, George stoutly protested his innocence. He said that he was not the negro they were after and claimed that if they would investigate the matter closely they would find that he was not. He briefly reviewed his record and claimed that it was untarnished.

When the coroner called the jury to order the following testimony was educed:

George Meadows, being sworn and says: I live in Lowndesboro, Ala. I work at Ensley City on the cinder train. I worded from August, 1888 to Christmas, 1888. Went to Lowndesboro Friday before Christmas and came back Thursday after. I came to Pratt Mines Saturday.. I was in the check office from the time I came till I heard of the murder. I saw Henry Herring and Geo. Brown. I talked with Henry Herring 9 or 10 minutes. I went to the company’s store from the check office and thence to Ensley City. I board with Addie Brown at No. 156 Furnace House, Twenty-First Street. I don’t know where Mrs. Kellum was hurt. I have never been arrested. I do not know Doc Fulton, I never saw him before in my life. I did not ask him for a job at Drifts on Friday. I didn’t work at the furnace last week. I don’t know anyone at Corn Bread Station, Jack Hubbard gave me his check book to draw checks. George Brown gave me $2 in checks. I had a pistol in my hand when I came to draw the checks. I had on a white shirt with dots in it on Saturday. I had a blue coat on. I had the same pants on then that I am wearing now.

W.F. Lyon—I saw George Meadows Saturday at the check office bet6ween 11 and 12 o’clock. He and George Brown were talking. He had on the same hat and clothes that he has on now. He had no coat on. I didn’t see any pistol in his hand.

George Brown – I live back of P. J. Bogers’ house, in the company house No. 33. I came back from Lowndesboro Thursday after Christmas with George Meadows. I went on through Pratt Mines to Ensley on the dummy, then came to Pratt. The last day I worked was Friday night till 2 o’clock in the morning. E. D. Williams is my boss. When I quite work I came home and went to bed. I got up about 8, then went to breakfast. I ate about 9. I went to the clerk’s office after breakfast and saw George Meadows there. I got my check about 11 o’clock. After I left the clerk’s office I went to the company’s store. I was arrested last June a year ago for concealed weapons and gambling and sentence for a year. Geo. Meadows had a pistol in his hand Saturday. I think he had on the same clothes he has on now. I stayed in prison about two months before my father paid me out.

Bob Fielder – I live in Happy Hollow. I was suspended from the employ of the Tennessee Coal, Iren and Railroad Company Friday. I was sick Friday night. Jerry Gorr called me Saturday morning to go to work, but I didn’t go. I stayed around the house till 4 o’clock Saturday evening. I went to the companies store about 4 o’clock in the evening. When they arrested me I didn’t have anything to say.

Felix Thomas: My name is Felix Thomas. My home is at Gainsville, Ga. I worked last at Connelsville, near Blue Creek. I was paid off Saturday. I stayed at the mines all day Saturday. I came up to Birmingham Sunday morning and worked at the North Birmingham furnace last night. I was standing in the auction house on Second avenue when I was arrested. The officer brought me out here.

James G. Thompson: I am employed at Ensley furnace as assistant superintendent. I know the prisoner, George Meadows. I had him at work as switchman on the cinder dump train about six weeks ago. I have not seen him on the works in about a month. The last time he put in was December 8, 1888. To my knowledge he has not applied for work at the furnace since Christmas.

George Meadows (recalled) – I know Will Bragg. I have seen him a time or two. I have talked to him in passing. Have never had a girl in Logtown. I never have been to a dance at Ezell’s. I didn’t see Will Bragg there at any dance. I never stopped at Ezell’s, but always passed by. I had $16 when I was paid off and drew $40. I spent $3.62 going to Lowndesboro and $3.62 coming back. I gave George Brown and Jack Hubbard $6. I gave my mother $10 and my father $5. When I came back I had $50 left.

Will Bragg: I know George Meadows the prisoner. I have known him about two years. He lived back of Rogers’ house when I first knew him. He was “kused” of getting girl in trouble. That was about a year ago. I am sure George Meadows is the man. He skipped out, and came back about a month ago. I saw him at the Ensley furnaces. I have played the harp with him often, and know him well. I have seen him twice since he came back.

It being now after 12 o’clock the jury adjourned for dinner and the prisoner was held by the constable in the room where the investigation had been progressing. The negro ordered lunch and ate heartily during the absence of the coroner and made no manner of attempt to escape.


At 2 o’clock the jury convened for the evening session and the testimony was again commenced.

Mrs. Annie Clark being sworn, said: “ live near the dummy line, beyond Pratt station. Was at home Saturday morning. Katie Trainor or her brother told me that a negro, apparently much excited, passed through the neighborhood just after the time the arrest was said to have occurred.”

Rufus Meadows, brother of the prisoner, being sworn said: “I live at Ensley furnaces; have been there about a year. I work there steadily. Was at work Saturday. Saw brother George between 8 and 9 o’clock at the Ensley check office. He couldn’t get a check at that place and left, saying he was going to the Pratt Mines check office. He came back to Ensley about half-past 12. When I saw him each time he had on the same clothes that he now has on. I was with him all day yesterday. He had on a white calico shirt, dotted, and a dark coat.”

Jack Hubbard being sworn said: “I live at the Slope No. 3 Laura Slope. Have been here about two years. I have known George Meadows a long time. I saw him between 10 and 11 o’clock Saturday. I gave him my check book to draw $2 on me, as I owed him some. I owe him $1 yet. George came back to the Laura Slope at 12 o’clock and he gave me some tobacco and soap. He went up in the quarters to get his dinner. George has lived here before. He left here about two years ago. I don’t know what he left for. Don’t know where he lived when he was here. I am 20 years old going on 21. I voted at last election. My vote was challenged by Mr. Pasco, and I swore it in. Ben Cleveland swore that I was 21 years old. When George Meadows came to me on Saturday, both the first time and the second time he had on the same clothes he now has on. I saw George yesterday (Sunday). He had on his white dotted shirt, and wore a dark coat. Yesterday afternoon he changed his shirt and clothes and put on the clothes that he now has on.”

[Tomorrow:  Part III:  the Plan.]

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Lynching of George Meadows, Part I: the Arrest

We all know that during the age of lynching, millions of innocent blacks died at the hands of howling racist mobs.

Or rather, that’s the intended takeaway.  You probably aren’t reading this blog without knowing that the real history of lynching is somewhat different:  A grand total of 3446 blacks were lynched from 1882 – 1968.  Nationwide, over 86 years.  In other words, roughly the same number of blacks that were murdered during the Dinkins administration in New York City.  You are probably are also not unaware that during the same period some 1297 whites were lynched:  hardly in proportion, but not an insignificant number.

The purpose of this post, however, is to discuss the matter of the “innocence” of the lynching victims.  Don’t misunderstand me:  I believe that that the orderly administration of the law is much to be preferred over extrajudicial violence, on the grounds of both providing the best chance of justice (herein defined as seeing the guilty punished and the innocent go free) and protecting American liberty.  But that’s not to say that lynching didn’t often accomplish the same purpose, however roughly.

I would like to illustrate this point with the case of George Meadows.  Meadows is mentioned on Wikipedia’s page on lynching without any details.  This despite a detailed contemporaneous account appearing in the January 16, 1889 edition of the Birmingham Weekly Herald.  While a Photostat of the article appears at the link, its text apparently appears nowhere online.  As a service to the internet, I will serialize this article over the next several days, correcting nonstandard English as best I can along the way, and providing my own commentary at the end.

The Weekly Herald

Vol. 1 – No. 54.

Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, January 16, 1889

Strung Up

Geo. Meadows Lynched at Pratt Mines, and his body riddled with the bullets from 500 guns.

From Yesterday’s Edition:

All day yesterday, a crowd of several hundred determined looking men stood around a little frame house in the center of the town of Pratt Mines, armed with rifles, squirrel-guns, pistols, knives and, in some instances, old army rifles. A glance revealed the fact that the crowd meant business.

In a little room on the second floor, at the head of a narrow stairway, the coroner’s jury summoned to investigate the death of Willie Kellum, and as a consequence the criminal assault on his mother, was in session. The room contained the coroner, his jury, an Age-Herald reporter and a rather brutish looking young negro about 22 years of age. He was rather below medium height, was heavily built, was of a dark, ginger-cake color, clean shaven, wore a reddish-yellow woolen shirt, and, in short, filled the description of the negro who had so brutally assaulted Mrs. Kellum and her little son on Saturday morning.

His arrest came about in this wise: About 9 o’clock yesterday morning the citizens of the town congregated on the streets determined to prosecute the search for the murderer and rapist. The squads were forming and leaving in different directions, and everybody was on the go. On one of the principal streets a negro was making himself very prominent, and in no small degree disgusting to both whites and negroes. He was flourishing a big pistol, and swearing his fealty to the white men and vengeance on the negro they were after. Some of them recognized the enthusiastic [racial term deleted] as GEORGE MEADOWS, a negro who had lived in the place about two years before, and who bore a very unsavory reputation. Among others who witnessed the suspicious actions of the negro was a young man, only about 18 years of age, a son of the constable of the beat. In addition to the negro’s actions the young man noticed something else, which up to this time, had remained unobserved by the others, and that was that the negro answered the description that Mrs. Kellum gave of her assailant, even to his clothing. The young man walked up to him, too the pistol out of his hands, and marched him to the coroner, who was on the ground. Mr. Babbitt had him taken at once before Mrs. Kellum.

It should be remembered that prior to this, dozens of negroes had been carried before the lady for identification, but she had in each instance very promptly stated, “He is not the man.” When Meadows was brought before her, however, her frame shook, and after the first glance she cried out, “TAKE HIM AWAY! TAKE HIM AWAY!”

After the negro had been removed she told the physicians and some friends that she thought he was the man – that if he was not he was his twin brother.

This latter statement was evidently intended to emphasize the likeness of the man to that of her assailant, abut it latterly developed that George did have a twin brother, Rufus Meadows.

When the crowd heard of the lady’s statement they became almost distracted, and it looked as though the negro’s chances for living were meager. Finally the coroner and some of the cooler heads recommended discretion, and the men all showed that they were willing to give the negro justic3e and the benefit of any doubts the lady might entertain as to his identity with her assailant, by allowing the investigation to proceed before the coroner. They, however, did not abandon their position around the house in which the inquest was being held, and patiently awaited developments.

[Tomorrow: Part II:  the Inquest]

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reflections on Season 6

I'm beginning to decide that Don Draper is an asshole. I don't think I want to grow up to be him anymore.

He was wrong -- not just 7th-commandment-violating wrong, but dishonorable wrong -- to take the wife of his downstairs neighbor -- a selfless and trusting man, a good man, who ought to be able to go about his work saving lives without having to worry about a sleazy ad man sniffing around. He was then wrong to be so wreckless as to get caught, and wrong in his half-assed attempt to gaslight his own daughter. It made me sick watching it.

Jon Hamm was made to play Don Draper at the top of his game: Don the creative genius, Don the hard-drinking master of social and sexual dominance. But Jon Hamm has never had the dramatic range to play Don the tortured soul. Fortunately, the screenwriting has required these exertions only seldom thus far, but this aspect of his character is coming more to the fore, and it could be a problem.

In contrast to everyone else, the Bob Benson character radiated such goodwill that I was sure he would turn out to be a Mormon. Which would have been interesting. The script's apparent insinuation that he is a homosexual . . . isn't interesting. It's boring, cliched nonsense, at least thus far, but I'll try to reserve judgment watching where the writers take the possibility that he is not all he appears to be.

So, no Mormons. Sadly, the only hint of an actual Christian character since the second season is a caricature whom Don meets in a bar and whom Don punches because . . . well, the writers never quite spell out why, probably because to do so would force them to confront their own prejudices. It's entirely plausible that Manhattan ad men don't actually know any observant Christians, so I'd have been happy if the writers just left it alone. But no, they have Don go off on an inchoate tirade against Nixon, the Vietnam War, and something that sounds suspiciously like the religious right. This is a fundamentally dishonest appeal to contemporary prejudices that ignores the 1968 reality: Vietnam was up to that point a Democrat war, Nixon was the peace candidate, the religious right didn't actually exist yet, and nobody thought Nixon spoke for it. But if anybody calls them out on it, well, Don's just off on a drunken tirade, see? It wasn't supposed to make any sense.

While we're talking about things not making any sense, in what universe is Vincent Caruthers' Pete Campbell rate even the JV player league? The man radiates creepiness. Not that I'm judging or anything; on the contrary, as I have written before, he's the character to whose motivations I can most relate. But seeing him seduce married hotties blows past my threshold for implausibility.

And what does Peggy Olsen want out of life? A man, yes, but on what terms? Her onscreen number exceeds even Joan's; does she really think that being the town bicycle is likely to lead to a happy ending?

Thursday, August 01, 2013

SAPR Fun and Frolics

Our agency had a SAPR down-day, beginning with a mandatory (for military) “Awareness Walk”, followed by a mandatory (for everyone) commander’s lecture (which I nonetheless weaseled out of) on the evils of sexual assault (and “sexual assault”), followed by office-level “discussion groups” (which, in a petty act of rebellion, our office convened at Hooters*) on sexual assault prevention.

The agency-provided talking points contained this:

4. (10 minutes) We don’t blame victims of robbery as having “asked for it”; why is it common to blame the victim of a sexual assault?

I dispute the premise.  “You have the right to walk wherever you choose!” is advice given to no middle-class white person ever; instead we warn them, “stay out of bad neighborhoods, especially after dark.”  Come to think of it, it is well-established psychological observation that people reflexively look for reasons to blame victims for the misfortune that befalls them.  This is a routine feature of the military’s investigations into accidents of all kinds, e.g.:  was the individual wearing proper reflective clothing when he was run over by a drunk driver who crossed 30 feet of shoulder to get to him?  That kind of thing.

It’s only when the issue is rape and “sexual assault” that this response has become politically incorrect, even when (as usually turns out to be the case) the “victim” drank herself into a stupor at an orgy.

* No, not actually Hooters, but mildly in the same spirit.