Charles Anderson (Execution of)
Charles Anderson, a twenty-one-year-old Black man, was hanged at Little Rock (Pulaski County) on July 26, 1901, before a large crowd after being convicted of raping a young white woman, a crime he went to the gallows denying.
Mrs. Belle Edwards, seventeen, worked as a cook at Myers’ railroad tie camp near Marche (Pulaski County). Charles Anderson had been loitering around the camp looking for work. On May 14, 1900, he found Edwards alone at the camp and, newspaper reports said, “assaulted her, badly bruising and choking her.” A posse searched for him, but it would not be until June 17 that a constable spotted him in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). Anderson “saw the officer approaching and led him on a chase of about half a mile” before being captured. He admitted visiting the tie camp but denied assaulting Edwards.
He was arraigned on June 20, and Edwards “positively identified the accused as the man who attacked her…by his height and a peculiar eye which she could not have mistaken.” Indicted for criminal assault, Anderson was tried on October 4, 1900, and the jury “did not take…more than twenty minutes to reach a verdict of guilty.” He was sentenced to hang on December 7, 1900, which was delayed while his case was appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on June 8, 1901, and acting Governor Mike P. Huddleston set July 26 for Anderson’s execution, which would now be public because the Arkansas General Assembly, reacting to John Wesley’s sensational rape trial in Arkadelphia (Clark County) earlier that year, had removed limitations on the number of witnesses at hangings with the view that “executions of rapists [are] an object-lesson, therefore the barrier should be removed.”
Anderson embraced religion and was baptized into the Baptist faith on July 14; the “jail bathtub was brought in as a baptismal [font].” Three preachers were with him on the morning of July 26, 1901, along with several reporters, and he “continued to protest his innocence. He said however that he was prepared to die.”
An estimated 10,000 people had gathered to watch Anderson hang, some of whom had spent the night near the gallows erected east of the Pulaski County jail near the grounds of the Old State House. An Arkansas Gazette reporter noted that “it was a public execution and many availed themselves of the opportunity to witness the performance, more out of curiosity than anything else,” while an Arkansas Democrat correspondent observed that “there was not an available spot of ground or housetop within sight of the gallows that was not occupied by the curious who had flocked to witness the expiation of an awful crime.” There were “thousands of women and other thousands of children” among an “in all respects heterogeneous” crowd.
Anderson left the jail at 11:06 a.m. and climbed the steps to the gallows “with a firm step, and even with a faint smile.” He asked the two Black preachers accompanying him to sing, “It Is Well with My Soul,” with several nearby lawmen joining in. Anderson declined to make a statement to the crowd, and when a deputy asked him to “tell the people whether you are guilty or not, don’t go out with a lie on your lips,” he replied, “I am not guilty. I ain’t lying,” and a reporter wrote that “those were his last words.”
The trap door was opened at 11:13 a.m., and Anderson dropped five feet and six inches, breaking his neck. A correspondent wrote that “when the drop fell there was a great shout or loud indescribable murmur spreading through the multitude. Many women screamed and not a few fainted at the spectacle.”
Anderson was cut down at 11:44 a.m. and his body was buried in the potter’s field at Oakland and Fraternal Cemetery.
In addition to Wesley and Anderson, three other Black men—Essex Pippin (or Pipkin), Hal Mahone, and Elisha Davis—would be executed in public after being convicted of rape. The public execution exception for rape convictions was rescinded in 1905.
For additional information:
“Anderson Repents.” Arkansas Democrat, July 15, 1901, p. 1.
“At the State House.” Arkansas Democrat, July 3, 1901, p. 2.
“Chas. Anderson Arrested.” Arkansas Democrat, June 18, 1900, p. 6.
“Court Notes.” Arkansas Democrat, October 5, 1900, p. 1.
“Death Watch Set.” Arkansas Democrat, July 23, 1901, p. 3.
“A Hanging in Little Rock.” Arkansas Gazette, June 9, 1901, p. 3.
“Held Without Bond.” Arkansas Democrat, June 20, 1900, p. 4.
“‘I Ain’t Lying,’ Said Charley Anderson, as He Dropped to Eternity.” Arkansas Democrat, July 26, 1901, p. 1.
“The Law Vindicated.” Arkansas Gazette, July 27, 1901, p. 4.
“News of the Courts.” Arkansas Democrat, October 4, 1900, p. 5.
“Supreme Court.” Arkansas Democrat, June 8, 1901, p. 1.
“Will Hang July 26.” Arkansas Gazette, July 4, 1901, p. 6.
“Young Woman Assaulted,” Southern Standard, May 24, 1900, p. 1.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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