Dave Ramsey (Lynching of)

A young Black man named Dave Ramsey was lynched in Marianna (Lee County) on January 9, 1881, for allegedly having attempted to rape a white girl. This was the first recorded lynching in Lee County, where the death toll by lynching would eventually reach seventeen documented cases by 1919. At the time Ramsey was killed, the Black population of Lee County was more than double the white population, a disparity that would only increase in the coming years.  

The first report of this event appeared in the Arkansas Gazette on January 13, 1881, under the headline, “A Raper Roped,” with the subtitle, “The Pine Bluff Code Works to Perfection.” This report consists of reprinting a letter, dated January 10 and “received in this city from a friend in Marianna, Lee county.”  

The letter reads as follows: 

“Have just finished my duties as one of an inquest jury to view the dead body of ‘your old friend,’ Jerry Ramsey, who was taken from the jail last night by a body of masked men and hung to a tree some two hundred yards from the jail. They also left a pistol ball in his head, and when the jury cut him down he was stiff and cold, and his body is now in the courthouse awaiting burial. He attempted to ravish Miss B—yesterday. The movements and the crime were kept so quiet that hardly any one knew anything of it until thit [sic] morning. No one regrets his death or the manner of his departure, and there is general rejoicing at its termination so quietly and successfully.” 

On January 19, the Arkansas Democrat reprinted a report from the Marianna Index that contained more detailed information. This report named the lynching victim Dave Ramsey and described him as a “mulatto,” twenty-two years old, who had lived in Lee County for many years. The 1880 census records the presence of one David Ramsey, age twenty-three, race listed as “mulatto,” living in Marianna, where he worked as a laborer. The report in the Marianna Index held that he was, “when under the influence of whisky, a bold and degraded wretch,” a description common to many lynching victims. His alleged victim was “a little girl of eleven years” who reportedly belonged “to one of the first families of the town.” After being “thwarted in his design by timely aid,” Ramsey was arrested and placed in the county jail. 

That night, at approximately 10:00 p.m., “a mob in disguise, numbering ten or twelve went to the jail and demanded the keys.” The mob, whose actions (in accordance with the tropes of many lynching reports) were carried out quietly, hanged Ramsey within 200 to 300 yards of the jail, pinning to his back a message reading, “Hung for attempting to outrage an eleven year old girl. A terrible warning to all such.” 

The conclusion reached by the coroner’s jury was as follows: “Came to death by hanging and a gun shot, through his head at the hands of unknown persons.” The Marianna Index editorialized on the event thusly: “Every law-abiding citizen disapproves and condemns mob law, but cases of this character never fail to arouse the indignation of a community to that extent as to demand that immediate justice be meted out to the criminal.”  

For additional information:
“The People’s Verdict.” Arkansas Democrat, January 19, 1881, p. 4. 

“A Raper Roped.” Arkansas Gazette, January 13, 1881, p. 4. 

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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