The lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith (August 7th 1930), pictured above, took place on this summer night 85 years ago in Marion, Indiana, USA. This is the lynching that gave us Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” (1939).
The night before, Shipp, 18, Smith, 19 and James Cameron, 16, all three Black, were arrested for shooting Claude Deeter, 23, and raping Mary Ball, 19, at the lover’s lane outside of town. Deeter and Ball were both White.
The next afternoon, Deeter died. His blood-stained shirt with bullet holes was hung “to dry” from the front window of the Marion City building. People began to gather in front of the jail.
By nightfall there were at least a thousand people.
They began throwing rocks, breaking windows.
“Turn them damn niggers over to us! We know how to treat them! We’re going to hang every damn one of them!”
The police used tear gas. That did not work. The sheriff ordered not to shoot: there were women and children in the crowd.
The crowd broke through the masonry beside the jail door. After that there were two steel doors to break through, but they were – unlocked.
At about 10.00pm, they brought out Tommy Shipp. When they tried to hang him, he held onto the rope to protect his neck. They brought him back down. Shipp fought for his life. The lynch leaders drove a knife through his heart and crushed in his head with a crowbar.
They went to get Abe Smith. They knocked him out and hanged him from a maple tree in the courthouse square.
Then they stopped to take pictures. The famous one by Lawrence Beitler shows ordinary White people having a good time.
Then came Cameron’s turn. On the way to the maple tree, a half block away, Whites were beating him up, tearing him apart, using clubs, fists, spitting on him, kicking him, cussing him out, calling him names. One young woman was jumping up and down on a car saying,
“Kill all the niggers! Kill all the niggers! Kill all the niggers!”
The lynch leaders were dressed in robes with open-faced hoods. The police were helping them.
When Cameron was under the tree, with the rope round his neck, he prayed. Then he heard a voice:
“Take this boy back. He had nothing to do with any killing or raping.”
It was Mary Ball’s uncle. Cameron lived.
The next morning the bodies were still hanging from the maple tree – “as a warning to other negroes.”
The Indiana National Guard was brought in to “patrol the negro district to guard against property damage.”
The NAACP helped to bring two lynch leaders to trial, but they got off.
James Cameron, meanwhile, served five years in prison as an accessory to murder. He went on to found the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee.
Some city officials said the lynching had nothing to do with race – yet the White murderer in jail was not lynched, one who had cut off the head, arms and legs of his victim.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Billie Holiday: Strange Fruit
- The 1920 Duluth lynching
- Phantom Caucasian Justice
- “Whites are individuals”
- The Pure White Woman stereotype
- The N-word
- The word “terrorist”
- Ida B. Wells