On August 7, 1930, a white mob lynched Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. The two young black men, 18 and 19 years old respectively, had been arrested that afternoon. They were accused of attacking a young white couple, beating and fatally shooting the man, and attempting to assault the woman. Once the men were detained, word of the charges spread and a growing mob of angry white residents gathered outside the county jail.
Around 9:30 p.m., the mob attempted to rush the jail and was repelled by tear gas. An hour later, they successfully barreled past the sheriff and three deputies, grabbed Shipp and Smith from their cells as they prayed, and dragged them into the street. By then numbering between 5000 and 10,000 people (half the white population of Grant County) the mob beat, tortured, and hung both men from trees in the courthouse yard, brutally executing them without benefit of trial or legal proof of guilt. As the men’s bodies hung, members of the mob re-entered the jail and grabbed 16-year-old James Cameron, another youth being held for the crime. The mob beat Cameron severely and were preparing to hang him alongside the others when a member of the crowd intervened and insisted he was innocent. Cameron was released and the mob later dispersed.
Enraged by the lynching, the NAACP traveled to Marion to investigate, and later provided United States Attorney General James Ogden with the names of 27 people believed to have participated. Though the lynching and its spectators were photographed, local residents claimed not to recognize anyone pictured and no one was charged or tried in connection with the killings. A photograph of Shipp’s and Smith’s battered corpses hanging lifeless from a tree, with white spectators proudly standing below, remains one of the most iconic lynching photographs. After seeing the photo in 1937, New York schoolteacher Abe Meeropol was inspired to write “Strange Fruit,” a haunting poem about lynching that later became a famous song recorded by Billie Holiday.
“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.