Strange Times 93: Brand Negro With Acid

Sometimes this newsletter is fun! This week, it’s not! Brace yourself for four distressing stories, presented in the order in which they appeared in the newspaper, from…

April 3, 1921

  • In New York as part of a pro-Zionist delegation, Professor Albert Einstein explains his theory of relativity, which “baffles reporters,” and says that attacks upon his work are motivated entirely by anti-Semitism.

  • In Havana, conservative Cuban congressman Fernando Quinones is shot dead by liberal rival Ernesto Collado.

  • After pretending to be the President’s cousin in order to get 22 free train tickets to the inauguration, Everett Harding is arrested on charges of fraud.

  • Despite having a cold, Bronx centenarian Emanuel Oppenheimer declares himself proud to have reached 100 years of age.

  • The Weather: Fair today; Monday, fair and warmer; fresh westerly winds.

This from the front page of the paper. If you’re concerned that the women acted out of prejudice, don’t worry! They explain in the second to last graf that they did not. Phew.

WASHINGTON, April 2.—Members of Congress received today copies of a petition addressed to Mrs. Virginia White Speel, Chairman of the National Woman’s Republican Committee of the District of Columbia, and signed by 508 white women employed in the office of the Register of the Treasury, opposing appointment of a negro as Register.

“We have been definitely informed,” the signers of the petition declared, “that the appointment of a colored man as Register of the Treasury is being considered. The Register’s office is now very large and is doing responsible work. Its personnel consists of more than 900 clerks, mostly ex-service men and white women, who are dependent upon their income for support. For a negro to have jurisdiction over these clerks would be intolerable.

“It is true that colored men have served as Registers of the Treasury, but out of the twenty-two Registers only four have been negroes. At no time when this office was under the supervision of a negro did the personnel consist of more than nineteen clerks and one messenger.”

The petitioners, whose homes as given include thirty-five States, in a letter to members of Congress, enclosing the petition, declared:

“This petition does not come from any political faction, nor was it instigated by Southern prejudice. Northerners, Southerners, Easterners, Westerners, Democrats and Republicans alike have set their signature thereto.

“In times of war it was thought inadvisable to put negro officers in charge of white troops. In times of peace it would certainly be inexpedient to give negroes jurisdiction over white citizens.”

This is a horrifying story. It’s short, but every word hits hard. I felt sick to my stomach by the time I was typing this up, and if you don’t want to read it, I don’t blame you.

DALLAS, Texas, April 2.—Police today were investigating the activities of a party of well dressed white masked men who took Alex Johnson, a negro bell boy in a Dallas hotel, to a lonely spot south of Dallas late last night, flogged him and then branded with acid the letters “K. K. K.” on his forehead. Johnson was brought back to Dallas in an automobile and thrown from the machine in front of the hotel where he had been employed.

Six automobiles drove to Johnson’s home, and a number of masked men tied him in one of the cars. With lights out and Johnson pleading for his life, the party drove to a lonely point on Hutchins Road. Here the negro was tied to a fence post and lashed twenty-five times after being stripped to the waist.

While Johnson sagged limply against the fence a bottle of acid was produced and he was branded.

Charges were filed in County Court last week against Johnson after the police said he had been discovered in the room of a white woman patron of the hotel.

This is a continuation of a story that first appeared in Strange Times 86. That post is for full subscribers only, but the gist of it is that eleven corpses were found on the property of John S. Williams, who had been under investigation for holding black farmers in slavery-like peonage. It’s an astonishing story that’s never really been written about, and one I’m looking forward to continuing to explore.

COVINGTON, Ga., April 2.—Five negro employees on the Williams death farm in Jasper County were brought before the Newton Grand Jury and their bodies bared to show the marks of mistreatment. John S. Williams admitted to the Grand Jury that one of his sons killed a black on the plantation last Fall. These facts came out on the eve of the planter’s trial for murder, which begins Tuesday.

Williams, it is said, told Federal agents some time ago that it was possible that he had violated peonage laws. He pleaded with them not to push the case against him, promising to reform.

In making his admission that a son killed a negro, Williams declared that his son acted in self-defense. When asked if the killing was ever reported to any official, he replied in the negative.

After the Federal agents visited the farm Williams sent his sons to Texas, it is said, ostensibly to buy farm lands in that State. They remained there several weeks and then returned home. When a juryman asked why they returned at that time, one of the boys replied that they received a telegram from their father saying, “Business is picking up, come home.”

When negroes from Atlanta and other places who had worked on the Williams farm were brought before the Grand Jury they were made to bare their bodies. Bruises, gashes and scars disclosed that they had been mistreated. They accused Williams and his sons of inflicting the hurts.


Governor Hugh M. Dorsey of Georgia, in a telegram received here last night by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he would do all in his power to bring to punishment persons responsible for the alleged peonage system and subsequent deaths of eleven negroes in Jasper County.

“I assure you, the telegram read, “that all true Georgians deplore the awful tragedies recently brought to light, and I am leaving no stone unturned to put the ‘wheels of justice’ in motion, and hope to bring about the conviction of the guilty parties. The Governor, as you know, has no jurisdiction. All he can do is try to bolster up the officials elected by the people.”

Presented without comment. Unless this counts as comment, in which case, uh…

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., April 2.—Americanism Day was celebrated in Indianapolis today with a parade, banquet and a mass meeting tonight at which Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Henry J. Ryan, Director of Americanism for the American Legion, delivered the principal addresses.

Crowds of people who were unable to obtain admittance to the tabernacle, seating 10,000 persons, in which tonight’s meeting was held, held overflow meetings on the streets. The celebration was planned by the American Legion as a patriotic demonstration similar to the one held in New York recently at Madison Square Garden.

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