Leroy Smith (Lynching of)
On May 11, 1921, fourteen-year-old Leroy Smith was hanged at McGehee (Desha County) for allegedly attacking J. P. Sims and Arabella Bond as they drove along a road between McGehee and Arkansas City (Desha County). It is one of many accounts of alleged roadside attacks, some of which are referred to in historian Kristina DuRocher’s book, Raising Racists.
Although early reports, including the one in the Arkansas Gazette, indicated that the name of the lynching victim was unknown, an article in the St. Louis Argus identified him as Leroy Smith, a teenager from Lake Providence, Louisiana, which is about sixty miles from McGehee. The 1920 census lists a teenager named “Lawyer” Smith, born around 1908, living in Police Jury Ward 1, Richland Parish, Louisiana. (The governing bodies of many parishes in Louisiana are referred to as police juries.) He was the stepson of Clara Washington and was living with Clara and her husband, Frank Washington, a farmer. He could neither read nor write. According to the Argus, Smith worked for the Good Roads Company, which was at the time paving 150 miles of asphalt and macadam roads in Desha County.
According to the Gazette, on the night of May 10, J. P. Sims and a young woman (later identified as Arabella Bond) were driving along a rural road between McGehee and Arkansas City. Sims claimed that he and Bond were stopped by three African Americans intent upon attacking Bond. Sims fired on them, wounding one, and they fled. Sims reported the incident to the authorities, and Smith was arrested, identified, and jailed on May 11. Later that night, a mob removed him from the jail and hanged him from a telephone pole.
In Raising Racists, DuRocher discusses Leroy Smith’s murder, asserting that numerous press reports had heightened concern in the South about any contact between a white woman and an African-American male, however casual, the assumption being that the black male was intent on rape.
She describes the differing accounts of Smith’s murder published in an unnamed white newspaper and the African-American St. Louis Argus. The white publication reported that Sims and Bond were attacked by an African American who asked them to stop their car along the road. They refused, and Smith and Sims exchanged shots. Smith was arrested, supposedly confessed to his crime, and his body was later found hanging east of town, riddled with bullets. The Argus, on the other hand, accused the white publication of failing to publish any substantive facts about the case. According to its reporting, Smith told officers after his arrest that he and two other boys had been frog hunting. When they were finished, they parted ways, and Smith started home. As he was walking along the road, he saw a car that he thought was being driven by the foreman at the camp where he lived. He tried to stop it so he could get a ride home, but he was mistaken about the identity of the driver, who then shot at him.
DuRocher notes the different impressions given by the two reports. The account in the white newspaper (much like the account in the Arkansas Gazette), with its lack of detail, gave the impression that African-American men were inherently violent and thus had to be physically controlled by white men. The more informative article in the Argus, on the other hand, is an account of a simple misunderstanding that quickly escalated, ultimately resulting in Smith’s death.
For additional information:
“Accused Negro is Lynched by M’Gehee Mob.” Arkansas Gazette, May 13, 1921, p. 1.
“Boy Lynched at McGhee [sic] for No Special Cause.” St. Louis Argus, May 27, 1921; reproduced in Ralph Ginzburg, 100 Years of Lynchings. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1996.
DuRocher, Kristina. Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.
Nancy Snell Griffith
Clinton, South Carolina
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