Ida B. Wells in “The Red Record” (1894) used his murder at the hands of a white mob as an example of how innocent black people could be scapegoated and lynched. She used it as an argument against lynching. Yes, lynching was seriously debated. It was defended in public, not just in bars but even on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Much like capital punishment is today.
Once upon a time in the state of Missouri C.J. Miller was thrown off a train and arrested by the police. At the time the police were looking for the killer of two white girls in the neighbouring state of Kentucky. He did not match the physical description of the killer, not even slightly, but they sent him to the police in Kentucky as a suspect all the same.
The police in Kentucky tried to pin the crime on Miller, but at each turn they failed to find any solid proof:
- Wrong clothing: He was wearing different clothes than the killer
- Wrong race: The killer was white or very close to it according to eyewitnesses. Miller was dark-skinned.
- Coerced witness: One eyewitness who said Miller was the killer did so only after the police threatened him.
- The bloodhound did in fact stop in front of Miller, but the press of the mob gave him little choice. Earlier when the same bloodhound took the police to the farm of a white man, the white man was neither questioned nor suspected.
- A dark red stain on Miller’s shirt turned out to be paint, not blood.
- Lack of confession: Despite being threatened by armed, drunken men, Miller never confessed to the crime. He did not want to die with a lie on his soul.
- False rumours: In jail a Methodist minister tried to make Miller admit his guilt. He refused. That did not stop stories of him doing so from spreading among the mob gathered outside the jail.
The lynch mob had grown from 30 to over 300. Many were drunk, many were carrying guns. The police took no measures to protect Miller from them. The police seemed to trust the mob, not fear them.
The father of the two murdered girls said Miller was not the killer. The mob wanted Miller dead anyway. They wanted to burn him alive. The father, facing a drunken, well-armed mob, made a deal: they could hang him but not burn him alive. They agreed.
The lynching itself: The mob took Miller out of jail, tore off his clothes, tied his shirt round his middle, put chains on him and dragged him through the streets. He fainted several times. They hung him from a telegraph pole, killing him. Many shot at him. When his body came down they cut off his fingers and toes (presumably as keepsakes) and then burned his body.