John Harris (Lynching of)

On February 2, 1922, an African-American man was lynched in Malvern (Hot Spring County) for allegedly harassing white women and girls. While a number of newspaper accounts, as well as a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) annual report, identify him by the name of Harry Harrison, the Arkansas Gazette identifies him as John Harris, and there is no record of a Harry Harrison ever living in the Malvern area.

John Harris was living in Malvern at the time of the 1920 census; he was thirty-eight years old, married, and worked as a laborer in a lumber mill. He was a native of North Carolina and could both read and write. According to the Arkansas Gazette, he was well known in Malvern, as he had worked at the waterworks for several years.

Harris was accused of harassing white women and girls in and near Malvern over a period of ten days by “appearing half-clad and making insulting remarks.” On January 30, he supposedly tried to stop a car full of girls as they were driving to Malvern High School. On February 1, he apparently followed several girls to their homes outside of town. On February 2, he allegedly approached the homes of several white women and threatened to attack them. One of these women, who frightened him off, contacted Sheriff Donald F. Bray, who found Harris near her house. Harris refused to surrender and escaped to the lumber yards in nearby Walco (Hot Spring County), where he was eventually captured. He was taken to the homes of his accusers, who identified him, and then was taken to jail, where he supposedly confessed.

On the evening of the February 2, Sheriff Bray decided to take Harris to the Clark County Jail in Arkadelphia for safekeeping. Finding the roads out of town intentionally blocked by cars, he decided to travel by train instead. Bray, Harris, and two deputies boarded the train around 10:30 p.m., and Harris was hidden under the seat. A masked mob (numbering, according to different sources, between twenty and 200 men) detained the train until it could be searched.

Finding Harris, they took him a short distance from the depot and, “without a word being spoken by either the members of the mob or the negro,” they shot him at least seventeen times. The mob dispersed quietly, and according to the Gazette, “The affair had been conducted in a quiet and orderly manner, and a majority of the people here knew nothing of the affair until this morning.” The body was taken to a local undertaker and was viewed by “visitors from all over the county.” On February 4, the coroner’s jury decided that Harris “came to his death at the hands of men unknown to the jury.”

For additional information:
“Masked Men Kill Negro.” Bisbee (Arizona) Daily Review, February. 4, 1922, p. 1.

“Negro Killed by Unknown Persons.” Arkansas Gazette, February 5, 1922, p. 8.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Clinton, South Carolina

Last Updated: 09/14/2021