Monroe Franklin (Lynching of)

On August 19, 1912, an African-American man named Monroe Franklin was hanged in Russellville (Pope County) for an alleged attack on an unidentified white woman. Officials believed that a second black man, Pet (sometimes referred to as Pete or Pit) Grey, was also involved. Although the Arkansas Democrat described the lynching as the first in Pope County, research indicates that it was at least the third. John Hogan was lynched there in 1875, followed by Presley Oats in 1897.

There is some possible information available on Franklin and Grey. Newspapers reported that Franklin had recently come into the area from Oklahoma. In 1910, there was a twenty-nine-year-old African American named M. F. Franklin living in Bearden Township, Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, with his wife, Seless, and six children under the age of nine, all but one born in Louisiana. This man may have been Monroe Franklin, age nineteen in 1900 and a native of Indian Territory, who was incarcerated in the penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. According to prison records, he was married around 1897. Pet Grey was described by newspapers as being a native of Pope County. A twenty-one-year-old man named Pit Gray married Tillie Bell Edwards in Russellville in March 1907.

The alleged crime occurred on Friday, August 16, 1912. According to reports, two black men came into the home of a widow and her two small children, who were living on the Arkansas River south of Russellville. They dragged the woman outdoors, where one man assaulted her. She fought the second attacker off, and both attackers apparently fled. The next day, she went into Russellville to report the crime, and that afternoon Franklin was arrested at the nearby coal mines. He first denied his part in the crime, but at a preliminary hearing on August 19, he allegedly confessed and implicated Grey. Grey, who denied his involvement, was also arrested and placed in Franklin’s cell in the county jail.

That same evening, there was a mass meeting at the courthouse to discuss Russellville’s water and light rates. According to reports, at around 9:30 p.m., some 600 men left the meeting and went to the jail (which was in the courthouse) to get Franklin. According to reports, they overpowered Sheriff Cates (this was probably actually R. Y. Oates, who became sheriff after the death of his brother, F. M. Oates) and a constable on guard, and entered the jail. Several newspapers had lurid descriptions of what followed. The Daily Gate City of Keokuk, Iowa, reported that the jail consisted of “a tier of iron cages.” The Arkansas Gazette said that “Franklin had climbed to the top of the cage in the jail. His face was of a grayish cast as he begged for his life. Grey was ordered to climb to the top of the cage and push Franklin off and he hastened to obey. As the black came tumbling down, he was seized and a rope placed about his neck.” Members of the mob doubted that Grey took part in the crime and left him in the cell. Franklin was removed from the jail, taken to a telephone pole about a block from the courthouse, and hanged. Both the Daily Gate City and the Arkansas Democrat described the events as “peaceful,” without a shot fired. The Daily Gate City reported on August 20: “The question of water and light rates for Russellville was the only thing bothering the town today.”

According to the Democrat, at some point that night or the following morning, officers took Grey out of Russellville, “fearing that there might be a revival of feeling against him and violence used as in the case of Franklin.” He must have escaped lynching, because an African American named Pet Gray, a native of Russellville, registered for the World War I draft in Kansas City, Missouri. He was a widower with two dependent children and was working for a company there. He apparently served in a black unit, the 806th Pioneer Infantry, during World War I. He shipped out from Hoboken, New Jersey, in September 1918 and returned from St. Nazaire, France, in July 1919.

For additional information:
“Negro Is Lynched for Assaulting White Lady.” Arkansas Democrat, August 20, 1912, p. 2.

“Negro Lynched at Russellville.” Arkansas Gazette, August 20, 1912, p. 1.

“Negro Lynching Disturbed Meeting.” (UP) Daily Gate City (Keokuk, Iowa), August 20, 1912, p. 5.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated: 09/23/2019