Lynching on Wynn's Hill

Magazine cover reading "The Best of the Press: Southern Journalism Awards"

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 15 No. 3/4, "The Best of the Press: Southern Journalism Awards." Find more from that issue here.

Seventy-five years ago, on a sweltering August afternoon, a black teen-ager named T.Z. McElhaney was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a Columbus, Ga. courtroom in the apparent accidental killing of a white youth. The violence that happened next never appeared in official histories, though it had no small consequence for race relations in the area. A lynching occurred on average once every five weeks in Georgia between 1882 and 1930, ranking it second behind Mississippi in the use of extra-legal deadly force. 

In 1912, the same year as the McElhaney killing, mob violence forced blacks from Forsyth County, Georgia. In early 1987, as a National March for Brotherhood brought world attention to racism in Forsyth County, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer printed a week-long series on one of its own lynchings, "Incident at Wynn's Hill." Reporter Bill Winn received death threats as soon as his first article appeared. Each day brought more angry letters and protest calls, as well as some supporters, for a series that delved into the racist past of the town's leading families, including heirs of a present-day superior court judge and the area's leading political figure. What follows is a condensed version of Winn's story. 

The illustrations by Don Coker are from the original series of articles. 

 

COLUMBUS — It was the year the Titanic went down with the loss of 1,502 lives. It was the year before the Mexican boll weevil entered southeast Georgia. It was the year of the second terrible fire in Columbus on Fifth Avenue. It was the year a teen-age black boy named T.Z. McElhaney was lynched by a mob near the Wynnton switch on the old Belt Line on Wynn's Hill in Columbus. 

It was 1912, mid-summer, so hot many merchants on Broadway had awnings up over their storefronts to protect their goods and shade their customers from a blistering sun. 

Country folk and townspeople mingled on the sidewalks and sipped vanilla-flavored Coca-Cola and ate ice cream in Eli Wheat's Drug Store near Broadway and Tenth Street. They talked of the coming national election and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat who had practiced law in Georgia and married a Georgia girl; of cotton prices and the boll weevil eating its way to Georgia; of Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach who had been briefly suspended for striking a baseball fan in New York; of Jack Johnson, the great black world heavyweight champion reviled by whites and widely admired by blacks; and of the big Fourth of July motorcycle races set for Driving Park at the south end of town. 

Out in the countryside around Columbus, especially north along the Whitesville Road and Double Churches area and in western Harris County where the soil was good, it was laying-by time for the cotton planters. In almost every direction one looked, the waist-high plants stretched across the rolling countryside under the powder-blue Fall Line sky. 

Columbus, then a town of about 20,000, had long been a center of cotton activity. It not only had mills for the manufacture of cotton into commercial goods but also gins, vast warehouse space, and docks and facilities for shipping baled cotton by rail and river steamer. 

Although the second decade of the twentieth century was comparatively prosperous for the region's farmers, there was still plenty of hard work and hardship in agricultural life. The depression of the 1890s had fallen hardest on marginal small farmers, and many of these were black. Briefly during that terrible decade, it seemed as if the Populist movement under Tom Watson was going to unite Georgia's black and white farmers in a coalition for their mutual economic interests and improve conditions for blacks. 

Watson and his followers — mostly farmers and other rural people — advocated programs considered extremely radical then: farmer cooperatives, free and unlimited coinage of silver, low-interest loans to farmers, an eight-hour day for labor, direct election of United States senators, government ownership of railroads, telephones and telegraphs, abolition of the convict lease system and prohibition of absentee ownership of land. 

In the elections of 1892 and 1894, the Populists made serious inroads on Democratic control of the state. But, in 1895, the Democrats in the General Assembly shrewdly adopted a few of the less radical elements of the Populist platform. In the election of 1896, they turned back the Populist threat, both as a result of the reforms they adopted in 1895 and by having successfully branded the Populists as traitors to white supremacy. 

Although blacks were registered to vote in significant numbers and technically had at least some civil rights, anti-black sentiment had been growing among whites in Georgia. This stemmed partly from declining economic conditions and partly from residual resentment over Reconstruction. Blacks made convenient scapegoats for many ills, especially the passing of the old agrarian order and the transfer of power to the industrialists and financiers in the towns. 

During the early 1900s, most Georgia blacks, who made up about 40 percent of the state's population, were farm laborers and domestics. Many were tenant farmers and sharecroppers eking out livings under the most difficult circumstances. 

They were tied to their landlords by tenant contracts or imprisoned on flimsy charges to become part of the state's notorious convict lease system (in 1908, 86 percent of state convicts were blacks). Some were victims of peonage and were held in a form of debt-slavery by white farmers who, in exchange for paying a misdemeanor fine charged against a black, required him to work off the debt as farm labor. 

 

Black men had been lynched within Columbus in 1896 and 1900, and lynchings were more common in the countryside around the town. The victims of the 1896 and 1900 lynchings had been accused of rape or attempted rape, but in June 1909, a double lynching near Talbotton, northeast of Columbus, underscored the economic realities that underlay some of the worst instances of racial violence recorded in the region. 

According to accounts in the Columbus Enquirer-Sun, a blind black itinerant preacher named Joseph Hardy had been making "dangerous and incendiary" sermons to black farm workers in the area, urging them not to work for whites. On the evening of June 19, 1909, a group of white men abducted Hardy from the cabin of a black farmer named William Comaker. Comaker resisted the men and fatally shot one of them, William Leonard, a widely known young planter. Comaker turned himself in to authorities, but he was seized by a mob at the Talbotton jail and lynched at midnight, June 22. 

Hardy's body was recovered from a Talbot County creek two days later after Comaker was lynched. A heavy rock had been tied around his neck and he had drowned. 

As shocking as the double lynching in Talbotton was, there was an even more violent mob murder in this area on the night of Jan. 22, 1912. Then a masked and armed mob broke into the Harris County jail in Hamilton and seized four black prisoners, one of them a woman. The prisoners were taken to a grove of trees at the edge of town and hanged. The mob of 20 to 25 men then riddled the bodies with gunfire, using everything from .32-caliber pistols to double-barreled shotguns loaded with buckshot. 

According to a contemporary newspaper report, the four blacks were accused of murdering Norman Hadley, a prominent young planter in Harris County and nephew of the county sheriff. 

On late Sunday evening, June 30, 1912, news of yet another tragedy from the countryside north of Columbus began to trickle into town. However, it wasn't until people read the Monday Columbus Ledger that they began to get a few facts in the case—by almost all accounts available, an accidental shooting: "Cedron Land, the little 12-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. W.L. Land, living six miles north of Columbus, was killed some time during yesterday afternoon with a single-barreled shotgun, and TJZ. McElhaney, a 14-year-old negro boy is in Muscogee County jail charged with the murder. 

"According to reports from the scene of the tragedy, young Land left home yesterday afternoon between one and two o'clock on a mule to carry it to the pasture to let it eat grass for awhile. About night the mule came home without the boy, and his family, thinking he had been thrown by the mule, instigated a search, which was kept up until two o'clock this morning when he was found in an out-of-way place, with the wound in his left eye. 

"Coroner J.S. Terry was immediately notified and accompanied by Bailiff John R. Beahn, went to the scene where a coroner's jury was empaneled and an investigation begun. It was seen that the boy had been shot, and tracks were found near the scene leading to the home of the McElheny boy. 

"The negro boy denied any knowledge of the shooting whatever, stating that his gun had not been fired. Mr. Beahn examined the shotgun and found that it had recently been fired and then decided to hold the negro. 

"On the way to the city, the negro, while being questioned by Bailiff Beahn, admitted that he was with the Land boy when he was killed, but claims that the killing was accidental, but the officers are holding him on a charge of murder." 

Almost everyone in Columbus knew at least one Land, and many people from town would have driven out old River Road to Double Churches Road to visit the home of Will Land and his three daughters (Land's wife had died the year before). More would have gone out Hamilton Road to Whitesville Road, passing fields of cotton and corn and A.B. Land's cattle, to Mount Moriah Primitive Baptist Church at Double Churches for the burial service. 

Cedron Cleophus Land ("Cleo" to family and friends) was laid to rest beside his mother, Lula Folk Land, beneath white cedars and hickories and oaks and sweetgums, densely green in their summer foliage, in the little cemetery behind the church. 

People at the funeral would have learned a little more about the shooting, perhaps. Cleo's body, covered with leaves and brush, had been found by lantern light in a shallow ditch not far from the McElhaney boy's cabin. 

The Enquirer-Sun, in competition with the Ledger, published its version of the event on Tuesday morning, July 2. Both newspapers misspelled the black boy's name, offering versions ranging from McElheny to McElhenney, and added to the confusion by saying he had an alias, "T.Z. Cotton." Apparently, Teasy had been born T.Z. Cotton, but he lived with his stepfather, George McElhaney, which appears to be the correct spelling. 

Not surprisingly, given the racial tenor of the time, rumors of a pending lynching reached Muscogee County Sheriff Jesse Beard soon after the funeral. So concerned were Columbus authorities over the possibility of a recurrence of mob violence that Judge W.H. McCrory, in charge of Teasy McElhaney's pre-trial hearing that Friday, went to the jail to interview the boy rather than risk having him brought to the courthouse. Extra deputies guarded Teasy throughout the weekend. 

McCrory scheduled Teasy's trial for the August term of Muscogee County Superior Court. Despite the threats against the prisoner's life reported by Beard, the rest of July and part of August passed without incident. It was learned later, however, that at some time before McElhaney's trial began, W.L. Land had visited Beard and told him that, should the verdict be less than murder, there might be trouble. 

 

On Aug. 5, 1912, Judge S. Price Gilbert, one of the more prominent jurists in Columbus history, opened the August term of Muscogee County Superior Court. 

The August grand jury was called into session and its members lost no time in returning a true bill charging "T.Z. McElhenney," alias "T.Z. Cotton," with murder in Cleo's death. 

The trial began shortly after 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 13, in Gilbert's second-story courtroom in the 1896 courthouse. 

The trial did not last long. 

Teasy McElhaney, barefoot and dressed in shorts and a cheap blue shirt, sat with his attorneys to the left of the judge. The courtroom, which would have been almost unbearably hot in mid-August, even in the morning, was packed with spectators, mostly relatives or friends of the Land boy's family. About 12 women, including Cleo Land's three sisters, were there. 

There were no signs of unruly behavior in the crowd as the trial began, and no indication of the trouble to come. Many of the women must have waved fans, and the men would have mopped at their sunburned brows with the colorful bandannas favored by country people. 

W.L. Land, a large, heavy man, took the stand in the morning and told of discovering his son's body, and of the aftermath. The shotgun used in the killing and the bloody rags and shirt found in the McElhaney boy's cabin were entered into evidence. Throughout the testimony, newspaper reporters covering the trial said that the McElhaney boy did not take his eyes off those testifying or off the lawyers when they were addressing the court. 

He had given an unsworn statement in which he admitted shooting Cleo Land, but he said it was accidental. He said that he and the Land boy were involved in a friendly scuffle over the gun, which discharged and killed Cleo. 

"I am just a little black nigger," the defendant told the court in a statement that would be widely quoted later in the state's newspapers, "and I knew that if I went to Mr. Land and told him I had killed his boy, he would kill me. I was afraid to tell him and so hid the body." 

The testimony and evidence introduction were finished before lunch, and after adjourning for the midday meal, the court heard arguments. Defense attorney Hatcher and Worsley spoke briefly and to the point, arguing that the shooting was, at worst, involuntary manslaughter, an accident perpetrated by children at play. Solicitor George Palmer gave a long and impassioned argument for the state, claiming that Cleo Land was murdered. 

The jury got the case at 3:45 that afternoon and retired to deliberate. At five o'clock, the 12 men returned with their verdict. Jury foreman William Beach, widely known in Columbus as the owner of William Beach Hardware on Broad, read the verdict to the hushed courtroom: 

"We the jury find the defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act." 

There was no emotional outburst at the verdict, although several persons in the audience exchanged looks of clear displeasure. Nor was there any demonstration when Gilbert pronounced sentence: three years hard labor in the state penitentiary, the maximum sentence allowable under law. 

If the verdict surprised many in the crowd — clearly, the jury decided the shooting was an accident — the sentence stunned them. In the atmosphere that prevailed in the South then, a three-year sentence for a black person who shot and killed a white person — child or no child, accident or not — was unheard of. 

Black men were lynched for such things as allegedly making insulting remarks to white women, for refusing to dance when ordered to by a white man, for being suspected of crimes, for knowing other blacks who were suspected of crimes, for stealing mules, or for no reason. 

Still, the crowd gave no outward sign of displeasure while Gilbert and Palmer and the other lawyers left the courtroom. Among the spectators, the women were allowed to leave the courtroom first, perhaps by design, and then they were slowly followed by the crowd out into the courthouse rotunda. 

 

Bailiffs grasped Teasy McElhaney, one on each side, and moved toward the door. An Enquirer-Sun reporter, who was there, tells what happened next in a terrible and tragic episode of violence that has long been forgotten — or suppressed. 

'The trouble began when Bailiffs R.L. Willis and J.T. Darby started to take the negro from the courtroom into the sheriff's office. Gathered in the aisles were numbers of relatives and friends of the dead boy, perhaps twenty or twenty-five in all. Suddenly the men closed around the officers and demanded the prisoner. Neither of the bailiffs were armed. 

"One man struck Willis in the face. Another dealt him a heavy blow and he turned the negro loose to defend himself. A strenuous fisticuff followed. The negro was torn from Darby and a powerful man hurled the officer bodily several feet into the courthouse rotunda where the struggle had shifted by that time. Deputy sheriff Gibson came running in and was temporarily disabled by being kicked in the stomach. Sheriff Beard, who was in his private office, heard the commotion and came running out. A man aimed a heavy blow at him with a stick but the sheriff dodged it. 

"By this time the men with the negro had gotten downstairs and hurried out the front door, leaving a group of men to guard it and keep the officers from following them. A free-for-all fistfight followed but no one was seriously injured. Several pistols had been drawn during the early struggles with the officers but none of them was fired." 

In the midst of the melee, McElhaney realized what was happening and, according to an eyewitness, began to scream for protection. 

The mob rushed outside with the boy in the middle and ran to the comer of Tenth Street and Second Avenue. An Enquirer-Sun reporter picks up the story: 

"A streetcar, No. 18, L.F. Johnston, motorman, and J.W. Wilson, conductor, was going east on Tenth Street. Just as it reached the west side of Second Avenue, a pistol is said to have been pointed at the motorman and he was ordered to stop the car, which he did, and several passengers who were in the car at the time, got off. One of the men with the negro is said to have held a pistol on the motorman while another did the same with the conductor. The car was not allowed to stop again until it reached the city limits (then Tenth Avenue), where it stopped and all the passengers were ordered off." 

The streetcar "had reached the stretch of woods," the paper reported, "and just beyond the prisoner was taken off, pleading and screaming for mercy. The car was ordered to move on. Then several of the men in the crowd pulled out pistols, and the negro was . . . riddled with bullets. He uttered a cry as the first shots hit him, then fell dead." 

The spot where McElhaney met death by the hands of the mob was the Wynnton switch on the old Belt Line street car track, just east of where Bradley Drive now fronts Bradley Memorial Library. 

"None of the members of the mob were masked," reported the Enquirer-Sun. "It is understood that the officers recognized several of those in the crowd." 

According to the Ledger, the members of the mob dispersed quickly after the shooting. "No one has been found who would state whether they knew any of the men engaged in the killing, or at least, they had refused to state names." 

McElhaney lay face down in a shallow ditch beside the Wynnton switch until almost midnight Tuesday. Throngs of the curious came to gawk at the bloody body. Many of them rode the trolley car to the Wynnton switch and got out to rubberneck. More than a few walked, some all the way from downtown. 

The boy's body was removed by Alex Toles, a black undertaker, who prepared it for burial. The next day, McElhaney was buried in a pauper's lot in Porterdale Cemetery. 

 

Reaction among white people in Columbus to the murder of the black child seems to have ranged from curiosity and indifference to genuine outrage. The Lands were, as previously stated, a widely known and prominent family, and many people in the city doubtless felt an overwhelming sympathy for them at the loss of Cleo. But just as many white residents seemed to have been angered at the manner of Teasy McElhaney's death which went beyond the point typical for lynchings of black people at the time. 

"Opinions expressed by the people generally yesterday were to the effect that the grand jury should make a thorough investigation," the Enquirer-Sun reported two days after the lynching. "If possible, indictments should be returned against everyone who was connected with the deplorable affair." 

"The cold-blooded and coolly-planned lynching at Columbus on Tuesday calls for prompt indictment and punishment of those guilty of the crime," said the Savannah Morning News. "It is stated that the grand jury had begun an investigation of the lynching and that some of those who took part in it are known. The wonder is that all are not known, since the negro boy who was lynched was in the custody of the officers of the court and the boy and the officers were in the courtroom when the lynchers took the boy from the officers. . . . There has never been in the state a bolder instance of mob law." 

Among the citizens of Columbus who appeared most offended by the murder of McElhaney was Judge Stirling Price Gilbert, perhaps the most distinguished jurist ever to reside in Columbus. The judge learned of McElhaney's lynching while walking along Broadway on his way home after the trial (the Gilbert home is now the offices of the Historic Columbus Foundation), and he expressed surprise and outrage. 

The public quickly learned that he was planning a special charge to the grand jury when it reconvened on Thursday morning, Aug. 15, and tremendous interest was expressed in what the chief judge of the Chattahoochee Circuit Court would have to say. Gilbert was up for reelection in the Chattahoochee District Superior Court that month. So was Solicitor George Palmer. Although Gilbert might have felt personal outrage at the lynching of the McElhaney boy and the mob action, many of his rural constituents would be sympathetic to the mob. 

As for Sheriff Jesse Beard, he had already made his sentiments in the matter clear to an Enquirer-Sun reporter who interviewed him the day of the lynching. The Enquirer-Sun said the sheriff, a Harris County native with roots north of Columbus in the farming country, expressed his opinion that "he had rather feared trouble in the event the negro was not convicted of murder, but that, as a matter of fact, under the evidence, [he] expected that he would be convicted of that charge and given the extreme penalty." 

The lynching, it should be remembered, took place just over the city limits in the county where Beard and his department had exclusive jurisdiction. 

 

Few judges in Columbus history have had a more difficult task than that faced by Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Price Gilbert on Thursday morning, Aug. 15, 1912, when he entered the courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse. 

Among the August grand jurors were A.B. "Brewster" Land, cousin of W.L. Land, father of the dead white child, and R.E.L. "Ed" Land, brother to W.L. Land and thus uncle of Cedron "Cleo" Land. Both were suspected of having participated in the mob violence that led to the abduction and murder of the black boy, Teasy McElhaney. 

Among the other distinguished members of the jury were Frank C. Reich, 50, owner of the now-defunct Reich Dry Goods Co., whose other financial interests included banking and who was instrumental in the development of the city's waterworks system; A.O. Blackmar Jr., 28, Columbus insurance and real estate broker, who would later help the city get Fort Benning; Rhodes Browne, 47, mayor of Columbus from 1908 to 1911 and wealthy businessman with interests in banking and textiles; John C. Martin, 41, owner of Martin Furniture Co.; and William H. Harvey, 45, principal owner of W.T. Harvey Lumber Co. 

Each member of the 22-man jury — including the two Lands — would look to Gilbert for guidance and direction. Not only would they have been aware of rumors about participation of fellow jurors Brewster Land and Ed Land in the previous day's violence, but each juror was a white man when it was almost unheard of for a panel of white men to judge other white men in the lynching of a black. 

Gilbert would have been acutely aware of every grand juror's sensitivity to the racial issue, and he must have thought long and hard over how he was going to address such a delicate topic. 

"Since the convening of the last session of the grand jury," Judge Gilbert began, "a most momentous event has occurred; one that brings in question the power of the government itself. The question that now arises is not the guilt or innocence of any one person, but whether the American is strong enough and patriotic enough to govern himself. 

"Some six weeks ago, a most splendid white boy was killed in the upper portion of the county. This tragedy brought forth the sympathy of every man within the sound of my voice, and every white man who heard of the event. That sympathy has continued with the relatives and friends of that precious boy. In due time, a person was accused of the crime, and in due time tried, according to the rules of law. . . .

"At the termination of this trial, it is now commonly known that the defendant, who was convicted and sentenced to the extreme penalty that the law provided under the verdict, was killed by persons who desired to take the law in their own hands. No occasion justifies that, none whatever, because it is the law that is assassinated. 

"Of what use is it to empanel jurors if they are to understand that if their verdicts are not satisfactory to some person or persons, that the verdict will not be abided by, but that the persons will take the law in their own hands? What could be the result but a miserable farce? What juror desires to sit in the temple of justice if that is to be the result? 

"I am fully aware that this investigation which I shall ask you to undertake will be seized upon by some to turn into a partisan contention that it is for the protection of the negro, but those who say so are either fired by passion or are willfully misstating a fact. The negro is an instance of the circumstance, and he is of no more importance in this matter than the negro who is made to plow the field that made the cotton that is in the shirt upon your back. 

"The question is whether any body of men may take a man from the confines of the courthouse and visit a death sentence upon him when a jury of their peers have said that such was not justice and right. . . . I ask you, gentlemen, to leave no stone unturned. You shall have every particle of power at the state's command and the people of the community are back of you. The law is no respecter of persons. 

"No man is too small to be below the law, none too great to be above it." 

The jury retired immediately to the grand jury room and began deliberating. However, it adjourned at one o'clock without acting on the lynching. It was reported that the lynching would be taken up when the jury reconvened at 10 a.m. the next day, Friday, Aug. 16. But on Friday, the investigation was put off until Aug. 23, probably to allow Palmer and Beard time to round up witnesses. 

Although the lynching of two black men on Broadway in 1896 had shocked the community, few townspeople had spoken out then and nothing was done to the lynchers. Nor had there been any outcry when a 19-year-old black farmer was drowned in the Chattahoochee by lynchers in 1900. But the lynching of Teasy McElhaney was too much for many townspeople to stomach in 1912. 

Some time during the week after the lynching of the McElhaney boy, Columbus clubwomen and many of the city's religious leaders began to circulate petitions, cards actually, for the signatures of those who wished to speak out against the lynching. On Aug. 21, the Enquirer-Sun published the petitions, including the entire text of each and the names of all signers. Because so much negative has been written about the silence of the people of the South on the subject of lynching, it is worth publishing those petitions and names again. [The two letters, with the names of their 101 signers, followed in the original article.] 

 

On Aug. 23, the grand jury reconvened. Minutes of the Superior Court indicate that A.B. Land and R.E.L. Land were excused from the jury that day and again when the jury met on the 30th. Grand jury proceedings were kept in strictest secret, but it was known that many witnesses were going before the jury. The town buzzed with excitement and curiosity all the next week in anticipation of the jury's findings. Shortly after noon on Friday, Aug. 30, word spread throughout Columbus and the county that the investigation was at an end. 

It was. 

The grand jury returned three true bills in the lynching of Teasy McElhaney. Indicted were A.B. Land, R.E.L. Land and Lee Lynn, a millworker. Each was charged with murder. 

On Sept. 5, the grand jury met again. Once more the Lands were excused — it is not clear if they showed up — and returned four indictments against W.L. Land, the dead white boy's father. The charges included carrying a concealed pistol — and murder. 

At the same time the grand jury delivered its indictments against Will Land, it also released its general presentments, recommending that they be printed in the Ledger and the Enquirer-Sun. It was sobering reading for those Columbus citizens who thought a new era in racial justice was at hand: 

"In entering upon this investigation, we confidently expected the fullest cooperation of the peace officers of the county, especially those who were in charge of the prisoner whose life was taken, but we regret that on account of the excitement of the occasion, and the unusual shortness of memory of the guards, we were able to get only very meager testimony as to the identity of the individuals composing the mob. 

"We regret very much that the sheriff did not see fit to take personal charge of his prisoner, and have himself and his assistants properly armed. We would recommend that in [the] future that the sheriff, in such serious cases, provide guards who can be trusted to do their duty, and have them properly armed. 

"We are led to believe that Deputy Sheriff Gibson, in whose charge the prisoner was left, had good reason to believe that an attack was to be made, and was guilty of gross negligence in not taking precaution and during the struggle that ensued. He seemed to look on the loss of his prisoner with indifference. 

"Mr. J.T. Darby, court bailiff, who actually had hold of the prisoner, seemed to have released him without any great resistance. We also find that Bailiff Beahn seemed indifferent to his duty. Bailiff Willis, from what we can learn, was the only officer with the prisoner who put up any determined resistance to the mob. . . . 

"We must also criticize the sheriff for not making more of an effort to get evidence against the guilty parties immediately after the crime was committed. 

"We regret that it is our duty to recommend to the sheriff that he provide a deputy in the place of Mr. Gibson, who realizes more fully the importance of his duty as an officer. We also recommend that Mr. Darby and Mr. Beahn be relieved of further duty as court bailiffs. 

"We deplore the meager results of our investigations, but feel that we have accomplished all that we could do with the means at our command and the time at our disposal, but we know that there were more participants in this disgraceful affair, and we trust that the future will bring to light evidence in some way that will lead to the detection of the guilty parties." 

After the presentments were delivered, Sheriff Beard refused comment, except to agree that he and his men had been severely criticized. He promised to make a statement later. If he did, it is not recorded. 

Nor did the sheriff or any of his deputies arrest the four men indicted for the murder of McElhaney. During the next 30 days, Beard claimed that his deputies had made repeated trips to the country in search of the Lands, but had been unable to locate them. Lee Lynn was not arrested either. Scuttlebutt in Columbus was that the four men would surrender to Beard at the appropriate time. The most likely appropriate time was early November, after the cotton-picking peak and shortly before the next term of Superior Court, when their trial was scheduled. Meanwhile, it was said that the Lands had gone on an extended trip, possibly to Texas. 

With concern over the cotton crop, the press of daily affairs and preparing for winter (a serious business before people had gas or electric furnaces), by November many residents of Columbus may have all but forgotten the lynching of Teasy McElhaney and the coming trial of the four men accused of his murder. If so, they were abruptly reminded on Tuesday, Nov. 5, when the Lands and Lee Lynn drove up to courthouse square in an automobile. Hezikiah "Hez" Land went inside the courthouse to fetch the sheriff, and when Beard came out, the men surrendered. Beard drove them to the jail. 

A.B. Land was the group's spokesman: 

"We said that when the court convened, we would be here and here we are. We are ready to stand trial and know that we will be able to prove, beyond a doubt, that we are innocent. We never did run, but we stayed hid," he said. 

 

The trial was set for Wednesday, Nov. 20, in the same courtroom where Teasy McElhaney had been tried three months before. Solicitor Palmer would prosecute; Judge Gilbert would preside. 

At shortly after 9:30 on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 20, 1912, jury selection in the murder trial of Lee Lynn and A.B., R.E.L. and W.L. Land began in the Muscogee County courthouse. It was a trial the likes of which had never been staged in the city. 

Not only were white men going on trial for the lynching of a black — so far as is known an unprecedented occurrence in Columbus — the three Lands were all widely known in the community and had numerous friends here. 

Of 103 people examined that Wednesday, 65 were disqualified on account of kinship to the defendants or for bias, partiality or fixed opinions. Seven were selected for the jury. On Thursday, the entire day was consumed in selecting four out of 113 veniremen examined. 

The trial began on Friday at 9:45 with Palmer's opening statement. It was apparent at once from the solicitor's opening remarks that the state would have a weak case, one that would hinge on Palmer's ability to prove a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Under the best of circumstances, with cooperative and friendly witnesses, lawyers regard conspiracy difficult to prove. With uncooperative witnesses, it is said to be all but impossible. Because the only finding the jury could return in the case was guilty or not guilty of murder, which Palmer must first show by proving a conspiracy existed to commit murder, the state faced quite a challenge. It is doubtful that, at the time, any white man had ever been convicted of first degree murder in the death of a black man in Columbus. 

"I expect to show by evidence and circumstances that the defendants on trial now participated in the taking of the prisoner from the courthouse, and that by virtue of conspiracy, are guilty of murder," said Palmer. "I may not show who actually fired the shots, but I will show who started the trouble, and that under the law of the state they are guilty. I may not show that a single one of the defendants were present at the killing, but I will show that there was a conspiracy entered into by all." 

What little help he got from Sheriff Jesse Beard, his deputies, and the court bailiffs is illustrated by the testimony of Deputy C.A. Gibson: 

"I know the defendants well. I saw all of them at the trial off and on all day," Gibson testified. "I was at the door when the deputies went out of the room, and I turned with them. The first thing I knew I was given a shove against the wall and someone kicked me in the stomach. I never did see the negro after that. The crowd had taken him out when I reached the head of the stairs." 

Gibson said he then followed the mob downstairs and out of the building. "I saw a crowd of men jerk him on a street car, but I didn't recognize any one that was in the crowd. I did see R.E.L. Land and A.B. Land in the courthouse. . . . 

"The doors were blocked and it was hard for people to get out," Gibson continued. "I didn't see any of the defendants do anything." 

Bailiff J.T. Darby, who had had physical charge of McElhaney at his trial added some interesting information: "When I got to the door, I saw a crowd in the lobby. We went around the post with our prisoner and we was about 20 feet from the door when the trouble started. 

"Someone yelled. I think it was a signal. Then the rush was made. Someone pushed me. I fell over against the wall. I had the prisoner by the belt up to this time, but the push loosened my hold, and I grabbed the negro by the slack of the trousers. 

"When I came out of the courtroom," Darby continued, "I saw W.L. Land change his pistol from his inside pocket to another pocket. I didn't think anything of this. After I was knocked down, I didn't see the prisoner again. 

"When I got downstairs, I saw Lee Butler, A.B. Land and Will Brittain. A.B. Land stopped Beahn and told him that if he went out he would get hurt, that the men out there were armed." 

The last witness for the state, Bailiff Mason Wilder, added only one thing to the previous testimony: "I was in the court when the jury brought in the verdict against the negro. Gibson had charge in the courtroom. Darby had hold of the negro. When Gibson signaled to bring the negro out, I joined the officers with him. I heard someone say: 'Look out for the music!"' 

The state rested its case at 12:50. After a break for lunch, defense attorney T.T. Miller declared, "We do not think that this case calls for more than the statement of the defendants. We expect to show that these men have always been law-abiding men and that they have grown up with the county. 

"We expect to show that these men did not know of the supposed lynching, that they had no part in it and that they tried to stop it. 

"We expect to show further that it was [out of] kindly regard for the officers that they stopped them from going out of the building, and not to help the mob. 

"All of them are above the crime for which they are before you charged with. I will now let them make their statements." 

The defense rested its case at 3:00 p.m. The closing arguments for the state and defense consumed the remainder of the day and part of Saturday morning. 

The jury went out at about 11 a.m. It returned in 29 minutes. Jury foreman S.W. Dudly read the verdict, which had been arrived at without discussion on one ballot: 

"We, the jury, find the defendants not guilty." 

There was no wild celebration by the accused: the verdict had been anticipated. This time, Will Land spoke for the group. 

"I knew they would turn us loose. I want you to thank the people for us for their kind words said about us in the trial. We are now going home with our families." 

 

If there was any public indignation at the not guilt verdicts in the murder trial of the Lands and Lynn in the death of Teasy McElhaney, it is not recorded. Neither the Columbus Enquirer-Sun nor the Columbus Ledger followed with an editorial. And so far as is known, there has scarcely been a public utterance about the trial or the lynching of Teasy McElhaney until now. 

As a result, the lynching of the black child passed out of Columbus' history, except in the memories of those families whose members took part in it and, of course, in the minds and hearts of the black people of the town, many of whom recall the story as told to them by their parents or grandparents, or perhaps by an aged aunt or uncle. 

Reading back through the old accounts of the case, and talking with those few people still alive who remember it from their childhood, it is difficult to tell how much Sheriff Jesse Beard, his deputies and others knew about the McElhaney lynching but refused to divulge. 

Nor is it known how well informed the members of the jury were as to the history of such events in the city's past or the role any of the defendants in the McElhaney case might have played in those events. Some of the jurors, several of whom were middle-aged or older, might have recalled a lynching that took place near Clapp's Factory in 1900. 

It happened in June, the lynching month in Columbus. The victim was Simon Adams, 19, a black farm laborer who had worked for Judge E.H. Almond in northern Muscogee County for three years. The Almond family was widely known in Columbus. Almond was, in reality, a farmer who was a justice of the peace in the Nances District. His 17-yearold daughter, Jessie, attended St Elmo Institute in town, and there was a 10-year-old daughter and a teen-age son as well. 

In the first hour of Saturday, June 9, Adams was discovered trying to slip through a window into the bedroom of Almond's daughters. Jessie Almond was awakened by the sound of Adams' foot striking the floor by the window. She sent up an alarm. The girls fled from the room and Almond discovered Adams hiding in a closet in the girls' bedroom. He was bound, at gunpoint, and a heavy iron chain was secured around his neck. At some time after first light, he was started along Hamilton Road toward Columbus "in the hands of a trustworthy keeper," not named but presumably Almond's teenage son. 

Adams was turned over to a Muscogee County bailiff for escort to town. The Enquirer-Sun's reporter tracked down the bailiff and asked him what happened. 

"I went there and found the negro with two or three persons about him," the bailiff said. "A boy seemed to have him in charge. The boy asked me if I were an officer, and I told him that I was, and the negro was turned over to me. I got in the wagon and began driving it through the woods toward the North Highlands pavilion." 

At this point the reporter interrupted and asked the bailiff why he did not go straight down River Road to town instead of cutting through the woods. The bailiff said it was his idea to go around by North Highlands so as not to attract attention and slip his prisoner safely into the city. The reporter noted that the road the bailiff had chosen would have led only to the vicinity of the pavilion and stopped. 

The bailiff said that, at that point, he was overtaken by a crowd of men who drew Winchester rifles on him and forced him to surrender his prisoner. 

The Sun reporter asked him how many men had been in the lynching party. "I don't know," the bailiff replied, grinning. "At that moment, every man looked like three." 

Asked if he knew any of the men, the bailiff said: 

"I didn't recognize anybody. I was more concerned with the guns than with the men behind them." 

It is not known if Adam's body was ever found, or if there was any effort on the part of local authorities to pursue the case. The only eyewitness who would talk was a black woman who had seen a group of white men early that morning at the point where Clapp's Creek empties into the Chattahoochee. She saw the men stop and take off their coats. Something in their manner frightened her and she ran. She did not see Adams. Later that day, someone reported having heard 15 to 20 gunshots from the direction of the North Highland woods. That afternoon, about 20 empty shotgun, rifle and pistol shells were found on an island near Clapp's Factory. 

There is much about the death of Simon Adams that we may never know; however, by a curious stroke of fortune — it is preserved on a fading and rarely consulted strip of microfilm in the morgue of the Ledger-Enquirer — we know the name of the bailiff who had charge of the prisoner in the North Highland woods that brilliantly clear Saturday morning, June 9, 1900. It was A.B. Land.