Follow Friday: Finding a lynched ancestor

Back in May, I posted a new piece of oral family history, that one of my second great uncles may have been lynched.  You were all helpful with ideas of where to look to try to verify if the rumor was true. The following excerpt from the Feb. 2nd, 1901 issue of the “Daily Herald” newspaper of Mississippi seems to confirm this oral history:

PRISONER LYNCHED

When the prisoner, Warren Stewart, was conveyed to Ocean Springs, a great wave of indignation spread over the place, and the mutterings were ominous.  It was concluded to give him a trial, and while the examination was in progress a mob of about 300 persons took him from the officers, carried him across the bayou, and hanged him, after which his body was riddled with bullets about 100 being fired into it.

According to the paper, Warren was lynched for the alleged assault of a white girl and the story was covered in at least eight newspapers from Ohio to Idaho.

“(N)ewspapers were giving black violence top billing, the most breathless outrage reserved for any rumor of black male indiscretion toward a white woman, all but guaranteeing a lynching,” Isabel Wilkerson wrote in “The Warmth of Other Suns,” the story of the great migration of blacks from the south at the beginning of the 20th century.

Warren Stewart’s case fits this bill.

The age and the story of the Warren Stewart in the article match up with my information about my second great-uncle, but I still need to confirm that this is my ancestor, the son of my great, great-grandparents, Colonel Stuart and Tempy Burton. Unfortunately, vital records like death certificates weren’t recorded in Mississippi before 1912.  So, I’m checking funeral and court records from Ocean Springs in hopes of finding a case on file that might include information about Warren’s family and the details of the crime he was accused of. Whether he was innocent or guilty of the attempted assault, his lynching was a murder, an act of domestic terror and it served its purpose. It scared one whole line of my family right out of the south. My Smith cousins left Mississippi for good in the 1920s, and the lynching, my cousin Sylvia recently told me, was an impetus. Same thing for so many of the subjects in Wilkerson’s book.

I don’t expect a retrial of Warren’s case like the “Injustice Files” is doing on the Discovery Channel. This show picks up the trail of racially motivated homicides during the Civil Rights era that went cold and tries to bring the killers to justice. But I do hope to reclaim this kin by finding out as much as I can about how he lived and never forgetting the unjust way in which he died.

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2 thoughts on “Follow Friday: Finding a lynched ancestor

  1. Good work, as always, Dionne. It’s a sad situation to have to unveil, but in doing so, you are, indeed, reclaiming your ancestor.

    Stay on the path.

    Renate

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