Wash Atkinson (Lynching of)

On December 6, 1877, an African-American man named Wash Atkinson was hanged by a mob in Arkadelphia (Clark County) for allegedly attacking a white man named H. G. Ridgeway.

Ridgeway was probably carpenter H. G. Ridgeway, who at the time of the 1880 census was a fifty-three-year-old widower living in Arkadelphia. On December 1, 1877, Arkadelphia’s Southern Standard published an account of the original crime. According to this report, Ridgeway, acting as “night policeman,” had been patrolling the western part of the city on Saturday, November 24. During that time, he attempted to arrest two African Americans, Wash Atkinson and Ike Smith, for disorderly conduct. While Ridgeway was holding Smith by the arm, Atkinson dropped behind them and hit Ridgeway with a brickbat.

Atkinson and Smith then fled, leaving Ridgeway lying in the street. He was found, and a doctor who later examined him referred to his wound as “very dangerous.” Smith, who was arrested that same night, accused Atkinson of delivering the blow. Several men went to Atkinson’s home the next morning and, finding him asleep, arrested him and took him to jail “to await the result of Ridgeway’s wound.” Atkinson and Smith appeared before Justice J. W. Wilson the following Wednesday; Atkinson was bound over on $1,500 bond, and Smith was fined $10 and released. By that time, Ridgeway appeared to be recovering and was supposedly out of danger. The Standard opined that “such outrages are becoming too frequent in our city of late.…If the penitentiary has no terrors for such characters other means must be resorted to put a stop to such outrages.”

On December 8, the Standard published an update on the situation that was partially reprinted in the Arkansas Gazette on December 16. On Wednesday, December 5, news had spread around Arkadelphia that Ridgeway was dying. This caused widespread indignation, and around 2:00 a.m. on December 6 about a dozen disguised men went to the jail and demanded the keys from jailers Billy and George Hawkins. They took Atkinson from the jail, returning the keys and placing the jailers under guard. They then hanged Atkinson from the railroad bridge. This time, the Standard was apologetic about the situation, noting, “We regret exceedingly that they resorted to such a dangerous expedient as taking the law in their own hands, as great as the provocation was. As he was in charge of the law, the law should have been suffered to take its course. We sincerely hope this is the last affair of the kind we will ever have to chronicle in our city or State.”

Ridgeway does not, in fact, appear to have died from his wounds. He was still living in Arkadelphia in 1880, and he was living in Desha County by 1900.

For additional information:
“Another Dastardly Outrage.” Southern Standard (Arkadelphia), December 1, 1877, p. 3.

“Judge Lynch at Work.” Southern Standard (Arkadelphia), December 8, 1877, p. 3.

“State News.” Arkansas Gazette, December 16, 1877, p. 2.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina


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