William Hunter (Lynching of)

On July 11, 1910, an African-American man named William Hunter (often referred to as Will) was lynched near Star City (Lincoln County) for allegedly entering the bedroom of Rosa Johnson (sometimes referred to as Roel, Rhoa, or Roca), the daughter of prominent local farmer Thomas W. Johnson. Both the alleged perpetrator and the alleged victim appear in public records. In 1880, there was a seven-month-old African-American child named Willie Hunter living in Lone Pine Township with his parents, laborers Louis and Susan Hunter. In 1900, William Hunter, nineteen years old, was still living in the township with his mother, Susan. In 1910, Hunter remained in Lone Pine Township, where he was living alone and working as a farm laborer. Rosa’s parents, Thomas W. Johnson and Nancy Brockman Johnson, had been living in Lincoln County at least since 1871 when they married there. The family appears in Lone Pine Township in 1910. Rosa was thirteen at the time, although a newspaper account of the lynching reported her as sixteen.

According to newspaper accounts, Hunter had been working for Johnson for several years but had begun acting strangely and had been warned to keep away from the family’s home near Garnett. At 2:00 in the morning of Saturday, June 11, he allegedly entered a room in the Johnson home where Nancy Johnson (another daughter) and Rosa were sleeping. Rosa screamed, awakening her mother and other family members. Hunter jumped out of a window and fled, but he was easily captured. He was arraigned and held for the grand jury later that same day. Five officers hid Hunter in the woods until dark, and as they were taking him to Sheriff E. C. Norton’s office they were intercepted and overpowered by a mob of about fifty men about six miles outside of Star City. Some accounts described a much larger mob. The Palestine Daily Herald reported that the lynching was well organized: “Despite the fact that there are no railroads, and no telegraph and telephones in the county the lynchers made known their plans” and asserted that “the entire population flocked to Star City, where the lynching took place.” According to the Arkansas Gazette, the men “quickly and quietly” overpowered the deputies, hanged Hunter from a nearby tree, and riddled his body with bullets. The Pine Bluff Daily Graphic also described the lynching as a “quiet affair, there being no display of rowdyism at any time.”

The United Press syndicated a somewhat sensational story that appeared in a number of national newspapers, including the Spokane Press, and described a scene of celebration in Star City following the lynching. The town, it said, held “the biggest celebration in its history because of the lynching of William Hunter….Everybody is out for a glorious time, parading the streets, cheering, playing musical instruments and making all sorts of noise.” School was closed, and “the entire county was invited to participate in [the]…jollification.”

For additional information:
“Negro Lynched Near Star City.” Arkansas Gazette, June 15, 1910, p. 1.

Untitled. Spokane Press (Spokane, Washington), June 15, 1910, p. 6.

“Visitor Tells of Lynching Bee.” Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, June 16, 1910, p. 1.

“Witnessed a Lynching.” Palestine Daily Herald (Palestine, Texas), June 15, 1910, p. 8.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated: 12/07/2020