About "Mississippi and the Mob"
This exhibit, curated by Paul Blom, focuses on Mississippi and the Mob, a paper book printed in 1926 and compiled by J. N. (James Nathaniel) Flowers, President of the Mississippi State Bar Association at the time of its composition in 1925. The book serves as a condemnation of lynching and mob violence and a call to local law enforcement officers to uphold their duties to protect prisoners, thereby preventing the execution of mob violence. It also calls for the Mississippi state legislature to afford powers to the governor to remove any law enforcement officials who fail to uphold their duties. Despite the book’s anti-lynching sentiment, its main concern seems to be not the loss of black lives but the threat of mob violence towards law and order in the state of Mississippi and the possible resultant intervention of the federal government into more local affairs. According to Flowers and the “prominent citizens” (35) he quotes, the ultimate victim of these lynchings is not black human beings but law and order, the very fabrics of civilized Mississippian society.
The book was published by the Jackson Printing Company of Jackson, Mississippi. According to the front matter appearing at the end of the table of contents, this version is the second printing, revised as of January 15, 1926. Details regarding the first printing are unclear, although newspaper articles promoting or critiquing the book dating December 3, 9, 12, and 16 of 1925 have been found and are included in this exhibit. The language of these articles suggests that they were written soon after the initial printing’s publication.
According to Adrienne Berard, Flowers was compelled to update his first printing in response to the December 19 lynching of Lindsey Coleman who had been charged with murder in October, acquitted, abducted by a mob from in front of the courthouse, and quickly hanged: “Flowers was now in the process of preparing a second edition of the pamphlet, just two weeks after he issued the first. There had been a lynching in Clarksdale just before Christmas, so he felt compelled to update the report to include the events of December 19, 1925” (123). It should be noted that Berard refers to the first and second versions of the book as "editions," but "printings" seems to be the more accurate term since the revision between versions seems to have been minimal, the two versions were printed so soon after one another, and because the front matter refers to the book as a "second printing" rather than edition.
The final section of Flowers’s compilation includes several newspaper articles condemning lynching, most of them responding directly to the lynching of Lindsey Coleman. Included in this compilation is Helen Goodwin Yerger’s column “Point of View in Mississippi,” which originally appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Her column supports the notion that the first printing had only recently been printed and distributed when Coleman was lynched on December 19: “The ink was hardly more than dry…before three men—a ‘mob’ in spirit, if not in numbers, laid violent hands on a man acquitted by the law. It must not be permitted” (Flowers 76).
It seems, then, that this second revised printing was a slightly updated version of the first printing, which was probably distributed in November or early December of 1925. This second printing seems to be a direct response to the Lindsey Coleman lynching.
A bit of evidence regarding the book's distribution has also been recovered. According to an issue of the Sheet Metal Workers Journal from 1925, copies of the first printing were sent to newspapers not just throughout Mississippi but throughout the entire southern United States, “requesting that the material be made the basis of editorial comment” (“Mississippi and the Mob” 35). A December 9 article from The New York Amsterdam News lends further information to the book’s original distribution and marketing: “State officials, members of the Bar Association and other prominent people are distributing the pamphlets widely and are offering medals in each Congressional district for the best essays on the subject by high-school [sic] students” (“Anti-Lynching Broadside” 11). Such a strategy would ensure that the book and its message was widely publicized, and it is likely that this second printing was distributed in a similar manner.
The complete text of the book is available as a .pdf document at the beginning of this section. (This scanned .pdf may exhibit what appears to be a strange gray triangle in the corners of various pages. This triangle does not appear on the pages of the actual hard copy book. It is actually the accidental inclusion of the image of the weight that was used to hold down the pages during the scanning process. No textual material has been covered or misrepresented by this scanning error. )
For a more thorough analysis of the context for and contents of Mississippi and the Mob, as well as a brief discussion of its public reception, explore the rest of this exhibit, where you can also view images from the book and learn more about this unique response to mob violence in the early twentieth century.
The book itself is six inches wide, nine inches high, and consists of seventy-eight interior pages, plus a front and back cover and a two-page table of contents, bound together with staples and glue. The front and back cover are made of slightly heavier paper than the interior pages. They are yellowed almost to the point of being a light tan in color and are slightly rougher or coarser than the interior pages, which are smooth, lighter in weight, and only show the slightest of yellowing.
Overall, the book is in good condition, although the back cover is beginning to separate as the dried glue pulls apart. Additionally, the front cover has a variety of pencil markings, most of which seem accidental on the left portion near the top third of the cover and in the bottom-right corner. However, there are some intentional writings in pencil on the front cover as well. The printed contents of the cover are outlined in a decorative rectangle, also printed. Just above this box is written in pencil “10 ▪ 45,” the meaning of which is unclear. Below this is written in cursive, “Woman’s Club Bldg,” and below that, “Raleigh.” Perhaps the “10 ▪ 45” is a notation intended to mean “10:45,” the time of a meeting at the Woman's Club Building in Raleigh?
Strangely, beside the abbreviation “Bldg” appears in a slightly different cursive handwriting and written much more lightly, words that appears to say, “The Negro”. Finally, the word “Mississippi” in the printed title is underlined, and there is an opening quotation mark at the beginning of the word “and” in the title. Beside the word “Mississippi” is written “Miss.” and below that, simply the letter “M,” presumably abbreviations for “Mississippi” or perhaps a reference to an unknown “Miss M.” All of these markings are also in pencil.
The nine-page foreword is credited to J. N. Flowers. The remaining twenty-five pages of the first section are unattributed but seem to have been written for this book, presumably by J. N. Flowers or other unnamed contributors or assistants under his direction. The next section of twenty-eight pages is a compilation of letters, editorials, speeches, or other statements against lynching from various officials in the state of Mississippi. The letters and statements in this section seem to have been solicited by Flowers for the purpose of inclusion in this book. The third section of six pages is a similar compilation of previous statements made against lynching, but these all come from people Flowers considers “national figures” (64), most importantly, people outside of the state of Mississippi. The book then concludes with eight pages of newspaper articles from southern newspapers calling “for officers to resist mob violence and for citizens to uphold sanctity of the law” (70). Most of these articles are direct responses to the December 19, 1925 lynching of Lindsey Coleman, the event that inspired Flowers to create this second revised printing (Berard 123).
A high-resolution image of the front cover appears at the beginning of this section.
The book is currently stored as part of the Southern Pamphlet Collection, which is a part of the Rare Book Collection in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In 2003, the book was also converted to microfilm as part of the SOLINET/ASERL Cooperative Microfilming Project. This microfilm version has been examined for disparities with the original hard copy, but no disparities were observed.
The provenance of this item is uncertain and can only be speculated. Librarians for the Wilson Library’s Rare Book Collection state that, in most cases, such pamphlets or relatively short books were probably originally acquired from a personal collection by the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library, who then released it to the Rare Book Collection, where it was entered into their Southern Pamphlet Collection.
If this book originally came to the Wilson Library as part of some larger collection acquired by the Southern Historical Collection, then it is likely that its origins can be found by browsing materials currently stored in the Southern Historical Collection. While this is purely speculative, the most likely candidate seems to be the Susie Sharp Papers, dated 1900-1997. This collection contains personal and professional correspondence, speeches, news clippings, journal entries on judicial matters, campaign materials, and other assorted miscellany from the life of Susie Marshall Sharp (1907-1996). Sharp is noted as being the first woman elected to the position of Chief Justice of a state supreme court in the United States (1974), this coming after a distinguished career as an attorney and jurist.
Sharp would have been eighteen years old when the first printing of Mississippi and the Mob was published, and at the time, she would have been completing her schooling at North Carolina College for Women (now known as the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). She entered law school at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1926, several months after the publication of the second printing of Mississippi and the Mob. Her career as an attorney, especially one marked with a concern over women’s rights, prisoners' rights, and equal rights in general, suggests that the topic of this book would have been of interest to her as she began her legal career. Her geographic proximity at this time to Raleigh also supports the idea that the handwriting on the cover could be hers as she was also involved in a variety of women’s clubs.
Again, this is speculation, but if this book did originally arrive to the Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill as part of the Susie Sharp Papers, then one can determine the overall provenance of this book, since the provenance of the Susie Sharp Papers is well documented in the Southern Historical Collection's finding aid accompanying the papers. The Southern Historical Collection received the Susie Sharp Papers from several sources: Susie Sharp through Anna Ragland Hayes in November of 1997, January of 2001, and March of 2009; James V. Sharp in July of 1998 and in January of 2005; Lawrence A. Taylor in April of 2008; and Barbara D. Taylor in August of 2008. Eventually, the Southern Historical Collection could have released the book to the Rare Book Collection, where it would have eventually been entered into its current location within the Southern Pamphlet Collection.
One should note all of these transactions would have had to have taken place during or prior to 2003 since the book itself was converted to microfilm in that year and the microfilm version bears the same stamp that appears on page 1 of the hard copy: "Southern Pamphlets / Rare Book Collection / UNC-Chapel Hill."
At the very least, it can be determined that the book was received into the Southern Pamphlet Collection during or prior to 2003.
Beginning in the 1880s and continuing throughout the first half of the twentieth century, a new wave of racial terrorism swept across the United States. Although this form of white oppression of African Americans took on many forms, faces, and facades, the most prevalent, visceral, and haunting of these manifestations arrived in the form of lynchings. Hundreds, even thousands, of African Americans accused of the slightest of crimes—or sometimes no crime at all—were tortured and murdered by mobs in public displays of the white race’s struggling attempts to maintain its supposed superiority over the African-American race.
These displays were by no means clandestine and were, in fact, widely advertised and enjoyed by mobs of men, women, and children from all social strata of the white race. Local law enforcement officials, judges, attorneys, politicians, and other community leaders often participated. This participation came in a variety of forms either directly, through instigation, by allowing mobs easy access to prisoners, or by failing or refusing to prosecute members of lynch mobs.
In the 1926 printing of Mississippi and the Mob, J. N. Flowers quotes an unnamed “eminent American lawyer” (68), providing a painful summation of the prevalence and persistence of lynching in the United States:
In the last thirty years 3443 persons are known to have been lynched in the United States, and of other lynchings authentic records do not exist. Most of the lynchings have been in the South; but lynchings have occurred in all the states but five, and all these are in New England. A few years ago lynchings were epidemic in Tennessee; the news reports of the last few days have brought us tales of lynching horrors in Texas. A very large percentage of these mob executions are by burning.... Accounts in like cases include such details as the filling of the air with the stench of burning flesh, the carrying away of pieces of bone and chunks of the body of the victim as prized souvenirs of the occasion. Mere accusation is abundant warrant for one of these hideous killings. There are no trials. Frequently there is no evidence. The mobs have no fear of punishment. (69)
Although these events seem to have taken place predominantly in the southern United States, such lynchings occurred throughout the entire nation, and its lasting impact—bodily, socially, economically, and psychologically—continue to haunt America to this day.
And yet, this haunting is rarely discussed or even acknowledged in public. New discussions, studies, memorials, and other works have begun to emerge as scholars, critics, and activists seek to confront both the grim realities of these deeds and the social and economic forces that allowed such deeds to be possible and even justified as downright necessary.
Confronting lynching is vital if we are to honor the victims of these injustices, human beings whose murders created countless echoes in the lives and communities around them. Confronting lynching is vital if we are to honor the activists who spoke out against lynching, who defied mobs and attempted to curtail the loss of black lives. Confronting lynching is vital if we are to better understand the current location of the United States in terms of its social and historical structures by coming to grips with the darker aspects of its past. Perhaps most importantly, however, confronting lynching is vital if we are to comprehend the systems and psyches that brought about such atrocities. We must approach—rather than distance ourselves from—both the victims and perpetrators in order to ensure that such atrocities never take place again.
For more information regarding the systematic enforcement of supposed white supremacy via anti-black violence and racial oppression and terrorism, see Rhagen Olinde’s exhibit on the manual, Kloran: Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Additionally, see Matt Duncan’s exhibit on a letter from those who witnessed a Klan lynching 1875, a document that hints at the inability or refusal to seek justice for lynchings by the white men in positions of authority at the time.
James Nathaniel Flowers, simply listed in his book Mississippi and the Mob as “J. N. Flowers,” can be considered not just the compiler but also author of this book, both in the sense that any compiler is, in a way, “authoring” a new text and in the simple sense that the first thirty-four pages in this seventy-eight-page book contain original content either written by him or under his supervision.
Flowers was born in Carroll County in 1870, the son of a Confederate veteran. He graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1896 and immediately “went to work as counsel for the railroads, a role he would maintain for most of his life” (Berard 129). By his friends and colleagues, Flowers was described as quiet, humble, effective, practical, and sincere (Berard 129), a man who valued influencing public opinion with facts rather than emotion (Berard 123), a trait that resonates in Mississippi and the Mob.
Adrienne Berard explains the significance of Flowers’s decision to release his book condemning mob violence, but also provides useful information as to the timing of the first printing, motivations for a second revised printing, and the potential differences between the two versions:
As President of the Mississippi Bar Association, he had recently taken the first political stance of his life and published a pamphlet condemning lynching. It was a bold move for a man who, until this point, had been a corporate lawyer for the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad…. Jokingly nicknamed General Flowers due to a demeanor that was quite the opposite of a general, at age fifty-five, James Nathaniel Flowers had finally taken a stand…. Flowers was now in the process of preparing a second [printing] of the pamphlet, just two weeks after he issued the first. There had been a lynching in Clarksdale just before Christmas, so he felt compelled to update the report to include the events of December 19, 1925. ‘Sinking to depths of ignominy with the lynching of the acquitted negro Lindsey Coleman at Clarksdale,’ Flowers inserted in italics [on page 21], ‘Mississippi closed the year with six of the nation’s total 26 lynchings.’ (122-23)
In October of 1925, Lindsey Coleman, along with four other men, was charged with the murder of Grover C. Nicholas, “the adopted son of a prominent Delta planter named James Traynham” (Berard 118). Coleman’s only apparent connection to the victim was that he lived with someone who worked on the Traynham Plantation, Raeford Leonard, one of the other men charged with the murder (118). Coleman was acquitted but was abducted outside the courthouse and hanged on December 19. The lynching of an acquitted man especially aroused the indignation of journalists throughout the country (Flowers 73-78) and seems to have served as the impetus for this second revised printing. This event also locates the release of the first printing as early December, possibly late November 1925.
An article from The Macon Daily Telegraph of Macon, Georgia, published on December 22, 1925 clearly situates each printing of Mississippi and the Mob between two equally sensationalized lynchings, that of L. Q. Ivy in September of 1925 and that of Lindsey Coleman in December of 1925. Flowers included this article in his compilation:
Within the past few weeks, Mississippi has been attracting national attention by her vigorous attacks upon the lynching evil within her borders. After a mob had ignored the pleas of a United States Senator and had burned a Negro [L. Q. Ivy] at the stake in Union County, the better element, the responsible citizens of the State in high and low position, arose in wrath and denounced that lynching and all lynchings and the spirit of the hoodlums who had perpetrated them. Just as it began to appear that Mississippi’s strong stand was having its effect over the entire South, a mob at Clarksdale took a Negro [Lindsey Coleman] who had just been acquitted by a jury away from the very doors of the courthouse and strung him to a tree. (73)
While revising Mississippi and the Mob to respond to the final lynching of 1925 in Mississippi, Flowers was interrupted by a different kind of legal matter, a matter that adds an interesting bit of insight into the life of J. N. Flowers after the release of this second revised printing. Former Governor Earl Brewer, because he wanted to lead the prosecution of the four men responsible for the lynching of Lindsey Coleman, asked Flowers “to take over as lead attorney on a Fourteenth Amendment case that was on its way to the US Supreme Court. It was an appeal out of Rosedale by a Chinese family who wanted to send their daughter [Martha Lum] to the white public high school” (Berard 124).
Flowers finished his revisions for the second revised printing and turned his attention to the first Fourteenth Amendment Case he would ever argue, Gong Lum v. Rice, “the first Fourteenth Amendment case to challenge the constitutionality of segregated schools in the Jim Crow South” (Berard 128). Unfortunately, Flowers lost the case; in November of 1927, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of race segregation in schools, setting a legal precedent for continued and even increased levels of segregation throughout the South (Berard 138).
[Lynchings took on a horrifying variety of forms, involving the murder of inmates suspected of crimes, people acquitted such as Lindsey Coleman referenced above, and even so-called “legal lynchings” in which suspects suffered a farce trial and expedient execution. For an example of a “legal lynching,” see Martin Groff’s exhibit on the journal Contempo from Dec. 1, 1931, specifically its treatment of the Scottsboro trial of nine innocent teenagers.]
Continue exploring this exhibit by visiting the next page, "'Mississippi and the Mob': An Analysis" for a thorough analysis of the text, a brief discussion of the book's reception, a list of the works cited in this exhibit, and a complete gallery of all of the exhibit items.