African American Historical Museum seeks descendants of lynching victims

MULBERRY – Decades ago, near the old railway station and present-day phosphate museum, there was a large mulberry tree that gave the town its name – a tree that locals knew was the site of many lynchings.

“Back when the rowdy miners here were doing justice to themselves, they used this tree for lynchings,” local historian Hampton Dunn wrote in a 1960 article as the tree was dying. “One or two official hangings have also taken place here. Numerous bullets have torn the trunk of the tree, some of them are marks of knockouts on lynching victims.

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Now the Lakeland African American Historical Museum wants to mark where records show at least half a dozen men were hanged or shot on or near the tree, as well as locations throughout Polk County. where records show that at least 21 men were murdered. The organization also hopes to trace the descendants of those who died “without due process at the hands of parties unknown”, as the New York Negro World newspaper put it in 1920.

According to a report by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, which houses a museum dedicated to those lynched between post-Civil War Reconstruction and the years immediately following World War II, Polk County is ranked 21st in the South and third in Florida. for lynchings.

At least 20 black men have been repeatedly hanged, burned and/or shot within days of being charged with a crime and almost always without the benefit of a trial. EJI said there were nearly 4,400 “racial terrorist lynchings” in 12 Southern states during that time.


A Los Angeles Herald article from May 20, 1903 titled “THREE WERE LYNCHED—How Florida Mob brought justice to a white man and two Negroes”, details the account of a lynching of Mulberry by prominent officials, none of whom apparently concealed his identity. An account of the incident is also detailed in the book “Yesterday’s Polk County”.

A man named Barney Brown had campaigned for prohibition – banning the sale of alcohol – and the referendum passed. Amos Randall, a white man who allegedly ran an illegal liquor business, was the prime suspect when Brown was murdered after the election.

“On Monday evening, as Brown was returning home, he was shot in an ambush and had his throat slit,” the article said. “The people of Mulberry became furious and got evidence yesterday leading them to believe that Randall had employed the Negroes to kill Brown.”

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According to Polk County yesterday, Henry Golden (or Gordon) was forced to confess. An angry mob then chanted, “Kill him! Kill him!”

On the way to Randall’s house, the mob encountered Dan Kelly (or Kennedy). He claimed his innocence but “was nevertheless tied to a tree and a general gunfire ensued, mutilating the body”.

Randall was found asleep in his home and attempted to escape, and was shot as he fled his home. Bloodied, he crawled under a church. He was found, dragged and shot dozens of times.

“The work is said to have been carried out by a mob of about 50 unmasked men, many of whom are prominent in the county,” the Los Angeles Herald article said.

No one was ever charged with the lynching.

According to a list provided by the African American Historical Museum, at least two other men were lynched in Mulberry:

• John Bapes – lynched August 21, 1906

• Robert Davis, lynched on June 27, 1900

More than a dozen additional lynchings were carried out throughout the county.

At least 21 lynched in Polk County

Doris Moore Bailey organizes the effort to find the descendants of those lynched, collect dirt from the places where the lynchings took place and sponsor an essay contest for students.  Ernst Peters/The Big Book.

African American Historical Museum Lakeland, Inc. and members of its coalition want to speak with relatives or anyone with knowledge of named or unidentified African American men lynched in Polk County from 1877 to 1950.

“We were aware of the appearance of the hanging mulberry in the community,” said Doris Moore Bailey, who is organizing the effort to find the descendants of those lynched, collect dirt from the places where the lynchings took place and sponsor an essay contest for students.

“The purpose of this fact-finding and truth-telling mission is to help increase local awareness of racial history and foster dialogue about connections to contemporary issues, and to further develop a community identity that prioritizes uncovering historical truth and fostering healing,” she said.

Moore Bailey added that she only learned this year from a cousin that her own great-grandfather had survived a lynching attempt in Alabama.

“When they left him, they left him for dead, but he survived,” Moore Bailey said. “It brings all that effort home … when those situations happen. We have to be able to heal.”

EJI officials say they believe it is extremely important to confront America’s history of racially motivated terrorist lynching. They have memorials available for communities to display and they also collect soil samples from lynching sites and house them at the Montgomery Museum.

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“The lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people across the country and were widely condoned by state and federal authorities,” wrote Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, in a report by 2015. “These lynchings were terrorism…these killings were carried out with impunity, sometimes in broad daylight, often ‘on the lawn of the courthouse'”.

Stevenson added that the lynchings have reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America and is now embroiled in the current criminal justice system “in deep and important ways that continue to contaminate the integrity and the fairness of the judicial system”.

Records show the last lynching in Polk County took place on March 14, 1921, when William Bowles, a black man accused of making an inappropriate remark to a young white woman, was hanged by a mob between Bartow and Eagle Lake. A newspaper article from the time stated that two deputy sheriffs had arrested Bowles and were taking him to the county jail when they were stopped by vigilantes.

“They were held back by a mob of armed men, overpowered, and the negro taken from them,” the article said. “Black was hanged from a tree near the side of the road.”

To submit stories about lynchings in Polk County for the Equal Justice Initiative, contact Doris Moore Baily can be reached at [email protected]

List of lynching victims

This list of victims was compiled by the Northwest Social Research Group and identifies 21 deaths in Polk County. All but three were black men; all were killed by white mobs:

  • Daniel Mann (white), charged with murder, May 15, 1886.
  • Lon Mann (white), charged with murder, May 15, 1886.
  • Unidentified black man, accused of rape, May 25, 1895.
  • Unidentified black man, accused of rape, May 25, 1895.
  • Unidentified black man, accused of rape, May 25, 1895.
  • Robert Davis, charged with murder, June 27, 1900.
  • Frederick Rochelle, accused of rape and murder, May 29, 1901.
  • Amos Randall (white), charged with murder, May 20, 1903.
  • Henry Gordon, charged with murder, May 20, 1903.
  • John Black, charged with murder, July 26, 1906.
  • Will Hagin, charged with murder, July 26, 1906.
  • John Bapes, charged with attempted murder, August 20 or 21, 1906.
  • Jack Wade (alias Jacob Nader), charged with attempted rape, February 13, 1909.
  • Charles Scarborough, charged with attempted rape, April 28, 1909.
  • Samuel McIntosh, charged with attempted murder, July 9, 1910.
  • Lewis Peck, charged with murderous assault, January 12, 1914.
  • Unidentified companion of Peck, charged with “murderous assault”, January 12, 1914.
  • James Woodson, accused of attempted rape, May 18, 1914.
  • Henry Scott, accused of insulting a white woman, May 7 or 8, 1920.
  • William Bowles, accused of making an inappropriate remark to a white woman, March 14, 1921.

Ledger reporter Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.

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