Brooks (Lynching of)

In some cases, conflicting newspaper accounts make it difficult to identify the actual victim of a lynching, as well as other individuals mentioned in the story. Such is the case with an African American man named Brooks, who was shot in St. Francis County on May 20, 1894, for reportedly asking to marry his white employer’s daughter.

An early Kentucky article on the lynching identifies the victim as William Brooks, and this name was listed in The Red Record by Ida B. Wells and by the Equal Justice Initiative. A contemporaneous article in the Forrest City Times, however, identifies the victim as Harry Brooks. Similarly, Brooks’s employer is alternately described as W. A. Saylor and W. A. Taylor, and Saylor/Taylor’s son-in-law as John Ryan or John Ryall. Public records revealed nothing by which to clarify this information.

However, accounts of the crime and the lynching agree on some matters. Apparently, Brooks approached his employer and asked to marry his daughter. Taylor (or Saylor) was astonished and asked if his daughter had encouraged Brooks. According to the Times, Brooks replied that she had been kind to him, and “he thought she would make a good wife.” Brooks also claimed that he was not Black but, instead, a dark-skinned white man. Taylor’s son-in-law appeared, and a scuffle ensued. Another Black man pulled Brooks away, but that night, twenty or thirty people went to see Brooks and “filled him full of lead, killing him instantly.”

For additional information:
“A Negro Lynched.” Daily Public Ledger (Maysville, Kentucky), May 22, 1894, p. 3.

“Wanted a White Wife.” Forrest City Times, May 25, 1894, p. 6.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated: 07/12/2022