James Anderson (Lynching of)

On December 5, 1880 (one source gives the date as December 4), an African American man named James Anderson was lynched in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) for an alleged assault on Sophia Miller, the wife of butcher Joseph Miller.

Joseph Miller, age twenty-eight, appears in the 1880 census, with his wife, Sophia, and two young daughters. It is impossible to identify James Anderson, as there were several young Black men by that name living in Jefferson County at the time. Accounts of the lynching appeared in the Arkansas Gazette on December 5 and in national newspapers as early as December 6. According to the Gazette, Joseph Miller had gone out early that morning, leaving the back door of the family home unlocked. Sleeping within were Sophia (referred to as an “estimable lady” in newspaper accounts) and the couple’s two small children. Anderson, whom some sources referred to as a “negro fiend,” allegedly came into the house, “ravished” Sophia Miller, and stole $23 and a quantity of jewelry. News quickly spread, and “the people generally felt highly indignant and the telegraph was freely used and every search made.”

Anderson had apparently boarded a train to Arkansas City (Desha County) and was arrested there early in the afternoon. He was put in irons and sent back to Pine Bluff under a strong guard. In the meantime, Sophia Miller was restored to consciousness “with difficulty.” When the train arrived in Pine Bluff around 7:30 p.m., Anderson was taken before his alleged victim, and she recognized him. Three dollars and the family jewelry were found on Anderson’s person.

A mob took Anderson by force, carried him to a telephone pole in front of the courthouse, and hanged him. On December 15, 1880, the Memphis Appeal reported that the grand jury had met and determined that Anderson “came to his death at the hands of an outraged and indignant people, for the perpetration of the hideous crimes of rape and robbery, committed in our midst, and there is not evidence of any description to warrant this grand jury in finding any indictments.’”

For additional information:
“Arkansas Abstracts.” Memphis Daily Appeal, December 15, 1880, p. 2.

“Arkansas: His Desserts [sic] Quickly Doled Out.” Morning Journal and Courier (New Haven, Connecticut), December 6, 1880, p. 3.

“Short Shrift.” Arkansas Gazette, December 5, 1880, p. 1.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated: 11/12/2021