Alex Thompson (Lynching of)
On April 23, 1903, a young African-American man named Alex Thompson was hanged in Gurdon (Clark County) for allegedly attacking a local doctor (named Cuffman) with a knife. There is no record of a man named Alex Thompson living in Clark County during this period. The 1900 census, however, does list a doctor named Cuffman who was living there. He is listed in the census as George A. Cuffman, but subsequent marriage and census records indicate that he was probably John Henry Cuffman. At the time of the census, he was thirty-six, single, and living in a boarding house. Later that year, on June 28, he married Mary Euella Littlejohn in Gurdon.
The Arkansas Gazette reported that trouble had been brewing in Gurdon for some time before the lynching. According to the Gazette, approximately half of the 1,500 residents of Gurdon were African Americans who worked for the lumber mill, brick plant, and railroad. Because of their large numbers, it said, “the negroes are exceedingly impudent and insolent, and instead of improving in this direction they have of late become more self-assertive.” The Gazette added that if, subsequent to the lynching, trouble should arise between blacks and whites, “the outcome will be as usual—the death of a large number of negroes and probably a few whites.”
On April 30, the Southern Standard of Arkadelphia (Clark County) described the incident that precipitated the lynching. Apparently, Thompson owed Dr. Cuffman money but, on several occasions, had refused to pay him. Cuffman took the matter to Thompson’s employer, the Gurdon Lumber Company, and asked the company to collect it. This angered Thompson, and on Wednesday evening, April 22, he went to Cuffman’s office, where they quarreled. Cuffman then struck Thompson with a weight, and Thompson responded by stabbing Cuffman in the neck. According to the Standard, after he struck Cuffman, Thompson “turned into a raving maniac and tried to force his entrance to the doctor’s office, where the doctor was locked up without any defense whatever.” Help arrived before Thompson succeeded in breaking in, and he was arrested and jailed. According to an article in the Nashville News, at 2:00 a.m. on April 23, Thompson was taken from the jail and hanged “by a mob of infuriated citizens.” His body was found later that morning hanging from the Caney Creek trestle just north of Gurdon. A coroner’s jury was convened at 1:00 p.m. Guards at the jail testified that there was no way of knowing who made up the mob, as they were heavily masked, and the verdict was that the “party came to his death at the hands of unknown parties.” The News reported, “The lynching was very quietly conducted, families living in the immediate neighborhood not knowing of the affair until this morning.” According to the News, Thompson was known as a troublesome man “and was even feared by the members of his own race.” This suspicion was also extended to his brother, who arrived in Gurdon the day after the lynching.
The various newspapers reported that Cuffman was not seriously injured, and, indeed, he did not die of his wounds. In 1910, he was still living in Clark County with his wife and three children and was working as a physician and engaged in farming. He died on March 18, 1917, and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Arkadelphia.
For additional information:
“Alex Thompson Lynched.” Southern Standard (Arkadelphia, Arkansas), April 30, 1903, p. 2.
“Lynched at Gurdon.” Nashville News (Arkansas), April 25, 1903, p. 1.
“Thompson Was Lynched.” Arkansas Gazette, April 24, 1903, p. 1.
Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina
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