John Turner (Lynching of)

An African American man named John Turner was lynched in Warren (Bradley County) on April 5, 1903, after having allegedly “attempted assault” on a local white woman.

The victim of the alleged assault (referred to as both Mrs. Neeley and Mrs. Neely in various sources) was referenced in newspaper reports as “Mrs. W. H. Neeley, a white lady who resides about seven miles west of town.” There was, at the time of the 1900 census, a Lillian A. Neely, wife of Walter H. Neely, residing in Pennington Township in Bradley County. The identity of John Turner is much more difficult to trace, there being multiple Black men of that name on the 1900 census.

According to an early report in the Arkansas Democrat, Turner attempted to assault Neely on the night of Friday, April 3, and was arrested the following day and presented before Neely, who positively identified him. Thus he was jailed, but sometime around midnight on April 5, “a mob broke into the county jail and taking Turner out strung him to a limb in front of the court house where several other negroes have been lynched at different times in the history of this town.” Before his death, Turner denied having attempted to assault the woman.

In keeping with many of the tropes of lynching reports, the event was described as quiet, making “little noise” so that “parties residing next door failed to hear the disturbance attending the lynching.” The body was left hanging until the coroner cut it down the following morning. An inquest determined that “the lynching was at the hands of unknown parties.”

The Arkansas Gazette, on April 8, 1903, published a short account of the lynching insisting that Turner had “confessed to attempting to assault Mrs. Neely and also a young negress.” This account also gives his approximate age as seventeen. Another account, this one from the Fort Smith Times, reported that Turner was thwarted in his attempted assault by the approach of Lon McKinney, who heard Neeley screaming. In this account, Turner was identified not only by Neeley but also by Neeley’s young daughter; he also left behind footprints that were used to determine his identity later. According to the Times, Turner was a “troublesome fellow” who had earlier “made an attempt to shoot a negro woman” and had “from early boyhood…been regarded as a bad character.” The mob who lynched Turner numbered approximately a dozen men, “disguised and armed.” The Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, in an untitled piece, reported that Turner’s father (whose name was not given) “said that his son was a bad boy and perhaps deserved his fate.”

On April 10, 1903, the Arkansas Democrat published a brief editorial responding to national news and opinion regarding this lynching. It reads in full: “The Topeka (Kan.) Daily Capital refers to the members of the Bradley county mob who lynched the negro John Turner at Warren Sunday night as ‘a party of Arkansas Crackers.’ Did the Capital ever hear of a mob composed of ‘Kansas Jayhawkers’?”

For additional information:
“Arkansas News Summary.” Arkansas Gazette, April 8, 1903, p. 1.

“Negro Lynched.” Arkansas Democrat, April 7, 1903, p. 3.

“Negro Lynched for Assault.” Fort Smith Times, April 8, 1903, p. 4.

“Turner Confessed Two Crimes.” Fort Smith Times, April 9, 1903, p. 3.

Untitled. Arkansas Democrat, April 10, 1903, p. 4.

Untitled. Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, April 9, 1903, p. 4.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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