"Mississippi and the Mob": An Analysis

Mississippi and the Mob

The full text of the book Mississippi and the Mob in .pdf format

Textual Analysis:

This second revised printing seems to be mostly faithful to the original version, only updated with new facts, figures, and editorials, all in a direct response to the lynching of Lindsey Coleman. But what motivated Flowers to pen his first version, to finally take a political stand? He opens his foreword stating that he has been asked to compile this work because he is the current President of the Mississippi State Bar Association (1), thus immediately grounding the text with a legalistic perspective and concern.

Overall, the book seems to be a response to the Mississippi lynchings of 1925 and prior, to the growing fear of negative public opinion concerning Mississippi, and the looming threat of federal legislation as a result of continuing mob violence.

The Burning of Jim Ivy

Photo of "The Burning of Jim Ivy" from page 20 of Mississippi and the Mob
(Many journalistic representations of this lynching incorrectly identified the victim of this lynching as "Jim Ivy," incorrectly identifying him with his father. The actual name of this lynching victim is L. Q. Ivy.)

The Burning of L. Q. Ivy

The significance of the lynching of Jim Ivy, however, must also be considered. First of all, a clarification is necessary. According to journalist LaReeca Rucker, the lynching victim commonly referred to as “Jim Ivy” was actually L. Q. Ivy. Multiple newspapers reporting on the lynching at the time incorrectly identified him with his father, Jim Ivy, which created an exponentially growing piece of misinformation as most sources referencing this September 25, 1925 lynching in Rocky Ford, Mississippi refer to the lynching victim as “Jim Ivy.” In this text, he will hereafter be referred to by his actual name, L. Q. Ivy.

[Adding further insult to these injustices, reporters often failed to accurately portray the details surrounding lynchings, and several lynching victims were incorrectly identified. For similar unfortunate examples, see Tyler Bunzey’s exhibit on the lynching of Eugene Daniels or Ina Falkeid’s exhibit on the lynching of Dock Rogers.]

Mississippi and the Mob contains only three images: the political cartoon on the cover and two photographs concerning the lynching of L. Q. Ivy (20, 22). Only one item in the lengthy table of contents references the name of a specific lynching victim. Although Flowers calls L. Q. Ivy by the wrong name, the decision to include the name of a lynching victim in the table of contents at all becomes significant when one notes how many newspaper articles reporting or even condemning lynchings fail to ever mention the name of the victim. Flowers chooses to dedicate a line in the table of contents to Ivy, to include these two photos, to quote a lengthy and graphic description of the murder (21), the only detailed or specific narration of a lynching in the entire book. These decisions suggest that the lynching of L. Q. Ivy was especially significant to Flowers for the creation of this work.

The section mentioning Ivy among the other five Mississippi lynchings in 1925 appears in the first section of the book, the section directly written by Flowers. The later sections are all compilations of letters, articles, and other statements by various officials or journalists, accompanied occasionally with a brief bit of introductory text. Within the first section of the book, the chapter dedicated to the death of Ivy is the final chapter before Flowers shifts from delineating the existing problem to suggesting how various officials and citizens can solve the problem. In this way, the lynching of Ivy serves as the climax of Flowers’s depiction of the problem, the embodiment of the lynching problem at large.

His language suggests that he is briefly mentioning each lynching in the order in which they took place throughout the year (18-21), which, in the case of the first printing, meant Ivy was the final lynching before the book was complete. If the lynching of Lindsey Coleman was the catalyst for Flowers to revise his book into a second printing, then it seems plausible that the lynching of L. Q. Ivy was one of the final catalysts for releasing his first printing.

Accused of assaulting and raping Bessie Gaines on September 18, 1925, Ivy was arrested and taken to Mayes Hospital in New Albany where Gaines was recuperating from her assault. She tentatively identified him as her attacker as a mob gathered outside the hospital. As the sheriff escorted Ivy from the hospital and back to the jail, the sheriff’s deputies blocked the road to prevent the gathered mob from following but eventually reopened the road with no shots fired. Other members of the mob managed to intercept the automobile transporting Ivy, blocking the road with their own trucks and forcing the sheriff to surrender his prisoner to the mob, although it remains unclear how much force was involved to convince the sheriff to relinquish his prisoner at this point. Ivy was then dragged to Rocky Ford, stripped, tortured, chained to a stake, and burned alive (Rucker).

Again, Flowers makes an uncharacteristic choice in his depiction of Ivy’s lynching, including a detailed account of the event. Flowers presents the words of J. L. Roulhac of the Memphis News Scimitar, as quoted by the New Albany Gazette in its September 24, 1925 printing:

I watched a negro burned at the stake at Rocky Ford, Miss., Sunday afternoon. I watched them pile wood around his helpless body. I watched them pour gasoline on this wood. And I watched three men set this wood on fire.

            I stood in a crowd as the flames gradually crept nearer and nearer to the helpless negro. I heard his cry of agony as the flames reached him and set his clothing on fire. “Oh, God; Oh, God.” [sic] he shouted. “I didn’t do it. Have mercy.” The blaze leaped higher. The negro struggled. He kicked the chain loose from his ankles but it held his waist and neck against the iron post that was becoming red with the intense heat.

            Nowhere was there a sign of mercy among the members of the mob, nor did they seem to regret the horrible thing they had done. The negro had supposedly sinned against their race, and he died a death of torture.

            The setting was a little saw mill. The crowd stood on a huge pile of saw dust and the negro’s death pyre was in a small gulley besides [sic] it. They calmly watched the flames leap and dance. There was no talking now. When the first odor of the baking flesh reached the mob, there was a slight stir . . . . . I felt suddenly sickened. Through the leaping blaze I could see the negro sagging, supported by the chains . . . . . The negro was dead. Nothing could be seen now, for the blaze encircled everything. The crowd loaded in automobiles. The negro, who was still chained to the white hot stake with red and blue flames leaping about him was forgotten. The crowd was hungry and was going in search of food. (21)

This shift to a detailed, graphic depiction is obviously intended to create an emotional appeal for readers highlighting the brutality with which Ivy died, evoking sympathy for the victim and disgust towards the gathered mob. Such a shift certainly suggests the possibility that this lynching, for some reason, affected Flowers more than others, serving as a sort of catalyst and focal point for his work.

Readership and Purpose

Despite the inherent moral implications regarding lynching as public displays of torture and murder and despite this emotional appeal regarding his depiction of Ivy’s death, the vast majority of Flowers’s approach to his topic is legalistic and pragmatic. According to the front cover and the first page, the self-stated goal of this book is to demand that local law enforcement officers uphold their duties to protect their prisoners, an intervention that, in theory, would greatly reduce the prevalence of lynchings: “One of the most shocking phases of mob violence is the frequency with which jails are broken into or officers overpowered in order to get the body of the victim” (18). If most lynchings occur because officers fail to protect their prisoners, then simply forcing officers to uphold their oaths should prevent such injustices (7). Additionally, the book argues that the state legislature of Mississippi grant the governor the right to remove local law enforcement officers if they fail to do their duty (9) since, as of 1925, the governor did not have the authority to remove a sheriff from office (75).

[For examples of political activism against lynching, especially a letter to sheriffs commending them for working to prevent lynchings, see Anna Broadwell-Gulde’s exhibit on Clara Cox and the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.]

After carefully delineating the current problems with lynchings and mob violence, Flowers gives specific suggestions for how local law enforcement officers can stem the tide of such injustices, citing specific codes of law and precedents to delineate these officers’ duties and authorities (23-25). He then proceeds to offer equally specific and pragmatic suggestions for how judges and other local officials can assist (25-33). In the final pages of the first section of his book, he lists how ordinary citizens can help as well (33-34). Subsequent sections are compilations of statements from various prominent figures condemning mob violence and overall supporting the claims made by Flowers.

Because of the structure and content of this opening section, the book seems to be aimed primarily at local law enforcement officials and members of the Mississippi state legislature. Again, the front cover clearly states the intended purpose and thus the intended audience: “State officials, officers and outstanding members of State Bar Association, and other prominent Mississippians condemn mob violence and call on officers to do their sworn duty.” However, because of the additional suggestions made to other officials and ordinary citizens, this book was obviously also intended for a secondary readership of judges, officials, and other leading figures throughout Mississippi.

Although Flowers offers suggestions for any citizen to help, the overall legalistic language and tone makes it clear that this secondary audience is a white, educated audience. It is also certainly not intended for an African-American audience. Even one of the quotations on the inside of the back cover makes that clear. Flowers quotes a 1903 address by Bishop Chas. B. Galloway, who claims that “there can never be any fit and permanent settlement of this stupendous problem that does not enlist the cordial and enlightened co-operation of the white people with whom the negro must dwell.” In his book, Flowers is seeking to enlist the cooperation of “the white people.” The African-American race would have already been painfully aware of the current realities. Flowers is struggling to sway popular white opinion against lynching and in support of his proposed interventions to prevent mob violence.

This secondary goal, to sway white public opinion, seems to take a top-down approach, convincing community leaders to lend their support to the anti-lynching cause, which would trickle down throughout the community. As a practical and sincere man who had little taste for sensationalism (Berard 123, 129), it seems likely that such an approach was not only natural to Flowers but also that it seemed the most efficient way to alter public opinion among his white readers. If the previous years of sensationalistic journalism could not sway the white race’s sense of human sympathy or guilt, perhaps he could sway them through their own self-interest, by illustrating how lynching threatened society as a whole, not just the black race but all races.

The Problem

First, though, Flowers carefully illustrates the prevalent problem of lynching throughout the nation with a quantitative specificity that is chilling:

During the last forty years (1885-1925) mobs murdered 4,144 men and women. 1,036 of the victims were white and 3,162 were colored. Eighty five of the number were women—sixty eight [sic] negro women and seventeen white women…. Mississippi has 530 lynchings to her discredit….

     More Americans have been hanged, burnt, and otherwise illegally slaughtered by mob violence than were killed in the Spanish-American War. More Americans have died at the bloody hands of an angry mob than were killed in the battle of St. Mihiel. Twice as many American citizens have had their lives snuffed out without due process of law in Mississippi as died when the Maine was blown up in Havana harbor. More than four times as many Americans have been lynched in Mississippi by the “frightfulness” of our own people as went down to a watery grave when German ruthlessness sank The Lusitania” (11).

The true focus of his work, though, is the state of Mississippi, to which he quickly shifts his aim: “Statistics running back to 1882 show 505 negroes and twenty five [sic] white people lynched in Mississippi, a total of 530 lynchings against 521 for Georgia, the two states together standing arraigned before the bar of humanity with more than one fifth of all the lynchings in America charged against them” (12).

It is also worth noting that, during his discussion, he takes the time to quantitatively debunk the common justification of lynching as a necessary action to protect white women from being raped by black men: “More than two thirds of the lynchings [from 1915-1924] had no connection with the crime of rape at all” (17). Contrary to this common justification for lynching, numerous African Americans were murdered for the smallest, or even nonexistent, crimes: “882 human beings had their lives snuffed out on such trifling charges as throwing stones, turning state's evidence, being troublesome, enticing labor away, drunkenness, and being a bad nigger” (16).

For a relatively contemporary examination of the problem of lynching, including a discussion of the ways in which lynching negatively affects not just the victims but also the perpetrators and the community at large, see Jada Weathers’s exhibit on minutes from the 1935 meeting of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Similarly, to take a look into the social perceptions of the period toward race relations and lynching, see Hannah Skjellum’s exhibit on a 1930 letter to Wilson L. Newman from George Washington Carver, one of the most prominent black scientists and figures from the early twentieth century.

The Solution

The solution to mob violence, as proposed by Flowers, is to prevent it: to ensure that all local law enforcement officers protect their prisoners from mob violence and that other leading officials and prominent citizens support their sheriffs. Officers who fail to uphold their oaths should be removed: “Why should men elected to preserve the peace and enforce the law not forfeit their places if they allow citizens to band together and publicly set the law at defiance?.... Does the sheriff take oath to support the law only in the event the ruling sentiment backs him?” (7). If such officers fail or refuse to uphold their duties, then the governor should be afforded the power to punish or remove officers who fail to uphold their duties: “If mob violence is to cease, the legislature must give the chief executive [the governor] the necessary authority to deal with the matter as an enlightened and indignant citizenship demands” (9).

Flowers argues that people will be unlikely to join a mob if they are certain that they will face physical danger from officers determined to protect their prisoners and that officers can predict and prepare for potential lynchings (7). In his suggestions for how sheriffs can prevent lynchings, he instructs such officers to preemptively announce their intentions to uphold all of their oaths even at the threat of their own lives; to only employ deputies who will do the same, even in the face of mob violence; to find men in the community who oppose mob violence and swear them in as special deputies in times of trouble; to relocate prisoners to jails in other counties to avoid mob violence; and to call on the governor to uphold section 5634 of Hemingway’s Code—the Mississippi Code of Laws, annotated by William Hemingway—calling out the National Guard to assist with a mob or riot (23). He then reminds local law enforcement officers of their duties, citing the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, and Sections 3099, 3100, 3101, and 3106 of Hemingway’s Code (24-25).

In his instructions to circuit judges, lawyers, and the courts in general for preventing mob violence, he suggests that the courts and judges condemn mob violence at every term of court, speed up proceedings to shorten the time between trial and decision, support local sheriffs in invoking Section 5634 of Hemingway’s Code to call for support from the National Guard, and to hold members of mobs legally accountable (25-26). His focus on the statements of the court in front of local officers and the gathered public illustrates his legal background and the manner in which he prioritizes the ability of the courts to sway public opinion: “When a circuit judge convenes his court, impanels the grand jury and begins his charge he is the exponent of all that law and order personifies. He represents law as opposed to lawlessness, government as opposed to anarchy, civilization as opposed to barbarism” (27). For Flowers, the legal system embodies the antithesis to the anarchy represented by the mob, and so the mob’s existence poses a threat to the judicial structure to which he has dedicated his life.

Lastly, he instructs citizens to support sheriffs who oppose mob violence, volunteer to be a special deputy if the need arises, demand that candidates for sheriff clearly state their view on lynchings so voters can make informed choices, testify against those who participate in mob violence, inform officers if mob violence seems likely, and improve public opinion against lynching by working with newspapers, clubs, local committees, and schools (33-34).

Once more breaking with his usual legalistic tone, Flowers provides a highly romanticized narrative example of one man preventing a lynch mob. Unsurprisingly, the hero of this narrative is a fellow judge, J. B. Chrisman, who led in the charge to defend his courthouse and the accused prisoner against a lynch mob of about two hundred people on May 4, 1893. Flowers, obviously intending this to serve as inspiration for law enforcement officers, judges, and other officials, once again prioritizes the judiciary by featuring as his preeminent example a judge, whose actions he deems “the most heroic and spectacular instance of manly bravery and judicial boldness in Mississippi's annals” (13).

Unlike most of his text or even the text he compiles from other sources, Flowers’s approach here is highly fictionalized and romantic, placing the reader in the midst of the events rather than merely reporting history. There is a sense of immediacy not even present in accounts of lynchings and torture. Although Flowers may not wish to sensationalize mob violence in an attempt to influence the sympathy of his readers, he is willing to sensationalize a judge’s thwarting of intended mob violence, apparently hoping to inspire in his readers a sense of emulation:

The raiders came in a sweeping gallop. The court went to pieces. The jury in the box, unceremoniously left the court room. The Judge descended from the bench and rapidly proceeding toward the business center of the town returned in double quick time flourishing the largest and biggest pistols ever before seen in those parts, followed by a dozen or more brave and determined men all well armed [sic], whom he had hastily but successfully mustered into service, to preserve the majesty of the law and the life of his court.” (14)

It is worth noting first that the judge desired to “preserve the majesty of the law and the life of his court,” not the life that was actually in danger, the life of the helpless African American in shackles inside the courtroom.

Continuing in this romantic vein, Flowers even quotes a description of the event by Judge R. H. Thompson, who wrote in his dedication to McWillie & Thompson Mississippi Digest of 1910 that the memory of such exploits as those of Judge Chrisman “like the shield of a fallen hero, should be burnished and kept bright,” claiming that “this splendid illustration of judicial dignity and civic virtue is not surpassed by anything in the annals of Rome in her proudest day” (15). Although Chrisman’s actions are commendable indeed, Flowers lingers in this slightly overblown language with such references to “manly bravery,” “the largest and biggest pistols ever seen,” and valor unsurpassed by “anything in the annals of Rome.” Interestingly enough, one could argue that Flowers’s word choice intentionally echoes that of the quotation he includes, referring to Chrisman’s deeds compared to “Mississippi’s annals” (13) and “the annals of Rome” (15), potentially associating the state of Mississippi with the greatness of Rome, a mighty empire that eventually fell.

Front cover to Mississippi and the Mob

The front cover of Mississippi and the Mob as a high-resolution .jpg image

Protecting Law, Order, and Civilization

Although Flowers may occasionally touch upon the tragic loss of human life, such moments are deviations, more the exception than the rule in his work. Even his romanticized narrative of one judge fighting off a lynch mob emphasizes the judge's defense of the court, not of an individual life. The very title of the book, “Mississippi and the Mob,” reveals its primary concern as the state of Mississippi and the potential effects of mob violence on the state rather than lynching, black lives, or any notion of equal rights.

The image Flowers selected for the front cover is a political cartoon titled “The real victim,” which—visible in a notation within the cartoon itself—originally appeared in the Nashville Tennessean by a cartoonist named Cross. A December 15, 1925 article in the Tennessean mentions one of their cartoonists, John Cross, and states that one of his anti-lynching political cartoons has once again been reprinted, this time as part of an anti-lynching campaign in Mississippi, so it seems safe to assume John Cross is the cartoonist responsible for the image. The cartoon itself depicts the book of “Law” and the policeman’s club of “Order” being lynched while other victims such as “Trial by Jury” and “Respect for Authority,” pages apparently fallen from the book of “Law,” lay impotent on the ground. Such an image for the cover highlights the primary concern of the book as much as its title does. The “real victim” of mob violence is not the African American; it is law and order, civilization itself. It is an interesting, albeit troubling, tactic to employ in order to recruit white opposition to lynching while unfortunately marginalizing the reality of black lives lost.

Quotations chosen for the inside of the front cover similarly focus on the threat mob violence poses to society. Flowers quotes Bishop Chas. B. Galloway, who warns that “every lyncher becomes a law despiser, and every law despiser is a betrayer of his country. The lynching spirit unrestrained, increases in geometrical progression.” Meanwhile Mississippi Governor Henry L. Whitfield labels mob violence “a blow at law and order and a blot upon our national life.” The quotations on both sides of the back cover maintain a similar focus, even suggesting that mob violence threatens both secular and Christian society.

The repeated focus of the work is the sovereignty of the law and the need to maintain that sovereignty for the preservation of society and the avoidance of federal intervention. Constantly, Flowers frets that the defiance of the law through mob violence threatens to tear apart all of society, that it “constitutes a challenge to our citizenship, our civilization, and our Christianity” (12). He quotes Judge Jefferson S. Hamm’s address to the Kemper County Grand Jury in 1877 following the Kemper County Massacre, an address published by Judge Edgar S. Wilson which warns that mob law “sways a bloody scepter over the ruins of social and political order, and wherever its dominion is fixed, there we behold the disintegration of all the bonds of society. This is an important question, for it involves not only the lives, the liberty and the property of the individuals who compose society, but the very existence of society itself” (32).

Lynching is referred to as the “rape of the law” by Associate Justice J. G. McGowen of the Mississippi State Supreme Court (41) and as “one of the greatest evils that confronts civilization in times of peace…not only dangerous to individual liberty, but endangers organized society itself” by Associate Justice Geo. H. Ethridge of the Mississippi Supreme Court (42) while mob members are labeled as “servants of anarchy” by Thos L. Bailey, Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives (37). Flowers quotes Judge Webb Venable of Clarksdale, former District Attorney, Circuit Judge, and Congressman, who warns that mob violence is a form of civil unrest that, “if wide enough, might sweep away all government and usher in a reign of anarchy” (44) while Judge T. Brady Jr. of Brookhaven labels it as “the over-throwing of the law…and the demoralizing of society generally” (52).

Bishop Theodore D. Bratton condemns lynching as “mob rebellion against the foundation [sic] purposes of government…[which] ruthlessly disrupts the harmony, safety and happiness of society” (63), and Chancellor Hume of the University of Mississippi warns that such violence “strikes a staggering blow at the foundation of social order…a blot on the fair name of any community…brutaliz[ing] whomsoever it touches”(60). Flowers continues, quoting a statement from E. O. Stanley during his time as Governor of Kentucky, in which he claimed that mob violence threatens “the essence of civilization” and that the “one difference between civilization and savagery” is reverence for the law (65). Flowers’s citing of Calvin Coolidge’s address when accepting the Republican Presidential nomination flatly states the way in which preventing lynching is in the white race’s best interest: “As a plain matter of expediency the white man cannot be protected unless the black man is protected, and as a plain matter of right, law is law and justice is justice for everybody'' (65).

And finally, the concluding pages of this revised printing include newspaper articles condemning the lynching of Lindsey Coleman, a man who was acquitted of all crimes and still summarily abducted and hanged (73-79). Such outrage, however, is intriguing when contrasted to the less intense outrage felt when an accused person is lynched. If all citizens are to be considered innocent until proven guilty, then why should the general public respond differently to someone accused of a crime and someone acquitted? Although this book works strenuously to protest mob violence in all its forms and against all people, guilty or innocent of any crimes, for some reason the lynching of an acquitted man was interpreted as a more heinous violation of the law than a possibly innocent man who had yet to be tried.

Still, though, the focus of the book almost always remains on how such violence is an attack on the law rather than on a human being. And if the law is openly defied, if civilization crumbles, then outside intervention is imminent.

Avoiding Federal Intervention

The book reveals a prevailing sentiment in 1925 among prominent citizens of the state of Mississippi, an increasing anxiety regarding potential intervention from the federal government as a reaction to the civil unrest manifested in mob violence.

Although aspects of Flowers’s language and choice of inclusion occasionally lends itself to emotional or moralistic appeals, the majority of the work remains detached, focused less on the loss of human lives and more on the sovereignty of the law and the sovereignty of the state of Mississippi. The foreword to the book concisely explains the current problems of lawlessness in the state and his proposed solution to hold sheriffs accountable to uphold their duties. The conclusion of this foreword clearly states the stakes that are at hand, the potential results if these interventions are not adopted:

At intervals it is proposed in Congress to exercise federal power to stop the practice of lynching. This federal interference will sooner or later come unless the states themselves take steps to handle the problem. Federal officers are further removed from the scene and therefore do not have friends to protect or public opinion to fear. It is to the absolute interest to this state to adopt measures that will change the conditions that allow citizens to get together and administer punishment without the aid of the courts. (9)

Flowers is, of course, referring to such federal legislation as the Dyer Bill and other similar proposed pieces of federal legislation. Flowers and the prominent citizens he cites oppose a federal anti-lynching law, it seems, because such federal intervention would increase the power of the federal government over the sovereignty of each state. Such intervention would be enacted by federal officials with no ties to local communities and no concern for local public opinion to hold their actions in check.

Flowers includes in his compilation numerous other leading figures who argue for the eradication of lynching practices primarily to avoid federal legislation. Such figures protest the Dyer Bill, arguing that such legislation would unfairly tax all members of a community in which lynchings took place, even citizens completely uninvolved in such activities.

One such figure is Judge D. V. Houston of Aberdeen, formerly a member of the Mississippi Supreme Court and, as of 1925, the Vice President of the American Bar Association. After a lengthy statement condemning mob violence in terms referencing legal and philosophical scholars as well as the crucifixion of Christ and even touching on the importance of universal rights for all citizens, Houston slightly weakens the moral trappings of his argument by revealing his true concern: “By thus crystallizing public sentiment against mob law, we will remove any further risk of the passage of the iniquitions [sic] Dyer—Anti-Lynching Law, defeated in the last Congress, which would penalize every man in the County where the lynching was committed, including even the innocent tax payers who oppose mob law” (51).

The references to “penaliz[ing] every man in the County” is a reference to the fines that would be levied under the Dyer Bill against any county in which a lynching took place:

Dyer’s bill…sought to charge lynch mobs with capital murder charges and to try lynching cases in federal court. It levied on each county where a lynching occurred, a fine of between $5,000 and $10,000 that would be paid to the victim’s immediate family or, if none existed, to the U.S. government to facilitate prosecution of the case. The Dyer Bill also mandated jail time and imposed a fine of up to $5,000 on state and local law enforcement officials who refused to make a reasonable effort to prevent a lynching or surrendered a prisoner in their custody to a lynch mob. Finally, the bill sought to establish guidelines for fair courtroom proceedings by excluding lynch mob participants and supporters from juries. (United States House of Representatives)

Another clue as to the chief concerns for Flowers, or at least the chief concerns he wishes to raise in the minds of his readers as a motivation to end lynchings, appears in how he introduces a quotation from a Mississippi Congressman, B. G. Lowrey, who seems motivated to eradicate lynching primarily to avoid the sanctions of the Dyer Bill. Introducing the quotation, Flowers writes, “Congressman B. G. Lowrey Strikes the Correct Note” (45). Lowrey states that “lynching is not right. It is murder indeed of the most horrible kind, when a mob takes the life of an innocent being” (45), but he quickly shifts his attention to the threat of federal intervention: “This is a State problem, not a Federal problem. I am a Federal and not a state official. I shall do all in my power to keep the Federal government out of a sphere in which it has no business” (45).

Similarly, Flowers quotes a statement given by Judge J. B. Holden, who was, in 1925, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The statement is from May 2, 1923 during Holden’s tenure as President of the Mississippi State Bar Association and is made in reference to potential federal anti-lynching legislation: “Is it not time that the members of the legal profession, especially in the Southern States, make a radical effort toward the end that all persons charged with crime be given a fair trial under due process of law, and thus, if successful remove the cause?” (40). The “cause” to which he refers is lynching and the attempts among the federal government to pass anti-lynching legislation. Again, the priority here is not to prevent the deaths of prisoners or African-American people in general; the ultimate goal is not even to give all citizens a fair trial. Those are merely a means by which to avoid federal intervention into the affairs of the state of Mississippi.

From this reading, Mississippi looks like a child who sweeps the dirt of his or her bedroom under the rug, concerned less with germs or cleanliness and more with avoiding potential interference from his or her watchful parents, concerned less with the visceral and moral implications of the loss of human lives and more with upholding the sovereignty of the law and the sovereignty of the state, avoiding federal interference in what is considered a merely local affair.

Responses to Mississippi and the Mob:

According to Adrienne Berard, Flowers mostly received letters of support and congratulation after releasing the first printing of his book, although he still received a handful of letters of sharp criticism from a variety of readers (122-23). One of the most outspoken supporters of Mississippi and the Mob was former governor Earl Brewer. Berard suggests that the book may have been the tipping point that caused Brewer to select Flowers to take over his work on the Gong Lum v. Rice case so Brewer could focus his energies on prosecuting the people responsible for the lynching of Lindsey Coleman (123-24).

A December 7, 1925 article in The New York Amsterdam News commends the book, calling it “highly significant and expected to have a profound impact on public sentiment” (“Anti-Lynching Broadside” 11). On December 12, The Chicago Defender reprinted the same article on the front page, lending its support of the publication (“WHITES DRAFT” 1).

On December 16, The New York Amsterdam News printed another article commending the book, this time on its front page: “The pamphlet should arouse the people of the State to a point where they will give some thought to this inhuman, uncivilized and barbarous ‘past-time’…. The pamphlet cannot help but prove of great value to the educational development of the people of Mississippi as well as those of the entire country” (“Cameraman” 1). Interestingly, though, this article makes a move similar to the work of Flowers, appealing to the pragmatic self-interest of southern citizens. Writing under the name “The Cameraman,” the writer notes that mob violence is an issue invested as much in economics as it is in morals. As industrial development enters the southern states, those states that continue to have a reputation for mob violence and civil unrest will miss out on potential business investments and economic growth (1). Thus, the eradication of mob violence is in the best interests of all southern citizens for economic, if not moral, motivations.

Granted, these two newspapers are northern newspapers known for their progressive leanings. In contrast, the writer of a December 3, 1925 article for the Monroe News-Star of Monroe, Louisiana half-heartedly applauds the book but seems to think the book’s discussion is unnecessary: “The South as a whole has sufficiently expressed its attitude toward the lynching problem” (“Law and Lynching” 4). The writer might be sincerely unaware of the persistent prevalence of lynching in the region; alternatively, the writer may be attempting to undermine the book’s gravity and understate the current problem for the sake of public opinion, claiming that leaders throughout the region have already condemned the practice (4), as though the problem is fully solved. However, as the article continues, the writer’s motives become clear.

Although the writer admits that the book is “worthy” and will further discourage lynchings (4), the writer criticizes the Bar Association for even taking the trouble to write and publish such a document: “The Mississippi Bar Association and all other organizations of similar constituency have decidedly better cause for righteous indignation than the lynching situation. They would do well to turn their critical eyes inward, to examine truthfully the violence committed by many members of the legal profession on Justice in the United States” (4). The writer then criticizes practitioners of law for defending guilty clients and winning their freedom, blaming them for “the immense floating criminal population that harries every community in the country today” (4).

In the conclusion of this revealing editorial, however, this writer makes a shrewd, underhanded accusation: “The Mississippi Bar Association will do well to thoroughly clean its own skirts and bend every effort to clean the skirts of similar associations throughout the United States; instead of deporing [sic] a practice which, in addition to being obviously deplorable from every standpoint, has a decided tendency to reduce the gross fees received by the legal profession” (4).  Ultimately, this writer is accusing southern lawyers of criticizing lynching out of their own self-interests; by executing accused criminals, lynch mobs are stealing away these lawyers’ clients, reducing the money in these lawyers’ pockets. Additionally, because this writer has already criticized lawyers for defending presumably guilty clients, the anonymous writer is intimating that most, if not all, victims of lynch mobs are guilty. For this writer, those who die at the hands of lynch mobs, were it not for the intervention of such mobs, would add to the “floating criminal population” of guilty clients defended by lawyer’s “subversive tricks” (4). Despite a half-hearted commendation of the book, this writer seems to ultimately use this editorial to slyly condemn the current legal system and actually endorse lynching.

The articles referenced in this section can be found in the gallery below.


J. N. Flowers, a sincere and pragmatic man (Berard 123), seems to have aimed his book at members of the state legislature, local law enforcement officers, and other leading members of white society. He carefully delineates the existing problem at hand, mostly with data and logic, taking time to debunk the rape myth so often used to justify lynchings. He makes suggestions for how law enforcement officers, judges, local officials, and ordinary citizens can assist in ending mob violence. He compiles statements from numerous other prominent figures and newspapers, including a lengthy description of one lynching and an overly romantic account of a judge preventing a lynching.

Although he occasionally makes emotional or moral appeals to his audience regarding the brutal and abhorrent loss of life engendered through mob violence, his main tactic seems to be to employ his readership’s own self-interest, citing how mob violence creates civil unrest, undermines the law, threatens the very fabrics of society, and could potentially lead to federal intervention into the affairs of the state of Mississippi. Law enforcement officers must be forced to uphold their duties or be removed from office in order to eradicate mob violence, and mob violence must be eradicated, Flowers suggests, if the state of Mississippi is to survive.

Flowers’s adoption of this tactic, while seemingly effective, suggests the troubling fact that a growing anti-lynching sentiment among whites was less the result of any ethical or moral considerations but more a result of self-interested motivations to preserve the sanctity of individual states from federal intervention and to reduce the kind of civil unrest represented by mob violence.

Works Cited in this Exhibit:

“Anti-Lynching Broadside Fired in Mississippi: State’s Leading Citizens Demand That Law Be Upheld—Issue 80-Page Book.”  The New York Amsterdam News, 9 Dec. 1925, p. 11. ProQuest Historical Newspapers, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/226330315?accountid=14244.

Berard, Adrienne.  Water Tossing Boulders: How a Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South.  Beacon Press, 2016.

“Cameraman, The.”  “Colorful News ‘Movies’: Mississippi and the Mob.”  The New York Amsterdam News, 16 Dec. 1925, p. 1.  ProQuest Historical Newspapers, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/226237362?accountid=14244.

Flowers, J. N. [James Nathaniel], comp.  Mississippi and the Mob.  Second revised printing, Jackson Printing Co., 1926.

“Law and Lynching.”  The Monroe News-Star, 3 Dec. 1925, p. 4.  Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/72346412.

Mississippi and the Mob.”  Sheet Metal Workers Journal, vol. 30, Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, 1925, p. 35.  Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=Y5I1AQAAIAAJ&q=%22mississippi+and+the+mob%22&dq=%22mississippi+and+the+mob%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj6lbP8jtjWAhUQ2mMKHXeGDPkQ6AEIQjAF.

Rucker, LaReeca.  “The Lynching of L. Q. Ivy.”  The Journalism Portfolio of LaReeca Ruckerhttp://www.lareecarucker.com/pages/lynching.htm.  Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.  Originally published in New Albany Gazette, 18 Oct. 2000, p. 1B.

United States House of Representatives, Office of the Historian.  “Anti-Lynching Legislation Renewed” in “The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell: 1887-1929.”  History, Art & Archives: United States House of Representatives, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008, http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/Anti-Lynching-Legislation/.  Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

“WHITES DRAFT DEFY TO LYNCHERS, URGE SHERIFFS TO SHOOT.”  The Chicago Defender (National edition), 12 Dec. 1925, p. 1.  ProQuest Historical Newspapers, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/492074107?accountid=14244.

Gallery of Items:

All of the items that have appeared in this exhibit are consolidated in the gallery below, so you can revisit any of them at your convenience for further reflection and study.

Exhibit curator: Paul Blom, 5 Oct. 2017

See also:

"Mississippi and the Mob": An Analysis