His great-grandfather witnessed a lynching. Could I help?

R.P.C. Sanderson (Courtesy of The Rev. Peter Getz)

In his email to me, The Rev. Peter Getz said that his great-grandfather had witnessed a lynching in Farmville, Va. But later, when he wrote about the incident, he did not date the entry or provide many details. Getz asked if I could help.

“I would like to share the account with you in hopes that you might be able to put a name and date on the lynching,” Getz wrote.

Getz lives in Texas and found me on the internet. His great-grandfather, R.P.C. Sanderson, lived in Roanoke in the 1880s and traveled throughout Virginia for the Norfolk & Western Railway. Sanderson was at the window of his room at the Prince Edward Hotel on Main Street in downtown Farmville when he saw riders gallop into town and heard banging and gunfire. The next day a man was hanging from a tree at the edge of town.

I thought I could help Getz, and I was excited to read what Sanderson had written. In my experience, eyewitness accounts of the type Sanderson wrote are rare.

Newspaper stories about lynchings were usually written after the incidents. As a former reporter and editor, I can imagine how a reporter working in Farmville or Roanoke or Charlottesville during the worst of the lynch era might arrive for work to learn that a lynching had occurred overnight. I can see the reporter interviewing people, visiting the scene, doing as much as he could, as fast as he could, to write a story on deadline. At least that’s how most of the stories read today: workmanlike accounts with little more than the obligatory who, what, when, where and why.

However, a handful of stories were written by reporters who witnessed the mob’s murders. Take the account of Joseph McCoy’s death in Alexandria in 1887. A reporter for the Alexandria Gazette witnessed the attack on the city jail, where McCoy was being held on an assault charge.

 

McCoy had become terribly frightened and had climbed up on the door and was secreted near the ceiling. The mob supposed they were in the wrong cell, and were about to leave for another when one of McCoy’s legs was discovered. He was pulled down with a yell and dragged to the pavement and the mob surged toward Cameron Street with him.

 

Similarly, a reporter for the Richmond Dispatch painted a vivid picture of the lynching of accused murderer Walter Cotton in Emporia in 1900:

 

Just in front of the courthouse was an old sycamore tree which had a branch growing from its trunk at right angles about 20 feet from the ground. To this the negro, numb from the effect of his shackles, was dragged, and two young men started to climb the tree to adjust the rope over the limb. One fell back, however, and the other being boosted by those on the ground soon reached the limb.

It was but the work of a moment for him to toss the rope over the limb, and then someone cried, ‘Everybody catch hold of the rope.’ In a second Cotton was drawn up to the limb of the tree, his forehead being badly gashed by a protruding limb.

 

Sanderson, too, was a careful observer that night in Farmville.

 

I heard horses come clattering along the street. Mounted men came along two by two, dropping a guard at each cross street intersection, the main body went on to the courthouse. There was some banging and battering, then the procession returned in like manner, and all was quiet till I heard a rattle of shots.

 

A pre-World War II postcard of Main Street, looking south, in downtown Farmville. (Courtesy of Boston Public Library.)

Even though Virginia had more than 100 lynchings during the lynch era, 1878-1932, Farmville had only one. So I told Getz that his great-grandfather had witnessed the August 1888 lynching of Archer Cook, at least what he could see and hear from his hotel window. Newspaper stories published the next day supplied the missing details:

Cook, 22, was black and in jail, accused of rape, though his relationship with a young white woman may have been consensual. Cook’s trial was postponed several times when the young woman said she was too sick to testify. Tired of waiting, local residents decided to act.

At the courthouse that night, they broke through the brick walls of the jail, removed Cook and rode away. The men hurried Cook to the nearest woods and hanged him from an oak tree. They fired 25 shots at him, then galloped off, “leaving a terribly mangled corpse,” according to one news report. Sanderson wrote that he recognized one of the riders as a railroad employee and spoke to him later about the incident. Even so, no one was ever charged with killing Cook or vandalizing the jail.

What distinguishes Sanderson’s account and the other eyewitness stories are the details, almost cinematic in their power. We can see McCoy hiding on top of his cell door, Cotton’s gashed forehead in Emporia, and the riders peeling away to guard the cross streets in Farmville. These details allow readers, then and now, to better understand the horror of what happened. With lynching stories, the devil truly is in the details.

 

Please join me for my next book talk. It is scheduled for Sunday, March 18, 2018, at 2 p.m. I will be the guest of the Mosby Heritage Area Association at The Hill School, 130 South Madison St., Middleburg, Va.

 

Look for me now in three parts on YouTube

Jim Hall at Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton.

Thanks to John Owens, a librarian at Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton, for filming my presentation there. Actually it was Jeremy Owens, John’s brother, who manned the camera for the Feb. 24 talk. So thanks to both.

I wanted a recording of one of my talks, but I wanted something more than what you’d get by imposing on a friend with a cell phone camera. Now I have it. Jeremy, armed with a camera and tripod, recorded the entire presentation, including querstions.

One of the benefits of a recording is the chance to critique one’s performance. Like a pitcher watching film to see if he is tipping his pitches, I can now count my “umms” and “ahhs” and identify inaccuracies.

John divided the film into three parts and posted the segments on YouTube. And immediately, without watching, I identified a problem. When I added the running times for the three segments–29 minutes, 28 minutes and 18 minutes–I realized that at 75 minutes the talk was too long. I’ll study it now to see where it can be trimmed. My goal will be for it to last an hour or less, including questions. After an hour, I run the risk of audience members looking over their shoulders for the exits.

The links for the three segments are here:

Part 1- https://youtu.be/ykhMOoJEQII
Part 2- https://youtu.be/A47QbNxOn-I
Part 3- https://youtu.be/JUTUk8dV8PI

Please join me later this month in Loudoun County for the new and improved (shorter) version of my book talk. It is scheduled for Sunday, March 18, at 2 p.m. I will be the guest of the Mosby Heritage Area Association at The Hill School, 130 South Madison St., Middleburg, Va.

 

Are you sure it was the last lynching?

Paul Beers’ 1994 article in The Appalachian Journal.

The comment from an English teacher at Lord Fairfax Community College was one I had heard before. It went something like this: “This wasn’t the last lynching in Northern Virginia. There was another one that came later.”

John Owens, a librarian at Lord Fairfax, reported the comment to me. John said that a teacher at the college was checking out my book from the library when she mentioned another lynching in Fauquier that had occurred years after Shedrick Thompson’s death.

John encouraged the teacher to attend the talk that I will give at Lord Fairfax this Saturday, Feb. 24, at 2 p.m., or to contact me with the details of the later lynching.

I assume that the teacher was referring to the death of Nelson Pendleton in 1935. At least that is the case that I have heard most often mentioned as a possible later lynching. (Thompson was killed in 1932). I don’t know a lot about the Pendleton case. While I was working on The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, I found two press clippings about his death. The first was a one-paragraph news story from The Fauquier Democrat. The other was an editorial from The Richmond Planet. The clippings said that Pendleton died on May 15, 1935, in Markham. He was black, 25, and accused of attempting to assault a white woman. His body was found in an orchard “by a group of enraged citizens, armed with rifles,” the Planet said. The coroner ruled his death a suicide.

The 1935 Fauquier Democrat story about Pendleton’s death.

The Planet, a popular black newspaper, was critical of the suicide verdict, the same verdict offered in Thompson’s death. The paper said the verdict was “overworked in Warrenton,” and it added, “There is a strong possibility that Judge Lynch is still holding court in this state.”

So was Pendleton lynched? Was he Virginia’s last lynching?

Maybe. It would be hard to answer definitively without doing a lot more research.

In a sense, this is where I was years ago when thinking about the Thompson case. I remember reading Paul Beers’ 1994 piece in The Appalachian Journal. Beers was writing about the 1926 death of Raymond Bird in Wythe County and called it “the last documented lynching in Virginia.” Beers may have known that statement would be controversial so he added a lengthy footnote. He dismissed the 1927 Leonard Woods lynching as a Kentucky incident, though few others agree with him. He also concluded that Thompson’s death was a suicide. He quoted Virginius Dabney, the longtime editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who wrote that lynching in Virginia ended with passage of the state’s antilynching law in 1928. “Nearly all other students of Virginia lynchings agree with Dabney’s conclusion,” Beers said.

Well, not exactly. I did not agree and took up the challenge. I spent months reading documents and talking to people. I made the case, I believe, that Thompson was lynched. I also believe he was Virginia’s last lynching.

Someday, someone may do the research and make the case that Pendleton was lynched, and that he, not Thompson, was Virginia’s last lynching.

Please, someone, take up the challenge.

Please join me this Saturday or at another of the appearances listed below:

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at Lord Fairfax Community College, 6480 College St., Warrenton, Va.

Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

Thursday, March 1, 2018, 10 a.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Lifetime Learning Institute, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle,  Manassas, Va.

Sunday, March 18, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, The Hill School, 130 South Madison St., Middleburg, Va.

I was the evening’s entertainment but also a proud papa

Jim Hall, left, with Andrew Hall at All Souls Church.

Last Tuesday was the kind of day that resides in memory long after it’s lived. I went north that day to talk about The Last Lynching at All Souls Church in Washington. What made the evening memorable, however, was that my son Andrew Hall introduced me. One of the sponsors for the program thought that Andrew, a member of the church, should be the one to welcome me. So I watched from the first row as he stood at the lectern and told the audience about me. He mentioned some of the items in my biography, avoided embarrassing stories, and then sat down. He was brief but informative, and the audience seemed as delighted as I was. That evening I proudly stood before them not just as their guest but as Andrew’s dad.

My travels continue this week with an appearance at George Mason University in Fairfax. Please join me there or at one of the other talks listed below.

Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 11:50 a.m., book talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 2 p.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 4243 Loudoun Ave. The Plains, Va.

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at Lord Fairfax Community College, 6480 College St., Warrenton, Va.

Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

Thursday, March 1, 2018, 10 a.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Lifetime Learning Institute, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle,  Manassas, Va.

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, 6:30 p.m., Fredericksburg Rotary Club, Fredericksburg Country Club, 11031 Tidewater Trail, Fredericksburg.

Sunday, March 18, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, The Hill School, 130 South Madison St., Middleburg, Va.

The new year begins with an appearance in Washington

All Souls Church Unitarian, Washington.

I was delighted to be invited to appear this month at the All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington. My son Andrew lives in Washington and has been a member of the church for several years. He thought that The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia and the talk I give about lynching in Virginia would fit with an anti-racism program the church is sponsoring this month. Church officials agreed, so I’ll be there on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

My appearance at All Souls is the first of the new year and one of six that I have scheduled. I’ll also be in Fairfax, Warrenton, Leesburg, Fauquier, Middleburg and Manassas (See below). Two of the dates are joint appearances with filmmaker Tom Davenport. Tom will show his documentary The Other Side of Eden about the Thompson case, and I’ll talk about the book. Please join us.

Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, 7 p.m., book talk at the All Souls Unitarian Church, 1500 Harvard St. NW, Washington.

Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 11:50 a.m., book talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 2 p.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 4243 Loudoun Ave. The Plains, Va.

Lord Fairfax Community College, Warrenton.

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at Lord Fairfax Community College, 6480 College St., Warrenton, Va.

Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

Thursday, March 1, 2018, 10 a.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Lifetime Learning Institute, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle,  Manassas, Va.

Sunday, March 18, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, The Hill School, 130 South Madison St., Middleburg, Va.

 

These are a few of my favorite things

Here are three things that this writer is happy about:

  1. The story about my book by Pam Kamphuis, editor of the Piedmont Virginian magazine.

Pam asked me to write about Fauquier County’s reaction to publication of The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. I did, and last week she posted that piece on the magazine’s website. She also included her own thoughts, crediting the book and Tom Davenport’s film on the subject, The Other Side of Eden, with promoting discussion of Shedrick Thompson’s death, even at the risk of opening old wounds.

“The principle of treating history honestly, openly, and engaging in dialogues, though uncomfortable, will help us move forward as a nation,” she wrote.

2. My appearance in Fauquier County next week.

I’ll be taking part in the 3rd annual Great Writers Right Here program, sponsored by the Fauquier County Public Library. The event will be held on Friday, Oct. 13, from 6-8 p.m. in Warrenton. I’ll be one of 40 writers attending the fair. The group includes writers of fiction and nonfiction, for adults and children. Natalie Wheeler, one of the organizers, said the library hopes that the event will encourage writers to connect with their readers and with one another.

“We also want to show off our local talent,” she said.

I’ll be there to sign and sell books. Please stop by and say hello. You can learn more about the fair here.

3. The Last Lynching goes into a second printing.

Perhaps I’m burying my lead here, but I’m delighted that History Press has issued a second printing of my book. Adam Kidd, one of my contacts at the South Carolina company, said recently that the first printing of 900 copies sold out, and that the company did a new printing in mid-September, almost exactly one year after publication. Thank you to everyone who has supported me during this adventure. It’s been a wonderful ride.

PS: Here’s my revised schedule of appearances for this fall and winter:

  1. Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., a talk at Fall for the Book, Kings Park Library, 9000 Burke Lake Rd., Burke, Va.
  2. Friday, Oct. 13, 6-8 p.m., a signing at Great Writers Right Here, Fauquier County Public Library, Family Life Center, First Baptist Church, 39 Alexandria Pike, Warrenton.
  3. Saturday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m., a panel discussion at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, Porter Branch, 2001 Parkway Blvd., Stafford, Va.
  4. Friday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m., a talk at the Fredericksburg Literary Club, Faulkner Hall, 905 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg.
  5. Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 11:50 a.m., a talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.
  6. Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 2 p.m., a screening at the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 4243 Loudoun Ave., The Plains.  Tom Davenport will present The Other Side of Eden, his documentary about the Thompson case. I will be there too.
  7. Sunday, Feb 11, 2018, a talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, Marshall, Va. (Time and place to be determined)
  8. Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, 10:30 a.m., a screening at the Lifetime Learning Institute-Manassas, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Cir., Manassas. Tom Davenport will present The Other Side of Eden, a documentary about the Thompson case. I will be there too.
  9. Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., a talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

 

 

For me, fall will be for the book

The Philip Carter Winery , Hume, Va.

I’m glad that my first book event this fall will be in Fauquier County, where The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia is set. The summer has been quiet, but I have scheduled seven appearances beginning in September.

The first occurs just after Labor Day at the Philip Carter Winery in Fauquier. The winery is off Leeds Manor Road in Hume near many of the locations in the book. As Philip Carter Strother, the owner of the winery, said when he proposed the event: “It would be a pleasure for (you) to read passages from the book with Rattlesnake Mountain in the background.”

I was also delighted to be invited to the 19th annual Fall for the Book festival in Northern Virginia. The four-day event, Oct. 11-14, takes place at George Mason University and other locations in Fairfax County. I am one of 150 authors taking part.

When the organizers of Fall for the Book contacted History Press, my publisher, about me taking part, they suggested that I read from my book. I asked if I could do what I usually do when I appear before audiences. Could I talk about lynching in Virginia, focusing on the Fauquier incident that is the subject of my book? They replied that my idea of “doing a presentation is great and will fascinate audiences.”

I’ve also been invited to talk to two of the Lifelong Learning Institutes for seniors. One is in Manassas, and the other is in Fairfax. And I’ll be speaking to groups in Marshall, Stafford County and Leesburg. The schedule as of today is below. Please join me.

  1. Saturday, Sept. 9, 7 p.m., Philip Carter Winery of Virginia, 4366 Stillhouse Road, Hume, Va.
  2. Wednesday, Oct. 4, 10:30 a.m., Lifelong Learning Institute-Manassas, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, Va.
  3. Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., Fall for the Book, Kings Park Library, 9000 Burke Lake Rd., Burke, Va.
  4. Saturday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m., Central Rappahannock Regional Library, England Run Branch, 806 Lyons Blvd., Fredericksburg, Va.
  5. Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, 11:50 a.m., Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.
  6. Sunday, Feb 11, 2018, Mosby Heritage Area Association, Marshall, Va. (Time and place to be determined)
  7. Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.