Charles Wright (Execution of)

Charles Wright, an African American man, was hanged on murder charges on April 25, 1884, at Center Point (Howard County), the only person to be executed for participating in the Howard County Race Riot of 1883.

Thomas Wyatt, a white sharecropper, spurred the riot by beating two Black farmers in late July 1883 over a dispute about surveys of a property line. He also hit a Black woman over the head when she rejected his solicitations as she plowed a field.

After failing to receive legal satisfaction, a group of Black men planned a citizens’ arrest of Wyatt. The next day, they gathered to march to Wyatt’s home to apprehend him. In the ensuing altercation, Joe Booker, the group’s alleged leader, was shot to death. Wyatt was also killed; his body was found in a cotton field in Howard County, just over the HempsteadHoward County line. Three other Black men were killed as groups of whites sought those involved in Wyatt’s death.

Charles Wright had the first trial rising from the riot. Although he pleaded innocent to the murder, he was convicted and sentenced to hang. Lige Thompson and Henry Carr were also condemned and in a series of other trials, ten men were acquitted, five were sentenced to fifteen years in prison, nine were sentenced to ten years, ten to fifteen-year sentences, and one to an eighteen-year sentence.

Wright, Carr, and Thompson were to hang on January 25, 1884, but the Arkansas Supreme Court granted an appeal hours before the scheduled executions. The court later refused to overturn Wright’s sentence, holding that “this was murder pure and simple.” Thompson and Carr saw their sentences overturned and both later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, each receiving an eighteen-year term. Governor James H. Berry set Wright’s execution for April 25, 1884.

Wright was jailed in Arkadelphia (Clark County) for his protection and was visited there by an Arkansas Gazette reporter, whom he told, “I know I am to die for it, but I declare before you and before God that I am innocent.” He said Carr forced him to join the search group on pain of death and that he had lived near Wyatt for around three years, adding that he “had nothing against him” and that the murder victim had sometimes loaned him his mule and wagon. Wright said he was three-fourths of a mile away from the murder scene and “neither witnessed the killing nor afterwards saw the body of Wyatt.”

Wright boarded a train for Howard County at 3:30 a.m., accompanied by lawmen and an African Methodist Episcopal preacher. His wife and two children joined him on the train at Washington (Hempstead County) before departing at Ozan (Hempstead County). He arrived in Center Point around 6:00 p.m. on April 24.

Around 1:00 p.m. on April 25, 1884, he was taken to the gallows, flanked by the sheriffs of Howard and Sevier counties. Wright “marched to the gallows and ascended the stairs apparently without a tremor.” The scaffold was surrounded by men of the Berry Guards and the Mineral Springs (Howard County) militia as a crowd of around 2,000 gathered to watch the execution.

Wright addressed the crowd “in a quiet, steady voice,” saying “he felt innocent of any murder, was fully ready to go, and forgave everyone.” At 1:39, “the trap was sprung and the body fell heavily about seven and a half feet, breaking the neck completely.” Wright’s body was lowered into a coffin after hanging for twenty minutes.

For additional information:
“Appeal Granted.” Southern Standard, January 26, 1884, p. 3.

“Charles Wright.” Southern Standard, May 3, 1884, p. 3.

“Circuit Court Proceedings.” Southern Standard, January 31, 1885, p. 2.

Lloyd, Peggy S. “The Howard County Race Riot of 1883.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 59 (Winter 2000): 353–387.

“Wright to be Hanged.” Arkansas Weekly Mansion, March 15, 1884, p. 1.

“Wright’s Story.” Arkansas Gazette, April 25, 1884, p. 4.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

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