Phillips County Lynching of 1889–1890

On December 30–31, 1889, and January 1, 1890, three unidentified African Americans were killed in Phillips County for allegedly robbing and murdering John W. Tate. The lynching victims were not identified by name in any source. In 1880, John W. Tate, a twenty-eight-year-old white farmer, was living alone in Poplar Grove (Phillips County). According to a January 1, 1890, report in the Arkansas Gazette, sometime in the 1880s he was dealing in illegal whiskey, and there were seven indictments pending against him in Phillips County. Just prior to his death, he was running a “blind tiger” (speakeasy) at Palmerton in neighboring Monroe County.

Although the Gazette reported that the crime took place on Sunday night, December 29, 1889, other reports, as well as information on Tate’s tombstone, indicate that Tate died on Monday, December 30; the murder probably occurred early that morning. An update on the murder in the January 2 edition of the Gazette reported that Tate had made “considerable money” while running the speakeasy, and that “five or six negroes” rushed him at Palmer Station, where they robbed and murdered him. This report indicates that one of the African Americans was killed in the struggle.

Tate’s neighbors stopped by to visit him on Monday morning and found him dead on the floor with a bullet in his head. Since his watch was missing and his pockets were turned out, robbery was suspected. A front-page article in the same day’s Gazette indicated that suspicion immediately fell on an African-American man in the neighborhood “who had been unfriendly to Tate.” A search warrant revealed that this man had Tate’s pistol and some of his money. He allegedly confessed to the crime and was shot to death by Tate’s friends and neighbors. Two other African-American men were also suspected in the crime, and according to the Gazette, one was hanged near Turner’s post office. The New York Sun reported that the third of the alleged murderers, who “got the greater part of the money for which Tate was murdered,” had been apprehended and placed in the jail at Clarendon (Monroe County); other reports say that this third man was also hanged. According to the January 2 Gazette, “Details are meagre, but Coroner Crawford was sent for today to hold an inquest on the bodies of the negroes, and fuller particulars can be given later.” No further particulars were ever published.

Born on October 11, 1852, Tate is buried in the Turner Cemetery in Phillips County.

For additional information:
“More about the Tate Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, January 2, 1890, p. 1.

“Murdered and Robbed.” Arkansas Gazette, January 1, 1890, p. 2.

“A Negro Lynched.” New York Sun, January 2, 1890, p. 5.

“Reaped His Reward.” Arkansas Gazette, January 1, 1890, p. 1.

“The Tate Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, January 2, 1890, p. 1.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina


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