Missouri Had the Second Highest Number of Lynchings Outside the South


Horace Duncan, Fred Coker and Will Allen were lynched in this public square in Springfield, Missouri. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE.
  • Photo courtesy of the Equal Justice Initiative.
  • Horace Duncan, Fred Coker and Will Allen were lynched in this public square in Springfield, Missouri.
Race relations have a troubled history in Missouri, and new data released on Tuesday by the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI, reiterates just how bad things were. The focus? Lynching — and the numbers don't make Missouri look good.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based nonprofit, which offers legal representation to prisoners and indigent defendants who have been denied just treatment, concentrated its research on lynchings of African Americans in states beyond the the American South. The EJI studied local newspapers, historical archives, court records, black-owned newspapers, and decedents of lynching victims and survivors to research these acts of racial violence, which were led by white mobs between 1880 and 1940 who often faced no consequences for their crimes.

After documenting more than 300 lynchings across eight states, EJI determined that Missouri experienced the second highest rate of racial lynchings outside the deep South — at least 60, though others likely remained undocumented.

For its data about Missouri, the EJI made particular note of two mass lynchings. One, the lynching of William Godley, French Godley and Peter Hampton, took place in Pierce City in 1901 and lasted nearly fifteen hours. Through a questionable eyewitness account, William Godley had been labeled a sexual aggressor and was in jail when a white mob took him and lynched him. After rumors spread that a black man had tried to shoot at the mob during the lynching, the crowd proceeded to shoot William Godley's father French and then burn another man, Peter Hampton, alive in his house.

The other, the lynching of Horace Duncan, Fred Coker and Will Allen, happened in Springfield in April 1906. Duncan and Coker had been wrongly accused of sexual assault, while Allen was accused of murder without evidence, EJI says. Before Duncan and Coker could face trial, the mob broke them out of their jail cells and hung them from a light tower in the town square. Angry citizens then burned and shot their corpses before chasing down and hanging Allen from the same pole.

The only state in the EJI's report to exceed Missouri in its number of lynchings was Oklahoma, with 76 lynchings. Other states with high lynching numbers included Illinois (56 lynchings), West Virginia (35 lynchings), Maryland (28 lynchings), Kansas (19 lynchings), Indiana (18 lynchings) and Ohio (15 lynchings).

The EJI set out on its analysis to show how lynchings were a national issue and challenge the perception that lynchings were limited to Southern states. Ultimately, the organization looks to progress a national conversation about the history of racial terror in the U.S.

“The legacy of lynching in America is devastating, made worse by our continued silence about this history,” Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the EJI, said in a press release. “Our collective failure to acknowledge this history has created a contemporary political culture that doesn’t adequately value the victimization of people of color today.”

The organization's recent report is an update to its 2015 research, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, which surveyed lynchings in the South. The data revealed over 4,000 racial terror lynchings in twelve Southern states between 1877 and 1950 — 800 more than had previously been on record.

For more details on the report, visit the project's new interactive website, lynchinginamerica.eji.org. For more on the EJI and its research, visit eji.org.

Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated in one paragraph that Missouri had the highest rate of racial lynchings outside the deep South. Missouri had the second highest. We regret the error.

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