In January 1899, five Palmetto, Georgia, businesses were destroyed by two fires of unknown cause. Though there was no evidence to support the theory, white residents quickly concluded that the fires were set by black conspirators intent on destroying property and killing whites. Police soon randomly arrested nine black men. On March 16, 1899, a firing squad of “masked whitecaps” attempted to execute the men without trial, and five of the nine were killed. The four survivors were re-arrested and white officials imposed martial law on Palmetto’s black residents who were reportedly “le[aving] the town in droves” under threat of racial violence.
In the midst of these events, on April 12, 1899, a white Palmetto man named Albert Cranford was killed with an axe. A black man named Sam Hose who worked for the Cranford family was accused of the murder, and also accused of assaulting Mr. Cranford’s wife and beating the two Cranford children. The sensational allegations quickly became front page news, and the local press fanned the flames of racial outrage by theorizing the violence was retaliation for the Palmetto Massacre. Mobs searching for Sam Hose indiscriminately terrorized the black people remaining in Palmetto; two black men in the neighboring town of Griffin were severely beaten by white mobs for insisting that Sam Hose was innocent.
On April 23, 1899, Mr. Hose – whose name was also reported as Sam Holt – was captured and taken by train to Newnan,where members of the mob marched him through the streets with a chain around his neck, shouting “On to Palmetto!” “Think of his crime!” and “Burn him!” The crowd swelled to two thousand people– many riding in buggies and wagons – and ended about two miles from the town square at Old Troutman Field: “[a] place . . .favorable for the burning.” The mob proceeded to slowly torture Sam Hose to death, chaining him to a pine tree and mutilating his body in a violent display where the entire white male community appeared to act as a unit. As one newspaper described:
The wood was piled about the tree until it reached almost to the negro’s arm-pits. . . . At this juncture a man stepped out from the crowd and, with one stroke of a sharp blade, cut off an ear. This operation was repeated on the opposite side by another man. The small finger of each hand was then amputated. Other mutilations followed that cannot be described here.
Reports indicate Mr. Hose was castrated and disemboweled, and that members of the crowd took pieces of his heart and liver as souvenirs. The wooden pyre was then lit on fire and he was burned to death. “Men scrambled and fell over each other in their mad haste to secure something that would be a memento of the horrible tragedy. . . . Men shouted with joy as they showed these nauseating relics to their friends and fabulous sums of money were refused with contempt by many who were happy in the possession of their trophies and spoils.” Black sociologist and activist W. E. B. Du Bois later reported with disgust seeing Mr. Hose’s severed knuckles on display in an Atlanta store window one day after the lynching.
Neither state nor federal authorities took any action to investigate or punish anyone for the brutal and gruesome public spectacle lynching of Sam Hose. The day after the lynching, U.S. Attorney General John W. Griggs declared the violence “had no federal aspect [to it] and that therefore the government would take no action whatever in regard to it.”
From the Equal Justice Initiative’s A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.