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
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 became increasingly sadistic in nature.
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. Although, rare, white women were lynched. In Kentucky, the state with the third largest number of females lynched, had 16 female victims of lynch mobs from 1895 to 1928: 11 were African American and 5 were white. One of the white women lynched in Kentucky was Mrs. Kate Browning. She was a seventy-year old widow at the time of her death.
According to accounts on the lynching, Mrs. Kate Browning was attacked by a white mob when she and her sister-in-law allegedly reported the operating and manufacturing of a whiskey still to federal officers. It was the Prohibition period in the United States and at this time, it was illegal to produce, transfer, and sell alcoholic beverages. Mrs. Browning was living with her family in Bullitt County, Kentucky, when a mob set fire to her home, 90 years ago, in the late night hours of May 4, 1928. As the family tried to escape the burning home, they were shot at by the mob, waiting in ambush. Some of the family members were wounded, and unfortunately, Mrs. Browning was fatally shot.
Locating vital records (such as death certificates) of lynch mob victims can be challenging. When lynch victim’s untimely deaths are “accurately” recorded, the death certificate provides a wealth of information about the victim. The information includes the victim’s name, race, gender, date of birth, age at the time of death, date of death, and most importantly, the cause of death. In this case, the death certificate for Mrs. Browning was located on Ancestry.com for the state of Kentucky.
Like many other victims of mob violence, the coroner gave the same verdict at Mrs. Kate Browning’s autopsy. The coroner noted that she died of gunshot wounds in the hands of an unknown person.
However, unlike the lynchings of African American mob victims, the murder of Mrs. Browning did not go unnoticed and unpunished. A few weeks after the lynching, several white men were arrested and prosecuted for the murder of Mrs. Browning and the wounding of her family members. By the trial date, 9 white men were charged with first degree murder. The jury deliberated for two days before they returned with their verdict. The men were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In the end, the murder trial and guilty verdicts were rare for lynch victims. This was a significant victory over Judge Lynch in the state of Kentucky.