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Lynchings

 

 

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Newspaper Report of the Lynching of Sam Holt (pictured directly above)

One of the most horrendous lynchings that ever took place was the lynching of Sam Holt. Holt was lynched for the murder of Alfred Cranford. It was never proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Holt was the murderer but he was lynched anyway.

NEWNAN, GA., Apr. 23 —Sam Holt, the murderer of Alfred Cranford and the ravisher of the latter's wife, was burned at the stake, near Newnan, GA., this afternoon in the presence of 2000 people. The black man was first tortured before being covered with oil and burned. An ex-governor of Georgia made a personal appeal to his townspeople to let the law take its course, but without the slightest avail.
 

Before the torch was applied to the pyre, the negro was deprived of his ears, fingers and genital parts of his body. He pleaded pitifully for his life while the mutilation was going on, but stood the ordeal of fire with surprising fortitude. Before the body was cool, it was cut to pieces, the bones were crushed into small bits, and even the tree upon which the wretch met his fate was torn up and disposed of as "souvenirs." The negro's heart was cut into several pieces, as was also his liver. Those unable to obtain the ghastly relics direct paid their more fortunate possessors extravagant sums for them. Small pieces of bones went for 25 cents, and a bit of the liver crisply cooked sold for 10 cents. As soon as the negro was seen to be dead there was a tremendous struggle among the crowd, which had witnessed his tragic end, to secure the souvenirs. A rush was made for the stake, and those near the body were forced against it and had to fight for their freedom. Knives were quickly produced and soon the body was dismembered.
 

One of the men who lifted the can of kerosene to the negro's head is said to be a native of Pennsylvania. His name is known to those who were with him, but they refuse to divulge it. The mob was composed of citizens of Newnan, Giffin, Palmetto and other little towns in the country round about Newnan, and of all the farmers who had received word that the burning was to take place.
 

W. Y. Atkinson, a former governor of Georgia, met the mob as he was returning form church and he appealed to them to let the law take its course. In addressing the mob, he used these words: "Some of you are known to me and when this affair is finally settled in the courts, you may depend upon it that I will testify against you." A member of the mob was seen to draw a revolver and level it at Mr. Atkinson, but his arm was seized and the pistol taken from him. The mob was frantic with delays and would hear to nothing but burning at the stake.
 

Before being put to death, the negro is said to have confessed to killing Cranford, stating that he had been paid $20 by "Lige" Strickland, a negro preacher at Palmetto, for the deed.
 

Holt was located in the little cabin of his mother on the farm of the Jones brothers between Macon and Columbus and brought to jail.
 

Word was sent to Mrs. Cranford at Palmetto that it was believed Holt was under arrest and that her presence was necessary in Newnan to make sure of his identification. In some way the news of the arrest leaked out, and as the town has been on the alert for nearly two weeks, the intelligence spread rapidly.
 

From every house in the little city came its occupants, and a good-sized crowd had soon gathered about the jail. Sheriff Brown was importuned to give up the prisoner, and finally in order to avoid an assault on the jail and possible bloodshed, he turned the negro over to the waiting crowd.
 

A procession was quickly formed and the doomed negro was marched at the head of a yelling, shouting crowd through several streets of the town. Soon the public square was reached. Here ex-Gov. Atkinson of Georgia, who lives in Newnan, came hurriedly upon the scene and standing up in a buggy importuned the crowd to let the law take its course.
 

Gov. Atkinson said: "My fellow citizens and friends: I beseech you to let this affair go no further. You are hurrying this negro on to death without an identification. Mrs. Cranford, whom he is said to have assaulted and whose husband he is said to have killed, is sick in bed and unable to be here to say whether this is her assailant. Let this negro be returned to jail. The law will take its course, and I promise you it will do so quickly and effectually. Do not stain the honor of the state with a crime such as you are about to perform." Judge A. D. Freeman of Newnan spoke in a similar strain and prayed the mob to return the prisoner to the custody of the sheriff and go home. The assemblage heard the words of the town speakers in silence, but the instant their voices had died away shouts of "On to Palmetto, burn him, think of his crime," arose, and the march was resumed.
 

Mrs. Cranford's mother and sister are residents of Newnan. The mob was headed in the direction of their house and in a short time reached the McElroy home. The negro was marched through the gate and Mrs. McElroy was called to the front door. She identified the African, and her verdict was agreed to by her daughter, who had often seen Holt about the Cranford place. "To the Stake," was again the cry and several men wanted to burn the negro in Mrs. McElroy's yard. To this she objected strenuously, and the mob, complying with her wish, started for Palmetto. Just as they were leaving Newnan, news was brought that the 1 o'clock train from Atlanta would bring 1000 people from Atlanta. This was taken to be a regiment of soldiers, and the mob decided to burn the prisoner at the first favorable place rather than be compelled to shoot him when the militia put in an appearance.
 

Leaving the little town, whose Sunday quiet had been so rudely disturbed, the mob, which now numbered nearly 1500 people, started on the road to Palmetto. A line of buggies and vehicles of all kinds, their fighting for positions in line, followed the procession, at the head of which, closely guarded, marched the negro. One and a half miles out of Newnan, a place believed to be favorable to the burning, was reached. A little to the side of the road was a strong pine tree. Up to this the negro was marched, his back placed to the tree and his face to the crowd, which jostled closely about him.
 

The clothes were torn from the negro in an instant. A heavy chain was produced and wound around his body. He said not a word to this proceeding, but at the sight of three or four knives slashing in the hands of several members of the crowd about him, which seemed to forecast the terrible ordeal he was about to be put to, he sent up a yell which could be heard for a mile. Instantly a hand grasping a knife shot out and one of the negro's ears dropped into a hand ready to receive it. He pleaded pitifully for mercy and begged his tormentors let him die. His cries went unheeded.