The news spread around town like a 5 alarm fire. Finally, the man named as John Hartfield had been caught and would be given a public execution for the crime of having a relationship with a white woman.
The newspaper ran the headline “John Hartfield will be lynched by Ellsville mob at 5’clock this afternoon.” Excluded from the article was any cry for a trial or due diligence… just that Mr. Hartfield would be turned over to the citizens and burned alive. The post carried the details of the execution as if it were a party invitation. The Governor at the time, said he was powerless to do anything because white folks were flocking in by the thousands to attend the public murder…men, women and children. It was a family event.
A real Pick-a-nigga spectacle.
The people were told that John Hatfield had raped this woman, because what white woman in her right mind would lie with a Black man willingly?
After John was hung by the neck, riddled with bullets, burned alive, and then had his lifeless body drug by horse in the street for people to spit on and throw things at… the Black people of the town cowered in fear and terror for their own lives.
John Hartsfield’s best friend, Kirkland, who was also implicated by association, barely missed the same fate as his friend. He got his family the hell out of town on the first thing smoking as soon as word got out that his friend and his white lady love had been discovered. Kirkland, begged Hartsfield not to go back to town.. to forget that white woman..death wasn’t worth it.
But what John didn’t know is that love don’t conquer all. He went back. The moment he was captured, beaten and taken to jail …the realization sunk in. The newspapers, in their glee, reported “Negro jerky and sullen as burning hour approaches“.
Many Black people left and never returned to that town. The ones that stayed lived under terror the likes that has never been experienced by any American captured by al-Qaeda.
The last survivor of the fateful occurrence, Ms. Mamie Kirkland (the daughter of Hartfield’s best friend), was recently interviewed about the terror and horror of that time and particularly that day. To read about it is one thing.. but to hear the testimony from someone who remembers the terror exacted upon Black Americans by fellow white Americans is chilling to the core.
Slavery and the resulting terror attacks will forever stain the consciousness of this country… and it should. It is also fair warning about what humans are capable of doing to each other just because of a skin color or religion.
We remind you of these real events to prevent us from falling back into old ways, to keep our guard up and to raise the bar on our human expectation.