Permanent Black Man
Landownership made blacks targets of violence and murder
Doria Dee Johnson holds up a picture of her great-great-grandfather, Anthony P. Crawford, at her Alexandria, Va., home
As a little girl, Doria Dee Johnson often asked about the man in the portrait hanging in an aunt's living room – her great-great-grandfather. "It's too painful," her elderly relatives would say, and they would look away.
A few years ago, Johnson, now 40, went to look for answers in the rural town of Abbeville, S.C.
Crawford "seems to have been the type of negro who is most offensive to certain elements of the white people," Mrs. J.B. Holman would say a few days later in a letter published by The Abbeville Press and Banner. "He was getting rich, for a negro, and he was insolent along with it."
She learned that in his day, the man in the portrait, Anthony P. Crawford, was one of the most prosperous farmers in Abbeville County. That is, until Oct. 21, 1916 – the day the 51-year-old farmer hauled a wagon-load of cotton to town.
While waiting his turn at the gin that fall day in 1916, Crawford entered the mercantile store of W.D. Barksdale. Contemporary newspaper accounts and the papers of then-Gov. Richard Manning detail what followed: Barksdale offered Crawford 85 cents a pound for his cottonseed. Crawford replied that he had a better offer. Barksdale called him a liar; Crawford called the storekeeper a cheat. Three clerks grabbed ax handles, and Crawford backed into the street, where the sheriff appeared and arrested Crawford – for cursing a white man.
Released on bail, Crawford was cornered by about 50 whites who beat and knifed him. The sheriff carried him back to jail. A few hours later, a deputy gave the mob the keys to Crawford's cell. Sundown found them at a baseball field at the edge of town. There, they hanged Crawford from a solitary Southern pine.
No one was ever tried for the killing. In its aftermath,
Two whites were appointed executors of Crawford's estate, which included 427 acres of prime cotton land. One was Andrew J. Ferguson, cousin of two of the mob's ringleaders.
Racial violence in America is a familiar story, but the importance of land as a motive for lynchings and white mob attacks on blacks has been widely overlooked. And the resulting land losses suffered by black families such as the Crawfords have gone largely unreported.
The Associated Press documented 57 violent land takings – more than half of the 107 land takings found in an 18-month investigation of black land loss in America . The other cases involved trickery and legal manipulations.
Today, Birmingham, Ky., lies under a floodway created in the 1940s. But at the start of the 20th century, it was a tobacco center with a predominantly black population, and a battleground in a five-year siege by white marauders called Night Riders.
On the night of March 8, 1908, about 100 armed whites tore through town on horseback, shooting seven blacks, three of them fatally. The AP documented the cases of 14 black landowners who were driven from Birmingham. Together, they lost more than 60 acres of farmland and 21 city lots to whites – many at sheriff's sales, all for low prices.
In Pierce City, Mo., 1,000 armed whites burned down five black-owned houses and killed four blacks on Aug. 18, 1901. Within four days, all of the town's 129 blacks had fled, never to return, according to a contemporary report in The Lawrence Chieftain newspaper. The AP documented the cases of nine Pierce City blacks who lost a total of 30 acres of farmland and 10 city lots. Whites bought it all at bargain prices.
Eviline Brinson, whose house was burned down by the mob, sold her lot for $25 to a white woman after the attack. Brinson had paid $96 for the empty lot in 1889, county records show.
The attacks on Birmingham and Pierce City were part of a pattern in Southern and border states in the first half of the 20th century: lynchings and mob attacks on blacks, followed by an exodus of black citizens, some of them forced to abandon their property or sell it at cut-rate prices.
"Black landowners were put under a tremendous amount of pressure, from authorities and otherwise, to give up their land and leave," said Earl N.M. Gooding, director of the Center for Urban and Rural Research at Alabama A&M University. "They became refugees in their own country."
For example, the AP found that 18 black families lost a total of 330 acres plus 48 city lots when they fled Ocoee, Fla., after a 1920 Election Day attack on the black community.
Today the land lost by the 18 Ocoee families, not including buildings now on it, is assessed at more than $4.2 million.
The rest: http://www.theauthenticvoice.org/Torn_From_The_LandII.html