This blog was written by Dr. Trichita M. Chestnut, Management and Program Analyst in the Office of the Chief Operating Officer at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland
This is the second blog post on a series of blogs on the lynching of women in the United States.
Lynching remains one of the most disturbing and least understood atrocities in American history. During the Postbellum and Reconstruction periods, mob violence in the South became a tool for maintaining the racial order. African American men, women, and children now comprised the majority of victims of lynch mobs and lynchings assumed an increasingly sadistic nature.
Between 1837 and 1946, 173 women were victims of white mob violence in the United States. Of the 173 women lynched: 144 were African American, 25 were white, 3 were Mexican, and 1 was Native American. 164 of these women met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs in the South. Women, who moved outside the well-defined boundaries of the rigid moral and social order of the Post-Reconstruction period, were challenging the cult of true womanhood and the domination of white males and sex-role mandates. In extreme situations, women who would not conform were lynched.
There are case files on the lynching of women in Georgia, found in Record Group (RG) 60 the General Records of the Department of Justice and RG 65 Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the these records, you will find correspondence, newspaper clippings, telegrams, petitions, and resolutions from ordinary Americans as well as notable anti-lynching and civil rights activists and organizations relating to the lynching of African Americans in the United States.
In Georgia, the state with the second largest number of females lynched, had 18 female victims of lynch mobs from 1884-1946: 17 were African American and 1 was white. The series Straight Numerical Files, 1904-1974 (National Archives Identifier 583895) contains correspondence regarding the lynching of women in the United States.
“Dear President, imagine a poor helpless woman being marched thru the streets to a post and amidst her piteous cries and protesting her innocence, she is strung up and lynched like a brute…” E.D. Rosemond of Ashville, North Carolina wrote to President William Taft on January 24, 1912, describing the lynching the 6th female victim in the state of Georgia, Belle Hathaway.
On January 22, 1912, an unknown assailant shot and killed Norman Hadley, a young white married farmer, while sitting in his home. That afternoon authorities arrested four African-American tenants, including Belle and three men, and charged them with the crime of murder in Hamilton, Harris County. Although Sheriff Hadley, the victim’s uncle feared no lynching would occur, a white mob had been mobilizing and planning that entire day and night. By 9 o’clock that evening, a mob of 100 white men overpowered the jailer and took the four prisoners, who were marched out-of-town at gunpoint. “There they were quickly strung up. Immediately their writhing bodies became silhouetted against the sky, revolvers and rifles blazed forth and fully 300 shots were fired before the mob dispersed. The Negroes protested their innocence to the last, but the mob would have none of it.”
All four victims died, “at the hands of persons unknown,” since no one had ever been prosecuted for this lynching.