chapter  10
22 Pages

Legitimizing 'Justice': Lynching and the Boundaries of Informal Justice in the American South

On June 25, 1900 in Polk County, Florida, a black man was lynched for the murder o f a white man. The local Bartow Courier-Informant opened its article on the lynching with the headline, ‘Bloody Scene at Kingsford’. The newspaper recounted an unexplained difficulty that had occurred at the Kingsford Phosphate Mine between a black man named Sam Smith and a white man named Joe Hendricks. The row ended when Smith struck Hendricks fatally in the chest with an axe. When word of the killing reached the local sheriff, he formed a posse to search for Smith. By the time they found him late that night the posse had metamorphosed into a mob. For more than an hour, the officers staved off the mob’s attempts to seize the prisoner, but the lynchers finally triumphed. They snatched Smith, dragged him off, and shot him dead. The reporter commented, ‘Thus, two men within the same twenty-four hours were sacrificed to what was, in its beginning, in all probability, a trifling’. He concluded that ‘the killing may have been a violation of the law, the lynching certainly was, and it is hoped that at least the leaders of it may be brought to trial and made to answer for the violent deed’ (emphasis added).1