Reported Lynching of July 1894

The July 24, 1894, issue of the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee, reported on “the hanging of two unknown negroes” near Lake Cormorant in northern Mississippi, not far south of Memphis. According to the rumors that reached the newspaper, the two men were from Arkansas and had been lynched by a mob consisting of Arkansans.

The news came to the newspaper from Miles Maples, an African American man who lived at the Lake Cormorant place of Memphis resident William O. Mason. On Sunday, July 15, “two negroes were found hanging to a tree near Lake Cormorant, a few miles from the village of that name.” The bodies appeared to have been there for some time, being “badly decomposed, and birds of carrion had eaten away the faces of the men until they were unrecognizable.” News traveled among the local African American community, and someone organized a party to go and bury the men, but the bodies “gave out such an offensive smell that the party retreated, leaving the bodies where they were found.” Maples, who took the information to the newspaper, was regarded as “very reliable” but had not seen the bodies himself.

The newspaper account included some speculations about the possible identity of the two men: “It was rumored some time before the bodies were found that a negro who was wanted in Arkansas for killing his wife and another negro who is also wanted for crime in the same State, were seen in the vicinity of Lake Cormorant.” They had apparently attempted to hide out from the law by crossing the Mississippi River, but there came “a posse from Arkansas in the neighborhood, looking for the two fugitives” and presumably “summarily dealt with them.”

Many reports of lynchings consist precisely of rumors such as these. Although such accounts cannot be confirmed, neither can they be dismissed entirely, as many such killings were likely perpetrated against marginalized people and at the margins of society. Too, cases such as this demonstrate the limitations of developing state inventories of lynchings, for in this case, while the reported killing occurred in Mississippi, the victims and the mob were from Arkansas.

For additional information:
“Who Were the Lynchers?” Commercial Appeal, July 24, 1894, p. 5.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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